Rose early and caught the 8 am 27 seater bus from Kotor to Tirana. A pleasant little 6 hour journey that starts on the Montenegro coastline before heading inland to Pogdorica and then south to the crossing into Albania at Hani Hoti and onwards to Tirana . The open stanza of the trip afforded those of us on the right side of the bus some great coastline views.
The water, mirror like calm, was that crystal clear inviting translucent green / blue colour you often see in tourist brochures and think to yourself it must be photo shopped. This was very much au natural .
Afer leaving Kotor we stopped briefly in Budva which is 20 km down the road to pick up additonal passengers before heading onwards. Almost 1.5 hours into the trip the German couple sitting opposite me who had got on at Budva thinking they we’re going to Kotor for a day trip realised they were on the wrong bus. Next stop was Podgorica another hour away where they would have to get on a bus to take them 2.5 hours back from where they had just come. I don’t speak or understand German but body language is international and given wifeys clenched jaw and folded arms me thinks hubby got hell to pay for later. As the Aussie couple from Darwin said to me when they had alighted in his broad Australian accent “ Coulda been worse. We coulda been an express bus to Tirana” . Fair point too.
Crossing into Albania you immediately know your in a different country. It is supposedly Europe’s 3 rd poorest nation and it shows right at the border. Everything looked very impoverished and there is a grittiness to it.
Pulling out a camera at any border control always seems fraught with risk let alone the Albanian one. But if I pretend to be texting ....
The Greeks, Romans , Turks , Italians , and even the Germans (a protectorate) have all had a crack of owning what is now called Albania before the Socialists grabbed control in 1944. It was the last communist state to fall after the iron curtain came down in the early 1990’s and once the Socialists had taken leave it was decalred a Democratic republic.
The sector is a runaway leader in contributing to the GDP and yet despite its impoverished state it still ranks 37th in the world in life expectancy. The currency is the Lek and there’s 150 of those to every British Pound. You can’t exchange Lek offshore so don’t be cashing up with them my mandolin / harmonica playing street performer from Maine USA and now fellow passenger and apparent new best friend told me as we passed into Albania.
As we headed south along the national “highway” the views were of very fertile land being cultivated for basic vegetables and crops. To the east was a very high grey rocky mountain range and yet our road was endlessly flat. We passed the ubiquitous man and mule with cart on more than one occasion and everything had a 3 rd world feel to it . We also passed on many occasions people waking alongside the “highway “ enroute to somewhere but clearly not able to pay for even a local bus.
Passsing through small towns this view about sums it up best. A woman had pegged clothes for sale onto the perimeter fence of an abandoned modern business building that was half finished. Between her and the road were commercial rubbish bins.
On a lighter note this is a hotel at Tirana Airport.
After the impoverished nature of the countryside the approach to Tirana City Centre is along a very new stretch of dual carriage way adorned with street lighting every 20 metres. A contrast for sure.
Tirana’s epicentre is Skanderberg Square. Named after the Albanian National Hero Gjergj Kastrioti Skenderbeu . A wander around the square at sunset revealed a statue of Greg (sic) on his horse, two magnicent looking communist era buildings (Opera House and Historic History Museum) a Mosque and around the corner an Albanian Orthodox Church with stunning bronze doors and a magnificent fresco on its ceiling .
Greg atop his horse
Albanian Orthodox Church entrance
Inside said church
I have been in Albania but 7 hours yet I have noticed that all Albanian men have two things in common with each other.
1. They have perfected the 4 day dark face stubble to perfection.
2. They have “that stare”. It’s the sort of stare that looks right through you. It could be mistaken for one of hostiltiy or dislike. It’s dawned on me however it’s none of the above. It’s a stare of incredulity that says
“ Are you nuts? I am trying to get out of this country and you’re visiting it? “ .