Albania, just the word brings questions and fear. Stories of the poverty. Stories of the horrible roads. Fear of the unknown. Excitement and wonder of the unknown. You might find this hard to believe but me and Andrew have both been intrigued by Albania since before we knew each other. Something about what grows in the dark and in isolation. So Albania has always held a special place in our hearts. The “most closed of communist countries”. The “poorest country in Europe”. It also had this “familiarity to us. Sometimes reminding us of our beloved Czech Republic, that we lived in for a few years, and sometimes of Morocco, still very dear to us.
First of all, the border. We get to the border and handed over our, ever decreasing, wad of passports and vehicle papers. He asks us to go over to the side to the bus lane. While we are waiting a couple of nice men come up to my window and start chatting. I thought they were bus drivers because they had tags around their necks. While I am chatting with these friendly men the Montenegro man brings back the passports and says we are finished. The man I was talking to asked us if we had our passports now and bid us well. Andrew was shocked. Looking for another border crossing to enter Albania and it wasn’t there. We realized the men I was chatting with WERE the Albanian border officials. When Andrew realized this, turned around the truck and went back to the border to buy insurance from the shacks on the Albanian side. He remembered that our insurance policy for our truck specifically mentions Albania as a country that they never cover. After chatting with the nice man in the booth for a while and handing over 27 euro he emerges with a very official document that declares us insured.
Lots of animals on the road.
Sometimes the road here – well – just changes. Sometimes a new road starts sinking into the swamp it was built on or sometimes it is just gone. I think I can sum up some of the road problems with this quote from TJ. “Dad, where did the road go?” Perhaps there is a new fancy road and then it is just gone. We went on a divided highway with cars going both directions on both halfs.
Andrew had a boyish fascination with the Albanian “for sale signs” signs.
Now we are not yet in the habit of picking up a lot of hitchhikers but this guy – well, we just had to pick him up. We saw him first in Montenegro. Apparently, when he sees a full vehicle that has no room he is in the habit of stretching out his arms and giving them a big smile. He did the same to us, not knowing we actually had room. We thought, “what a nice young man. Andrew added, he looks british”. The kids really wanted us to pick him up but we were looking for a place to stop. An hour later we saw him AGAIN! Hitchhiking on the side of the road with his big pack. STILL, we didn’t pick him up because – well, surely we will find a place to stop soon. The next day in Albania. WE SAW HIM AGAIN! Yeah, I know, we are travelling at the speed of a hitchhiker. We pulled up to give him a ride but the horse and cart ahead of us gave him a lift first. “Well”, said Andrew, “I think we will see him again. And sure enough, several hours later, there he was on the side of the road again!. Weird huh! His name is Will. He is from Stirling, Scotland and just as nice as he looks. I mean, look at this face – could you resist?
So, after picking up Will we went into Tirane.
We found some amazing apartment buildings. Never seen apartment buildings painted like this. I love it. Without much money for remodelling you can make even the most run down and mundane of apartments into a work of art. Abi took just a few photos.
Driving through the middle of Tirane we meticulously followed signs to Ebanese until there were no more. Apparently, sometimes they just start ripping up roads with no indication of where to go. After circling the town and finding lots of really great painted apartment buildings we could only find signs out to Durres. Figuring out that sometimes the quickest way to your destination is the opposite way we went towards the coast instead of Macedonia in an effort to take the LONG way around the capital of Albania.
We found a very nice campground down 5 km of crumbling road going through a drained swamp. The campground itself will be great but the road there would probably ruin a white plastic. The only other campers were in 4 wheel drives, for some reason. The campground owner was friendly and wonderful. Dang, we have yet to meet an unfriendly Albanian.
On our way to Macedonia – We got a great meal at a tacky roadside restaurant.
Got some puffy pillow cheese things from the bottom of a woman’s house and practiced English with her young daughter. Bought some Turkish delight and ice cream from a village shop.
Got our car washed.
We must come back! We went to the border. Left Albania, Were refused entry into Macedonia. Turned around, re-entered Albania. Went around the lake. Waved to some dutch people we met the nite before. Went to a village at the bottom of the lake. Found an internet café. Printed off more car documents. Met more nice people. Bought Elizabeth a condensed milk tin with a panda on the side, we collect the strangest things. Went towards the Greek border and left Albania again.
You see, Albania loves us to. They welcome us back again and again.