We knew little about Albania and her neighbors. In particular, we were happily unaware of the utter lack of driving skills among the locals. So my wife and I naïvely rented a car in Tirana to visit the countries around Albania. Before you attempt something similar, I suggest reading the following closely.
We barely have begun before we learn our first lesson: Google Maps have no idea how long it takes to drive from A to B in the Balkans. They’re perfectly capable of picking a random route that will get you there, but there’s no way for them to predict how much of your journey will be spent at a standstill while waiting for an ambulance to arrive and the road to be cleared for traffic.
Always assume it will take at least twice as long as planned. Or maybe make that thrice. It’s just ridiculous, in a sad way, how many accidents we come across. None of them involve us, fortunately. Still, we are happy that we’re renting an old wreck, where every surface is pre-scratched or pre-dented. We ignore all the warning lights on the dashboard. The rental company claims that the car is in perfect order, except for the warning lights, and we choose to go along with that. I’ve seen worse.
Anyway, we drive and we wait and we drive and we wait. Eventually we make it to Shkodër, where we eat at a strange restaurant that keeps bears and a lynx in a cage right next to the tables. It’s not unusual for road-side eateries in this region to use large and miserable animals in tiny cages to attract customers. This is one part of the world where McDonald’s actually could improve the situation, by a lot.
From Shkodër we cross into Montenegro.