Country Number 56: Albania

May 9-13, 2023

We caught the overnight ferry from Bari, Italy to Durres, Albania. The ferry ride is about eight hours, so we spent most of the ride sleeping. In the queue before boarding we net a couple from Serbia on a BMW who were heading home on a different ferry (there are a few that all make this overnight run). We spent a while chatting with them, and afterwards I realized I once again forgot to take a photo.

Waiting to board the ferry in Bari, Italy.

On board and strapping the bike down.

Our room for the night crossing.

The ferry arrived in Durres at 8am and we disembarked and headed into town to find an ATM and some breakfast. Albania prefers cash just about everywhere, including restaurants and hotels. Credit cards are nearly worthless here. Fortunately the ATM didn’t mind giving me Albanian Lek. Although the exchange rate means we’re carrying some big notes: USD$100 is nearly 10,000 Lek.

We found our way out of town and headed east, across the entire country, which, as the crow flies is about fifty miles. On the eastern border with North Macedonia is Lake Ohrid. The country border goes north to south straight through the middle of the lake. Lake Ohrid is an amazing place: it is one of the oldest lakes on earth, being somewhere between 3 million and 5 million years old. Its maximum depth is 945 feet, and it has more than 200 endemic species.

Albania is a beautiful country, with plenty of scenery. I would love to return and spend some time riding off-road here.

Working our way down out of the hills to Lake Ohrid.

Looking across Lake Ohrid from the balcony of our hotel room to North Macedonia.

We spent a couple of nights at the Hotel Victoria, just outside of Pogradec. This hotel is a short way down a dirt road, past derelict buildings. The initial approach might make you re-think your choices, but make no mistake, it’s worth it. The hotel itself sits right on the shore of the lake and is a very peaceful, restful place. At least it was when we were there, as it was before the prime tourist season. I’m sure it’s much busier beginning about mid-June.

Hotel Victoria. Highly recommended.

Looking south from the hotel to the city of Pogradec.

The bar/lounge/dining area of the hotel. As usual (and as we planned it), we were mostly the only guests as we arrived before the high season.

We were over-spending our budget at $46 a night, but the included breakfast made it worth the price.

The hotel has an interesting history, as told to us by the owners and hosts. The building belonged to the government and the land belonged to an individual farmer. After the fall of communism in 1991, the building sat vacant for years, until the current family was able to purchase it and the land. The father’s intent was to divide the building into two large apartment homes, one for each of his sons. The renovation work including adding a third floor. While the renovation was a livable space, it was closer to the old communist lifestyle than anything modern, so the sons convinced the father to remodel the building once again into a hotel, upgrading to ensuite rooms and making the ground floor into a large restaurant. The current place is very nice, and the hosts (the son and his wife) are extremely friendly and welcoming (and speak great english).

From Pogradec, we intended to head back to the west coast and follow it south to Greece. However, the weather forecast was telling us otherwise. It was looking like a 95% chance of rain for the next several days along the west coast. As much as we wanted to explore Albania further, the thought of doing so in the rain (which would also eliminate our ability to ride off-road in the mountains) convinced us to shortcut instead. So we left Pogradec and headed south towards the east coast of Greece.

Side Note: Albania is Country Number 56 for me, and 37 for Diana, although I’ve recently been told that if you’re on a connecting flight and it lands in a country, that counts. So I could potentially add two countries: the UAE (Abu Dhabi) when I flew from Buenos Aires to Cape Town while shipping the bike in 2016, and Ethiopia (Addis Ababa) when I flew from Nairobi to London, also during my 2016 ride around the world. I’m not sure I agree with this “count”, as I prefer to count countries I actually rode through, so I’ll try to keep track of it both ways.

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