English The weather in Sarande

By car from Tirana to Sarande
From the 10th till the 14th of December 2004 we went with 4 people for business to Sarande. Because of our experience with the boat from Corfu to Sarande in December 2002 (see www.nwotsok.nl/albanie/engels) we choose for a flight to Tirana with a stop in Milano. From there we would go by car to Sarande. The connection in Milano was enough on paper (almost one hour), but in practice the check of the hand-luggage at the transfer-flights took a lot of time. At first there were only 2 of the 3 check-gates operational and there were at least 150 people waiting. Probably the detectors were adjusted too sensible, because I (and a lot of people with me) never had to undress that much: we had to take off watch, belt and shoes with some metal eyes before the gate didn't make a sound anymore. This all took us about 50 minutes.

At the airport of Tirana the luggage was checked again, but now everything was ok. After paying the usual 10 euro we were allowed to enter Albania. Out-site there was waiting a crowd of taxi-drivers who offered us their services. We were picked up by a brother of my son-in-law Tani who lives in Tirana.

You may expect that the road from the airport tot the capitol is in good condition, but far from that. First we passed some picturesque bridges en small roads you can expect during a trip in the country-side. That we came at a more wider road that leads us to Tirana. The condition of this road was mostly acceptable, but especially the first part close to the airport was bad till terrible.
A wide 4-lane road leads us into Tirana. Was it 4-lane or 8-lane? Everywhere there was some space cars were creating lanes. Almost everywhere they are fixing the main roads in Tirana. Please add to this situation a single accident and you create a traffic-chaos you can't imagine. The 25 kilometres from the airport to our hotel took us almost 1½ hour.

After we have put our luggage on our rooms we went into the centre to have some food and something to drink. I have never seen a more colourful city as Tirana (for pictures look at the site about Tirana). It is a city where they have already fixed a lot of things, but were there are also a lot of things that have to be fixed. The traffic is very hectic and for sure at the Skanderbeg-square it looks (and is) chaotic.
The view of the city, especially the shops and restaurants, is modern. Dust (from all the construction-areas) and the exhaust-gasses of the cars (99,9% use diesel) gives you the feeling you must not stay here for a longer period. It looks as there is a fog constantly.

After a good and cheap meal we passed by at a friend of Tani who owns a bar in the centre. After several metaxa and some champagne we went to the hotel because we wanted to be out of Tirane before the morning-traffic.
At 7.30 am we hit the road. I was allowed to use the mercedes of Tani's brother for a couple of days. It became my first real experience with the Albanian roads. At another occasion I have been driving in Sarande, but that was a piece of cake comparing with the 280 kilometres and almost 8 hour lasting journey.
Beside about 30 kilometres around Kavajë and Gjirokastër where they fixed a new road the rest is in a moderate to sometimes very bad condition. You don't have time to enjoy the beautiful environment. Every second you have to assess the road in front of you: is the bumpiness in such a way you can drive through it; is it a pothole and if so is there some space on the right side to pass it; is there is no such space can I pull out to the left and are there no meeting vessels at that moment or is there nobody who is taking over you as a kamikaze-pilot; i I can't pull out can I hit the breaks (from 45 km/h till sometimes 0 km/h) without the chance of somebody hitting you from behind?
Sometimes you have to make a decision in a split-second. Also in the mountains with the winding roads you have pieces of new asphalt for a couple of hundred meters. Be aware that after a corner this beautiful piece of asphalt stops and become a pothole of 10 cm deep, 20 cm wide and sometimes half a meter long.
No need to say that after the ride I was exhausted and my shoulders were hurting because you keep hold of the steering-wheel in a different way you are used to. Anyway after some time you are developing a six sense that warns you when there is a bad road-condition coming up.
When you drive in Tirana the main-road is in a good condition most of the time. Please pay attention to the fact that sometimes lids in the road are completely missing!! If you drive in ……..

In spite of the inconvenience it was an experience I didn't want to miss. You have to be driving alert at a low speed and get more admiration for the quality of mecedes. I was also surprised by the great tolerance most of the road-users showed. If a car overtakes an other car at a very unsurveyable place and there is a meeting vessel coming, that vessel slows down and waits until that other car wents back to its own lane. No light-signals, no blowing of the horn and certainly no gestures with hand or finger.

Never the less there are a lot of accidents at this road. Especially where the asphalt is in a good condition a lot of Albanian drivers want to push their car to the limit and often they don't do this in a responsible way. They loose control of the wheel of they under-estimate the speed of meeting vessels.

The road from Tirana to Sarande has one advantage: there are hardly any cross-roads so you can't get lost because signposts aren't present everywhere. I expect that a big part of this road will be fixed every year, because they are working hard. A good road-system is necessary for this country.

(click on photo to enlarge)
Some impressions of the environment during the trip
You can find this kind of road surface on the main-road Tirana-Sarande