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November 20th, 2022

Currency:   Albanian LEK – $0.0089 USD or $0.012 CDN

Beer:   Tirana, Elbar & Korça

Diesel:  218 LEK per litre which is $7.56 US per gallon

EU Plate letters: AL

Albania, officially the Republic of Albania, is a country in southeastern Europe. It is located on the Adriatic Sea and shares land borders with Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo to the northeast, North Macedonia to the east and Greece to the south. Tirana is its capital and largest city.  It’s about the size of the state of Maryland.

Albania has been inhabited by different civilizations over time, such as the Illyrians, Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and Ottomans. The Albanians established the autonomous Principality of Arber in the 12th century. The Kingdom of Albania and the Principality of Albanian formed between the 13th and 14th centuries. Prior to the Ottoman conquest of Albania in the 15th century, the Albanian resistance to Ottoman expansion into Europe led by Skanderbeg won them acclaim over most of Europe. Albania remained under Ottoman rule for nearly five centuries, during which many Albanians attained high-ranking offices in the empire, especially in the Southern Balkans and Egypt. Between the 18th and 19th centuries, cultural developments widely attributed to Albanians having gathered both spiritual and intellectual strength, conclusively led to the Albanian Renaissance. After the defeat of the Ottomans in the Balkan Wars, the modern nation state of Albania declared independences in 1912.  In the 20th century, the Kingdom of Albania was invaded by Italy, which formed Greater Albania before becoming a protectorate of Nazi Germany.  The People’s Socialist Republic of Albanian was formed after WWII. The Revolutions of 1991 concluded the fall of communism in Albania and eventually the establishment of the current Republic of Albania.

Albania is a member of the United Nations, NATO and more.  It has been an official candidate for membership in the EU since 2014.

The flag of Albania is a red flag with a silhouetted black double-headed eagle in the center. The red stands for bravery, strength, valour and bloodshed, while the Eagle represents the sovereign state of Albania.

We drove to the first city after the border, Shkoder, to get local currency, and a SIM for Doug’s phone.  It began to rain torrentially as we pulled into downtown.

We could just make out the Rozafa Castle in the foul weather up on the hill just outside of the city.

Parking was pretty much non-existent and SO many cars were double parked – at times it was hard to get down the street.  We passed a phone store (One) and then got turned around and Doug found a place to pull over and Fran ran across in the rain to get a SIM card and also right near it was an ATM so she got some cash too.  Everyone in the shop spoke English – made it SO much easier.

Doug’s phone got all set up with a new SIM with 23GB of data for a month for about $14.  So not as cheap as we’ve had but the smaller plans were only for 1 and 5 GB which we felt was not enough.

So now we wanted to find a place to camp preferably with power tonight and after a bit of looking we decided to push on towards the capital city and then tomorrow begin to look for a place to get an oil change before we get to Greece.

No sooner had we left town than we were stopped in a traffic queue but we were not sure why at this point.  We creeped along and then decided to pull off and to eat brunch as it was nearly 1pm.  Upon returning to the road we saw another Chausson camper from France come our direction that Doug had seen in the line up while we ate going the other way ten minutes before.  In French they explained to us that the road was closed and we’d have to turn around.  Fran got out and walked up ahead and saw the road here was quite flooded too and the police were only letting traffic that wanted to go a short distance (ie local traffic) through.  She asked a police officer if he spoke English and in broken English he explained that if we were heading to Tirana, we needed to take a 10 km / 6mi detour by heading back into the city and going through Juban.

She returned to Minou and Doug got us turned around and we went the other way.  We stopped to tell a few other what looked like overlanders as we headed into the city.  This put us behind schedule as we were trying to get to an art installation outside Tirana well before 4 when it closes so we realized we weren’t going to make it.  We had found a campground near it as well so we decided, that even though we’d not gone very far in reality (only 40km / 25 mi), we had been driving for a while so the batteries should be sufficiently charged up to get us through another night.  Fran found a parking area outside of a castle up on a hill that others had stayed at for a quiet night and we headed there: Lezhe Castle.  Park4night had said it was a windy but paved road.  Well Organic Maps felt IT knew better and we ended up on a rough rutted rocky road for a couple of km but then hit pavement just before getting there.  It was bit of a hair rising drive but at least we were on high ground in case the heavy rains continued.

Upon arrival, there was a Spanish motorhome up there all alone and we got ourselves parked in a different corner.  It began to rain again just as we parked (it had held off all this time although the sun never came out) and we enjoyed the views for a few seconds before heading inside and it got dark early with the low cloud ceiling and the rain.

Sidebar:  On this short drive in Albania today, we came across many Mercedes Benz vehicles with what appeared to be arrogant, rude drivers.  They constantly were passed or trying to butt in front.  Seemed like the old saying about “Merc drivers (and drivers of Beamers) feeling like they owned the road and everyone has to get out of their way”.  At one point on the drive this first day, we actually saw one in an accident (probably trying to pass) sandwiched between two cars. Karma baby!

Looking into this a little further, we learned that the communists who ran the country had a long-standing policy that prohibited the private ownership or use of cars. When the borders opened after the isolation period of Albania, the locals tried different types of cars and discovered for themselves, that Mercedes is apparently the most appropriate car for the given road conditions and lasted quite long since broken parts could easily be replaced by parts from other Mercedes and probably most importantly, they had the lowest import tax. 

Before we went to bed, the Spanish motorhome had left and the wind picked up but not unbearably.  By morning, a large blue MAN type vehicle was parked near us but we saw no signs of life.  We checked the news and the weather forecasts to learn that torrential rain over the weekend had caused flooding across Tirana as well and the area we are in and were yesterday were the most affected so we felt fortunate that we’d been able to get through when we did.  A father and son actually died in their car that was carried down the river while his daughter managed to escape out the car window; so sad.

The rain stopped for a bit after our tea and we thought we’d make a go of it.  It’s not supposed to be a large amount of rain today and if we can get through this town with a river flowing through it (Lezhe), we can make it to the highway.  Turned out that was not a problem at all.  We had a mechanics in mind to do an oil change right on the highway before Tirana and it has a “camper stop” parking area so that could kill two birds with one stone.

We arrived at the ERI gas station that has a mechanic shop, a tire shop and a restaurant as well.  Doug pulled up and went in to ask about getting an oil change and they said they could do it in a half hour.  We parked closer to the bays and went into the restaurant for breakfast.

We got the oil change done but not for the €100 they quoted as it turned out they were going to use 10W40 oil not the requested 5W30.  Luckily, Fran caught them about to pour the wrong oil in and this added another €50 to the bill but it still was less than we paid back in Sweden but double what we paid when Doug did it himself in Croatia.  Well at least it’s done now.

After that was done we moved over to the camping area – there are five spots with power, sewer dump and non–potable water for €10 for 24 hours.  It’s not fancy or pretty but with the lack of sun, we need power tonight due to all the wet weather. We’re parked at the back of gas station furthest from the road so the traffic noise is not too bad.

We had an on and off again rainy afternoon with some sunny periods.

Tuesday, we made our way into the capital city stopping at a produce stand for veggies for a few days.  Fran had found a small parking lot on the east side of the city where others had stayed and it was close to a laundromat.  We thought we should get our sheets/towels all done before heading to Greece and laundromats can be scarce in smaller cities.  We got parked and first of all made our way downtown to see a bit of the capital of Albania.  We brought our umbrellas of course, and it did begin to rain before we left the city.

We saw:

The Old Stone Bridge

The largest mosque in Albania:

Nice pedestrian bridge across the Lana River:

Weird buildings:

Symbols of oppression and communism:

a piece of the Berlin wall
Concrete supports from a notorious slave labour mining camp

The entrance to a bunker:

The Big Bang sculpture at the University:

The presidential palace:

Bunk’Art 2  from the outside and the entryway– which we did not visit as we read Bunk’Art 1 was better so we’ll go there tomorrow (more on that later).

The main square which was covered in an area for people to sit and watch FIFA world cup soccer – we arrived in time watch the final ten minutes or so of the Saudi upset over Argentina.

Wednesday was our sixth wet day in a row (granted we had some sunny break a few days but mostly it’s been raining the majority of most days).  Upon returning to Minou via the laundromat to check it out, we stripped our beds etc. and went to do a load.  It was pretty cheap by EU standards and Fran somehow got two batches of free time on the dryer so that was a bonus!

Next morning, we left the parking lot and made our way to the outskirts to visit the Bunk’Art 1.

We had to park on the street and walk through the tunnel as it was not tall enough for Minou:

In June 1978, the dictator, Enver Hoxha inaugurated the anti-nuclear bunker built by the then communist government. It is a 5 floors underground building with 106 rooms and a congress hall, now transformed into a historical-artistic center called “Bunk’Art”. Over 173,000 of these bunkers (of course, not all as large) were built during the communist regime from 1941-85 in fear of a nuclear attack.

As we’d never been inside a bunker, it seemed a bit intriguing.  While it contained a lot of recent Albanian history etc., the “art” part was sorely lacking.

Map of the bunker
the concrete doors
one of the hallways
the Assembly Hall

Today we only walked through a tunnel – no vehicle tunnels.

We drove back through Tirana in horrific traffic westward back to the Adriatic Sea at the small city of Durres.  Enroute, we managed to get diesel for 212LEK rather than 218LEK so we were pleased.  We understand it will be worse in Greece.

The roads in Albania need some help; there are no toll roads and only a few four lane highways.  The other roads are in sad shape with lots of patchwork and potholes, but we’ve travelled worse.  Parking lots are hard to come by which means many people double park or just stop on the side of the road slowing traffic down even more.  The cars for the most part go slow and that’s irritating at times too.  Driving the roads you see plenty of gas stations but there are a good number of closed ones.

We got parked in a small secure lot trying to avoid the large puddles.  The main attraction here in Durres, the Venetian Tower, was under restoration so that was a bust:

We walked over to see the castle walls:

And then the amphitheatre which was in pretty sorry shape.

We spent about ¾ of a hours wandering Durres to see its sites, had some lunch, picked up a few things at a grocery store and then returned to Minou to drive a bit south along the coast to a highly recommended place to stay right near the beach.

We have now been in touch with a friend of our Greek friend, Ioannis,  who is willing to accept some amazon packages for us at his father’s house so we’re going to order the new batteries for the motorhome and a couple of other things we want before we put her in storage over the winter.

Scoturk is a small guest house run by a couple (you guessed it, one is a Scot and the other a Turk!) who have 4 spots in their large driveway next to the building for RV’s and some backyard lawn for tents.  Matt and Muge met us warmly, we got parked and they served us tea, Turkish style.  There was already an Italian campervan there.  We chatted for a while and then went for showers (which never got hot – seems the hot water tank was not on).  A small German campervan arrived and then a large Swedish motorhome so the lot was full!

That night after dinner we went across the road to a bar called Tiara to watch the World Cup match between Belgium and Canada – the first time Canada has made the World Cup since the year before Joshua was born –1986.

Sadly Canada lost 1-0 but they sure seemed to be the stronger team especially in the first half. We had decided to stay a second night here at Scoturk to enjoy the beach location in the promised sunshine.

Thursday, we awoke to clearing skies, at least for a day or two but it’s still damp feeling as we are next to the ocean.  Doug went for his morning run while Fran exercised and then he went off to run some errands; Matt actually took him to a large hardware store.  Muge brought us fresh muffins before they left.

So the Italians left and later Thursday afternoon a British RV arrived.  During the day, Fran took a long walk on the beach in the sunshine:

During last weekend’s big storm of torrential rain, the coast got hit with huge waves and there’s lots of rubbish, damage to beach furniture and debris on the beach that needs cleaning up.  But despite it all, we have to say it’s an amazing beach and we look forward to seeing more as we move south in Albania.

At happy hour, we chatted with the German couple (who have a 13month old boy) as well as Muge, and enjoyed sunset on the beach.  (see feature image above)

After sunset, Muge brought us some Raki to try.  It’s a local liquor, similar to the one we had in Montenegro at Tara Canyon and very strong – we’re not fans.  We had a second quiet night parked at Scoturk, we had showers and left Durres.  Matt and Muge, were very kind and we would recommend this place to others.

Raki can be made from a variety of fruits such as plums and walnuts, however grapes are the most common, especially in the south.

It was another glorious sunny day and we wanted to take advantage of it so we headed southeast to Berat, a UNESCO town and beyond it is the Osum River Gorge.  Enroute along the A2 we did see some bunkers (later we saw happy face painted ones along the coast):

The drive was quite nice along the river and the road got narrower but nothing Minou couldn’t handle.

We got to the first look out and it was still sunny but due to the shorter days right now, solar noon was at 11:38 so part of the canyon is in shadow.

Here we came across The Bride’s Hole complete with a legend:

“A bride was forced by tradition into an arranged marriage.   The bride’s in-laws were taking her to their village but when they arrived the bride said: “You are taking me to this man against my will” but they did not respond.  So the bride decided to create an escape plan.  Praying to God while looking into the canyon she said “Open a rock to save me”.  The rock listened and a hole appeared before here.  She threw herself from her horse and hid inside the hole.”

Fran saw another lookout ahead on the map that actually crossed the river and we went there for better but still shadowed views.  From there we could see a waterfall coming out of a cave!

We had some brekkie and then returned down the same road to get to the city of Berat. This is called the city of windows

Berat is a city known for its white Ottoman houses with identical windows hence the nickname: “The City of Windows”. On a hilltop, Berat Castle is a huge compound now inhabited by townspeople. Within its walls are Byzantine churches, the Red Mosque and the Onufri National Museum, with Christian icons.  It became a UNESCO site in 2008.

We had a parking spot mind just outside the fortress gates and after parking went inside the walls for about an hour of walking and exploring.

Around 3:30 the sun was getting pretty low in eh sky and we stopped at a restaurant to have some local beers:

Friday night we chatted with Serena, discussing our Christmas plans.  We awoke Saturday to a cloudy and cold morning but it was supposed to stay dry with a chance of sunny periods this afternoon.  We made our way back to the coast managing to find diesel at 208LEK! And most of the driving was on the A2 four lane highway.

We went to a beach (Orikum) that Muge had raved about but maybe due to the weather and being off season it was not our cup of tea.

a sad scarecrow

After getting a wash for Minou we moved on to drive the Llogora Pass which was mostly through forest so not a lot of views till you got to the top at just over 1000 m / 3100 ‘ to the Hotel Panorama:

We stopped again on the way back down at a pull out where you could see even more but it was very windy and cold!

We wanted a couple more nights at a beach for a last few days in Albania and the first place we tried to get to, had a road closed so we drove the long way around and then decided to stay.  The water is lovely looking but the beach is full of river rocks on coarse sand.  So not really our fave type of beach, but the view was lovely and as most of the town is closed down for the season, it seemed quiet.

We took a stroll on the beach and the beach front street to check things out.    We found a closed up bar that had swings looking out to the sea:

Today we passed through one short tunnel.

We spend a quiet night listening to the waves on this pretty much deserted holiday beachfront.

Sunday it was cloudy and a bit cooler and we left the beach to head inland to Gjirokaster which is a UNESCO city site with a castle on the hill.

We drove along the coast for a while stooping at pull outs to see the views and it was super windy and cold!

It was a windy uphill drive and we were up there around lunch time.  After having a bowl of cereal, we donned our down jackets to take a walk up to the castle and explore Old Town.  It was raining again, although only very lightly.

The castle is huge and we did not pay the extra for the 3 museums inside as they didn’t interest us so we just walked the grounds;

It was a short walk from there to the Old Town which was cute but touristy.  Here we met a young German couple on bicycles, Theresa and Leon, who were heading to Georgia via Turkiye!  Impressive.

We returned to Minou for a couple of hours to read and chill before making our way back into the Old Town for some dinner and to watch the World Cup – Canada v Croatia.  While Canada lost it did make its first every Men’s Goal in the world cup AND it was the first goal of the game so they were wining for 35 minutes…..

We returned to Minou around 7:30 and had a not so quiet night parked where we were and it was cold!  We were up high and tomorrow we’ll head back to coast and it’s supposed to be sunny.

Today we passed through one tunnel

We were up and cold early so had the furnace running before leaving.  Upon getting into the front of Minou we saw this:

The beginning of the drive was in fog but it cleared shortly out of town and it was a pretty mountain drive.

Both in Turkey and here in Albania, we’ve see some olive harvesting.

While olives can of course be picked by hand, it’s a lot of work. Most commonly, the ripe olives are raked from the branches, usually with a hand rake. For larger scale operations, there are also mechanized rakes, as well as other harvesting equipment, such as mechanical harvesters and shaker harvesters.

Today we passed through one tunnel up around 900 m / 2950’ – same one as yesterday only in reverse.

We arrived in Sarande to a campsite Fran had found on the water;  Camping Ecuador offered power, water (not potable), hot showers, bathrooms and good Wi-Fi.  There was only one other van there with a couple of young French women and later a couple from the UK pulled up.

Doug did some maintenance in preparation for putting Minou in storage next month while Fran did a bit of laundry by hand since we had sun and some warmish weather.

We both took our daily walks after lunch

and then had happy hour at 4 with the UK couple, Andy and Noran.  The sun goes down around 4pm and today it looked lovely despite cooling off really fast:

As we had decided to spend a second night here before the weather turns on Wednesday, we had a leisurely morning, exercising, doing online Christmas shopping and planning out our next couple of days.  The sun stayed out all morning with clouds moving in around midday.  The temps still reach the mid to high teens C / 60’sF.

The clouds came in over the afternoon and it cooled off some.  Fran checked out the water temp of the sea again today and it was actually warmer!

We had a second happy hour with Andy & Noran and invited a German fellow, George, who had arrived this morning.  Fran had a couple of calls to make regarding her Mom’s estate and later had a web call with her Website contact before dinner learning how to do a few things that she’s not had to deal with since the website overhaul.

So Wednesday morning we could hear short rain showers early in the morning and it sprinkled on and off the rest of the day.  We had considered taking a ferry to Corfu, Greece but with the weather forecast being rather dismal, we’ll put that off until spring when we return.

We did some grocery shopping (reminiscent of Latin America – you need more than one store before you find everything) and then went a bit south to visit Butrint Naiotnal Park and it’s UNESCO site of a Greek town and where you can see a Venetian Triangle Castle across the channel.

Well upon arriving we saw the entry fee: 1000 LEK each – kinda pricey for this country.  We did a bit of research and decided we better ask if they take credit cards as that’s how we’d have to pay as we only had 400 LEK.  Well that decided it – as they only take cash, that killed our idea of a visit.

We took a few pictures of the castle and the little cable ferry that you take across the channel and left.

We want to cross the border to Greece tomorrow so we have a place in mind to spend our last night in Albania so we could be close and cross early.  We wanted to see about getting our water tank filled, top up our diesel and maybe our LPG as it will be more expensive in Greece.  We found a couple of stations that were closed with turned off water taps until we got to the turn to our wild camp.  Problem here was they didn’t take credit either so we put our last 400 LEK into the tank and filled up our water.  He did not sell propane.  There is one more station before the border so we’ll see how our luck runs there in the morning.

The spot we found on iOverlander, turned out to be not the greatest because there was a big mud puddle and we didn’t want to get stuck especially if it rained a great deal overnight.  We did see a pull out right next to this little used road in the grass and parked there instead.

A couple of herds of goat came by in the afternoon, maybe six cars and nothing else on this one lane road so we had a pretty quiet time of it.

Our last morning in Albania, December 1st, it was again wet and somewhat foggy but promising to give us dry breaks.  We left by 8am to make it to the border.  Right before the border there was another petrol station where we got diesel at the cheapest price in the entire country: 206 LEK and we filled our LPG tank too.

By 8:16 we were at the border with only one car in front of us and it took 2 minutes to get checked out of Albania with no inspection.

Greece, here come the Calders!

We drove 839 km / 521 miles in Albania.

Fun Facts about Albania:

  1. During the evenings, you might see something called the ‘xhiro.’ This is when the Albanian locals go for a walk after dinner to burn off their excesses and catch up with the neighbors. It’s a cultural thing, and in some traditional towns, the roads are closed for vehicular traffic until people have finished walking and talking!
  2. You might become a little confused if you’re talking to an Albanian local, and they begin nodding or shaking their head. This is because the opposite is true in Albania – locals will shake their heads when they mean yes, and nod when they mean no!
  3. Albania has a mix of religions, but most people are Muslim, at around 60%.
  4. If you see many scarecrows, don’t worry; it’s nothing sinister! One of the most interesting facts about Albania is that locals believe if you site a scarecrow on the grounds of a property while it is being built, it will keep jealousy from the neighbors far away! This tradition is also seen as being a good luck charm.
  5. A geleshes is a type of traditional Albanian hat that you will see in rural areas. This hat has no brim.
  6. There are more than 750,000 bunkers across the country. These were initially built during rule of Enver Hoxta after WWII in case of an invasion. Paranoid, perhaps, because they were never used, and most are now either eyesores or have been turned into funky museums!
  7. Edi Rama, a politician and a painter, is responsible for the green look of the capital Tirana. He wanted to make the city natural and bright and not grey and dark like many cities that fell under communist rule.
  8. If you’re offered a glass of raki, approach with caution! Raki is an Albanian national drink and a very potent alcoholic beverage. If you drink it from a bar, you’re usually relatively safe, but if you partake in the homemade version from local villages, you’ll probably have one sniff and be out cold – it’s powerful!
  9. After a haircut, you will likely get a slap on the neck. Don’t worry; it’s nothing personal, and the stylist is likely to mutter some words – me shëndet. This means your health and is a blessing!
  10. Albanians consider it good luck if a bird poops on any part of your body. Or if a baby pees on you.
  11. Albania was part of the Kingdom of Italy until as recently as 1943.
  12. The music stars Dua Lipa, and Rita Ora have Albanian roots.