Albania was a mixed bag of feelings for us. One of the reasons why we choose to travel by bicycle is because you tend to capture a landscape and culture in greater detail, it's amazing the trivial things you notice! On the other hand, you also have to consider that on a bicycle you are that much more exposed and sometimes vulnerable to your surroundings. This can be great as you attract a lot more interaction with passers by, but you can also be an easy target for beggars, drunks and pushy street vendors. It had only taken five minutes and only just out the gates of customs before a mother and her young children were around our bikes holding their hands out persistently. We decided to give Vlorë a miss and other than stopping for a decent breakfast along the waterfront, we cycled out of town.
Although it had been an epic downhill, an aggressive wind coming down the mountain made it a slightly nerve racking descent, we were seriously concentrating on keeping ourselves firmly planted on the road!
You will only come across supermarkets in larger towns and cities, the rest of the way you will find numerous mini markets selling local fresh produce and a few basic staples. I always expect to pay a little more in these venues and would rather do so and support the smaller business, but nothing ever had any prices on display. It seemed apparent that the price depended on what they thought they could sell the item for.
We had a very frustrating experience one evening in a campsite marked on our map. The campsite was not actually open yet for the season but there were numerous tents up for a company of construction workers that were working on a nearby building site. We asked a lovely lad working in one of the restaurants if he could recommend us where to stay and he said that nobody would mind, just camp anywhere. We could have easily pitched on the beach but seen as all the workers were in the campsite, the gate was open and it was merely a large field with olive trees, we reasoned that it wouldn't be a problem. The following morning as we were wheeling our bikes out of the site, the owners son approached us to ask for payment. We had been told that on average you should expect to pay between 3 and 5 euros for camping in Albania. We had arrived at 10 pm the night before, were leaving at 7.30am the next morning, had not used any facilities, not even the toilets, the grass was still a foot high and there was rubbish everywhere too. Of course we were happy to pay the guy but he demanded 10 euros from us! Firstly, Albania's currency is Lek, as soon as the price is given in euros, you can assume they will try and take advantage. We gave the guy a 5 euro note and told him to cut his grass if he wants 10 next time!
April taking plenty of well earn break in Albania!
Luckily, the day was saved by a lovely lady called Vassiliki who was incredibly sweet to us when we went to collect some grocery's from their mini market for dinner. We had picked up a few vegetables to put into a soup, but the next minute she had us sat down under her veranda, washed and cut the fruit and vegetables and bought out extra plates of cheese, cherries, apricots and bread for us. With a pen, paper and pictures we asked about her children and explained what we were doing and showed her some photos. When we eventually prepared to leave, she gave me a big warm hug and kissed my face with motherly affection, at that moment everything else went out the window.
So Albania had certainly challenged us in many different ways but for every brutal mile climbing up its epic mountains, there were jaw dropping landscapes to reward our efforts and amongst the hard salesmen there were also warm welcomes and plenty of laid back characters too, coffee drinking is definitely a popular past-time in Albania!