DAY TWO - Tirana to Shkoder

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Europe » Albania » North » Shkodër
June 11th 2023
Published: June 11th 2023
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I wake up a few times in the night but on the whole I sleep pretty well. I wake up with a headache through and my back is sore. I’m up earlier than my alarm so I take some migraine tablets, jump in the shower using the free shower gel and my swan towels. I accidentally spill water over my power bar and plug adaptor so I unplug and dry off as best I can hoping I don’t get electrocuted. Then I repack my bag, reorganising it as I know I’ll be leaving my big bag in Shkoder. After a few stretches for pain relief I feel a bit better so I head to breakfast which is a free buffet. I can’t risk milk or yoghurt and coffee is extra so I opt for toast with Nutella, tea, orange juice. I also pocket a ham and cheese sandwich, a banana and an orange plus a couple of cake bars for lunch today and breakfast tomorrow. I’m in a hostel tonight so no included meal tomorrow. They fill my hot water bottle for me which helps a lot with the pain. After breakfast I head up and do a bit more stretching then I head out. I leave 200lek for the cleaners (£1.60) and the same to the breakfast staff.

At the end of the road I find the bus stop and the first bus tells me he goes to terminal when I show him my map so I hop on with all my bags and a ticket guy comes over wearing a yellow high vis. It’s 40 for a ticket about 30p and the bus takes about 30 minutes. I people watch and follow on my maps until we reach terminal. I follow everyone inside the gate; it's essentially a parking lot filled with buses, where all the coaches are lined up with signs in their windows. A man asks if I’m going to vlore I say no Shkoder and he says yellow bus and points. The yellow bus is easily spotted and after establishing that I don’t want to put my bags under, I get on the bus and find a seat nearer the back. I am treated to music all the way from the seat behind, but it's a chill Albanian hip hop, so I find I don’t mind it. The ticket guy comes around, and my bus is 400 again.

I realise about halfway that I am on the wrong side as the mountains are on the other side but there’s no option to move. About an hour in we turn towards the mountains so my view improves. I see a lot of power stations and newly built mansions. The mountains grow bigger and then we head into a colourful, vibrant town with lots of coffee shops, shops selling everything and the bus pulls into the main roundabout in front of a beautifully built museum. I need a bathroom urgently so I head straight for coffee and find a coffee shop that is clearly still being built. I order a coffee then ask to use the toilet which smells and has no toilet roll but it does the job and I have wipes and hand sanitizer. Outside in the coffee shop there is an espresso and a water waiting for me so I sit and chill for a while and use the WiFi which is fast. After about an hour I head to my hostel which is a 4 minute walk away. It is hot but there’s a nice breeze. The hostel is up 4 flights of stairs -killer but for £7/night I’m not complaining.

I’m early so I connect to the WiFi and start to send a message to the owner when a voice suddenly comes from nowhere and I locate a camera in the corner. It directs me to room 6 and the bed nearest the door and says he’ll be here in an hour. I go in and settle on the bed nearest the door, but it is awful so soft. I try a few others, but the top bunks are better, and the other bottom bunk isn’t too bad, so I quickly move my stuff off the bed and towards the patio door and the more firmer bed. A Canadian guy comes and gives me the lay of the land. He’s been here 3 weeks and says the owner does everything, but he’ll turn up when he’s ready. I’m in no rush, I’m early and needed a few chill hours anyway. I set up all my stuff to charge. About half an hour later, a Japanese guy arrives, and we have a quick chat, he’s doing the same trip as me through the mountains, but the other way round. He goes to shower, and I see him take water from the big bottle in the fridge, so I quickly do the same. I also out my main backpack in the free locker and put my lock in it as I noticed earlier there was only two Lockers but a 5 bed dorm and I want to be able to lock my laptop away.

The Canadian guy comes back and chats to us both for a bit then we sit and wait; the Japanese guy, Yuki on the top bunk and me on a chair on the balcony. I eat my sandwich, cheese square, banana and chocolate biscuits while I wait. After two and a half hours I give up and send him a WhatsApp to say I’ve claimed my bed and I’m heading out and will catch up with him later. I head into town and towards the big mosque and bell tower I saw earlier and take a lot of photos. The next street looks like an upscale market so I wander down there onto what looks like a designer street with high end shops and lots of bars and restaurants with a strip for seating in the middle. It’s both peaceful and bustling at the same time and the buildings were incredible. In a glasses store a lady gives me a microfiber cloth to clean my camera lens and lets me keep it. Friendly. I took a lot of photos as I wandered through the street. Eventually it started to become more residential so I turned left and then left again took me round the front of the mosque and the church I’d been spying earlier. I took a lot more photos before heading back to the hostel.

The guy had still not come back and the Yuki was still lying in the same place so I headed out again for the castle ruins which was the must do sight in the area. A lot of blogs suggested doing it at sunset but it looked like an hour through the rougher part of town that we had driven through earlier, so I was wary of risking it. It was a long walk, but I felt safe. There was plenty to see and take photos of, but there was an ominous sound of thunder and black clouds just in the direction I was heading. Still, I carried on, and my first view of the castle told me it would be worth it. It looked incredible up on a hill over the town, so I started up. It wasn’t a long or hard uphill, but it was muggy and hot, and the thunder boomed ominously and louder. At the first lookout, it felt like a spoiler alert for what was to come. At a barrier I paid 400 lek to a guy in a t-shirt that said staff and his kid took my money and gave me my ticket. He looked like he wanted to be anywhere else but there.
Around the corner, we had to dodge a minivan reversing down a steep incline but got the first view of the castle. It was pretty impressive. I desperately wanted a picture through the gate looking downwards, but a tour group was in the way. I carried on in with the feel of gentle raindrops falling on me. It looked like the storm had arrived. Inside, I could have stayed for hours it was incredible from every side. I skipped the first lookout as a tour group, beat me to it, and headed inside and upwards. Tirana and the rivers to the south and the vast fields to the East made incredible sights as I came through the ruins ahead of me and on my left. As I turned to the right, the view across the lake was Montenegro. The castle was huge up top, and every corner had a different but equally incredible view. The mountains were incredible. The storm, which somehow passed over, created the most amazing clouds and moody blackness. It was so beautiful from every angle. The castle was a ruin but a very well-preserved one, so it made for an amazing backdrop for the hundreds of photos I took. There was a cafe at the top where I picked up a bottle of water before I headed out. At the last (or first) lookout, the view North was the accursed mountains where I’ll be headed tomorrow. I stayed there for ages, taking lots of photos and silently laughing at the German, French, and English guy who were arguing about how to take a photo. Once they left, I asked a French couple to take a photo of me and hated them all so I took some selfies instead. Reluctantly I headed down but it was gone 6 and I was hungry.

The way down went really quickly but I managed to get the photo I wanted on the way up. My knee felt like it went part way down the mountain but a rest and some stretches seemed to sort it out. My feet started to hurt half way through the walk back and I think that this was probably too long a walk for new Birkenstocks. I passed lots of bars and restaurants but all with groups of men sat around in them. There’s an amazing looking bar with egg chairs and all groups of women but no food so I walk on. I noticed that a lot of women I see are dressed in black so I’m wondering if it’s a traditional thing on Sunday. I have high hopes for one of the three restaurants over from the hostel but one has no food, one is fast food and the other is gelato so I ended up at a seafood place beside the hostel that I’d ruled out for being expensive. Needs must though. I ordered a shrimp risotto and a Pepsi which came to 850, way more than last night but it was huge and tasty.

I jumped on the wifi and found that I’d had a message from the hostel owner to say he was there around 5pm, two hours after I’d left. 5 hours after he said he’d be there. I messaged back at 7pm that I’d just got WiFi and ordered food but would be back in 30 minutes and got an OK in response. I rushed my meal, over tipping rather than waiting for change so as not to be late getting back to find him not there. I messaged saying I was here and got another ok. As an hour stretched to two I started panicking about my bus for tomorrow as its meant to leave at 7 and there’s only one per day. I’m assuming he needs prepayment or it wont be booked. The Japanese guy is going to Valbone first and his bus is booked to pick up here at 630 so its not like I can go with him . No answer to my text. I message at half eight just to check my bus is still OK for tomorrow. No answer. At 9pm I call and he says he is coming. By 930 he is here and my buses are booked and all is well with the world. At least for me, the Yuki has been doing laundry for 5 hours and seen nothing of Shkoder. An hour later his laundry is done and drying on the balcony. He’s getting picked up at 630 and having to sort that before he leaves, I’m not until 720 so I’m hoping he’ll act as my alarm. I set backups just in case. I chill for a while before going to sleep around 1030, grateful for the air conditioning not so grateful for the call to prayer from the mosque.

Orange, 2x toast with Nutella, 2 x chocolate bicsuit, ham and cheese sandwich, shrimp risotto
Orange juice, tea, 8 x water pepsi

Money 6640 lek £53.60 includes all transport until Friday

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