I found Shkodër to be a nice surprise. I was expecting a smaller version of Tiranë, but instead this city near the border of Montenegro was clean and relaxed with a pedestrian street lined with pubs, cafes and shops. It had a few interesting places to see, both in the city center and just outside the city.
I arrived at Sheshi Demokracia (the main square) on a 300 lek bus ride from Tiranë. Everything is within walking distance from the square.
After I got my bearings, I walked to the Shkodër Historical Museum. Located in an original Ottoman house, it contains an ethnographic museum upstairs and an archaeological museum on the ground floor. It may look closed or uninviting from the street if the large door is closed, but just open it and go inside. I paid 150 lek for admission. There were some nice finds in the archaeological museum.
From the museum, I walked back to the square and southeast towards the mosque, stopping to snap a picture of the English Tower. Pretty much the only thing of interest on the square, it was built in 1868 as part of the house of Lord Padget, an English Protestant missionary.
I made a quick stop at the Xhamia Ebu Beker (Ebu Beker Mosque) that dominates the city center. Built on the site of an old Ottoman mosque, the current mosque was built in 1995 with Saudi and Egyptian funds. The official name is Sheik Zamil Abdullah Al-Zamil Mosque. The inside was bright yet a bit plain. Next to the mosque in the courtyard is a small Partisan war monument.
I noticed a tourist information booth opposite the mosque and stopped in. The woman inside spoke excellent English, told me about the main attractions in the city, and organized a tour for me via taxi to some points outside of the city center, including Mes Bridge and Rozafa Castle.
Next, I attempted to located the hard-to-find Marubi Gallery of Photography, supposedly one of the main attractions in the city. “Attempted” is the correct word to use, because it wasn’t signposted and I couldn’t find it. Apparently this isn’t unusual. At least I got to the street it was supposed to be on.
Nearby, I popped into the Orthodox Cathedral of the Nativity, built in 2000 for Shkodër’s small Orthodox community. It was still undergoing some construction.
I took a walk down Kolë Idromeno, the aforementioned pedestrian street in the oldest part of Shkodër, past shops, pubs, and cafes blasting loud pop music. I ended up having a coffee at one of the places later on in the day before taking a furgon back to Tiranë (the ride back cost 400 lek, by the way).
At the end of Kolë Idromeno, I made a right turn down Rruga Gjuhadol, passing up several recently restored old buildings on my way to the Catholic cathedral.
Many of Shkodër’s citizens are proudly Catholic, and that is displayed by the massive St. Stephen’s Catholic Cathedral. Built between 1856 and 1898, it was converted into a basketball and volleyball arena in 1967 by the Communists. It reopened in 1991, inaugurated by Mother Teresa. Pope John Paul II visited in 1993, and there is a bust of him inside to commemorate his visit. I had the whole church to myself for a good 10 minutes and it was very peaceful.
I also found another Catholic church in town. The Franciscan Church is located off Kolë Idromeno, but it was closed when I walked by. The church was used as a munitions storage by the Albanian Secret Police in 1947. When it was discovered, many priests were arrested. The bell tower was restored in 2007.
After exploring the city center, I decided it was time for lunch. I didn’t want to visit a touristy place, but it just so happened that the best restaurant in town was a touristy place called Tradita G&T. It is located in a traditional Albanian home. It was the most expensive meal I ate in Albania at 1700 lek including tip, but it was still very reasonable by US or European standards. For this price, I got a spinach borek starter (meh) and meat and cheese cooked in a stone bowl with some vegetables (phenomenal), all washed down with a beer.
When I was done enjoying lunch, I returned to the tourist info booth to organize my taxi ride for the sights outside of Shkodër.