MONTENEGRO & ALBANIA
We cross into Montenegro and stop at the border crossing where we buy a green card for €15. We pass Kotor Bay, as we drive slowly down a single carriage road, stuck in a huge traffic jam. When we eventually get going, we notice the scenery is similar to that of Croatia’s, with high green mountains dropping dramatically into the sea, but even more beautiful. On route we cross the Kotor bay by ferry.
We drive along the edge of the mountain and spot a small island connected to the mainland by a narrow road. It is Sveti Stefan Island, bursting with red-roofed buildings. We drive through stunning scenery of the mountain range near Budra (Bar). We pass Lesendro castle.
Onto the winding roads towards Albania, the road turns from a normal highway to a bumpy, pot-holed single track road. For about 10 miles we are stuck behind two lorries and barely reaching 20miles/hr; oncoming traffic has to drive up the side of the road to let the lorries pass. The only foreign vehicles we have seen so far are a French couple on a motorcycle. Surely there must be an alternative route to Albania than this one??
Finally the lorries pull over and let us pass, however the bumpy pot-holed roads prevent us from going faster than 30 miles/hr. Hope the next 88 miles to Durres, Albania will be more easy-going…
Although the roads here are not too great, the views are wonderful. Our speed goes back down to 20 miles/hr. Suddenly we are at the border to Albania. We ask for green card insurance, only to have the border guards point and say ‘banka’. We carry on through.
Past the first petrol station, all seems fine, until we then hit another badly broken up and potholed road. We are stopped at a crossing and see a 1940’s train roll by.
Clapped out Mercedes line the roadside and the landscape suddenly seems to get very barren. There are large green and yellow houses and women in headscarves (70% of the population is Muslim).
Driving along, the car behind us overtakes, but there is also a car on the opposite side overtaking-so close to crashing-driving here is certainly a dangerous undertaking.
We head into the nearest town and search for car insurance which proves quite difficult. We go to two different banks and finally find a girl who speaks English, who directs us to a shop. A kind gentleman tells us to follow him in his (brand new) 4×4 to a small office where we eventually buy insurance for €27.
Crossing the road here also seems a problem, with bikes going the wrong way down the street and cars pulling out suddenly.
All the way through Albania, local farmers are selling their modest crops of water melons and other various fruit and veg. One has to wonder with all the competition, how do they make any money or even bear the heat sitting there all day.
So far we have to say that Albanians are the worst drivers closely followed by the Italians-there seem to be lots of them holidaying here.
We feel it is safer to stay in a hotel for the night; we manage to negotiate a good rate at Hotel Vivas, Durres on the beach.
Walking along the beachfront we can’t imagine why people would come here; the beach and sea looks very dirty, with large cargo ships not too far off the beach.
We head into town for some dinner however, none of the restaurants appeal to us. So we decide to stick to the hotel restaurant and choose from the Italian menu! On the way back (a very sad sight) we pass numerous young children with missing limbs begging for money. As you walk pass they desperately try to cling onto your legs, with their minders close by encouraging them. We suspect they take the majority of the money they raise. From what we have seen of Albania so far, it really does feel like a third world country. We cannot imagine such a place could exist confined within the borders of the EU.
Driving from Durres, Albania to Greece, we pass numerous unfinished houses and buildings. We start our 6 hour trip to Greece, expecting a slow and treacherous journey. There also seem to be a lot of Italian drivers here-we are not sure which of the three are the worst!
We seem to be on a three lane motorway, but there are no road markings whatsoever-it’s traffic chaos! It feels like one big building site, with scrapped cars lining the sides of the road.
A cyclist riding the wrong way down the motorway makes us pull out suddenly and donkeys in the middle of the road around a sharp corner make us swerve-it’s craziness!
Young children hold out packs of nuts to buy on the side of the road in the searing heat.
We experience a lot of dangerous over-taking, accounting for Greece having the highest number of road deaths in Europe.
The GPS states ‘after 32 miles, take the roundabout….’
Driving the winding mountain roads in Albania is a different ball game; no barriers, overtaking cars and huge lorries on small roads.
We see the road ahead in the distance and gaze on the huge mountains and valleys we must cross to reach Greece. The road to the left of us looks as though it has collapsed. There is a tailback of lorries and a single German camper van. The road falls away, leaving just rocks and mud.
As we drive along, the road and the traffic gets much worse. The roads have fallen and crumbled away, potholes everywhere with sheer drops to our sides. Two way traffic trying to get past one another in addition to trying to overtake huge convoys of lorries. The cars and the lorries are barely missing one another!
We pass a beautiful river with kids playing in it and wish we could also take a break!
The road turns to gravel and we kick up a dust storm. This is one bumpy road to Greece!
After driving on some of the most treacherous roads of our overland adventure so far……we reach the border 6 hours from leaving Durres: ‘First time in Albania?’ ‘Yes’ ‘OK have a good trip!!’ said emphatically in a great accent.
We are in Greece.
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Martin & Nicole