23 September 2016Departing Corfu, our hydrofoil arrives into Sarandë after a quick, smooth crossing of the Ionian. It is a beautiful, sunny day and our route will be via SH8, a relatively new coastal road that snakes its way north along the spectacular and relatively undeveloped and unspoiled east coast of the Albanian Riviera. The hills smell of heather and nature and alive with the sound of music: cow and sheep bells, birds and butterflies. And west is the blue, blue expanse of the Adriatic. Olive trees and rustic shepherd shelters dot the hillsides and cows outnumber cars on the road. (more…)
19-20 September 2016
It is a beautiful 2-3 hour, 85-mile drive over very rough roads to reach a new highway through the mountains. New facilities are being built everywhere, Kostrati Gas Stations popping up like mushrooms, ultimately changing the landscape and culture of the Albanian. Rural Albanians are feeling the change – building of infrastructure and what looks to be modernization of their country to make it tourist friendly. We motor to the historical region of Epirus and its capital, Gjirokastër, situated in a picturesque valley between the Gjere mountains and the Drino River. (more…)
18 September 2016After a breakfast of tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, shepard’s cheese, yogurt and fruit, we motor west to the second largest city in Albania, Durrës, which sits on a lovely bay of the Adriatic Sea. The blue-green seas are calm and beautiful. But we zip past the inviting seas in pursuit of knowledge. Our destination is not the sea and beach but the ruins of the Roman amphitheater. I find consolation that at least the Romans may have been able to stop and smell the sea breezes. (more…)
17 September 2016
Upon entering the city of Tirana, it strikes me as a typical capital city, a 1950s square concrete modern; Communist architecture at its “best.” Buildings are crowded, unremarkable, overbuilt. Streets are crowded and noisy. There lacks the charm of the smaller villages and cities mainly because it is so crowded I don’t see it. Newer construction has discovered the joy of color and stands out like a ripe strawberry among slices of day old bread. I miss having a pedestrian street to enjoy. If there is one, I would have to risk life and limb crossing streets to get there. Maybe this is as good a time as any to explain my version of “Albanian Rules of the Road.”
- Don’t hit anybody.
- No matter what, just assume nobody is going to hit you.
- Assume waving your thanks is enough to be forgiven all sins of driving and the other guy really meant for you to cut in front of him, make a u-turn, or park in the middle of the road.
- “Shiten” is not an expression of frustrated drivers, it means “For Sale” in Albanian.
- Kostrati is not what one driver threatens another, though he may think it. It is the name of a large oil company.
16 September 2016Today I am driven south through “rustic” scenes of drying corn fields, herds of sheep, flocks of turkeys, women working fields with large wooden rakes, simple villages, minarets, horse carts and pack donkeys, clearly a simple “peasant” life of a rural Albania. I see more women in traditional clothing but the homes are mostly modern and large. More roadside police are seen. I also see people driving on the right side of the car. (more…)
15 September 2016Departing our Drin River ferry at Lake Koman, we proceed by the worst “road” imaginable to Shkodër, located on the southern shore of Lake Shkodër. (The story on the road is the government paid to build it – twice. Currently, the pissant politician is enjoying his villa in the south of France and I am bouncing through holes as big as Smartcars and over stones the size of bricks.) Shkodër is one of the oldest and most historic towns in Albania. On the way, I am distracted by dozens of little “turtle shells” along the road and fields. This is a good time to learn about Albania’s love affair with bunkers. (more…)
14 September 2016When I sailed past Albania in 1972, I was told the ship had to keep a clear birth of its coastline. “They will fire on us,” a Greek shipmate said. Cranky Albania was still isolated, Communist, and anti-social in 1972. I didn’t know Dictator Hoxha had built 750,000 bunkers to defend a country the size of Maryland – that’s a bunker every 40 acres, a bunker per family. All of that has changed, though the bunkers remain. With little fanfare, hardly a glance at my passport, and little more than five minutes and I am in Albania. And for the next 95 miles, I am introduced to what must be one of the most isolated, beautiful, and pristine areas in the world. (more…)