Monday 20 May – We set off for Bar but it was a very short drive (Montenegro is very small) so decide to continue on and cross the border into Albania.
We originally miss the turning as its not sign posted at all, so had to turn back after a quick check of the map on the iPhone. The road to take is very steep and looks like a little back lane to a local village – not the main road to another country. It’s only big enough for one car to pass, there are pot holes and various road surfaces, we stopped again just to double check it’s the right road.
The roads got worse as they were still constructing them, at one point we waited whilst they pushed out the gravel for the road. Not sure if this counts as off road, as technically it is a road but that was the first bit of off-road riding Paul has done on this trip so far.
Again we had no wi-fi the previous evening so didn’t look too much into Albania. Before we left the UK Paul had found an image which had the best roads to ride and one of them was Vlore to Sarande so our only plan was to get to Vlore which we’d read was Albanian equivalent to Blackpool only they had dancing bears on the promenade.
We had been told by numerous people how dodgy Albania is and that we would get robbed , we will see lots of cars from the UK – stolen obviously, and we definitely expect the police to be corrupt so plan to pass through quickly.
At the Albanian border we were side tracked, but the route was on the pathway – very odd. We only waited a few minutes, passed through, bought insurance and we’re in Albania. The Albanian flag looks aggressive.
There is an immediate change in the way people look and the general look of the country is a lot poorer . Yet we pass a river which is the clearest river we have ever seen but is surrounded by dilapidated shacks and high rise flats blocks in multiple bright colours, in any other developed country the natural scenery would undoubtedly be a tourist attraction, but here seemingly not. We begin to see a lot of expensive cars, so this didn’t distil the myth about robberies.
First appearances the roads didn’t seem too bad. Then came gravel, the massive pot holes, the lorries, impatient black Mercedes, motorbikes with carts, actual horse and carts, stray dogs, people waiting for buses on all of the roads including the motorways and a boy about to throw a rabbit in front of us. This will mean nothing to a lot of people but the best way to describe the roads is like the car park in Nantwich next to the Tilley’s old house. There doesn’t seem to be many rules for the road and roundabouts are a free for all.
A few miles into Albania we notice Teo coming up in the wind mirror, having earlier stopped to consider whether to stay in Montenegro on continue on, we were surprised that we’d managed to catch up with him. We pulled over for quick break and a ten year old walks past smoking and saying something in Albanian. Some sort of abuse I’m guessing as his friend found it funny. Paul is really enjoying having riding partner also it makes it feel safer in a country we were worried about.
The lonely planet describes Albania as a ‘must see undiscovered country’ but we’re not so sure it needs to be discovered. So far we have gone from one shit hole town to another. Dusty streets, ugly straight edge, multi-story, half built concrete buildings and a rule that if a bin is full, leave the rubbish on the floor for the stray dogs to roam in and then set it on fire in the middle of the street. Paul says it’s the closest place to India he has been.
After a long days ride and a final stretch that has more holes than tarmac we finally reach Vlore to discover it’s is a big and busy city and more like Benidorm than Blackpool but no dancing bears. The stolen car of choice seems to be a Mercedes or Range Rover – usually in black which get paraded up and down the promenade. I haven’t seen as many UK number plates as I’d expected but still seen a few so the story we read about stolen cars does seem to be true as I doubt they are tourists.
The girls are quite pretty in Albania and don’t really have a ‘look’ though their style is a bit market/street corner chic but the men definitely do have a ‘look’. I would describe it as ‘Camp body builder’ men with shaved heads, tight mid-thigh length shorts, tank tops and cross body man bags to complete the look.
We find somewhere to stay relatively quickly, staying in an apartment along with Teo the cost is only 15 Euros and looks out onto the beach and the multi colour high rises that Albania is so fond of building. We all head out for a mooch of the town, which is extremely busy with young Albanians even though it’s a Monday night. We sampled supposedly traditional Albanian food for dinner though I had stuffed peppers and Paul had a lasagne which tasted like Mcdonalds if they made lasagne.
Having been slightly edgy about travelling through Albania, all throughout the day we have only come across really friendly people with the exception of the 10 year old chain smoker (who could have actually been reciting poetry, who knows) .We had many waves and beeps, no hostility or ever once feel threatened, and unlike Bosnia no long stares. Although so far not the most scenic of countries we enjoyed the ride possibly more than any other day due to the constant challenges of the road and the vast culture difference.
Only disappointment is I failed to capture most of the above on camera, as stopping to take a picture of burning bins would probably make us look a little odd.