Hello Balkans !
Our time in Greece had come to an end and we needed to get moving so we could make Angela’s flight to the UK from Dubrovnik in Croatia and Dave’s daughter Ellie’s arrival in Dubrovnik for a holiday.
We packed up and firstly headed into town to find a bank. We were unsure how the border would be as we had no insurance and wanted to make sure we had enough to buy it at the crossing.
The actual drive to the border took about an hour along initially a coast road before we were able to purchase insurance at the crossing but the charges are excessive. You have to pay for a minimum of a month. Total was €83 made up of €49 for the Landy and the rest for the trailer. Certainly not a great bargain when we expected to only be in Albania a few days.
Another hours drive and we arrived at the Ksamil Campsite. It’s a bit rough and ready right on the beach with a small bar, Wi-Fi and electricity and all for €15.00. We got ourselves set up, slung out the hammocks and lazed around for the rest of the day and in the evening enjoyed a couple of beers and caught up on journals and photos.
Next day was an early start to head to Berat that is famous for its white ottoman houses that line the hillsides above the river.
The journey was long with some very very steep hills zig zagging with switch backs in short distances to climb as quickly as possible. One hill was in excess of 1000m climb on the sides of Mount Cika where we did see some campervans turn back rather than tackle it. We decided to press on and with careful selection of gears and revs Wilson made the climb without over heating.
Once over the top we were into Llogara National Park. Absolutely stunning views and well worth the climb to get there.
Our trip continued and at Berat we chased down an ATM. We had earlier needed to get fuel and used Euros, the garage had conned us so we wanted to make sure we had Albanian Lek and ensure we were only paying the correct price in future.
In town, in fact on arrival in Albania, we had found our TomTom to be useless and so far could not identify a single road. So we decided to get an Albanian Simcard and use google maps. Simcard was about £4.00 for 4G, more than enough to see us through to Montenegro.
We enjoyed a short walk along the river to see the Ottoman Houses and stopped for a coffee before heading to Berat Camping our next stop for the night. Once we found the campsite that is about 15km out of town we were pleasantly surprised. From the road it looked very dubious but once we drove into the site we found a well-maintained little oasis of calm. It has really friendly owners and is definitely to be recommended if you are in the vicinity.
That night was a BBQ and we sat updating the journal etc.
Next morning was another early start to head to Shkoder. The route followed the coast road towards Durres before we ended up a bit lost and had to do a few detours to get back on track. The next few hours were spent driving through a hot, dusty flat country with very little to inspire to the point we wanted it to be over as quickly as possible.
We arrived at the campsite and once again from the road it looked like we were driving into a run down industrial estate but turning the final corner you see the entrance to the campsite that opens into a spacious park with swimming pool and excellent facilities. It’s owned by a family that all work at the site. The father enjoys art and sculptures and this can be seen around the camp. The mother teaches English and she was happy to come and enjoy speaking to us and there 2 daughters do the running around. A really nice family that like to chat with everyone and in the evenings come down and enjoy the pool with all the guests.
We got the tent set up then headed into town to get some provisions before heading back to enjoy the pool and sunbathe. I say enjoy the pool with a wry smile as it was absolutely freezing where a few minutes was enough to cool down and then get out and sunbathe to try and get the circulation back.
We wanted to do a little sightseeing around Shkoder so after speaking to the campsite owners we decided to head up into the Accursed Mountains as they are called and visit Tamare. After about 30 minutes of flat boring driving the scenery changed as we headed into the mountains with long climbs and stunning views of valleys, gorges and steep drop offs.
After driving through the valley at Tamare we decided to turn around. On our return we met 4 cyclists struggling to tackle the steep climbs. Personally it was exhausting enough just watching them but we offered them all bottles of cold water out of the fridge that were enthusiastically accepted. We stopped and chatted with them for a little while. The last spring they were relying on before the steep climb was dry so they had been unable to refill their water bottles.
On the way back down we passed through the village of Hot and it seemed fitting to stop and get a picture. It certainly was hot.
Next stop was Mes Bridge built around 1770. We had a little walk around the dried riverbed and over the bridge before heading off again over the “new bridge alongside Mes Bridge. To be honest Mes Bridge looked in better condition to us.
Our final stop before returning to camp was Rozafa Castle, which sits high above Shkoder and can be seen from our campsite.
We paid the small fee to enter and then headed off to explore. It has some great views across the countryside in all directions. But we were walking on shiny smooth cobbled roads and both of us were wearing flip-flops. Probably not our best decision that day as both of us nearly ended up on our arses slipping and tripping.
Once back at the campsite we were first met by our camping neighbour with a slice of watermelon for each of us then it was a cold dip in the pool to clear the dust away and cool down.
We decided to eat at the restaurant this evening with Dave enjoying Carp and Angela the Pork Stroganoff washed down with a carafe of wine and cold beer. And all for the princely sum of €20.00!
Our time in Albania was done and today its time to drive onwards to Montenegro with neither of us sure once again of what to expect.
Arriving at the border with almost no warning we were swamped by women and children begging for your unused Albanian LEK that cannot be taken out of the country. We had no LEK left but that or just saying no did not seem to deter them and they continued to persist and pester us almost to the passport control.
The border crossing itself took about an hour and was a little confusing.
We couldn’t be sure if we were dealing with Albanian officials or Montenegro officials but after being told to move to the side and park up and wait with no explanation we were finally waved on with a "no problem" and shown where to buy insurance. €15.00 for a week and we were on our way.
Straight away in Montenegro you can see the difference to its poorer neighbour Albania. Much better quality roads, nice well looked after houses and gardens.
Our route once again followed the coast, seeing lovely busy beaches and overall the towns had a much more European feel to them.
We were only staying in Montenegro for one night so our destination was Kotor, which is on a large sea lock and very Norwegian fjord like with steep rocky sides with small towns and houses dotting the coastline below. The houses had lovely wooden shutters and stonework. Both of us loved it but the one and only windy narrow road around the sea loch was a bit tight at times with oncoming traffic.
We stayed at Mimoza Camping and thankfully arrived early before it filled up later on. It had a bar and restaurant.
We decided to get set up then take a walk along the road further round the loch stopping off for a couple of beers.
On return we got cleaned up then went and ate at a restaurant on the waters edge just along from the campsite where we also sat and watched the sun set and darkness fall. It was a lovely evening in a stunning location.
Back at the camp we enjoyed another beer or two, caught up on the journal and finalised our route to Croatia the next day.