Sunday, 2 November 2014

Albania - Southern border to Elbasan

We are so far discovering Albania to be a marvellous place.  The country is generally financially poor, but very rich in terms of natural beauty.  The people are very friendly, helpful and welcoming.  Much more so than other countries we have travelled through.  We are certainly enjoying Albania very much - indeed I would consider Albania a highlight of the trip so far.  Here are a few photos from the first section of our trip, from crossing into Albania from Greece up to a small city called Elbasan.

Just across the border, stopped to buy insurance.

Driving north from the border late in the day.  The whole country is very mountainous - you're either in the mountains or have good views of mountains the entire time.

We stayed the night in a village called Permet.  These photos taken the following morning show the lovely surroundings we awoke to. We were up very early that day due to the daylight saving time and Albania being in Central Europe time zone (an hour earlier than Greece). At around 8 a.m. Sunday the town was full of people walking, sipping in cafes, just standing on streets chatting to their friends. Shops of all sorts including clothing shops were already open!

The main town square. This is where we ended up the night before looking for a hotel. There are two just opposite each other. One was fully booked, but the lady who owned it was very helpful. She arranged a place for us at a hotel along the street for half the regular price and also offered that if we stayed a second night in Permet we could stay in her hotel for free!

We gather the yellow building was a town hall

Beany and Micky enjoyed a snack from a local patisserie type place to keep them going until we would stop for something more substantial later. 

These next photos are from a place I had read about before starting the trip and had very much been looking forward to visiting.  There are some rivers with thermal springs in Albania that make the water temperature nice and warm.  Warm water would be needed for a swim, as you can see in the background to these photos that the mountains are becoming snow capped already at this time of year.

But first it was time for a more substantial breakfast and coffee.  Micky Moo often climbs up onto one of the black boxes to eat her food.

On the way to a warm pool in the river

Polka wouldn't come in, fearing the water temperature may not be warm enough, but Micky Moo, Beany and I can testify that it was just perfect.  The water was clear, with a light smell of sulphur familiar of Hanmer Springs.  Apparently there are more pools further up the river at different temperatures.  There was no charge to enter this area - it just exists naturally and is free to visit.

Back on the road after the swim

The scenery was quite stunning and dramatic all the way.  The mountains rise up steeply from the valley floors.

In this tiny village we passed through all the locals had gathered for the arrival of an army helicopter that was coming to collect supplies for shepherds caught out in snow in the mountains.  We stayed to watch too.  I don't think Albania has the financial resources to have a dedicated mountain rescue type operation, so it seems such activities are provided directly by the army.

The following photos show a fairly typical mountain town we passed through.  It was big enough to have a reasonable sized school and a number of small food/supply markets.  The buildings are not particularly pretty and have a communist era look and feel to them, in contrast to the natural beauty that surrounds the town on all sides.

Believe it or not, this is the town centre! These ruins were located between a bar/hotel and a little grocery both in a good condition.


Below is the towns petrol station.  It's so small you can't actually see the fuel pump in this photo - it was on the left side of the building.

And from another small town we passed through....

We ended our first full day of driving in Albania at a lakeside resort by the name of Pogradec.  The photo below shows the main market street in Pogradec - it was chaos along this street and felt more like something out of Egypt or India.  This was the start of our second day of driving in Albania and our first day heading off-road.

We would later discover that this particular area was unusually difficult terrain.  The photo below is on a sealed road, on the way to find the start of our off-road route across the mountains.  The difficulties that lay ahead should perhaps have been hinted at by the fact that even the sealed road eventually became so rough that it would likely have been impassable to regular cars.

On the track and loooking forward to getting right into the middle of the marvellous mountains we had been viewing from the road the day before.

But it got pretty tough going.  The mud has a high clay content and that made it even more slippery.  The ruts were also particularly big, with tyre marks in the mud indicating they were made not so much by other 4wd's, but by some of the huge machines like we saw plenty of in Romania.  These machines were either 4 or 6 wheel drive, but were huge with wheels the diameter of a person.

Fortunately we would later discover that we had taken on the toughest terrain we would encounter in Albania first up and it would get easier on other routes we took after this.  We actually planned a detour off this track after a while to avoid the really hard stuff, partly because it was slow going but also because I didn't want to get the car completely bogged in mud and then have to try and dig or winch it out.  That said we do have the traction boards (visible on the front of the roof rack in the photo above), which successfully freed the car from a nasty bog in a forest in Poland, so it gives some added piece of mind knowing we have those too.
                                                                                     On the way back down the hill

Lunch stop not far from Elbasan

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