Albania

Trip Start Nov 01, 2006
1
132
168
Trip End Oct 15, 2008


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Thursday, August 14, 2008

14/8-16/8
Albania has been a place I have been excited about visiting ever since we set off in our van, it was all a little unknown and scary, and the further we traveled the more people we met kept saying not to go, or to be very careful, one couple even chose to drive through Kosovo instead! Well I have to say we had no real problems, the people were friendly and it has a great feeling of a place about to take off. The beaches were wonderful, the water so clean and clear and the sand white.

Having said all this, there are still a few problems, the first thing you notice is the amount of rubbish, some places just a scattering, others it looks like the bin hasn't been emptied for weeks! The other main problems are the roads, and mainly the Drivers! We saw one set of traffic lights the whole time we were here, granted we didn't go into Tirane, but we were certainly questioning the effectiveness of the police traffic control, or lack of! It was certainly a very interesting place to be driving through, and more then once we thought we were going to be in an accident. The roads are in the process of being redone though, and the ones that have been finished are great, so only a matter of time, the drivers I think will take a lot longer to fix!

It was a long wait to get into the country, the boarder crossing was chok-a-block, and the border guards seemed to be taking their time. We also had to get green card insurance for the van, so after running around for this it took about 2hrs to get through. The road to our first stop was quiet good and we were starting to think that all the reports we had heard were a little exaggerated.

We first stopped off at a place called the blue eye. It is a spring that is so deep they still haven't finalized a depth! The name comes from the way the spring looks with a deep blue colour in the middle and ringed with a light blue around the edges. The water was absolutely freezing, I only got up to my knees and it was vey brief let me tell you! After the quick stop we continued onto Saranda to try and check out where we could stay for the night. We knew there weren't many camping places, but we thought we would ask around and see if anything turned up. Well it seems most people don't even seem to understand the word camping, so we had decided to free camp and see what happened. Just as we were leaving we saw a tourist information centre, something we didn't think existed in Albania. The lady spoke perfect English and confirmed that no there was no camping, but if we had a car we could stop anywhere and no one would mind. So off we went to find a place near the beach to stop for the night.

We ended up at Ksamili and found a car park next to some nice little coves. It was quiet developed and touristy, lots of Italians seemed to be about, and their driving was not any better then the Albanians! The water was great and we swam across to a little island and back. We ran into a British couple who were free camping in the same spot, they had an old army ambulance, so a land rover, and warned us not to go off the main roads, they said they had struggled in some places with the land rover. That night we sampled some Albanian beer, not bad, and relaxed before an early night.

Butrinti was our next stop down near the Greek border. It was an old roman town set in the forest and was meant to be quiet lovely, so we set off. The roads were all sealed but quiet bumpy and very narrow, so the going was very slow, but Albanian drivers would hoon around past you not even caring that it was a shear drop on the other side! The ruins were quiet nice, but was spoiled by some kids who were begging us for money when we first got there. When they wouldn't leave we closed the door on them and then Dave saw one try and run a key down the paint work of the car, but he scared them off. We left the car and went to look at the ruins, when we came back nothing had happened to the car so we left feeling a bit happier.

We were going to stay two nights down at Ksamili, but knew there were better beaches a bit further up the coast so we set off for a very long day of driving. The road was fine until we turned off from Saranda, and we hit gravel. It was spaced between nice new tarmac, but most of the road was narrow and pot holed and with a fair bit of traffic it took us the best part of 4 hrs to cover 70kms. The scenery was nice though so it made up for it, but the worst bit was being stuck behind a huge bus that just didn't fit down the tiny roads especially when other cars were coming in the other direction!

We stopped off for a swim at a beautiful beach and had a great lunch for very cheap. I got seafood marinara pasta and Dave ordered what he though was calamari and in fact ended up being baby octopus! He did eat it though, and enjoy it so no harm done, hehe. We continued on and when we were getting close to the beach we wanted we couldn't see any signs or obvious turn offs, so we kept driving a bit, when it was obvious that we had missed it we tried to turn around but there were cars everywhere and we couldn't. We ended up on a huge mountain pass that was definitely not big enough to turn around on, and then Clive started to play up not dissimilar to what happened on Mt Nemrut. We got to the top of the 1050 metre high mountain pass and decided it was not worth going back down to spend a few days on the beach if Clive wasn't going to make it back up again.

You see Albanians have only been driving for about 10 years and the quantity of mechanics were quiet sparse, and the quality, well we would rather not find out if we could. So I stood at the top of the mountain and looked down at the lovely unspoilt stretches of beach before me, knowing that in the next 10-20 years they would be covered in tower buildings and package holiday tourists.

We ended up at another small cover near Vlore and parked our Van for free near a bar. The Guy who owned the Bar, Alberto, said we could stay and invited us for a drink, he had some fosters and coronas, so we went for the corona! He loved Bob Marley and when a song of his came on he brought over some drums for us to play and a sombrero, it was quiet amusing. In the morning we went for a swim in the cove before heading off again. We were headed for Kruje for a spot of shopping and a look at the castle.

It took us for ever to get there, a car accident had blocked the road we were on, and then the drivers thought it a good idea to start driving down the side of the road, then the middle of the road and would beep on the horn until you moved over enough to let them through! So effectively we were three lanes on one, and the cars trying to come the other way couldn't get through! We couldn't believe it, but it kept us amused. Some of the roads here had been redone and extended into 4 lane highways, the traffic move a lot better on these, and things would calm down, for a little while anyway!

Kruje was a nice town set on a mountain with great views, but the castle wasn't much. The place had a nice feel and the old bazaar was very cool with lots of little trinkets to get your hands on. I couldn't find a patch for my pack so I bought a felt book mark which I would cut up. We couldn't see anywhere we could park for the night and since we weren't all that far from the border we decided to move on.

Besides getting lost when a police man sent us on a detour with no signs, we made it to the border in good time, and managed to get through with only waiting for 30mins, seems leaving at 7pm had its benefits. I was still really disappointed about missing the beaches and by the time we had driven for a while and found a place to park we were both knackered and crashed.

Miles so far: 12438
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