I had set foot in Albania previously, nearly twenty years ago, having a day trip to Saranda and Butrint whilst staying in Corfu, which lies about 6 miles off the coast of Albania. I was happy to return for Carol’s first visit, despite the reputation the country has in some people’s eyes, gained through movies such as Taken, starring Liam Neeson. Personally, I have encountered no trouble at all here. The main appeal for us to visit here was Lake Shkodër, a lake that straddles the Montenegro/Albania border, rather than to head to the capital Tirana.
It was easy to get here from Podgorica; a €10 fee each and a bus ride of around 2hr 30 including the border crossing. The border crossing was easy and luckily didn’t take too long; we have heard some people are stuck there for hours especially when lots of coaches arrive together. We were dropped in the centre of Shkodër outside Hotel Rozafa as there is no official bus station; all busses dependent on destination go from either side of this stretch of road. The only thing of note here is that you have to have a printed bus ticket. We bought our ticket in the station so this saved some hassle.
First impressions when getting off the bus was that it was pretty hectic; people approaching asking if you need transport, street sellers, cars honking, it was a little overwhelming but we found an official taxi and made our way to our accommodation. This in itself was quite amusing as the taxi driver had to use my phone to try and get there. He was a nice guy though and when we finally did get there he didn’t try and rip us off but asked what we wanted to pay. A conversation with our host on the phone had determined that around 500 leks (£3.55) would be about right and the driver was happy with this so it was all good. He left a card in case we wanted to use him again. We had booked Windmill Shkodër Guesthouse, a campsite on a farm which offered private rooms as well. It was a secluded place and very quiet; besides our neighbours of geese, goats, chickens and dogs!
It became apparent quite quickly that we would have some language difficulties to overcome here, I know a single word of Albanian, ‘faleminderit’ , which means ‘thank you’ and English is not widely spoken. When people here do speak English, it’s not exactly of the highest standard, but I am very aware that their English is a hell of a lot better than my Albanian. The currency is The Lek, another thing that caught us out as when we crossed the border into Albania as we only had Euros with us. Cards are not widely accepted here either, luckily they do accept the Euro, and actually gave a very good exchange rate.
We were a little walk away from the Lake (although it was very near it was marshland all round us so not accessible) so after settling in and having a restful evening we decided the next morning to go and explore Shkodër further and find the infamous lake. We took a slow walk into town accompanied the entire way by the campsite dog; we have no idea what his name was but he followed us a long way and we were a little scared for his wellbeing as he didn’t have much road sense. He was a cutey though and we were happy to have him walk with us; he seemed to know better than us where we were going!
Another issue we faced in Albania was that it wasn’t part of the ‘roaming networks for 3 our UK sim provider. We stopped at a cafe with wifi so we could download a local map and get directions whilst doggo sat patiently with us waiting for us to move on. We decided to head towards Shkodër Castle, to the bridge over the Buna river and go from there.
The bridge was pretty rickety and although wide enough was not a general traffic route, however motorbikes and mopeds did not hesitate, making the whole thing shake! Doggo decided he had reached his limit here and turned round and trotted back the way we came. We hoped he would make it back to the camp safely and we would see him later… We crossed the bridge and continued walking along the riverside to the point Google told us we had reached the lake. It was an easy, flat walk and offered some amazing scenery.
We walked back and stopped for a drink on the way at a riverside bar we passed and walked back across the bridge towards the castle. We did debate visiting but looking how steep the hill was and also how tired we were in the heat we decided not to do it there and then.
One thing we noted here and probably in Albania in general was how much the animals wander freely; there were chickens randomly in the road, goats and even on one occasion a cow just randomly walking down a main road! Although we didn’t drive here though its something to be aware of. Also we were quite surprised to see horses still being used to transport vegetables. It was a bit like we were stuck in a time warp!
We headed back to our quarters after a stop to get some supplies and were happy to find doggo had made it back safe and sound! We had only booked 2 nights in Albania, and after today we agreed to extend our stay to explore the area further. We were enjoying life on the farm, surrounded by geese, chickens, goats, sheep and a lovely little dog. As it turned out we were unable to stay longer, because where we were staying, and other places in the local area had no vacancies. It’s a very popular part of the world at this time of the year but, partly because of Albania’s lack of covid restrictions for entry.
Anyway, as brief as it was, we enjoyed our visit to Shkodër and at some point in the future we may return and spend more time in Albania; however it did tick a country off Carol’s European tour list. We found the people to be very friendly and helpful here; the taxi driver upon arrival, the staff at our accommodation who printed our bus ticket for us and even the driver who dropped us to the bus stop in the morning. He asked a local lady to make sure we got our bus ok; which she very kindly did. It was a shame we couldn’t stay longer but we were looking forward to our return back into Montenegro to Budva!
Carol & Nigel xx