13 May 2011

Need a new TV remote? [Albania]

The crossing from Macedonia to Albania is a little difficult, at least in the south where I was. So my new friend David (a Canadian guy I met in Ohrid) and I got an early start. We first made our way to the bus stop where we would catch a bus to the border. While at the bus stop we were getting hassled by these taxi drivers. They were only wanting LEK 300 (about €5) to take us both to the border, and the bus was going to cost LEK 220. In the end we talked them down to LEK 250 and jumped in. They have an ingenious way of making cash, though, as they fill the car with other passengers... there were six in the tiny taxi we took, all paying individual pre-agreed fares. Nice work, taxi man!

We arrived at the Macedonia boarder and wandered through. On the Albanian side we needed to get to Pogradeci to get a bus to Tirana - the capital of Albania. Pogradeci is about 7kms from the border, so walkable, but it would have taken a while. We had thought about hitching, but there were literally no cars coming through the border. After having our passports stamped we saw one of the officers going to get into a van. We strolled up and asked if he was going to Pogradeci. Sure enough, he was, but it was going to cost us €5 - everyone is out to make a buck! We jumped on in.

The officer dropped us at the bus station, where we were immediately accosted by two different bus drivers trying to get us on their bus. Seriously, they were grabbing and pulling us toward their buses. I looked the guy in the eye and said 'don't ****ing touch me!'... He got the message. We quickly learned that Albania does not really have a scheduled bus service. Instead there are mini-vans that run everywhere. They run to no schedule, and just leave when they are full. We had no cash on us, so tried to get away from the extremely persistent bus drivers to find an ATM. Thankfully we were saved by a little old lady that led us to the nearest bank. Just as we walked up to the ATM, you wouldn't believe it, but one of the drivers had bought his van around and was standing there waiting for us! Finally we agreed to go with him. After we were in the van he drove back around to the station, left us there, and went away to find more victims to fill up the empty seats.

The ride was really nice, even though the condition of the road was a little under-par at times. But the beautiful Albanian countryside made up for it. We arrived in Tirana early afternoon, and I said goodbye to David, as I had a CouchSurfing host, and he was staying at a hostel. But we made a plan to meet up the following day to travel to Berat together.

I met up with my host, Klid, an extremely trusting Albanian guy. It was actually crazy - he gave me the keys to his extremely nice apartment then said goodbye - I'll see you about midnight when I get home. I spent the afternoon wandering around Tirana. To be honest, there are not a lot of 'must see's' in Tirana, but it is a really nice city to just walk around. Unfortunately most of the center is under construction at the moment, but outside that is really beautiful. The city is literally full of trees and grassy areas, cafes and bars. A lot of the apartment buildings have been painted in bright colors and crazy patterns. This has all happened in the last 10 years, as the mayor (Edi Rama) decided the city was too grey and dull. The city has gone under a controversial change, many seem to love it, but some of the locals despise the colour. I guess they see it as tacky and without character. I personally think it is awesome! But I guess I don't have to look at it every day...

I made a few random observations while walking around... First off, the woman are beautiful! Seriously... And they are all very 'well presented' - dressed nicely, high heels, makeup, the works. Another thing - the people seem very touchy-feely. Everywhere I went I saw people holding hands or linked arms. And I am not talking about couples here... most surprisingly a lot of guys were walking around together. And one final observation about Tirana... most places you go there are people selling things on the footpath. Fake sunglasses, watches, umbrellas, stolen cell phones, crappy souvenirs etc. Here they have most of those things too, but I also noticed a lot of men sitting there selling remotes... like TV remotes. They had piles of them sitting in a box infront of them. Now I don't know about you, but personally I have never needed to buy a new remote in my life. Sure, I can see that sometimes your remote might break or might get lost, but I just cannot see how the demand for new remotes can justify the three or four guys I saw sitting around the city selling them on the footpath.

I was planning to head to Berat while in Albania, apparently one of the most beautiful places in Albania. There is an old fortress there overlooking the old mid evil town, apparently quite picturesque... But on the day I was planning to go it was pouring with rain. Rather than waste a day sitting around in Tirana, I decided to cut my losses and head to Montenegro. The trip there was an adventure in itself. The first hurdle was getting to the bus station - which I only had a vague idea where it was... I just waited at the bus stop down from Klid's house until a bus came along. Communication was very difficult, but I managed to get across that I wanted to go to the bus station. They told me to jump on, and I was on my way. The ride was a little concerning, as a few times it felt as though we were going in the complete wrong direction, but after 30 minutes or so we arrived. And the guy didn't even charge me!

I then had to get to Shkoder, a town just before the border into Montenegro. Just as I was walking down the road to the bus stop, I saw a bus with 'Shkoder' written on the front. I managed to flag it down and jumped on. After a few hours I arrived and attempted to find a way across the border. There were a whole lot of taxi drivers that kept trying to get me to go with them for €25, one I talked to for a good 10 minutes. At first he kept telling me that the buses weren't running because it was off season. I had the name of a tourist agency that sold tickets - I had visited the agency earlier (and they were unable to help me), but he kept trying to tell me it was closed... Uhhh, but I just went there 10 minutes ago? Anyway, after a while he knew that I saw straight through all his bullshit and gave me all the information I needed about the buses. It was 2pm and the next one left at 4.

While wandering around a guy came up to me and said he was running a shared taxi across the border - and would take me for €5. Even better he was leaving in 30 minutes. So I jumped in with a three other locals and we were off.

I arrived into Ulcinj, a small town just over the border, about an hour later and tried to get a bus to Kotor. There were no buses direct, so I had to get a bus to Budva and change. The journey into Kotor was unbelievable. This whole area is spectacular - the mountains, rivers, forrests... Anyway, more about that soon...

To be honest, the last few days have been some of the best. I love the fact that this area is not as touristed as other parts of Europe. There are no direct bus routes, the locals aren't used to seeing tourists, the crazy border crossings, the taxi drivers who lie through their teeth. And the fact that trying to get from one place to another is a huge adventure. Western Europe is just too easy. And besides that, I think I feel more safe here than in Barcelona or Paris or any of the other large Western or Central European cities.

1 comment:

  1. I really liked your post, especially the last sentence! Many Western Europeans look to the Balkans as something beteween Iraq and Afganistan (in terms of personal security)...


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