Atrocious Albanian Driving
I am a pretty confident person.
I am also a pretty sensible person.
And a pretty logical and sometimes over-cautious person.
At the same time I am undoubtedly a “go-getter”, and of course an “explorer”.
But the next few days in Albania, I am the most stressed, uptight driver as I face shocking driving conditions.
Today, we head off from the coastal southern corner of Montenegro, and with the wonderful help of the Pansion Vondola owner, I am led to the start of a back road to the border.
I can’t say the border crossing was a marvelous experience.
It is really hot, and we wait in the sun for about forty minutes in the multiple car line-up. One of the officers comes up and grills me, and takes our passports and registration papers, and then moves on down the line walking off with all my documents and passports. Once he has about ten vehicles worth of documentation, he heads back to one of the offices. Also lining up is several bus drivers, armed with fifteen to twenty passports. They are then all passed in. Yikes, I do NOT like my passport out of view.
I sit for about twenty more minutes and wait. There is no communication. I hope our passports haven’t been handed back to one of the buses. We sit on some sort of pressure plate and it suddenly rocks. I wonder if there is a camera going under the car?
Finally, we are through. Thinking we are yet to go to the Albania border and this is just the Montenegro side, I don’t put the passports away, but NO, this is thankfully it. We don’t have to pay for any Green Card either. Bonus. Seems our UK Insurance or registration papers are accepted? Who am I to argue?
We head into Albania and instantly discover the GPS is useless. The road we are on does not exist to the GPS. The towns n the GPS have the wrong ‘Sat-Nat’ coordinates. Sometimes it shows I’m driving in the ocean!
Prior to this, we had stopped just before the border and bought some Albania souvenirs. The cute little girl had given my son a magnet (and the weave I bought was by far the best I found in all of Albania, so this is a good place to stop – and prices were a bargain too).
So armed with the picture magnet, we stop and show various Albanians (who are ever so helpful) and point us in the right direction. Quite a few knew English too – yay!
We head through Shkoder and spy the walled city/castle but decide to head on to the place on the magnet.
Everywhere we go we seem to encounter smog and smoke. And Mercedes Benz, car washes, tire sellers, fields of car wreckers, and petrol stations.
So finally we head up, up, up the hills to Kruje.
We have a good look around the ruins, and start to learn some basic history of Albania. There is a load of sellers on the way. Not many places sell souvenirs, so this is a good place to shop if you do go. The felt slippers are really cool too – wish I had bought a pair. So are the original finely knitted indoor socks.
We head to a museum and learn a lot. It is quite hands-on and we see how the felt was made and other things from the last two centuries. At $3 AU this was a bargain. Explorason was free too.
So we leave there with the I’m off spending the night at Berat.
But the GPS has other ideas. It takes us on a back road to somewhere behind Fier. The road starts to decline rapidly as we head into the hills.
Fortunately, we find a 24-hour hotel on what USED to be the main road and is now a back road – thanks to GPS for this good mistake.
I have no idea what kind of hotel it was, but the owner was really nice and went and presented Explorason with the hugest pomegranate for dinner and broke it up, and then went and bought me a bottle of red wine, and gave us a liter of milk – all at n extra charge. We had supplies for dinner and breakfast, so this was great. It was a clean and relatively quiet colorful hotel with a balcony.
So in the morning we head off looking for Berat once more.
As we head through Fier I am doing 10 Kmph and a policeman waves his paddle pop sign at me and pulls me over. I am told it is illegal to drive without the headlights on (even though no other cars have headlights on), and he quizzes me how long I have been in Albania, and when we will leave. I am a bit shaken as I already got ‘told off’ for going 60 Kmph the other day on a country road and was warned in Montenegro where no speed limit was indicated.
The road from Fier is a terrible one.
The signs are virtually nonexistent. If we do find one they are old. Sometimes they are bent in the wrong direction so we stop to ask locals – I find my gut feel works most times, as if I doubt it is right, it usually isn’t.
At the start, it changes to gravel, and I have no idea it is for about seventy kilometers.
The road then not only changes to dirt but it changes to slosh.
It goes uphill and I cannot believe this is the MAIN road to Berat. Soon there are holes and rough rocks and I fear the car is going to fall apart. I think I am averaging 5 Kmph and my knuckles are turning blue, as I have no idea which hole I will hit next and how deep it is. I don’t have photos of the really bad parts of the road as it was either too narrow or dangerous to stop anywhere.
Every now and again I get hope and we suddenly get bitumen and people. And then the car in front stops and they buy vegetables out the window. Mercedes Benz seems not to fear these roads either.
There seem to be predominantly old men. Some have donkeys. Some have cats. Some have chickens. I even spy an Australia cap!
Oh, and farmers walking their turkeys too!
The road seems to go on forever. It is hard to stop anywhere safe to photograph this. But this is a wide spot so I quickly stop. It is mainly as the trucks just belt along and do not slow down when they pass a parked or moving car. It is life in your hands kind of stuff.
We finally get to Berat and I stop and talk to these men. I love their felt Plis hats. So traditional and still worn in Albania.
Now Berat is a lovely town. But as we drive in the bridge is closed and under construction, and so is the main walkway in town. So it is a bit of a mess. We are told to drive up this road toward the castle, where our accommodation we hoped to stay at is, but the car slides backward on the shiny old pavers. By now I am a mess as I slide down out of control. I had a manual and it is no 4WD and so we glide into a park and stop and get out and have lunch. I feel like I want a strong drink, but it has to be coffee – as I am driving.
We look around the city. We drive around town maybe four times, and try and find a hotel our friends stayed at the other day. In the end, I am so uptight I just want to head on.
We pass some gypsies with horse and wagon. We see a few of these around the place, but not many. Albania is on a fast upward move financially I think.
You can see in the distance the bridge that is closed behind Explorason. It is a nice place. If you go I hear it is so pretty at night too.
There is another suspension bridge – behind me, but as we have made the decision to drive on. Shame I am sure there is a lot to see including the castle. Make sure you wear non-slip comfortable shoes.
Some man invites us up the hill into his house for a better view. We decline.
We leave again and I decide to take a longer way out but with what I hear is a better road. Lushnje is the place to head, so we have more success. Mad truck drivers overtake on dirt alleyways off the already gravel road. Mercedes are constantly overtaking me on the wrong inner side (right). Numerous smashed cars fill fields – I wonder why?? Oh an on the main road, loads of tire repair places and new tire sales centers – obviously a thriving business.
We go past where our hotel from last night was and we see it in the distance. It is hard to miss as it is purple and apricot.
We pass the policeman that pulled me over this a.m. and I wave at him, and he waves back with a puzzled look on his face.
We take what we think is the right road as the GPS says it goes to Vlore. Turns out it is heading back inland and after 45 minutes some guys stop us and tell us the road ahead is too bad. After the Berat road, I am not going to change it. So we do a U-turn.
Oh and we get lost and pass the hotel – again!!!!
We see this sigh all through Albania and Explorason takes the opportunity NOT to swear by repeating it and laughing. It means For Sale.
So we stop for dinner at Vlore. A concrete jungle tourist city.
We decide to head on.
As we head to the mountains the road turns to 20 Kmph. Sometimes the road has huge holes in it. It gets dark and lonely. There is very little traffic as it is too steep for RV and camper vans coming from Greece.
We see quite a few mountain log cabins and Explorason begs me to stop. I am so glad we did. We find a nice one with a kitchen and en-suite for 20 Euro. Sorry, I don’t have the name as the sign was down. It was a bit run down outside, but the hut was fabulous and clean and the price is good for just a peaceful sleep. Across the road is a lovely restaurant. We decide it is a good idea to go out to dinner.
It is toasty and warm with the air-conditioning on warm. Outside, however, is quite cold.
I am so glad about the extremely steep decline on the morning drive that we stopped the night before.
I am so glad that I am over the worst of Albanian roads.
However Albanian drivers go as fast as they can when the police are not around.
Be careful of 20 Kmph signs as police often hide with radar guns. Or they just pull you over for the heck of it – either to talk to a woman, to practice English, or I was told for a bit of cash – but I don’t know if that is true.
To finish off our adventure I enter Sarande and guess what?
I am stopped again by a police officer!!! I am not too well with a boomer headache and it is so hot. I am shaking and I feel like I am going to throw up. I am sure the officer thinks he is intimidating me. Turns out there is four of them this time and it is Customs looking for stolen overseas cars – especially from England and America he tells me. He goes to take my documents and start making notes when a USA vehicle goes the opposite way. He quickly ends the conversation and the four jump in and conducts a wild U-turn, and literally, the tires smoke as they go off in hot pursuit!
Albanians are lovely people, but I am very stressed out driving here and I can’t wait to leave.
As I back out of Albania onto a tiny ferry, even the exit out of this county is stressful for me.
Time for this Exploramum to go and explore another new country.
Goodbye Albania – country number 39 – you were a challenge, but I made it through.
And I am pretty proud of my driving.
I need a holiday from travels I joke.
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