Renting a car in Tirana
Matt, Abi and I had discussed the idea of renting a car in Tirana and taking it through Macedonia and Kosovo, then returning it to Albania before heading North to Montenegro by other means.
I arrived in Tirana from Sarande, and the hostel I was staying at had a partnership with a local rental company. My first night in Tirana was quiet. I walked down to the main square where there was a concert on, then grabbed some dinner and went back to the hostel and to bed.
The next night Matt and Abi arrived, so the three of us went for a walk around town, with me nearly fainting en route. We agreed to try to rent a car at my hostel the next morning.
A rep from the rental company (who Matt nicknamed Rimjob after discussing the cars rims) came to meet us at the hostel and discuss the arrangement. We rented the car for one week, for approx 26 Euros per day. He also took us in our Ford Fiesta to a shop to buy the mandatory insurance for Macedonia (40Euros) and with that, we were on our way. Matt was driving as I tried to navigate us out of Tirana – what a nightmare. Many of the roads in Tirana were completely blocked or still under construction!
Lake Ohrid, Macedonia
Finally, after a few detours we were on the open road, heading for Lake Ohrid which straddles the border between Albania and Macedonia.
We had no trouble crossing the border, and soon found ourselves arriving in Ohrid, where we made it to Sunshine Backpackers, which had been recommended to us a few times. They only had one bed, so I took that and Matt and Abi stayed in a guesthouse nearby.
The hostel itself was really social, and a lot of people there had intended on staying only a few nights but after one week or one month still hadn’t left. Considering this atmosphere and the beauty of the old town and the lake, it was easy to understand why.
While I was at the hostel, another Australian arrived, and he seemed really familiar. We worked out that we were probably at Hanoi Central Backpackers hostel at the same time in January.
The first night Matt and Abi and I joined everyone in the backyard drinking before going out into the town, which was pretty quiet (apart from our group).
The next day, two others from the hostel – Felipe & Ed – and I went down to a cool bar on the lake called Cuba Libre. It had a pier which Ed and I made full use of by going into the freezing cold water for less than a minute! The water was incredible clear though.
We were back at the hostel again that night, and Matt, Abi and I recruited Marieke from Holland to join us for the drive to Kosovo, via Mavrovo National Park in Macedonia.
The next morning, we left around 8.30-9am and decided to visit the monastery on the opposite side of the lake. We finished up at the monastery just before lunch, so got some food from one of the restaurants there. I ordered the hamburger, and halfway through, found a hair embedded in the meat patty – Gross! They offered to replace it, but I got it refunded instead.
Mavrovo National Park, Macedonia
We took off for Mavrovo National Park, where we had decided to spend one night to see some of the more inaccessible Macedonia. The scenery was beautiful, we followed the river and wound through the valley right up until a roadblock, where roadworks had ground traffic to a complete halt. We were told it would take one hour until we could continue – which meant turning around and taking a detour would be just as quick, but feel more productive. We waited, and after the hour we were allowed through, so I think it was the right decision – though not unanimous.
We entered the National Park, and after some difficulty found our guesthouse in a tiny Macedonian Ski Village. There was no shops except for one restaurant, where we ate our meals. In the morning we did some exploring around the area, first to the Ski Area where a cave entry was locked, then to an abandoned church that had been destroyed by the dam.
Going to Kosovo
Next we went for a drive, backtracking from yesterday to a really cool waterfall up in the mountains. Then we made a beeline for Prizren in Kosovo, winding through small villages and mountain passes (so not a beeline). The road we used led us through winding mountains to a little used secondary border crossing. We were again through in a short time and the winding roads continued through to the small city of Prizren.
We found a nice little hostel there, and Prizren was a nice little city, but one night was enough and we moved on to Peja in the morning, leaving Marieke behind – she was heading to Bulgaria through Pristina and Skopje. Before we left Prizren, I got my iPhone screen fixed for only 20 Euros, which I thought was a bargain. I’ve since realised that they must have used cheap material to repair it because the screen’s touch sensitivity is completely out of whack!
Peja town was similar to Prizren, but we used the time to explore the national park around the town. We had two nights here, so dedicated our full day to driving and hiking up to a lake straddling the border of Kosovo and Montenegro. There was no border to speak of, but maps.me showed that we crossed into Montenegro several times. I took some food for the hike and had a nice little picnic by the lake.
As we wound back down through the canyon towards Peja, Matt spotted a turtle on the road, so stopped the car and I jumped out and rescued him by moving him off the road.
Returning to Albania
We made a deal with the rental company to return the car to Shkoder, near the Montenegrin border, rather than Tirana for 50 Euros. We arrived in Shkoder around midday, had to wait 45 minutes for the pickup, but once that was done Matt & Abi and I went our seperate ways. I stayed in Shkoder for one night, and got the bus to Kotor in Montenegro the next day.