Despite its problems Tiranë is a fascinating place which deserves more exploration than we had time for. Up early on Monday morning but without time for a breakfast we had to head off towards the rail station from near which buses left for our next destination Durrës.
We walked through the streets of the city as it was coming to life and shopkeepers were putting their wares out on the pavements for the day. Finding our bus easily enough we watched as an impromptu market was set up on the street next to us.
As the bus attempted to pull out from where it was parked we had yet more evidence that there are few road rules in Albania. The bus edged slowly out into traffic that steadfastly refused to give way preferring instead to swerve round the bus whilst furiously honking their horns and paying scant regard to oncoming traffic. Eventually we got out into the traffic flow but progress was painfully slow at first through the city centre. A little way further out we began to pick up speed as we passed through more of the run-down blocks of flats that surround the centre before hitting the main highway out to Durrës.
The terrain between Tiranë and Durrës is fairly flat with some low rolling hills here and there and the road is more or less straight all the way. Coming into Durrës, Albania’s second city, it appears to be more of the same. Dreary apartment blocks line the main road into town interspersed with the occasional hotel on one side and the overgrown railtracks on the other as we approached the port area.
Crawling through the sluggish traffic we were treated to the unedifying sight of, mainly Roma, beggars weaving their way between the cars, buses and trucks carrying young children in their arms as they knocked on all the car windows to try and get a few coins. Not a cop in sight and no-one seemed to care. These people are very much second-class citizens in a large number of countries in Eastern Europe but surely the children shouldn’t be put at risk and this practice stopped as soon as possible.
Pulling into one of the country’s few actual bus stations we were able to get a taxi almost immediately and set off towards our hotel. This turned out to be in the newer section of the city to the south where there is a beach area surrounded by more modern, high-rise hotels strung along one long main road by the coast.
Durrës could easily pass for a ghastly, over-developed resort town from the 1970’s Costa del Tacky. Sunshades and loungers sprawled all across the beach in regimented rows with little in the way of diversion apart from the usual hot-dog and pizza stands. Further along we found a pier with a small, somewhat dismal, amusement park for the kids and a fancy music bar out on pilings above the sea at the end. This would no doubt be jumping at night but in daytime was empty. A promenade backs the beach with a fairly varied selection of bars and restaurants of differing quality and we went to one for a bit of lunch. Two Greek salads were served up each of which could have fed four people and they were very tasty and reasonably priced.
After our spot of lunch we thought we’d take a look up along the main street. We wandered along in one direction without seeing anything of much interest. More bars and fast-food joints were the order of the day with a few gaming arcades and a casino or two which about sums it up. Nothing of interest to us anyway apart from a small ice-cream shop where we cooled down with some of their delicious offerings.
Going back in the other direction we found some small market stalls which were fun to look around but which sold, for the most part, the kind of tawdry tat that you would be loathe to part with any money for. Anything of decent quality was, by Albanian standards, over-priced. Here too we were accosted by a young woman and her son wandering around with a puppy offering the chance to take photos with the dog for €5 to help her sick daughter. Eh, piss off or I’ll eat your dog!
By this time Mrs Mjollnir was getting a bit of a headache so she headed back to the hotel for a wee lie down while bored me sought solace in a bar with relatively cheap beers. After a couple of them (well, OK, six) I headed up to collect headache girl and head out for some dinner. A fairly uneventful shared pizza was enough to satisfy us followed by visits to a couple of bars which were nice enough but that was it.
We went back to the hotel and had a couple of drinks on the balcony while admiring the stunning architecture and wishing it was tomorrow already. We thought we could maybe go down to the beach early for a quick swim the following morning before getting the first stage outta Dodge. Thankfully it was an early night.