GENERAL INFO (Jump to Diary)|
The Republic of Albania is govern as an unitary parliamentary constitutional republic, and it covers 28.748 square kilometres. It is the home of 2.876.591 citizens, of which 59% are Muslims and 17% Christians.
The currency is Lek, worth 0,06 Danish Krone and 0,0074. The GDP is US$12.876 billion.
The coastal lowlands have typically Mediterranean climate; the highlands have a Mediterranean continental climate.
Among the larger mammals are the Wild Boar (Sus scrofa), Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), Golden jackal (Canis aureus), Gray wolf (Canis lupus), Brown bear (Ursus arctos) and European otter (Lutra lutra).
Over a third of the territory of Albania about 10.000 square kilometres are forested and the country is very rich in flora. However, I have failed to find anything in particular I will be looking for.
The road get sealed, and I meet a snake on it. The fences along the road are weaved in willow or made of wood. There are some scattered farms, but they only grow hay and vegetables around here.
The mountains turn higher and more drastic. They are not barren, but close. Some have still a bit of snow in the ravines, and it is a bit chill. The valleys have some settlements, but not much. I get to a new, real nice road, except for the speed limit 40 km/t - unless it is 20! And the locals apply!
The road slowly descents, and it get greener and greener. Some of the small houses have vine around them, and further down, a few olive meadows are found. A few lavender fields still flowers. Down here, there are a lot of stone walls along the road, but it seems like most animals are on the road. The walls might keep them out of the crops?
I reach the coastal plain, and the houses turn real nice, although not all are much bigger than in the mountains. I see a horse wagon, but most vehicles are Mercedes sedans - around 95%. Some old, some brand new. I find a nice camp, and think "German standard". Then, as I walk to the kitchen, I see nine out of ten number plates actually are German. The last is Austrian. I have seen too much today, and it get way pass midnight before I stop working with it.
4/6. Considering how hard it is to find a washing machine and tumbler, I accept the campsites offer, despite they want five hours to dry my stuff. Then I can spend a long time exploring the Theth valley. Ten kilometres back from where I came, and 30 kilometres into the rather flat valley to start with.
I pass a the same nice houses in the coastal valley, and now I see they do have small gardens, or even hay fields along with some sheep. Some fields are with Lavender, which somehow does look a bit strange. Other small fields around the houses are with tobacco plants. Here are even a big guy in a small donkey carriage. I see a garage, and turn in: The knot from the window-lift have given up, and I need a rather special screw to fix it. Big flat head, thick and short. He only have a handful of odd bolts and screws, but I find exactly the one I want, and get it for free.
Back on the road, I turn into the valley road, and it turn quite bad. Narrow and with some big potholes. Then I passes a large prison, and the road get better.
I stop many times to see the plants and views. Here are some interesting plants, among them three species of orchids. The surounding peaks still have some patches of snow, which look odd in this summer heat.
Some sort of memorial is formed like a gallows, but I fail to figure the meaning. Many of the small fields are fenced by tiny sticks and weaved fences. Others are with big stone walls. A dry river runs in the button f the valley, and here must be underground rivers as well, as the snow must be melting on the peaks.
The road passes a little community, mainly with what appears to be new houses, but here are a few traditional as well. A few pigs roam around in the street, while the cows are tied up and the sheep are watched after. On the fields, I see some brown lizards, and I hear a lot of birds.
I get closer to the peaks with snow, and as the road turn steep, I reach the snow within long. I make a little snowman, but get so cold, I don't finish it. Here are still some trees, many beeches and pines along with other species.
road passes a pass, and turn into real bad gravel- and rock trail. I still have 20
kilometres to the village and forest I want to see, and the views are just
to great to turn around. I find some strange blue flowers along with
I realises; the houses look just like those on the coast, just a bit smaller. I had hoped for something ancient in timber or stone. And yes; I can see them clearly, despite it is a ten kilometre drive down to them. Considering it is my own car, and not a rental, I decide I have seen enough, and turn around.
I drive slowly back, both to enjoy the views, and because
the speed limit is 20 and 40 km/t. A herdsman have a herd of sheep
going up, while some donkeys are walking down by them self, although they
are fitted with bells.
I spend the time finding highlights from Montenegro and Bosnia & Herzegovina, process the pictures from this morning, cleaning the car and get a Albanian Salad at the restaurant: Tomatoes, cucumber, olives, red onions and feta. Then I get my cloths, and set off.
Shkodra is an old town at the lakeside, but it
hardly have any old houses left: everything is new. Not what I had expected.
But at least, the huge
fortress on the mountaintop remains, and I head up
the long copplestones road.
I have it pretty much for my self, untill a little group turns up with a guide. Some are Australians, and Birgitte is from Denmark. They are here on a rather interesting tour, to the less known places in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia. They leave again, and I wonder around the outer premises, looking for plants and great views.
huge lake, the vide river, the city, the mountains all around, offers so many
motives. I don't find any new plants, but here are a lovely flowerbed in many
I pass an area I don't feel like walking in, then the lake-side road with many restaurants, some real big. But besides from a few locals swimming in the lake, here are none. The sun disappears, and I head back. I pass some cows within the city, and a trailer with sheep. Skyscrapers or not, it is the countryside.
Where I yesterday literarily got the last place in the camp, I almost have it to my self now. I'm not looking forward for the weekends this summer! One of the others is the huge 4X4 truck. It look like he have spend the day polishing it. My Lupo have a new colour.
As I had a head-start, I finish the usual work at nine - and that does feel strange! Theth Road, Shkodra Fortress and town, Skadar Lake.
6/6. I'm up early, and head straight for the VW service centre in Tirana. I need the gearoil changed, as I been driving 86.000 kilometres with it! And I still need someone to fix the window-lift inside the door, and it would be nice to have the brakes fixed, as they rattle when they get hot.
The first ten kilometres is back to Shkodra, and I see at least six small horse wagons. The horsed look fine, and animals are generally treated real good here. On the other side of town, some low mountains are found. Where Montenegro and especially Bosnia & Herzegovina had little farmland, here are a lot. Even many of the mountainsides are covered in olives or vine.
Just to be safe, I start trying to gas the car, paying with Visa. I fail on the first six stations, but number seven are willing. However, it is their first go at this new system, and it does cause some problems. I can't get them to gas first, then charge. I accept 5.000 Leke, and that give me 1.600 in cash; nice for parking and alike.
The speed limits are low, and here are a lot of policemen
around. But people are not good drivers at all. A bit more "organic" than
the other countries I have driven through on this tour.
The first part is bye the big road, but I do pass a single donkey carriage. Then the road I choose turns narrow, and passes a lot of small fields. Several are harvested with relatively huge harvesters; probably second-hand, like so many of their cars. Some of the newer cars are even right-hand driven! Not that smart for the young men, who like to overtake.
Eventually, I reach Tirana, and head right for the central square. Here is a parking under the square, and I start walking around the centre of town. A lot of construction is going on. New surfaces, new buildings and and within long, it will look brand new.
what I was looking for, and I find my way to the old main street. It is
covered in the branches of huge trees, providing a nice shade. The back
alleys are one huge market. Mainly clothing, hardware and
The road passes some low hills or mountains, and then it is through a huge plain again. Almost every inch is farmed, and the villages does look quite prosperous. Several lakes are formed, and create great motives, although unnatural.
I had not expected oil-pumps, but one area have a lot of small, rusty ones. They are working, and Albania is actually an oil-producing country. Along the pumps are numerous greenhouse tunnels, and I spot tomatoes and cucumbers among other vegetables.
Berat is an old town, and it have an university, several churches, a mosque and a huge number of lovely Ottoman houses on both sides of the river. I do a loop in the newer part of town, then I head up along the river and into the old houses on the steep mountainside. The alleys are paved with limestone, which even in a dry day, is so slippery.
I make it down to the square, just to head up another
road to the huge
fortress. A real long and fairly intact wall - and
double-wall - contains some more Ottoman houses and the remains of the
I follow the outer wall most of the way round, and make some shorter executions to the centre. Here are more restaurants than tourists (5:3 in total), and it is real peaceful. But; I have seen it all, and must head on. Next sight is one hundred kilometres away, and I should reach it just passed six.
Well, if I could find a way across the river. The GPS show me all three pedestrian bridges - not useful. I find one mend for cars, and the mountain road that leads "straight" to next sight. A bit unexpected, the sealing ends after three kilometres, and despite I try to head on, it is not coming back. Then a hundred kilometres is too long for this time of day.
I head back, as the GPS know a Berat Camping. I end in a real bad part of town, and can't figure who's front lawn I'm supposed to camp on. Well, the GPS also know Berat Camper Ground, 15 kilometres along the way I will drive in the morning. Worse a try!
Real nice people accept my little "camper", charge me 8, serve a great frappe and let me choose any site I like - of the two vacant. The rest is taken up by huge German and Austrian campers. I choose the shadows, and start working.
The sound of distant dogs barking, real close coo-cooker,
crickets and German mumble fills the night. Could be worse!
6/6. I can't fall asleep, and when I finally do, it is only for three hours. Then I might as well see some more Albania. The first sight is Gjirokastra with its huge castle. I drive through the old and fascinating town, up a steep and rough road. The last bit is by foot, and then I'm at the gates of a truly massive castle. It is pretty intact, as it previous owner was assassinated as late as 1820.
The most striking feature - besides from how intact it is
- it the height to the sealing: About three times higher than the average
castle. Real tall arches spans wide corridors,
they seems to go on and on, into the darkness.
I see most, but skip the war museum and all the cannons in one huge gallery. I do not find war amusing. Then I head down to the nice old part of town, and do the central streets. A English talking woman is selling breads with things on, and she have one without meat. The sun emerges while I eat, and disappears right after.
My next sight is a coastal road, and it is quite a drive. Most of it through the hilly farmland, but then it is into the higher mountains. I stop several times and botanises in the marble rocks, and find a few interesting plants. In the mountains, I follow a bus for quite some time. It leave a black cloud, and it stinks.
I pass it, but right after, I get around yet another bent. This time, though, it is into a wet road, and it is like soap. I looses the car, and end up ten metres down the real steep hillside, in small trees. The soil provides grip, and I catch a tree. The gorge continues for at least 100 metres, and I consider my self lucky, not to have done the entire tour. I'm fine, but the car need a bit of paintjob - and spare-parts.
I call for a toe- truck, and start working on the photos of the day. Then I botanises, wait and wait. After five hours, I get picked up, and the car brought to a garage. On the way back, we passes another road accidence, and I have to walk the five kilometres into Sarandė. You can't hitch-hike in Albania, but I get lucky: The college of the toe-truck driver are on his way into town.
Sarandė is a beach town, almost with a Monaco-flair. And hotel prices to match. A 60 hotel receptionist follows me to a 20, and I get a real nice room with a balcony, right out to, and in the middle of the beach promenade. I get something to eat, and write with my insurance. Southern countryside, Saradė town and Fortress and down hill
7/6. I miss my car, but get to visit it at eight. A taxi bring me out to the garage, and I get to meet the boss. He have the towing company with at least three trucks, a rather big garage and a restaurant. I get a cup of tea, while we wait for the mechanics to show up.
When they do, we look at the poor car. The front wheels are pointing in each direction on top of the rest. It seems like they can get most spare parts, probably second-hand, but the steering causes problems - I think: My Albanian is not good enough to technical talk...
While they search for parts, I return to the restaurant.
A local police inspector turns up, and he is a jolly fellow. We have a long
chat - mainly in Albanian - while he enjoy a tiny espresso and a huge raki.
I still try to figure is the SOS road-help will pay for some of the repairs (road safety standard) , and how. I recon I can't rely on my own insurance company to add, as I have to pay the first part my self, and the rest within a year or two, due to raise in annual cost. But I can see a point is having the cosmetic repairs done here: A way other price than in Denmark! And less attraction from policemen along the road...
I start exploring the coastal town from the promenade. Here are a lot of big restaurants, many souvenir shops and alike. But hardly any tourists. But to judge from the huge hotels, they will come. And a cruise ship send in hordes later: Each group with big numbers on their chests.
Where the marina and promenade is real modern, the first street behind lack a bit. The second a lot and the third everything. I find the little local market, but rely on restaurants for dining. But despite I read menus many places, and try two nicer restaurants, I only get wraps or pita bred where the meat is replaced with French fries and way too little vegetables.
I get some prices from the SOS, both on their share and my optional cosmetic work. I agree, and they will think about is they do. Else, I just have to pay it all my self. I just hope the car will run smoothly afterwards, and with a bit of luck; look nice as well.
The temperature passes 30C, and I've probably been drinking too little. While I sit and make corrections to the previous diaries from this European tour, I get a headache. I get a pill and a nap, then I work on. Dinner is a pizza, pretty much as dull as lunch. They don't have a clue about vegetarian dishes here! Sarandė
8/6. I'm pretty sure the car is not finish, but I want to make sure they do the cosmetic work, and check the brakes in the back. After breakfast, I get a taxi to drive me to the garage, have a chat with them, and return with the same taxi. I'm sure the driver consider it a good morning! If I understood it right, they need two days to make the car, and they did not get the spare parts this morning. I book the room for additional two more days - and then figure out, it will be Sunday then. But they might work anyway?
I start making corrections to more previous
diaries, and at noon, I head out in the hot town to find lunch. A bread
filled with fresh cheese, and I gamble and have a
café latté-ish thing. It
is the second time, the waiter ask, if I want milk with it! I get around a
third of, what it is supposed to contain.
I try to find new angles to the town, but the photos are fairly like those from yesterday. Well, here are no tourists at all, just the short, round locals, trying to stay in the shadows. Back to work some more, and figure out, what to entertain myself with. I am really not good at doing nothing!!!
It have reached 36C, and if it get much warmer, I will
have to find some swimming shorts! I am, after all, only ten metres from the
popular Adriatic Sea beach. Then again, yr.no guess it will drop 10C
Despite I find a pretty nice restaurant, the vegetarian spaghetti I get look good, but taste of nothing at all. At sunset, the temperature drops considerable as usual, and I make a stroll along the beach. Mainly because I have it pretty much to myself by now.
I only find a few small snails and seashells, and I'm not really sure, the sand and gravel originates from this coat. I pass a fish restaurant, which I plan to return to. Not for the fish, but to get the code for their Wi-Fi, as mine is turned off during the night, until at least ten in the morning - and despite I asked them not to. Guess it is connected with some of their kitchen gear.
I get a caramel ice crčme and a white chocolate, served
in a coffee cup. A bit
discreet, I add sugar, as was it a cappuccino, and the sticky foam turns
pleasant sweet. And their code for the Wi-Fi is "albania1234", which I haven't thought of.
9/6. I really have a hard time entertaining my
self, but at least, I get to catch-up on the World Rally Series on Red Bull
TV. The temperature have really dropped 10C, and the city of Sarandė get a
breath shower in the morning.
I spotted some wild nature, way out on the other side of the bay, and head for it. It is all the way around the bay, and at some point, the hotels does not look just as fine. Some other houses and sheets start to mingle, and despite their efforts, it is just not as fancy. But here are new trees, some new hotels and alike.
After five kilometres, I reach the area - almost. It
turns out it is a military area, fenced in with barbwire. And I'm not that
eager I enters a closed military area, just to see a few dry plants. I head slowly
back, and boor myself a bit more - or a lot. I find a pizza at six, and head
back in time to watch the time-taking for the Formula 1 race in the morning.
10/6. I have an agreement with the garage, but it is Sunday, and I'm am not really that confident, that they are at work. But, considering how bored I'm am, I head out there in the morning. Well, I get to spend 20 and a half hour, but it was closed.
It is a partly cloudy day, and the temperature low, compared with the recent days. I feel I have seen enough of Sarandė by now, but have a hard time figuring what else to do. After the daily visit at the bakery, I head into the back of the town. I can see some hills, but getting to them turns out to be hard. The sun breaks though, and the temperature raises to 26C, and in the open sun, it feels considerably warmer.
I end up settling for some lots with ancient limestone rocks and a mix of invasive and local plants. It is already a dry area by now, and I guess it will dry our even more during the summer. Here are quite some different plants, among them some huge, dormant bulbs.
Back home, I pay for yet another night - desperately hoping it will be the last in Sarandė. The internet is almost working, but not enough for me to do any work on it. I play backgammon on my iPhone and wait for the F1 to start in the evening.
Dinner is a role of chocolate biscuits - the less disappointing meal in this town so far. I manages to see most of the F1 race, and that more or less include the entertainment of the day. I sure hope I get my Lupo back in the morning! Day 6,7 and 8: Sarandė
11/6. Despite I know it is way to optimistic, I pack my gear and head out for the garage in the morning. Not that I really think the car is finish, just because I so much hope it is.
They tell me it will be back from the painter at ten or eleven. To save the insurance for the 30 for taxis, I just do a walkabout in the area. A bit of a mix of small industrial and farming, along some almost unspoiled nature. A clear, and generally clean canal follow the road, and here are fish and frogs.
Some fields have olive trees, others huge amount of wild flowers. After a hour, the toe-truck driver finds me, and tell me; the car is ready. We drive back, but it have not arrived yet. Actually I wait additional two and a half hour. Thinking it is either bad info, or their concern about my safety?
Finally, the painter show up with the car, and he have done a nice job. Unfortunately, the windshield have not been replaced, and he forgot a rusty part, I have in the back of the car. The sump of the engine have not been replaced, just closed with Plastic Padding. I wonder how long that will last??? Besides from the prices SOS have given me, there are additionally 70 for something, and 45 for the oil. And that mean I don't have money enough.
Back to town to withdraw some Euros. But apparently, not all ATMs have Euros. And I can't recall the one I stumbled over, the other day, when I made the first withdraw for this expensive show. I try a lot of ATM, and when I finally find the only one that have Euros, it is out of order!
We agree, I can withdraw Leke and change into Euros - can't cost me much, right? But now, all the ATM are down! I send my driver home and tell them; I'll be back, when I have the cash. I walk back from the other end of town, and straight to the Euro-ATM, which works again. Taxi to the garage, and free my car.
It cause for celebration, and we set out to Parku Kombėtar I Butrintit. and ancient Butritit. It is located way down south. On the way, I realises; my driving license have gone. I'm sure it was in the ashtray after I had crashed.
Here are a lot of sea, olive trees and finally; ruins from the fifth century. I walk around the area and see the debris and enjoy the surounding nature.
Next to the amphitheatre is the
ancient public bath. Here a lot of green frogs and European Pond
Turtle; Emys orbicularis enjoy the shallow and warm pools. Here are
even young animals. I really enjoy seeing them here.
I stop at a little cosy village for a pizza, and then home to go everything through, just to make sure I don't have the driving license somewhere. But I don't. The SOS road help now tells me; they will send the bill on, and that mean my own insurance company will draw the own-risk, and I'm going to pay everything myself.
While I have taken the car apart, I clean it, as the painter did not close the windows, when he sanded it. Then it is getting way too late, and diary and photos is not treated with enough respect. Parku Kombėtar I Butrintit and ancient Butritit.
12/6. I am up way too early, as I have to wait for the garage to open at eight. It is nice to be back on the road again - driving license or not. I pass the place where I went off-road, and recover a part of the car.
While I look for it, I find parts of at
least six other cars. Most have made it further down than I, and lost way
bigger parts. Then I set the GPS for Greece, and it is a short drive.
If I abstract from the unscheduled mountain-drive,
Albania have been a nice adventure. Here is pretty, and some nice things to
see. I have driven 762 kilometres, taken 1224 photos, and besides from the
additional hotel, taxi and repair, I have only spend 155. It should have
been four days, but ended up with nine.