Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
This Roman Amphitheater in Durres, Albania, the largest ever found in the Balkans, was discovered by a farmer who was plowing his fields

Click on title of post to view photo in large format: This Roman Amphitheater in Durres, Albania, is the largest ever found in the Balkans. It was discovered near the city center by a farmer who was plowing his fields. The port of Durres was part of The Egnatian Way, a vital trade route that connected Read More

My plan for the summer had been to tour all seven of the countries that once composed Yugoslavia. I was close to meeting that goal, having visited five of the seven, but my last minute decision to visit Lake Ohrid, Macedonia put me so close to Albania that I could have walked there. While never part of Yugoslavia, Albania has always held an important location on the Balkan peninsula, thus I assumed it shared much in common with its Slavic neighbors and was worth a visit.

Though Tirana offers little to see outside pretty Skandeberg Square, travel to Albania should include a day or two in the capital city, if only to haunt the coffee houses and sample the local dishes

Though Tirana offers little to see outside pretty Skandeberg Square, travel to Albania should include a day or two in the capital city, if only to haunt the coffee houses and sample the local dishes

I was quickly disavowed of that notion upon arrival in the capital, Tirana. The languages of Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia are similar enough that I had picked up enough vocabulary to communicate, but Albanian was unlike anything I’d ever heard. During my entire stay, the only word I was able to twist my tongue around was “FA-le-min-DER-it” (thank you). Even the slightest suggestion on my part that Albanians are similar to their Balkan neighbors was met with dogged resistance. “We are not Slavs,” they insisted. “We descended from Illurians, an Indo-European tribe.” Read More

Sweeping view of the city of Kruja, Albania from the National Skanderbeg Museum

Click on title of post to view photo in large format: Sweeping view of the city of Kruja Albania from the National Skanderbeg Museum. Kruja (Krujë) was the first capital of the autonomous state of Albania in 1190, and later became the capital of the Kingdom of Albania. The city was conquered by Read More

View over the surrounding countryside from the Dollma Teqe, an ancient mosque in Kruja, Albania

Click on title of post to view photo in large format: View over Kruje, Albania, from an old stone terrace next to the Dollma Teqe. Built in 1789, this ancient mosque on the grounds of Kruja (Krujë) Castle, belongs to the Sufi order of the Bektashi. Once banned by the Ditator Hoxha, today Read More

The front desk clerk at my hotel didn’t hesitate a moment when I asked if she could recommend a good restaurant in Tirana.

“Oda Restaurant,” she said. “You will love it.”

Off I went, without even asking what type of cuisine they served. My GPS soon showed that I was close. I was debating whether to turn down a narrow alley that ended in darkness when a jowly street vendor whistled and nodded toward a second lane, a bit further down the street. This one was brighter, but I saw nothing other than an unassuming little house with wooden tables on the front porch, beyond which were sterile-looking apartment buildings. A young boy with saucer eyes stopped kicking his soccer ball and looked at me curiously, no doubt wondering why I had wandered into the bowels of his neighborhood.

Front porch of Oda Restaurant, serving the best Albanian food in Tirana, Albania

Front porch of Oda Restaurant, serving the best Albanian food in Tirana, Albania

“Oda?” I asked. I spun around when he pointed behind me and realized the old house was what I had been looking for. A young woman sitting on the porch, who had been watching the scene play out, smiled broadly and ushered me inside. Read More

Skanderberg Square, seen from the balcony of Tirana International Hotel in Tirana, Albania

Click on title of post to view photo in large format: Skanderberg Square, seen from the balcony of Tirana International Hotel in Tirana, Albania, is the main tourist attraction in the capital city. It is named after the Albanian national hero Skanderbeg, whose statue sits in the middle of the grassy green oval. Read More