Posted by: Alex MacGregor | April 28, 2010

The Road to Montenegro

We spent a full week getting to know the ins and outs of Albania, but it was time to move on. Next up the coast is Montenegro, a small, newly-independent nation that is culturally and ethnically similar to Serbia, from which it declared independence only a few years ago.

Ever since we had arrived in Europe, the process of crossing a border was simplified dramatically. We have grown used to direct buses from capital to capital, with the border barely even a noteworthy stop. We haven’t had to go through anything like what we had to go through to get from Mozambique to Malawi.

But not so with Albania. We initially hoped for a direct bus from Tirana to Montenegro’s capital, Podgorica (pronounced in such a way that it rhymes with ‘pizza’). But there is none: Albania’s long period of isolation has left it with very weak public transport links with its neighbors.

Instead, we learned that a furgon (minibus) sets off in the morning from a town in northern Albania called Shkodra to a town on Montenegro’s coast called Ulqini, and it’s basically the only way to get between the two countries.

So we set off for Shkodra one afternoon, and spent the evening looking around.

Shkodra’s main square.

While Shkodra’s main street is flanked by housing blocks, you can find plenty of historic buildings on the side streets.

Although the importance of Islam in Albania has declined steeply, Shkodra still has a vibirant Islamic community. Unlike in other parts of Albania, we were even able to check out the city’s main mosque!

Although this mosque was much newer than some of the ones we saw earlier, it was very impressive.

Shkodra has one of the best selections of fruits and veggies we saw the whole trip!

I don’t think that this ladder, on top of a ten-story communist-era building in central Shkodra, would meet OSHA requirements for safe roof access.

Anyone need a dentist?

Communist-era tourist placards.

The next day, we set off for Montenegro. We had heard that the furgon would leave at 9AM for Unqini whether there was a full bus or only one person, so we confidently strode out half an hour early to claim our spots.

When we asked about the furgon at the designated place, people responded “no furgon, no autobusi“, and pointed to an empty minibus that said Ulqini, with no driver or passengers in sight. Eventually we found someone who spoke English, who explained that there were no passengers, so the bus wouldn’t be going today.

After a moment of feeling like we were going to be stranded for another night in small Shkodra–a city which would soon be exhausted of attractions of touristic interest if we were stuck for another day or longer–a man came up and said, “It’s okay. Take the Mercedes.”

We were very skeptical–it was just the two of us, and there was no way the man would take us to Montenegro in a Mercedes for the same price as a minibus. But the man insisted that for 5 Euro, we would be taken to the center of Ulqini. Eventually, another passenger materialized and got in the passnger seat. He also said it was okay, as did the half a dozen or so bystanders.

So we agreed, and, at nine o’clock, the four of us were off to Unqini in an old Mercedes Benz.

About halfway to the Montenegrin border post, our ‘minibus’ stops to get refueled.

After we made it into Montenegro, the driver showed us his passport, which was covered in such a huge number of identical passport stamps that it probably would be refused at any border post where he wasn’t friends with the border guards. Later, as other people flagged down the car and hopped in, it became clear to us that this black Mercedes was well known in the area as the only public transport that passed by on this road during the slow winter season.

Eventually we made it into Ulqini, and found out we had a couple hours left to wait for a bus to Budva, our first planned stop. Although this is a different country, it might as well have still been Albania.

The town is mostly Albanian, so we were still able to use the familiar Albanian greetings like tungjatjeta (hello) and faleminderit (thank you) as we wandered around and checked out the sights.


  1. […] fruit vendors contend even with the Albanians in terms of fruit […]

  2. […] that they were trying to get me into an unofficial taxi to cross the border, something I’ve had luck with […]

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