Albania to Kosovo – In Detail

The timeline to yesterday’s photo-story.

5:10 The alarm goes off. Not feeling fully rested but not totally destroyed either

6:10 A minibus (I’m starting to dread these) picks me and a fellow traveller up at the hostel. For the next fifteen minutes the driver makes his route through the city, picking up two or three more passengers.

The city reminds me of Southeast Asia. It’s the way the buildings look, the small shops, the businesses using half the the sidewalk to display their merchandise or perform their trade.

6:25 We’ve left the city behind. Landscape and buildings still look a lot like in Thailand and its neighbouring countries, albeit the vegetation is less tropical. Fortunately the driving is very different as well. The minibus is piloted in a calm, responsible way. Donkey carts on the road are overtaken with a safe distance, not honked out of the way.

6:55 Station at Vau I Dejes. The driver waits for more passengers. My companion tries the Albanian morning drink: Rakia. Apparently totally common around here.

Ten minutes later we are rolling again and now the street starts winding up into the mountains. It is one of those bumpy, potholed roads that brought me so much joy during the last couple of weeks.

8:15 Coming out of a short tunnel, we are suddenly in the middle of the ferry “port”. The area is lined by a handful of cafes and restaurants and completely jammed with cars that either want to get on the ferry or pick up passengers for the way back into town.

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9:10 Departure. The scenery is amazing and the morning light is just perfect. This IS the most scenic ferry ride I’ve ever been on.

10:45 Nap time, didn’t get that much sleep last night. Everybody on the ferry is outside, leaving the inside rows of seats empty.

11:45 I’m asking other passengers for onward directions to Pristina. No clear information is to be had but I’m assured that “something always works”. Cool.

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12:15 Approaching the landing point.

12:35 After getting off the ferry, a dodgy looking guy offers a ride in his car into town. We opt for a minibus instead and save 100 Lek and possibly some trouble.

So far all is going well. It’s a little adventure but it’s relaxed. The sun is shining and we have ample time.

13:30 We arrive in Barjam Curri and learn that all buses to Kosovo left in the morning. That seems to be common but our host in Skadar was either unaware of it or didn’t seem to find it an important piece of information when he recommended this trip.

We are being offered seats on a minibus to Tirana (going via Kosovo) but we’d have to pay for the full trip. Another traveller comes along and we all sit in the same boat. Not sure about whether we are being ripped off, we ask other locals.

Nobody speaks English but German does the trick. After a fifteen minute bargaining session we have a deal. Five Euros a head for “aisle seats”. Sucks but we don’t have a choice.

14:30 Timely departure. The vehicle looks like something a pimp would drive and the radio is playing the “Balkan top 100 atrocities”. I’m sitting on a plastic stool in the aisle. Not a minute later a loud bang announces that the driver forgot to shut the luggage compartment. My bag is somewhere on the road behind us and brought after us in a hurry. I’m ready to bang my head against the next wall. Fortunately there is none.

16:10 After a 90 minute ride in a cramped minibus with failing aircon, we are dropped off at the side of the road and have to wait for a local bus into Prizren. In hindsight it would have been better, easier and faster to go via Djakova. Oh well.

16:25 A real bus! Big! With air conditioning!

16:40 The ride was nice but short. At the Prizren bus station there isn’t even time to take a piss, the bus to Pristina is leaving that very minute.

18:30 Bus station Pristina. Arguing with an unlicensed cab driver about how big a rip-off is appropriate. For five Euros he does the trip to the hostel. Hostel is nice and clean, beds are comfortable.

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20:00 or so. Amazingly good food. Meze plate and falafel. People on the Balkans have no clue how to use herbs or spices, but these guys do. Best meal I had in weeks!

Albania

Having spent a little more time in Montenegro than initially anticipated, I had to check for alternative ways to get to Thessaloniki (flying out on the 7th). One option would have been a flight from Podgorica but that would have taken 5-6 hours with a stopover in Belgrade. Not too tempting.

In Ulcinj I learned that a lot of people from Kosovo come to the city on vacation and because of that, regular bus connections are available. Takes 5-6 hours which is not pleasant but bearable.

Before jumping onto that option, I wanted to have a look across the border. Albania has been described as the most unorganised and least developed countries in the Balkans. Can’t really be worse than Cambodia, can it?

The bus to the town of Skadar, which is just behind the border, left at around noon and for the first half hour went along a rather narrow country road.

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Closer to the border the road improved and after a 30 minute stop to check everybody’s passports, the bus rolled into Albania. The hostel was kind enough to provide a pick-up from the bus station. It is quite an unusual hostel, a house in a residential area about 1.5km outside the city centre.

There aren’t many guest staying and I spent the evening playing the guitar on the porch (it’s been a month since I played!).

Exploring the city today revealed a freshly painted pedestrian area lined with cafes and bars. Most buildings are in really good shape, although some seem to lack substance.

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The cafes were populated almost exclusively by men. Made the city look like one big sausage fest. For some reason most of the guys make an effort to look extra dodgy, don’t really know why.

Tomorrow I’m off to take a ferry across Lake Koman – said to be one of the must-sees in Albania, and hopefully reach either Pristina or Prizren by the evening.