So we may be sitting in a rainy semi in Cheshire but in our hearts and minds we are still on our world adventure. Luckily for me, I am so far behind in my posts that I can whishk (sic) myself back to sunnier days and keep blogging, keeping that dream alive.
As far as our European leg was concerned, Albania was our final frontier: a little bit unknown, a little bit underdeveloped, a little bit dangerous? Perhaps? At least, that’s what we were being led to believe listening to the attitudes of those living in the neighbouring countries.
We've seen it often before: the immediate neighbours hold significant fear about the country next door. In Ecuador, we were warned we'd be robbed and taken hostage if we crossed the border to Colombia (neither happened of course). In Costa Rica, we were warned about carjackings in Nicaragua (again no such thing happened and in fact we ended feeling much safer in Nicaragua than we had in some areas in Costa Rica). In Thailand we were warned about scams and thieves in Cambodia but only found warmth and kindness. Thankfully, we rarely heed warnings. Even more thankfully, we didn't find the gun-toting, mafia-filled Albania. Instead we found a land of beauty, filled with humble people who were immensely friendly.
The good vibes began at the border crossing from Montenegro. We were ready to be stung for car insurance (even the Green card didn’t cover Albania), and for not having an international license both of which were necessary to drive here according to t’internet. Instead we sailed through quickly and without paying a cent. Yes, the roadside was packed with car insurance brokers huddled in makeshift portacabins with handwritten signs but nobody demanded we take insurance and nobody requested to see insurance so we drove on.
Admittedly, three weeks down the line after experiencing the roads and the other road users and a particularly aggressive concrete bollard, we would have been wise to stop and get some, but that's the beauty of hindsight.
The initial drive to the town of Durres revealed three truths to us about this enigma of a country: the residents love a Mercedes Benz more than Janis Joplin; anyone and everyone can open up a petrol station (and they have done); and the road system is a complete mystery to Googlemaps.
Durres, despite its uninspiring reputation, was surprisingly picturesque. The old fort and the streets which surround it are filled with pleasant shops, cafes and of course very, very friendly locals. The first shop we went in, our kids were given handfuls of sweets and an abundance of smiles. The owners of the accommodation we stayed in were so friendly they even waved us off with smiles as we left without paying (accidently, of course and we did find a way to get the money to them a week later once we’d realised our error)
After that quick overnight stop it was back on the road and over the terrifying Llogara Pass to the beachside camping at Drymades. For some unfathomable reason, I found myself at the steering wheel for this part of the journey and the fact I didn’t drive again in Albania may tell you something of how I felt about that. Maybe it was the thousand metre drops off the hair pin bends without barriers, or possibly the blind overtaking maneuvers by the Mercedes on the bends!
Drymades, viewed from the dangerous pass above, was a slim slither of silver wedged against the azure adriatic, complete with perfect fingers of jade stretching towards the shore to beckon you into the deep. It was truly breathtaking or maybe that was me holding my breath in my sheer terror of the road.
Safely down and breath again.
We camped at the Sea Turtle where the tents are jammed right next to each other in military lines but the proximity of the the gorgeous Drymades beach and the welcoming staff at the bar made up for the unsightly troops of tents. Luckily, we got to set up our own more spacious camp a little away from the field lines with our friends from home (Al, Claire and the younguns Beck, Caulder and Pearl). It was the perfect basecamp from which to thoroughly explore the northern riviera.
We visited a different beach each day and there were some absolute beauties. Dhermi, Drymades and Jala were fairly un busy, almost sandy and came complete with all the sun-loungers, pedalos and kayaks you could ever wish for, but there were a few nicer beaches nearby. The northern stretch of Drymades, accessed through the rock archway by the Summer Dream Hotel, was a little gem, full of caves, nooks and crannies which the kids loved climbing over and which the grown-ups loved shading inside. But the best in our opinion was definitely Gjipe. The twenty minute walk in was well worth it for the quiet, peaceful beauty of this small but perfectly formed beach. You can even camp here too (if you can carry your gear down!)
Much as we loved the beaches around this stretch, we knew we were pushed for time and there were other places we wanted to explore so we decamped on day 5 and headed south via one last beach stop at Himara (also nice) to the South and inland Gjirokaster.
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Kelly and Mikey (but mostly Kelly). We sold up in the UK to travel with our two littluns for a year or so. If you want to know more click the about us!