RV Roadtrip – Race Through Albania
After sharing a quizzical glance or two about the absurdity of our situation leaving Safari Beach in Montenegro, Shani and I were slightly apprehensive about our path south and into Albania. From the very start things were interesting. As we left Safari Beach our progress was halted by a herd of sheep, none at all bothered that our camping car was trying to use the same road. Sebastian tried to scare them off but that was futile as well. Eventually the road cleared and we were on our way.
Except that we weren’t. Remember the rain? This had apparently caused some mud/rock slides that closed the route we wanted to take. A bit of Googling and we thought we had an alternative as did some other trucks and busses. Well, it turns out that wasn’t going to work out either, as evidenced by all the rigs in front of us attempting to turn around. Not an easy task on the skinny road we found ourselves on. I spied an empty lot with a downed gate just up from us and at the earliest opportunity pulled in and parked so Shani could evaluate our options.
We were able to find an alternative on a single lane country road that rose over the hills and through microscopic villages and eventually a proper road and the Albanian border. There was a bit of trepidation about heading into Albania. The roads have a horrible reputation. That’s one thing. Also, back in Split a British guy called Jimmy had warned us about going into Albania. He claimed that they would steal our kidneys for sure. He had been on the road for 9 years and wouldn’t go near the place. While my kidneys like to make stones, I’m still rather fond of them.
As we were committed to our path, we pressed on. We only had a few options for low season camping in Albania and our target for the first night was a small site connected to a restaurant and hotel called Nord Park.
The roads in Albania were a mixed bag. Some were new and quite nice, modern multi lane highways. Others were skinny and full of potholes, indeed some of the worst paved roads we had been on. However, the drivers in Albania were as bad as anywhere we’ve been, including Saudi Arabia! They would overtake with the thinnest of margins for error, pass on blind curves or going up hills. It was a real mess. Getting to Nord Park required a left turn off the main road, simple really, except that we all went 5 abreast to make the turn onto a two lane road. Mayhem.
While the camp spots were undergoing some rejuvenation and maintenance and a bit muddy the rest of the Nord Park experience exceeded our expectations. First, just after our arrival in the early evening, a waiter from the restaurant showed up at the camping car with a snack of Qofte (or Cevapcici as they are called in other parts of the Balkans or Kofta in the Middle East, essentially ground meat and spices formed into a sausage shape and grilled, oh so tasty!) and toast on a platter which was completely unexpected and thoroughly enjoyed! (not pictured below, that was dinner)
We decided to get some wine in the restaurant and maybe another snack or two (and fries of course!). Once seated, the son of the family that owns the place made his way over, introduced himself and warmly welcomed us and took our order for some appetizers. Not content to just serve the appetizers, several other bites showed up culminating with a nice fruit platter with decoratively carved fruits! It was pretty cool and we so enjoyed their hospitality! They even let Sebastian join us for dinner and brought us a chair to place his bag on!
Our stay at Nord Park also included the use of one of the hotel rooms for a bathroom and private shower. When it was all said and done, we we so impressed with the hospitality and friendliness of the Albanians that I began to worry a little less about losing a kidney or two! The driving, still, was a bit maddening.
One thing you’ll notice about a road trip in Albania is the abundance of alternative vehicles on the road. I’m not talking Tesla or Prius here. All manner of animal pulled cart, makeshift tricycles and the odd Mercedes sedan, doubling as refuse hauler, share the road with all the luxury brands in various forms of disrepair from pristine to barely hobbling down the road. Shani was quite entertained by the spectacle, constantly trying to get good snapshots as we drove by.
Heading south from Nord Park our next destination was Camping Gjirokaster, nearly at the Greek border. It was a long day of driving but mostly on well maintained and modern roads. They sort of petered though out as we got closer to Gjirokaster turning into one lane and smaller pothole filled affairs.
Rolling up to Gjirokaster we weren’t quite sure they were open, the site was gated and there weren’t any other campers there. Sensing our doubts a window on the second floor opened and a girl waved and indicated we should open the gate and park up. Fortunately, they had been expecting us as Shani emailed them to make sure they were still open!
While the camping was rustic our hosts were so nice and immediately mopped and cleaned the restrooms (which I’m sure were already spotless). During prime season the family has a restaurant as well but we were too late for that, much to my chagrin. They also make their own wine and we were lucky to buy a few liters from them at least. Such sincerely nice people, I would certainly stay there again.
And that was our race through Albania. In the morning we loaded our GPS, Gabby, with our destination in Greece and we were on our way, all kidneys accounted for! Stay tuned as we land in the Peloponnese, meet some great people and hit the famous sites in Greece.