We left Budva on a local bus a little weary, sore from our rafting and still chasing a relaxed summer holiday vibe that Budva unfortunately did not provide. I’d heard from both Battye and Nicky and Jess and Jamie that ulcinj would meet this criteria, and so off we went, on the short 1 and a half hour journey. We arrived in Ulcinj and walked to our guest house with no problems. After the hill we had lived on in Budva, the slight incline of the hill in Ulcinj was no problem, even carrying our 20kg packs with us.
Our little home for the next 8 nights was paradise. What a find. A self contained studio with a lovely balcony overlooking the beach and the old town, and for the amazing price of $33 AUD a night. We had struck gold! What was even more amazing, was while we were at the beach every morning the lovely lady would come and clean our apartment for us each day. AMAZING!!!!
After enough Pizza and giros in Budva to feed the local football team, Ulcinj was a time that we decided we would give our bodies a bit of a break, eat healthy and try and do a week without any beers or alcohol. I was determined to find a market and eat some salad. I don’t think I’ve ever craved salad so much in my life, and we were both increasingly concerned about the amount of gluten poor Clint was consuming. So after a broken english conversation with our host (Who seemed to just repeat the same words and never actually told us anything) it was off to find a market or at least a supermarket. I didn’t actually think it would be that hard, but it was. We found kind of a supermarket that had some limp peppers and maybe a half rotten red onion. There seemed to be quite a supply of cabbage, and I ran a list of all the things I could do with cabbage, and concluded it didnt really make for an enjoyable week. Off we went walking again, Clinton checking his phone for anything that resembled a market. We found the remainders of something that could have been a market 10 years ago, but was demolished. In the end I was getting pretty frustrated and going to give up and suggest pizza again, but alas we stumbled on heaven. Hidden behind a clothing market was a local food market with chickens and roosters walking aimlessly around the place. You could not wipe the grin off my face. We stocked up on local eggs, salad ingredients, an assortment of fruit including a whole watermelon and the most amazing peaches and apricots, home grown olives and then came across a stall selling homemade salami and fetta cheese. Of course we couldnt say no, and I almost laughed at the price it was just so cheap. So off we went back to our amazing apartment with our amazing food and had our first salad, sitting on the balcony admiring the view.
I won’t bore you with too much of what we did in Ulcinj as it was basically, sleep, market eat, beach, eat, sleep, beach, eat, repeat. The only other interesting thing was that Ulcinj has quite a large Muslim population and so the call to prayer was blasted across the beach each day numerous times. This was a unique culture shock that I hadn’t heard since our days in Malaysia (which feel like a lifetime ago). Whilst in Ulcinj I also got to have a Skype date with the girls (and Bed and Tim) from book club. Book Club is something I truely miss from my days in Melbourne so it was so great to catch up with everyone and look at the mountains of food they were eating and copious amounts of wine they were drinking…certainly nothing has changed there!!!
All too soon our time in Ulcinj was due to come to an end. After a week of laying off the booze Clinton suprised me by coming home with a few beers as I cooked our last meal. We sat on the balcony, watched the sunset and chowed down on a grilled vegetable salad and a Niksicko beer. We had planned an early night as we had to walk to the bus station at 6am to catch the bus to Albania. So when we received a strange knock on the door about 10pm we were already in our pyjamas and getting ready for bed. Imagine my surprise when I answered the door and it was our host who just wanted to wish us well on our journey. We said our good byes and again got ready for bed. So when there was another knock on the door at 11.30pm we were quite puzzled. I answered the door in my PJ’s and was slightly embarrassed when two strange girls and our hosts husband Tino were at the door. One of the girls who happened to be Polish explained that her and her friend were also going to Albania tomorrow and rather then catching the bus in 6 hours, did we want to share a private transfer with Tino to the border, and then his friend would pick us up on the other side and take us to our hotel in Tirane. I was a little skeptical at first, but wasnt very keen on such an early wake up call. In the back of my head I remembered a conversation with my dear friend Cat when she had given me her one tip of travel advice, and that was to say yes to life. So without consulting Clinton, I said yes, and negotiated a time of 7.30am to meet the girls at the front of our apartment and we would go together…perfect, an extra 1.5 hours sleep.
7.30am came around too quickly and before I knew it we were standing outside waiting for Tino. Montenegrins are not exactly known for being puctual so when 7.45 came no one was worried. Tino eventually emerged and said that he wouldnt be taking us, his friend would, I dont know how plans can change throughout the night but apparently they can. This of course was no problem. However by 8am the friend had still not shown up and Tino was on the phone, and by the hand gestures he was using, you could tell he was a little on the angry side. Finally one car showed up which reminded me of the 1985 Toyota Corona my parents used to own. 2 skinny men got out and didnt really do much actually, kinda just hung around. Finally another guy turned up in a newer model of a car (air conditioning, yay!) and Tino told us this was the car. So the other 2 guys helped us with our bags (I seriously have no idea why these 2 guys were there) and Clint, myself and the 2 polish girls jumped in to the car. But then the car wouldnt start…excellent. Everyone just kept saying no worries. The driver thought it was a good idea to try and go down the hill backwards and try and start the car. With us all in it.
Although this was quite humourous we finally got to a point where we didnt think it was going to work, so we all got out and he kept trying. He just couldn’t get this car to start and he was so frustrated. Tino our host was frustrated, Clinton and I thought it was hilarious and couldnt stop laughing…perhaps the bus would have been a better option.
Eventually Tino had enough got our bags and put them in his van, waved the other 3 guys off and took us to the border in Shkoder. We then proceeded to walk through the borders here with no problems except a few Albanian guys who had to go in front of us as they were late for their Uni exam. Now I did not know what to expect from Albania. We were only here one night as the flight from Tirane to Istanbul was considerably cheaper than to leave from Montenegro. We had spoken to Battye the night before regarding our private transfer situation and he had mentioned something to do with a mercedes and I didnt give it much thought. Until we got to the Albanian side of the border and there were Mercedes everywhere, and of course our driver was driving a mercedes. Clinton and I researched this and apparently Mercedes are the most common car in Albania. Some reports say that this is because they are stolen from the West EU countries and then sold cheaply in Albania and the police can’t really be bothered chasing them down. We also learnt that due to Communism up until 1991 there was only about 700 cars on Albanian roads and these were all driven by government officials. When the comminism regime fell, there was an influx of new cars and new drivers, however the roads were never really upgraded, leaving now a country with terrible roads and terrible drivers. Anyway this was delightful information to know as we approached our (possibly stolen) car. The trip from the border to Tirane is about another 2 hours and we spent this with a guy who knew not a drop of english and was a pretty terrible driver. He constantly changed CD’s (yes they still exist) and our ears were treated to the delights of artists from Katy Perry to Blur while our noses were treated to the constant smell of cigerette smoke. I followed google maps the whole way and we eventually made it towards the city. We had been told by Tino that we would be dropped at our hotel and the polish girls at the bus stop, so imagine my surprise when we were dropped on the outskirts of town. We all got out of the car confused and unaware of what was going on. We tried to communicate. From what we could gather he wanted the polish girls to get into another car with another driver, and we were to walk the distance to the hotel. One of the girls was uncomfortable and didn’t want to get into a car with someone she didn’t know (rightly so) and Clint and I werent comfortable leaving the girls on their own. (the bus was looking like such a better option right now) After many phone calls and interpretations, we were able to point the girls in the direction of a bus station and Clint and I trudged on in the heat to our hotel. It had been an adventure, but we had made it!
After checking in Clint and I both realised how little water we had consumed and how hugely dehydrated we were. We spent the next few hours trying to hydrate and eventually made it out of our hotel for a late Albanian lunch. I had picked a place that apparently had great Albanian food at reasonable prices. Only problem was, we couldnt really read the menu. We picked out something that we thought resembled the word for eggplant and something else that kind of looked like some kind of casserole. Well it was a win with the eggplant, it was stuffed with some beef and was really quite delicious. However the lamb “casserole” could actually be one of the worst things i’ve eaten in the last 6 months. I think it was a lamb shank but it kinda resembled the texture of a lamb heart. (I don’t want to think about it) it was in a casserole sauce that reminded me of a savoury curdled egg custard. It was just plain gross. Ewww! Lucky the beer was good!!! We then had a quick look around, got 2 scoops of gelato for 90 cents Australian, and decided to do a little research on Turkey.
We finished our night in Albania with dinner at an Albanian hot spot called Shakesbeer. The food was pretty good though I thought I ordered beef and got pork. Oh well! We caught the local pink bus from the city to the airport the next morning with no problems. Our one night in Albania was over and I honestly left intrigued. This was a city that had basically only had freedom from Comminism for a little over 20 years and was largely left on it’s own, and this was very evident. Although run down, I found it to be quite cosmopolitan with what seemed to be an emerging food and beer scene. The people seemed very friendly and very proud of their city. As of June 2014 Albania is a candidate to enter the EU. It will be interesting to watch the developments on this sometimes forgotten country.