Reaching the Albanian border with trepidation

After an exhausting drive the previous day when we were turned away from the Bosnian border with Croatia, and had to reroute through Montenegro, we were faced with the real possibility that the same thing could happen to us when we reached the Albanian border.

In Montenegro heading for the Albanian border

We had left the original vehicle registration document in The Netherlands thinking it would provide proof of ownership if our van was stolen. However, in some non-EU countries it is the only document that is accepted by border control and we now knew we should have it with us.

Like Croatia, Montenegro has an amazing coastline

So it was with trepidation that we approached the Albanian border. But first we had quite a harrowing drive up a one-lane and very rugged (pot-holed and very sparsely tarred) mountain road. Admittedly we selected the no tolls, no motorways, option on our satellite navigation system but this was the worst road we had been taken on to date – did we turn off too early perhaps?

This was the good bit of the road, it became so bad that taking photos wasn’t possible
The road was quite steep
There were some amazing views

The other drivers in the road were part of the problem – they were roaring along as though it was a six-lane highway and scarcely pausing while we stopped to make room for them to pass or overtake. Crazy!

It was fine once the other cars disappeared
Muslims make up 20 per cent of the population in Montenegro

At one point we spotted a wing mirror in the middle of the road and then caught up with a driver who had sped past us earlier and was now parked on the side of the road. They must have clipped another car coming towards them and the mirror snapped clean off.

We saw lots of farm animals along the road to the border

This area was very rural and we saw lots of farm animals, old ladies in traditional dress and at least one mosque. We also saw quite a number of parked police vehicles and figured that this rugged approach to the border crossing might be used regularly to traffic refugees.

About 15 kms from the border we were stopped in the middle of the road by a local man driving the other way. He had seen our French number plates and having left France some time ago was desperate to chat to someone in his native tongue. Sadly our school student French would not pass muster and after a couple of minutes we all moved on.

We approached the Albanian border with trepidation

Shortly before the border with Albania, the road suddenly widened, was tarred and even had a dotted white line.

We approached the border nervously not knowing whether we were going to be turned back or not. The thought of going back down the mountain on that horrendous road was not appealing at all. Besides which, if we were turned round how on earth would we get to Greece in time to keep our date with the yacht broker to see the catamaran we were interested in?

Getting closer ….

Although they were reluctant to do so, after some discussion, the Albanian border guards did let us cross into their country. We had to answer quite a lot of questions including “You come on holiday to Albania?” “Err no, just driving straight through to Athens” and there was much consultation between themselves.

What a relief to be in Albania

It was such a relief to finally be driving through Albania – next stop Greece!

We were only in Albania for a total of six hours so it’s probably unfair to judge the whole country on our fleeting impressions. However, one thing I can say is that the driving is terrible! It’s like being in the Wild West – no rules, every man and woman for themselves, and everything done at high speed. It’s as if a whole load of 16 year olds had been given a car with a supercharged engine and allowed to drive without instruction or a test!

The other abiding impression of Albania was that there was a lot of poverty. We saw a distressing amount of people standing on the roadside waving small bags of biscuits or a small amount of fruit for sale. There were a lot of farmers still using a pony and trap or a donkey for their work and any tractors we saw were very ancient.

A glimpse of life in Albania

Farm machinery was rare and very old fashioned.

As we drove through villages and small towns there were lots of men around their 30’s and 40’s just hanging around looking bored and hopeless.

There were many road side stalls
Many people were selling small items at the side of the road

We also saw quite a lot of younger men with small suitcases and bulging plastic bags, almost certainly refugees, who were trying to hitch rides or waiting at bus stops. There were also a lot of police check points where cars were getting checked – we weren’t stopped at all but many other vehicles were.

Rozafas castle – there have been fortifications on this hill since around the 8th Century BC but the present structures are mostly of Venetian origin

It was starting to get dark by the time we reached the Albanian/Greek border. Thankfully there were no issues entering Greece- being an EU country it doesn’t require the additional paperwork required for non-EU countries.

Greece isn’t too far away
Night was falling, looking forward to stopping

We made our way down the mountain road in complete darkness. There were no street lights and our headlights were woefully inadequate for this dark and lonely road.

The border with Greece at last

Gradually we began to see some signs of life and the visibility was better with a few lights to guide us. After about 20 minutes we arrived at the little town of Kalpaki.

Fortunately, the town provides free parking for campervans in a small paddock next to the school.

The view when we woke up in the morning

We were grateful to be able to park in this quiet little spot but before a few minutes had lapsed a group of young lads had come to say “hello” – they seemed very excited to see us and we wondered how quiet and boring their lives must be to get excited by the arrival of a couple of “old” people in a campervan!

After explaining through gestures that we were very tired, they bade us a cheery “Kali Nichta” and wandered off.

The following day we woke to discover what the landscape was like in Kalpaki. We were in a valley with Albania just over the mountains. Walking down the Main Street we could see carved on the hillside the word “OXI” meaning “NO” – commemorating the response of the outnumbered Greeks who pushed back the Italians when they invaded from Albania in 1940. A statue of a soldier stands on a nearby hilltop in recognition of the bravery of the Greeks killed in the invasion.

The Greeks have not forgotten the brave resistance of their fellow countrymen
The commemorative statue can just be seen on top of the hill

After a quick walk to the other end of the village we restocked with bread, fruit and veg and other essentials and hit the road, headed for Athens and our date with a yacht broker.

On the road to Athens.

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Salty tales from Bali Hai

In 2015, after a break from cruising of almost 30 years, my husband and I sailed off into the sunset - this time to the wonderful Islands of Indonesia and beyond. Three years passed and we swapped sails for wheels driving through Scandinavia and Europe in a motor home. Now we are on the brink of another adventure - buying a Lagoon 420 Catamaran in Athens. This is our story.

2 thoughts on “Reaching the Albanian border with trepidation”

  1. Albania and Bosnia definitely won’t be top of my ‘must visit’ list!! You must have been very relieved to reach Greece…what an adventure, though, to have driven through such unexplored and unexpectedly challenging countries…..I’m mighty glad you got through it in one piece!

    Like

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