Baffling Balkans 5 – Albania

Back into the mountains – yeah ! There’s something about vast flats as those that comprise Kosovo, that is of little appeal to motorcyclists. But then from the border post into Albania through the hills of Valbona, to the ferry trip down Lake Koman, the topography instantly warms the motorcycling heart. Rock massifs and blue lakes in deep gorges are just a delight to the eye. Flat-as plains may be a farmer’s heaven but it’s boring, boring, boring from the seat of a motorcycle.

As we wind through the hills the occasional mosque minaret shines through the bush clad hillsides. Apparently 58% of Albanians are Muslim and 17% Christian. But all that needs to be kept in perspective, Albania is a secular State and religiosity is very low – few people are into it. Which is what explains the proliferation of casinos, bars and mosques all in the same street. This is a long way from the fundamentalist Islam that prevails in Eastern Turkey and beyond – a different degree of faith altogether – more like main street NZ than the backstreets of Mecca. You would never know we are here during Ramadan, restaurants are doing a raging trade – and few woman are sporting head coverings. Having said that, most towns hear the call to prayer from the muezzin of the nearest mosque 5 times of day, albeit a curtailed version of what we’re accustomed to hearing further east.

Albania is really close to Kosovo’s heart –there has been talk that the two countries will unite. Given their small size that would make a lot of sense – a population of 4.7m, the same as New Zealand’s provides some critical mass.

We’ve essentially done a circumnavigation of Albania, coming in from the north east, riding out to the coast and then the so-called Albanian Riviera to the Greek border before turning northeast and riding through its wonderful mountain areas to Lake Ohrid and there passing into Macedonia. It is a beautiful country, I wouldn’t rate the coast as being as nice as that further north in Croatia, but it’s pleasant enough. Seeing all the cruise ships just offshore heading for Corfu seemed a bit weird as we turned back to back inland to where there are next to zero tourists.

But Lake Ohrid is an absolute gem – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lake so crystal clear of that size before (its almost half the size of Lake Taupo). From each vantage point on the shore as we circumnavigated it, the waters looked like those of Pupu Springs. And the Ohrid trout (known as ‘koran’ locally) is delicious.


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