Tirana first impressions

The centre of the city is surprisingly small – there’s one long boulevard, running from the historical core, Scanderbeg Square, across the very small river to the hotel I’m staying at which is just past the Prime Minister’s residence. The government buildings near Scanderbeg Square, built by King Zog in the 1920s, have been recently repainted at the orders of the mayor, and look very nice. I understand the city centre as a whole has been drastically cleaned up over the last couple of years. It’s still tangibly Balkan but has a certain relaxed feeling about it.

Things are different here in a lot of ways – our conference is on general security issues, and one voice from the audience yesterday asked about the war in Iraq – did the panel share the questioner’s concern that Albania might not have enough troops deployed there? (Luckily this was not the panel that I was on.) I asked an EU representative to explain their visa policy, and he gave a pretty poor answer. I also managed some historical research.

Last night I almost missed dinner – we were supposed to go to the former residence of the late dictator, Enver Hoxha, for a reception, but couldn’t find it and arrived half an hour late; the host of the reception then pulled me aside for a 20-minute chat and by the time he’d finished the food was all gone! But we found a small restaurant with a small meal in the end. Insubstantial, but also cheap.

Conference over, weather not too bad, I think I’ll sit by the pool.

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