We weren’t expecting to drive through Kosovo the day we left Skopje, but our driver said the road was better. It was faster too, even though we would have two border crossings instead on just one. So we headed North from Skopje, Macedonia to the border. We had a short wait at the border crossing, then we were stamped out of Macedonia and into Kosovo.
The driver was right about the road being nice. From the border to Prishtina, Kosovo’s capital city, there is a beautiful new highway. In fact, construction had just been completed in 2019. It was massive construction project completed in corporation by an American and a Turkish company. The highway followed a small river valley, but instead of running next to the river, it was a bridge, on top of the river. I’ve never seen a highway quite like it!
From Prishtina, another highway took us south west towards the Albanian border. After our passports were checked at that border crossing we were asked to pull over to the side. Medical staff came up to the car and scanned us all for coronavirus. We had been wondering if we would be checked anytime during our trip. Luckily none of us had a fever. We filled out a short form saying where we had been and where we were going for their records and were off.
Once we crossed the Albanian border, we were really up in the mountains. It was a gorgeous drive, deep in a mountain valley. We passed small mountain towns that seemed partially abandoned and others that had vineyards and large gardens between the homes. We stopped for a break at a really fancy exit with a new gas station, store, restaurant and hotel. Then we continued down from the mountains, through a 6 KM tunnel and into the outskirts of Tirana.
Driving in from the outskirts of the city we passed a mishmash of buildings, many with awnings and tropical plants on their balconies. Palm trees lined the streets and even though it was in the teens (60’s F) still, it was obvious the climate had changed. The ground floor of every building was packed with small businesses, shops and restaurants. The days of Communism were definitely gone. All this, plus how crazy the traffic got, reminded me a lot of Vietnam. It’s a post-communist, capitalistic free for all, and it’s magnificent!
People weren’t allowed to drive in Albania until 1991. So, there’s a bit of chaos on the roads, especially at the traffic circles. The rule here is cars entering the circle have the right away and the cars already in the circle must yield. Quite the opposite of how a traffic circle is supposed to work. So there’s usually a police officer or two directing traffic in the circle. It’s a mess and luckily our driver was familiar with this situation. The car’s collision detection warning was constantly going off as we struggled to get through two circles on our route.
Our Airbnb is on a walking street, but it didn’t take us too long to figure out where it was. It’s another, let’s say interesting place. It’s a three story home located in an excellent area right in the middle of everything. It would be a lot nicer if the family who owned it didn’t have all kinds of personal belongings here. The closets are filled with clothes, there are shoes everywhere, half filled containers of stuff everywhere, even someone’s passport and ID card we found in the kitchen when looking for a fork. It’s also a big stone building that is freezing cold. I imagine this would be nice in the summer when it’s in the 40s out (90 F). To top it off we had no hot water for the first week and the kitchen smells of propane, even though we closed the tank. Our host is trying to help make our stay more comfortable, but she is not the home owner and things have been going a little slow.
Howard’s father is still with us so we have been out exploring the city almost every day. Tirana is fantastic! There are many great restaurants and bars, interesting museums, and endless narrow streets to explore. We had a little over a week to enjoy ourselves until the coronavirus exploded around us.
Albania has close ties to Italy, so lots of people travel between the two countries. There are even several ferry lines as they are right across the Adriatic Sea from each other. Italy went from no cases of the virus to thousands in just a couple days. It’s no surprise that it’s happening now in Albania.
Not wanting the virus to spread like it did in Italy, the Albanian government has ordered all bars and restaurants to close in the cities and no private vehicles allowed on the roads this weekend. There are also check points around the city and if they find anyone who had been to Greece or Italy recently, they have to go home and stay there or be arrested. For now we’re stuck in this stupid Airbnb while Howard’s dad is trying to get home. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.