We hung out at the apartment during the hottest part of the day in Dubrovnik. Enjoyed the view, had some wine, etc. We went down to the Old Square in the evening to buy some souvenirs, and wander around the square as we hadn’t done it yet.
We were wandering around the square before dinner, and we saw a bunch of commotion, so we immediately followed it. Two ladies in some swanky-ass attires were being followed by paparazzi and their security guards. We don’t know who they were, or anything, but they sure were causing a stir. It was interesting! And weird.
The Old Town was pretty, but boring. You had to pay to walk along the walls, that were up against the water, so we just walked around and saw the beach.
After missing a few buses, we finally got back to the apartment and packed for our next morning’s bus adventure.
Here comes the gongshow.
So we were supposed to meet in front of the grocery store by the bus station at 8:30am to catch our bus for the bus tour. We got there nice and early and met a lady named Sherry who was on the same trip as us. Our guide came up, we were talking, he asked why we were interested in the tour and we explained that we wanted to end up in Athens, and this was the best way to get there and get to see all the little countries in between.
We got on the bus and about 45 minutes outside of Dubrovnik, our tour guide gets a call saying he left 3 people at the grocery store. So he opens a list on his phone and asks us to find our names, and they weren’t there, neither was Sherry’s. We were on the wronnnnnnnnng tour. So the driver pulls a 180 on this narrrrrow seaside highway, and we peel back to Dubrovnik, even though our real bus had left.
So we got back and frantically called every number we had from our tour (after being heavily blamed for getting on the wrong bus by the tour guide). Some guy at Med Experience told us our bus would turn around and get us. We patiently waited outside the grocery store for a solid hour before Mel gets a text from a random number saying “take a taxi to the border to meet the bus”. We proceed to call all these numbers again and try to figure out what to actually do. We ended up grabbing a cab, and he kept telling us how long it would be with traffic. He took a bunch of sketchy back roads and we pulled up to a big line of traffic and he says “ok, it’s about an 800 meter walk from here”. We grab all of our stuff and lug it up the side of the mountain (ended up being about 2km) to the border to meet the bus.
We got on the bus and knew that everyone hated us. So we kept our heads down and our mouths shut and enjoyed the ride.
We first stopped in Kotor, Montenegro, which is a coastal town in Montenegro with a castle up on the mountainside. Originally, when we were looking at going from Dubrovnik to Athens, there were no trains and we couldn’t figure out why. Now, after travelling through these little countries, we realized there are no trains because of a) poor infrastructure in these neighboring countries b) It’s generally all mountain, even the highways don’t have two lanes (one in each direction) half of the time.
Kotor was nice; we had lunch and walked around. It was small, but a huge cruise ship had just docked there. Interesting spot to stop! We kept driving for what seemed like ever (a total driving day of about 9 hours). When we crossed the border into Albania, we could see a clear distinction between it and Montenegro. Montenegro is becoming a big holiday/beach destination because it’s cheaper than it’s Croatian neighbors and a lot less visited. Our driver said that a lot of Russians are starting to invest there to make it into a new tourist destination – all of the signs were in their native language, English and Russian. Interesting considering how far away from Russia they are!
Albania was communist until 91, and our tour guide (born and raised in Albania) said they have had a hard time modernizing since. Visibly, they are extremely poor and have very poor infrastructure. You can see they are desperately trying to catch up. We drove through towns, villages and a couple cities for about 5 hours. It was really eye-opening. Lot’s of shacks, a surprising amount of vehicles, lot’s people walking their cows or goats across the highway. Very different.
Our tour guide told us the average teacher makes 350 euros per month, doctor 500-600, and nurse 300. His wife is a fourth grade teacher and she makes 350 a month. Crazy to compare. Everything here is extremely cheap mind you. We made it to Tirana last night, and the culture is very different. The city goes from “nice” to poor very quickly. The city is also much, much more advanced than the rural areas. We didn’t see a traffic light for 4 hours – until we reached Tirana. The hostel we stayed at last night was pretty dumpy. Small, old, ya know. They only had two washrooms and two showers for the entire hostel and they were in the same room. We ended up sharing a room with Sherry, and two New Zealanders. They were all super nice.
The Hostel was called Hostel Propaganda, and the décor was dictators… not kidding. They had headshots of famous communist dictators (Hitler included) on the wall in the lobby. Major weird.
This morning we got up and went to exchange money, as most places here don’t accept the Euro – they use the Albanian Lec. The exchange is about 100 Lec to 1 Canadian dollar. I got a big bottle of water, a Pepsi, a bag of chips and some candy for 380 Lec (3.80 Canadian) this afternoon. Crazy.
We gathered with the group in the lobby and went for a walking tour around Tirana to see the buildings. We saw their parliament, Mother Theresa square (she was Albanian) and some other significant buildings in Albania. Near one of the squares, young kids were trying to sell us pens. Their pick-up line was “where are you from?” so they obviously cornered Mel. They asked where she was from, and she asked them where they were from, and they went back and forth until one kid said Albania, and Mel said “hey, me too!” – which made them go away!
It’s sad to see how third world the majority of the country is. After we left Tirana, we headed for a beach town an hour from called Dourres. On the way, we drove right through some slums and saw kids in kiddy pools washing themselves with bottled watered on their front lawn. Very sad.
This afternoon, after Tirana, we went Dourres. Another funny story. We sat with our new friends, Matt (British kid) and Sherry, and we ordered our food and were blabbing away. They ended up bringing Sherry and I’s food first, so we started to eat. The other two didn’t get their food for a while so our guide went and checked on it, and they brought out my dish… I ate the wrong food. I ate some other girls risotto who is on our tour… like great way to make friends is by stealing their food – proven theory. Anyways, I got two big bowls of risotto which I couldn’t finish either, and I had to pay for both of them – they were 5 dollars Canadian each, which is absurd so really not a big loss there.
After the beach town, we went to Berat and walked around the castle. It was built in the 13th century so it was olllldddd, and kind of in ruins. It was neat and overlooked Berat on one side, and a big valley on the other. It was neat to see everything from so high up – different perspective was very neat. There were a few churches inside – most of them burned down from the inside during the communist era, so there was little to see. Berat (where we are staying overnight) had over 90 churches, which is down to about 9. They are all super old, and some of them have some of the old artifacts and paintings still inside – I honestly didn’t care that much, I was more interested in checking into the hotel and having a shower because I was the sweatiest little pig.
This hotel is pretty nice. We have our own room, and our own bathroom – so basically 2000 times better than Propaganda.
We got to try a traditional Albanian meal tonight, if we wanted to, so we decided yes. We walked through Berat (which is under a lot of construction – sidewalks and such), and we literally walked through the construction zone with big ass holes in the side walk.
I got wine at the restaurant and we got a 6 course “traditional” meal. We had a cucumber, tomato, onion and pepper salad, baked zucchini and peppers, a phyllo pastry with some gross cheese, lamb meat balls (in the shape of a patty) and baked chicken in tomato sauce. Majority was naaaaaaat my style – but some of it was good! Did I mention it was 1200 Lec (12 dollars). With the wine, it was 1400 Lec (14 dollars) and you don’t tip here. So for 6 courses, wine and a chance to meet our new friends, it was more than worth it!
Afterwards (10 o’clock), our guide said he could possibly show us the University in town. A few years ago, Albania allowed private universities to open. Originally, they had 4 public universities but within a few years they had about 60 private universities. These schools were known as “diploma factories”. They also just had elections, and two days ago they closed over half of them to try and take education more seriously. So the university in town here was half public, and half private, so it actually just got closed. Our guide knows the guard, so we got to go tour it and it was amazing. We got to go to the top floor and see the library, which was amazing. It was a big dome, which was painted all nice, had skylights, and was done in all dark wood. It was so nice.
Anyways, we have made some cool friends so far, and I feel like we have won some people over after the bus incident. I didn’t blog yesterday because I was a bitter betty about the whole day. As we were walking across the border yesterday, it made me realize how appreciative we should be that we can freely walk across our border, from a safe country to another safe country. Many people do not have that freedom, or that safety. That is one thing I appreciate. I also appreciate the democracy that we live in, which allows us a strong and reasonably priced education, the freedom to seek safe medical professional care and the freedom to speak and believe in whatever we want, whether it be religion, politics or what you want to study.
We’ve had tow different tour guides so far, both Albanian, and they are so proud of where they come from, and how far their country has come. It was really is amazing. They know what their country looks like in comparison to others, but they don’t care. They believe in their new found freedom and the future of their nation. We should take more pride in our country, it’s history and its future.
Tomorrow we are off to some beach, and we stay overnight in Saranda. We also get to go to Corfu (a greek island) that we didn’t think we would be able to!
Another funny tidbit – at lunch today, we were chatting with Sherry and I asked what she did in San Francisco. Turns out, Sherry is a lawyer, an aspiring yoga instructor and a Go-Go dancer… what a combo! She’s so funny, and totally in on the joke. We all rag on each other about missing the bus, etc.