Albania 1 to 3 July 2013

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July 3rd 2013
Published: July 9th 2013
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Albania 1 to 3 July 2013

Our 1st stop in Albania was Gjirokaster after driving through some magnificent country – rugged mountains which would be snow capped in winter (it was still 30-35 degrees during the day now), green with many sheer cliff faces and river valleys and lots of tunnels.

We spent only 3 days in Albania and we could clearly see they were trying to make a go of tourism after years of government-enforced isolation. We saw many updated roads, houses and commercial buildings and shopping complexes which heralds the country’s new found prosperity. Yes, they have a bit to catch up but yes, they are clearly progressing.

Their currency is the Leke which is 105 Leke to $1.00 AUD.

We found the people to be very friendly. We also spoke to a number of young Albanians who either spoke very good English or wanted to practice their English with us.

When we stopped at Gjirocaster to have a cold drink and walk around their Old Town we quickly learned that this was a country where lots of men sat around in groups drinking coffee etc. This was evident throughout the country. Interesting! We walked all through the Castle which was on top of the hill in Old Town. This held a lot of artillery and cold war relics. We also walked up and down the old cobbled streets saying hello to the locals. They touted very hard for our business.

The Old Town is known for its slate roves and its white-washed building walls. The gentle slopes that surrounded the city were covered with olive and cherry trees.

The camping sites are infrequent in Albania so we found a side of the road spot and camped the night comfortably by a disused petrol station.

The next morning we drove north-west up the coast through Ballish, Fier and up to Lushnje. We were at Durres, a beach side town for lunch. Durres was the 1st capital of Albania. As it is Europe’s summer holidays the beach was packed with umbrellas and holiday-makers. We stayed here for about an hour then drove onto the capital of Albania, Tirane which is 35 kms inland from Durres.

We could see that there was definitely a ‘renewal’ happening, with attempts at trying to spruce their city up after so many years of communist rule. Some buildings had received a coat of paint with stripes and multi colours. There were a number of new buildings also, particularly around Republique Square where there were statues from both the communist and democratic eras. The number of mosques stood out, reminding us of what is an important part of the countries culture and history, although we believe that Catholicism was the dominant religion. We walked and drove around the city and then drove up to Bushat. We know there was a lot more to see in Tirane but we can’t see everything (which Tom sometimes tells me!!!!)

We discovered a Camping Park which was called Camping Albania. It had won a number of Tourist and Camping awards in the last 3 years. The toilet and showed block was new. We learned that the new owners of 3 years had put a lot of money into the place. There was a restaurant, reading room (including book exchange), washing machines and dryer. The hour that we had pulled up to the reception was when they had just completed filling their new swimming pool. They were all very excited because the installation program had been delayed extensively by rain during the past month. It was a family affair with mum & dad as well as son and daughter. All spoke good English. They were really friendly and interesting to talk to.

We needed to do a major wash (sheets, towels etc) so this was really easy at this camp site. As it had been another very hot day, the shower was fantastic. We didn’t shower until after we road our bikes around the little village. I used by bike and as we still hadn’t found a bike for Tom, he hired one from the Park owners.

Everywhere we went through the town the locals said their ‘hello’ and so it was a real friendly atmosphere. After our shower it was beer-o’clock and olives, cheese and tomato time.

The area where we camped was a large grassy paddock (no mud or dust!) so we gave the Camper a good clean out as well. We met some Dutch people who had also travelled extensively. They had 2 teenage children.

Next morning, after breakfast and after picking up our fresh brown bread for breakfast, we packed up (including multiple clothes lines(!!!) and we were off to Shkoder (north), Koplik and then cross the Albanian/Montenegro border.

We drove around Shkoder which is one of the oldest cities in Europe. Much renovation has happened in this city. The city was badly damaged by a 1979 earthquake.

One of the nearby features of this part of the world is Lake Shkoder, a 1/3 of which is owned by Albania and the rest by Montenegro. Rozafa Fortress can be seen at the southern end of the Lake.

We leave Albania with a more positive feeling towards the country, and hope that their democratic and economic progress continues.

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