Our first 'on the road' stopover was Dhermi on the claimed 'Albanian Riviera' and where Gilli, our acclaimed booking agent had secured a nice self-contained apartment....well sort of !
The coastal drive was a bit less than expected in the scenery department but to our astonishment the roads were quite good. That would soon change.
Vlore and Himare were nice towns but our favourite part of the drive was through the mountains. Beautiful alpine forests, curvy roads with coastal glimpses and cool fresh air.
Our apartment did not turn out so well. It was reasonably spacious and in a favourable location but little problems started appearing. Hot plates would not heat up, air conditioning did not work nor did the TV. When the internet did work it was slower than dial-up and at one time there was no water. It turned out the swimming pool was being filled and that was a priority. To top it all off we had a power outage. It was not good.
We learnt quickly that Albanians can be very casual with 'accuracy' in advertising and answer 'yes' to any question asked. They mean well and do try to oblige ….. but !!!
Later, and to take advantage of our location we visited Sarande, Butrint and Apolonia.
Sarande was a bit too touristy for us, very busy and hectic but did have a very pretty waterfront with lots of eateries and boutique shops. Gilli finally found a sun hat …. thank you, thank you, thank you.
Butrint was brilliant. Ancient city ruins that we could actually walk amongst without restrictions. We walked for ages and really enjoyed the close exploration.
Likewise, Apolonia's ancient site with museum was very interesting but the road network getting there and back was far more exciting …. or maybe scary would be a better description.
We followed our GPS signal and found ourselves on a very reasonable road which gradually became a water filled quagmire with nowhere to u-turn. The expectation of improvement did not happen. We were committed. This was by far our worst driving experience to date.
Rally driving was the go with Gilli holding on tight. We agreed we could not afford to go at it too slowly in fear of bogging down. Thankfully we made the right decision.... but did age somewhat.
We finally learnt not to trust the accuracy of the electronic navigation system and made a pact that as soon as a road turns to shit, no matter what the GPS says, we will back out.
This lesson played out later.
Having made it through that traumatic experience relatively unscathed the occasional hazards of roadworks, road slippages, pigs, cows, dogs, donkeys, sheep, goats, horses, geese and chooks seemed very moderate. We had become accustomed to it all.
A visit to an old monastery was more sedate although walking 400 metres along a timber boardwalk over water was questionable given the 'road' we had just left was also supposedly ok. The remains of the old walkway did make us wonder if the new one would hold up. All was good and the monastery and museum were worth the initial concerns.
The return back to our home base, through heavily misted mountain passes and alpine forests was fantastic and quite serine. A very fitting end to an otherwise hair-raising day.