Shkodra or Shkodër in Albanian is one of the oldest settlements in Europe whose history dates back to 4th century BC. Lastly, they separated from Ottoman Empire in 1912 after 500-year of sovereignty.
As I had supposed that reaching Shkodra would have been the most difficult route in my Balkan trip and my prediction was absolutely true at the end. However, the conditions were not so bad but the the worst part of this was wasting too much time.
In this article, I would especially like to give you the travellers how to go to Shkodra without private car or so as there are very limited and inssufficient source on the internet. I'll explain how to come here from the very first beginning, Ohrid. Apart from transportation you'll also be able to find about changing money, border crossings, accommodation, places to visit, food and more in Shkodra.
First of all, if you would like to reach Shkodra from Ohrid, you have to make your way to Tirana one way or another. Shkodra can be reached from Tirana in 2 hours by minibuses. As I mentioned on my Ohrid article, all you need to do is to come to Struga first, in off-season.
As I wrote in my previous article, first you have to come to Struga bus terminal and get your ticket. One way ticket to Tirana is 660 MKD (about 11 Euros). In addition, you could also pay half in MKD and half in Euro if you want to get rid of your Macedonian Denars. I did so.
The bus from Struga to Ohrid is supposed to depart at 9:30 am and the company name is Durmo Tours. However, by the time I was there, it was late 10 minutes plus waited for 15 minutes. They departed exactly at 9:55 am. So, be prepared for these delays in the Balkans.
The very important point here is this : This bus follows Elbasan line in Albania and the line are so bad-edited one that it stops at Durres first although Tirana is much closer. This situation will make you lose time for 1,5 hours for sure. Normally, the bus was supposed to be at Tirana at 1 pm but the time I got off at Durres was 1:45 pm. I didn't continue with the same bus to Tirana and got off there to go to Shkodra so as not to waste that time. I was hoping to find a vehicle here.
Anyway, all you need to know in Durres that nobody knows any English here. I tried to communicate some people but no one could understand what I said even travel agencies. I tried to tell some drivers that I would need to go to Shkodra and one of them quoted me 15 Euros and tried to convince me that his bus was the latest one that day. I refused it and walked away. Then I asked a few more drivers and they said they had no service to Shkodra. The weather was pretty hot and I felt like I was in hell. How did I end up here ?
Finally, I found a minibus which locals say "furgon" and was quoted 5 Euros. Since I know the fare more or less, I accepted their offer. Luckily, there was a boy inside the minibus who was just 16 and spoke very vell English. It was like a miracle. So I managed to express myself.
Anyway, the minibus departed at 2:30 pm and stopped 1,5 hours later at Lezhë which I had never heard of before. They didn't tell me that it would stop there. Anyway, the driver gave me 200 LEK to pay for another bus to Shkodra. The boy said all was fine. He came with me to the bus stop. We waited for about 15 minutes but no bus came up. However, a Mercedes stopped in front of us. The boy and the its driver talked something in Albanian. I understand that it was something like "Bla bla car". The boy got off in halfway and I did about half an hour later giving the money to the driver in Shkodra city center. Finally !!
Overall, it had been almost 11 hours to reach Shkodra from Ohrid where I woke up at 6 am. NOw, the time was 16:45.
- EXCHANGING MONEY
The currency unit in Albania is LEK and 1 Euro is about 140 LEKS. As I said I above, I had gotten off at Durres in an unplanned way and paid for the minibus. I had given 10 Euros to driver and he gave me back 600 LEKS. Though he should have given 100 LEKS more. By the way, I couldn't see any change office in Durres bus terminal.
In this way, I met Albanian currency and didn't need to change any more money during my stay in Shkodra.
- BAGGAGE FEES
As I said in my Skopje notes, I didn't pay for any baggage fee in Albania even from Durres to Shkodra or Shkodra to Ulcing (Montenegro).
- BORDER CROSSINGS
The bus from Struga has departed at 9:55 am and stopped at 10:15 in Macedonia-Albania border and its name was Kjafasan. First, Macedonian officers collected the passports and gave back after a while. Then, the bus moved and stopped again 10 seconds later. Albanian officers did the same. Overall, border crossing from here took about 35 minutes. Also, passports didn't get stamped here.
The border crossing was hassle-free. No questions or so. By the way, you will see lots of curved road after a while.
I would suggest this hostel because of the staff's friendliness and location. By the way, their breakfast was fullfilling. They served me 2 pizza slice sized flatbread with cheese and coffee or tea.
- PLACES TO VISIT IN SHKODRA
Let me tell my experiences and places to visit in Shkodra after long information parts.
Evliya Çelebi Street : It was so great to see a 17th-century traveller's name here. There is nothing to see here but it was a different feeling to be here. The street lies right in front of Loro Boriçi stadium.
Sheshi Demokracia : It's right in the middle of the city. If you lose you way, ask locals here.
Rozafa Castle : To be honest, the main reason to come to this city was Rozafa Castle. It is the number one activity in Shkodra. The castle is located about 3,5 kilometers from Sheshi Demokracia. If you decide to walk here like I did, it would probable take about 40 minutes from the city center. The entrance fee is 200 LEK and open until 8 pm.
The entrance itself looked great to me.
When you pass here you will reach the first courtyard of the castle. Here you will be able to see ruins, Balshaj Tower where walls and stairs are.
In the second courtyard, there are three or four cisterns which remained from 14th century. And this old ruin looked building below was St. Stephen Cathedral which was converted into a mosque by Ottomans as you may understand from its half minaret. Check out my video to see in more detail. CLICK HERE.
Bojana River is also one of the top reasons to make you visit here. The view was amazing.
When you walk a little bit further, you will reach the third courtyard where you can find a museum of a Venetian merchant who lived here in 15th century. It was closed by the time I got there. The entrance for here is 100 LEK.
And the building on the left and at the end of the picture below was an Ottoman arsenal which is served as a restaurant now.
There is also a secret well-shaped tunnel in the same courtyard. I walked down to the stairs and it was quite dark but I could see some sunshine. I couldn't figure out where the exit of this is.
On the left side of the third courtyard, there is another courtyard which is called the fourth courtyard. There are only a few cisterns, a Venetian tower and remains of an old prison.
After had a look at here, I decided to go back to the city center as the closing time was getting closer. When you look down from the main entrance, you will see an old mosque in the water. That mosque is Kuşunlu or Kurshumlija Mosque and this is the only mosque that remained from Ottoman times.
Ebu Bekir Mosque : Built in 18th century and restored in 1995. It's located on Kolë Idromeno Street.
Kolë Idromeno Street : This street is located in the city center and there are plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants. The picture below was taken at the end of the street. That's why restaurants, cafes etc. are not seen.
History Museum of Shkodra : It was the Museum Day when I was there and was free to enter. However, it was closed by the time I got there.
Shkodra Cathedral : The only thing I know about this cathedral is to be built in the 19th century. It's not very far from the hostel I had stayed in.
- ALBANIAN LANGUAGE
If you can't speak Albanian, you could communicate people with Italian as far as I observed. Some cut can also speak German. Some of the words and sentences I could remember are :
Sheshi = Square
Miradita = Good day
Faleminderit = Thanks
- WHAT TO EAT & DRINK IN SHKODRA
Obviously, I didn't eat in a restaurant or cafe during my time in Shkodra. Instead, I stayed full by shopping from supermarkets and pizzerias. When it comes to prices :
1,5 lt bottle of water : 50 LEK
Coke : 60 LEK
1 slice of pizza Margarita : 80 LEK ( 3 Euros in Italy)
1 bottle of local beer : 150 LEK
Apart from what I told you here, there are of course other places to visit and things to do. However, these are where I visit and got information about.
On my next article, you will be able to have some information about Ulcinj in Montenegro.