We crossed the border into Albania late afternoon, the sun was low in the sky and we were bolting to Tirana. The van was booked into Citroen at 7.30am the next morning and we had no tail lights. The setting sun, potholes and winding roads were dashing our hopes of getting there before nightfall. Being a campervan we already were a good target for the police, we didn’t want to attract any more attention. Decision, drive without tail lights at night or early morning. We choose the morning figuring the coppers would be in bed and we could try and explain we were on the way to the repair shop if they weren’t.
We found a proper campsite across the border at Greenland Hotel. They had turned their grounds into a camping spot and had recently built an ablution block fitted out with hotel quality fixtures, rather upmarket. The lawns were immaculate. It was a lovely spot. We decided to dine in the hotel that night. What a surprise, the food was great.
As dawn broke the next morning, we headed off, my red head torch and our safety triangle tapped to the bikes as makeshift tail lights. About 5 minutes into the journey we realised we needn’t have worried, we had more operational lights that most vehicles in Albania!!
The guy at Citroen checked out the car and found a cut wire which neither we nor the guy in Ulcinj had seen!
Thankful that we now had an almost fully operational van (the rear camera still isn’t connected) We could relax and discover Albania.
The first thing you notice driving in Albania is the sheer number of petrol stations and car washers there are literally one or two every kilometre, as ‘Ausworldroamers’ noted its hard to see how they all stay in business, the second thing you notice is the lack of panel beater shops, given the way they drive I would have thought that it would be a thriving business, they are maniacs, even worse than Bangkok!
An ethnographic museum was located within the castle grounds. It was really very interesting. It was set out within an old restored family house, the lady who managed it would keep coming into each room where we were to explain the use of the room, the objects on display and a little bit of history. Very informative, very friendly, laid back and enjoyable. All the doorways were quite low, constructed on purpose, to force the person entering to bow as a mark of respect. I can tell you, for me, I payed a lot of respect in the houses I visited in Albania! After looking around the rest of the castle, the town area and bazaar, we headed into the centre of Tirana to find our camp spot for the night.
According to our ‘app’ there was an overnight carpark for busses which allowed campervans. It was walking distance to the city centre, perfect for a city visit. It was a big carpark but the only spot available for us was right by a junction of a busy road and a fun fair. Never mind, it was cheap and extremely convenient. Sometimes we choose beauty others times convenience.
In the afternoon we walked into the city centre via the city’s Grand Park that was over the road from our camp site. The park surrounded a large man made lake and was very popular with the locals, running, exercising, drinking coffee or just generally hanging out.
‘House of Leaves’ so named not only for its lush vine coverage but also because it was full of “leaves”’ as in pages in files...on people. The house itself was built in 1931 as a medical clinic, during WWII it was under German occupation used by the Gestapo. Between 1944 and 1991 the the Stalinist communist regime of dictator Enver Hoxha developed an elaborate surveillance network as it became increasingly isolationist and paranoid. Thousands of Albanians and foreigners they felt had ill intent against the regime were spied on tracked then often charged. The museum is a show case of the lengths they would go to to gather information, the horrors that were performed on those found guilty and even the propaganda films that were made to show how the perfect communist life would be destroyed by these imperialist sympathizers! Very interesting and intriguing place - but in reality, what is so different today? We are all being monitored, just in a more high-tech fashion and we are complicit in it I suppose.
We found a campsite at Green House Restaurant. A family run business who had a large car parking area out the back which he set up for campers. It had a toilet and shower block, electricity and a beautiful view - so I was happy.
We came across a group of construction workers were repairing the river retaining wall. It was great to watch. A small front end loader was parked, at a precarious angle in the river, the shovel being used to hoist men and stones up to the hole while buckets of cement were being lowered from above. A group inside were carefully rebuilding the wall stone by stone. Both the craftsmanship and lack of health and safety wouldn’t be seen in Australia!
We headed back to the coast of southwest Albania and the town of Vlora situated in front of the Karaburun peninsula and Sazan island. It is the starting point of the Albanian riviera and surrounded by sandy beaches and rocky shores. We found a cheap camp spot in a marina car park. Quiet, with a 24 hour guard and a view of the marina pier where several locals fishing.
Sarande is the unofficial capital of the Albanian Riviera where we overnighted in the grounds of the Mediterranean Hotel. Here at least we had electricity, showers and a toilet. The town centre was a short walk down the hill. So really quite convenient. After setting up camp, we wandered into the town centre. It is a nice town but is now almost exclusively aimed at the summer tourists as it is also a main port for the ferries to and from Italy. We decided to have dinner in town, cheap and cheerful gyros! A local speciality - and they were good.
We had booked a scuba dive with a local company, so the next morning after a lovely and appreciative birthday phone call from Pete’s family, we walked to the dive centre. The diving along the Adriatic coast is reported to be pretty amazing due to the visibility, the waters are crystal clear. I was looking forward to this! Our dive was on the wreck of the Italian hospital ship MV Probitas that was sunk during WWII. It was only a couple of hundred metres from the shore in the port area which made it easily accessible the visibility wasn’t as good as it would have been further out. However, saying that the dive was pretty cool. The ship was pretty much in tact and we could do a few swim throughs into the cargo holds where medicine bottles were still laying around. The ship is 150m long, with the top of the ship at 10m and sitting on the bottom at 20m. Fish life unfortunately wasn't that plentiful again due to its port location. Overall though it was an interesting dive and we both enjoyed it.
We had booked into a restaurant nearby that had a reputation for quality local seafood, was little more upmarket and sounded good for a birthday dinner. As we were about to head to the head to the restaurant the whole town had lost power! It was pitch black! Hopefully the restaurant was on gas, but how would the chefs see... Luckily the restaurant’s grid was fully functional and they were still open for business.
The restaurant lost power a couple of times making for a spasmodically romantic candlelight dinner! The food was great, we shared a local spicy meatball dish for entree and then a large platter of grilled seafood, washed down with a couple of glasses of bubbly.