Well, basically, we arrive at the Albanian border not necessarily motivated for this country ... People in Montenegro told us that they are crazy about flying and that we should be wary of them ...
We actually discover a very warm and smiling population and everyone wants to say their little “hello” or “ciao”. The Italians have indeed been quite present in the history of the country and many people speak Italian here. Too bad, we can speak English, Spanish and German, but not Italian! On the roads, traffic is quite correct. We move slowly to the first big city, Skhöder. We can't stop looking around us: the environment has really changed, we are completely out of place! The houses are often half-finished (only the ground floor is finished, the second remains unfinished, for example), they all have their water supply on the roof, the women are sometimes veiled; and above all we have left the mountains, we are in an immense plain.
In Shkodër, we meet a young Albanian who has spent a few years in Belgium and therefore speaks French quite well, but with a Belgian accent (it's funny).
Over coffee, he tells us that life is hard in Albania, and that he earns around €40 a day and even works on Sunday mornings. He finds that the country is progressing and he tells us about their desire to integrate into Europe.
He helps us find a hotel for the night, and even negotiates the price for us a bit. We spend the evening walking around the city; we notice the few women in the streets: in fact, there are almost only guys!
We discover with pleasure the cost of living: we eat a good seafood fast food for 5€ each!
Passing by a small road on the hillside the next day (Sunday October 26), we discover the very rural hinterland. We come across cows, goats, sheep, chickens, and even pigs roaming free on the small road. The coating is sometimes very good, but sometimes also full of holes or returned to a dirt road where the puddles of mud give a new design to our bikes.
But the hardest part of the day was the gusts of wind which stopped us and caused us to split. It continued until nightfall, and we began to wonder where we could find a safe place to sleep. An Albanian-Italian advises us a church where to sleep a little further. Arrived in front of the church, a grandpa waves to us to invite us to pitch the tent in his garden. At this point, we hesitate a little, it seems much too easy and we wonder if it's not a trap (since the Montenegrins have told us to beware)... The arrival of his wife reassures us a little , we pitch the tent. An hour later, we decide to go back to see them, to get our own idea and dispel our prejudices. We get closer to the hut facing the house, where they seem to be. The grandmother opens the door: it is actually a bar! 5 minutes later, we are sitting with their friends having a glass of homemade Rakhi. We manage to chat a little in English and we spend a very good evening. The police arrive in the middle of the evening, everyone moves around us, we wonder a little what is going on… They actually stop because they need water for the radiator of their van, everything the world is laughing!
We feel that this couple of grandparents wants to show the hospitality of the Albanians: at the end of the evening, we go home (it's very comfortable, big contrast with the somewhat seedy bar), they insist that we do Skype with our family and are very warm with us. The next day, they offer us fruit from the garden for the road, adorable!
We arrive in Tirana on Monday evening after a very sunny day. We discover the Tirana Backpacker Hostel, a youth hostel where there are plenty of musical instruments (guitar, bandjo, djumbé...) available, the decor is great, there is a bar in the large courtyard behind, with tangerines and many other plants everywhere. The reception is simple and cool. In short, you feel super good right away. If you go to Tirana, absolutely go there!
Also to do in Tirana: the Free Walk Tour. The guide is passionate about history and takes us on a tour of the city with striking personal anecdotes, from the birth of Tirana to today. He did not hesitate to describe to us his youth under the communist regime and how the country closed in on itself and was cut off from the world (like North Korea today). It's super informative for us and it helps us to better understand what we can see in the country. In addition, we meet other world travelers Australians, Scottish and Germans; we spend a great evening together, sharing our experiences.
The next day, it's a bit hard to leave these new one-night buddies: it's crazy what we can share in one evening with people who look like us!
We attack the climb!
Wednesday, October 29, we climb in the mountains, to the south. The landscape is breathtaking, we see several mountain ranges in the distance; the weather is cloudy and spots of light are forming everywhere, the atmosphere is great, Thomas is enjoying the camera, that goes without saying! This road through the mountains between Tirana and Elbasan is really splendid: to do if you pass by there one day!
The next day we find other mountains, or rather gorges. It's quite nice too: you feel like you're in the high mountains when you're at an altitude of 150m. But there must not be many tourists here: when you stop in a village to do some shopping, the men (because there are only men in the streets, the women must surely stay at home) look at us a little strangely. It's one of the rare times when we didn't feel very comfortable...
In the evening we find the Albanian sympathy with a young farmer who opens his field to us to put up the tent and gives us his agreement to make a fire: the cold has arrived with the night so it's great to make a fire!
Friday, hard climb… We are really struggling. But arrived at the top, we are at 700m altitude with a view of a huge lake and snow-capped mountains on the other side. The thermometer does not exceed 15° but it is superb. It feels like being by the sea. There are small fish vendors everywhere on the side of the road, so at lunchtime we buy two trout still alive in their aquarium! And we cook that on our stove, yes, yes! Yum, that was really good!
In the evening we want a good hot shower (we can't get rid of the smell of midday fish, we're cold...), so it's a hotel! Yes, we pay for this luxury for 10€ per person: Albania is really cheap! It's Halloween and the children also walk around here in disguise selling sweets.
Saturday we go to the border and 60kms further here we are in Greece! We gain 1 hour of sun in the evening with the time change, it's cool, it became hard to find a place to pitch the tent from 4:30 p.m....
A few other things that stood out to us in Albania:
– They buy English cars because they are cheaper. But on the other hand the steering wheel remains on the right!
– Almost every 100m there are “lavazh”: car wash area. It ranges from the simple water hose (very often) to the more sophisticated washing station. They take care of their cars!!
– Much less cool: they are used to throwing their waste anywhere and especially in rivers. We even saw a guy come to the river with a large garbage bag and leave without… Good ecology, there’s really a lot of work to do, that’s for sure!
– A little everywhere in the country, we see bunkers which are vestiges of communism and war. It would have been built 700,000 during the communist era! (According to our free walk tour guide in Tirana)
– There are really people everywhere… A small path that seems to lead nowhere can make someone appear. It's a bit tiring sometimes...
– Several times, people insisted on paying us for coffee, for no particular reason. The reception was really great.
In short, we were very pleasantly surprised by this country. We recommend it! Full of beautiful places to discover, life is really cheap and people want to show the best of their country.
So, Albania, your next holiday destination?