Pershendetje, greetings from Albania! With mixed emotions we left Bulgaria for pastures new. Sad to be leaving such a wonderful country but excited to be heading off into the unknown once more. At the border with Greece we were tested yet again, our 2nd PCR test in as many days & grateful once again a negative result prevailed. Our transit through Greece went without a hitch & we made it to the border with Albania in good time. On arrival at the crossing it was eerily quiet, there was not a single person in sight. Feeling rather anxious that the border may have been closed we nervously got out of the Moho and began to wander around. Thankfully after 10 minutes of wandering a customs officer appeared & waved us over. After checking our documents he told us that once we passed through the Greek border we would be unable to return as all the land borders from Albania were closed until further notice. Our options at this stage were already fairly limited, so as the barrier lifted we crossed into no mans land, praying that we would be granted permission to enter Albania.
At the Albanian border we were met by a straight faced, rather stern looking man. He took our documents and proceeded to interrogate us. A very unnerving experience as we did not understand a word he was saying. As we struggled with Google Translate a police officer came over & stood behind us, closely followed by 3 of his fellow officers. At this point we were convinced we were going to be taken away, never to be seen again when thankfully, one of the police officers spoke up & began to translate. After what seemed like forever & some rather strange questions, we were given a statement written in Albanian, unable to read a single word we went ahead & signed on the dotted line. As the barrier lifted once more we were free to go. All we had to do now was purchase Motor Insurance as ours, like most policies did not cover Albania. Research showed we could buy this just after the border crossing, unfortunately the research did not show payment can only be made in cash & that the nearest cash point is 35KM away. With tempers raging & insults flying we got back in the Moho, praying that we didn’t get pulled over as soon as we drove off. As we made our way towards the nearest town we stopped at a service station which just so happened to double up as an insurance broker. As it was after 5PM there was no one in the office so I spoke with him over the phone. After sending a photo of Phil’s passport & V5 document on WhatsApp we were told to come back in the morning to collect the certificate. Once again we couldn’t quite believe how trusting (or stupid) we were. Thankfully the following morning when we went back our insurance document was ready & waiting, it’s probably not worth the paper it’s written on, but hey, it looked official & we felt better having something as opposed to nothing.
Our 1st stop was Gjirokaster, located in a valley between the Gjere Mountains & the Drino. We stayed on a lovely little campsite where Rocky sniffed out his 1st Hermann Tortoise, it turned out to be 1 of a family of 3 & the 1st sighting of many we would encounter on our travels. We visited the Gjirokaster Fortress & meandered around the old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, described as ‘a rare example of a well preserved Ottoman town’ It was a remarkable place with friendly & welcoming people, a perfect introduction to a beautiful & much overlooked country.
We travelled along the Albanian Riviera, visiting the Butrint National Park with its historical architecture, discovered hidden bays & swam in the turquoise blue sea as we passed through the resorts of Ksamil, Sarande, Livadi Beach & Vlore.
Heading inland we visited the city of Berat, known as the City of a Thousands Windows due to its distinctive Ottoman houses. We hiked up to the Castle, an impressive fortress which stands guard above the city below.
Our next stopover was on a working vineyard where we enjoyed an afternoon of wine tasting followed by a delicious home cooked meal Albanian style, all topped off with a glorious sunset.
Heading North we stayed several nights on a site just outside the capital city Tirana. The campsite was family run & they were great hosts. Us, along with several other travellers enjoyed evenings spent around the camp fire sharing BBQ’s, homemade wine, Raki & attempting some traditional Albanian dancing.
We spent a day in the capital city Tirana, visiting Skanderberg Square, the Grand Park & Bunk’Art 2, a unique history museum inside a preserved, Communist-era nuclear bunker. The museum illustrates how the Communist-era police prosecuted opponents of the government. It is thought that some 100,000 Albanians were persecuted between 1945 – 1991.
Our penultimate stop was in one of the oldest towns in Albania, Shkodra. Wedged between the Accursed Mountains & Shkodra Lake the town is a hive of activity centred around its bustling street markets selling everything from Cherries to Chickens. We visited the Rozafa Castle with its breath taking views over the city below & we sadly experienced some of the worst poverty we have seen on our travels. A planned hike up into the Mountains turned out to be a very traumatic day as we unknowingly walked right into the heart of what I can only describe as a shanty town. Our arrival did not go unnoticed, before we could turn back we were confronted by a pack of barking street dogs who surrounded us on all sides, with my heart in my throat we walked on, eyes down, led away from their territory by Rocky, cooler than a cucumber, as only a street dog could be. As we continued into the mountains our day did not get any better, we found ourselves trapped in the middle of a herd of goats, confronted by 2 wild horses who pursued us at close range (I could feel its breath on my ear!) & to top it off the ‘circular’ walk we were doing had been deliberately blocked, meaning the only way back was the way we had come.
After the stresses of Shkodra we headed back into the hills & spent a relaxing few days parked up by a lake, surrounded this time only by mother nature.
As our time here draws to an end I can honestly say its been an amazing experience. Previously isolated from the rest of the world due to its Communist past, it’s futures now blooming. Albania is an wonderful country which far exceeded my expectations. The diversity of its landscape, the mountains, lakes, beaches, its past forever present in the concrete bunkers that scar the countryside, the castles, the architecture, the modern cities & remote villages, it really is a fascinating country, we loved it!
Next stop Croatia – Thanks for reading xxx