6 days,  April 06


Kind of travel: A wholly independent travel

When: 21st- 26th April 06

How I moved: Vans that leave when full (furgons) have been the main means of transport. Sometimes by taxi (expensive!!) and once by a private car

Freezing or baking?: apart two chilly rainy days, it has been a wonderfull sunny spring weather (20C)

Where I slept: small hotels but not so cheap (10-20 euro)

What I liked: the honesty of the people, the Ersek- Permet road and the unmissable Berat

What I disliked: the rubbish thrown everywhere, the half-built houses, the bumpy dusty roads and the furgons/ buses stinking of vomit

How much daily: albania it's not so cheap. Furgons or buses: 1.2 euro/ hour of travel (2-  6 euro). Taxis are very expensive: 30 km= 20 euro (Tirana- airport, ufficial fare: 21 euro = 2500 lek)  Hotels: 10-30 euro for a double. Restaurants: 4-9 euro. Final daily expenses: 35 euro/day

Dangers/ hassles: believe me or not, I seriously risked to break my leg in one of the several opened sewers in the walk side!!! For the rest I found Albania a safe country

What you do need: some motion sickness medicines in the mountainy roads, since, even if you don't normally suffer them, the stink of vomit in the buses won't help you :-)


What a luck to meet an helpful Italian businessman on the flight to Tirana and get a lift directly till Elbasan!!
Thank Pierangelo for your help and your company in my first taste of Albania.
Elbasan is a small nice town, it was a pity I had no time to have a stroll around before I jumped on the minibus to Korca (3h, 3euro). In Albania such minibuses (called furgon), that leave when full, are the main means of transport: by furgon you can reach almost any corner of the country.
The road to Korca is very scenic especially while skirting the lake Ohrid where I would have like to stop over! Korca is one of the biggest towns in Albania with a young student population. The day after I rented a taxi for a half day trip to Voskopoje (3h, 23euro). Some centuries ago this town, 20 Km from Korca, was the biggest city of the Balcans, while nowadays it’s nothing more than a typical rural village, plunged in the mountains, where to wander around for some hours.
The trip proceeded and I really recommend you the mountainy road from Korca to Permet, called the Tibet of Albania; even if the 6 hours bus trip can be tiring, the view is great. In Permet I got a furgon to Gjirokastra (2h) where I hanged around a bunch of hours before getting on the seaside in Saranda (furgon, 1.5h). Here you can breathe a Mediterranean atmosphere, more touristy (read richer) than the inland, but you can enjoy the pleasure to eat a good fish in any of the severals restaurants by the sea.
The bus trip from Saranda to Berat has been long (7h) and frankly a little bit disgusting; read the storyXXXX!
Berat is very beautiful and you cannot miss it if travelling in Albania!!! The landscape on the way from Berat to Tirana gets flat and boring, having no comparison with the southern part.
Tirana is a mix of styles (italian, soviet, super modern, slums…), but it’s difficult to get charmed. Anyway I recommend you don’t miss the awesome train station :-) and the nightlife at the "bloku" quarter.
The last day I had a day trip in the ‘not so special’ Kruje before flying back home.





Travelling in Albania I was surprised both in positive and negative. In fact since I didn’t expect to find so nice people compared to the unfair stereotype but at the same time I was impressed by the "undevelopment" of the country.
Few hundreds meters driving from the airport are enough to realise about the terrible condition of the roads in Albania. The amounts of holes and unpaved parts make each travel so bumpy and slow. That’s probably why there are almost only the solid Mercedes cars, apart of the furgons, on the roads of the whole country.
In addition it’s a pity to see such amount of rubbish thrown down the cliffs in wonderful mountain areas, where the people seem to have no respect of the environment. Some aspects of the country like the railway system (don’t miss the station in Tirana) or the open sewers in the streets (I really risked to break my leg!!) are so far from belonging to Europe.
I wondered about the Albanian incomes, since I didn’t see factories, the agriculture doesn’t seem systematically exploited and the cost of the life is not really peanuts.
On the other hand I met so helpful and honest people, who never took advantage of me, even when they clearly had the chances. The country is safe and travelling turned out a pleasure.





The view on the way from Saranda to Berat in most of the parts is nice, the weather was sunny and fresh, but the travel turned out awful!!!
The furgon left from Saranda sharp at 8.00am carrying no more than 10 passengers, and immediately I started smelling a stink typical of a person who hasn’t taken a shower for several months. I tried to spot the origin of such stink but unsuccessfully. I was surprised I was the only one was who was getting nervous for it: all the others seemed untouched while I was literally choking in particular because the furgon, having no windows, was a sealed stinking box.
Quite soon I realised I should have put up with it for a long time but I couldn’t imagine it would have been such long torture. I started breathing through my sleeve, but then I realised that standing was the only escape. It was not comfortable to try to not falling keeping hung in such mountainy and bumpy roads, but anyway I improved my situation.
Everything seemed become bearable when suddenly a guy ran to the driver, he took a plastic bag giving to an old woman on the back. I started sweating thinking the worst could happen, and in fact it happened: she started throwing up like a river overflowing. The stink got unbearable but I definitely freaked out when I saw the vomit flowing under my feet. I tried to move frontward but I couldn’t do that much apart insulting the woman!
I was looking forward the travel finished but it wasn’t even the half of the trip. Then I hoped about a stopover, and every minute seemed so long to me. Luckily some passengers began to complain since they had to wee, but the driver didn’t seem to care too much. It took five hours before the minibus stopped for the lunch and I could breathe again.
Sometimes travelling is tough.




  2. MONEY





EU citiziens can get (and pay 10 euro) a VISA directly at the airport.



The currency is the new Lek (1 new lek= 10 lek). Beware that in several places prices are written in Lek (old ones), hence should be divided by ten. Nobody never tried to cheat me in such sense even thay had the chance. In fact many times I wrongly paid ten times more, but I always got the change back.



  Watch out the open sewers in the towns, even in Tirana; I seriously risked to break my leg

  On the long bus (or furgon) journeys try to take a seat near an opening window, since likely the stink of vomit will make the air quite unbreathable

     Beware, taxis are very very expensive compared to the cost of life in Albania (10 euro per 10 km)



Since I didn't found many info in the guides about the frequency of the means of transport between the town, I think the following could turn out useful:

Itinerary Departure
Saranda- Gjrokastra- Berat 8.00 am- 14.00 , everyday (6h)
Saranda- Tirana 5.00- 6.30- 8.30- 9.30- 10.30 am, everyday (8h)
Saranda- Fieri 5.30 am, everyday
Korca- Permet 13.00, 17.30 every day (5,5h)
Korca- Gjrokastra 6.00 am, 3 times/week (7h)
From Berat (all the destinations)

click to enlarge

Beside the buses the furgons get almost everywhere and they are scheduless since they leave when full. Of course there are vey few long distance furgons (forget Saranda- Tirana by furgon!!)




The Albanian railway system looks quite medioeval; don't miss the train station in Tirana!

Train schedule to/ from Tirana