I needed to get to Dubrovnik by the 28th of Aug as I was booked onto a sailing trip starting on the 29th. This ment I only had 6 days to make it all the way through Albania and Montanegro. I wasn’t sure if this was the best path to be taking as I had heard a lot about how shit the buses were in Albania and that they were really unreliable*. It still seemed like the easiest and quickest path to take.
The first leg of the journey was pretty long. Mainly as I got stuck at the bus station in Iononia for 3 hours. In total I think it took me 10 hrs to get from Trikala to Seranda. Seranda is a cute coastal town that is probably the most touristy place in Albania. Not too many backpackers but loads of Eastern European holidaymakers. It reminded me a little of a small sunnybeach but with pebbly beaches. A guy I met at the hostel, whose name I can’t remember, and I decided we wanted to do a quick morning trip out to see the Blue Eye. The owner of our hostel said it was easy to get the bus out there and then just walk from the place the bus drops you off. Sounded easy enough but trying to deal with grumpy Albanian bus drivers is not so easy. They kicked us off the bus saying it was full (when it clearly wasn’t) so we were left awkwardly standing on the side of the road. Thankfully there was an Albanian girl and a dutch couple that also wanted to go so we managed to get a taxi there and back for a few euros more then the bus. I’m so glad we got the taxi as the walk from where the bus drops you off to the blue eye is pretty long and in a hot and dusty road. If you are interested in going I would highly recommend getting a group together and getting a taxi. It was (4000 lek there and back for all 5 of us the bus is 300 lek one way each).
I didn’t realise it was going to be such a tourist attraction. The palace was packed with people! Little tip: go super early or later in the afternoon to beat the crowds. I thought it was going to be a nice quite swimming spot but it was more a place for everyone to have a photo shoot. No one was really swimming and once I felt the water I understood why. It was absolutely freezing!! Apparently the spring is 50m deep and the water is a toasty 10 degrees. There were a few people crazy enough to jump in but it def would have been a shock to the system. It was very beautiful though and definitely worth a visit.
After my morning excursion it was back onto the bus and off to Berat. It was another very long and hot bus ride. Thankfully I had a bottle of water to get me through it until a little old man stole it! I thought he had asked for a sip of water but apparently he was just asking for the whole thing. He seemed very happy while I was dying of thirst. 7 hours later I was finally in Berat.
I stayed at a very cute hostel in the kind of old town they have there called hostel magdalena. It was run by this really cute Albanian woman that didn’t speak any english and constantly fed me plums and figs. There isn’t really a lot to see here but everyone is so friendly that its a really nice place to spend a day in. I did go up and checked out the “castle”. Really it is an old fort but for some reason they all call it the castle. Beware the walk up there is a bit perilous! I think the road was initially made of limestone but with all the traffic over the years it has become so polished it looks like marble and is super slippery. Walking up a hill paved in “marble” sux balls! Even the cars were struggling. The view from the top was pretty cool though and all the little houses in the fort made it worth it.
After two nights in Berat I needed to pick up my pace and leg it to Montanegro. I jumped on an early bus to Tirana that was around 3 hours long. It was literally a chicken bus. The lady sitting next to me had a chicken in her handbag! I kept hearing this random noise and finally worked out it was coming from her handbag. From there I had to get a taxi to the Shkoder “bus stop”. This was literally a back ally with a minibus parked down it. Thankfully it worked out and it did end up going to Shkoder. I think this was another 3 hours. From Shkoder I planned to get another bus to Ulcijn but it wasn’t leaving for 2 hours. I was happy to wait but there was someone rounding up tourists to share a taxi which ended up being the same price as the bus. In total it took me around 7 hours to get from Berat to Ulcijn.
I stayed at pirates hostel in Ulcijn which is a must if you are going there. The girl that runs the place is so nice and tells you all the cool places to go. I had my first experience of “working” at a hostel. They all wanted to go out to dinner so i basically had to just greet guests and show them to their rooms. Pretty easy for a free nights accomidation. I spent my first evening here at a really cool bar called Beach Bar which was in the other side of the old city wall where you can go swimming and lounge on beach chairs. Be warned!! A bunch of swiss guys from our hostel went here and were all jumping off the cliffs and one managed to faceplant into a rock smashing his face and required 9 stitches.
Some girls in Trikala had told me about a ladies beach in Ulcijn that was interesting so I thought I should check it out. It had a sulfur spring there that was thought to be good for fertility so they turned it into a ladies only beach. It is also a nudist beach. There were a lot of very naked women here. I managed to overcome my inhibitions enough to go topless but wasn’t brave enough to go the full hog! “When in Montenegro”
* Everyone told me the busses in albania were terrible and unreliable. I never had a problem with the buses and they always left when they said they were going to. While there are no official bus stops/stations there are specific places by the road to wait.