When you begin a journey, you never really know what or who you will encounter on the way. This trip was challenging, stressful, and frustrating at times, but, yet again, the kindness of a stranger made a big difference and turned it into a positive, memorable experience.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, to get from Shkoder to Saranda, you have to change buses in Tirana. Now, that might seem like a simple task but, believe me, it isn’t. It’s far more complicated than it actually needs to be, but that’s the way it is. Thankfully, I had advance warning of this from a couple of travellers I met in Shkoder who had made the journey up from Saranda. What wasn’t clear was how to get from one bus to the next because the buses stop in different parts of Tirana.
Shkoder to Tirana
It’s easy to get to Tirana from Shkoder because there are lots of buses headed that way. Just go to the roads near the theatre and Radio Shkodar and you will hear men shouting, ‘Tirana!’. I went up to one and said, ‘Tirana?’ He nodded and pointed to the bus. I pointed to my wrist, which didn’t have a watch, to find out when it was going to leave. He put up both hands to indicate in 10 minutes time. So, I paid 300 lek, put my backpack in the luggage compartment, and boarded the bus. I wasn’t given a ticket, which seemed a bit strange, but I just assumed that was the way they did things.
There was only one seat left on the bus and it happened to be next to a guy who could speak pretty good English. He gave me a good piece of advice: Get on the bus first, then pay for the bus ride. That’s the opposite of what I’m used to, although it makes sense if they don’t issue tickets. Sure enough, the conductor went round collecting money from everyone. He remembered that I had paid, so he bypassed me.
The bus stopped once at Lezhe before arriving in Tirana. The journey took slightly longer than two hours and terminated on a main road. I wasn’t sure at that point whether I should try to get to Saranda or stay in Tirana overnight, but I spotted a small bus station on the other side of the road. I walked over to see if I could get a bus to Saranda. That would have been so handy, but there were no buses going to Saranda from there. From what I could understand, I needed to go to the roundabout at the top of the road, turn right, and walk for about 20 minutes. After thinking about it for a minute, I decided to stay in Tirana for one night. That would give me the chance to find out about the bus to Saranda. So, I went on the hunt for the hostel I had been told about.
When I checked in, I told a member of the hostel staff about my plans. He said there were lots of buses each day going to Saranda, so I decided to leave early because it would take about 6-7 hours to get there. Then, I did something I rarely do. I asked him if he could arrange for a taxi to pick me up. That way, I knew I would get there in time. With that organised, I had the opportunity to wander around Tirana at my leisure.
Tirana to Saranda
I woke up really early the following morning. I thought about getting an earlier bus but, without a 24 hour reception desk, I couldn’t change the time of the taxi. As it had been booked for 06.30, I had to wait.
Before I got in the taxi, I confirmed with the taxi driver that I wanted to get a bus to Saranda. He nodded, so I got in and sat back, happy with the fact that I would arrive in plenty of time to get the bus. After about 10 minutes, the driver stopped, got out of the taxi, and went into a cafe. He left the meter running. I wondered what he was up to. ‘Surely, he wasn’t asking where to get the bus from, was he?’, I wondered. As it turned out, he was. He got back in the taxi, switched off the meter, and said we were here. I said, ‘Where?’ because we were on a main road and not at a bus station. ‘Where are the buses?’, I asked, quizzically. He pointed to an office for Tisa, a bus company. Sure enough, it said Tirana to Saranda and had lots of departure times listed throughout the day. In the absence of any other information, I had no other choice but to trust him. I wasn’t happy with the fact that he had left the meter running while he was checking, but I decided to let it go. I just couldn’t be bothered to argue with him. It was too early and I was glad to be in the right place. So, I got out, took my stuff, paid him 400 lek, and went into the cafe beside the office. ‘Great, I could have a coffee’, I thought.
Because it just didn’t seem right to me, I asked the guy in the coffee shop if the bus stopped outside for Saranda and he replied, ‘yes’. With that, I bought a coffee and waited, and waited, and waited… I kept walking outside, looking for the bus, but there was no sight of it. I asked people in the coffee shop a few times and was told, ‘Yes, the bus stops here’. Then, all of a sudden, the yeses turned to nos. Out of nowhere, they started saying that the bus wouldn’t turn up until 16.00. Bear in mind, it had only just turned 07.00 and I had been awake since 04.00, I wasn’t very happy. One of the men who kept telling me the bus would arrive offered to take me to the Southern Bus Station, so I could get a bus to Saranda. That’s when I realised it was all a con. He wanted 500 lek to take me there. As I’m sure you can imagine, I was livid. I had gotten up early in the morning and ordered a cab to make sure I would be on the 7 o’clock bus. I had no idea what to do, but I wasn’t going to pay for another taxi ride, especially to someone who had helped to rip me off.
Having seen a few city buses passing, I asked the guy in the coffee shop if I could get a bus to the Southern Bus Station, as that was obviously the place I needed to go to. He shrugged his shoulders, shook his head, and said, ‘I don’t know.’ Of course, he didn’t. So, with no idea of what to do, I walked out of the coffee shop, looked left then right, wondering in which direction to head. I decided to walk in the direction the traffic was headed.
I walked for a short while, wondering what to do. I had no idea where I was in Tirana because I didn’t have a map and I’d only been in the city for a short period of time. I stopped and asked a taxi driver about the bus station for Saranda, but he couldn’t speak any English. So, you can imagine my relief when I heard, ‘Can I help you?’
I explained to a guy who could speak English that I was trying to go to Saranda. He spoke to the taxi driver who said it was where I had been waiting, but the bus wouldn’t come until 16.00. ‘No, that’s wrong’, I replied, and mentioned the Southern Bus Station. He asked again and, yes, the Southern Bus Station did exist and buses leave for Saranda from there and… wait for it… I could get one of the city buses there. Fantastic! I didn’t have to get another taxi. I asked which bus and he said he was going that way, so we could get on the same bus. Fab! That’s what we did. It was 07.15 (rush hour) and if you think the London Underground gets packed like sardines, you haven’t taken a bus in Tirana during rush hour. The guy told me to put my foot on the bus and get on. It had started moving, but I somehow managed to force my way on with my backpack and he did the same. So, I was on a bus, heading… somewhere. A bus conductor came round to collect the money and I asked how much it was. I was trying to get to my bag, so I could pay for a ticket, but the kind soul helping me paid for my ticket.
I was on the bus for a good 15 minutes and I have no idea how many people I bashed along the way with my backpack. I am sorry to each and every one of them, which includes the guy who was helping me, but I just couldn’t help it with the movement of the bus and having to move out of people’s way as they were getting on and off the bus. It was probably the worst short distance bus journey I’ve ever had. Eventually, the guy said to get off and walk the remainder of the way. So, we walked and chatted. As it turned out, he was married and worked as a lawyer nearby. After walking for no more than 5 minutes, we turned left and voila, the bus station. He was really great because he made sure it was the correct bus station and asked if there was a bus to Saranda. There was. I was actually going to get to Saranda after all. I thanked him perfusely for all his kindness and offered him money for the bus ticket. He refused to accept any money. What a great guy! Then, as he said goodbye, I said, ‘What’s your name? I don’t even know your name?’ Because of his kindness, I wanted to know his name at least. He said, ‘Andi’. I checked how he spelled it and it was with ‘i’ rather than ‘y’. So, to Andi, who came to my rescue, and all the other kind souls out there, ”Thank you so much for all your help and kindness when it was really needed!’
To make sure you don’t have such an eventful journey and actually make it from Shkoder to Saranda:
Get a bus from Shkoder near the theatre and Radio Shkodar
In Tirana, walk, get a bus to Bulevarid Gjergj Fishta, or get a taxi to Southern Bus Station
Southern Bus Station is on Rruga Muhedin Llagani, off Bulevarid Gjergj Fishta. You can also get buses to Vlore, Fier, and Girokaster, as well as other destinations in the south.
This is the route the bus took. Just click to zoom in.
Have your say
Do you have any stories of the kind souls you’ve met on the road? I’d love to hear them.