Albania and a little bit of Greece

Written by Sebastian on July 12th, 2011. Posted in Allgemein

Martin: We pack our bikes and at about 2pm we hit the road. Stage of the day: Tirana, Albania! Before we leave Sebas manages to loose his glasses and finds someone who refills his oil for the bike by spilling half of it over the bike. All this happened in about 15 minutes, while I was waiting for him at the exit of Budva. You just can´t leave this guy alone 🙂 We feel sorry to leave Budva, an incredible city with many small beaches surrounded by a spectacular mountain scenery. 

The road takes us first along side the sea with spectacular views, before we turn left up a mountain road too the border town Vladimir. The road to the border is beautiful, a narrow road, left and right mountains and olive trees, from time to time we pass a village. We reach the border and again we pass through without problems. Albania we are coming!!

If you expect Albania to be the wild, wild east you are partly right.. and if you want to explore some of it, you better hurry up!

Albania is changing rapidly, it is being invested big time. Even though many roads are in quite good condition, many are under construction, highways are being built all around. We go from the beautiful mountainous north via Shkodra to Tirana, which is more or less in the centre of Albania. Because of the constructions the road never gets boring, it changes from brand new 3 lane highway to single lane country road to gravel.. where the country road had been removed and the highway not yet built 🙂

Driving itself is an experience, as after three days we still didn`t figure out if there were any rules, besides first come-first serve 🙂 But even though one needs time to get used to it, after a couple of hours and some additional white hair, it´s fun and we adapt our driving style… by driving slow on the right side of the road 🙂 We pass many police controls, none of them stopping us. Arrived in Tirana we meet Elton, a friend and colleague from Trenkwalder Albania. We park the bikes in the garage of the building where we have our office and Elton takes us to his flat in the suburbs of Tirana. His flat is great and from his balcony we have a beautiful view over Tirana. We have a beer on the balcony and hit the city, where we meet Eranda. We go to a restaurant with traditional Albanian food, very often a combination of cheese (goat or sheep) and meat. After dinner we go around the city centre, where the main square is currently being rebuilt into a pedestrian zone.

Many governmental buildings are in venetian style, built when the Italians occupied Albania, there are many bars and even though it is already 1 am, there are still many people in the streets. We go to an open air club close to the main square. The club is packed, the music great and if we weren´t to go to visit the SOS Children Village the next day in the morning, it would have been a long, long night. We decide to leave and Elton is so kind to give us his flat for the night. Next day in the morning we pick up Eranda and we go to visit together with Edlira, CEO Trenkwalder Albania, the SOS Children Village in Tirana (you can read soon about it on our SOS Children Village site of the blog!), an impressive experience!

At about 2 we go back to the office, say goodbye to Edlira and Eranda and go with Elton direction south to Saranda. We pass by Dürres, about half an hour from Tirana, a city with a port and many skyscraper vacation appartment buildings. This place used to be spectacular, as the beaches were surrounded by forest and one had to get through to get to the beach. Now the area is covert by concrete. Luckily, the Albanian authorities have reacted and now it is illegal to built buildings less than 50 meters from the sea. After Dürres we go direction Flora trough Central Albania, flat land, lots of transit traffic and roads either narrow or under construction. It reminded me of the road I took with Harry through Central Italy.. one of the sections where there is nothing to see besides fields but can`t go through fast because there is one truck after the other.

At Vlora we are at the sea again, the landscape is great and we follow the coastal road until Orikum. From there we go to the mountains, go up and down serpentines within a forest until we reach impressive Llogora, also called the balcony mountain. What happens: you drive up the serpentines until suddenly the road turns flat und you have the sea and Corfu in front of you. An incredible view! You better be not to amazed, as the road turns sharp left and missing it would end up in a thelma and louise jump from approx. 1000m 🙂

We stop there at a restaurant and enoy the view with a coffee. The road continues spectacular, along the sea the road goes in serpentines up and down mountains, a dream for motorbikers. Also the quality of the road is excellent.

As the sun is about to set, we stop at Jala, a beach in a small bay, with only some bars of it. There we enjoy fresh seafood and fish while watching the sky getting all variations of red, while the sun turns dark yellow and moves every minute closer to the horizont until it disappears. A beautiful moment and all of us enjoy it in silence.

We continue to Saranda and are glad as we reach it. To drive roads like that is great, but also exhausting, even more when it gets dark. We stay at Eltons great appartment with sea view and Sebas watches for the first time the moon going down. Again, a beautiful scenery, as the moon has a reddish color and slowly disappears into the sea. Impressed by Albanias beauty and overwhelmed by Elonts hospitality we decide to stay a day longer.

Next day we go to TV Saranda… we are having our first interview on TV! We get there going up a steep ladder, entering by a small iron door. As it turned out it`s the back entrance as Elton seems forgetting how to enter from the front 🙂
The interview itself was fun and when we saw the cut version the next day, we were very impressed at the way the report had been done, very professional!

Afterwards Elton takes us to the so called “blue eye” about 20 minutes from Saranda. Blue eye is in the midst of mountains and the source of the river Bistrica. The special thing about it is, that the water comes from below 50 meters straight up to the surface, from where the river continues. The water is absolutely clear and has all sorts of blue color at the source. Sebas and I can´t hold ourselves back and even though the water has only 10 degrees we take a swim and jump into it from the view point which is placed directly on top of the source.

Still enjoying that refreshing experience we have a snack at the restaurant next to it and continue our way again over a mountain road to Tepelene, which is not only famous because Eltons mother lives there, but also for it´s excellent sheep cheese. She invites us for a typical Albanian dish (chicken wings, something pasta like and soup in one dish – very good) with excellent water melon for desert. Even though we can´t really communicate, We enjoy our stay with her a lot.

With a full stomach we visit the beginning of a canyon in Gryka e Kelcyres, from where we continue to Gjirokastra, a 3000 year old village and impressive castle made of stone (a UNESCO Heritage site), with a tunnel below it you can go through. Here started also one of the many dark sides of Albanian history: it`s the birthplace of Hoxha, a paranoiac dictator, who islolated this beautiful country for decades and, instead of developing it, cut the trees in valleys and built over 1 million bunkers. Many of them are still standing around, giving the landscape a somewhat different atmosphere.

We arrive back in the appartment and, after this great day, fall asleep quite soon. Next day we go to the TV station again, we pick up the report on USB and, after making the bikes ready (which were btw. secured by a Roma family living next to the appartment), Elton accompanies us to the border with Greece at Kakavia. I was deeply impressed by Eltons hospitality, to us, Albania has become something special. A hope it will not loose this special wild, wild east character too much, but in any way, I am happy I could experience THIS current Albania.

We pass the border without any problems and hit the road direction Thessaloniki. The roads are good and take us first along mountains with beautiful scenery to Ionannina, where we take the so called ring road that takes us on the highway. The surrounding landscape is great, we drive through forests, it goes up and down through tunnels that go through mountains with great views into the valleys until it goes downhill for the last time and we continue our way in a flat area, with fields left and right from us and silhoutte of mountains in the far distance. The sun starts going down, the colors of the sky change and soon after it gets dark we pass Thessaloniki. After another 50m we take the next exit and find a hotel in a nice little village. There we enjoy the excellent Greek cousine, Calamares, Tzatziki and Souvlaki.. and get drunk, while a Greek watchdog takes care of our bikes.

Next day we pack our stuff and after breakfast (Sebas) and coffee (me) we continue until we reach the border of Turkey… but that´s another story 🙂