How A Clock Tower In Albania Changed My Life

How A Clock Tower In Albania Changed My Life

By |2016-10-01T18:39:23-04:00August 3rd, 2012|Albania, Perspectives|27 Comments

Clock Tower In Albania - Tirana Clock Tower, Albania
While my last post was all about the people you meet while traveling, I also want to make it clear that I do enjoy visiting the sights of a particular destination as well. Popular attractions are popular for a reason and so I often do try to seek them out in the hopes of discovering something interesting, educational or just plain fun.

Such sights naturally include museums, castles, waterfalls, historical buildings, mountains offering panoramic views, religious sites, parks, monuments or any number of endless possibilities.

And just like any tourist, I wander around, I take my photos, I say to myself ‘this is nice’ and then I move on to the next place.

My theory is that even though spending time visiting such mainstream attractions may not sound appealing at first, doing so can sometimes lead to the most unexpected of rewards.

For example, what may appear to be just a simple Clock Tower in Albania, one that is highlighted on the map you received when you checked into your hostel, could end up giving you the most memorable experience of your day or perhaps of your entire journey.

Yes, a Clock Tower, such as the one that caught my attention while I was walking around Tirana, Albania. It didn’t appear to be anything special but I had in fact seen it highlighted on my map and so I figured, what the heck, I’ll go take some quick photos before going to the museum across the square.

The Clock Tower in Albania

As I stood in front of this Clock Tower in Albania, snapping some shots while scratching my head as I repeatedly failed to fit the entire thing into the frame, a small door opened from the building to my right. An even smaller man, about seventy years old, well-dressed and smiling widely, came outside and walked straight up to me.

Clock Tower In Albania - Clock Tower, Tirana, Albania

Immediately, he began looking up and pointing to the Clock Tower but it took my heat-affected, half-melted brain (that’s my excuse anyway as it was a hot day) about thirty seconds to understand that he was asking me if I wanted to go to the top.

Why not?

So, this man unlocked the wooden door at the base, motioned for me to enter and then he just turned around and went back inside the building from where he came. Taking one last look at street-level Tirana, I then ducked my head (which was surprising as I normally end up banging my head every time I walk through a low entry-way), entered the tower and began the climb.

And as I climbed the hundred or so creaky metal stairs to the top, and the simple fact that I had a 200-year old Albanian Clock Tower all to myself sank in, I suddenly found myself to be more than delighted.

I began to sense that this was going to be a memorable experience, more memorable than I would have ever imagined. Sure, it’s just a Clock Tower, but my travels have taught me that ‘just a Clock Tower in Albania’ can sometimes prove to be so much more.

On Top of the World

Once at the top, I walked out onto the narrow balcony that surrounded the clock itself, strolled around until I found the perfect view of the city and I stopped. And that very spot is where I would spend the following one and a half hours. There are times when I don’t have the patience to sit on an idyllic white sand beach for one and a half hours, but up there in that tower, hovering over Tirana, Albania, spying on life below and taking in the views, the sounds and the smells of this intriguing city, I didn’t want to leave.

I took photos from every angle, I watched the people go about their business, I observed the buses and cars and the mountains and the clouds and the trees. I listened to the wind and I listened to the city. I tasted the air, I felt the heat and I watched the birds.

And then I leaned on the balcony railing, stared off into the distance and began thinking about my life, about where I’ve been, where I’m headed and how I feel about it all.

It was as if I had been picked up off the ground and sent high into the sky from where I could float above the world, from where I could see that world, and my place in it, from an entirely fresh perspective. Here I was in such a foreign city, on the balcony of a simple Clock Tower, having the kind of calming, clarity-producing meditative experience that I had not had in a long time.

And from this clarity I made some decisions about my life, I found some answers to questions that had been bothering me for a while and I uncovered a spark of motivation that had been lost.

I did not want to leave this balcony at all. I wanted to see what would happen next, to see where this transformation would lead. I already knew that the person I was when I entered would be left behind and when it came time to leave the tower, I would be a refreshed, inspired and even more focused version of my old self. That realization put a smile on my face and sent intense chills throughout my body.

Clock Tower In Albania - Skanderbeg Square, Tirana, Albania

And the only reason I didn’t stay up there longer than one and a half hours was because the dark rain clouds eventually began to approach and I took that as a sign, a sign that, well, it was going to start raining hard.

So, reluctantly, I took one last look out over Tirana, enjoyed one last deep breath from the top of the world and I took my newly cleared mind and climbed back down the stairs to the bottom.

The man who had unlocked the Clock Tower door was nowhere to be found, so, unable to thank him for unknowingly providing me with one of the most memorable experiences I would have on my Balkan trip, all I could do was walk back to the Skanderbeg Square and into the National History Museum, just as the first drop of rain began to fall.

You never know what you’ll find when traveling and so I encourage you to visit everything you can, to walk down every street and every lane, to enter random buildings and to go take photos of every monument you pass. And of course, don’t forget to climb every Clock Tower.

Have you ever had an unexpectedly wonderful experience while visiting something that at first seemed ordinary?

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  1. Carolyn January 12, 2014 at 8:00 am - Reply

    It seems that you don’t have to pay for the Clock Tower. Is it right ?

    What attractions do you have to visit in Tirana ?

    What attractions do you have to pay in Tirana: Et’hem Bey Mosque, Palace of Culture, National History Museum, Rinia Park ?

    Is it safe for a girl to visit Tirana alone ?

    Thank you very much.

  2. craig October 18, 2013 at 4:36 pm - Reply

    I have found that while travelling it is the random moments of chance that occur that tend to be what is so satisfying about travelling. Whether it be watching a hand drawn cart in Cambodia stacked 6 meters high hitting wiring in a chaotic border town and the ensuring hilarious chaos it caused, or sitting alone on a remote beach at sunset in remote Queensland (Australia) as a pod of dolphins chasing bait fish unexpectedly appears. You can’t help but smile and look inwards and reflect what an amazing world it is and giggle with glee that you were there to experience such occasions. It is chasing these unexpected moments that feeds my thirst for travel.

  3. Mina April 7, 2013 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    I am from Tirana, born and raised. I’ve traveled all over Europe and lived abroad for 3 years in Switzerland. No matter what, or no matter where, I love my city and I wouldn’t replace it for anything or anywhere in the world. Maybe Tirana isn’t your typical European or Ballkanian city, maybe we don’t have the amazing architecture and we are an urban chaos, but Tirana is amazing in a whole other level, trust me. I love how you talked about ‘listening the city’. Listening and feeling Tirana is understanding Tirana.
    Thank you so much for this amazing article. I loved every word :))

    • Wandering Earl April 9, 2013 at 9:10 pm - Reply

      Hey Mina – Welcome to the site and it’s great to hear your thoughts on your own city! Hopefully I’ll make it back there one day 🙂

  4. Mary August 17, 2012 at 4:07 pm - Reply

    I had a somewhat similar experience while visiting The Old Post Office Pavilion in Washington D.C. I was a little disappointed at first that what I thought to be an exciting old historical landmark turned out to be little more than a small shopping mall and food court. Then, as I was wandering around the bottom floor, I came across a small line of people waiting for an elevator that had a sign that said ‘Bell Tower 25th floor, No fee to access’. None of my friends would go with me as it didn’t seem like it would be much fun, but I thought, why not? When I got on to the elevator I found out that it was one of those half glass ones, so not only was I going 25 stories up, but I could also watch as I rose. After reaching the top, I had to climb some stairs and get into yet another, smaller elevator. This rose up a few more floors and deposited me into the “Bell Tower”. It was a small series of rooms connected by metal stairs that had the mechanisms of an old bell that used to ring on the hour every hour. In the room with the actual bell were these great big windows that afforded you with the sight of many of DC’s landmarks, including the State House and the Lincoln Memorial that I otherwise only would’ve been able to see from the ground.
    I’m glad that I took the time to take a random adventure up the Bell Tower like you did in the Clock Tower. It really was worth the time and effort to see such breath taking sights that so few get to see!

    • Earl August 19, 2012 at 8:42 am - Reply

      Hey Mary – That’s a great story and is another perfect example of what I was talking about. We never know what we’ll find and so the more we do and try, the higher the chance of coming upon an experience such as you had. And I shall make a note of that Bell Tower for the next time I’m in DC!

  5. Tyrhone August 5, 2012 at 9:06 pm - Reply

    Gotta love an epiphany moment, would be interested to know what sort of conclusions you came to up there.

    I hiked Mount Emei in China, and stayed in a somewhat touristified monastery on the mountain over night. All the monks seemed to be in hiding from the tourists and it wasn’t very monastery like at all. My fellow hikers slept in, but I had my usual insomnia and woke up at about 4am. This ended up being a blessing in disguise, as I found myself the only person watching a half hour ceremony, where monks chanted, performed rituals and blessed the local people before their day started. It was a magical moment. One I will never forget, and partly because it was so out of the blue in this tourist haven.

    • Earl August 7, 2012 at 9:32 am - Reply

      Hey Tyrhone – Quite a blessing I must say! And that’s how it works…something that seems so negative (not being able to sleep) ends up leading to something not only positive, but something that is so unforgettable.

  6. Waegook Tom August 5, 2012 at 11:40 am - Reply

    This is a fantastic post, Earl. It’s sometimes the unexpected that can lead us to reflect and think about our life, our choices, where things are going. I had a similar experience just sitting on a random spot on the floor in Istanbul, looking over to the Asian side of the city, with cats and guys fishing all around me. I’m not sure how long I sat for, but it made me examine a lot of things, and I felt so happy.

    Wise choice getting out before those clouds rolled in, too.

    • Earl August 7, 2012 at 9:31 am - Reply

      Hey Tom – That must have been a very cool moment for you…and we never know when such experiences will happen. Who would think you would have such a meditative time right there in the middle of Istanbul!

  7. The Travel Fool August 5, 2012 at 1:33 am - Reply

    It always amazes me what I find in the least expected places. I have met interesting people from various backgrounds just by taking time to talk to them. I have wandered into places that are not in any guidebook but gave me the best memories of the trip. As you put it so well, sometimes these things just happen when you least expect them.

    • Earl August 7, 2012 at 9:29 am - Reply

      @The Travel Fool – More often than not they happen when we don’t expect them to!

  8. Izy Berry - The Wrong Way Home August 4, 2012 at 6:50 pm - Reply

    Lovely story, I enjoyed how you painted such beauty in a simple moment many would have taken for granted. I think that travel has made me appreciate the little things all the much more.

  9. Kabamba August 4, 2012 at 11:56 am - Reply

    It happened during my wanderings in Lesotho.
    One Sunday morning I hoped into a random church service. As i sat there, it downed on me that exactly 1 year prior to that weekend, i was seated in another random church service in another strange country: Swaziland. I then realized just how my life had changed.

  10. Colleen August 4, 2012 at 11:51 am - Reply

    This article really captures so much of the spirit of travel. The joyfully unexpected renewal and refreshing of the mind, the kindness and goodheartedness of strangers.

  11. Osvaldo August 3, 2012 at 6:42 pm - Reply

    Too bad I’ve been in lots of ordinary moments like yours and never got a “epiphany kind-of” experience 🙁

    • Earl August 7, 2012 at 9:18 am - Reply

      Hey Osvaldo – It will happen!

  12. Steve C August 3, 2012 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    Earl, you seem to capture, and convey a new topic, as only an expert story-teller can! Chapter 2 of “Traveling 101”. There is so much inspiration in this piece, I’m literally floating with enthusiasm, anticipating my next trip.

    Your prose had me running over the hills as they did in Sound of Music, singing Climb Every Mountain…..

    Over the years of my travels, I’ve also had similar “Epiphanies”. Actually, they can happen anywhere, anytime, but just when you least expect them. That’s what makes them so valuable to travelers.

    You know, you’ve been on the go for several weeks, seeing the sites, meeting new people, beating the pavement. You’re tired, hungry and asking yourself; What the hell am I doing? Then it happens; what you just described so well.

    It’s a good example of how the human mind runs in cycles, not in straight lines. We go up, then we go down. But the fun part is, we can always go up again! To quote a great recent movie line: “Everything will be alright in the end. And if everything is not alright, it’s not the end!”

    I hope everyone that reads your Blog will have a “Top of the Clock Tower” experience soon. They make you run faster and jump higher! Thanks again

    • Earl August 7, 2012 at 9:24 am - Reply

      Hey Steve – These kind of moments can happen anywhere, even at home of course. We just need to be open to them and I think that while traveling, we tend to be more open as we are not bogged down by the normal routine and responsibilities of life at home. And you’re right, there will always be ups and there will always be downs, and as long as we understand that everything can change in an instant, we usually won’t stay down for too long!

  13. Scott August 3, 2012 at 10:34 am - Reply

    Last Fall we decided to go back to the Amalfi Coast where we had once visited in 2002. Since there would be three of us (my sister came along) and since the hotel we stayed at in Praiano (in 2002 had raised its rate ridiculously high I decided to rent a place for a week. The apartment, more like a villa was wonderful inside, but it was truly the terrace that ran the entire length of the building and faced the sea (and was huge) that was simply amazing. You could watch the sun rise at the left end over the Italian coast in the far distance, and the view then included old Republic of Amalfi watchtowers as you scanned right, the town and cathedral of Praiano, and finally in the distance where the sun would set the town of Positano. That terrace and view changed my life. I could easily sit there for hours at a time, and relax…something I find hard to do. The owner lived about us, and the only time we heard him was when he and his brother, now and then, would be making wine in the basement. So many tourists stay in Positano, or Sorrento…but I prefer Praiano, as you are truly experiencing life the Italian way…and to sit and sip wine as the sun sets in such calmness is something that must be experienced.
    Needless to say I have far too many pictures of sun rises, sunsets, etc from that Terrace…but nothing before or probably sense gives me the same sense of calmness.

    • Earl August 7, 2012 at 9:12 am - Reply

      Hey Scott – That certainly sounds like one amazing place and I loved how it was a simple terrace that was the focus of your life-changing experience. Often times we think that life-changing moments can only come from some major event or change when in reality, all we need is a terrace or a sunset or something so simple. I’ll have to add Praiano to my list of places to visit, seems more than ideal!

      Thanks for sharing!

  14. matt August 3, 2012 at 10:00 am - Reply

    Earl- This is beautifully written.

    Bit off topic but catches the same mood- Last night I was at a friend of a friends dinner party. He had the most beautiful paintings that hung on the wall. It was by a Maine artist-David Russell. David
    ‘s work was shown at NYC studios but were not commercially successful due to the supposibly dreary urban scenes that most depicted. A junkyard in the winter, for example. They were so hauntingly beautiful and accurate that I spent more time peering at them then engaging in conversation

    • Earl August 7, 2012 at 9:09 am - Reply

      Hey Matt – That’s spot on…it’s moments like those, when we feel a connection to something that is far stronger than the chatter of the conversation and of the world around us, that really affect us. I’ll have to look up David Russell’s paintings!

  15. Will August 3, 2012 at 8:30 am - Reply


    Wow. Sounds like such a spiritual experience for you. Reading this story about the “little man” in the clock tower “magically” appearing seems like fate was on your side.

    I had such an experience in Hawaii while taking some landscape photos. I hunted around for the sunset scene I wanted, set my camera up, and just sat there. As sunset approached I began taking photo after photo. Three hours went by in the blink of an eye. Afterwards I realized how much fun it was and I came to the realization what I was born to do. I think I already knew it deep down inside but all these years had been denying it.

    Thanks again for sharing your experiences.


    • Earl August 7, 2012 at 9:04 am - Reply

      Hey Will – I think these moments of realization tend to happen more often while traveling because we are out there in the world doing something we love. As a result, we are more in tune with our surroundings and with the activities we participate in, so it’s natural that our minds often have such moments of clarity. Another great reason to continue traveling!

  16. Yiorgos Moisidis August 3, 2012 at 8:08 am - Reply

    thanks for your article gives me power to make my trip in Lebanon at Zahle i was ready to cancel i never travel before alone so this is make me panic. but i do it. u never know…
    (sorry for my english)
    “You never know what you’ll find when traveling and so I encourage you to visit everything you can, to walk down every street and every lane, to enter random buildings and to go take photos of every monument you pass. And of course, don’t forget to climb every Clock Tower.”
    Yiorgos Greece

    • Earl August 7, 2012 at 9:03 am - Reply

      Enjoy your trip Yiorgos!!

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