Today we head to another new country as we leave Montenegro and head from Kotor to Shkodër in Albania. Michele’s been a bit anxious about going to Albania but I think some of it’s just fear of the unknown.
It’s been really nice staying in Muo. It’s got great views across the bay to Kotor and seeing the castle lit up at night is quite special.
Heading out of Kotor we followed the road south towards Bar, which took us past the wood sellers at the crossroads at Süd. Every day over a dozen battered old trucks line the side of the road at the intersection filled with firewood. It’s interesting seeing this link with the past which is surrounded by big shops.
Passing through Budva, once again we struck the traffic chaos near Zavala. Traffic was banked up for hundreds of metres leading into the roundabout. We weaved our way close to the roundabout where we saw three police cars escorting a prison van. They soon got sick of the gridlock so put their sirens on, and started pushing their way through the traffic. It was a perfect opportunity for us so we just tagged on behind them and pretty soon we were at the front of the queue. When the flag man started waving us through it became apparent that it was actually the flag men who were causing the problem. The three men were spread over a long distance but without proper coordination the ones at each end were out of synch and showing the same coloured flags. Cars and trucks were meeting in the middle and having to allow traffic to pass. It really was a dog breakfast. It was so nice to get past Budva and all the chaos.
As we headed south we passed lots of fruit sellers on the side of the road in laybys with the bonnets of their battered old station wagons covered in boxes of oranges, lemons, mandarines and vegetables.
When we hit the outskirts of Bar I felt a tap on the shoulder and knew what was coming next. Time for a Coffee stop. The Forest Cafe was the perfect spot, as it’s right on the beach overlooking the bay around Bar.
After the stop we headed south passing though Bratica and lots of small farms as we wound down the hill into Ulcinj.
Luckily we skirted around Ulcinj, avoiding the chaos we experienced last time we visited. The road towards Vladimir was pretty rough and narrow. Just the sort of road to expect close to a border. At Vladimir we joined the main road and travelled through some really nice country with fields separated by hedges.
Arriving at the border we joined a long line of parked cars as border officials slowly worked their way through passports. There was no sense of urgency and no real movement in the line. Eventually a border official came to us and pointed to the pedestrian walkway to the left of the border checkpoint. We rode down to the window and a few minutes later our passports were stamped and we were passing into Albania.
Once in Albania it was obvious how poor the people were as there were piles of rubbish everywhere and with windblown rubbish caught on trees and hedges it seemed the plastic bag was their national flower. Along the creeks and waterways different coloured plastic bags littered the edge of the waterway. Michele tapped me on the shoulder and said did you see that? In the front yard of someone’s house was a machine gun emplacement. Back in communist days Albania was paranoid that it would be invaded so over 700,000 gun emplacements ranging from one person, such as this one, to larger artillery emplacements were installed. As we passed along the road we soon spotted many others. They looked like evil little space invaders with their mushroomed tops and eye like weapon slits.
Arriving at Shkodër the first thing we noticed was Rozafes Castle (Kalaja e Rozafës) perched high on a rocky hill overlooking the Bojana and Drin rivers. The Bojana River flows from Lake Skadar, (which straddles both Montenegro and Albania) and the Drin River branches off near the castle. Crossing over the bridge into Shkodër we headed south before backtracking to pick up the road we needed to be on. After riding around the suburbs we made our way back into the heart of the city where we picked up the right route. Shkodër is a sprawling city which has a main street which stretches for a few kilometres running parallel with the river. With all sorts of vehicles cars, trucks, motorbikes, bicycles and horse drawn carts it reminds us a bit of Morocco. Driving in Albania is quite new for many people as during the communist era only party officials and the Army had vehicles. Since the collapse of communism Albanians have really embraced owning automobiles and the most common car is Mercedes. It’s quite understandable because Mercedes are like tanks. They run on all qualities of fuel and are generally strongly built. It’s one of the reasons why most taxis in Morocco are Mercedes. Albanians think the same. With the increase in car ownership the amount of petrol stations is staggering. There is no chance of running out of fuel in this country. The other boom industry is car washes. They’re absolutely everywhere.
As we passed through the city we were amazed by different shops and outdoor markets. Soon we spotted the sign for the hotel and were being greeted by the owner. We were ushered to a room with an interesting decor including coloured lights in the ceiling which really reminded us of Morocco. After unpacking the bike we headed across the road to a local restaurant. The food was great and cheap as chips. The staff were really friendly especially when we told them we were from Australia. If this is what it’s going to be like in Albania I think we’re going to like it here. The difference from Kotor to Shkodër is quite amazing. The people of the Balkan countries really are friendly and welcoming.
Late in the afternoon we headed out to. Along the lakes edge a wide pedestrian walkway stretches for over a kilometre. A few cafe’s are dotted here and there. Judging by the amount of people out walking it seems that locals head over here to unwind, catch up and take some light exercise. They don’t wear grubby old tracky dacks either. When you promenade you want to be seen, so you wear your newest fashion at all times. The views across Lake Skadar were just amazing with beautiful blue lake ringed by snow capped mountains in the distance. We rode around the lake to a little village at the end of the road before heading back into Shkodër. Along the way we spotted more gun emplacements looking a little overgrown. They really are everywhere.
After dark we headed to the local cafe at the nearby service station, which was supposedly the place to go. Sitting back chatting over a drink we laughed about the crazy drivers in Albania, it reminded us of Italy. It’s been an interesting day and there is a huge cultural difference from Kotor to Shkodër. Also after speaking Croat-Serb language for the last three months trying to get a grip of Albanian language is almost impossible.
Tomorrow we head to Durrës on the Albanian coast.