Budva to Tirana

Tuesday, July 19, 2022 - 16:15

Two days in one today since we didn't do much yesterday while we spent the day in Budva. I worked from the apartment in the morning and Melisa relaxed at the pool, then in the afternoon we went to the beach. The beach was absolutely packed and had beach bars and clubs along the whole front with different types of loud music blaring. We stopped for a beer at a beach bar to enjoy the sun while we took it in turns to look after Lucy and dip our feet in the sea. The beach area in Budva is much nicer than the neighbourhood set further back where our apartment is, with a lot of investment going into new luxury apartment blocks. We even saw a billboard for a block advertising they take payment in cryptocurrency; a sign of the slightly relaxed attitude to international money they take here in Montenegro! I later read a bit more about this, and corruption and money laundering is indeed seen as a major barrier to Montenegro joining the EU anytime soon.

As for today, we had a good lie in before setting off for Tirana around 10am. The drive was only 180km, but was showing nearly 4 hours with the border crossing in the middle, and lack of motorway other than a very short stretch just outside of Tirana. The first part of the drive took us down the southern coastline of Montenegro, past some beautiful bays and mountain scenery. It looked very similar to what we had seen a couple of years ago up in Croatia (the Adriatic coastline), but minus the shiny new motorway, which made the drive quite slow and painful at times. It also turns out that Montenegrins love talking on their phones whilst driving, even in newer cars which must have Bluetooth connections. After about 2 hours we noticed some of the street signs were written in Serbian and Albanian, which meant we were close to the border.

The border took about 45 minutes in total, which was the longest yet, though not that bad considering this is the main border between the two countries and it was the middle of the day. As we got close to the border post, a guard came out and started letting some cars drive straight through as long as they let him note their licence plate on a piece of paper. This was an extremely relaxed approach to border control, but since we were so close to the front of the regular queue, we thought we'd wait 5 minutes longer and do things properly. At the passport office we were seen to very quickly, with the car v5c document being the thing they cared about the most. As with the Bosnia/Montenegro border, we had both the Montenegrin and Albanian guard in the same booth, passing our documents between themselves. Once through, we pulled over to a small row of portacabins on the left-hand side of the road where we bought the green card insurance paperwork for €49 for 15 days cover in the country. This is compulsory here unlike in Montenegro, and the €49 package was the cheapest they did.

The final two hours of the drive from the border to Tirana were far from the most scenic of the trip, though we did drive past a small forest fire which was something you don't see everyday (though apparently it would have been the same in parts of London today!). The roads in the countryside were very slow with a mix of lorries and cars, and a lot going on on the side of the road. Mountains in the distance helped, though after the drive through the Dinaric Alps, these mountains weren't anywhere near as impressive. It was also immediately apparent how much poorer Albania is than Bosnia and Montenegro, with the level of development being significantly lower (think rural Thailand or Costa Rica). We also noticed that every few kilometres there would be an over-the-top building painted in garish colours with a sign which said 'wedding centre' - we can only imagine what wedding parties must be like in Albania!

As we got within the vicinity of Tirana, we entered the city's suburbs where the driving suddenly became a lot more erratic and the number of hazards increased - it reminded us a lot of driving through a small town in Argentina. After this haphazard stretch, the final few kilometres to the very centre were down a brand new boulevard, complete with crossroads and pedestrian crossings which didn't yet lead to anywhere. This would have been fine, except all the traffic lights were switched on and not at all synchronised. This meant we had to keep stopping at crossings waiting for nothing since the crossroads only lead to a construction barrier! Eventually we arrived at the bustling centre, and parked up at our hotel right on Skanderbeg Square. The square is huge and we can see the whole thing from our hotel room window. A nice touch is that they have water pouring out all over the square to cool it down in the summer, which we later learnt is rain water which has been collected underneath.

From 6-8.30pm we did a free walking tour of the city with a fantastic guide who's name was Eri. He told us all about the history of the city, from the Romans all the way to the Communist era and recent history since democracy started. Highlights included learning about how the language is called Shqip and Albania is just a name outsiders call the country (they call it Shqipëri), how Kosovo is home to nearly 2 million Albanians and they consider Kosovo to be a lost part of their country, and how they were completely shut off from the outside world for decades until 1991. Eri explained how when Albania re-opened in 1991, everyone suddenly had to learn about Western culture, from having never seen bananas or Coca-Cola before, to playing Nintendo games for the first time. The only equivalent left in the world would be if North Korea suddenly opened up. Eri also touched on the extremely negative view of his country abroad, and how they are trying their best to change that over time. Ironically Tirana is a safer city than places like Paris and Barcelona, but that information doesn't seem to filter through, and Eri joked about how Westerners always tell him their families think they are going to die if they visit Albania.

After the tour we had a quick dinner in a bustling part of the city centre. £7 for two main courses and drinks - it is certainly cheap here!

Aside: on the tour we heard about how the local government of Tirana has changed the name of the street the Russian embassy is on to 'Free Ukraine' and lined it with Ukrainian flags on every lamp post. Amusingly, this means letters will only be delivered to the embassy if they put the correct house number and street name 'Free Ukraine' on the envelope.

Dog Notes: 

The Montenegro/Albania border was another border without any kind of checks on pets. Once in Albania we noticed there aren't many dogs around, though Summer has already had a lot of positive attention. Even the doorman at the hotel came over very excited and said "what is the name of this breed? It is my favourite dog".

Electric Vehicle EV Notes: 

I asked E-mobility about their chargers in Tirana on their Whatsapp and they sent over the location of three of them. We synchronised charger with hotel much better after the experience in Budva, and chose a hotel just 3 minutes walk from the EV charger at Skanderbeg Square. However when I went to find the charger I stumbled across a Pro Credit charger in the car park under Skanderbeg Square, which was completely free, and meant we didn't need to pay for the E-mobility one around the corner.
- Procredit charger in carpark which shows on Google Maps at 'Tirana Parking - Skanderbeg Square'. Free charger but this is a paid car park, 100 Lek/hour.

Miles Driven: 
Tirana International Hotel & Congress Centre


Great to read about the renaming of the Russian Embassy road and the flags - we should do the same in London.

Potentially scary places. But interesting

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