BootsnAll Travel Network

Er…Maybe I Will Stay in Albania Another Day After All (aka Touring Durres, Albania)

So, as I sat waiting for the bus this morning, I thought to myself, ‘You know Court, you have not seen a lot of this area yet. You should really stick around another day…you know, take a day trip to the coast to check out the old capital, Durres.’

Well, that’s the positive way of looking at the fact the bus broke down and I am stuck here another day regardless.

I made it to the bus stop around 8:15 and hung out with a dozen or so other people for the 9 a.m. bus to Macedonia. Despite the fact the boarder is only like 150 km away, it is a 4 or 5 hour ride, and there are only two buses a day…one at 9 a.m., and one at 9 p.m. Since arriving in Macedonia at 2 a.m. does not appeal to me, I was sticking with the 9 a.m. bus.

However, about 20 minutes before our bus was due to arrive, people are frantically discussing something and two people storm away, only to come back. A man with limited English is able to convey to me, ‘Autobusse…bad.’ A bad bus? I shrug. Oh well, I have taken bad busses before, and it is my only option, so I am going to take it.

About 15 minutes later, a woman arrives from the company and everyone starts gathering their bags. Um? What? I pull out my translation guide, but unfortunately there is no translation for ‘Help, where is the bus? What is going on? Can I go to Macedonia today?’ At seeing my obvious distress, another man asks me in flawless, American-accented English, ‘Are you American?’ while his wife gives him a dirty look. ‘Yes! Could you please explain what is going on?’ He says that the bus is in the city, however, it is broken down. The next bus is at 9 p.m. He asks the woman from the office when it would arrive and upon hearing her answer, I frown. ‘Come tomorrow,’ he says with a shrug and a smile, ‘these things happen. We will be here then.’ His wife, either in pity or scorn, murmmers, ‘besides, I would not take a night bus.’

I half-heartedly wave goodbye and truge back to the nearby Hotel Republika to pay 20 bucks a night (down from my original 25 the first night), as the only customer in the joint, offering the smiling gap-toothed man a shrug and ‘Autobusse no functiona’, making a breaking movement with my hands in case my Albanian-Spanish-Italian answer did not come through, as an explaination.

I throw my bag down, dig out my dirty laundry and begin the what-I-am-sure-will-be-difficult question-game called ‘where can I wash my clothes’ with the receptionist. The option I hoped for – that they would do it, and for a decent price – eventually emerged. FYI for those traveling in Eastern Europe – doing your own laundry is practically impossible here, even in hostels. The ones that do advertise laundry usually mean that they only do it for you…at rates of 5 euros a tiny load. UGH. Whenever I pay this amount, I sometimes think about the fact I probably only paid 15 bucks for the 7 dollar load they are washing. However, in this case it only set me back $3, so I was pretty happy.

Excited by the idea of a load of clean clothes, I headed back to the north bus/train station for a ride to Durres. Durres was the old capital of Albanian. It offers old Roman ruins, a palace of the 1930s self-proclaimed King ruler (unvistable as a current military establishment), and, most importantly, the comparatively clean air of the Adriatic Sea.

The beaches are dirty, the city is full of trash, but compared to Tirana, Durres is perfect. I spent the day looking at the one museum in town (it took about 15 minutes), checking out the old Roman ampitheatre with a remarkably in tact mosaic and cool stone entryways where the gladiators used to wait, climbing the steep road to the palace and nearby lighthouse and eating a pizza on the waterfront. I should note that at every one of these places, I was the ONLY PERSON. I wonder how they stay open? I have also enjoyed reading Biografi, a travelogue/ficition story about Albania in 1991 that Bob at the office gave me before I left. I have read about half of it today and I appreciate it quite a bit since I can relate to the places the author is writing about (although with all the historical info he provides!).

After three days of staying on my own, I am a little ready to meet some more travelers and find a few menus that are translated into English (or, at least, in a language I can somewhat understand), but it has been a great experience going places where there really are not tourists. However, I think I will have to wait another week for that, when I head to Budapest.

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