Published: September 20th 2011September 18th 2011
Welcome to Albania!
Never thought we would be saying that!
On the road again, this time it’s really into the unknown as we head for Albania – Its A- DAY (the name adopted by the bus for the day we really head into the unknown.
We had an early breakfast at the resort so we could make an early start and hopefully get to the border at a time when there’s not too much traffic. We were advised to take our own lunch as options were very limited on the way.
We left Croatia and entered Montenegro, previously part of Serbia it had broken away about seven years ago. The whole population of the country is only 700,000 so it seems a bit odd. Apparently it has become the playground for the super rich Russians. It is on the beautiful Adriatic coast and is a perfect (out of the limelight) spot for super yachts of the rich and maybe even famous. The island of St Stephens was a favourite haunt for Tito and Italian actress Sophia Loren.
We stopped at the small walled city of Kotor which sits in a beautiful bay. There were a number of very nice churches within the city which were
St Stephens Island
A luxury island resort just off the Montenegro coast
well worth a look. In general it was another historic town full of narrow alleyways and interesting shops and cafes.
Not long after we left we stopped for a photo opportunity of St Stephens Island before heading inland towards the Albanian border.
The road we took was narrow and windy and there was a noticeable change in outlook. Houses were more ramshackle, there was a lot of rubbish lying around and scrawny goats and stray dogs were seen regularly. There was a bit of banter on the coach, bad jokes, forced laughter; everyone was just a bit nervous.
When we arrived at the border Brendan took our passports and dealt with the officials, the bus dropped us at a cafe, souvenir shop just over the border and we ate our picnics and did a bit of shopping while we waited for everything to be sorted out. It took about an hour before we got the OK, not too bad I think and all very civilised.
From the Albanian border we had an ‘escort car’ (a black Mercedes-more about them later.) Basically as we understand it the driver drove in front of us to make sure
Just one of 600,000 bunkers built during communist times - Paranoid much! The Albanian Communist regime was a closed society similar to North Korea.
everything was OK and to ‘smooth the way’ (pay-off) with officials so we had a relatively hassle free run in Albania. Not that we were in any danger but sometimes the authorities give foreign visitors a bit of a hard time – I suspect as a way of encouraging groups to pay up to avoid any delays/problems.
We were also joined on the coach by a local guide who gave us a commentary on the 2 hour drive to Tirana the capital city of Albania. The deeper we got into Albania the more the things outlined above were accentuated. There was rubbish everywhere along the side of the road. The condition of the road deteriorated quite a bit, although it improved slightly as we got close to Tirana.
Another amazing thing was the number of houses that had been partially built. What happens is the families living in Albania (outside of Tirana) mostly have no real income so they can’t afford to build. They rely on family working abroad to send back money, when they do they do as much as they can, then they stop until more money is sent. The houses are often for their extended
After communists fell, the mayor decided to add colour to the city by painting the buildings bright colours - this is just one example. Rumour has it he was concerned about the number of people coming from the provinces to Tirana so the arrows were painted to show them the way out of town!
The other thing that was interesting was the way they drive. Up until 20 years ago, when the communist regime fell there were only about 600 cars in the whole country –population 3,600,000. The cars were reserved for high ranking officials of the ruling party and their families and friends. When things changed politically people just went out bought cars and drove them, no licence or anything. This is the spirit that lives on in Albanian driving today-it’s a shambles! Cars, trucks, bikes cutting across lanes of traffic dodging in and out, people randomly crossing the road, the guys sitting in the front of our bus couldn’t believe we didn’t have an accident.
If someone sees a friend in another car they just stop in the middle of the road and have a chat – other traffic work their way around (this included policemen, if a policeman on traffic control saw someone he knew he just stopped directing traffic and left everyone to their own devices until he had finished chatting to his mate - we actually saw this happpen! All in all its total chaos!
There are an amazing number of Mercedes cars on
More colouful buildings
Colourful buildings are prominent in the CBD
the road, apparently they are stolen from all over Europe and sold in Albania – true story. In fact a while ago the president of Albania was going to Greece for a state visit but he was turned back at the border when the border guards realised his car to was stolen. Yes it was a black Mercedes!
To add to the traffic problems beggars wandered between the lanes around traffic lights and roundabouts asking for cash. It was totally different from anything we had ever experienced – but that’s why people travel isn’t it to experience different cultures.
The 'river' that ran through the centre of Tirana was full of rubbish, someone on the bus said 'there's everything in there except the kitchen sink" - right on que a bath tub floated by!
Having said all that our hotel in Tirana The Sheraton is right up with the best Hotels we have stayed in.
After tea we went for a walk around the CBD and it felt quite safe (we were in a big group) it could have been any city anywhere – there was a very heavy Police presence though.
The Sheretan Tirana
to form the driving was terrible, people just parked where they stopped, in one steet it was half blocked by people who had double parked and someone had parked at right angles to the curb - CRAZY!
It was quite difficult to take photos because we were on the bus most of the time and brendan didn't want us wandering too much when we were off it.