A glorious morning started us off, the weather was wonderful. Finding our way through Montenegro is easy enough and once familiar with the road signs, it is not difficult to find your way. Naturally we got lost a few times because I did not see the one sign giving us directions, but we managed well. Montenegro is not large. The valuable land is along the coast, and I am told is mostly owned by rich Russians. I have rarely seen so many Mercedes Benz cars in one spot. Not the latest models, mind you, but the Mercedes Star is on about 50% of the cars on the road. Smoke puffs out of their maladjusted mufflers, choking you when you ride behind them. The same is true for the busses and trucks that run on diesel fuel. Most emit a visible, black exhaust. I felt a scratchy throat at the end of the day from riding in traffic, at a slow pace behind clouds of emissions.
The whole coastline of Montenegro looks wonderful and there are towns that are exclusively for the very rich. Sh. Stefani is such a town. I only saw it from afar since it is placed on an Island and to get to it was too difficult and time consuming. We followed the coastline and the roads are in basic good shape. Yes, we went through the resort towns of Budva and Petrovac but did not stop there. These towns were busy metropolitan towns, lots of traffic, lots of noise, lots of cars, and yes, they had some beach sections but we went on. The high, rugged mountains to the left of us probably had some awesome riding roads but we wanted to make it to Albania and with a short dip towards the capital of Podgorica we took a short cut and entered Albania.
What a shock it was. The crossing into Albania was without difficulty. Yes, we had to change money (I Euro = about 140 Leke), yes I bought a map of Albania since I could not find a map outside of Albania and yes, and we had to by extra Insurance for 9 Euros each bike. All the formalities were very friendly; it was a cinch getting into Albania. What shocked me and especially Carol, were the road conditions and the way people lived. The housing was old, made of concrete blocks and not well taken care of. The first 60 or so Km of the main road was like a washboard. I took a BMW strap I carry for emergencies and tightened it around Carol’s Givi top box. The box bounced so much that we were afraid it would fall off. Everything rattled that was not tight or screwed down tight.
Potholes abounded. The road took our full attention and concentration. We missed the chance to take some pictures of missing manhole covers in the middle of town but we did see in time that the covers were missing. One uncovered manhole had an old tire stuck in it to warn drivers, another was just there, no warning, no barricade. In the middle of the road, in the normal tire track I passed a manhole with no cover. I felt like I was back in Siberia. Albania has applied for entry into the EU but I cannot see how they can manage to get in. The roads are deplorable; the living conditions are one of the poorest I have seen on this trip. And we just entered this country and it is early afternoon. Where will we sleep tonight? Entering Albania is like stepping back in time. A lot of merchandise is still transported by horse. I saw coal delivery wagons, trash and scrap iron hauled this way. We shared the road with pigs, cows, horses, a very over-loaded hay wagon and even a woman pushing a wheelbarrow filled with water jugs.
After a few miles we entered the larger town of Shkoder. I could not see a hotel, yet I also saw smoke spewing Mercedes Benz cars. So there must be some money here. I was concerned about finding a hotel. Where do you start when you do not speak the language? To make things worse, a lot of signs are in Cyrillic. When we entered the next bigger town of Lezhe I stopped and asked a police man sitting in a car if the town has a hotel. He thought a little and then indicated to follow him. This nice guy led us into town and stopped in front of the, presumably, only, hotel in town and with a smile, left us there. Naturally, it started to rain just then. I left the bikes with Carol and walked into the lobby of the only hotel and surprise, they had a room for us for 4200 Leke (30 Euro) incl. breakfast. Parking was in the back of the hotel behind the hanging laundry but was not easy to find since it involved finding your way by reckoning alone through the one-way back alleys of the neighborhood.. We made it; we had a hotel for the night.
It was early in the afternoon but I felt good that we stopped. Firstly we avoided the major rain fall, then we found a hotel with a spot for our bikes and we were in a major town and could explore whatever there was too see. We survived the first part of Albania’s roads without accident and are in one piece. The top box, albeit rattling severely, did not come off. Walking up and down the streets of Lezhe gave us a chance to observe Albanian life on a Friday afternoon with people rushing about. The sun had returned and the weather was pleasant. We could adjust ourselves to our new surroundings.
Yes it was a shock to enter into a county in Europe that is still very much like it was 30 or 50 years ago. The past Communistic Regime’s imprint is still clearly visible and has not advanced much in the last decade. Visit Albania and you will visit like you would have visited in 1980. There is a lot of work to be done here. The people are friendly, helpful, and basically happy but I felt like the leadership, the master plan was missing. Buildings have been started and then abandoned. Old factories are in decay. Lots of young families and/or young men have little work and little income. Friday night’s entertainment was to walk the large main street up and down and to show off your new dress or pants and be seen; or to sit and watch the strollers and enjoy your cup of coffee; strong Turkish coffee that causes heart palpitations. Lezhe is no tourist town but it served us well as our first town in Albania.
Dinner for two was an amazing 1500 Leke that night. Albania is a bargain to travel in if you find a hotel.