Albania. From all the countries we planned to visit during our trip, this one was the least familiar, furthest and least inviting. The poorest country in Europe that makes the impression that time has stopped here a few dozen years ago. For years, it was governed by the communist dictator Hoxha whose reign resulted with goods such as milk becoming a luxury and absent product in the 80s. On Facebook, you can find warnings that the tourist infrastructure and roads here are many times worse than Montenegro standards. We decide to go anyway. On one hand we don’t have much of a choice since we have to get to Skopje and we don’t want to drive through Kosovo – reportedly there’s not much to see there and they charge 50 euro for entry. On the other hand, we’re hoping for a discovery similar to Armenia – an unspoiled and genuine land that is friendly at the same time.
We cross the border near Shkodër. Passports, green card and car id. Without any problems, we continue towards Tirana and seaside Durrës where we plan to stay for the night. First impression of Albania is positive: the surface of the road from Shkodër to Durrës is acceptable, you can drive fast and problemless. And finally straight ahead! No hairpins and curves which makes it a pleasure after 100 km in Montenegro. What are the first things we notice? A plethora of gas stations, donkeys on the roads and police that even forgives passing on a double solid centre line 😉 It’s nice! Durrës turns out to be a large city with a lively seaside promenade. Lots of cafes, restaurants and pizzerias around. Some attractions for kids and Kolonat – Albanian McDonald. We’re looking for an Italian restaurant for dinner – we want to have a break from Balkan meats, try something different and Italian cuisine in Albania seems like a good idea – many Albanians go to work to Italy and it’s easier to communicate in Italian than in English. Turns out that it’s indeed easy to find a decent pizza. Not that easy with pasta, though. It’s sometimes served in a peculiar “pasta with sauce” version (no information about the sauce whatsoever) and on other occasions you can find arrabiatta, seafood pasta or tomato sauce pasta all seasoned with dill..!! How about that ?:)
Durrës itself is not particularly interesting, however we had to stop here on our way from Montenegro to Berat and further south. You can also board a ferry from Durrës and get to Italian Bari for instance. There are some Roman monuments in the city (amphitheatre, bath houses or a forum) some Venetian ones too, but all are squeezed in between not-too-pretty modern buildings which makes us leave the city quite quickly.
It’s approx. 100 km from Durrës to Berat – we drive in Lushnjë direction and then directly to Berat. At first, the road is alright, we drive quite quickly. Then, however, the road turns into a nightmare – we haven’t seen such holes, amount of gravel and damaged surface anywhere, and believe me, we drove through some serious number of countries. The road tends to be quite surprising since from time to time, the tarmac appears to be missing/removed, then it’s there and missing again. It slows us down significantly, but we manage to get to Berat which turns out to be a charming little town, absolutely worth visiting on your Albanian trip.
The architecture is quite unusual and we notice that as soon as we arrive – tiny houses pile up on the hill – due to original looks, Berat is called the city of thousand windows. We climb up the streets, take pictures and in the end head towards a castle from the 13th century. Tired of walking in the heat, we drive to the very courtyard of the castle. Some casual souvenir stands, some bargaining, tickets purchase and off we go. What’s interesting, inside the walls, there are some regular houses, churches and a museum apart from the castle, so it’s worth taking a minute in order to see the city. The castle gives you good view of the neighbourhood – Osum river and Tomorri mountains. Maks enjoys the cannons and towers the most (obviously). “Princess Elisa lives in the tower” and “Maks, the knight” needs to save her. Sightseeing with a conscious 3 year old is a whole new thing for us 😉
Apart from the ancient houses, in Berat you will find crowds and traffic. Even though it is a sort of city-museum present on UNESCO’s cultural heritage list, it’s not a small city with approx. 50 thousand inhabitants. Fortunately, nothing spoils the beautiful view of the city of thousand windows… 🙂 If you’re in Albania, be sure to check it out!
From Berat, we left for Wlora, another crowded resort. The trip was very, very long, since the roads where even worse than before (if that’s possible). Then, we continued south. We’ll write more about that later, but I already know that unfortunately, Albania is nowhere near Armenia when it comes to our discoveries… to be continued 😉
* the entry was written in cooperation with HTC. All pictures were taken withHTC One (M8).