Wanderthirst: How six months in Albania made me slow down
After a three-week trip to Albania, one writer made the spontaneous decision to move to the capital city of Tirana and embrace its relaxed pace.
24 Nov 2022
Before visiting Tirana, Albania’s capital, I had lived in London and Paris; where I felt the spirit of these cities was restless, noisy and rushed. The hustle and bustle that I’d once enjoyed in the British and French capitals had started to feel like a weight on my shoulders and it became clear I needed to slow down.
I had visited Albania on holiday with friends before the pandemic hit. We didn’t know much about Albanian culture, but curiosity had driven us to this small Balkan country which sits at the border with Greece, Macedonia and Montenegro.
When I first walked through the tranquil streets of the capital Tirana, it felt like time had slowed and I was overcome with a feeling of peace. With people casually strolling or chilling in the city’s numerous terraced cafes, the serene environment invited me to slow down. I had barely felt this way in Paris or London because we don’t have time in big cities. We rush. Yet, in Tirana, people didn’t seem so worried about time.
Intrigued by this slower way of living, it stuck with me. After the travel restrictions were lifted, I decided to move to Tirana with a close friend. I didn’t imagine how much it would change my mindset on life. While living there, I too embraced how time could be more expansive, something to savour and enjoy.
“While living there, I too embraced how time could be more expansive, something to savour and enjoy”
The place we were renting was in the Pazari I Ri area, which is famous for its marketplace – called New Bazaar. The old Bazaar, which was the original market, was demolished in 1959. For a long time, The New Bazaar was the only place to trade fresh fish, meat and vegetables. Today a modern glass roof protects the stalls, and several cafés and restaurants can be found in the picturesque, pinkish-yellow buildings that frame the market. In the morning, the smell of fresh coffee from the cafés floats in the air together with the scent of juicy olives, and around noon, you start smelling the traditional Qofte (Kefta) from the restaurants, while the Adhan (Islamic call for prayer) rings out across the neighbourhood.
With this market just next door, it was easy to buy locally and consciously. The freshness of the products got me into a new grocery shopping routine. I started to dedicate more time to cooking as picking my ingredients at the market would encourage me to cook mindfully.
From the location of my apartment in central Tirana, everything was within walking distance. I stopped using public transport, which took away the stress, rush, and discomfort of being on packed buses and trains.
While walking, I started to pay more attention to my surroundings. I would see people and the world around me instead of being on my phone, I’d notice new businesses or some street art that I hadn’t spotted before, I’d feel close to nature as Tirana’s pavements are lined with trees. I would move my body first thing in the morning; walking became a meditation as it would help me to clear my mind before starting the day. The city’s natural skyline also helped my sense of calm; rather than skyscrapers or high rises, Tirana is overlooked by the Dajti mountain, which turns a magnificent hue of purple when the sun sets.
“Rather than skyscrapers or high rises, Tirana is overlooked by the Dajti mountain, which turns a magnificent hue of purple when the sun sets”
The city and its slowed-down pace also had an effect on my social life, teaching me how to build stronger relationships. In Albania, more time is typically made for friendships and social activities. When I started to hang out with my Albanian friends, we would meet up at cafés, order espressos, and would stay there for hours, losing track of time. Coffee isn’t just a caffeine hit for Albanian people; it is a way of life. Around a good cup of coffee, people bond, close business deals, or simply enjoy the moment. Albanian people aren’t in a rush when they invite you for a coffee. This isn’t because they aren’t busy, but rather because they value their relationships. Hence why they prioritise making time for their friends.
Social occasions are enjoyed most obviously on Sundays; a day synonymous with family, food, and quality time in Albania. My best memories were the Sundays spent in the small town of Divjakë, where my Albanian friends would visit their families and invite me along. The idea was to catch up with family members while enjoying delicious food, sharing stories, and listening to some classic Albanian songs – such as Do digjesh zjarr from Anila Mimani, or trying to repeat the Albanian dance steps on Pogonishte from Gena.
Divjakë is an incredible place that exudes peace, family, nature, and community. There is a national park in this town, where families gather during the weekend and have barbecues on the park’s dedicated grill areas. We also enjoyed the town’s natural water reserves; we once got freshly caught fish from a local fisherman and enjoyed this fresh local food after a boat trip on the lagoon. Another activity is cycling through the park; you can rent bicycles at the entrance.
Now that this journey has come to an end, I can say that Albanian culture reconnected me with nature, a sense of community, and the right to slow down. Feeling closer to these simpler things made me reassess what was more important to me at this stage of my life. After my time in Albania, I knew for sure I didn’t want to live in big cities anymore and searched for a new place to call home that shared Tirana’s slower way of life. I ended up moving to a tranquil town in Mexico with these new priorities in mind.
- Travel to the Dajti mountain by cable car and enjoy a nice meal with a view at the Ballkoni Dajtit restaurant.
- Head to any mosques or churches or Bektashi temples, where you can learn more about how religious communities coexist in Albania and admire the beautiful architecture.
- Grab a coffee from Antigua Specialty Coffee.
- Stop by Komiteti café museum, as they hang traditional Albanian items all over the walls.
- Head to Ceren Ismet Shehu in the Tirana castle for a typical Albanian breakfast or/ brunch
- Visit the Butrint UNESCO world heritage site where time seems to stand still.
- Holiday in Himarë for beautiful beaches and camping.
- If you’re looking to rent a place in Tirana for a short-term stay, use AirBnB – agencies and private landlords prefer yearly contracts.
- Pazari I Ri and Blokku are good areas to rent a place: multiple flat options, shops and restaurants nearby.
- The official language of Albania is the Albanian language — called Shqip — but most young people speak English.
- There are no Ubers in Tirana but you can book rides from the taxi companies on WhatsApp.
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