Albania: Carving a Country of Contrast

Albania: Carving a Country of Contrast
There’s a man taking his bear for a walk. Traffic is a bit heavy and quite chaotic, but he doesn’t appear concerned. Drivers yield as if there is a codified rule of the road providing bears the right-of-way. This scene might seem unusual in Los Angeles or Munich, however this is Albania. Shkodër, to be specific. On day one of this fall tour, the country pulls back the curtain on “normal” and readies us for seeing other things a bit out of context.

With just under six inches of wheel travel front and rear, the Ducati Scrambler might seem an odd choice for an adventure motorcycle. Alongside the gargantuan Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro I’m testing on this same trip, one would almost expect to hear a resigned whimper of inferiority from the comparatively diminutive Scrambler. After thumbing the starters, however, both machines are at home in the foreign terrain. With an unusually slow, loping ignition sound, the engines hesitate before growling to life in a mere one or two revolutions. Any impression of hesitation disappears as soon as the clutches are dropped.

Sheep sound the same everywhere it seems – whether crowding a road in southern Albania, or across the Adriatic Sea in Italy.

For the next 2,408 miles, decades of heritage will roll together through the pristine pavement and sometimes brutal backcountry roads of Albania. Both the 803cc Scrambler and the Multistrada Enduro hold their ground, presenting new ways to appreciate what one wants out of adventure travel and the machines themselves.

Balkan Borders

With little more than a map and a desire to explore, our small group sets off from Germany for the starting point in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Along with Herbert and Ramona Schwarz of Touratech, we’re meeting videographer Marcel Manske at a campground near the old city, where tours are available to locations featured in the TV series Game of Thrones. Marcel drove a van filled with motorcycles and equipment from Germany to Croatia, while the rest of us arrived by air with just enough time to prepare the bikes for our departure into the unknown.

Crossing the border from Montenegro, differences in economics were immediately apparent. Horse-drawn carts were not uncommon on main streets.

With no specific destination in mind we begin the adventure and are almost immediately thrown into a series of border crossings, each more unexpected than the last. Scarcely six miles south of Dubrovnik, we reach the border of Bosnia. To Western ears, mention of this country can bring up thoughts of military conflict. Stopping for brunch at a picturesque roadside restaurant after the crossing and having a personable waiter recommend sensational local cheeses quickly corrects one’s opinion about the country. Almost as swiftly as we reach Bosnia, we leave to cross into Montenegro. With its seemingly endless coastal resorts and cities constantly offering hints of cosmopolitan flair, Montenegro is a place where the more you see, the more you want to see. After a long, winding, and sometimes congested ride along the Adriatic Sea, our group arrives at the Albanian border.