Friday 20th September The beauty and the purgatory of Kotor Fjord 68 miles
Adrian got up to put the awning in during the night, as he could hear it blowing in the wind.
We got up early to finish the website - always a longer job than you might imagine. Most people had left the site early. We wondered if they were coming from/going to Albania or Greece. It was warm when the sun reached us from a clear blue sky. We weren't ready to leave until the book out time of 11.00.
We passed a lovely beach close by as we drove on around the fjord. The steep green mountains came right down to the sea. It was sunny, but still quite windy.
We continued round to Kotor, remembered from 1967. It was near here that we had ascended the mountains, where a sign had said 'serpentine 1-25', and each hairpin bend was numbered! We didn't want to repeat that! We'd hoped to see something of the old walled town. Well, all we saw of it was the walls, stretching right up the vertical mountainside!
The lovely Kotor Fjord
Traffic was horrendous, with absolutely nowhere to stop. Worse was to come! Traffic queues were enormous, then two ambulances passed us. We just wanted to get out now. Adrian extricated us, and we continued on around the fjord. It was miles and miles, but better we thought than turning back. The narrow road was beside the water, with continual houses on the other side, so no possibility of stopping. Platforms often jutted out into the water, with people sunbathing on them. Vehicles both behind us and approachingwere impatient, so it was all a nightmare! Also it was lunchtime, and Adrian was getting fractious. Finally we came to a clear spot, with a place to stop facing the water. The views across the fjord were of course fantastic.
We left here at 2.30, but our troubles weren’t over yet! The narrow road continued round the ‘fingers’ of the fjord. We were amazed to see a bus venturing along this road!
The walls of Kotor
We were joyous when the road became wider, but it was with dismay that we looked across the water to the place where we had stopped for lunch yesterday and where we’d stayed for the night!
We climbed higher, and looked down to a nice beach filled with sunbeds. Then we came to the huge resort of Budva, like a smaller Benidorm, but with hotels and apartments stretching right up into the steep mountains. The good thing was that Adrian was able to instantly get some money from an ATM.
Kotor Fjord from the other side
At last we came back into wild mountain country. After driving through a couple of short, unlit tunnels, we came to the big one 4km long – luckily lit, and costing €5.
We drove through Virpazza, a busy place advertising raft trips and with all the razzmatazz. A man stopped us and tried to sell us a trip. We drove further on, down a track, to a spot which Adrian had as an ‘autocamp’. It was just a grassy area in front of a house, but only cost €10. We couldn’t find anyone, but after an elderly lady phoned for us, and a girl arrived in a car pointing and saying - ‘you can stay here’, we got settled in. Adrian then found that it wasn’t the place he’d intended – that was back along the road! It was marked wrongly on his map.
It was now 4.45, so we sat in the sun with a cup of tea, soon realising that we’d both been bitten!
Hence the rest of the evening was spent inside.
A busy beach near Budva
Saturday 21st September From a magical boat ride to an Alpine heaven 86 miles
It was amazingly cold first thing. We left at 9.15.
As we came to the junction, we had to cross a railway line - if you waited behind it, you couldn't see the road, so you had to stop on it!
We drove through the centre of Virpazza, with all its boat ride booths, but we were a bit early for them. Very soon we came to Lake Skadar, the largest lake in the Balkans. Half of the lake is in Albania. It was absolutely beautiful in the early morning stillness. The road - the only road - was very fast and busy. We'd got to the other end before we were able to stop. Adrian managed to turn round, so we got a second viewing, but it was miles back before he could turn round again. When he did, we stopped by the lake for a while with binoculars, but the birds were too far away to identify. The lake was on both sides of the road, with the remains of a 400 year old Turkish castle part way along.
At the far end of the lake we pulled in. A ginger haired chap knocked on the window - we imagined for parking, but No! Now came a lovely surprise boat trip. He asked €40 for both, but when Adrian said that that was too much, he charged €30 for the two of us for an hour. We quickly got things together - cameras, binoculars, water. He drove us 1 km to where he said the boat was. Another chap took us out on the little motorised flat bottomed boat. He didn't speak English, so we had to do any birwatching ourselves, but it was an absolute delight as he steered out into the lake. The views were exquisite, with the backdrop of mountains, and there was virtually nobody else out - we'd beaten the crowds. We saw hundreds of cormorants and herons. The lake is supposedly one of the largest bird sanctuaries in Europe. Absolute heaven! We were steered back to where our van was parked - an excellent start to the day!
Lake Skadar from the road
From here it was a good straight road to the capital of Montenegro, Podgorica, which we'd driven through in 1967 when it was known as Titograd. It is said not to be an attractive town, but we just wanted a shop, particularly to get some drinking water. We found a very large supermarket, packed with Saturday shoppers, and selling many western things like Jaffa cakes, munchmallows and Pringles. There was even take away coffee. There were dozens of types of soft cheese, but only 'manufactured' type hard cheese. There was also a large selection of small cakes. We returned to the van, where we had lunch. We then headed northwest out of Podgorica, stopping to get diesel and LPG just before the junction, where there was a long queue of traffic.
We were heading towards Durmitor National Park (for tomorrow) on a good road, with the valley below. We stopped in another litter strewn pull-off to photograph the houses down below, looking like toytown (in fact it was a shame as there were many workers about picking up litter along the coast).
We continued into remote, wild, wooded mountain country, often with bare rock face. We saw a group of goats which a sign had said to watch out for. Then we came to dozens of hairpin bends, going downhill through wonderful alpine country. We came to the village of Savnik, sandwiched between the mountainsides. The place that Adrian had found – the only place, but this is inhospitable country – was just past here – Camp Jatak, Petnjica. And what a surprise it was – a meadow adjacent to a remote restaurant, with little triangular ‘cabins’. For us, €10, with electricity!
Toytown houses on the way to Durmitor
We had a cup of tea sitting on a rustic wooden seat, which still had some sun on it. We walked around the field, as a few cows joined us. We went into the restaurant to look at the menu, but it was mostly meat, with the few fish dishes being expensive. After our meal though, we went across, partly to get an internet connection, but also to have a drink. Adrian had a beer and I had a hot brandy! The place had a very Alpine feel, being all made of wood.
Our Alpine campsite at Petnjica
Sunday 22nd September The splendid Tara Canyon 106 miles
As we suspected, the night was really cold, with a heavy frost in the morning! This soon went when the sun reached it. It was a beautiful mountain morning. Adrian was looking up about our route through Albania. I was pleased to see wagtails and blackbirds in the grass. We didn't leave until after 9.00.
We drove on through the splendid mountain scenery, with little houses dotted down below. We soon came to Durmitor National Park, used for winter sports and in the summer for rafting, walking and climbing. After all the steep roads, we were now on a flattish plain. We descended though on many hairpins and double bends to the Tara canyon.
Frost on the grass before we leave our Alpine spot
We reached the bridge - which had recently featured as a screen saver on our computer. There were two zip wires across the river here, one supposedly the longest in Europe. After parking (the first place we tried was apparently restaurant parking), we walked back to see the bridge. The Japanese were already there, taking photos of each other! A group of bikers had passed us, with police escort, and some went on to the zip wire. Adrian thought that they were an international police group from Zagreb. The zip wire wasn't for us!
Fascinating scenery on the way to Tara canyon
Early morning idyll on Lake Skadar
We pulled in beside the road for coffee, realising that it was where the rafters left from. A group arrived and loaded up to raft down the deep green milky river.
The Tara bridge (built 1940) and the end of the zip line across the valley - the longest in Europe at 1km
We'd driven through one new long lit tunnel, but now came to several short, unlit ones, as we continued down the gorge with its staggeringly steep sides and stupendous scenery. The nice thing was that although it was Sunday, it was really quiet- there just wasn't anywhere to pull off!
The rafters start off along the Tara canyon
Eventually we found a little pull-off in a glade where wild flowers were growing. Information boards told of the climbing in the area.
We ate our lunch at a tall wooden table, where the seats didn’t fit, a bit like the other day. It was really quiet and peaceful. We left at 1.45.
The Tara River
After Bistrica, the gorge opened out. We soon found ourselves on the main road, driving through pleasant but more tamed country. Crops like sweetcorn and cabbages were being grown in the fields. We were driving eastwards, towards Kosovo.
We stopped beside Lin gorge for a cup of tea. Again there was a lot of litter. We’d seen a sign saying ‘watch out for horses and carts’. We went through several more short unlit tunnels. We reached autocamp Zelini Raj which Adrian had noted, just before Rozaje.
Peaceful lunchtime stop
Down a narrow track we came to a lawn with apple trees. An elderly man beckoned us in. There were a couple of makeshift tables and a big stack of wood. He (in German) said that it was €20 with electric, €15 without. This was more than it said on the info, and twice as much as last night, so we told him. He wasn’t going to budge with the price, so we said no electric. He offered us schnapps, which we accepted, and sat under the apple trees drinking. We were at 1,100 m, higher than last night, so we expect it to be cold!
Adrian cooked the unknown whole fish outside. We looked up Pec, in Kosovo, where we'd stayed at a large International campsite in 1967 after an unforgettable drive on a dreadful road around the outside of Albania. We discovered that it is now a hotel. We spent a long time talking about our future plans. With great regret we decided against going into Kosovo. This was because
1. Parts are still said to be unsafe and the F.O. now said you should travel there only if necessary as they expected trouble with the forthcoming elections.
2. We would have to get a Green card, which might be difficult at the remote border crossing we were going to take, and we had now decided to only be there for a day.
3. It was always said that we might have trouble getting into Serbia if we had a Kosovo stamp in our passports. Although it was unlikely, we didn't want to risk not being able to go back through Serbia on our return journey.
Camped under the apple trees (with a schnapps!)
Monday 23rd September Into Albania, on a wet day 137m
It wasn't as cold as we'd imagined because at 6.00 am we awoke to rain! A very wet day followed.
We were sorry to read of the collapse of Thomas Cook, which started in 1841 - the first travel company.
We wanted to get off early, as we were reluctantly having to retrace about 40 miles of our route as we weren't now going into Kosovo. We had a problem though - the chap wasn't about, and we only had a €20 note. As we'd declined electricity, we didn't now want to pay for it! Our solution was to take some beers, priced in the outside cabinet. Just as we were driving out of the gate, the chap returned - he'd been somewhere to do with school. He gave us the €5 change and said to keep the beers! We feel sure that he was a past cyclist - the place doubled as a mountain bike centre, and had a little cafe/bar inside. We both felt that he was a bit of a lost soul.
It was 9.00 am when we set off on our return journey. As we expected, we didn't recognise much on the return journey and there was no bonus of the blue sky.
At 10.30 we passed the end of Tara canyon, and continued down towards Podgoric. This was a different route from before, but once again we went through numerous unlit tunnels. There was mile upon mile of uninhabited steep forested slopes. There would have been beautiful views on a nice day. We came to the Moracca canyon, with its stupendously dramatic scenery, and the road hacked into the vertical sides of the canyon, but the weather was appalling and the rain just lashed down so visibility was very poor.
Just before Podgorica we came to the construction of a massively high motorway viaduct – a new motorway north to bypass the gorge. We stopped to have lunch just afterwards.
Our former cyclist campsite owner and his chalet home
We left here at 1.50 and soon went into a not particularly inspiring supermarket where we did get some milk and a loaf. The rain now stopped, but the roads were often flooded.
At 3.20 we crossed into Albania. Adrian found a place to get third party insurance for Albania (no comprehensive insurance here!) but now he needed to get some local currency (leks - 135 to £). When he did find a machine, he was confused by the amount and didn’t get much (factor of 10).
Now it was time to make our way to the campsite, Lake Shkodra resort, right on the lake (which is connected to Lake Skadar in Montenegro where we went for our boat ride the other day). It was a big site, with pitches all around the large field (soggy today). There were good facilities, a restaurant by the lake and a bit of beach. The sun even came out briefly before we had a walk around.
Ultra high motorway bridge under construction
Later, after having a drink outside, we walked across to the restaurant. It was very busy, but the service was excellent. We enjoyed a fish platter for 2, with a beer each. It was hard to think that we were in Albania – with all the German being spoken around us, we could have been in central Europe. We were served with schnapps when we asked for the bill. There was lightning as we walked back to the Ixi and thunder at bedtime.
Lake Shkodra campsite - where we had a beer with our meal
Tuesday 24th September A big storm then a long drive for a boat trip 49 miles
Then in the night there was a huge overhead storm, with lightning and booming thunder. In the early morning there was another torrential shower. The ground was very flooded. We found that the showers, although impeccable, were not very warm
. Our original plan was to stay here another day, but with the variable weather, and tomorrow hopefully better, we decided to leave today, and head for Koman where we hope to go for a boat ride tomorrow.
Hence we left at 11.00, heading first for Mesi Bridge, the longest Ottoman bridge in Albania. We walked down from the busy village to see the certainly attractive bridge, with its many arches
Lake Shkrodra campsite in the morning
. We'd passed a horse and cart collecting the rubbish, then we saw two more – one white, one black.
We drove into Shkoder, which was big and straggling. We'd wanted to see the old centre, with a square named after Mother Theresa. It was very difficult, with all the chaotic traffic, plus pedestrians and lots of cyclists often with a pillion passenger and coming in the wrong direction! A man had got out of his car to ask if we needed any help with accommodation etc. Only after getting out of the town, did we realise that we had wanted an ATM to get some money. (Adrian had miss-calculated yesterday, and only got a small amount.) We did stop for fuel, where the attendant had lived in Canterbury for 6 years. In order to pay by Visa we had to go into the hotel next door!
Soon we were into open country. It was 12.30, and lots of children were going home from school. We stopped for lunch with a view of the river. A train surprised us by going past on the rough-looking line over the road.
Then began the long trail, constantly winding, and with a variable road surface (that means a bit of surface now and again but mostly potholes or randomly connected bits of tarmac or just plain unmade), to Koman. This is where we plan to take a boat trip from tomorrow.
The long Ottoman bridge at Mesi
A working horse and cart
We were following the course of the Drin River, which has been dammed to make long, thin, ribbon like reservoirs. Our journey was very slow. Towering above us were near vertical cliffs, and far below was the jade coloured river. Very occasionally we passed a dwelling. Once we passed a woman gathering greenery. She waved to us.
The road got worse after this!
Just a few vehicles passed from the other direction, we think most were coming back from today’s boat. One small camper had two fresh-faced young women who had hoped to go on the boat today! I admired them for making this difficult journey.
It was gone 4.00 when we reached the habitation of Koman (1½ hours to do 25km). A young chap came across from a simple cafe and offered us tickets for the boat tomorrow. He gave complicated directions about where we would meet up at 8.00 am to be driven to the starting point.
By the bridge was a ‘campsite’, adjacent to a hotel – which was part of the bridge! It was €12 with electricity. This was another ’experience’, a bit like 2 days ago. We sat out for our cup of tea right by the River Drin while all sorts of ducks, chickens and pigeons strutted around us noisily.
Later we worked on the third website.
But the views of the dammed Drin River were wonderful
Camping almost under the bridge at Koman along with the wildfowl
Wednesday 25th September Wonderful Lake Koman boat trip 19 miles
We woke at 6.00 and got up to be ready for our boat trip on the Koman Lake. We left at 7.45, driving up to the next reservoir car park (£1.50). We waited around for our chap to give us a lift through the long roughly surfaced tunnel to the docking area. When he didn’t show up, we set off at 8.10 walking through the 450m tunnel – not a nice experience, but luckily no vehicles passed us. A lot of other people had been arriving.
We hung around by the boats, not quite sure what was happening. After a while we showed our tickets, and were allowed onto the car ferry. There was a second car ferry and a smaller passenger boat, which was a bus stuck on top of a boat! We couldn't work it all out! They seemed to wait until the last moment to board the vehicles. It made us think of the ferry from Greece to Italy in 1967, when it looked as though it was the first time they’d done it, although it ran every day. It felt quite chilly now, and was cold on the top deck. We descended the steep stairs (backwards) to the lower deck and settled ourselves there.
Our 9.00 departure left at 9.20. We immediately wallowed in the stupendous scenery – towering bare rock cliffs contrasting with gentler totally green forested slopes. They made us think of the Marquesas.
Sometimes the boat would come to what looked like the end of a gorge, and then turn right or left. We saw hardly any habitation on our 2 hour 10 minute journey, just one or two houses set high up the mountainside, where the occupants somehow grew crops.
Vehicles loading onto our boat at Koman after emerging from the tunnel
The passenger ferry is a 'bus on a boat'
An English girl called Emma came and spoke to us. She lived in Manchester, and liked travelling on her own. She was using public transport or hitch hiking. Not your usual person!
It felt hot when we arrived at Breg Lum. We sat on rocks to eat our sandwiches, but moved to the verandah of the cafe, in the shade! Most people were making the one-way journey, and going on to walk in the mountains, or drive further. A few got back onto the boat – we thought that we would sit on the top deck for the return journey, which we did, but annoyingly the clouds came up and it was windy and chilly.
The boat left at the scheduled time of 1.00pm. As we showed our tickets, the chap said ‘where were you this morning?’ He was our chap, and said that he was quite worried until he saw us. We don’t know how the mix-up happened.
Our beautiful trip along the Komani Canyon
We got back to Koman which we'd left at 9.20, at 3.30. Our chap said to go on the minibus to the carpark, which we were able to do. This was marvellous, as it meant not walking back through the long tunnel.
We warmed and recovered with a cup of tea, leaving at 3.50 to drive back on the dodgy road. There were lovely views in the early evening light of the river and mountains. Just before reaching the end of the road, we stopped for the night beside the lovely reservoir.
It was cloudier on the return journey
Back on land, we stopped for the night beside Lake Koman
Thursday 26th September Some days things don’t go right! 95 miles
What a view to look out to when we woke up! Mind you, it rained before we left at 8.50, but then it was a fine day, which we hadn’t been expecting from the forecast.
We turned south onto a minor road. We’d noticed that they had large communal rubbish bins here, like in Italy. We were disconcerted to come across a large rockfall in the road in front of us.
It was nice driving through the countryside with its humble dwellings. The older women were dressed as peasants, but the younger ones were more western. Elderly gents often wore a shirt and jacket, with a cap, but young men wore T-shirts. Pomegranates and vines grew beside the road, and we saw several of the pill boxes we’d read about.
What a view to wake up to!
It was more urban when we neared Lexhe. We passed one great ‘palace’ and a lot of grubby apartment blocks.
We needed to go into Lexhe to find an ATM for some more Albanian money. We finally saw a cash point, but the town was very busy, so parking was really difficult. In desperation, we parked behind a police car, and Adrian asked the policeman if we could park for a few minutes!
Adrian also needed to go into Vodaphone to get an Albanian Sim card for the tablet. The girl who served him spoke good English. She had a degree, and wanted to teach, but this was the only job she could get. She was looking to go to the USA – life was too limiting in Albania.
We tried ‘Bigmarket’ supermarket nearby, which the girl said was good, but we couldn’t find anything for us. Later we found another supermarket where we bought a tin of sardines, a small piece of local cheese, four loose eggs and a bottle of vodka!
Having now found somewhere to park, we walked back towards the Skanderbeg memorial. Skanderbeg is Albania’s ‘hero’. We walked back across the bridge, buying a large white loaf from a bakers, where the girl again spoke good English. It now felt very hot.
Pomegranates, vines and pill boxes
There was a campsite nearby, so we thought that we’d get settled in early and do some catching up. Our luck was out though. We found the site, but although it was said to be open all year, it was all locked up!
We stopped along the road to eat our lunch before taking the motor road to Kruje. Despite being a fast motor road, we passed a cyclist, and then a person walking a dog. What there was though, were dozens of petrol stations.
We turned off to Kruje, and began climbing up and up – initially through vast pine forests. It was a very long way to the town of Kruje. When we finally did stop in the carpark, we could see the castle way above us. We weren’t going to make that!
Change of plan again – we turned around, wound our way back down, but when we came to the town of Fusti Kruje ‘Kruje on the plain’, the road through the town was closed! We passed an old lady in a black dress and white headscarf, leading a cow.
We got back onto the main road. Lots of little stalls beside the road were selling fruit – apples and small oranges. Our sat-nav sent us on one of its ‘short cuts’, round past the airport! We missed the peculiar turn off onto the service road to the campsite and found ourselves on the fast road to Tirana with nowhere to turn off. Hence we drove miles before we could turn around and get on to the service road and come back.
Finally we found the turning for ‘Camping Tirana’. In the village, a group of young boys tried to stop us, and show us the way. Adrian said no, and followed his sat-nav on a winding, pot-holed road up into the hills. When we realised that this way wasn’t going, we had to return to the village (and the boys). This time there was an older lad with them, who gave us a campsite leaflet, and set us off in the right direction. Then it was miles of pot-holed road up into the hills again until we came to a sign saying 1km. This was along a bumpy, stony track, until we reached the ‘normal’ site of Camping Tirana, where several other motorhomes were already camped.
The owner Rita greeted us and showed us to a spot meaning that the Swiss family, with 2 boys, next to us had to move their table – they were very good about it. It made us think of the time in Spain, when we’d arrived with three tiny children and asked for a shady spot. This meant the German next to us having to give up one of the three pitches he’d taken, and he was furious!
We were looking down to an almost dry pond when we sat in the sun with our cup of tea. We then put a load of washing in. Later there was a lovely sky.
We decided to eat supper inside. When Adrian went to check on the washing, he noticed that hundreds of tiny flying ants had got into the van! Rita then arrived with some home-made raki.
After dealing with the ants, we did some more of the website before collecting the washing
Friday 27th September A quiet day
We awoke to thick mist, but it soon became sunny and hot. As we were staying here another day, we put in a second load of washing, mostly to wash the duvet cover and sheet. We ate breakfast outside. When the lone Austrian girl from Vienna, in the blue van next to us, left, we moved into her more shady spot. Beyond that was a couple in a converted fire engine.
We’d hung up all the washing. Our lunch outside was accompanied by chickens and chicks.
Afterwards we walked down to the lake, which had a rather ‘iffy’ little jetty. We saw a tiny blue butterfly. Lots of turkeys were in an enclosure. As we got back, the two little girls from here were dropped off by the minibus from school. And we thought that Louisa & Jo were rural! It was good to have had a relaxing day.
Saturday 28th September Tirana 12 miles
A cock crowed to tell us to get up. It was a beautiful morning with the sun just coming above the mountains - no mist today! We ate our breakfast outside, reluctant to come in. Adrian had almost finished his supply of English butter, and my Lurpac wasn't far behind. He did the filling and emptying. Some German chaps were loading motorbikes on to a trailer just where Adrian needed to empty the grey tank. Rita was there to say goodbye as we started off on the 1km stony track and then the long winding bumpy road.
We stopped to shop at a massive mall, a bit like some in France. Rita had suggested Big Market (which we had turned down the other day), although she said that there was no fruit or veg in there. This shop was huge. We did get some shampoo, some rice/coconut milk and some President semi-salted butter.
We left by a different exit, and while I waited with the trolley, Adrian fetched the van. It was a long way round, and he was ages.
It was now very hot as we headed into Tirana. The traffic was horrendous, and bad mannered. There were endless tower blocks, with more construction going on. We got to the car park where Adrian had read that you could overnight for €9. We ate lunch, then the attendant knocked and asked us to move a bit so that another motorhome could fit in. In fact they were two French couples, one couple from Gap. When we went to leave for Tirana, one of them, Anita, who was very chatty and outgoing, asked if we knew of anywhere else nearby to stay. We took a long time telling them about Rita’s place, Camping Tirana. We were surprised therefore, that when we got back from Tirana, the motorhomes were still here.
We asked the gate man about a taxi to the centre, but he told us that the bus stopped opposite. Sure enough, we caught an L2 bus, getting off at Skanderbeg Square (40 lek each - 35p). The bus was very full, and had a conductor to pay, like the old days! I was a bit concerned about knowing where to catch the bus back, and where to get off.
Tirana – the name sounds so nice – is pleasant but unremarkable. It is full of tower blocks, and the amount of construction is alarming. There were lots of small green areas, and usually plenty of seats to sit on, which we needed on this hot day. We had got off the bus at Skanderbeg Square, which is massive and bland. There was a statue of Skanderbeg on a horse, but nothing else to note. Admittedly there were museums and buildings, such as the opera house, but no great sights to catch your eye.
Three towers against the blue sky were attractive – the clock tower, a minaret, and a strange new building of odd shape. There was a Tyrbe - a shrine, fighting its own against all the development.
Skanderbeg (Albanian hero) Square, Tirana
While perusing the book to see which way to go, we looked up to see a girl wanting to help. We said that we were looking for a bridge ‘which bridge, there are lots of bridges’. This one was a dear little stone bridge built in 19th century, and known as the Tanners Bridge. When we reached it, it was not over a river, just a bit of grass! The nearby river just looked like a dirty ditch.
We followed Adrian’s excellent intuition to the bus stop to go back, buying a loaf of bead on the way. When we reached the stop, two men were peeling the old advertising from it, so we sat on a little wall behind.
When we got back to the van at 4.15, we were glad of a cup of tea. We felt jammed in, as we often were on our Central America trip, with the temperature similar.
A bit later, Anita came over and asked us to join them for drinks. They had decided to stay here tonight, but had had to move, as a bus was due to come into their space. And so we enjoyed a convivial time, sitting out in the carpark, where they'd made a little enclave. There were Anita & Gerald, from Gap and Louis & Edith from Brest in Brittany. Anita and Gerald spoke some English, but the other two didn't. Anita and Gerald had visited Scotland, where he'd shaken hands with Prince Charles at the Highland games. He said that Charles spoke good French.
Tyrbe of Kapllan Pasha
Having imbibed on beer/wine and crisps and snacks, we came back to the Ixi at 7.20, where I made a feta salad. It was still very warm.
There was a fairground adjacent to us, with music playing, and all lit up. The carpark was now packed with cars, so imagine our surprise to find the fairground almost completely deserted!
Aperitifs in the carpark in Tirana with our new found French friends
Sunday 29th September To Durresi then on towards Berati 78 miles
When we woke to a clear blue sky, which stayed all day, the carpark was almost empty, but we hadn’t heard the cars leave. The French couples left early – Adrian gave them our email address.
We'd seen people walking along the top of the reservoir wall opposite, so thought that we’d have a look before we left. It seemed to be a Sunday morning thing to do to walk, jog or cycle along the path, which we discovered was part of a large park.
At 9.15 we left, driving into Tirana in the hopes of seeing a Roman mosaic. We weren’t in luck! The book said that it was hard to find, in the midst of buildings. All we did was to get stuck in the tiny roads, where badly parked vehicles meant that we couldn’t get through. We had to reverse along a one way street the wrong way! Then we had to drive back through the town, which by now was getting busy.
Once out out Tirana, we took the fast road to Durresi. It was like US – all commerce and adverts either side of the road. When we got to Durresi and stopped at traffic lights, we encountered the first little boy begging. Durresi was a large town full of tall blocks, but we did see the Roman walls. We'd come to see the amphitheatre, said to be the largest in the Balkans and only discovered in 1966 when building works were going on. It was hard to find – we saw no signs to it, and only by following the sat-nav did we stop by the road where we walked up steep cobbles and found the entrance. It was hard for me walking up and down the steep, uneven steps, but good to have seen.
Early morning by the reservoir
Our overnight pitch (next to the bus) Tirana
At a fruit stall opposite we bought pears, apricots and a red pepper from a rather dour man.
By now it was really hot, and the traffic was very busy and impatient, as Adrian manoeuvred turning round.
It was non-stop tower blocks, the road lined with souvenir shops and eating places as we drove out of Durresi, making us think of Benidorm.
At last it became a bit quieter, with smart hotels and pine trees. The first road to the beach that we tried had a barrier across it. We tried another, and stopped under the shade of the trees near the beach. The area made us think of Bonne Anse in France.
We ate lunch in the van, before a quick swim in the sea from a sandy beach, where just one man was sunbathing.
The large Roman amphitheatre at Durresi
Now we took good, straight roads south towards Berati across flat land with hills in the distance. We passed a couple of donkeys and carts.
At 3.20 we arrived at Camping Berati, several miles before the town. There were shaded pitches around a ‘square’. We were welcomed with a cold drink – iced coffee, which suited me but not Adrian!
Adrian had spoken to a British couple camping here, and later they invited us over for drinks. They were Carol and Graham who live in Devizes. Graham had been in the army, and Carole was from an army family, so both had travelled widely. They were easy to talk to, so it was nearly 9.00 when we came back to the Ixi to eat a meal of smoked salmon & couscous.
After a swim at Durresi
Monday 30th September Berati 21 miles
It was sunny but cool at first, then it became very hot. We didn’t leave until after 9.30 to visit Berati. Adrian had a problem with the fridge not working on gas, so having discussed our plans, we thought it best to come back to this campsite tonight so that he could work on it.
It was a good straight road in, and with not much traffic about we were soon there. A chap on a bicycle acted as car park attendant and told us that there would be a space (beside the road) in 5 minutes. Our chance came – it cost 50 lek (35p) an hour. We booked 3 hours, leaving at 10.20.
Berati is known for its huge castle, high up on the hill, and its attractive rows of white houses with brown tiled roofs. In fact that is the photo on the front of our guide book.
We walked through the long shady park where groups of men were sitting, to the bottom of the cobbled road ‘up the hill’. We knew that we couldn’t make the long assent so Adrian went into the Tourist Information where he purchased a simple map of Albania and sorted out a taxi (500 lek- £3.50).
Berati with its attractive houses topped by a castle
The castle (100 lek -70p each) is large, and attractive to walk around, if rather tricky for me as it is all steep cobbles. There were simple souvenir stalls and white embroidered cloths and clothes to buy, some hanging up like washing. There were very few other people about, but in the church of St George, we did speak to a German man and a French woman from Marseilles. This church had been turned into a restaurant in communist times, but was now being restored by parishioners. A stall seller came and joined us, and proudly pointed out the ancient icons (not a favourite thing of ours!)
There were amazing views down from the castle, but it was very hot and I found the going difficult. By the entrance we were able to get a taxi back down to the town. We walked across a pedestrian bridge, taking more photos of the attractive houses.
St George's Church
The ancient icons
Inside Berati castle
Then it was the long walk back through the park, where groups of men were still playing dominoes.
I felt like a pickled beetroot when we reached the Ixi at 12.45. Adrian thought that we could eat lunch in a large gravelled area we’d passed. We did two tours of the town to get there, only to find that you had to pay. You could overnight here, but we needed to get back to our campsite so that Adrian could work on the fridge problem. The man wasn’t really interested in just one hour’s parking! And so we eventually ate our lunch beside the road, on the outskirts of Berati. Two 'speed cops' came and stood behind us, blowing their whistles!
Back at Berati campsite, we were given another iced coffee welcome drink. Adrian worked on the fridge problem and I put in some more washing including the large towels. Unfortunately the spin was no good, and the washing was still dripping wet. We hung it on lines outside the van.
We had a meal at the restaurant - whole fish (dorada) with salad and chips, and a beer each, sitting outside
18th century Gorica bridge
Berati from Gorica
Men playing dominoes in the park, Berati
Tuesday 1st October To the sea 40 miles
It was sunny, but still cool first thing. Nevertheless, we had breakfast outside. We were trying to dry the washing – Adrian took it up to put on the spin cycle, and I ironed items to dry them.
After doing the ‘jobs’, it was 9.45 when we left.
Just along the road, we came to a large market, stretching along the road and back behind. We pulled in to go and have a look. There were mostly fruit & vegetable stalls, and clothing. We bought several items of food before continuing along the now bumpy road which often lacked a surface.
The area was generally flat and agricultural, with many greenhouses. There were olive trees, making nice patterns on the hilly parts. We saw a whole gaggle of turkeys being led along the road, and passed a house looking like a boat.
We come across an Albanian market
The last part to Vlore was a new, fast motor road.
Vlore was a very large town, consisting of tower block after tower block. Adrian was hoping to find a Carrefour supermarket here, but couldn't find it. In fact we couldn’t find any supermarkets. What was called ‘market’, just turned out to be a drinks shop! Albania has few 'out of town' supermarkets, and anywhere in town means difficulty for us parking. After our fruitless search, we drove out by the sea, into pine forest. Adrian had seen that you could free camp here. Just about all the bars etc had closed up for the season. We chose a nice spot and sat out to eat our lunch. A local on a bicycle, wearing just shorts, came up and chatted, asking where we were from. Adrian put up a washing line, and the clothes soon dried. We went across to the deserted beach and had a swim in the sea. This is the life!
We sat out with our drinks, as the sun went down making a pretty sky. We enjoyed the quiet, then came in to eat supper and work more on the website.
Nice patterns on the hillside
A boathouse or houseboat!
From our wonderful spot beneath the trees we watch the sun go down
Wednesday 2nd October Down the Albanian Coast 65 miles
It was lovely to look out at 7.00 am and see the sun on the water. We ate breakfast sitting outside, looking through the pine trees to the blue sea and sky, with headlands and islands beyond. The passive dog came and joined us until we left at 9.30.
Goodbye to our lovely spot
We drove back into Vlore, as we needed a shop, particularly to get drinking water. Adrian had looked up Big Market, which wasn’t big! We bought a few things, including the water, and some fruit and veg from the shop next door.
Adrian thought that the tablet wasn’t working, so spent a long time waiting in Vodaphone, when suddenly it started working again. By now we thought that we’d have coffee.
On the way out of town, we passed a bakers, so stopped to get a loaf. The lady sliced it before Adrian realised! We bought some baklava for later, just as popular here as in Greece.
Vlore was big and busy! We went round in circles in the one-way streets, thinking that we’d never get out.
When we did, we drove south to Orikum, where the mountainous finger (thumb) of land sticks out.
We ate lunch at the edge of the beach, which was of pebbles and large-grained sand. Afterwards we had a swim in the sea, but the wind had got up a bit, so the only other man on the beach grabbed our things for us which had blown away.
As we drove off at 1.45, the azure sea, with the blue sky, looked lovely, through the palm trees and the white beach.
We continued south, past the Karaburuni peninsula and down past Himare to Borsch. We hadn’t expected this coast road to go right up over a pass at 1100m (3000 ft), zigzagging all the way up and down, so that I felt quite giddy. At the top we were in cloud, but further down we had great views over the sea and islands.
Lunch and a swim at Orikum
We drove through Himare, a large seaside town, which was probably nice if we’d stopped. It had taken 2½ hrs to do 50 miles! We turned off in Borsch on a long and bumpy track to a free camping place by the sea. Unlike last night’s spot, there were several other campers here, so we spent a long time picking a suitable place. It was an open beach, so not as attractive as last night. We sat with a cup of tea, looking past the few palm trees and the sandy, pebbly beach to the sea.
Cloud at the top, then nice views further down
It became quite windy, so for the first time for ages we sat inside with our drinks. The sun still went down gloriously, as a red rubber ball!
Risan, Montenegro to Borsch, Albania