From May 9 till June 6, 2002
I had a cheap charterflight from Brussels to Varna with Jetair for 271.17 Euro only, incl. airporttax of 25.67 Euro. The luggage is limited to 15 kg + handluggage. As for a charterflight a hotel should be mentioned on your hotelvoucher I saw that I should stay at Hotel Jantra in Veliko Turnovo. I know this place and it is closed down for more than one year ago. The website for Jetair is www.jetair.be
Public transport :
International : ATT (tel. 02/312102 – www.skgt-bg.com ) leaves Sofia at 10, 13, 18 and 20 hours each day to Istanbul for 45 BGL. It takes twelve hours! VOW goes with a bus from Vienna to Sofia for 110 BGL, from Budapest to Sofia for 100 BGL and from Brussels to Sofia for 180 BGL (tel. 02/9311924 and in Holland 00-31-650884384).
Evrotours wants 200 BGL for the trip Brussels – Veliko Turnovo. You can visit them at email@example.com.
I traveled with Matru from Sofia to Ohrid for 35 BGL, leaving at 7 pm at 22 Damlan Gruev Str., 1606 Sofia (02/9525004). It is close to Russian Statue (say “Ruskij Pamjatnik”). It is possible to go by bus through this company as far as Athens, Thessaloniki, Skopje and Ohrid in Northern Makedonia or Istanbul and Belgrade.
In Tirana, Albania, I can recommend the clean budget hotel “Parliament”, tek kullot binjoke, before the parliament ( tel. 0382405316 or 0692106317). It is close to the Skanderbeg Square.
Documentation – maps – books :
How to get there
1. By air : Albanian Airlines has an office in the Netherlands, tel. 00-31-23-5633199 or 00-31-23-5643079. Turkish airlines and Lufthansa have also a connection to Tirana and a couple of other airline-companies. Rinas airport is 25 km northwest from Tirana – tel. 042-62620.
2.By ferry : Different Italian ferrycompanies have services between Italian ports and Albania.
Agestea in Bari has a daily ferry between Bari and Durres, email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Adriatica has several connections between Ancona or Bari to Durres. See their website at www.adriatica.it It is possible to take with you all kind of wheels, even a bus. The best way to visit Albania is taking a charter to Corfu and then the ferry to Saranda which is very close.
3. By road :
There is a bus leaving Ioannina at 7 am to the border of Kakavija, one hour. At 11 am there is a connecting bus to Gjirokaster (26 km) or to Tirana (263 km). Or there is a bus from Florina, Greece to Katshtica at the border in 1 ½ hour. I shared a taxi from the Ohrid busstation at 3 am to the border of Qafa Thane for 20 euro total. There should be a bus in the morning. Taking your own car is ok but roads are very bad. The shortest ferry is about 100 km between Otranto and Vlora and cost 45$ one way for the car and 10$ for each person. Check with Linea Lauro in Otranto, tel. 806062. Private cars should pay a road tax of 5$/day.
Visa – Money
Citizens of EU countries, USA, Canada don’t need a visa but have to pay an entry tax of 10$. I paid in Qafa Thane 15 Euro as I hadn’t $ in my pocket. Customs were very kind and helpful. At this border I could change Euro for leke at the rate of 1 Euro = 130 leke. When I left the country at the Macedonian border in Pogradec/Tushemisti I could not change my leke for any currency, not on the Albanian side (no bank) and not at the Macedonian side. I was lucky I could change with a rare tourist entering Albania.
Transport in Albania
In the cities there are cheap taxis or buses.
If you drive your own car, roads are not very good, although improvement and construction is going on. I saw a road being tarred in Tirana on Sunday. Between the border of Qafa Thane and Elbassan the road is under construction to a smooth tarred one.
It is possible to rent a car with Hertz in the Tirana Int. Hotel, tel. 04-235109 or mail HERTZ@albaniaonline.net An Opel Corsa cost 75$ a day, unlimited km, incl; VAT and 100% insured.
By far the best option is taking the bus or microbus which connects all cities within Albania and is cheap. As one bus is full, they go off. I paid 1.000 leke from nearly the border of Qafa Thane to Tirana; to Elbasan, halfway it is 500 leke. This is a nice ride through high mountains and passes. A taxidriver at this border will bring you to a junction 3 km further for 200 leke : this is a trap. He said there is no bus to Elbassan. It is possible to walk or wait for a microbus. De microbus from Tirana to Pogradec only cost 500 leke, the taxi from the hotel to the bus stop 300.
After some time looking around, I found a clean hotel close to the Skenderbeg Square. It is Hotel “Parliamenti”, close to the parliament in a quiet alley. The lady could speak English well and was very kind. The room and attached bathroom only cost 10 euro/night. Downstairs is a restaurant. The tel; is 0382405316 or 069-2106317. I can recommend this place.
On my way back, nearly at the border of Qafa Thane, I decided to stay one night in Pogradec on the shore of Lake Ohrid which I had seen from Sveti Naum in 1986 and was then forbidden for capitalists. An English speaking travel companion on the microbus helped me to find a decent hotel in Pogradec. At hotel Euro Korca I paid 1.000 leke instead of 10 euro, thanks to him. It was nearly without guests and somewhat corny.
In Tirana, I went many times to Rosticeri Nard & Berti in Rr. E Didreb, left of the Opera building. They have tasty steak and very good “birre em kriko”, tap beer.
Another good place is the lush garden of “Lulishte 1 Maji”, tel. 0355 4 550 which can be crowdy. But the food from this place and from the Turkish restaurant nearby is fantastic.
I was also satisfied with the food in my hotel Parlamenti in Tirana.
While I was in Pogradec at the beach of Lake Ohrid, I tried the very tasteful fish “koran” and a good fish soup in bujtina (restorant) Borana at Rr. Shetitore, tel. 355-83-22256 or 069/2091343 . I can recommend this restaurant.
In Tirana, in a rare bookshop, I bought a map of Albania with city map of Tirana of Infbotues.
Lonely Planet, Eastern Europ, has some good information, but not very recent.
A good deal was for me the purchase of “Tirana in your pocket”, which is online www.inyourpocket.com or mail email@example.com I bought it in the Tirana Int. Hotel and saw it nowhere else. It contains very good information on Tirana and the region.
All the time, I felt very safe. Once in Tirana, I met a con-artist speaking English very well. He pretended that he was very poor and had nothing to eat, etc. I never walked in the streets at dark. The blond Albanians told me all the time that they are welcoming tourists very well and I experienced that they were helpful all the time. I suppose that a lot of Indian stories go around about Albania and Albanians. It might not be safe in the north, but check with Albanians before you set off to this region. Typical are the ubiquitos bunkers you see at strategic places. I suppose it is no problem driving around your own car : I never saw so many Mercedez-cars in “a poor country” as in Albania.
The country is being restored after decades of neglection. The Italian style is adapted in Tirana with painted buildings. Young people all have a mobile phone and there are internet café’s in the capital and maybe elsewhere. Roads are refurbished and bins appear in the streets. The new generation understands English and go to university. There was a wide diaspora to the States and Italy. The influence of Italy is ubiquitos in many ways and you meet many Italian companies, businessmen but no tourists yet. Albania is a nice mountainous country well worth a visit. The most places of interest are in the south as well as the beaches. I intend to go back, but driving around by car, entering the country by Greece.
Maldegem, 17 june 2002-06-17
Copyright Erik Trenson