Van Life: Turkey, Albania & a Broken Fan Belt
After 6 amazing weeks working at the luxurious Peligoni Club in Greece and our last night in Zakynthos, we did what any sensible couple does. We had a quiet night and glass of wine with dinner, knowing we had to pack and drive ourselves 5 hours to Athens the next day… yeah fucking right! Tom and I downed shots, beers, wine, even Cafe Patron. Basically whatever was handed to us! Finishing our night with an unsuccessful skinny dip in the ocean made our last Zakynthos one to, well, not remember. It was time to return to van life and head to Athens, Turkey and Albania!
We said our goodbyes and sat ourselves in Betty, regretting last night’s decision as we sweat our tits off. We made it to the ferry port and both watched the time crawl by on the GPS, slowly getting us closer and closer to Athens where we could get into bed and rest our pounding heads. We were on the home stretch. After about 3.5 hours with only 1.5 hours to go, we could taste the can of ice cold Coke and a Netflix session waiting for us at the end of our drive.
Then, all of a sudden we hear a noise from the front of the van and we’re both instantly filled with dread. We both know something’s not right with our girl Betty. Initially we think it’s a flat tyre but then we realise it’s actually coming from under the bonnet. It’s the fucking fan belt!!! The old fan belt needed replacing and we missed it before we left and now we’re stuck on the side of a Greek motorway, with no phone credit, no road side assistance and a worst of all deathly hangover.
There were thin bits of the fan belt left hanging on by a thread, so we decide to try and make it to the next town, 15 minutes away. Thankfully we do. When we arrive, we feel so lucky as there are mechanics everywhere but, of course, being a Saturday evening everything is closed and obviously the next day being Sunday, nothing open either. Our small bit of luck just ran out.
We speak to a local Greek guy who runs the servo and he says we can get two trains to Athens and to leave it with him. He will try and order us in a new fan belt while we are in Turkey. So, we spend the night parked at Kiato train station car park and reluctantly leave Betty on her own for a week. We’ll deal with her problems when we’re back, but at least we’re not hungover anymore and we can still make our flight from Athens airport.
We spend the next week in Turkey, visiting spectacular Cappadocia. We stayed at Sultan Caves (£289 x 3 nights) and then went to Istanbul, staying at Seven Days Hotel (£139 4x nights). In Cappadocia I got lucky and floated up in one of the amazing hot air balloons for my birthday. On the other two mornings we got out of bed really early to get photos of the balloons rising at dawn but unfortunately bad weather had other ideas. So thankful that the one day they were able to operate while we were there, was my birthday. If you are going to Cappadocia, I would recommend staying at least three days so if there is bad weather you don’t miss out.
Once we arrived back in Kiato, we were relieved to see that Betty was still there and survived her week parked at the train station. We also saved the €60 that we were meant to pay for parking at Athens airport, but that money went towards the fan belt. Off to the mechanics and €80 later, she’s all fixed and handling like a Ferrari again.
Next, we drove across the Albanian border without a clue what we wanted to do or see there but we were intent on visiting somewhere we hadn’t been before. At the border we had to pay €49 for insurance as our car insurance (Downunder Insurance) doesn’t cover Albania. We decided we would use our first night to research Albania. However, as soon as we crossed the border, both our phone coverage (with 3) cut out, so we were without internet or even a GPS! So it was back to old fashioned ‘guessing where the hell we are going’ and just hoping everything works out.
Our first two nights in Albania we thankfully found a beautiful camp spot right on the water at Ksamil national park. Nearby there was a bar with wifi, so we spent the afternoons drinking beers, which were 250 LEK (£2.00) each and the campsite was €4 per night, which we didn’t pay as we took some photos of the owner’s bar in exchange for free accommodation.
After a relaxing two nights of reading, cooking and doing sweet fuck all, we drove 1 hour to the Blue Eye, another national park with a water spring that goes to an unknown depth. Divers have tried to explore it but have only ever made it to 50m down and had to return to the surface. We jumped into the hole and we were so shocked as the water is only around 10 degrees. It was still nice to wash off in some fresh water, the closest thing to a shower for a while for both of us. We spent the afternoon swimming and doing a bit more nothing.We drove to the Blue Eye, another national park with a water spring that goes to an unknown depth. Divers have tried to explore it but have only ever made it to 50m down and had to return to the surface. Click To Tweet
Then we let Google Maps lead the way, following our little blue dot in the direction of the coast. We drove through the middle of Albania up a huge mountain where it was just us and some goats. Keeping an eye on our location, we hoped to end up in Vlore on the coast. But after two hours of driving on skinny dirt roads more suitable to a 4×4 than a 14 year old shit box like ours, we stopped to ask some locals. They said it would take at least another 4 hours to get to Vlore as the roads are so bad.
Absolutely devastated, we turned Betty around to fight the same dirt roads, anxiously praying that she would survive her ride back down the mountain. Once we hit the slick tar of the proper roads again, we could almost feel Betty’s relief. After 5 hours, we arrived just outside Vlore. We spent the night here, relieved to be giving Betty a well deserved rest.
The next morning we drove 1 hour from Vlore to Gijpe beach, a part of the Albanian Riviera. There was a solid walk down the gravel road to the beach, where we were met by the ultimate hippy’s paradise. Beach bars, sun beds and a camp ground full of hungover people smoking weed in their hammocks. We had our fun for the day and walked back up the hill to spend the night in the car park, where Tom disappeared for an hour after helping change a car tyre for a local Albanian bar owner and came back smashed smelling of raki, disgusting!
With Tom feeling a little worse for wear after his night on raki with the locals, it was my turn to drive. We only made it 1 hour before I was sick of driving and we arrived in Dirhem. Dirhem is still part of the Albanian Riviera and is littered with really vibe’n beach bars along the turquoise water. We parked up and polished off a few £5 mojitos then ate lunch on the waterfront at Luciano’s Italian and Seafood Restaurant. We went hard. Seafood mixed grill, seafood linguine, pizza, bruschetta and beers and the bill only came to a cheap €24! Albania is fairly cheap and wild camping is allowed so it’s easy to find places to park for the night.
Albania really surprised us, it was cheap and the beaches were really pretty. I think we were lucky to come out alive though as the Albanians driving like absolute nut cases. They have no patience and are constantly beeping at you. Some of them have a death wish for sure! Some overtook us on cliff bends, all while they’re talking on their phone and smoking a cigarette with 4 extra passengers crammed in their car, none of whom are wearing seatbelts.
We’ve been lucky enough to have free camped the whole time in Albania, which helped save a bit of coin. However, not staying in camp grounds means no showers, no toilets and no washing machines. This leg of our trip was much better than driving from London as it’s actually been hot! So we’ve been swimming every day then just using beach showers when we can. You definitely get some weird looks washing your hair with shampoo and conditioner at the beach! Even weirder when washing a couple of pairs of your undies too… Ahh well, van life hey!!
After 7 days amazing days in Albania, we headed for the border crossing at Montenegro. I can’t wait to go back to Montenegro again and show Tom around.
Until the next adventure…
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