The guy at our car hire place in Trikala offered to drop us off at our bus, but it wasn’t until we were half way to the bus depot and he asked where our bus was going – and we answered Tirana – that he realised the depot he was taking us to was only for domestic routes. We showed him on the map where we were meant to meet our bus, but it was not a depot he was familiar with. Instead, he took us to a travel agent nearby which ran buses to Tirana to see if they knew where we were meant to be.
When we got there, the agency itself was not open, although was due to open soon as it also had buses operating that night. There were some guys sitting out the front who knew the guy who would be coming in to open up. Our driver had a chat with them and came back to us, saying they were not aware of this company either. And the location on Google Maps didn’t appear to show anything that looked remotely like a bus stop or travel agency. I hadn’t paid them anything yet, so we thought we may as well get out here and if we didn’t make any progress, could just get the bus with this second company. We thanked our driver and attempted to tip him for his help in driving us around and translating, but he refused, saying he was just pleased we had come to the area.
About half an hour later the travel agency opened up and we went in to ask if they knew anything about this other mob we were meant to go with, and find out if they had any places available on their bus. The guy knew the company we were talking about and directed us around the corner, saying they were just a few hundred metres down the road, but yes they also had spots available on their bus.
By now it was about 8pm, our bus was due to leave at 10, and this other company’s bus was going at 9. We decided to go for a bit of a walk to see if we could find this other company, so off we went.
We got around the corner, and looked straight down a long, straight road with pretty much nothing on it. There was definitely no travel agency for at least a kilometre – and this wasn’t anywhere near where their map had indicated anyway.
We decided we were not going for a walk. Do we try and phone them? Do we get a taxi? Will a taxi even know where they are? Do we just forget about them and go with this second company – who was leaving earlier, and for cheaper?
Yup, we just went with the second company. I shot off an email to the other company, telling them nobody had been able to tell us how to get to them and so we wouldn’t be making their bus, we bought tickets for the new bus trip, and sat down and waited. There were about 6 other people waiting for the same bus as us who all seemed to be locals, including a woman with a daughter about 5 years old, so we took assurance from that. Shortly before 9 a coach turned up and we all got on board and found seats. I was impressed with the comfort of the seats, plus they were reclinable! There was some fairly terrible music videos being played on the TV at the front of the bus, but we had a movie on the tablet which we watched to help pass time before trying to sleep (fortunately we also had ear plugs for the sleeping!)
We were able to get a bit of patchy sleep, interrupted by pit stops and the border crossing into Albania, where we all had to get out of the bus and show our passports at border control in person. And despite no smoking being allowed on the bus, about half the bus would get out to smoke at each pit stop and come back on board smelling disgusting.
And then at about 3 we were woken again – are you going to Tirana? Yes? Off the bus then – and there was a minivan waiting for us, and about 8 of us (including the woman and little girl) loaded onto the minivan.
This vehicle was decidedly less comfortable. The seat in front of Andre was broken, and fallen so far backwards it was about a foot from his face. The headrests were too low for either of us to lean back and attempt to sleep, and there were no seatbelts. My heart sank at the idea of 3 – 4 hours of this (as we’d been told we’d arrive in Tirana between 6 and 7am).
And then, an hour and a half later, we were parking in front of a travel agency shop-front, and there were signs around saying Tirana – and I checked my watch in shock, thinking we can’t be here already?
But we were. We were in Tirana at 4:30am – 9 and a half hours before our shuttle bus to Kotor.
Fortunately there was some kind of little, basic cafe/bar thing next door which was open (obviously he knew there are buses which get in early and people needing somewhere to sit!) About 4 of us got off the minivan in Tirana, and one guy helpfully gave us directions to the city centre, which wasn’t far away. There was really nothing we could do at 4:30am though, so we just sat ourselves down in this little cafe and got some drinks, listening to the same weird traditional music which had been playing on the bus, and read books on our phones.
A bit before 7 we decided to walk into the city – city centres have visitor centres and information points, and we thought we’d at least be able to find somewhere to sit down, and hopefully somewhere that served breakfast and had wifi. The early morning chill and our fatigue was beginning to get to us and we had to stop along the way for Andre to pull his jumper out (especially as he only had shorts on, while I had jeans).
We got to the city centre in about fifteen minutes… and found nothing helpful. We were surprised by how many people were out and about at 7am though. In the centre was one enormous round-about, which had the national library on it, so we decided to walk the perimeter of the roundabout to see what else we could find. About half way around we hit the jackpot – nearly. We found the national opera building, and attached to it in big letters – Tourist Information! Hooray! But it was closed. The door advertised that it opened at 9, so we sat down at some tables outside, Andre got a coffee from the cafe next door (no food) and waited.
Once it opened the lady who worked there gave us directions to a good area for cafes to find somewhere for breakfast. It didn’t take us too long to find somewhere with wifi and a decent-looking menu (prices are so cheap in Albania!) where we were able to park for most of the day – we had breakfast and lunch there, on comfy seats in a large outdoor eating area where we could stay out of the way.
A bit after 1 we left to go and meet our shuttle bus near the visitor centre we’d found that morning. It was a mini van with 4 other passengers, which was nice. The trip was about 4 – 5 hours, and the last half was along the albanian and montenegrin coastline which was quite spectacular. We got in to Kotor close to 7 and were dropped right by the old town, which was handy for us because our apartment was just outside the old town walls. It would have been a little tricky to find, however we had to go to another hostel to pay for the shuttle and they called ahead for us and got directions for where to meet our landlady.