In true British style, I would like to apologise to the people and city of Durrës in Albania. It turns out that you can't travel all night on a bus with a dicky sciatic nerve without some serious consequences. Either that or I'm out of practice at being up all night. After nearly 15 hours sleep and some serious bed rest yesterday, I realise now that getting off at the wrong bus stop in Durrës was probably the least dangerous thing that could have happened. I was certainly in no fit state to run away from trouble, let alone try to explain where I wanted to be! But the exhaustion and pain does mean that I've missed some of the city's classical architectural highlights, evidence of recent struggles, and certainly not done it justice. Once again it's tapas tourism, with a promise to return to this incredible European/non-European country, preferably with company.
I left Ohrid reluctantly; mostly because of its beauty, but partly due to the 3.30am start. Yes I know, again no rest for the wicked. Sensibly opting for a taxi to the bus station, I had already checked that there was an actual real life bus. Balkans and the Internet are not necessarily reliable witnesses and I was assured that there was a 4.30 bus. I arrived and the taxi driver assumed I was off to Skopje. Dumping my bags I waited. And waited. The ticket office opened and I asked for a ticket for the bus to Durrës.
What 4.30am bus?
Suppressing an eye roll, I enquired if/when it went. 4.50am. Ok, that I can live with. Carefully stowing my ticket, I went to the waiting room and joined the diverse bunch of people there. Someone asked me when the next bus to Skopje was...another lady asked if I was going to Tirana airport. It must be the air of resigned painful calm on my face that screams 'librarian'! I got chatting with the lady going to the airport because she was on the same bus as me. Finally a minibus/people carrier turned up and the two of us got on board.
The red neon and gold glittery bus interior barely registered as I collapsed across the back seat. The lady was horrified, and immediately offered paracetamol and ensured my bags were on board. Every. Single. Bump. From Macedonia to Albania went through that nerve and I was pretty much shrieking inside. As I relaxed into the pain and the tablets kicked in, I was able to hold a slight conversation with her. She was heading back to Istanbul after a holiday travelling around the region without her family. Blissful, she said! We talked about London and life, and the unwise judging of people by nationality.
The border crossing happened, and she held her breath, anticipating issues due to her Turkish passport. We could have been there 3 mins or 3 hours, I think I fell asleep again. All must have been well because we reached our Albanian coffee/loo stop, and I eased myself out of the spangly red cocoon. There was discussion as to where this bus was going and it turns out we were diverting miles to Durrës because of me. Otherwise they could have gone direct to Tirana.
As we clambered back on, there was rapid discussion and I was told to get off. The other van at the stop - which happened to belong to the company that I'd emailed the previous day - contained passengers that were going to Durrës. So I was hustled aboard this one, bags popped in the back, yelled at for a ticket, and I waved, boggling, to my friend. This bus was definitely not glistening, it was thoroughly basically and had seen many many miles of mountain road. We took off in a cloud of oil, and I closed my eyes against the dubious overtaking, radio fiddling, and left it all to the hands of fate.
I think I'm now done with buses for this trip. There will be a train in Italy but my next mode of transport is ferry, so I only have a couple of massive international ports to negotiate. What could be more simple!?