When we stopped to ask for the road we met a very nice local guy who had moved to New York 25 years ago. He used to go back for vacation every summer, and he told us that more than 75% of the people had disappeared from the villages in the mountain. It was not easy to stay there and make a living, but a lot of them returned during summer. His brother was one of the ones who still lived there. He used to work as an electrician, and now he had retired and produced honey which he sold to the local supermarkets and to tourists who passes by.
After crossing the mountains around Lovcen National Park and Lake Skadar we for sure know that Montenegro lives up to its name which derives from the highest mountain Mt Lovcen which means “the black mountain”.
Crossing over to Albania was done in no time, and we drove directly to Tirana to enjoy a few days of big city life. Driving into Tirana reminded me of Africa due to the hectic activity of small businesses all along the road in old houses and small sheds. Driving in Tirana was chaotic. Here you drive however you feel like. Want to have three or four lanes on the two lane road? Just make another lane – whatever suits you!
We struggled to find the hotel. After about an hour and help from a local guy and some more driving we were met by a smiling man with “Tirana backpacker hostel” by the road side, and he directed us to the right place. The hostel was great – a yard outside with tables and a bar, and the staff was really great.
We had one day in Tirana, rushing from Ismael Qemali street, to the clock tower and the old mosque, to the fruit market and “getting lost” in the streets behind the market – where I met a different Tirana than the modern city center. I think this is the more interesting part of Tirana – to see how people really live and work. Make sure to look up, the electricity system in this part of town is fascinating!
One of the highlights in Tirana was the very special restaurant we found in a side street just before the fruit marked. Behind the gloaming neon sign of “Oda” we seemed to enter someone´s house, and I was totally charmed when the two menus of the house was hand written. They had a great choice of vegetarian food, and we had a great evening tasting our way through the Albanian dishes in cosy surroundings. The waiter was eager to help us make the right choices from the menu, and while waiting for the food there were plenty of decorations and old photos on the walls to look at.
On the road again – as we tried to figure out how to get out of town a guy from thw hostel passed us on bike, and we had a bicycle guide in front uf us until we reached the right street to go straight. After a detour to “the city with the thousand windows” Berat and the bright white Ottoman houses all along the hillside up towards the castle, we continued on unknown roads on to Macedonia.
Have you ever been to Albania? How did you like it?
I´m an Oslo based web publisher with passion for communication, travel and a green lifestyle. When I travel, I prefer to go slow, sustainable, and “live like a local”. Why slow? It is about challenging the cult of speed, and to enjoy the small things in life and to live in the present.