Following the epic journey over Macedonia and Kosovo, we find ourselves without any useful sat nav, hundreds of KMs from Montenegro, with less than 3 hours til dark. Theoretically “easy” but nothing ever is.
Mesmerised by the sheer stunning beauty of the mountains we hit the main highway that our map leads us to believe takes us to the border. It is confusing to say the least as the new E851 is being built in Kosovo and becomes the SH5 in Albania.
The border crossing takes us no time at all – we are asked where we went, and why, but waved through as unenthusiastically as possible to get on our merry way. This impressed me as we were told Albania was likely a no-go due to issues around insurance and car thefts. Simply show ONLY the car registration papers, Euro Green Card and your passports and it is okay. Do not confuse with Kosovar insurance or the other Europcar crap. Before we know it we are over and in;
So the plan is 3 hours to cross Albania (should take less than 2). Reality? The highway starts near Lezhe, Albania, passes through Kukes as SH5, enters Kosovo as R7, and ends in Pristina near Gjergjica, Kosovo. As part of the South-East European Route 7. But it is under construction. Confused? Yup so are we!
We are struck by the size of the mountains. Outside the alps this must be the biggest ranges in Europe. Even the signs have an Alpine feel to them. It feels so calming.
Okay so seeing the sunset over the mountains as we drive is possibly the most relaxing way to meet a new country. Warm and welcoming is how I can describe this area.
We find the tunnel (5.6km long) and rumble through but on the other side end up lost as the roads change from Route 1 to 7 to 5 to 31. Our easy 2hr passage over Albania to hit Montenegro before dark is now getting longer.
After some time we dare to try the sat nav. It informs us we are much further west than planned and too far south to use the highway. We get onto a small road and head for Shkoeder, a lake, and hopefully, the border.
Just before the the sun sets we are speeding the highways and passing place after place littered with half built houses, open fires and poverty. It just seems so mad that in Europe we can have such a divide. And such a juxtaposition between the mountains and low lands, rich and poor, as is displayed here.
Soon the sun drops and we are at the border. It pitch black with no road signs I end up accidentally skipping the Albanian check point queue and we are sent down the road to the Montenegrin border.
At the border we are checked for the first time in our journey. It seems smuggling cigarettes is the key issue and they laugh when I say how little time we have been in Albania; “not enough time to pack your car with cigarettes, no?!” The border agent laughs.
Albania is a place we need to spend more time in, me and Kat decide. For now though, we are on our way. To Montenegro … and a mountain pass that is single track without lighting.