The first week we were in Tirana was great. Howard’s dad was still with us and we were out exploring the city each day. We discovered some fabulous restaurants, cool cafes, and great museums. Right in the city center is Bunk Art 2, a unique museum about the history of the Albanian people. It’s inside a preserved Communist-era nuclear pit bunker. I highly recommend this museum to anyone coming to Tirana. We took a day trip down to Durres on the coast one day too. We looked into hiring a car service to take us there, but ended up just getting in a cab. It’s only about a 30 minute drive and neither driver on the way there or on the way back tried to rip us off. That was a nice change from other experiences we’ve had.
While we were enjoying ourselves in a new city, the coronavirus was spreading across the globe. Italy, right across the Adriatic Sea from Albania was being hit hard. It was on Wednesday March 11th when we first noticed some closures due to the virus. We tried to go to the House of Leaves, a museum of secret surveillance during Communist times, but it was closed. Howard’s dad was supposed to leave the next day but his flight was canceled. Thursday we went out to get some dinner but the government had just ordered all bars and restaurants in the country to close. We ended up buying some supplies at a market and sharing a frozen lasagna back at our Airbnb.
Howard’s dad’s flight had been re-booked for Friday morning and he was really hoping to make it home before all the airports were closed. Schools, parks, restaurants, even banks were closed in Tirana by now. There was a driving ban in place too, so no cabs were running. We needed to find a way to get Howard’s dad to the airport. Luckily, I had met a guy in a Facebook group who was a driver here. He was going to be taking Howard and I to Sarane in the south at the end of the month. He was more than happy to take Howard’s dad to the airport. The city was empty, no cars or people anywhere when they went. They said it was really surreal. Late that night Howard’s dad had made it home. Just in time as fewer and fewer flights were leaving Albania. Eventually the airport was closed along with all land and sea borders.
The following Sunday they lifted the driving ban from midnight until 8 am Monday so people who were out of town could get home. The lock down continued to get stricter. People disobeying the driving bad risked loosing their license permanently. We were only allowed to leave our house between 5 am and 1 pm or 4 pm and 5 pm. This was to allow people to get to and from work or go to a market or grocery store. One beautiful warm Saturday we went to 5 different markets just so we could be out walking around.
Eventually they closed all non essential work places and told everyone to stay in their homes. To leave, you had to get written permission from the government and they would give you an hour to go out and get what you need. There’s a 10,000 lek (about $100) fine or possible arrest if you are caught out at other times. I never saw anyone enforcing this but someone on Facebook said they were stopped, played dumb tourist, and were not fined.
So we sat in our Airbnb day after day. A perfect time to get caught up on work, play some video games and binge watch Netflix. That’s what we do most of the time anyways. Working from home is nothing new to us. However, we lost all motivation. The first week neither of us could focus on anything. The second week was pretty much the same. I would sit there and stair at my Steam game library and couldn’t decide what to play. By the third week Howard was at least getting some work done and I could at least concentrate a bit more. It’s so strange that when you are forced to do what you normally do, you don’t want to.
We did have one distraction during the quarantine. We noticed a lot of stray cats around and with most of the restaurants closed, unless they were doing delivery, there was less food around for them. We bought some cat food and temporarily adopted two small female cats. We named one Flower because she would sit in a flower pot and stair at us through the door. She is very skittish and probably only six months old. The other one, Tira, named for the city we are in, is super friendly and full of baby kittens. We first met Tira one morning after a wind storm had blown open our front door. She was in our bedroom staring at us when we woke up. We’ve been letting these two come in the house every afternoon but we put them outside at night.
Howard and I made the decision to stay here in Albania when all this started for several reasons. While people back home are fighting over toilet paper and clearing the shelves of every store, the markets here are well stocked. There’s even plenty of toilet paper and no one seems to be hoarding that I’ve seen. Here in the city it would be hard to do when you have to walk home with all your groceries anyways. We were planning to stay in Albania through April, maybe even into May. I still have hope we will get down to Sarande at some point. I have a beach condo rented that I would rather be in that this house in in the city. Also, if we did come back to the US, we would probably end up quarantined in some hotel and that doesn’t sound fun. Plus, the government here in Albania locked this country down quickly. It seems logical that things will start opening up again here while the US will still be in the midst of the pandemic. Who knows what’s going to happen though, we will just have to wait and see.