Into Shkodër, Albania

The city-wide chanting from the mosques starts at 6am and wakes us up. Ahhhg. Alarm goes off soon after at 8. Bleary. Need to get to the train station across town and figure out how to get to Albania. Slept like shit. Fuck it, not gonna shower. We get our packs together and mosey.

Later sleepy budgies

See ya, 1980s TV

Bye bye Hostel Bushati. Old House indeed, but everything we needed and a great price for it.

It should take less than 20 minutes to walk to the bus station. Let’s do it. We start down through narrow streets that barely fit a single car. We’re pressed against the walls of buildings and stopping for cars as they come. Move passed one car and stopping again for the next. Everyone taking the alt route to work. This makes for slow going. That anxiety of not knowing exactly where you’re going plus not knowing what to do when you get there plus this taking longer than expected… it’s all mounting. 

We find another old church along the way and get some stroll-by pics. It’s a Serbian Orthodox church named the Mother of God of Ljeviš. Built in the 14th century.

Ok, we might be lost. We’re on the maps app looking at a nondescript section of town that.. could be where we think the station may be. “Nothing on here actually says bus station.” “Nope.” Point at a large rectangle, “But this area.. maybe?” “Best chance we got.”

We pass by lots of opening nic-nac shops and local businesses. We’re out of any touristy areas now (if there actually were any to begin with) and into the real life of Prizren. Getting some funny looks as we crank passed with our large packs and not-from-here looks.

The large rectangle from the map does turn out to be the bus station and we walk in to investigate. It’s a wide open gravel/grassy area. There are multiple small shacks in various states of disrepair that operate as each bus company’s dispatching house. We walk up and scan the windows looking for any that say Shkodër or just Albania in general.

The third place is the winner. Or at least they give us a lead on the right place to go and tell us that a bus is indeed coming at 10. We follow their directions to a shack at the back. Yes, bus to Shkodër at 10am as the Tallish Man from Bushati had indicated. Perfect, we did it. Nab some tickets and they tell us to wait around the side 10 minutes before the bus arrives. Cool, now we have 50 minutes left to grab breakfast.

There’s only one food option in the station area with some rickety outdoor seating. It looks like you walk up to a window and point at what you want? Don’t see anyone going up to it though so we won’t be learning through observation, just gonna have to go do it.

We walk up and there are several tin canisters with what look like stews and rices in them steaming. Ok. Not really breakfast, per se. At least not where we’re from. This is what we’ve got though and the dude’s coming over so better make some decisions.

Stew Dude comes up to the window and gives us a quizzical look. He starts talking to us in… Albanian? Or maybe Serbian? We motion that we don’t understand and apologize. He waves his hand across all of the cooking trays and raises an eyebrow. MacKay points at some meatball stew looking thing and some rice and raises his arms in a ‘is that a thing?’ motion. Dude nods, ok. I hold up two fingers, “Two please.” “Ok.”

We grab a seat at a small red table and put our bags down. “Into Albania, eh?” “Yep. Again, no idea what it’s going to be like.” “Nah, me neither. I do like the word Shkodër though. Shkodër.” “Should be nice. Cultural capital. A castle made by the Venetians. I dunno. We’ll find out.”

Our meatball breakfast mess comes out

We’re both groggy from the morning chants. I ask the guy for a.. “Coffee.” “Coffee?” MacKay holds up his fingers, “2 Coffee.” “Coffee?” “Coffee.” “Coffee.” “Yes, coffee.” “2?” “Yes, 2 coffee.” “Ok, coffee. Two.” “Great, thank-you.” 

MacKay destroys his meatball mess in five seconds flat and heads to the bathroom. He comes back and for some reason I ask him how it was. “Well it’s the first squatter of the trip.” “Oh shit…” “When you flush it looks like shit comes up and it blasts all the shit and piss against the wall. Ahhhh so no I won’t be doing that.” I spoon my meatball mess a bit, appetite erased. “I don’t see any way you can shit in there without getting it all over your boots.” Ok, I don’t know if I want to finish this stewy mess actually. “I’m gonna throw up now, let’s just get to the bus.”

The bus pulls in and we take our seats. Not too full and we both have a row to ourselves. A family with a little kid are the last ones to get on. I instantly know exactly where they’re going to sit. Yep, still coming back. Still coming. Right behind me. Of course. The kid is immediately pulling and kicking on my seat. Fuck.

I nuke the Boards of Canada album that I’d started listening to knowing it has no hope of drowning out this kid. I’ll need something heavy. He never stops moaning and making sounds. Hammering on my seat and kicking it. Fucking with the tray table. Up, down, pounding on it. I switch to the other seat in the row. There aren’t any other empty rows on the bus and I contemplate sitting beside someone else. But that’s just sacrificing their comfort for mine. Daaah. The parents are trying to get him to stop but that just makes him whine. I can still feel the vibrations in this other seat from him pounding on my original one. If anyone gets off early I’m definitely moving up. Go to sleep you little shit.

It doesn’t take long to get to the border of Albania, 20 minutes or so. This whole trip to Shkodër should take just 2.5 hours. We’re soon in a long, deep canyon. There are ruins and bunkers scattered around. Some really impressive new bridges spanning these areas. It all makes for a wonderful drive. Swaths of nothing but green rolling hills and farm animals. The occasional lake or tiny town.

We cross the Black Drin water body in Kukes. Over massive bridges crossing to other peaks in the pass. This is grand scenery. Reminds me of parts of the South Africa drive actually. 

After a while we stop for a break at a gas station on the pass. I might have to buy some duct tape and plaster that kid to a bathroom stall. Great scenery so far and the roads are perfect. Wonder how new all of this is.

Let’s see if there are any fun chip flavors in Albania. Tzatziki? Sure, why not? Not bad.

On the way back on the bus the driver asks where we’re going. I say “Shkodër.” “Shkodër castle? Or Shkodër?” “Shkodër castle sounds good.” “Ok.” Back on the bus and the kid is pounding away again. Sucks.

We’re in Lezhë District now. Under an hour to go. Close to the coastline. 

And soon there are signs for Shkodër and the driver is pointing at the castle on the hill. Alright, this is looking cool.

We get dropped off just outside of town below the castle. We’re the only ones to get off the bus. Ok, I guess we’ll just figure things out from here. There’s a hotel here and some taxis out front. “Go to the hotel bar to get WiFi and brain suds?” “Agreed.” We go check it out. 

MacKay goes up to the bar and nabs us a couple of beers. Kugalashe. Not bad. More malty than the lagers and pilsners that are usually the standards. We get the WiFi password and try to figure things out.

“So… We’re actually on the street from the castle. Could stash our bags here at the hotel, go see that, then grab a taxi into the city center.” “Good plan, more beers?” “Yep.” 

The beers are tasty and so are the pub snacks that the bartender guy keeps re-upping. We are getting mighty comfy here. I can see this devolving quickly if we don’t get on the case. “Stash the bags after this beer?” “Ya, otherwise we’ll never leave here.” “Exactly.”

We pay up and snoop around a bit. There is a front desk with no one at it. Maybe ask this cleaning lady? She gets a bartender lady who speaks English and we explain the bus stopped here and we’re wanting to see the castle. “Is there any place we could stash our bags for a bit?” She says she won’t be here later but motions for us to follow her next door.

Some cleaning staff are doing laundry in a small room beside a super market. “Here is good?” “Ya. Ok.” She motions to a space in the corner to leave the bags and goes to tell the confused cleaning folks what’s going on. 

MacKay puts his bag down warily. “Ok… Decent chance we aren’t seeing these again.” “You think? It’ll probably be fine.” “Ya. Maybe. Maybe not.” “Hmmmm true. Ok, I’ve got out my passport and Narcopiggy. Phone and wallet. Don’t really care if I lose anything else.” “Ya, fuck it I guess, eh? It’s all replaceable shit.” “Yep. We’ll manage. Let’s get up to that Venetian Castle!”

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