As expected, I didn't catch the first bus in the morning. The night was just too short and I might had one beer too much. It was an incredibly hot day. The screen at a pharmacy stated 36 degrees Celsius and there was no single cloud to see on the sky. Knowing that the bus won't have aircon I didn't look forward to the ride to Vlore in Albania.
The first mini bus from Ulcinj to Shkoder didn't even have aircon, it didn't even have a free seat for me. Thus I had to sit on a box which was squeezed in between the seats in the aisle. That was definitely something else but comfortable. On the next bus I got lucky and got to sit on a regular seat. Gert - apparently named after Germanys "Bomber der Nation" Gerd Mueller - was sitting next to me. We talked about all the world and his wife until he had to get off the bus somewhere before arriving Tirana. Chatting to him definitely helped me to forget about last night's missing sleep. He even helped me to make sure that I would get on the right bus to Vlore. Cheers mate!
The ride seemed to take forever. Traffic is going slow in Albania, especially alongside the coast. There's only one main road with one lane for each direction. The landscape in this region is also very hilly which also forces cars to go slow. However, going slow also had the advantage to enjoy the beautiful landscape and its views.
About six hours later I finally arrived in Vlore. I hopped on a taxi which dropped me at a small hostel. A group of guests were chilling on the patio and a weed smelling cloud hang over their heads. This hostel was definitely a unique place. People of all ages were around. The oldest guest was around 80 years old. A guy from Philadelphia, USA traveling the Balkans by himself. Very impressive and inspiring! I hope that I'll be able to do that when I reach that age. After checking in and getting some dinner I finally got to catch up the missing sleep.
There are not really sights in Vlore so the hostel host recommended to spend the day on the beach. I asked him how to get there and if he had a free city map. He said: You've two options. Either you take the bus or a bicycle. Just know, the bus will drop you off at the not so nice city beach. If you go by bike then you could go to the nicer beaches outside of the city. That made the decision very easy and I rent a bike for the day. Unfortunately, he didn't have a map so he sat down and just drew one quickly for me. To be honest, I was a bit skeptical about its accuracy but to my surprise it was very accurate. I didn't get lost at any time. Amazing!
There are not many cyclists in Vlore. It actually seemed like I was the only one in town. It also seemed that car drivers are not too used to cyclists on the road. At one point I almost got run over... by a police car. Luckily nothing happened so I could continue my way and spent a nice and relaxing day on the beach.
Since I figured that there's not too much to do and explore in Vlore, I left the next day and headed down south to Sarande.
I was in the mood to go to the sea side next. I took a quick look at a map hanging at the reception of the hostel and decided to go to Ulcinj near the border of Albania. I asked the hostel host what to expect there. He said: It's a fun place. There're lots of bars and clubs. The historic old town is also beautiful. It's definitely worth to visit. That sounded promising to me. I grabbed a few flyers of Ulcinj hostels and left.
I found a nice looking hostel near Ulcinj city center and asked the guy doing some maintenance work if he was working there and if there was a free room or free bed in a dorm. It turned out that he was only the brother of the owner but he wasn't there at the moment. He called his brother and handed over his phone. The owner told me that he had a free bed in a dorm and asked me to wait for half hour until he would come along so that I could check in. I agreed, left my backpack at the hostel and walked to a nearby pizza place to grab some food. I went back to the hostel after not even half hour and waited for the hostel owner on the patio. A hostel guest came up to me after a while and handed me his phone. I grabbed it a bit irritated and just said: Hello? It was the hostel owner again to ask me if I could wait even longer without saying how much longer. I told him that I didn't want to spend my whole day with waiting and rather try to find accommodation somewhere else. So I gave back the phone, grabbed my stuff and left.
I was recommended to avoid the city beach because it's too crowded which I can confirm. There was literally no free space to sit and despite that it was pretty dirty. There was trash all over the beach. Not a pretty picture at all! Luckily there are smaller beaches just a little bit outside the city center which are less crowded and clean. I spent quite some time at one of them which even had a small bar ran by an elderly couple, probably in their 70s. Only the lady spoke some English so our conversation was always the same when I wanted to order. Me: Hello! Lady: Yes, boy! Me: Can I have a beer please? Lady: Why not! Me after getting another bottle: Thank you! Lady smiling: You welcome!
Like every night, I also spent my last night on the hostels patio, hanging with the other guests and drinking free beer. To my surprise, there were quite many people from Australia. I had a hard time to understand one guys strong Australian accent but after a while I adjusted to that. Him, two Welsh brothers, a few other people and I decided to go out that night. I actually planned to leave Ulcinj with the first bus the next morning but at that point I knew I wouldn't make it. And I didn't!
I was recommended to go to Virpazar next. So I decided to go there for a day trip. There's even a train going from Podgorica to Virpazar and then going further to Bar on the sea side. Just make sure that you don't get off the train too early, said the hostel host when I was about to leave. I asked: What do you mean? He answered: Well, there are not really signs at the train stations, so if you've never been there before you'll probably not know where to get off. Quite many people get off as soon as they see the lake but that's the wrong stop. You need to go one stop further. It's the one after crossing the bridge over the lake. I replied: Ok, cool! Thanks for the hint!
I didn't see a ticket vending machine at the train station so I was looking for a counter to get a ticket. There were two guys walking about 10 meters ahead of me opening a door and walking inside. I thought that must be it. I heard voices through the open window so I also opened the door and walked in. As soon as I stepped inside this office, the voices fell silent and the five guys inside were just looking at me. They all had that distinct face expression like: What the heck are you doing in here? I'd like to buy a train ticket to Virpazar, I addressed to the guy sitting behind a desk and looking most official. He replied: Sorry, you wrong here. I could definitely tell that I was wrong in this office. If you go outside again, turn right and walk further. There's a ticket counter. This is just an office. I answered: Alright! Thanks! Have a good day! and left this awkward situation.
I got my train ticket for only 1 Euro. I honestly expected to pay more hence it's an approximately 40-minute ride. There was already a train waiting. I thought: Pleaseâ¦not this one! The best days of that train were definitely already numbered. I think I have never seen such a rusty, dodgy looking train before. Luckily it turned out it wasn't my train. Just a few minutes later another nice and modern looking one appeared. I was very surprised. After seeing the other train I didn't expect that at all.
Virpazar is a small village nearby Skadar Lake which is the largest lake in Southern Europe. It's train station is outside of Virpazar and just a small building with a few mostly broken benches in front. I took picture of the unique looking hand written schedule, wondered if it's even an official document and started walking towards the village. A few minutes later a car stopped next to me and the driver asked me if I needed a lift. The lady already picked up two girls which I saw at the train station. So I gladly took that offer and hopped on as well. After introducing myself I asked the lady for recommendations in Virpazar. Everything that she recommend was related to the same restaurant and activities agency which was inside that restaurant. It was also located right at the beginning when you enter Virpazar and she even mentioned that she was working there. What a coincidence!
Although we booked a group boat tour we got lucky and got a private one because no one else signed up. The tour took about 2-2.5 hours. Our guide showed us around and even took us to a spot where we had the chance to swim and challenge yourself by using the five meter high diving platform. Standing up there felt way more than that so it took me some time to have the courage to jump. I guess at some point you've to jump if people are standing down at the beach and cheering for you.
We went back to Podgorica after having dinner. Arriving there it started pouring which was the sign to stay in for the rest of the night and hang with the guys at the hostel.
After picking up my backpack from the luggage belt I walked towards the exit of Podgorica Airport. I entered the airports entrance hall and now there were two things that I had to organize. First, get some cash and second, find transportation to the hostel in the city center of Podgorica. I booked one of the cheapest hostels that I could find online beforehand so that I had a place to go to on day one. I spotted a little information stand and asked the lady: Excuse me, what is the currency of Montenegro and do you probably also know the conversion rate to Euros? With a wide smile on her lips she answered: We also use Euros in Montenegro. I only thought: Oh my god, how embarrassing! I literally know nothing about this country! My stupidity definitely gave us a good laugh. After learning my first fact about Montenegro I asked her about public transportation to the city center. It turned out, that there's none and I had to take a taxi. The regular price would be 12 Euros and there were signs outside of the airport which tells you the fares.
Knowing that I had about 20 Euros in my pocket I decided to get cash later and walked outside to get a taxi. It only took a few minutes until a taxi showed up and I was on my way to the hostel. The ride was something else because the driver paid more attention to his phone than to the road. Furthermore, the best days of the taxi itself were also numbered which also meant that there was no seat belt on the passenger seat.
About 15 minutes later we arrived at the hostel. It was quite hard to find because it was simply a regular apartment in a multistory building. We actually only found it because there was a guy in front of the door who confirmed that it was in there. To my surprise, the price for the ride wasn't 12 Euros. The driver told me it was 13 Euros. I told him that I would know the fares and that the regular price would be 12 Euros. Thereupon he pretended not to understand me. So I gave him the 13 bucks which I would have done anyways to give him a small tip. I guess in that case the tip was already included in the price.
I got off the taxi and the guy at the front door asked me how much I paid for the ride. After telling him he was just saying: That's robbery! Normally it's 6 maybe 7 Euros. I was irritated and told him the lady at the airport also told me that it was 12 Euros and that there was even a sign with the fares which looks pretty official. He was upset about the price anyways and even wanted to report this fraud to the police. But I told him that he didn't need to do it because I thought the price was okay.
We talked for a bit and it turned out that he was working at the hostel so he escorted me upstairs. I checked in, dropped my stuff in the dorm, grabbed a free city map and my camera and started to explore Podgorica - the capitol of Montenegro.
There were not too many sights to visit in Podgorica. A slow one day walking tour is enough to see them all. The most significant ones are probably the Milenium Bridge, the Vladimir Vysotsky monument and the Cathedral of Resurrection of Christ.
I went to a restaurant which serves local dishes to get some dinner when it turned dark. The servers didn't speak any English which made it very difficult to ask for recommendations. But at least they had an English menu. I picked a mixed platter without knowing what exactly to expect. It turned out it was a meat platter. No side dish, only meat! Actually, there was kind of a side dish. There was a tiny pile of raw onions on the side. That was definitely an interesting culinary experience for me. Afraid of getting a heart attack by only eating meat I ordered a side salad to make it a well-rounded meal to me.
Back at the hostel I hung out with some other guys, had a beer, gathered information where to go next and called it a day.
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