Not Swimming at the Albanian Coast

Durres Travel Blog

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The port city of Durres, converted to a resort town in the last 10 years
Durres is a port city about an hours bus ride from Tirana. We headed down to swim in the Adriatic.... The countryside along the highway was lined with farms, houses, villages... It sounded like when Zvonka was here 1995 things were a lot different, the highway wasn't here so it took a few hours to get to the coast by 4-wheel drive vehicle, and those were hard economic times, with poverty and primitive conditions after coming out of years of isolation from the rest of the world from 1945 until 1992 under dictator Enver Hoxha and his successor. I mean, they eventually islolated themselves even from the Soviet Union, sort of the North Korea of the time.

She was amazed at the changes. Instead of mule drawn carts and primitive housing there were modern resort hotels and condos, both in the capital and along the coast.
There's a huge bus station now bringing in tourists instead of horse drawn carts and donkeys
Durres had previously been a small port with miles of empty beaches lined with dense pine forests. At the time, no one visited the beach - I guess it was a place for coastal defense bunkers and lookout towers, not recreation. Now, it's a solid wall of resort hotels stretching for miles down coast, like a miniature Miami Beach. The beach is cordoned off into private plots with rows of colorful umbrellas and beach chairs for rent (none were really in use...)

We explored the town, a mix of ancient forts and churches and modern buildings, most built in the last 5-10 years, and many still under construction. We tried to sneak on top of several high rise buildings, to scope out a route to a good beach, but were thwarted by locked doors or security guards.
Housing near the bus station
We found a group of little girls playing in another high rise under construction and asked if they knew how to get to the roof (kids know that kind of thing...) Of course! They took us up on elevators and stairs, squealing with delight, but were disappointed that someone had recently blocked off the last passage onto the top.

We finally asked a woman on the street if she knew where a good beach was. "Just a moment..." she got on her cell phone, and a minute later a car pulled up and she stuffed us in. She and her friend drove us way south down the coast to the good beaches - easier just to take us than to try to explain how to get there. That seemed to be the way Albanians were, everyone we randomly met was helpful and friendly. They dropped us off, and we headed down the beach.
The wide, recently constructed avenue through town, lined with modern buildings


Even miles from town, the beachfront was still a solid wall of new development - resorts, summer rooms, restaurants... there were only remnants of the pine forest between the buildings. The good part was that Albanians had finally discovered the beach, and were now vacationing there. The storm had kicked up the waves and carried mud out from the rivers, so the normally clear, warm Adriatic was brown and choppy. We sat on the beach anyway, after walking a mile or so down past the larger resorts and private beaches, and played on the bunkers which were everywhere along the shoreline.

The local bus we took back followed the old road, so it was an all afternoon trip instead of the quick ride down the highway. We were getting nervous because we needed to retrieve our packs from the nice travel agents before the big bosses arrived at closing time, we'd promised so that they wouldn't get in trouble.
A mosque at the end of a redeveloped shopping street
.. We came sneaking in, just in time after the bus dropped us at the far end of the city and we made a running transect across Tirana! Soaked in sweat, and now carrying huge packs, we headed out to find a place to stay.

We'd avoided hotels the whole trip, staying in rooms or hostels, but stopped by the hotel across the street, "just to see how expensive it would be". It actually turned out to cost about the same as the hostels we'd been staying in, and was clean, quiet, and nice and right in the middle of downtown, so we checked in. Wow, now we were experiencing the high life, a private, 20 Euro room! Our own bathroom! I asked if they took Euros, and felt bad when the old guy at the counter said "yes", then ran down the street to the exchange office, converted them to Albanian currency, and came back with change so I could pay.

In the morning, we easily found the bus to Shkodre at the local depot, and off we went across Albania. The local buses are nice since you just get on and a conductor sells you a ticket as you drive, no need to stand in line at a ticket office ahead of time.
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The port city of Durres, converted…
The port city of Durres, converte…
Theres a huge bus station now bri…
There's a huge bus station now br…
Housing near the bus station
Housing near the bus station
The wide, recently constructed ave…
The wide, recently constructed av…
A mosque at the end of a redevelop…
A mosque at the end of a redevelo…
One of many freshly constructed hi…
One of many freshly constructed h…
These kids helped us sneak onto th…
These kids helped us sneak onto t…
If theres an ancient wall in the …
If there's an ancient wall in the…
Modern development along the shore…
Modern development along the shor…
Another monument to the Peoples R…
Another monument to the People's …
Ancient coastal fortifications alo…
Ancient coastal fortifications al…
An ancient predecessor to the bunk…
An ancient predecessor to the bun…
A carousel goes unused on this blu…
A carousel goes unused on this bl…
Zvonka on the seawall protecting t…
Zvonka on the seawall protecting …
What are these round things coveri…
What are these round things cover…
Thousands of tennis ball sized ...…
Thousands of tennis ball sized ..…
...they seem to be balls of seagra…
...they seem to be balls of seagr…
Albanian Orthodox churches compete…
Albanian Orthodox churches compet…
This was typical Albanian hospital…
This was typical Albanian hospita…
Umbrellas and chairs outside a res…
Umbrellas and chairs outside a re…
The wild shores south of Durres
The wild shores south of Durres
We walked a mile or so south past …
We walked a mile or so south past…
Really wanting to swim, but the sa…
Really wanting to swim, but the s…
Floating just above the water, aft…
Floating just above the water, af…
Donkeys on the beach
Donkeys on the beach
Sad trained bears entertain touris…
Sad trained bears entertain touri…
Hundreds of thousands of these bun…
Hundreds of thousands of these bu…
Pretty strong construction, theyv…
Pretty strong construction, they'…
Sitting on bunkers
Sitting on bunkers
Bunker-chi
Bunker-chi
Goofing around on bunkers
Goofing around on bunkers
Dancing on bunkers
Dancing on bunkers
Can you tell were impressed with …
Can you tell we're impressed with…
The same area of the beach in 1995…
The same area of the beach in 199…
A load of grass leaves the beach b…
A load of grass leaves the beach …
Decorated bunkers on a traffic isl…
Decorated bunkers on a traffic is…
Another bug-bunker incorporated in…
Another bug-bunker incorporated i…
Another bunker in a traffic circle…
Another bunker in a traffic circl…
Some have been dragged out of the …
Some have been dragged out of the…
Durres
photo by: EmEm