Balkan Odyssey will continue but before moving on to Montenegro, I though I’d just wrap up the Albania segment with a few thoughts.
First off, I highly recommend this country. A few years ago it was almost impossible to travel here as a result of the craziness and crime which resulted after 50 years of isolation came undone with the collapse of communism. Things have settled down tremendously since then. I felt safe the whole time I was in the country (although caution must always be exercised no matter where you go) and was treated wonderfully by those I met. Not a whole lot of people speak English, but it is still relatively easy to get by.
I opted for public transport instead of renting a car and was pleased with the ease of doing so. The only hassle was occasionally waiting for the minivans to fill up so that they could leave. Of course the worst thing about not having a car is the inability to stop and check things out that look interesting off the side of the road. I still regret not having had the chance to photograph my favorite sign, “Puke 15 Kilometers” because we drove by it too fast in a minivan.
Travel hindsight is always 20/20 and if I could do the trip again, the perfect trip would be as follows:
Fly into Corfu, Greece and take the ferry over to Albania. I missed most of the south and the treasures it contains, such as the picturesque Albania Riviera on the Ionian Sea, and numerous old ancient ruins. Part of the reason I didn’t go south was due to lots of unseasonable rain which would have certainly put a damper on the beach towns. In addition, to get to the south and back from Tirana is very time consuming; the ferry from Corfu drops you in the deep south so all that you need to do is head north with no backtracking whatsoever.
From Tirana I would head directly to Shkodra to catch a four-wheel drive to Thethi. A few nights in this small mountain village would be followed by a hike over the mountains to Valbona. Then across the border to Prizren in Kosovo. After Prizren I’d head to Kukës. This is where I run into a problem. My last bit of travel would include the ferry across Lake Komani. I’m sure a couple of minivans would make the journey from Kukës, probably on some pretty rough dirt toads. Or, there might be a ferry/boat service running the length of Lake Fierza.
So, that’s Albania. I guarantee there are many great sections of this mostly undiscovered land that I failed to discover on my journeys. This is great news for adventurous travelers, however, as it will still be a long time before Albania makes it off the beaten path–although I have heard recent rumors about a Club Med possibly being built in the Albanian Riviera…