Wake up groggy. Couldn’t sleep last night. Makes no sense. We stayed up until 6am the night before and I went on the castle hike too. Was exhausted. Wtf? Big toe hurts like hell for some reason too. Oh right, I kicked the bed post while I was dreaming and was in throbbing pain half the night. Right right right. Fun times.
We’re up and out in a jif having gotten ready last night. Walk to the station and get 2 tickets to Tirana. Still some time before the 8am bus so we investigate the surrounding area for some breakfast. Good looking place called Marenda nearby. We pop in.
Nice spot. Mid-level fancy. Just right. And they’re playing jazz.
The server, who ends up being the owner, comes right over with some menus.
“Do you live in states?” “Canada.” “Oh where?” “Nova Scotia, East coast.” “Ahh I’ve only been to Toronto. Nice places there for tourism.” “Yeah. Lots of em.” “My uncle Mildra lived in Ottawa. He was a Serbian ambassador. He died there. First Serbian ambassador there. That was 95,6,7. You know. After the war it will take some time to be good. Better to live in Canada.” “Ya for sure.” This guy’s English is impeccable. “Have a look and let me know.” “Great, thanks.”
“Breakfast looks dope.” “Ya, liking this spot a lot.”
Our talkative server is back with some bread. “Bread is from yesterday because we didn’t have time to bake. But it’s good. Ok?” “Oh yeah man, that’s fine. ” “Ok, very good.” Funny thing to admit.
The breakfast is dope. The cheese alone is incredible. Especially on yesterday’s bread.
An accordion player comes in, puts his instrument down and sits in the booth beside us. He’s reading a book called The Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B Peterson. I point it out to James. “Interesting. I think that’s a Canadian writer. I remember my buddy Ian recommending something from him. Can’t remember what it’s called. Psychologist? Can’t remember.” “Cool story, bro.” “Yeah, I’m pretty tired.”
We get a few more chats in with the super nice Marenda Owner Guy and tell him we’ve got a bus to catch. Stroll back to the station just in time and hop the bus. We immediately get the cool guy backseats so no kids can fuck with us.
Not many people on the bus so we spread out into separate seats. I downloaded some new music for the ride, think I’ll try this Big Thief album Two Hands. Damn. It’s so good I can’t sleep. Makes for good backing tracks to the countryside flitting by. Gonna be six hours to Tirana.
We roll back through Budva and Sveti Stefan. The Montenegrin coastal scenery is superb. Maybe Luciferian Towers from GSY!BE on this stretch. The ride is a little bumpy and creaky. The sun is blaring in and the road is so twisty-turny that there’s not really any way to avoid it. I put on some Monolink and chill.
We make a stop in the capital, Podgorica, beside some dilapidated apartments. Not overly pretty in the capital, at least not here. Maybe it is in the city center. Mia was probably right to skip it.
We move along and have another no-hassle border crossing back into Albania. We get a 25 minute pitstop in a small town called Koplik just over the border. Time enough to get a pizza. Nice bar actually, called Station. Pizza is decent. Good little rest stop.
Back on the bus and we’re rolling through familiar territory around Shkodër now. Outside of that and the Albanian countryside is gorgeous.
We pull into the capital and traffic is crazy. Stutter stop and go. “So glad we’re not driving actually.” “Ya it’s been super easy getting everywhere.”
Yet Another New ‘Plan’
We grab our bags and head into the city, not quite sure what we’re going to do yet. A cabbie is vying for our attention. He says it’s 2 hours to Berat from here and he’ll take us for 70 euros. “Bus will take 4 hours.” That sounds terrible after being on a bus for 6 hours already. “We’ll think about it, man. Thanks.”
We’re kind of aimless on the street with our bags and no plan. “Alright. Brain suds and wifi let’s figure this out.” “Yep.”
We find a place called Black Pearl with an outdoor patio that could make for a good basecamp. We drop our bags and order a few beer from the server. Time to come up with a plan. We pull up the phone maps and start investigating some ferry routes.
“Doesn’t look like the ferry to Corfu is running right now.” “Hmmm… so take another bus south through Albania and cross into Greece on land I guess?” “Ya, maybe.” A quick look at bus travel times and it looks like this will take a while. “Then there’s the time to cross all of Greece to Athens too.” “Can probably cross Sparta off if we’re going to make it.”
“Well.. It’s a great time of day to check out the capital. Could kick it here and leave tomorrow.” “Ooooor we could check out this city today and go to Italy tonight.” “Thaaaat’s an interesting idea. Have more time in Italy and hit a bunch of places there. How do we do that?”
Ok ok, a couple beers in and the wheels are moving. We’re looking at overnight ferries to Bari. “Ferry to Bari also just sounds good.” “Fuck dude. We can book it right now and just get to the port in Durres, check that place out and be there in plenty of time for an overnight ferry. Less chance of fucking it up. Get to Italy in the morning.” “Sheeeeeeet so just up and go to Italy, like, right now?” “Haha yep. I’m looking at an overnight crossing that’s tonight. This is totally doable.” “Damn. K, let me check flights from Rome.”
A quick look at flights a week out and things are still decently cheap, in the 4-5 hunny range. “Fuck it dude, let’s go to Italy right now.” “Yeah?!” Yep, let’s do it.” “Haha I love it.” “This will even give us multiple days in Rome. Probably takes a few to see the whole shebang.” “Ahh this is classic. So you want me to get the ferry to Bari?” “Do it. I’ll book a flight.” “This is hilarious man. We started off this trip looking to go to Belarus and the Ukraine.”
Done and done. We’re off to Rome. With that settled we giddily order up another round and sit back pleased with our spontaneous half-plan.
Some dude selling pomegranates walks up and is offering them over the railing. “No thanks.” He just keeps motioning and speaking to me in Albanian. Now he’s just staring at me, holding a pomegranate. “No, thank-you.” He keeps staring, doesn’t understand English at all. “Please stop staring Pom Guy.” “He really likes you.” “No, I’m not gonna take those ridiculously difficult to eat pomegranates with me. I’m sorry.” He keeps staring. “Ahhh I don’t know what to tell you, man. Stare all you want, I am not buying a pomegranate.” Eventually he gives up.
Ahhh back to chilling. We get two more beer and are feeling mighty relaxed. “This street parade is great.” “It is. But I suppose if we want to still have day light in Durres we should get a move on soon.” “This is true. Alright we’ve gotta print these ferry tickets out somewhere. The website is pretty emphatic about that.”
MacKay scouts out a printing place on his phone, we pay up and go searching. Around the corner to the printer place and ahhh no that’s some shambles of a building behind a gas station.
“Ahh well, we could ask at the front desk of this Hotel Dora place.” “Let’s do it.”
We walk into the hotel and up to the front desk lady. She speaks perfect English, thankfully, and we explain our situation. “Yes it’s no problem at all.” Bingo. MacKay emails the tickets to the reception and she prints it off. “Perfect. Thank-you.” “Nothing.”
There are pictures around the lobby of prominent people of Albanian decent. Al Pacino, James Belushi, Robert de Niro, Mother Teresa. Interesting lobby. We take a sec to learn about Alfons Pacini.
We thank Dora Desk Girl and get back to the streets to check taxi prices to Durres. Hail one up decently quick and he quotes us at 30 euros. “Yep. Fuck it.”
Fuck it indeed. Off to Durres.