The first Albanian I met was Danjel, who approached me on the ferry from Bari to Durres. After my experience of Italian men the last few months I was (sadly) especially wary and ready to shut down the intereaction. I'm really glad I didn't, and I gave him the chance to be friendly and not scary/creepy and was very happily rewarded with a new friend. We chatted for a while (I have to say i did mention my 'fiancée' to get any chance of being chatted up out the the way immediately) and he invited me to his village in Albania to stay with his family, which I very happily agreed to. I have a feeling the balkans will be a bit of a welcome relief from Italy. It was time to leave.
Arriving in the ferry port in Durres, I cycled out of the city as soon as I could, stopping for a coffee and casually attempting to pay in Euros - in my sleepy fug (that's a word I promise) I'd forgotten that Albanian currency is Lek! The cafe owner let me off this one which was so kind but I couldn't just not pay so i cycled back into town to find an ATM, took out 1000Lek and went back to pay her double for her trouble.
arriving in the village of Thumane in the evening of the same day, a few hours late as I'd opted to take the old road, not having realised it was a dirt road with many many potholes and mud patches, Danjel met me at the cafe and took me to his house to meet his lovely family, on his little sister Ana's 14th birthday! I came bearing a little card I'd made her at lunch that day. They were so surprised but really happy to host me for a few nights so I could soak up village life, which I was so grateful for!
Danjel took me fishing the next day, my first time! In the couple of hours we spent by the local lake, which was totally beautiful, I managed to catch my first fish! He taught me the Albanian for 'I caught a fish' and when we took it back to his house i proudly showed his family and friends my prize and my new Albanian phrase (which was met with much laughter of course) though the fish was too small to eat
That evening Danjel recruited a friend to drive us up to the mountain fort town of Kruje, which was totally beautiful and magical. We ate ice cream and poked around te castle perched high in the mountains, and Danjel let me in on some of the history.
The next day I left after being shown the local river with some friends (skimming stones crosses every cultural divide) and this time took the new road towards the capital Tirana.
I arrived really late and had a look around the amazing massive park that goes around the lake, scouting out a potential camping spot, which I ummmmmed and ahhhhhhhhed about for a while before deciding to find a room as I didn't feel so good about staying there. I always try to trust my instincts about wild camping, and I wont push it if it doesn't feel right. Anyway the room where are super cheap. Tirana is a really beautiful city with a lot going on but I didn't get much time there, leaving the next day.
as i climbed the 600m vertical mountain road that would take me to elbasan, I was frustrated at first at having to go over the mountain instead of being able to use the motorway tunnel that goes right through, but was rewarded with the most incredible sunset view over th mountains as i reached the top
And my frustration dissipated as i realised how lucky i was that the cars had all been diverted away from my serene, silent mountain road. I felt it had been built just for me.
heading up to lake ohrid I was lucky enough to be able to see these lovely friends - but only for half an hour as they had a ferry to catch, and has encountered some issues with live chicken supply the previous day! Still there was time for a beer and a catch up, and it made me so happy to have a little slice of home after a long time on the road. They gifted me a book and some taramasalata which i promptly smashed all over my bag, oops.
coming into Ohrid i could hardly believe the view, massive lake surrounded by mountains!
And caught a cute little church which was so ottoman in style inside, i really think they look so beautiful
After a relaxing day by the lake, doing some swimming in the super clear, cold water, I crossed the border to Macedonia and prepared myself for the mountains to really start.