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Macedonia to Albania to Montenegro to Croatia: Easy Day!

Google maps said it would take 7 hours, which we thought was pretty reasonable for a long driving day from Macedonia to Croatia.  In one of those rare instances in which Google maps was wrong, the trip took us over 12 hours!

Mostly this is our own fault, as we relied on the GPS to get us across all of southeastern Europe and only found out, near where we stayed in Macedonia, that there is no map information for this part of the world.  Instead, the screen displays a rough outline of the entire country, and a little arrow, pointed in the direction of travel, shows our location.  Occasionally, we would make a wrong turn and get a voice correction, and occasionally we wouldn’t find out we were wrong until we saw more road signs and realized we might be going the wrong way.  We actually tried, without success, to buy an actual map a few times – if we do this again, with better planning, a paper map would be a really good idea!

We had heard stories of corruption and crime in Albania, so our plan was to drive straight through and not get out of the car.  About ten minutes into the country, when we started driving the wrong way on a way street through what seemed like a one street town, we stopped to get help.  A hotel reception on Lake Ohrid gave us the only friendly assistance we experienced in Albania.  Otherwise, we encountered fisherman dangling fish for sale, farmers dangling cherries, tons of car washes with the water continuously arcing, beggars banging on our windows, and VIP motorcades pushing everyone out of their way while speeding on dangerous mountain roads.  It was little harrowing and we were happy to finally get out of Albania.

At the border crossings into Montenegro and Croatia, the agents were a little confused that we had driven through Albania.  In Montenegro we just had to explain ourselves.  In Croatia, however, we had to empty our car and display all of our drugs (don’t worry, just OTC stuff for allergies and headaches).  Then the customs agents inspected all of the VINs and seams on the car.  We weren’t sure if the extra scrutiny was due to the car being registered in Turkey, our drive through Albania, or a random measure.

Even though the drive was difficult, and the Albanians we did encounter weren’t exactly friendly, stretches of Albania were absolutely breath-taking.  From what we saw before it was too dark, the entire country of Montenegro is gorgeous, not to mention a little friendlier than Albania.  We stopped in a cute little lake town (I think Lake Skadar) for dinner.  Between Kim’s German and the waiter’s English, we were able to eat and share some stories with the staff.  An old man, somehow connected to the restaurant, kept dropping off random gifts at our table: a bag of tea and herbs, postage stamps, and mulberries (we think that’s what they were).

I’m way behind on updates since I got overwhelmed trying to finish up the academic year and end-of-year activities in Ankara.  In short, the first year of grad school is almost over (I have the last paper due and an email exam on Monday); my choir performed on another TV show (we’re like regulars now), my refugee center closed in order to focus aid at the border, Kim and I packed a lot of Turkish experiences into the few weeks before we left, and now we’re on the Balkan Loop of a summer full of road trips.

We’re in Croatia now – I’ll update more soon!

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Patrick Redmon #

    Dear Sarah: We were all beginning to wonder if you got lost in the mountains again! Good to hear the school year is about over and life in Turkey is everything you imagined during the past 12 months or so. You being an old CHEERS fan just have to remember the episode when Sam and Coach go back to (night) high school to finally get their diploma – and Coach makes up the sing-song chant about Albania so he can remember facts about the country? “Albania. Albania. You border on the Adriatic!” 🙂 I always think of that scene when I hear the country’s name. In any event, your Spidey senses were working correctly when you rolled through that region of SE Europe. Not a very nice neighborhood and NONE of them trust the others. I can’t even imagine the looks you got from the Croats when you showed up at their border having driven through Albania!!! My few trips into Tirana in 1999-2000 when we were “keeping the peace” after the air campaign against Serbia led to our NATO mission in Kosovo convinced me that Albania ain’t the place for a blue-eyed, Irish Catholic boy from south Texas! (especially if I didn’t have the opporutnity to carry my side arm) Ha Ha Glad you made it out without any jail time… 🙂 Be well, be safe and enjoy the summer.

    June 1, 2013
    • Yeah – I am way behind on blogs because I was trying to finish up papers and exams, and then I had to write a report about my year for the Olmsted Foundation. Now I’m free to write blogs, but of course I’m spending a little more time out and about, and less time writing. Hopefully we’ll find the right balance of cafe time and touring time.
      Tirana was fearsome! Really, it was the beggars banging on our windows that did us in. Thank god we weren’t stupid enough to roll through the city with the top down – we’d probably have been robbed blind or choked to death on the smog. Hopefully Albania can pull something together, though, because its mountains are gorgeous!
      In the meantime, it serves as the butt of all our jokes, and the bottom line that we compare all the roads in the Balkans against. So far, Albania is definitely the worst. Although Romanian drivers are edging in – we saw a fatal accident yesterday and narrowly escaped several others on the way to a friend’s house yesterday.

      June 12, 2013
  2. Elizabeth Brooke-Willbanks #

    We are currently staying at Lake Ohrid in Albania. We also stayed in Tirana for a few nights and camped in Montenegro. Your descriptions of the roads are perfect. We have found the Albanian people to be very friendly and helpful. Yes, the country is rather polluted and has more than it’s share of challenges. Also, I’m pretty sure we ate at the same place you did at Lake Skhoder. It was lovely. Fun blog!

    November 19, 2013

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