April 21, 2016: Albania

It is a beautiful morning for our final time in Montenegro.  Our plan was to be up and out the door very quickly this morning.  We have a bit of driving to do to get down to the south side of Durres, Albania and we want to get down there and have most of the day to do things and see stuff in Albania.  We did a good job of getting up and getting moving early but, when we went to check out of the rented apartment around ten, we discovered a cement truck had blocked our driveway completely!  We got someone to find the driver and he came out and explained that we were stuck there for the next hour, nothing to be done.

We took this in stride, thank goodness we did not have to get to an airport today, and we went to the Caffe Cuba and enjoyed some coffee on the beach while the girls played on the beach for an hour.  Not a bad way to handle the situation.

Petrovac View

We would not have had enough time to get coffee or anything otherwise and we got to enjoy our little village in Montenegro for a little longer.

Once the cement truck moved a glass door truck pulled up instead.  Argh.  This is going to be a frustrating morning.

Know that we had to get out of the driveway somehow we left the cafe and got everyone loaded into the car.  The second truck did not stay long but we then discovered that cars had sneaked in behind us and we could not fit the Ford Focus out between them.  It wasn’t close, it was just impossible.  The available space was a full foot narrower than the car was wide.  But the owner of one of the cars was alerted by someone and he came running up from the promenade and moved for us.  And we were off on the road to our next country, Albania.

The drive south went fine getting us down to Bar, which we had just explored ourselves.  After Bar we were off into the mountains and wild inland areas of Montenegro, very different from what we have seen thus far.

This part of the drive was very interesting.  We have not seen this part of Montenegro at all and it was not what we had been expecting.  We started by climbing up into the mountains on a very small, not wide enough for two cars to pass by, road which was yet another failure from Google Maps.  The drive was interesting but difficult and pointlessly dangerous as the road was far too tight and there were few or no sides in places where you were forced to go off of the road just to let people get by!  It was kind of crazy.

This nutty drive, however, allowed us to see a very interested high farming region up above the coastal areas which was nothing like the Montenegro of the coast that we have been seeing for the last few days.   Overall I am glad that we took the drive and got to see this area.

It was practically no time before we encountered the Albanian border up in the hills.  It is surprising just how easy it is to stumble on these borders and how completely unlabelled and nondescript they are.  The entire border process is so casual and easy.

There was a bit of a line at the Albanian border, but mostly this was because they were processing cars in batches.  To speed things up a guard would walk to about four or five cars at a time, collect passports and car registrations and walk them into the main office to be processed.  From what I could tell they did not have a computer out at the car booth and had to process the passports inside the main building so were doing this to keep things moving.

We ended up at the head of a batch so had to sit for a while at the front of the line with nothing happening.  But it was not more than ten minutes and we were our way.  No questions or issues with our insurance and green card.  Very easy.  Everyone was very friendly.  And we are into Albania!

The northern bit of Albania was very rural and unexciting.  It was not much different from southern Montenegro except that the roads were far better.  There was plenty of room to drive and we were able to travel much more quickly.

Before long we found a neat castle and turned more towards the south.  The northern coast of Albania is mostly protected land and parks so there is very little near the coast up there.

Our drive took us a few hours down to Durres, the big port of Albania and the first point inside of the country where we got a chance to see the coast.  Durres sits at the north end of a massive bay that includes the resort stretch of Golem which in the last decade has been turned from untouched pine forest protected by decades of dictator rule to a horrible, destroyed stretch of cookie cutter hotels by just ten years of democracy and money influencing building permits.  It’s very sad.

We drove down the Golem and stretch and located our hotel, the Hotel Espana.  The hotel is located very centrally along the beach in the middle of the resort stretch.  It was late afternoon when we were getting checked in.  We have the feeling that we might be the only people staying at the hotel today.  We got our choice of a first floor suite with views of the Adriatic or a fourth floor with views of the mountains but we want sea view and the girls did not even want to go look at the higher room.  The room has a full kitchen and a separate bedroom and a dining room table and everything.  It was originally meant to be an apartment, not a hotel, I think.

We got settled in and pretty soon went down to the restaurant to get ourselves an early dinner since we had had no breakfast or lunch today, just some snacks in the car while we drove down to Golem.  I got seafood risotto again, since I got to eat almost nothing of the risotto that I had ordered last night as Liesl stole it all from me.  Dominica and Liesl both got a vegetable risotto.  We all ate outside so that we could sit out on the beach.

Both girls were immediately out onto the beach to play in the sand.  They are so excited.  This is amazing sand, perfect for getting to play in.  Very fine and great to walk on, too.  We are very impressed with the “Florida” like beaches here on the Golem stretch.  This is the best sand, by far, that we have seen along the Adriatic.  Not at all how I picture the Adriatic.  Apparently this type of coast line is unique to Albania here and as Albania has been so closed for so long no one really thinks of the Adriatic this way.

After we ate we went for a walk down the beach for a long way the four of us, but the girls were pretty restless and did not really want to walk.  Dominica and I thought that we would be able to find an ice cream place but we had no luck, there was nothing like that even walking nearly to the end of the built up portions of the beach.  Very strange, in my opinion.

The beach is nearly all nondescript and boring four to ten story hotels and condo buildings.  Many seem nice, many seem bland.  Almost every single one has a restaurant on its bottom floor with the same menu of fish, pizza and pasta as the ones around it.  No visible variation anywhere.  Very odd.

We spent a bit of time looking at condo buildings to see what there was.  Dominica has been doing a lot of research into real estate prices here so we have a decent idea of what things will cost here.

Golem Beach in Albania

I walked everyone back as it was getting dark and they went up to the room to watch shows on YouTube and read.  I went out for a longer walk going as far as possible to the north on the Golem beach to see what I could find.  The beach hits a small river coming down from the mountains and you have to go out to the road to get a bridge so I turned around there and walked back to the hotel in the dark.  On my way back to the hotel there was really no one left on the beach.  There had been lots of people earlier and even on my walk north but once I turned around there was no one left.

We called it an early night back at the hotel.  Our Internet here appears to be pretty good and I am able to do uploads very quickly.  But for some reason Dominica’s iPhone and the girls’ Kindle Fires cannot connect to the Internet no matter what we do.  But the laptops and my iPhone work just fine.