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Europe » Albania
June 28th 2015
Published: October 1st 2017
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Geo: 42.07, 19.51

It was overcast this morning when we awoke. We had brekkies on the terrace, lingering for a while. Then we packed up and made the drive to Podgorica. Just after leaving Kotor, we went through a tunnel, and the land became less dramatic, and the resorts felt less new. We passed through Budva, which was so much larger and less interesting that Kotor – a few dark beaches with rows and rows of lounges and umbrellas; large blocks of flats, and a very busy downtown. We could only see old town from a distance (but Keegan had stayed here five years ago and said it was nice but not fabulous; he preferred Kotor). Driving up over the hill out of Kotor, we saw at least two members of the German bike group that had been stopped at the border coming into Montenegro. The last bit of the drive to Podgorica was through a national park, which was nice – steep foliaged hillsides with lake and rivers in the valleys.

We reached Podgorica, checked into our hotel, then switched cars, as our Kia Sportage was not allowed into Albania. Instead, we were given a Dacia Sandero, which was. The whole procedure took about 30 minutes.

Then, we were on the road to Albania. The drive along the flats to reach the lake was very different from the rest of Montenegro, and the overcast which covered distant mountains didn't help much. Still, it was pleasant. We went through many small towns, saw a few mosques about, and I was pulled over by the police, who wanted to see my papers. They mostly wanted to check to make sure that I was the registered driver (which I was). We passed many restaurants that looked new, with fresh flowers, and garden with slides and entertainment for the children. (Our hotel has the same thing, including a go-cart track.)

The border crossing into Albania was straight-forward: first we exited Montenegro, then we were signed into Albania. The Albania process was a little slow, but the guard indicated that the computer was slow, so he had to input the passports by hand. We had to show papers for the car in both places, but everything seemed in order. In any case, it was less than 10 minutes for us to cross into Albania.

There was no obvious change entering Albania, except maybe the presence of a few bunkers. We did have to pass one donkey cart, but that was it. We laughed at the number of Mercedes-Benz cars, given Albania's reputation. Arriving in Shkoder, we drove first along a tree-lined boulevard, where a number of shops were open, but the sorts with the roll-up fronts that sell stacks of shoes or car tires. Lots of people were out and about. We found the center of town, near a small quasi-pedestrian zone, and parked our car. (Parking appeared to be free, but it was hard to tell.) We wandered down a streets with open but empty restaurants, many of which had nice terraces, until we found one where the man was standing outside soliciting customers. We took a table and people-watched … although there were so few people walking by, it was a hard task. It also took a very, very long time for the main dishes (about one hour and 45 minutes). My dish came out first, then it was about 30 minutes before Kyla got hers. We did try a local egg plant dish, which was very tasty. The whole meal, with water, bread, and service, cost us 15.

After lunch, we strolled along the quasi-walking
Shkoder, AlbaniaShkoder, AlbaniaShkoder, Albania

The party jeep
street. An expensive Audio passed us, but registered in Deutschland, so that was a little disappointing. At the end of the short street, we encountered a funeral. About 50 men stood around, of varying ages. One group, of about 12, lined up near the hearse, and the others walked by with a small salute. They didn't move their arms, but kept their hands near their foreheads, above the eyes, palm flat and downwards or tilted slightly. A large bus was present to take people, presumably to the cemetery. A waiter ran from a nearby restaurant to join the line of saluting men. I looked later to see if I could figure out who was being honored, but no luck.

So then we drove back. The sun had come out, so it was a prettier drive. We opted to head south, around the lake, on a different road. The second border crossing was "integrated" and very easy. We then took a very small road up and over the mountains – gorgeous views of the sea, then the lakes, driving along a narrow road, sometimes with no place to pass other cars. At one point, on the narrowest possible part of the road, with cliff on both sides, I came upon a fire-truck making its way uphill. The only option I had was to reverse several hundred feet until I could find a pullout. It was harrowing, and the fire-truck turned on its siren (briefly) which didn't help. The road went up over a couple of passes, then into valleys, and we went through a few villages where people sold wine in unmarked bottles near their farms. It was delightful, if a lot of work.

Back at the hotel, we had drinks and dinner (massive portions, which we could not finish, even though we only ordered two meals for the four of us). Then to bed.

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