A couple of weeks’ ago I posted some comments from Tim about cycling through Albania. I asked him for more details on his own cycle through this lesser-known European country and he has kindly obliged:
The main reason I wanted to get in contact was because I was worried you’d miss out on Albania, it sounds like that is not going to happen. Below are some details of my trip through Albania, although this is in the context of a trip from Istanbul to the UK. During our trip we basically exclusively camped, sometimes rough, sometimes campsites, but it was Montenegro and Albania that made us think otherwise. In this sense Albania wasn’t typical of our journey but it was a lot of fun. I have tried to keep this brief.
(Lonely Planet map)
We crossed the Greek/Macedonian border (West of Edessa) early evening with the threat of a storm and we were welcomed by a brief dog chase (dogs were common in Greece through Albania, one to watch out for) We arrived at the first village we came to a little wet and stranded for a good place to rough camp. We asked a local for somewhere to stay and he offered us his uncle’s house (he uncle wasn’t living there, but I recall some chickens) In the morning we woke to breakfast with his family and a bag of boiled eggs to take on our journey. He was a little suspicious until he found out we were British. We passed over some amazing Macedonians hills and made our way to Ohrid. We were met with huge generosity, an example being we asked a local for water and he took us to a cafe to meet his family and we sat, chatted and ate cherries. Ohrid is very lovely and cheap!! So cheap we stayed in an apartment for the night and walked around the town. We then headed west, following the lake round to the Albanian border.
In short, from memory we only had two nights actually in Albania but they were incredibly eventful. The first night we stopped just north of Elbasan, half-way up an incredible climb. We again asked some locals if they knew somewhere to stay and on about the 3rd ask we were offered the roof of someone’s house (it was kind-of under construction so we were under cover) Below was a cafe full of locals. We joined them for a drink and some very interesting chats and were even invited to play football with them back down in Elbasan. There are no drink driving rules in Albania and so we then enjoyed(?!) a fast car journey in the dark, down this mountain with six of us crammed in the car. It was a fun evening.
We left in the morning and cycled to Tirana, the capital. This has some very hairy drivers and a pretty dodgy road network, but we survived (did see some interesting driving though). Tirana is nice but we didn’t stop long, we had a nap in a park and got woken by some kid with a drum and got caught in the biggest storm ever and took shelter in a cafe for 20 minutes. That evening as we pushed north on the western flood plains we saw signs for a campsite. As we were cycling towards it a man, who spoke good English stopped us on his motor bike. He lived in London but was visiting family in Albania and knew the guys who ran the campsite. He took us to a cafe to meet his friends and the manager and they bought us several rounds of beer (Just what we needed after an 85 mile day instead of our usual cooked dinner). We had a fantastic evening with them and then they escorted us to the campsite (by now quite late at night). In the morning the guy we met picked us up in his van and drove us around the city of Shkoder and showed us the sights. He then drove us to the border and we departed. Shkoder could be fun to explore, we did it by van with a horn heavy Albanian and it was good.
I share these stories, one because I love to retell and relive them, but also to show how hospitable these countries were. These examples are brilliant but they are almost exclusive to these places, we never received hospitality like this in Italy, France, Turkey, Croatia or where ever.
You’ll probably find that there is in a way only one road to take through Albania, unless you are really exploring the country. The country isn’t as sparse as we thought it would be and the landscape is incredible. First mountains and then flood plains. I have heard the beaches are amazing, although we, taking the most direct route, didn’t explore much. I would love to explore more of Albania by bike.”