Albania feels like a sci-fi dystopia in which the populace tries to survive in a world without health and safety legislation. Albania isn't a nanny state; it's a dangerously-unstable-uncle-with-a-gun state. But that's the reason to go. It all feels nicely mental. Every day will provide you with something just a little bit weird.
24th - 27th August 2012. It was hot. The temperature reached 39C.
Albania is an amazingly beautiful country although you don't have to get very high up before the hillsides start to feel desolate in a way that they don't in the countries that border it. A strange haze hung in the air from the Macedonian border to Elbasan. It was too early in the day for heat haze. It must have been pollution. Watch out for the dogs too!
There has recently been a road improvement programme, particularly for Albania's main roads, but many of them are still a bit ropey. You can still find stretches like this away from the bigger roads.
Albanians seem to thrive on danger. The main road north out of Tirana has the width and traffic of a British motorway but without any road markings or a central reservation. To add to the excitement, all the manhole covers had been stolen. One of the holes was large enough to lose a Mini and, obviously, there were no warnings of any kinds. Only a stuntman with a deathwish would want to travel at speeds faster than those of a pushbike.
The biggest problem is that the roads aren't up to the increasing traffic. The road below, about the width of a British country lane, is the main road from the city of Elbasan to Tirana. It's basically the country's M1.
Traffic is fast (where it can be) but, probably because you're an oddity on their roads, you'll get a wide berth. Drivers do like to give you an annoying blast of their horn before overtaking you.
I stayed at two hotels. A basic room in Tirana cost €20 whereas one in the Hotel Rozafa, a wonderfully concrete, communist monster in Shkoder, cost €15 and included breakfast.
Food was cheap and if you avoided the swish bit of Tirana - 'swish' is relative here - beer was cheap too. In a backstreet bar in Shkoder I paid €1.20 for a half litre of beer. From a takeaway across the road a whole roast chicken and a giant trayful of spuds - look, I was hungry, alright? - only came to €3.20.
In all likelihood you'll cycle through Albania in a few days and so it may not be worth the effort to learn much of the language. As Albania was formerly occupied by Mussolini, a useful fallback is Italian. It's certainly more useful here than English.
Curiosity, one-upmanship, cheap touring possibilities, your love of Norman Wisdom.
Please email your comments about this location to email@example.com.