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After Kotor, our goal was to get to Greece, but there didn’t seem to be any obvious way to do it.  Flights were prohibitively expensive and there are no direct trains or busses.  There was a route that looked promising but it had to go back up to Belgrade first and would have taken several days.  So our options were to try and bus through Macedonia or Albania.  Luckily, we saw a flyer in our hostel that was advertising cheap car service to Tirana, the capital of Albania where we could (theoretically) transfer to a bus to Greece.  It required a minimum of four people but two others had already signed up.  So we paid our fee to ride the following day and went to sleep happy with the idea of having a nice peaceful ride down south.  So… we were picked up at 8am in a tiny little car.  With Amanda and I and our bags, the car was already full.  But then we stopped to pick up two more Australian girls and their huge suitcases.  So we crammed in, stacked the bags up on our laps and around our heads and drove down while listening to the drivers one “MTV’s Greatest hits 11″ CD on repeat for four hours.  We passed the Albanian border and saw the “Welcome to Albania” sign covered in red graffiti.  Then we passed mile after mile of broken buildings and derelict gas stations.  Amanda nearly screamed when we thought we saw a dog hanging from a noose in front of an old house, but it turned out to just be a stuffed dog.  Then we noticed that most of the houses had them.  I don’t know why.  When we finally got to Tirana, the driver dropped us off in the middle of a busy intersection, pointed in the direction of what we thought was the bus station (turns out it wash’t) and then took off.  We said our goodbyes to the Australians and parted ways.

Somehow we found a tourist information center and the guy inside gave us a map of all the bus stations.  In Tirana, there is no central bus terminal.  Instead, we went to a long street with dozens of travel offices, each of which runs one bus at one time to one destination.  Several of them were advertising trips to Greece but after checking with five of them, they were all sold out for the day.  Despondent at the idea of having to stay the night in this wretched city, we were about to give up, but we decided to check one more office, and lo and behold, they had two seats available on a bus that was leaving in two hours!   We grabbed a quick lunch at a quirky, almost Mafia-style restaurant with its dark back rooms  and were saved by a waiter who spoke great English and had an encyclopedic  knowledge of Albanian history.

The bus ride was supposed to take 8 hours and then drop us off at Ionina, a University town in Northern Greece that was a good departure point to see Meteora, an area with ancient churches that were seemingly impossibly perched on top of column-shaped cliff tops, barely wider than they are.  We were supposed to arrive at around 11PM.  Around 8PM we got to the border and saw 30 buses in front of us… each of which needed to be emptied of people and searched before it was allowed to cross.  It was the most disorganized craziest border that I’ve ever seen.  All along the side of the road were hundreds of passengers smoking cigarettes and waiting endlessly for their buses to make it across.  Roughly three hours later we were in Greece!  Sometime after that, we dozed off and then woke up at around 2AM…still on the bus.  I went and asked the driver how long it would be to Ionina.  His eyes got wide and I realized that we had passed it several hours ago but he never stopped.  He called a few other buses to see if any were going back north but of course they weren’t.  So his plan was to drop us off in Athens at 8am, and then we could transfer to another bus and take the 9 hour ride back north to Ionina.  Of course, that was out of the question, so we grudgingly  went back to our seats and went to sleep.  Sure enough, at 8am, the driver woke us up and told us (via a translater) that we needed to get off NOW at a station in Athens.  We weren’t sure why we were the only ones getting off though.  We spent about an hour trying to figure out what to do, but in the end, we got in a taxi, and asked him to take us a hotel that was listed in our guide book.  Somehow, the hotel had one room available and they let us check in right then and there.  So that’s how decided to skip northern Greece and go to Athens!

  • Border Between Albania and Greece

Posted: September 29, 2012

Author: Adam and Amanda

Category: Blog, Continents, Europe


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