Albania

Wednesday 31st October, Albania, Shkodër, camping Legjenda

Kruje tower

We had a short drive, so we took our time to pack up. The drive was only 30kms away. It was a joint border, so only one border guard combining both leaving Montenegro and entering Albania. First time I ever crossed a joint border! Soon after, we saw many sheds selling motor insurance. We stopped and Alistair got the van insured for 50 euros for 15 days. Better be legal! 

Albania certainly looked much poorer than the previous countries. Although to be fair I am still in shock about northern Italy! We drove to the campsite I had selected for the night. The only one in Shkodër. 

We arrived early afternoon and got settled. We noticed a van that looked vaguely familiar. We soon bumped into the young Swiss couple we had met on our first campsite in Montenegro. We spent some time talking to them and decided to meet at the campsite’s bar in the evening for a drink. 

The weather was cloudy and looked like rain. We wanted to visit the castle before the rain and darkness. Since the change of clocks it gets dark ridiculously early! 

So we tried to find our way to walk up to the castle. Thanks maps.me! By then it was 3pm and we had only 2 hours daylight. The walk took us through some narrow streets, the kind I would not like to take at night. As we went up, we walked along a 4 or 5 metres tall wall, with broken glass on top, barbed wire, CCTV cameras all around, even the floodlights were protected in barbed wire. I thought it was a prison. But as we kept going uphill, we saw a big villa inside. 

Maybe a VIP, but in such neighbourhood? No other property was protected like that. Many nice houses were completely open with no gates. 

I remembered what I read in my guide about blood feud. This goes a long way back. Centuries. Feuds between families and clans where, if one member is killed the other family is duty bound to kill either the killer or one of his male relatives. In the Middle Ages it had been codified to avoid too much loss of lives. The blood feud had disappeared during the 20th century and dictatorship, but somehow has made a very anarchist return, and grudges from several generations ago are coming back simmering. It is so bad that some places and even some parts of towns are like Fort Knox. I thought this house was about it. I have never seen so much security even in South Africa or Brazil! It goes beyond fear of robbery and assault. 

So we visited the castle. It was underwhelming, the most notorious thing is that this is the base of Albania national pride. The  last hero of resistance against the Ottoman Invasion, Skanderbeg, was born and based there, and until his death, succeeded in repelling the invading armies of the Ottoman Empire. Soon after his death the resistance crumbled and Albania passed into obscurity and centuries of Turkish rule until 1912. 

The camping was great. The owner had lived 20 years abroad and had made a nice place, with good facilities. 

After visiting the castle we ordered a take away pizza from the restaurant attached to the camping, then went to the indoor bar. It was rather cold and wet outside. The Swiss couple joined us and we had a nice evening talking about travels. 

Thursday 1st November, Kruje, camping Kruje

We left after breakfast. It was a short drive to Kruje, but it was slow going as it was up the mountains and the road was very twisty. Albania is a small country. The roads were still ok but it was obvious it was a very poor country by the sight of the constructions, people and state of the streets. We arrived at Kruje and decided to get to the only campsite in town. We found it easily and drove in. The place was… interesting. 

It was a kind of biggish farm yard with chickens and cats running around. When we stopped, an old man came to meet us. The only building was an old crumbling farmhouse. I asked to visit the “facilities”. I went through the farmhouse, a corridor with a dirt floor, on the left there were 2 doors with frosted glass. The further one had a squat toilet and sink and a shower head fixed to the wall…. I looked in dismay. The second door was the ‘occidental toilet’. It was a normal toilet, with a small sink. The place was filthy and has probably never been cleaned since it was recently installed! That would have to do for one night. 

The flush in the toilet did not work so I sent Alistair who managed to fix it. 

We had booked a flat in Tirana via booking.com for Sunday so we had time to kill and little choice. Camping is a new thing in Albania, don’t ya know?! 

So we got settled ( we could plug for electricity ) and had a bit of lunch with bread and some ham. We got surrounded by begging cats and lots of chickens. I had to get my broomstick out of the van to shoot them all off or they would jump into our table. 

Then we walked up to the medieval castle. Another one. The place was more interesting, although there was not much left of the medieval castle but it had museums and cafes and nice views at the top. The street up there was also pleasant with many tourist shops and cafes and on the way back to the camp we stopped for a drink. 

The place was mobbed by youths ( maybe 16 to 18 year old) from Tirana on a school trip to the museum and ruins. There were lots of them and all very stylish in an east European sort of way. Shell suits are very popular around here. Girls will wear usually either very tight jeans or  Jeggings, or tight sport trousers. For the lads a shell suit or at least the trousers of a shell suit is a must. Very tight of course. If not, very tight jeans are essentials. A shell suit trousers with a leather jacket is thought super stylish for men. Hmmm…

We then walked back to camp after buying some bread and food in the shops. Without water to plug and no facilities to wash up we bought some Byrek for dinner ( a local filled pastry). We did not want to do much cooking. 

Back at camp, the old man was still round with a young dark bearded man, who had been staring at me earlier. As we sat outside, the young man positioned himself to be in my view. He kept staring at me in a very unsettling way. Not sure what his fascination was but I was rather uncomfortable, so, when Alistair took the dog for a walk I retreated to the van. Drawing all the curtains on to get some privacy! Weirdo! 

As Alistair took the dog for a walk into town, he came across a freshly killed goat, hanging upside down, decapitated and with a bucket collecting the blood by the front of a shop. 

Friday 1st November, Fushe- Kruje and Tirana (camping Nord camp)

We had contacted the flat we had booked via booking.com. We could arrive on Saturday so we just needed to find a place for one night.

 We drove to nearby Durres, by the seaside, to visit the Roman theatre ( not much left and very underwhelming). The town was very pleasant though but no campsites around at all. So we drove to Fushe-Kruje. Once again I found the place via the App Park4night. The reviews were nice. 

The place was at the back of a hotel. A large yard of grass and gravel, with all the air cons units from the rooms on our side. We were the only campers, not surprising as we enter November. 

The facilities were actually the staff locker rooms and toilets, with a couple of showers. Not great but better than the previous camp. One thing annoying was the amount of flies. We ended up with at least 30 flies in our small van! I  really could not understand where they were coming from! 

The hotel was doing renovation work so there was building stuff in the yard, but still, there was a faint putrid smell in the air. 

In the evening we decided to try the restaurant of the hotel as it had good reviews. It was ok. Nothing exciting. As we finished, we saw various young men, all wearing a blue top with the name KF Oriku on the back. They looked like football players. As we googled the team name we found out it was actually a 1st division Albanian team playing the following day against Kruje team. 

Saturday 2d of November, Tirana ( villa center)

While having breakfast we noticed a small old lady going into one of few sheds standing on the side of the yard. She took a water hose that had been there plugged to a tap, into the shed. We got busy with breakfast and forgot about it. 

We had time as Tirana was very close, so we took our time. After a while however, I decided to have  a look at the sheds. I was suspicious about the flies. When I got to the shed where the old lady had been I saw her still there, crouching on the floor, around her a good dozen of chicken carcasses that she was washing and processing ( emptying the guts and stuff). I guess they buy live chickens and pluck and process them in that shed. The water hose was used to wash the mess out. Obviously the water was just going behind the shed Into the grass. So, I found the origin of the hundreds of flies! 

After that we packed. The floor of the van was filthy, covered in clay and chicken crap. 

We drove to Tirana and followed the instructions to the flat. The alleyway to it was tiny! We decided to stop somewhere and check on foot if it was possible to get through with the van. Tirana is not built for cars, or vans! Finding a place to stop was a nightmare. Eventually we came back to the centre and found a place where the van could fit. It had big signs warning the vehicle would be towed away, but as they were already few cars there we ignored the signs. An old man came from an official private parking to help guide us into the spot. Albanians are very friendly and helpful we found. Then Alistair walked to the flat while I stayed with the dog and the van. After a while Alistair came back confident he could squeeze the van through. 

So we drove to the flat, and started into the narrow alleyway. In addition to being narrow, in the widest part, two cars were parked. We passed one but got a nice scratch over the second one. 

Then, somehow, Alistair managed to get the van inside the courtyard of the property but it was impossible to close the gate. As for leaving the place, we shall see! On the way in, various random passers by guided Alistair through the tricky bits. You would not get that in London! 

After all this stress we got settled in a small soviet style room with a corridor that had a microwave and a washing machine. Apparently tomorrow we will be upgraded to a bigger flat once the toilet is fixed! 

We went for a walk. The flat is in the centre of Tirana so we can walk everywhere.

The town is very pleasant with few colossal soviet style buildings: the museum and the opera house. With the usual frescoes glorifying the revolution peasants and workers. We have seen this all over Russia and the Astana republics. 

As we had no kitchen as such, only a microwave, we decided for dinner in town. We found a place where we could sit outside with the dog and had some pasta.

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