It was a very early start to catch the 6.30am Regionale train from Albenga to Genova… it arrived bang on time which enabled us to catch the Intercity to Milano Centrale which then connected with the speedy ‘Freccerosso’ to Ancona, the ferry port for Durres in Albania and other destinations.
We thought we would walk the 3km to the port from the station, since we had arrived in plenty of time for check in for the ferry, rather than find a tabachi to buy local bus tickets.
We arrived at the ferry terminal ok….. but we found out that the check-in place was back 2km almost where we had come from! Fortunately we discovered that there was a free shuttle bus that ran every 15 mins between the check- in, the port terminal and the station! Frustratingly, there was nowhere on ticketing, or email confirmations that gave any indications as to the separation of check-in, passports and boarding.
Having checked in, passports duly checked and stamped to say we were leaving the EU we then boarded our ferry to Durres, one of the port cities in Albania.
We had booked a cabin for the overnight journey to Durres, so that we would arrive rested to deal with a new country , new language and different ways of doing things.
We sailed on time for a smooth crossing of the Adriatic Sea saying farewell to Ancona and temporarily to Italy.
On board, the majority of foot passengers were Albanian, who knew the score about occupying potential sleeping areas in the saloons with bags, airbeds…even a mattress! The other foot/cycle passengers were a mixture of nationalities, including Dutch, Swiss, British and German – there was apparently, another couple who had a tandem with them, although we never met them! All were puzzled by the fact we had cycle panniers with us, but no cycle!
At 8am the next morning, after a good sleep, we had our first sight of Albania, a sunny Durres Port.
Disembarcation was straightforward and soon we were outside the terminal to be greeted by a barrage of friendly, but insistent taxi drivers. “Where are you from?”, “where do you want to go”, “I can give you a good price”.
We were focussed, however on three main things to start with:
1) to purchase an Albanian data sim card for our stay to avoid steep roaming charges out of the EU so that we could continue to blog, use maps and send emails and messages
2) to get some Lek, the local currency, from a “Bancomat”
3) to find a market to buy our lunch.
Having achieved all 3 things we then found a convenient bar to have a coffee and fruit juice, to get the Sim card set up, and then decide where to spend the first night in Albania.
We decided to go to Berat, to the South of the country, since it had been recommended as one of the “must visits” of Albania, known for its unique Ottoman era houses, it’s imposing Ottoman castle and its scenic setting.
But how to get there! There was a sort of bus terminal near the port entrance with many coaches and minibuses each with signs in their windows giving their destinations.. but not Berat!.
Eventually we managed to find out that the bus system in Albania operates on the basis of bus hubs at various points on the outskirts, each one specialising in the routes related to its geographic position. You reach these bus hubs, often located anything up to 5km away from the centre, by a local bus.. 40 Lek…. equivalent to approx 35p, so not expensive.
At the end of the route there we saw the bus stands.. and a minibus with a sign “Berat”. On we got, with the ‘furgon’ only half full. I had read that longer distance transport in Albania doesn’t operate to a timetable.. Buses only leave when full!
Fortunately it wasn’t long before a group of young Dutch people turned up, and with plank seats fitted across the aisle of the minibus we set off.
Whilst travelling to Berat we had a look at what Airbnb could offer for a 2 night stay, making use of our newly aquired Albanian Sim card.
Came up trumps… a room in a family home in the Ottoman era old quarter was available at a very reasonable price. So we booked it for two nights ready for our arrival.
The way to find our accommodation,once we had arrived in Berat, was surprisingly easy, especially when you consider the Ottoman old quarter was a maze of narrow alleyways and cobbled streets.
We were greeted by our Albanian host who spoke no English but some Italian, as well as, of course , Albanian. Nevertheless, as one usually does, we were able to communicate the necessay details of where everything was in her home, and we soon got sorted out. Our room was beautufully presented and had a fabulous view of tye river and town through Ottoman style corner windows.