After the difficulties I faced in Tirana, things just got better and better once I met Andi, who helped me get to the correct place, so I could get a bus to Saranda.
Having said goodbye to him, I approached the man who seemed to be in charge at the bus station to find out when the next bus was leaving for Saranda. I found out that it was due to depart at 08.30. It was only 07.40, so I indicated that I would have something to eat in the cafe ‘Fastfood Byrektore’ next door. He smiled, so I went in, ordered a cheese byrek and a coffee before sitting down. I started writing about what had happened that morning and, once I had started, I just couldn’t stop. It’s funny because one guy in the cafe was so intrigued that he came over to have a look at what I was writing, even though he couldn’t understand a word of it.
At one point, a bus started moving and I thought it might be my bus, so I ran out to check. The guy who showed an interest in what I was writing stopped it, but when I said, ‘Saranda’, he indicated on his watch that it would leave in 30 mins. At least I knew I wouldn’t miss this next bus, so I sat down and continued writing. Then, when it was almost time, I put my backpack on the bus and took some photos of the bus station. While I was doing that, I saw the guy from the cafe in the driver’s seat of a bus that was bound for Gjirokaster. He got out and indicated that he wanted a photo with me. ‘Well, why not?’, I thought, and proceeded to take a selfie of the two of us. It really wasn’t the most flattering photo of me, but it is a funny, happy memory.
I got on the bus and didn’t pay beforehand, as I had been told the day before by a local. Sure enough, once the wheels were in motion, the bus driver went round collecting money and issuing tickets. I paid 1300 lek for my ticket, just as I had been told. All was well and I was finally on my way to Saranda – phew!
I was stared at pretty much all the way from Tirana to Durres by a local man. I got used to being stared at in parts of Asia, but in Albania it seemed strange because I didn’t think I looked different. Thankfully, I didn’t have to endure that for too long because he got off the bus. We had a 10-minute stop just outside the centre of Durres on the main road. A few sellers got on the bus, just as they do in parts of Asia and South America, selling newspapers, popcorn, and water. I had my green plums, amongst other things, and plenty of water to keep me going for the trip. Surprisingly, my phone picked up a weak WiFi signal while we were stopped.
This bus took the inland route, which meant going via Gjirokaster. We went past a lot farms – arable and livestock – so there were lots of people tending to their land and animals. In the distance, I could see snow-capped mountains. After about 3 hours on the road, we had a 20-minute break at Grill 33, near a place called Mallakaster. It was great to get off the bus for a bit, have a coffee, and make use of the facilities.
Shortly after Tepelene, a town which produces mineral water, we stopped. I was so glad because it was really difficult taking photos from the window, as the bus was moving. The scenery was truly spectacular. This was my chance to take some photos before we set off again. As I got off the bus, the driver started shaking his empty water bottle and indicated to the water gushing out of the taps attached to the side of a mountain where the bus had stopped. I twigged what he was indicating and promptly got my water bottle and filled it up with cold, fresh, drinking water. I then walked across the road and got some proper photos of the fabulous scenery. This was only a brief stop and we were quickly on our way again.
Albania is full of surprises. I wasn’t expecting the scenery to be so spectacular. For me, the journey between Tepelene and Gjirokaster, was the most scenic part of the trip. That alone made the journey worthwhile and all the hassle of the morning had become a dim, distant memory.
From the bus, Gjirokaster looked like a nice place to stop. Well, the old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so I’m sure it’s worth staying for a night or two. If I had had the time, I would have done just that but, unfortunately, I didn’t.
Shortly after that, near a place called Delvine, the scenery became rugged as we travelled along a mountain road that winds round and round, and goes up and down. It’s worth being aware of that if you suffer with travel sickness. We drove past the turn off for the Blue Eye. If you have the time and inclination, you can get off, spend some time there, and then get another bus to complete your journey to Saranda. I didn’t because, by that point, I just wanted to get to Saranda.
Finally, after 6½ hours, I arrived in Saranda. What a journey! This is certainly a bus journey or road trip I would recommend to anyone visiting Albania. If you have the time, you could split the journey into two and stop in Gjirokaster for a night or two.
I have marked the route we took on the map from Tirana to Saranda.
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Which country has surprised you the most because of its scenery?