The day finally came when the red zone restrictions in Tirana were lifted and we were free to leave the city. I couldn’t believe it. It seemed like we had been in lock down for so long, never knowing when the restrictions would change, never knowing what the restrictions would be for the weekends. Would the shops be open? Could restaurants open? No one knew until the Prime Minister made an announcement, usually the day before or the day of. It was impossible to plan. Week by week, then day by day, I would change the dates of our Airbnb in Sarandë and extend our stay at the Airbnb in Tirana. For 9 weeks I did this. To say it got old is an understatement.
One day, after the driving ban had been lifted and some people were able to go back to work, our friend Ervin picked us up and gave us a tour around the outskirts of Tirana. Ervin is the driver that took Howard’s dad to the airport just before it closed. We had been talking almost daily during the lock down. It was great to have someone local to help translate some of the rules and restrictions we were required to follow. Ervin was also going to be taking us to Sarandë. As a driver and tour guide this is the time of year he should be really busy but so far, we were his only clients for the season.
The hills surrounding Tirana were lush, green and beautiful! Although it was only May, it was like mid summer here in Albania. We drove by the Prime Ministers house that over looks the city, plus many other high ranking official’s residences. We drove down to Farka Lake and grabbed dinner by the Grand Park of Tirana. It was a fantastic day and so nice to get out of the house and the city center!
There was some relief from being stuck at home the last two weeks we were in the capital city. Restaurants and bars were allowed to open up their outdoor seating. This was great and there were a lot of places to go. Tirana is warm most of the year so the majority of cafes and restaurants have outdoor seating. A lot of them have walls or large windows that fold up making the inside basically outside too. We weren’t the only people going out to eat or grab a drink either. Most places that opened were packed right up to the 9 pm curfew. I don’t know why there was a 9 pm curfew or why we were in complete lock down the weekend after the restaurants had been open, but that’s what we had to live with.
During the week things were feeling almost back to normal. Only the servers and store employees wore masks now. Actually, at the height of the virus only about 50% of people wore masks that I noticed. As the second week of open restaurants went on, more and more servers were ditching their masks, or wearing them on their chins. There were distance guideline stickers on the floors but people didn’t seem too concerned about social distancing anymore. Many people would get up and eagerly hug their friends and neighbors that they hadn’t seen for weeks.
The shopping malls were a different thing. They would take your temperature and require you to wear a mask to enter. Once inside, some masks would disappear though. The closest grocery store to us was in Toptani Center so we purchased a couple of disposable masks so we could continue to shop there. We also bought a few things at a clothing store. We thought we would be back in New Hampshire by now and didn’t pack much warm weather clothing. We have plenty of hats, scarfs and sweaters though. We plan to get a box and ship them home once the post office is back to normal again.
During the lock down, the Albanian government tore down the National Theater about a block away from us. This upset a lot of Albanian citizens, not because the building was a historic landmark or anything, but because of the corruption involved in the destruction of the building and the contract for a new national theater to be built. A few thousand protesters showed up in response to this. Apparently there would have been many thousands more, but no one from the green zone could get into Tirana or any red zone because of the road blocks. This also added to the controversy. We walked over to the protest despite a warning from our embassy. It seemed peaceful but we didn’t stay long since we couldn’t understand what any of the speakers were saying.
The stray cats we were taking care of had become part of our family by now. We wished we could take them with us. Tira had her litter and tried to bring us her kitten but there was a mishap on the way. Her kitten got stuck in a small alley between our Airbnb and the hotel next door. It meowed all night. Finally in the morning I got the hotel owner to unlock the gate and we coaxed out a tiny black kitten. Tira kept her kitten in our courtyard for almost a week until it was a bit older and could go out at night with her and Flower.
The city getting back to normal made me start to feel normal again. When the museums opened up, we finally got to visit the House of Leaves, Museum of Secret Surveillance. A really interesting place showing some of what it was like living under communism. At one point in time it seemed every Albanian citizen was either a spy or being sped on, maybe both!
Counting down the days until we could travel again, we finished up a couple work projects and gave our Airbnb a good cleaning. We said goodbye to the family of stray cats that had keep us company with a huge feast of cat food, sausage, and ham. Even the boys got in on the action. The hotel owners, as well as some of our other neighbors, put out food for the strays too, so I know they will at least be well fed. We do wonder if the people staying in the Airbnb after us have befriended the cats.
Monday, June 1, 2020 we put our luggage in Ervin’s van and left the city. There were no more red zones, green zones, or lock down. After 81 days we were free!