Sometimes, after a long uphill, what awaits us is a view over vast landscape like this one.. the picture is taken from Montenegro, but what you see is Albania. You can imagine our excitement to get to "the other side".
I imagined myself riding a horse and standing at this very spot a few centuries ago..... ;) it has to do with the book I was reading at that time which depicted a scenario of an Albanian castle situated on the top of a mountain surrounded by thousands of Turkish troops that came to lay siege on the castle. The Albanians would see them come from very far away and finally put up their camps in the plains around them. Yes, I know, I was still in Montenegro, but just imagine!!!
So here we are in Shkodar, 1906km from Berlin, if you take the highway. There in the corner, that's me!
Shkodar is very different from any of the towns that we passed through in the Balkans. Very busy and chaotic, a bustling city. Reminded us of South East Asia. After not having been to big cities for a while, it was a kind of overwhelming experience.
Albania belongs to one of the poorest countries in Europe. Poverty is not as obvious as in Asia for example, but we certainly felt that Albania is less developed than its neighboring countries. Paved main streets would suddenly turn into gravel streets, gravel streets would suddenly end in...water?! A lot of times, there are no indications for towns, no traffic signs..
"Do you think the road continues over there?"
"And which way now? To the right?"
"Yes! ..or maybe not... or maybe yes."
This kind of conversations soon became very normal and part of our Albania experience. We enjoyed getting lost, though.
...the railways were a good indicator for our way.
Due to poor drainage, the interior of Albania is either arid or flooded..
We were not sure what kind of noise it was that woke us up... turkeys! (?)
It was in Albania where we experienced our second storm. Not as big as the one in Bosnia, but this time we had difficulties finding a place to camp. Finally, we knocked at the door of somebody's house, and the kind man who opened let us camp on his property. In fact, he was very excited about our visit. So excited that he payed us a visit in our tent just a few minutes after the rain had started to pour down. He wanted to know if we had already eaten and when he saw that we had already started to prepare our dinner inside the tent, he went back to his house to get us Raki (as an appetizer). There was a language barrier, yes, but we talked a lot!
On our way to Tirana, we met another man who rode his bike to visit his aunt. His bike did not have any brakes and whenever he went downhill, he had to get off his bike and walk. We did the same, so we would be able to continue talking to him. Actually, he also got off his bike when we went uphill and was genuinely impressed by us riding uphill without effort. He didn't have any gears, either. He told us that normally, he would walk all this way, but this time he had his friend's bike because he needed to transport the pomegranates. He told us that actually a few years ago, he had walked all the way to Athens to find a job. It took him 25 days to get there.
Tirana, the capital of Albania, really is a bustling and chaotic city. Tirana used to be an almost car-free city until the fall of communism (only governors and diplomats would drive cars). Basically, the layout of the city was not at all suitable for cars and the streets had to be broadened. As mentioned before in the Bosnia-post, there is a highway starting inside of the city with 6 lanes, which we had to take. People drive however they want.
Oh, and did I mention the young kid, maybe 11 years old, driving a van with more kids in the back and an elderly man next to him, who was just looking out the window?
Albert looking for long underwear.
In Tirana, we camped here in the garden of this hostel. It was kind of Berlin-style, so we felt totally comfortable.
From Tirana we decided to cross the mountains to Macedonia, rather than to go down the coast to Greece, as we had originally planned. We got hooked on mountains.. and we did not regret our choice!
Kids are kids everywhere.
Albert waiting for me while I was trying to have a conversation with a shepherd..
One big problem in Albania is garbage and the lack of education on environmental issues. Plastic bags and bottles are for free and they are everywhere. I don't know if you can see this well, but the pinkish spot there in the middle are giant pigs (and a person) eating from the garbage dump.
Around 60km before the border to Macedonia, we encountered this nice man, Algent. Actually, Algent found our bikes and us in the streets. He is one of the few people in Albania who also take bicycle trips. He invited us for lunch and helped us out with a few things for the bike, the route we would take etc. Very helpful and friendly man! He is the owner of this barber shop.