The Art of Escaping Albania

I attended a presentation masterclass at work a while back (actually back in September, it’s just taken me this long to write it up!) and it got me thinking, that I had actually picked up a handy bit of knowledge on my last trip. Albania is a tricky little place to research and plan for – luckily I don’t do a huge amount of planning – and especially hard if you ever want to work out how to leave the place. Don’t get me wrong, Albania’s pretty cool as far as post-communist, warm, sunny places go, but there comes a time on any trip where you want to move on. This then is the story of getting out of Albania from Tirana, which just maybe will actually make this blog useful, and not just my ramblings and musings in between pints of beer and pots of tea.

Aside from flying, which is easy enough, there are no direct international links north from Tirana (and I think there was only one or two to towards Greece in the South or Macedonia and Kosovo off over to the east). That then leaves two main steps:

1. Find a bus.

Easier said than done. Tirana has no actual bus stops. Not for local buses, not for long haul; they just sort of run…which is fine if you’re a local. There is a train station which has a train or two a day to Shkoder and Durres. This is therefore one option, although timings aren’t the best – they are however online, and it being a train, you do at least know where it picks up from! The quality is also apparently not really there – I think the quote is that the locals take the train if they can’t afford the bus! Given the bus ended up costing a whopping 100 Lek (about 60p), no-one would blame you for splashing out.

So, if you’re initially lost in Tirana looking for a bus, you could be a bit buggered. You might think the bus station would be a good bet…you’d be wrong. Close, but wrong. Just a few domestic transfers but nothing near the border. The key then (assuming you want to head north like I did) is finding your way to Shkoder, near the Montenegro border. That means finding a bus stop that isn’t marked in any visible way.

Through excellent detective work (I asked at the hostel) I learnt that the particular bus I wanted picks up hourly from just beyond the train station (and around the corner from the bus station – see? Close), outside a little cafe on Rruga Barrikadave, so I rocked up at about half 8, paid the driver for my ticket, had a cuppa in the cafe and then hopped on the 9am bus.

2. Leaving Albania

So that’s how you get to Shkoder. I covered this story a bit in an earlier post, so I won’t go into huge detail – comfy bus, pretty views, sunny town up in the north where I could’ve done a few more hours – but it turns out getting to the north of Albania is actually the easy bit. But don’t let that deter you. You’re halfway there! Celebrate! Walk past the mosque from Sheshi Demokracia and hang a left to grab a beer, especially on a sunny day.

After that there aren’t any more buses (well not until you get to the bus station in Ulcinj on the other side). Getting across the border in a minibus/taxi job – luckily they pick up centrally, back at the main square where the bus from Tirana drops off. Wander round a bit and eventually you’ll get a bloke asking if you want to go to Montenegro (well, actually about half are offering to Tirana and half to Ulcinj in Montenegro, but either way they’ll find you a ride), tell him you do and then try and keep up as he sprints through four lanes of Albanian traffic towards a minivan that’s loading people up. 5 euros later and you’re off on your way to the Albanian border (no stamp out, but I did get one from the Montenegrin checkpoint). About 40 minutes later you’ll be at the Ulcinj bus station, and then it’s back to normal.

Once you’re out of Albania, travel all gets easier again: buses that you can find, actual bus stations with actual bus stops in the middle of the cities. Albania – Tirana at least – is it’s own special beast. It makes perfect sense to the locals, but does sod all for the rest of us. Ah well, it makes for a good story and a decent little day of adventure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.