Interrail day nineteen – Lushnjë to Durrës via Tirana

16 May

It’s easier to get to Tirana than it used to be, now Lushnjë has its wee bus that shuttles from the village of Karbunarë in the south to Plug in the north and back again. Previously you had to either get yourself out to motorway on foot or by taxi, or catch the bus that leaves from Lushnjë train station at 7am 🤢

I set out at the really quite civilised time of 8.45am and hopped on the little bus, with Dafina seeing me off. Ten minutes and 22p later I was at the Plug turn off trying to catch a bus or minibus to Tirana. And trying, and trying. I started to think I was doing something wrong, but I think they were all just full because after 15 minutes or so a bus did stop for me. Its windows are filthy and most of the curtains are closed so I can’t enjoy the sea view, but at least I’m going north.

The Plug turn off. Not exactly a tourist trap.

That’s two buses down, probably two or three to go today, including the night bus to Croatia that is supposed to exist. I don’t like buses, and I like night buses less, but the only other way to get to Split is by taking a ferry to Italy and back, which would waste the whole day that’s I’m supposed to be spending in Split.

Finding the bus station for international buses was not that easy. First of all, they’ve moved the national bus station again so I had no idea where I was. A nice girl put me on the right bus and the conductor said he would tell me when we got to the Sports Palace where the bus station is, but he didn’t. I ended up in the city centre, hot and bothered. The local buses in Tirana are crowded and don’t have enough seats, so you teeter about while the conducter shoves his way through the packed bodies, collecting fares. At least they are cheap!

I stopped in a wee place for an iced coffee and a biscuit (paid with a card! 😀) and then made my way on foot, stopping at the market to pick up a t-shirt for myself (All my plain white tees come from one particular stall in the central market in Tirana. It’s a reliable, but not convenient, way to get them.) and a Monopoly set for the Tafa family, whom I was going to meet later. I was also supposed to be meeting my friend Migen, but unfortunately he was at the wrong end of the country today.

The market off Rruga e Kavajës

After a short detour to use the ProCredit ATM, which used to be free but isn’t any longer 😠 and after asking directions a couple of times, I found the international bus station. (Don’t picture something grand; it’s a patch of ground with some buses parked and a few small travel agencies nearby.) The first agency I asked said there were no buses to Croatia today at all, but you should never take the first answer. The second agency said that yes, there was a bus, but it was at 2.30pm, not 7.30pm as the internet had confidently stated. That would mean I would get there in the middle of the night and wouldn’t have time to see the Tafas before I left. (By this time it was already one o’clock.) But even if that had sounded more inviting than it did, I wasn’t allowed to travel on that bus because it was only for people with Albanian ID cards. No idea why.

So it was on to plan B: take a ferry back over to Italy and go north from there, taking in Austria on the way. The girl at this agency, which seemed to exist to sell bus tickets to Germany and so on, said she could also sell me a ferry ticket, so she did, although it was a slow process as her internet cut out every few minutes. I didn’t care – by this time I was sitting on a sofa and not carrying my rucksack. I have a bed in a four-bed cabin again – I hope I get it all to myself again 😂

The bus station, as it turned out, was right next to Zogu i Zi (Black Bird), one place I can still recognise because they still have this slogan on the wall. I hope they never get rid of it!

These are the things we are fighting for

I contacted the Tafa family, who live some distance away (Tirana is a decent-sized city) and while they were on their way I had lunch at the Ringu centre. There was a vegan lunch on the menu so I asked if I could have that. “No,” I was told. Menus are also just a suggestion. By now I had a headache, of course. You can’t go to Tirana without getting a headache. The city is a headache, made out of noise, pollution, traffic, heat and more noise. For all that, it is a fun place to visit.

The view of Zogu i Zi from the Ringu centre

I spent lunch looking at travel options, as Bari to Salzburg is too far for one day. Venice is en route, although proper Venice (not Mestre) is nowhere near the train station, so I don’t know if I’ll actually see it. Then the Tafas arrived so I went downstairs to have coffee with them.

Silva, Jozefi, Davidi, Danieli and Geni

All too soon it was time to get on another horrible Tirana bus to go back to wherever the national bus station is. I found a bus going to Durrës within seconds, and while it was crowded and a bit unpleasant, it is not far from Tirana to Durrës, and it’s incredibly cheap – little more than a quid.

I’ve always liked Durrës better than Tirana. In fact, it’s my favourite city in Albania. It’s lively without being hyperactive, modern without neglecting its history, and it’s somehow more European than other Albanian cities. For instance, it occurred to someone that travellers arriving at the ferry terminal may have plans for onward travel, and may need directions. The ferry terminal is also reassuringly official-looking.

Check in hadn’t opened so I left my bag and went in search of dinner. One of the things I like about Durrës is its restaurants (it specialises in seafood and pizza) and Portiko did not disappoint. The building incorporates part of the old city walls, including a gate (hence the name), the service was polite and attentive and the food was very good. It was a bit expensive though. A main course, side and glass of wine set me back £12 😂

I walked back along the front, enjoying the colour of the sea and some good examples of communist-era statues. There were a lot of people out, which was good to see. The evening promenade used to be a big deal in Durrës – they even closed the roads for it – so it’s nice that it continues in some form.

Now I’m  in my little cabin waiting for the ferry to depart (it’s late, of course) and while this ferry is smaller and the cabins are less fancy, there is a shower. You don’t get that on a night bus! I have killed the other resident of the cabin (a mosquito) and no one else has appeared so far. Here’s hoping for an undisturbed night and a timeous arrival!

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