After re-enacting the Titania breakfast with a view (and securing some takeaway cake for later), we arrived at the bus station at 9 in readiness for the 9.30 departure.
Despite Mr Cool’s (the laid back bus ticket seller) assertions the previous day, we were lucky to secure the last two tickets. Unluckily they were for seats 23 & 24, tucked right at the back of the mini-coach. When two rotund Albanians virtually pinned us in, our worst fears were confirmed. This would not be a pleasant six hours!
The American girl sat in the other window seat on the back row fared even worse. Because she was only going as far as Gjirokastër, she had not been allocated a seat and was turfed out and made to sit in the aisle at the front of the bus.
The shunting & grunting as the two large backseat passengers manoeuvred out of the way to let her out and the seat holder in, was hilarious. A poor old lady in seat 18 unfortunately got one of them on her lap, the screech she let out audible enough outside the bus to make bystanders stop in their tracks!
Thankfully we left on time as we wanted this ordeal over with as quirky as possible. I have written before about my loathing of bus journeys, most notably an over-nighter between Odessa & Sevastopol and another horror show between Erzurum & Hoppa in Turkey. This was to go down as one of Hamish’s worst.
Instead of following the coast as the more expensive Riviera bus did, we travelled in land on lesser roads that twisted and turned like a twisty turny thing (acknowledgements to Blackadder – I would have said like a teabag in a hurricane myself!) up, around & down hills.
Hamish is prone to a bout of seasickness and with the bus movements being similar to a rocking boat, he was soon green about the gills and groaning mildly. I instantly knew that unless I took action, his condition would worsen rapidly. All I could think of was to ask the American lady to swap positions.
It was my role to go and ask, squeezing myself out like a pea from its pod, acquainting myself with the lady at number 18 (humph rather than shreek thankfully) and to make my way gingerly down the swaying bus to ask whether she would mind swapping with my poorly mate. She readily agreed, despite only being twenty minutes away from her destination, so I gave Hamish the beckoning gesture.
More delicate footwork was required by all parties to rearrange our seating patterns, with me taking the vacant window seat, Charlotte sitting next to me and my nauseous buddy taking to the floor where it was less turbulent & cramped and more airy.
Charlotte was a very pleasant young lady. She was working in HR for Titan, a Greek cement manufacturer. She hailed from Virginia and was stationed at Titan’s US operation. A week’s work in Athens had given her the chance to take some time to explore Albania first. I always figured that people who worked in HR had initiative and kind hearts!
I wished her well for the rest of her trip and recommended she visit the Maria Callas exhibition in Athens. Her departure at Gjirokastër was mirrored by a few others, allowing more room in our tin on wheels. Hamish got his colour back, so much so that when we had our mid-journey break about 45 minutes later, he was able to enjoy a cup of tea and a slice of breakfast cake.
The journey was interesting enough for me with plenty of pleasant rural scenes along the way.
The rest of the journey went well until we hit the environs of Albania’s capital during rush hour. We crawled into the unsavoury bus station thirty minutes behind schedule. Getting off the bus was a huge relief, but now we were bait for taxis. We agreed a fee of €5 with a toothless chap of about half my age. He turned out to be an unofficial cab, driving a dilapidated Peugeot.
Despite no satnav he found our hotel with a quick call to the hotel for directions. Less impressive was his demand for €5 each from his passengers, a plea that he backed down from when I suggested we ask the hotel receptionist to join in the discussion. Happily I had the correct money as I am not sure that change would have been an option!
Coming next, Tirana 2007 v Tirana 2017……