It’s the start of week 4 of my 6 week adventure through the Balkans.

Time to say goodbye to North Macedonia and hello to my new home this week – Albania!

Ever since I went paragliding a couple of days ago, my sinuses have been stuffed up.   I actually feel bad for my dorm mates as I’m sure my sniffling through the night is probably just as bad as someone snoring.

Well, they won’t have to worry about me anymore cause I was out of there bright and early with a 6:30 alarm.

My bus to Albania left at 8am which, if you ask me, is way too early to be catching a bus.

Sometimes, though, while you’re backpacking, you’ve just gotta grind out those early morning bus trips from time to time.

First stop: Tirana

I took two buses today.   The first one was straight forward as I had bought a ticket online for a direct bus from Ohrid to Tirana.

Interestingly, all the people who had bought an online ticket were directed to the ticket counter.   We had to purchase a printed receipt for 50mkd ($1.10).

One guy had a real tough time about why he had to pay an extra buck and I was just standing there thinking “it’s only a buck!”.

One thing I’ve noticed with taking buses here in the Balkans is that they don’t check if you have a ticket very often.   You can literally just walk onto a bus and never get checked.

Even with having to purchase a printed receipt today, all I had to do was show a QR code on my phone.   It could have been a QR code to anything cause she didn’t scan it or even look to see the attached info about the bus.

Not that I’m condoning it, I’m just saying it’s been interesting.

Ohrid is very close to the Albanian border.   In fact, it only took a half hour til we reached border control.

The bus driver walked down the bus collecting all our passports and forming what I can only call a “passport rainbow” that he kept on the dash of the bus.

A half hour later we were through customs and in Albania.

The bus was supposed to only take 2 1/2 hours but didn’t arrive in Tirana until 11:30, a full hour later than scheduled.

Oh well, no big deal.

I took a quick pitstop at a nearby restaurant to use the facilities and then found an ATM at a nearby mall.

It was time for my second bus…

Second stop: Berat

Now this bus experience was a tad bit different…

It wasn’t unexpected though as I had read about the process of taking regional buses in Albania and I was ready for what was next.

First thing was to take a taxi from the International bus station to the Regional station which was a few km away.

Next I had to enter the zoo.

Literally, a zoo!

Whether you call them mini buses or caravans or furgons as the Albanians call them – there were dozens and dozens of them.

All with people out front yelling out their destination trying to rally people into their bus.

I just walked down the line and would ask each person “Berat?” and they would point me along.

I finally found the furgon I needed with a big “Berat” sign in its’ windshield.   The van fit 20 people and I walked instead to find a dozen people in there already.

It was hot as hell in there and I was just praying that the a/c would be turned on once we started down the road.

The way furgons work is that they don’t leave at a designated time.   You just show up and when the van fills up, they leave.

It was only about 10 minutes of waiting until the last passenger got on and, to all our relief, the a/c kicked in and we started down the road.

Two hours later, we were in Berat.

Normally I always walk or take public transit to get to my hostel but today I decided to take my 3rd taxi of the day to get to the hostel.

The taxi costs 500lek ($7) which was actually the same amount at the 2 hour bus ride I just took but it was hot out, I was stuffed up, and I really didn’t care about 7 bucks.   I just wanted to be at my hostel.

Incidentally, for comparison, the bus would have cost 30lek (40c).

A lazy afternoon

After checking in and getting my coveted bottom bunk bed, I was back out the door around 3pm.

I only had one mission and, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you know it was to get food.

Hell, I’ve written this entire day’s blog so far and not a single mention of food!

That’s because I hadn’t eaten yet and I was starving!

I walked down the street to some restaurant I had marked on my map.   I had no idea why it was marked (I gotta get better at making notes of why I’m marking places) but I trusted it, so I went there.

The sky today was completely clear.   Not a single cloud to be found and it was a far cry from those nice warm, cloudy days last week in Macedonia.

It was a hot 33C and you better believe I was lathered in suntan lotion.   Especially my poor little bald head.

For lunch (or is breakfast?), I had a veal and okra stew with a side of fried potatoes which just turned out to be french fries.

By 4:30 I was back at the hostel and after a nice, long, hot shower, I sat my ass in bed and didn’t get out again until well after 7pm.

I spend the late afternoon chatting a bit with my new roomie, watching a poker streamer, and catching up my blog writing.

Frankly, I just wanted to do nothing.   Just sit back and relax.

Like I said, I did finally get out of the hostel again around 8pm for, you guessed it, food.

High Expectations

I walked down the street to another place I had marked on my map.

This place was also recommended by the person I checked in with at the hostel so I was pretty excited to go to this restaurant.

I walked up to the restaurant to find a line out the door.

I was in no hurry and, to me, a line out the door is a good sign.

The place was pretty small with only 10 tables outside and a handful inside.

I waited for 30 minutes to get a table but I didn’t care.

My expectations were through the roof!

Highly recommended.   Highly reviewed.   And a line out the door!

Well, let me tell you about dinner…

…it sucked!

I had the stuffed eggplant and a pork chop.   The eggplant came out swimming in oil and the pork chop was so dry that I had to drench each piece in yogurt sauce.

The entire time I was there, I just couldn’t believe that the place got such high ratings.

And the service… nope… just nope.

Anyway, I finally just left the cash on the table because I got bored waiting for my server to return with a bill.

On the bright side, on the way back to the hostel I passed a little restaurant with a grill smoking all kinds of meats and made a mental note.

Dinner is there tomorrow night!

And that was the day.

It was a long day getting here and, sadly, I’m still stuffed up but I’m here for 3 more days without anything really planned.

This is officially my vacation in my vacation.

And I’m all for it…

Balkan Trip 2023, Trip Journal, Berat, Albania
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