Tirana, Durres and Korça

Trip Start Jan 08, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Albania  ,
Saturday, August 13, 2005

It seemed to take a life time for the chaining Serbs and Bosnians to be processed in front of us. I was so excited that I had walked across the border and I wanted my reward - another stamp in the passport! We handed over 10 euros each (free if you stay only 1 day!) and walked away. The closest town was Pogradec, 6km away. Some clown offered us a taxi for 10 euros but we just laughed at him. We found a cheapie a little further down the road.

There were loads of these cement mushrooms all over the place. Kids were jumping from them into the sea and they were in random places in fields. Apparently the last president of Albania was reeeeeeally paranoid about invasion.

Without our Lonely Planet we were travelling blind now. No map. We asked around and found that we could get a mini bus to Tirana then on to Duress from there. So off we went. The journey was really long but the scenery spectacular. We basically had to cross the country to get to Duress and over the mountain ranges. There were plenty of headstones along the road sides (complete with photos of the victims in there better days) to remind me that we were travelling along curling, winding mountain roads. There were loads and loads of cement mushrooms all over the place. Big ones and little ones. David missed most of it - he dropped off to sleep almost immediately. Coming down the mountain there must have been a spring because there were loads of stalls with taps running and drinks being kept cold in the constantly flowing water. Coming from South Australia where we almost always had droughts when I was growing up, water conservation is in your face from a small age. All I wanted to do was get out and turn all the taps off. Then down the next curve, to my horror, were boys with hoses running and squirting in the air! Lots of them advertising car washing. What a waste!!!

I wanted to look at my border stamp so started thumbing through my passport. A second time through revealed nothing. What was this!!! What was the 10 euros for! Bugger! I wanted my stamp! All I had to prove I had visited Albania so far was a bloody receipt! I woke David up and of course he had handed his over first and had a stamp. Bastard. The exit would be my only chance.

Eventually we made it to Tirana the capital and had to pick up another form of transport to get to our Durres on the coast. The very nice mini bus driver took us to a spot on a main road and waited with us until a car appeared said he was going to Durres. How hospitable! A lady in the unofficial taxi spoke english very well and said the 'taxi' would be stopping at the beach but that we would need to catch a bus into the centre of town to get a cheap hotel as all the ones at the beach were expensive for the high season. So that's what we did. The bus was an unbelievable shitter and it would have been faster to walk - which we would have done if we had had a map!

The first guy to approach us had wads and wads of cash in his hand but we didn't need any. These guys are always useful for directions though so he pointed us to the centre. I was worrying about how we would find some cheap digs for the night when I saw the sign - Hotel Durres. It had found us. Whilst David waited in the foyer for someone to appear I wandered around the corner looking for some sort of tourist signs. A went into a travel agency and asked the lady about cheap hotels. 'There are no cheap hotels in Durres.' she said. How about maps or a tourist office - 'There are no maps of Durres or no tourist office.' she said. Thanks very much and have a nice day. Apparently the gem I had stumbled across was the cheapest place in town!! Locator or what?!

We dumped the stuff in our bargain room - big with share bathroom and large balcony looking out over the main intersection! What a view. We were out to find the amphitheatre our book had said was here. We eventually came across it but it was closed so the old gate guy told us to come back the next day. A wander round town told us that there wasn't much here. We walked along the promenade where there were rides for the kiddies and a jetty that we didn't go on. Lots of cafe/bar type places with plastic chairs and bbq's. Found some awesome baklava too.

Our old Lonely Planet had said that Albania was predominantly Muslim so I dressed conservatively. No short shorts or strappy top. But there was plenty of TPT (trailer park trash) around for competition had I have wanted it!!!! Obviously Albania has changed since the printing of our old book! Good to see society moving forward with the times. I still got the stares though, as we were the only westerners in town!

Next day we were up early and over to the Amphitheatre. David had come to the conclusion that it was more of a colosseum. We've seen enough to know what we're talking about and both agreed it was a colosseum not amphitheatre. More like the shape of the one in Rome but only small in comparison. Pretty ruined but still good. There were some old mosaics and a chapel too and we climbed all over the place. There were some chickens to keep us company as well. That was the main attraction so picked up our bags and headed out. Getting the mini bus to Tirana was fine - back through the stunning mountains and wasting water stalls. We needed to get to Korça to get over to Greece which proved to be a little more difficult. We had no map so didn't know where anything was so relied on asking those few who could understand us to direct us. All the mini buses departed from a different place in the city depending on where you were going. We passed an Aussie Bar and I had to restrain David from running over! Eventually a mini bus found us and we were off.

We saw a sign on the way into the centre of Korça that said Hotel George so I waited with the bags whilst David went off. George was sleeping and wouldn't wake up so I went off and was the winner once again! Just up the road a nice police man saw me looking around and asked me if I wanted a hotel then took me to the front door! Cheap, clean and satellite tv!! Excellent!

We went looking round - it didn't take long, there's not much to it. Plenty of weddings going on though. Sunday is wedding day. They all pile into cars and drive around town honking the horns and waving hankies! There was even a guy hanging out of the front car videoing the wedding party!

After dinner we were walking round town when everyone came out. Passegiato Albanian style. Dressed in their finest, Korça was out on the town!

Tomorrow we had to decide whether to walk across the border into Greece or catch a bus to Thessaloniki to get us closer to Istanbul.
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