A year ago I was spending a majestic time in the Balkans, which involved using the bus system. Sure, I could have rented a car, but I decided to travel around a bit after landing. The bus systems weren’t cheap, but I found them to be pretty reliable, no matter if it was in Croatia or Montenegro. As some of you might recall, I was also in Shkodër, Albania, but their transport was a bit unorthodox. I’m reminded of this while I currently sit in a marshrutka in Moscow, but the experiences are relatively similar.
First of all, things were incredibly straightforward going to Shkodër from Kotor. We departed on time in a fairly new, air conditioned bus that went straight into the city. However, since apparently there wasn’t a bus station, our driver dropped us off in the busy city center. That was a fun start to the afternoon, and I was concerned then how I’d make my way back. Thankfully, while wandering around, I noticed a minibus that would head to Kotor at 4PM. I say minibus, but I’m struggling to adequately describe this-it wasn’t quite a van nor a minibus per se. Whatever you’d call it, I was happy that at least I’d have something that would get me back to my hostel.
I got back safe and sound, but not after taking a longer route. Remember how I mentioned that getting to Albania was straightforward? Yeah, that wasn’t quite the case on the way back. After being assured that yes, we would end up in Montenegro, we made a series of what appeared to be arbitrary stops for some of the other passengers. I can understand if we’d be making stops at bus stations, but no, these literally were taking place at dusty side roads. I mean, this was basically like hitchhiking rather than a scheduled service! When I get nervous, I confess that I sweat, so coupled with the high heat, I was sweating like a pig since I thought that the driver gave me wrong information. After a few more stops, we finally matriculated over on the Montenegrin side, in Ulcinj. (Side note: Ulcinj is considered the hotspot for Albanians in Montenegro, as it’s just a short hop across the border.) Now, I’d paid a smallish fee (like 400 leke, which is less than $4), but once in Ulcinj, I had to pay a further 10 euros to get back to Kotor. This, unlike other trips I’d taken in the country, was broken down into a few parts, which really seemed unnecessary. My bus wasn’t due for another two hours, but the presence of free wifi made the time go by in a blink of the eye; I had the foresight to bring my Kindle as well, which was one of my more inspired moves. So, we drove about halfway into the 100 minute trip to a random bus station-we had to get off to switch buses. Once again I started panicking because it was getting dark and my flight to Moscow was relatively early the next morning. Thankfully, someone on the bus spoke English and assured me that yes, this was going to where I needed to go. That didn’t stop us from taking a circuitous route (we literally took a ferry across the bay as a shortcut) then stopped at seemingly every stop prior to Kotor. Not that I was in a hurry to get back, but man did it seem a lot longer than an hour and forty minutes. Moral of the story is, the Balkans and its various bus/minibus/minivan operators function unencumbered to your logic. It was a hoot when I look back at things, though!