Back road into Albania

The border crossing from Montenegro into Albania was the most contrasted yet: no sooner had I passed border control than the smooth road turned to dusty gravel, with a pack of goats to negotiate. I had secured a car transfer for €40 to the capital Tirana, along with two fellow passengers. We entered the country from the very north, with a long rural drive ahead of us.

What little road surface there was in the north was pitted and rough. Many times our driver had to swerve to avoid deep potholes. The scenery can best be described as ‘rustic’: sheep and goats were a prominent feature, and farmers lugged bales of hay in poky tractors. I saw one man riding a scooter with a lamb draped over the luggage rack. It was alive.

There seemed to be no organisation to the buildings: no towns or villages, just half-built houses scattered around the roadside. Since nobody owned any land following the fall of communism, it became standard practice for locals to simply build their house, one storey at a time, until they have enough money to add a roof and finish it off.

Eventually we reached Skodër for a quick stopover. I had a wander with the other travellers and saw a mosque and an orthodox church. I managed to grab a quick breakfast, before heading back to the car.

I missed much of the next stretch of the journey because I kept dozing off. Must be the heat. I did notice the spectacular ridged mountains backing the flat plains we were driving through.

On arrival in Tirana, our driver dumped me rather unapologetically in the city centre, and I had a real struggle trying to find my hostel. After some frustration I gave up and called a taxi. The cab driver had no idea where to go, but with the help of a meagre map I was able to get most of the way there. Only to find that the hostel had been relocated, so I had to take another taxi to take me to the new locale. Exhausted at this point, I went straight to sleep and didn’t wake until the evening.

The next day I set off to explore Tirana properly, and tackle the crazy traffic. Albanian drivers seem to use their horns more than their brakes. The architecture here is dominated by communist-era tower blocks, but made interesting by the wealth of colour applied after the regime fell. Tirana’s a very colourful city, and everything from park benches to skyscrapers come in a variety of fetching shades. It no doubt looks a lot better than monotonous grey.

I spent much of the afternoon escaping the sun in a beautiful forested park, complete with an artificial lake. After a long walk I decided to spoil myself by checking out the rotating Sky Bar high above the city centre, where I sit now, admiring the view and writing this post. Yes, I think I like Tirana!

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