Today started off with a flurry of excitement, we could have lived without, and it’s been a full and over-eventful day, ever since!
It was quite unexpected to discover the dead battery in our rental car, just as we needed to head for the bus station! We had a 10AM bus to catch out of Ioannina, Greece 🇬🇷 to the Albanian 🇦🇱 border. A Hertz representative showed up, finally, and he wasted no time getting us to the bus. We made it! Whew!
We get to the border in a fast hour, and made our way through the Neutral Zone. It was long and all up hill; two customs checks of course. We paid an old man who worked for cash, to push our luggage on his cart. It was hot, and we were drenched with perspiration, which is a classier way of saying we were soaked in sweat!
Getting a taxi was slim pickings at the border, and of course “barely English” was available; this the worst. We negotiated, and struck a deal, to go into the mountains range, but the taxi driver did not follow our agreement, after we got under way, in his van with a broken A/C and windows that did not go down. At this point, I thought my brain was going to boil. So, we overpaid 50 Euros for a one-hour taxi, to only get as far as Saranda.
In Saranda we only stayed long enough to get a rental car, also dealing with little English, but they were a nice couple and very accommodating. We were able to make arrangements to drop the car up north, when we plan to leave Albania, so we did not have to return to Saranda.
The car is quite strange in many ways, and the A/C isn’t great, but it’s better than nothing. PLUS, we have much more flexibility and freedom with a car. I’m not saying it’s cheaper, but Taxi drivers can be a huge disappointment much of the time, all over the world.
During these unusual times of traveling, we note people are a bit more stressed, and places run on skeleton crews, if they are open at all. We find it interesting to roll into an empty hotel, to be told “I will check to see if we have availability.” Daryl and I get a huge kick out of that! Restaurants are closed in many places, that normally have a good food source. That’s okay, because we are trying to lose our quarantine pounds, and it’s working! Mini bars in the hotel rooms have been emptied and drinking water is no longer completely empties, and drinking water is no longer provided. Room service is available, but menus can no longer be in the room. Plexiglass has been installed on countertops in every public place we have been in, since leaving Santorini the first time. This provides a barrier between worker and consumer.
Anyway, we left Saranda to go on the most interesting drive, ever! There was a bit of “white-knuckling“ as we drove up and over a mountain range that almost followed the coast line. These were mountains that mimicked the Swiss Alps in many ways! The beauty was very hard to capture in photos, but I tried, just the same. The lack of photos, is because we were in “transfer mode.” to get as many miles in, as we could. There were few places to pull over, too. The narrow two lane, switch back route was a bit crazy! Not only do the locals take their half of the road, out of the middle, but also on the narrow switchbacks we had to watch for goats, sheep, cows, horses and donkeys hanging out!
We had planned on staying overnight a few hours from the border, along the Albania Riviera, but we just weren’t “feeling” a stop that “felt like us.” Hard to explain, but driving through the villages were fantastically beautiful, but stopping and staying over in the remote mountain range did not appeal; high up, away from the sea, with no wildlife to watch for (all the farm animals did not count) So, we continued and pushed ourselves to get over the mountains.
We each take turns driving. We have a good system and what works best is Daryl driving and me navigating. The second choice is me driving and Daryl navigating, which is hard for him, since he promptly falls asleep 😴 🤣🤣. Sometimes this causes me to go the wrong way, when I’m on curvy roads and unable to check my phone maps for myself .
I would also be calling booking dot com to try to move the one reservation I did make in Tirana, up by two days, but they had no luck getting ahold of the people who owned the apartment we are renting. After four hours of waiting, as we drove over the range, and finally dropped down into Vlore, and far too too pooped to go on, we stopped for the night. Just as soon as we booked accommodations in Vlore, by the ocean, we get confirmation from our rental apartment, that we could come. 🤪. Daryl and I laughed and laughed, as we drug our tired, and sweaty bodies to our room; so looking forward to the air conditioning! At this point, it had been eight hours, since we left for the Albanian border.
Daryl was hungry, so he left to find some food, while I unpacked. I did notice the room was still like an oven, and not cooling off. To help get more comfortable, I drew myself a cold bath and enjoyed a soak. It helped a bit. During this time, I finally connected with the apartment owner, and we agreed to arrive tomorrow by noon. It will be so nice to get into a place we can cook for ourselves, and have a washing machine, and not pack up and move for a time.
By the time Daryl got back from eating, he could not believe how hot the room still was. He called the front desk. Nobody was available to come check the A/C, but they could move us to another room. 🥵 So, here were were packing up again and moving our overtired bodies. Truth is, the A/C isn’t great in the new room, but it is a bit better.
We look forward to bed, very soon, but it is a Saturday night, and I’ve been listening to loud music for awhile now, out on the beach. Albania has been out of quarantine and opened up their borders since May, and they are serious about having a tourist season. So far, it’s locals on vacation. We, on the other hand, are adjusting to the noise level that is actually more “like this,” than the peace and quiet we got to enjoy on the Greek islands!
For us, no matter how tough our transfer day may have been, in many ways we are much more relaxed “knowing” we have a one year visa, now, just in case country borders that did open, may shut down again. It was very important to us, not to have to return to the US, especially since we had no other choice but to leave Greece, due to the EU limited Visa of 90 days. We even got a Greek visa Greek extension that gave us 120 days, total. In our case, we left Hreeve with extra time on our Visa, because if Albania suddenly closed, we would ha e to remain in Greece till we hatched another plan. We have far more unknowns than ever, as we continue to be world travelers.
We are adjusting to so many things right now, including travel planning, or the lack of travel planning. “Winging it,” is now the new normal, and me being such a plotter and a planner, by nature; I have to work a bit on the spontaneity side of things. It’s a huge leap of faith for us! We also fell into a dormant state during our long sheltering time, so getting back up and going has been both physically and mentally challenging. We are not as young as we use to be, and hauling luggage around the globe full time is no picnic. So, we are working on getting our “groove” back again! It will come, but in this case, it’s really not like riding a bike.