Ulcinj

Sitting on the terrace with perfect view of the old town, listening to the waves breaking at the beach, makes me forget about the sleepy town below.

Ulcinj by night

Ulcinj by night

I have been to Ulcinj for a very short stop two years ago on my way from Croatia to Albania. Even though it was in August, and both the beach and town was packed with people, something in me wanted to come back to explore.

Ulcinj city beach and the old town up on the hill.

Ulcinj city beach and the old town up on the hill.

This time I came outside the tourist season. And it shows. Most of the restaurants are either closed or empty, and there are almost no people around. Sitting on the terrace of one of the restaurants in the old town, overlooking the bay, all alone, gave the first hint. During high season, you would have to struggle to get that spot.

At first sight the old town seemed mainly to be restaurants, but walking passed them, you will get to the residential area. Most of the houses were either destroyed or damaged during the earthquake in 1971, but are nicely restored with stonewalls and cobbled streets.

Ulcinj old town

Ulcinj old town

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Ulcinj old town2

By all means, I am really not a fan of overcrowded places, but at least some other people would be nice. But again; sitting on the terrace with perfect view of the old town, listening to the waves breaking at the beach, makes me forget about the sleepy town below.

Where to stay: Up on the hillside behind the city beach. There are several options for small private accommodations near the monument. Make sure you get one with view to the beach and the old town.

Terrace view

Terrace view

Ulcinj monument

Ulcinj monument

View other posts from Montenegro or the road trip through Balkan!

The Norwegian fjords lookalike – Koman lake

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The Koman lake is said to be one of the highlights not to be missed in Albania. Upfront we had read about a car ferry going from one end to another, and planned the trip with this option. As we were not able to find any timetable online, we asked at our hotel in Shkodra before going out for dinner yesterday. It turned out that the car ferry is only running in the summer season. If you are lucky…

However, they thought there was a tourist boat (not taking cars) leaving around 9 in the morning, but could not guarantee that either. The last option was the one we eventually decided to go for; to take our chances that some locals would hang around with their own boat, hoping to earn some money.

Lessons learned (but not really…), the way there of course took us longer than expected. But, I must confess; this time I have to blame myself as well, as I several times stopped to take photos.

The road was not very busy. At least not with cars. On our way we met 13 cars, 7 donkeys, one cow, four pigs and a turtle (!). Cars-animals: 1-1, that is! Or 13-13, if you wish…

Donkey on the road to Koman Lake.

Donkey on the road to Koman Lake.

A turtle passing by!

A turtle passing by!

A turtle passing by on the road to Koman Lake 2
As we had wished for, some local boys were waiting with their boat. We decided to make a two-hour trip, and agreed on the price of 5000Leke in total. An elderly local couple was also waiting at the pier, so we brought them with us. They were going to visit some friends living up in one of the mountain farms. After a short while, we let them of by a mountain trail, and they started the steep walk.

A couple walking to visit friends at a mountain farm by Koman Lake

A couple walking to visit friends at a mountain farm by Koman Lake.

Start the steep walk.

Start the steep walk.

The dam holding the lake was built in 1971 for a water power plant. Before that, there was a river running freely, 75-80(!) meters below what is now the water level! Before that year there were about 1000 families living there. Many of their homes were flooded, and only half of the families still live there. The majority of these live at small farms in the mountains along the lakeside. Most of them earn their living by fishing and trading parts of the catch for other goods, as the lake is full of fish. The Chinese that helped build the dam brought fish to breed. This fish is commonly known as the Chinese fish, and are quite large in numbers. There is also trout and other kinds as well.
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Mountain farm.

Mountain farm.

Old power plant by Koman Lake.

Old power plant by Koman Lake.

Some of the farms are situated higher up in the mountains, like the farm the elderly couple was going to, and some will even be hours walk.

The trip was well worth both the time and money. Some of the parts were even similar to the Norwegian Fjords, except this is a lake, not a fjord by definition. But definitely beautiful!

A short stay in Shkodra

Shkodra is situated by the Shkodra Lake (surprise, surprise), and was more or less just a place for us to spend the night before heading onward to Koman. Arriving just before sunset, we only freshened up and went out for some food and drinks.

Sitting outside in the main street was nice, but made me feel that this was more or less all that was to be seen here. By all means, correct me if I am wrong! I have not much knowledge about the place.
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The detour via St. Naum Monastery to Tirana

When we were in Ohrid, we were advised to visit St. Naum Monastery. It is situated in the south end of the lake, close to the Albanian border.

The monastery and the area around in itself was quite nice, but they were in the process of building many small tourist shops just outside, so it is only a matter of time before it loses its nice atmosphere.

Entrance to Monastery St. Naum

Monastery St. Naum

Monastery St. Naum

Monastery St. Naum 2

Peacock at  Monastery St. Naum.

One of many peacock at Monastery St. Naum.

Backyard of Monastery St. Naum.

Backyard of Monastery St. Naum.

Surrounding of Monastery St. Naum
Taking the long way all around the lake from Ohrid via Elshani, St. Naum Monastery and Pogradec, took much more time than expected. The road on the Macedonian side were in quite good shape, but more or less the moment we entered Albania, that certainly changed. Most of the way we had to drive very slowly to prevent the car to get damaged by all the holes. By all means, not all the roads in Albania are that bad. We have driven many streaks of decent standard, and some even great highways. But in general; expect to use much longer time than you think!

Another sign we had entered Albania.

Another sign we had entered Albania.

View on our detour around the lake from Ohrid to Tirana.

View on our detour around the lake from Ohrid to Tirana.

Both of us had been to Tirana before, but I had not been up to mount Dajti by the cable car.

We decided to take a taxi to the cable car station for the Dajti Ekspres, and it turned out to be money well spent. The road condition up there is really, really bad, so the chance of damaging your own car is quite big.

The cable car journey is 4670 m long, and took us up to 1420 masl, an elevation of 812 m. The area is quite green, with a few small villages and farms along the way. On the top there is a park, a restaurant with panoramic view, and even a hotel, if you want to spend a calm night surrounded by the nature.

Dajti Ekspres in in Tirana.

Dajti Ekspres in in Tirana.

Dajti Expres in Tirana 2

View of Tirana from Mt. Dajti.

View of Tirana from Mt. Dajti.

Back in town, we walked around in the areas around Skanderbeg Square, trying to explore by getting ourselves a bit lost in the streets.

Skanderbeg Square in Tirana.

Skanderbeg Square in Tirana.

Skanderbeg Square in Tirana 2

Colorful houses.

Colorful houses.

Colorful houses in Tirana 3

Apartment buildings in Tirana

Apartment buildings in Tirana

The orthodox cathedral.

The orthodox cathedral.

As I have a few friends living in Tirana, I was just hanging out with them in the evening. It is always nice to know someone when you visit a place!

Friends visiting Kopi at work

Friends visiting Kopi at work

My previous visit to Tirana.
More post from Albania.
More posts from the Balkan road trip.

 

The detour to Bajram Curry

Since we found ourselves near by the border to Albania, we decided to take a short detour, going to Bajram Curry. Well. It ended up not being that short, as the road conditions are quite bad most of the way, and we had to drive very slowly. At least we had good time to enjoy the scenery!

The city in itself is not very charming, but it is supposed to be a very good starting point for many great hikes in the area. And with the beautiful nature we passed on our way there, I have absolutely no trouble believing just that.

We passed a charming small village.

We passed a charming small village.

Passing by nice scenery

Passing by nice scenery.

Beautiful combination of green grass, snowy mountains and clear blue sky

Beautiful combination of green grass, snowy mountains and blue sky.

Beautiful view on our way to Bajram Curry.

Beautiful view on our way to Bajram Curry.

Farming in the mountains close to Bajram Curry.

Farming in the mountains close to Bajram Curry.

Street in Bajram Curry.

Street in Bajram Curry.

Read more posts from Albania.

Get your bearings – rental car in the Balkans

It was certainly not an easy task to find a rental company that would allow us to cross the borders of all the Balkan countries we planned to visit. Most of the big car rental companies like Avis and Hertz would exclude one or more of the countries. After trying several of the smaller companies as well, I finally found Milenium Car Rental.

As our plan was to go to Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia, we needed to find a company that would allow us to enter those countries without charging expensive extras. Milenium Car Rental had green card to all the countries we planned to visit. The only extra we had to pay was an additional insurance at the border to enter Kosovo, as they are not a part of the Green Card System.

We picked up the car at the Milenium Car Rental office in downtown Dubrovnik, and agreed to deliver it at the airport when we returned.

Since we are off to explore, and plan to try different small roads, we figured it would be wise to rent a GPS as well. We also bought some more detailed “old fashioned” road maps, just to be on the safe side…

Off we go!

Getting to Albania

The only international airport in Albania is found in Tirana, but as the Greek island of Corfu is only about 40 min boat ride away, it is quite easy to get to the south of the country from there. The departures from Corfu to Saranda by Ionian Cruises varies depending on season, so make sure you check the time table when you plan your trip.

It is also possible to get there from the other neighbour countries. Read more about how I got from Dubrovnik in Croatia via Montenegro to Albania.

Off to Saranda

Since we did not know exactly when the bus would leave, we were quite pleased with the timing when it arrived just as we got up to the main street around 8.30. The bus stopped by a small café a few hundred meters from the junction on the road towards Saranda, so it would not be too bad to have to wait there for a little while either. The trip from Dhermi to Saranda took just a little more than two hours. Saranda was the only place we had pre booked the hotel, but the moment we arrived we understood that that would not have been necessary at all! There were plenty of hotels, and many more were rising. We were quite disappointed as it was not at all what we had expected. The only nice part of the city was the small port.

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Moving on to Dhermi

Lesson learned from yesterday, combined with the desire to not get up too early, we decided to take the bus at 10.00, this time heading for Dhermi, situated by the sea. To get there, we could either take a bus to Vlora or Feri, and change there for the bus to Himara. The buses from Berat were running quite frequently during the morning (every 30-45 min), but after 10 there was a break and the next one was at 12. The bus we took went to Vlora (2h 20m), and the connecting bus to Himara went quite fast after we got on it. Smooth. But again, let the driver know that you are changing bus, because there is no logic (for tourists at least) where you have to change bus.

From Vlora we drove a little while along the coast, before the bus took us between high mountains and through the Llogoraja pass. The nature was very nice and green. Almost on the top of the mountains, the driver stopped for a 20-25 minutes lunch break. The location was perfect, and the view was simply beautiful. At the highest point the road was at more than 1000m above sea level, but the surrounding mountains could be about double that height. When we started the decent from the mountain, the serpentine road along the mountain side were reviled, with the long sandy beaches by the ocean at the end. It was really a beautiful road to drive!

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Dhermi is situated on the way to Himara, so we got off by a junction. From the road down to the beach it is about 1,5km. You can either walk, or get some of the local “taxies” to drive you. Since we did not know where we should spend the night, we went for the letter option, and asked him if he knew a nice place to stay. We ended up at Hotel Poseidon, about half way down to the beach. We left the luggage at the hotel, and went down to get a longed swim. Some local boys came over to talk to us, and taught us some Albanian words.

We really liked Dhermi and wanted to stay a bit longer, but as we already have booked the hotel in Saranda from tomorrow, we have to leave. We hoped to be able to spend the day here and leave in the afternoon/evening, but it seems it is not a good option. We asked several different persons for the departure times for the buses, but we got different replies from everyone. And also as the bus is only passing by, it is hard to give an exact time, even an approximate one is hard to know. Therefore, we have decided to go for the bus in the morning, as that is the least hot time to sit and wait.

Finding our way to Albania

Time had come to get from Dubrovnik to Albania. We had tried to search online for how to get there before we went on the trip, but we could not really conclude how to go.  We then decided to find out when we got to Dubrovnik. That turned out to be harder than expected. We tried to ask at the tourist information, but our request was answered by a question; “why do you want to go to Albania?”.

It ended with the conclusion that we just had to get to Montenegro and find our way as we went along. We headed for the bus station in Dubrovnik to take the bus at 10.00 to Budva via Kotor. When we got to the ticket office, the tickets for the bus we wanted were sold out. We did not even think of that. Needless to say, it was not exactly the message we wanted. So lesson number one: If possible, buy tickets in advance… But, there was a bus number two at 10.00, or at least it should leave at 10 as well, but the problem was that it arrived from Bosnia, and were usually delayed. The only thing we were told was that it usually arrived sometime between 10 and 12…. This day we were extra lucky, and while we were waiting it was announced it would arrive around 12.30. But, luck happily changed for us, and some of the passengers with tickets for the first bus did not show up, so we got on that one.

When we got to the border between Croatia and Montenegro there was a huge line, that made us wait there for 1,5 hours. The air-condition in the bus did not work very well, so it was extremely hot. When we finally got passed the border, we drove through beautiful scenery along the bay of Kotor. I spent a short time in Kotor some years ago, but if we had more time, I would definitely wanted to stay there one night to see more of the small charming town.

But, our bus continued after a very short stop, heading for Budva. On our way we had read in our guide book that Ulcinj or Schodra were places with connections to Tirana. So, when we arrived in Budva, we decided to go to the one of those two places the next bus went to. It seemed the luck was with us that day, and the next bus to Ulcinj was in 20 minutes. The ticket was 6 Euro + 1 euro for each piece of luggage. DSC_8209
After about two hours in the small bus we arrived in the little town of Ulcinj. When we got there, we found out there were two daily busses from Ulcinj to Schodra, leaving at 06.00 and 12.30. In other words, we had to spend the night. On the bus we had met two Swedish boys that also were heading for Albania. A local man that claimed he worked for the local tourist office came over and asked if we needed a place to stay. Off course we realized that he did not work for them, but we needed a place to stay and it was an easy solution to go with him. Before we knew it, we were sitting in his car, heading over to his house to share a room with four beds.

Ulcinj was a nice little town with a main street leading down to the beach. On the top of the hill in one of the ends of the beach, the old town was situated. As we had decided to go further with the bus at 06.00 the next morning, we just had dinner and a drink by the beach, and never got to see the old town except from a distance.

DSC_8220 Ulcinj old town by night
Sunday morning we walked down to the bus station to take the bus to Schodra. It took about 1,5 hours, and when we stopped along the road, a mini bus to Tirana was waiting and left as soon as we got on it. 1 hour and 20 minutes later, we arrived in Tirana. It was no bus station where we were left of, but we later learned that the buses heading in the different directions went from different places just along the streets.

We had decided to go to Berat and spend the night there, but wanted to see some of Tirana before we continued. We walked around in the heat for quite some time looking for a place to store the luggage for a few hours. It was more difficult than we imagined, but just when we were about to give up, we asked at a hotel if they could be so kind to look after our luggage for a while – and they were.

As we had not eaten yet, we first looked for a place for lunch. We sat down in the shadow by the Opera, but found out that they did not serve food. Either way, we needed the rest and something to drink, so we stayed there for a while. We asked the cute girl that sold ice cream if she had any recommendations where we could eat lunch. She was very helpful and pointed out a small square behind the big casino that had several restaurants. We also asked her what she recommended that we should see the short time we spent in Tirana. She looked out on Skanderbeg Square, and said; “this”. Obviously there are so many other things to see, but right then and there we were so hot and tired that we took her word for it. On our way to the “lunch square” we passed a church side by side with a mosque. It is nice to see that religions can live peaceful together. Further we also passed by a nice park with a nun sitting on the lawn resting. She looked very peaceful, it was almost as seeing Mother Theresa relaxing in the shadow. Now and then several wedding parties were driving by celebrating, taking us back to the busy reality.

On Scanderbeg Square

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On our way back to get our luggage, we passed the Orthodox Cathedral.
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So, to sum up the conclusion on how to get from Dubrovnik to Albania (Tirana):

Bus at 10.00 from the bus station in Dubrovnik to Budva, via Kotor. REMEMBER TO BOOK THE TICKET BEFORE TO BE SURE TO GET ON IT! Ticket price: Appr. 130KN per person + a fee for the luggage.

Bus from Budva to Ulcinj at 15.00 (appr. 2 hours drive). Ticket price 6 Euro + 1 Euro for luggage.

If you are in a hurry and really need to get to Albania in one day, we heard it was possible to get a driver to drive to the border, where it usually were several others on the Albanian side to take you further. We on the other hand, decided to stay one night in Ulcinj and take the bus at 06.00 to Schodra (1,5 hours, 6 Euros). Just let them know that you will continue to Tirana, and they know where to let you off. From there we took a mini bus to Tirana (1h 20m, 5 Euro).