First Impressions: Tirana

Sometimes, it's difficult to start in a city. There are the plus sides: a more gradual immersion into our new language, transportation options for moving on and around the country, helpful hostel hosts who make figuring out the next step a little easier. But the urban sensory overload often leaves us a little dumbstruck when we've just arrived somewhere. We wind up walking around and making the simplest observations. "Gee, there sure are a lot of coffin shops here." Above, a man looks at death notices posted outside of a funeral home.
There are also a lot of vegetable stands, eclipsed only by clothing stores and cafes. The city runs at a steady bustle. Even on Sunday morning, people woke up and went about their business. The lines of vendors are punctuated by small grill or hot plate stands, providing the sellers with grilled minced meat sausages and soup throughout the day. The Central Food Market still shows some sign of life well after dark - its skeleton frame flanked by bulb-lit piles of carrots and pickles still for sale.
There are also a lot of black, leather jackets and motorbikes. Albania's population is young - it has a median age of 28.9 - and you definitely feel a strong youth presence in Tirana. Teenage boys have sculpted hair and good posture. Teenage girls hold hands with each other as they walk, their long hair hanging all the way down their backs or piled up in a bun atop their heads. Self portraits are taken with cell phones on Saturday morning. Sunday, they join their parents for late brunch up on Mount Dajti - trading in high tops for high heels and dress shoes. We took the cable car up to join in the brunch fun. On our way down, after soaring over farms and waterfalls, we heard several bursts of gunfire.
Dogs lay around, men sell loose cigarettes, sports betting cafes are full night and day. The buses are packed, bicycles are plentiful and there's just not enough room for all the trash. Then, behind it all you have rainbow bright buildings and the mountainous landscape. There's just too much to notice, too many interactions to take in. Even with all the rain, the city has been at a steady bustle. An old woman sold us an umbrella, upping the price as she quoted it with her fingers. The handle would fall off later that day.
Knee-high Roma boys tug at my shirt sleeve or circle so closely that we almost trip over them as their pregnant relatives beg in the middle of a dangerous intersection. A man stumbled out of a betting cafe to declare, "Two euros!" when he saw us snapping photos of the bizarre, foreign owl in a cage outside. When I made a show of deleting it, he slapped me on the back and grinned as if to say, "I didn't really mean it, silly!" And, you know what, I kind of believe him. People here have been extremely nice. Things are just complicated sometimes.
The city is dynamic, that's for sure. But the high octane energy we feel seems to run through everyone else with ease. Even with all of this going on, overlapping, people exude a sense of calm. This is just life. A life, for which, a good number of dapper dans still dress up for in the morning.
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