I noticed a few minutes ago that “#snowinginlondon” was trending on Twitter. Last night the mayor of Tirana in Albania tweeted that there was snow there for the first time in 32 years. Coincidentally, the average of the population of Tirana is 32 years. it prompted me to look at pictures of the city.
I was in Tirana with the university just before the fall of the communist regime of Ramiz Alia (successor to Enver Hoxha). How the country has changed since then. There was no private transport. You walked or used a bus (unless you were a senior official in the Communist Party).
Back then it was another world. There were flights into Tirana only from East Berlin and Zurich and then only once a week. For the international airport of a European country it was strangely and eerily quiet. The customs people confiscated magazines as innocent as Women’s Weekly because their advertisements for bras and the like were considered to be pornographic. They also confiscated Bibles, Korans, Toras, etc, and any symbols relating to religion.
Symbols of communism and the people’s struggle were everywhere. You could get a beer for around 1p, and a bottle of wine cost a similar amount. There wasn’t much in the shops, as Albania had trade agreements only with China, no one else. More or less everything that they had was made in Albania. The only books available for sale were the various and sundry works of Enver Hoxha. No one spoke English. It was Albanian or French if you wanted to communicate.
Interestingly, we were told, the biggest salary in the country was four times the smallest. I was paid 50 Lek, if I remember rightly, for doing an interview for Radio Tirana. I left it in my hotel room as it was illegal to take money out of the country and I had a job spending what I had changed. I seem to recall that I actually spent about £10 in the entire week. (Something that changed dramatically when we had a 10 hour stop over in Zurich on the way home.)
People were incredibly shy and avoided us (tourists and very obviously so because we had western fashion clothes) for fear that the Secret police would be watching.
We travelled over the country from North to South, East to West on narrow little roads, in an air conditioned Swedish bus, but with almost no other traffic except the odd donkey cart. It was perhaps one of the most interesting trips of my life.