Albania – country full of contrasts, imagined by most of us as a dangerous place (all the stories about Albanian mafia). Personally places like Albania always get a lot of attention from my side and I am eager to visit them. Not sure what is so magnetic but for sure I don’t like to classify something as bad or good without trying.
Staying in Montenegro again opened for us a good opportunity (after Dubrovnik) to explore a completely new place. Our luggage was ready in the car, passports as well. Without saying twice we were already at the Albanian boarder (do you still remember dodgy, old borders from 30 years ago?). The Albanian border was exactly like that, dirty, scary and full of strange people. It gave us an extra adrenaline. A few simple questions in a very bad English and we were already there.
Imagined vs. real
First surprise was an architecture. You expect from Albania as one of the poorest countries in Europe ugly, old houses and terrible infrastructure. Maybe the houses were ugly (not in my style) but they were gigantic and colorful. Another thing was a number of gas stations- on every corner, every 1 km on the road you could find one. I am still wondering why? In addition we could see behind those stations hidden police trying to measure our speed. Basically each time when the speed limit changed from 70 to 50 km/h. Not that hidden at the end 🙂 Driving itself it’s also an experience. Forget about rules – they don’t exist (maybe they do but not in practice). The weirdest thing I have seen was a child biking on a highway (there is one highway between Tirana and Durres). In my opinion he was 6-7 years old. How can you allow to bike on a highway and how the child can bike alone on a highway? Many questions no answers.
Priority on roads is also a taboo. “Right hand “ rule doesn’t make sense. If you don’t drive a Mercedes you can be as much as you want on the right side but you will be treated as a lower class driver. No Mercedes –no rights! I have never seen so many Mercedes cars in one place, I was wondering how is possible that they are still driving as they were very old. It’s seems to be a good investment – Mercedes drives long and gives you status and priority.
Durres-place for elites
After a few hours of driving and exploring the northern, agriculture Albania which is mainly full of fields and donkeys (more popular than horses) we arrived in Durres. We didn’t have anything booked so our challenge was to find a hotel. To make our life easier we decided to choose 5 stars hotel, where people at least speak English. Don’t take me wrong- we never go for those fancy places but Albania is a perfect country to do that due to low prices. For two persons in the best hotel in the town, swimming pool, private parking, breakfast, lunch and dinner (made by a French cook) we paid 100 Euros.
Durres seemed wild, its air spiced with danger. It was dirty, chaotic and pulsating with music and life. The architecture was strange. There was no order in building construction ,huge apartment blocks were built with no logical order, some levels incomplete yet never the less families dined on the barrierless balconies. We went to the beach, what was also an experience. We passed crumbling houses with fresh animal hides strung up to dry in the garden. The beach was dirty and overcrowded, full of ugly sun chairs.
All of this didn’t matter that much- getting know new culture, meeting people, enjoying music coming from everywhere was amazing! The low prices make the experience even better as you can feel like a king. We have really enjoyed our short stay in Albania and our plan is definitely to come back and drive to the south. This time it will be with a better car’s insurance (we had just a basic insurance but with the driving style of Albanians it’s better to be covered).