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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

21 May 2018

Albanians are nuts

28 April 2018

Berat, en route south

Berat, en route south


Congrats Albania, you have the maddest drivers in Europe, by a long chalk. And I’ve driven in France, Spain, Madiera, Italy, Sweden, Malta, Crete, Turkey and Romania so I’ve got some comparisons. The fact that we’ve driven past two horrific looking accidents on our first day is also very telling. The blanket draped carefully over the driver’s window of the upside down mangled pickup truck was a bit chilling.

They drive like they’re in a computer game, like cutting it just a bit too fine and “losing a life” is no biggie.

Of course, they aren’t helped by the roads. I mean, there are potholes. I’m used to potholes. But there are also stretches where the tarmac just drops into dips or has sudden folds, as though they just poured it straight onto the landscape rather than bothering to flatten it first or put down any hardcore.

And the obstacles! Pedestrians simply don’t seem aware that these nice flat tarmac paths they’re wandering along are also used by tons of hot metal hurtling along at 60kph. And then you’ll round a corner and there will be a cow in the road. Or a herd. Or there will be a wheelie bin. Or a wheelbarrow with attendant workman chatting to a mate. Or just a car, literally stopped in the road, no attempt to pull over. Or a man carrying a sheep.

Road cows

Road cows


Mainly it’s the drivers though. Roundabouts are fun. There’s no concept of right of way, it’s just a case of driving straight onto the roundabout with careful enough timing that you fit into all the other traffic. Overtaking follows the classic rule: if it’s a blind curve then I can’t see any cars coming, so there probably aren’t any, so it must be safe. And on a dual carriageway the method of indicating that you’d like someone to move over is to drive up so close to their bumper that a cat’s whisker couldn’t separate you.

But I secretly enjoy an alarming drive, so I’ve found it quite fun. Topped off by arriving in Gjirokaster, where the cobbled streets kept getting steeper, and narrower, and twistier, all the way up to our hotel in the heart of the old town. Wow. The views from our room are stunning.

Room with a view, Gjirokaster

Room with a view, Gjirokaster


Gjirokaster is basically stunning all over. Built on a heavily ravined hillside with a huge citadel perched on top, it looks out over an epic mountain valley with a river winding through it. And this valley includes the ruins of Antigonea, a Greek-age city built by King Phyrrus, and the ruins of Hadrianopolis, a Roman city in the valley bottom built in honour of, well, Hadrian. I feel totally immersed in history.

Dinner tonight was on a terrace overlooking the modern city. Service was a bit shambolic with all our starters and mains coming at the same time, but on the other hand it was all good food and the views were wonderful. There were a bunch of teenagers at the next table celebrating a birthday. Actually, most of the other guests were Albanians and half of them seemed to know each other. This is probably why most of the menu options seem very single-minded: at a restaurant in Albania you are supposed to eat as a group, and order a handful of dishes for the middle of the table to share. Meat-and-two-veg arranged nicely on one plate just isn’t a thing! Tell you what though, it’s certainly cheap and generally delicious.

More Gjirokaster, citadel in the back

More Gjirokaster, citadel in the back


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