I’d almost decided to go to Kosovo before Albania purely because it seemed like a major hassle trying to get to Albania from Budva in Kosovo. While there’s a direct bus from Pristina [Kosovo] to Tirana, to get there from Budva [Montenegro] is far more of a challenge. Sure, you could pay through the teeth for a taxi or, in season, take a trip organised by one of the hostels. In December, however, trips don’t exist and taxis cost a lot of money when you’re travelling alone and on a budget.
I did some extensive online research [ie. copious amounts of googling] in the hopes of finding a magical bus that went from Budva to Tirana, or even Budva to Shkoder, without luck. I realised that I had no choice but the long way.
The long way is:
- An 8.00am bus to Ulcinj. The bus takes between 1.5 – 2 hours to Ulcinj
- A 12.30pm bus from Ulcinj to Shkoder, with a 2.5 – 3 hour wait at Ulcinj
- Find transport from Shkoder to Tirana. There are very regular buses apparently, and plenty of drivers offering rides [paid of course – there’s no free hitching in Albania apparently!]
The bus from Budva to Ulcinj was uneventful and unexciting, arriving in Ulcinj just before 10.00am. The only bus to Shkoder leaves at 12.30pm and when I arrived at Ulcinj I decided to just wait at the bus station due to the torrential rain outside. There is nothing interesting about Ulcinj bus station. It has a crappy cafe of the same quality I’ve come to expect in bus stations, and that’s it. It was incredibly boring waiting there for almost three hours, especially as the lady at the ticket office did not really want to sell me a ticket for the Shkoder bus, first telling me I couldn’t buy one and then, after I saw her sell a ticket for the same bus to a local couple, decided upon me re-requesting a ticket that she couldn’t sell me one because it was her lunch break. Which she spent…selling other people tickets. In the end I decided that I wasn’t moving until she sold me a ticket. I’m still not sure what the actual problem was – I’m guessing that she just doesn’t like foreigners as another traveller had the same problem while the lady happily sold tickets to Montenegrins.
The bus from Ulcinj to Shkoder was the most decrepit I’d seen in Montenegro and insisted on regularly ejecting toxic-smelling fumes into the bus. It wasn’t the most pleasant trip, but what I was most annoyed about was the fact that the Albanian Customs didn’t bother to give me a stamp in my passport. I’m always disappointed when I fail to receive a stamp, as well as a little nervous that it’s all a scam and they’re going to try to fine me on the way out for something out of my control – the bus driver hands the pile of passports to Customs and they’re never returned until the bus has driven off.
Now I’d heard that Albania is a country that has not yet heard of bus stations, so I was a little concerned about how to find a bus to Tirana when I got to Shkoder. I needn’t have worried too much – the bus dropped me off at a massive roundabout where the Tirana buses congregate. However, I didn’t have any Albanian Lek and when a bus driver approached me asking if I wanted to go to Tirana [by waving his arms in the air and shouting ‘Tirana!’ at me] I explained I needed to go to the bank first. He said ‘I wait you’ however by the time I got some cash and crossed the road again the bus had left! Luckily I hadn’t put my bag in there!
A woman approached me and asked, hesitantly, if I was going to Tirana. When I said yes, she took me to a car and opened the boot so I could put my bag in there. Ten minutes later, when the driver had acquired a few more passengers and the car was full, we left. I might have preferred the bus – it was a pretty tight squeeze in the car, but it was also about fifty years younger than the bus which should give it a few points. A couple of hours later, the car pulled up at a roundabout somewhere in Tirana and it was time to get out. Handing the driver 300 lek [about $3], I was now left to figure out where on earth I was, with a little more precision than ‘Tirana’. My giant Eastern Europe guidebook/paperweight wasn’t very helpful as I didn’t have a clue where I was and there were no street signs around. In the end I just asked people where the main square was and headed in that direction in the rain. I probably should have just taken a taxi, but because I didn’t know where I was [see my logic?] I figured I’d be ripped off and that therefore it would be better to walk.
It was a half-hour walk to Skanderbeg Square, and then about twenty-five minutes from there to the hostel. I found out later that, had I a decent map and a clue where the hostel was other than ‘just past Alpet petrol station’, I could have taken quite a shortcut and saved myself about 3km of walking. Also, it might have been worth paying a couple hundred lek for a taxi and not arrived soaking wet. Apparently I can be stubborn about some things, and once I’ve decided that I’ll walk I’m damn well going to keep walking until I’ve worked out where the hell I am, and then where the hell I’m going.
I like to think of my walk as well and truly earning the two delicious kebabs I ate for dinner. That was probably the best thing about Tirana, which is a decidedly bland city in winter – Ali Baba’s kebab shop five minutes from the hostel. I ate there three times in three days and damnit now I’m suffering serious cravings for a kebab!
I would have liked to have had more time in Albania, however I was in a bit of a hurry as my Mum had decided to meet me in Turkey, and I had four countries to get through before I’d hit Turkey and only ten days in which to do so. It’s a country I’d like to visit again someday – not top of the list, but on there.