Second stop on our 2014 travel adventure in Europe (First stop was Kotor, Montenegro), was Shkodra, Albania, which is one of the oldest and most historic places in Albania. In planning our trip, we hadn’t been keen on staying in one of the bigger cities, but logistically, it was the way to go to break up the trip in a reasonable way. The main part of town, where we stayed was quite lovely, with pedestrian streets, beautiful churches and mosques, mountains as backdrop.
What was most memorable about this part of the trip? Well, the driving, no doubt about it! Jim’s been driving us around Europe for 15 summers and we’ve encountered lots of unusual things, like one-lane roads with two-way traffic, even ones with tall hedge rows (e.g., England, Ireland) or stone walls (e.g., Greece, Turkey) that make it tough to see oncoming traffic, driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road (e.g., England, some Caribbean islands), and driving in mountains where the roads are narrow, sometimes have no guardrails so you can see just how far of a fall it would be if the car went off the road, where tourist buses come out of nowhere (e.g., Spain, Croatia) and you wonder just how you will share the road without someone – YOU – going over the ledge.
But Albania was a whole ‘nother game! The only rule of the road I could come up with was “Expect the unexpected!” Reminded me a bit of India, where people, dogs, cows, bikes, scooters, cars, trucks, buses all share the road, doing their own thing despite the appearance of usual traffic lanes and signs. You just have to throw out any assumptions you might make about how things work. One example – we’re on a main road, like a 4-lane freeway at home, out in the country. We’re moving along in the left lane when all of a sudden the guy going really slow in the right lane pulls over into the left lane in front of us, and then, catch this, comes to a complete stop to make a left turn at a break in the median guardrails – no signs about a turn, no signals, no warning, just our 4 eyes super vigilent and ready for anything, so we were able to stop without rear-ending the guy.
After we crossed the border from Montenegro into Albania, everything was good. Not much traffic, nice roads with mountains on one side, Lake Shkodra on the other – mostly farmland. Then, as we neared the city, little signs of what was to come started to appear – cows tied up in the middle of a traffic circle, men riding bikes expecting you to share the road as they pedal toward you on the right side of your lane, farm equipment moving at a snail’s pace, kids moving unpredictably on scooters. Once in the city, pedestrians boldly stepping into the road, without even looking. Cars flowing in two directions, but without much regard for lanes. We managed to navigate our way through the city and to our hotel – but we made a point of not driving anywhere else until we had to leave town the next morning! First stop was a cafe on the pedestrian street near our hotel for a couple of big birras!
The good news was that Mother Nature continued to let up on the rain and we had a nice afternoon for sight seeing. By evening, the rain was back, although it was a drizzle so the little pink tote umbrella I brought managed to be sufficient. (Before the trip Jim chuckled that I was packing an umbrella, but by this point, he was thinking it was a pretty brilliant idea!). Mother Nature seemed to be inviting us to lean in, relax, go with the flow…and we did!
The next morning, despite the rain, we toured Rozafa Castle, just outside of town. (I won’t even go into the challenges of finding the road up to the place given the road construction, but give credit to Jim’s observations and persistence!) Fortunately, after going through the museum (inside away from rain!), the sun broke through the clouds. A sign of good things to come…
[For more photos of our vacation adventures, visit Jim and Vicki’s Travel Adventures Shutterfly site.]