Where: Albania; Durres, Tirana, Drymades, Shkoder
When: June-July 2017
What: Discovering Albania for the first time
We were so excited about arriving in Albania, mostly because it was the first country that we had never been to before, because we had to get an overnight ferry there and it felt like more of an adventure than all the other places we had visited so far.
We caught the overnight GNV ferry from Bari, Italy to Durres. It was pretty plain sailing, we left at 22:00, went to sleep, woke up at 7, and arrived just before 8. Before we were allowed into Albania we had to buy car insurance as we are not covered here by our UK insurance. It was €49 for two weeks, and we bought it from an office before heading through customs, they asked us for our V5 car registration document, but weren’t at all concerned when we said we didn’t have it.
Jess has an Albanian work mate, Mondi, and he put us in touch with some of his friends and family and arranged for them to meet us and show us around.
After spending the first few hours in Tirana, we met with Ray, he gave us a quick tour of Durres and took us to his family beach house where we were welcome to spend the night, for free. It was a lovely apartment in a private complex with it’s own private beach, and just a few doors down from the President’s beach house. We sdpemt the next day at the beach, but it was so windy that there was a massive sand storm, so much so that Jess couldn’t find us when he returned from getting a coffee. We couldn’t stay another night as they had family coming to use the apartment, so we moved on to our next stop…Drymades beach, 5 hours drive south.
We’d done a lot of research on Albania, thanks to Lonely Planet Eastern Europe, and Jess’s Albanian work mates. We’d read about a campsite near Drymades beach that sounded brilliant, so we headed straight there. We arrived at the Sea Turtle and met the owner, we loved it so booked ourselves in for a few nights. They provide the tents (2 man), with bed, mattress and linen, they also provide breakfast and dinner, electricity and wifi, all for 1,000 LEK per adult, and only charged us 250 LEK for each child. It was such an amazing place, the owners and staff were all so friendly and helpful, the food was great and the vibe was super chilled. It was very child friendly, and they were really accommodating to the kids.
The beach was about 10 minutes walk from the campsite, and it was so stunning, lovely pebbly beach, and the clearest water we’ve probably ever seen. It was the most relaxing place to swim ever.
We tried a few more beaches further south, Jale and Lahmides, they were great, but Drymades was our clear favourite, it just had a more chilled vibe about it, and was closer to home.
We booked into The Sea Turtle for another few nights, a we were just way too comfortable to move on yet, and spend a few more days chilling on Drymades beach, before heading back up north to Shkoder.
We found a great campsite, Lake Shkoder Resort, right alongside the lake. We loved it, it had loads of open space, and a big open grass field. We had a bit of trouble setting up as Jess hit a water pipe with the tent peg, the lady owner came along and looked a bit pissed off about it, but surely it’s a bit silly to run water pipes only 3 inches under the ground where people will be pitching their tents, anyway they fixed it! The lake was lovely for a swim, paddle board, and putting the boys in the dinghy.
The following day we met a lovely German family who parked their caravan in the pitch next door. They had 3 little girls, all under the age of 6, and the boys loved playing with them and their toys, every morning Dylan woke up he couldn’t wait to go and see them. Their parents were really friendly, their Dad is ex NATO so Jess was really interested to hear his experiences, and their Mum is a super bubbly super Mum who was great to talk to.
We met up with the parents of Jess’s Albanian work mate, Andy one afternoon, they also live in Shkoder. They didn’t speak much English, so they sent along a translator. We thought it might be a bit awkward at first, not knowing each other, and not speaking the same language, but it really wasn’t. Jess’s work mates were really insistent that we met up with them, and they were actually really keen to meet us. Albanian’s are super hospitable, friendly, welcoming people. They treated us to a delicious lunch on the lake, and then invited us back to their beautiful home, where they spoiled the boys with puddings, fruit, TV, and loads of attention.
On the last day in Shkoder we decided to get on the Lake Komani ferry, it was a 1.5 hour drive from our campsite, and rather than book a tourist ferry we just turned up and got on a car ferry. It was totally worth it, the views of the lake were stunning, it was the kind of thing that would have been really relaxing if you weren’t travelling with a 3 year old and 1 year old who can’t sit still and can’t stop whinging!
We got off the ferry at Fierze and drove along the winding mountain roads to get back to Shkoder. The roads were pretty sketchy much the entire way, all loose gravel roads. Knowing that the tyres would soon need replacing anyway, we really winced every time we went over a big bump, and then Jess turned to me and told me we had a puncture, we were hours from anywhere, and hadn’t seen anyone in a while, on pretty dodgy mountain roads. I thought he was joking…he wasn’t!
We pulled over by a lovely waterfall with mountains in the background, the view was amazing. After a bit of a struggle getting the wheel off, Jess managed to get the spare wheel on. We carried on tentatively, knowing that we really couldn’t afford another puncture, back to Shkoder, where we bought two new tyres, putting rather a large dent in our budget.
The next morning we were saying goodbye to this beautiful country and crossing the border into Montenegro, but not as straight forwardly as we thought. It should have been 1 hours drive from our campsite in Albania, to our apartment in Ulcinj, Montenegro. We queued at the border and presented out documents when requested, they border officer asked for our car passport, which we did not produce, he got pretty upset about it and smacked the windscreen. We explained that we don’t have our V5 registration document with us, and that it’s actually at home in London. How did we get into Albania they asked, the officers in Durres just let us in, we said. They were not at all happy about that. They said that the only thing we could do was to drive back to Durres, catch the ferry back to Italy and drive back to the UK that way. Erm…shit! We spoke to the border officers on the Montenegrin side and they said they would accept a copy of the V5 document. So we waited a few hours until we could get a copy scanned to us, got it printed, and back we go, expecting to be let in. But no such luck, we speak to the same border officer on the Montenegrin side and he says of course he can’t take a copy of the document, he could have made this himself. So we spend ages deliberating, deciding what to do, and having spoken to Jess’s Albanian and Montenegrin friends, who try and fail to convince the border officers to let us through with the car, we decide to ditch/park the car on the Albanian side and carry on on foot. Friends of Jess’s Dad in Montenegro organise us a taxi and take us to their apartment in Ulcinj, where they kindly let us stay for as long as we like.