The Trouble with Borders…

Albania. Before we embarked on our lengthy trip to the Peloponnese I spent some time googling Albania van travel. The results were mixed; some professing horror at the very idea, others eulogising about the wonders of the country. So I was none the wiser.

One of the difficulties we anticipated was insurance. It appeared that we’d not be covered by our own company, or indeed any conventional motor insurance company. But others had obviously managed somehow. This was our preferred route to the Greek mainland, having looked at other ways.

We crossed Montenegro with just one overnight stop [as described last in week’s post]. The landscapes, once outside the town of Budva There was a tiny vehicle ferry crossing to cut across a bay, which was fun and then a great deal of marshy land. Montenegro is a small country.

Then we arrived at the border ro Albania. And here we became tangled in a giant melee of every kind of vehicle waiting to cross. Lorries, cars and everything else. It was hot. We’d no idea how to proceed, or what we needed to get into Albania, neither did we speak any Albanian- not being a language one employs all that often.

After some time, a couple of men approached our open wndow and addressed us in broken English, the younger one sporting a lanyard bearing a card, which at least lent some semblance of authority. Were they officials? The only clue was the lanyard, which could have come from anywhere. While we could understand little we did get the part about paying 50 euros, which came across loud and clear. We had no Albanian currency. We did have 50 euros. The choices were to go back, to stay put or to pay the euros.

After handing over the cash, we waited again, convinced we’d seen the end of the euros, but after a long, hot interval we were presented with a certificate- very official looking and with a shiny gold stamp. This, then was our insurance! But we still had to negotiate passport control, where a stern official in a booth waited. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all the years of travel, it’s DO NOT JOKE, SNIGGER or MAKE SILLY REMARKS when going through passport control. Keep a neutral expression and be obsequious- which we did, and gained entry to Albania.

The roads were fine- better than when we’d done our day trip from Corfu. On the dual carriageway there were horses and carts among the vehicles but on the whole it was quiet. We found our campsite, glad to stop after a long, hot day of travel. We turned into the camping field and were greeted by a smiling teenager bearing a tray with iced coffees. Welcome drinks! This was a first! The campsite was excellent and boasted everything we needed, pitches draped for shade, well appointed showers and a washing machine. While it wasn’t busy we weren’t alone- several other foreigners had made it to the site.

Though we were keen to scoot on to the Greek border, the occupants of a neighbouring pitch told us we should not leave without seeing Berat, the local town, which we duly did, setting off and driving around, taking a look. It is indeed a picturesque and characterful place. But we had no wish to spend too long and soon we were heading off in the direction the SATnav instructed us to go. But the road Mrs Garmin wanted to take did not exist. We tried. We drove around…and around. I got out and showed some locals a map, upon which they shrugged and shook their heads. Albania is not well served by satellite mapping.

In the end we back-tracked a long way and found a fast motorway all the way to the Greek border- so we got there! But if we did it again we’d take a ferry from Italy!

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

Van Talk Again…

Continuing the history of Lessageing campervans…

Our current campervan, a Fiat Ducato, is now longer new- either in terms of age or miles, and of course in recent times there has been a veritable explosion of brand new, shiny motorhomes as people took to van trips instead of the cruises and villas they could not book. Acknowledging this, we like to call it a ‘Vandemic’, and the newbie owners, ‘Pan-vanners’ and although we’ve met and chatted to many who are new to this way of travel we harbour hopes that in due time they’ll go back to their package holidays and cruise liners, perhaps even leaving a plethora of slightly used travel wagons in their wake.

But before all this, and after our thrilling Italian Odyssey [previously described], Husband set to on another ambitious plan, to drive to the Peloponnese. This would be via France, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro and Albania. Thus far we’d camped in Croatia, but had gone no further than Dubrovnik, so it felt intrepid to be undertaking such a trip. I’ve described this adventure previously, episode by episode, but haven’t ever fully explained how a piece of independent travel like this can be.

Not all of the countries we crossed are as developed in terms of camp sites, roads, services and facilities as the more familiar ones. Not all of them were easy to insure for, either, as you can read next week! Croatia’s roads had improved a great deal since out first foray with a tent and the sites were more established and widespread. Montenegro, however, the tiny country between Croatia and Albania, provided more difficulty. We wanted to see Budva, hailed by the guide books as a kind of ‘mini-Dubrovnik’ but could find no sites or stopovers near to the town. I pursued the search, eventually, on a German travel website finding a possible place off a backstreet several roads away from the front.

Using the satnav coordinates we circled the supposed site, unitl I spotted what may have been a corner of a caravan roof, which we headed towards. Through a narrow gateway and up a rutted track, past a smouldering bonfire we came to a halt, the only sign of life a few heedless people further up inside the supposed ‘site’. I went to inspect what looked like a shower block, which turned out to have been one once, but leaves had blown in and it seemed disused. After a while a gentleman turned up on a moped; the owner, gesticulating and apologising. They were closed, but we could stay, which we did.

The old, walled town of Budva is interesting and historic, although it does not in any way compete with Dubrovnik. We went to look, then walked along the seafront, attractive enough, lined with restaurants and bars. We chose one and had a creditable meal, then returned to the strange, ‘closed’ campsite and spent the night there. Nothing untoward happened inside the locked site gates, despite misgivings over the security of the place.

We left in the morning and prepared ourselves for the next challenge, to cross into and over Albania…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsendis now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishingand many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook:(1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

The Wild Frontier

Last time we made the long trek to Croatia we were still using a tent, which means it was very many years ago. It seemed intrepid then, to go so far; but although the roads were basic the camp sites were beautiful, the people welcoming and the produce wonderful.

There are still hundreds of roadside stalls selling local fruit and vegetables and home-made concoctions but Croatia has developed a great deal since our previous visit, with efficient roads, signs and facilities in abundance. Having previously stayed on a few islands and seen Dubrovnik we chose to go to the Unesco site of Plitvicka, an area of outstanding natural beauty with lakes and waterfalls. At this time of year, with the snow-melt water cascading down everywhere under a faultless blue sky it was spectacular, exceeding all expectations and only marred [as the day grew later] by the hoards of selfie-takers, tablet-snappers and those who consider themselves ‘serious’ photographers in that they must use a tripod for every shot. There were also, near the end of our chosen trail a number of coach parties, mainly Japanese-some of whom had chosen to wear face-masks for their day out, an inexplicable sight in the pristine environment of Plitvicka.

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Next day we were off early, continuing through the inland part of the country which is quiet and beautiful, a backdrop of mountains and occasional lakes but precious little tourism. All tourists want Croatia’s coast [which, to be fair is dramatic and beautiful, too]. Then we were back on the coastal highway ourselves, spending our last night in Croatia in a small, seaside village and enjoying an uproarious evening with another British couple, sitting outside by the Adriatic, the sound of the waves an accompaniment.

We sped off again in the morning, south towards Montenegro, a new country for us. At the border we bought our obligatory motor insurance-fifteen euros for a scruffy scrap of paper-, made deferential noises at the officials and set off towards Budva, whose alleged reputation as a mini version of Dubrovnik is a little exaggerated. In all of the books, websites and information that we’ve amassed there are no places whatsoever mentioned in Montenegro so all we had was a dubious site I’d discovered on the internet somewhere around the back of town, the location of which we’d programmed into Mrs Tom-Tom with more hope than confidence.

‘700mtrs’ said Mrs Tom-Tom as we stopped in the first car park we found. 700 meters to the camp? In the midst of the city?

We drove towards it. I spotted the edge of a caravan between the houses of the street. We drove round the corner and through a gateway and parked under the olive trees. Yes, it was basic. No, not everyone would have wanted to use the shower [although it was clean]. But it was a twenty minute walk from the old, walled town of Budva and best of all it was safe and secure.

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While Budva cannot hope to compete with Dubrovnik it is nevertheless a pleasant and attractive old town. having strolled through the narrow alleyways and visited the ‘Citadela’ we found a seaside bar, bought a beer and sat to watch Budva’s population enjoying the evening sun. What would our next day’s travel involve? I’d read enough about the perils of Albanian roads to give me nightmares! We were about to discover it for ourselves…