#REALRIDERSELFIES: Approaching Albania – Into the Unknown

After spending a few days with his good pal Ratty touring Corfu, it’s time for Doug to move on. But which route to take? Let’s find out…

DB App

“I’ve got a decision to make. How best to get from Corfu to Croatia?

Everyone I have sought advice from, including seasoned moto-travellers, my father and his wife (who know the area), and people I’ve met on my travels have all said that as a solo motorcyclist I should avoid Albania. Apparently the roads are bad, the drivers are worse, your insurance is void and the border insurance is expensive and only covers the locals. Packs of wild dogs will chase you, and you run the real risk of armed hijacking, especially after dark. All-in-all not that inviting – Albania by all accounts is still a wild land.

I do have a few alternative routes:

1 – a ferry crossing to Italy and then another back to Dubrovnik, southern Croatia.

2 – I can run around Albania though Macedonia and Serbia, but this throws up some political issues at the Bosnian and Croatian borders.

3 – Or I can run back to Bulgaria and through Serbia to Montenegro. Which to go for?

Hmm they all feel a bit convoluted. My decision is made. I’m doing Albania.

I need to get from Roda, north Corfu to near the Greek – Albanian border. I’m not keen on the idea of approaching and going through Albania later in the day, so I need to position myself for the border run as early as possible.

The next morning, I break camp fairly early and head for the ferry. Unfortunately for me I just miss the ferry and there is not another one for two and a half hours. Perfect. I park up and head over to a local café to grab a bite to eat and wait. Finally, I see the ferry approach the port, I’m quickly on board and head up to the top deck to relax.

The crossing takes about 1hr and 25 minutes. Once off the boat, I know exactly where I’m going, a campsite 10 miles north of Igoumenitsa. By 5pm I’m at the campsite.

This is a good site, the ground is just as hard as in Kavala, but a friendly camper sees my struggles and comes over with a mallet.  It’s right on the beach, and taking a leaf out of Ratty’s book I go for a float in the sea. I should have been doing this long before now. It is so relaxing and does wonders for the aches and pains of riding. Although I’ve not exactly ridden far today.

DB Alabania 11

Next morning I’m up and ready for an 8am start. Its Sunday so I am hoping the border will be open.

I stop on the northern outskirts of Igoumenitsa to top up fuel and recheck my maps. The border I’m aiming for: Sagiada – Qafe Bote, is a little further away than I thought so it takes me an hour to reach the approach.

As I draw closer to the border the terrain reminds me of a scene in the Redford / Newman version of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where they pass through a twisting ravine before finding the lair of the Hole in the Wall Gang. This approach to the Greek – Albanian border is a bit like that.

As I twist and turn through ever increasing ravines I am then presented with a flat open space and I can see the Greek exit post. It is at the bottom of a short hill. A Greek police official steps out of his office and signals for me to stop. He looks at my passport and sends me to a window about ten meters away, speak to him first he says. I hand my documents over, some stamping is done and I’m sent back to speak to my new friend.”

“Why are you going to Albania? I need to get to Croatia I say. No you don’t, stay in Greece, its much nicer, much friendlier” he says with a massive grin on his face. He’s playing with me.  It turns out he’s an ex biker, an accident putting and end to his riding. He takes me aside and offers me some coffee, a smoke and some good advice.

“When you get to the Albanian border you will have to buy insurance”, he says. “They will try and charge you between 40 and 80 euros for a ten day pass, but that is based on a car passing through. I’ll call them and ask for a cheap rate, perhaps 15 or 20 euros.”

“Fantastic – I was expecting a minimum of 40 euros. He wishes me well and I set off up the restricted road to the Albanian border control post.

I approach the Albanian border and handover my paperwork to the border official. After a short wait a guy in a pink t-shirt walks over and asks for my Green Card. This is where I think I am going to get screwed out of some money.

DB Albania

I need to purchase insurance I say. He nods and says something to the border official who then directly hands him my passport and V5 and says welcome to Albania, follow him, in better than expected English. I pull forward 20 meters and park around the side of a building. I follow the pink t-shirt into his office where he sits and taps the details from my docs into his computer. “How long” he asks? 3 days I say. “Where stay” he asks, “Durres or Tirana” I say. He grunts a little. “I give you 14 days” he says. Ok I think, I’m getting ready to get fleeced out of some money.

DB Albania 2I don’t have local currency Lek with me, only Euros. He taps away at his computer some more and eventually a printer kicks in. Out pops a pink coloured document with all my details, and a gold seal. Really, a gold seal. This is a document I am going to frame. He gives it to me and says, €15

I’ve got a 14 day motorcycle pass into Albania for €15 euros. Result!

I leave my office and go back to the bike, put my docs away and do a quick check over of everything, as it is as good a time as any. Out comes the same insurance guy. Oh no I think what does he want now –  but this time he’s in a completely different mood. He wanders up to me with a cigarette in hand and sees my paper map-book I’ve got in the tank bag window. He gestures to look at it, so I take it out and give it to him. He flicks through and finds the Albania pages. Helpfully he gives me some sound advice. He tells me to avoid the mountains, as they are wild and dangerous alone, however the coastal route is apparently slow and the middle route is full of roadworks. Hmmm great options. Nonetheless together we work out my route to Durres or Tirana.”

What happens in Albania? To find out, watch out for updates on our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages, aswell as our blog at www.realrider.com/motorcycle-blog