The cab ride from Tirana to Durrës only takes about 40 minutes. There’s a short countryside section before the Adriatic coast comes into view and then the cranes of the port. It has an industrial feel initially and then signs to some old Roman and Venetian sites in the city start popping up. We’ve already got ferry tickets squared away so instead of going to the port we get the driver to aim for the downtown area. Things get modern and we find ourselves in a fancy shopping district with high end stores and some flare.
The cabbie pulls up to the curb in a semi-awkward spot that restricts traffic flow. He has no change. I jump out and go to a shop to split 50 Euro into Lek. Cashier Guy gives me 6000 which is a slight cut on his part but with time constraints I’m not going to argue. I jump back out of the store and there are now cars honking at the cabbie’s lame pull over maneuver and struggling to get by. I drop 3500 in the window to him which was what we’d agreed on with a tip on top. He’s super mad, offended by this. “No no no!”
We’ve got a truck and a bus heavy on the honking now. Super agro. I drop another 500 in and he’s still not having it. He’s swearing at me in Albanian. With all the noise and nonsense MacKay’s over it, “We’re walking.” “Yep, we’re out.” The cabbie is still yelling but MacKay hands me my pack and we walk away from the explosion without looking back.
Soon we come across an Orthodox church getting some golden hour love. It’s the Ortodox Church of St. Pavel and St. Ast Durrës
“There are signs for a Venetian tower.” “Sounds good to me. Keep it on theme with the last few days.”
The Venetian Tower
We spot some signs leading to a Venetian tower and figure it’s worth investigating. “I’m not seeing any tower over there.” “Yeah, not really.”
A little further and there it is though, beside a large section of fortification walls as well. Turns out the tower isn’t all that tall. It does have promising shade umbrellas on the roof though and signs indicate there’s a restaurant. “Tower beers?” “Tower beers.”
Oh yeah, it’s all decked out in here. I love how all over Europe they’re taking historical monuments and turning them into cool places to drink.
A server approaches us and we motion towards the roof. He nods.
The stairs up to the top are a little treacherous, “Wouldn’t wanna be too hammered on these things.”
Nice, this is perfect. Good spot to kill time and catch the sunset. The server follows us up and we put in for a couple Birra Korça. He heads back downstairs and comes up again with the beer.
“Do your legs get tired going up and down those all the time?” “It is good for me. I will be young forever.” “Haha buns of steel!” He walks away chuckling.
“This’ll do nicely.” “Ya, good spot. Cheers.”
The sun starts to set and things cool down pleasantly. Like a lot of port cities, Durrës seems to be equal parts rough and pretty at the same time.
And right on time the mood lights come on. This is great. We get another round.
“Still time enough to see a bit more of the place and grab a bite. Hit it after these beers?” “Ya let’s do it.”
On the way out we read up on the place.
That was cool, I like that little tower.
We walk along the wall beside and there are some sculptures and memorials set in against it.
There are signs leading to a Roman amphitheater, might as well check that out too.
On the way we find a fancy college
And a great mural that could pass for a long lost White Stripes album cover
Just passed the ruins of the walls we find the amphitheatre. A security dude looks at us bewildered, probably because we’ve got our packs with us. He doesn’t speak English but points out that it’s 200 lek to get in. I give him 500 and wave off the change (exchange rate is roughly 100 lek – 1 usd). He nods in thanks and motions for us to go in.
Alright, let’s learn stuff. This handy sign says that the place could hold 15-20,000 peeps and was built under Emperor Trajan’s rule in the 2nd century.
Very cool ruins and excavation site. Nice lighting in the dusk. We are the only ones here. Apparently this is the largest amphitheatre on the whole Balkan peninsula.
Doesn’t look like there’s any set direction to explore the area. “This way?” “Sure. And you can just walk all over the crumbling walls, I guess.” “Ya, that seems weird.”
We find some stairs down into the innards.
Lots of low ceilinged tunnels and archways. It’s creepy neat. Where the slaves got prepped to fight and they brought the beasts through. Crazy to think about what that would be like.
We pop out onto the main field area and walk to the middle to take in the scale of it all, pretend we’re gladiators and shit.
Looks like there is still lots to excavate here. In the other direction are the foundations of some more buildings.
This sign, which mostly regurgitates the info from the other sign, has a good point on it. With it’s proximity to Rome and position in the Adriatic Sea, it’s not hard to imagine Durrës being an important port city in the empire. And the ones to follow too. Today, Durrës is the second most populous city in Albania.
Well that was cool. Short and sweet. Time to find some foodies. Just around the corner is a strip of places with outdoor patios set up.
“Any of these will do, I think.” “Los Locos?” “You crazy, bro.”
We pull up some seats at a table off the sidewalk. “Pizzas, calzones, BBQ, sandwiches, sausages. Lot’s of stuff here.” “Meat platter for two?” “Haha well… actually, ya.” “Done.” “Seriously?” “Works every time, man.” “I suppose it does.”
There’s a football match on a big TV that we can watch through the window. It’s some Italian Series A teams, Internazionale versus Parma. “Alright, who you got?” “I’ll go blue. Who’s blue?” “I dunno, guess I’m the white guys.”
We’d initially gotten interested probably expecting to make light of the typical soccer drama but instead this turns out to be quite a good game. There’s some other interested parties out here on the patio jeering and cheering making for a fun atmosphere. Things are getting chippy and yellow cards are flying everywhere.
“Ohhhh goal from the blue guys! Suck it, bitch!” Oh wait, possible offsides. It’s getting reviewed. “They were soooo offside!” Nope, they weren’t. All tied up now. “Alright this is actually sweet. Loser buys dinner.” “Speaking of which.”
Meat Meat Meat Meat Meat Meat MEAT!
A solo diner beside us gets up to go to the bathroom and a guy walking by on the street snakes half of his bread and feeds it to a stray dog. “Well that pooch is never leaving here.” “Alright, we’ll be in Rome for Halloween. What should we do?” “Oh shit, I hadn’t even thought of that. Is Halloween big in Italy?” “No idea. I’m thinking tracksuit gladiators.” “So… Adidas tracksuits and then weapons and shit?” “I think so. Ya,pretty much.” “Italy through the ages hahaha.” “Literally a walking tour of Italy haha. This may actually be a good idea.” “I could drop cash to make that happen.”
Check my watch, “About ferry time?” “Let’s do it.” “Wonder what the border crossing situation is for the ferry in Italy.” “Probably atrocious. Can’t wait.” “Ok, let’s get over there.”
The game ends in a draw so we just end up splitting the bill anyways. We flip the packs back on and head off to the port.