Monday, October 19, 2015


Brighton to Albania by Train - Days 13 - 14 Ulcinj & Dubrovnik

Day 13 

Monday 14th June Albania - Ulcinj

Ulcinj bay from Dulcinea restaurant

What a glorious journey from Tirana into Montenegro. As there aren’t any trains, I took the bus from Tirana two-and-a-half hours north to Shkodra near the border (£1.50) on a road flanked by lush green mountains to the east and farmland all around, with dozens of empty newly-built houses and showrooms, or half-built then abandoned buildings along the way - not sure if it's a result of speculative construction which ran out of cash, or some kind of tax relief scam. Anyway, there's a lot of them about everywhere.

Time for a beer in Shkodra, then on a minibus to Ulcinj in Montenegro (€5). I couldn't figure out why a 35km trip should take an hour and a half until we got to the border where we sat boiling our heads in the bus for forty minutes listening to shockingly bad Albanian pop on the radio while the driver hung around having fags and kicking his heels waiting for the border guards to look at our passports.

Ulcinj bay
We snaked around the foot of the Albanian mountains then climbed into them as we reached Montenegro, through tunnels and rocky ravines, and along twisting vertiginous passes, all quite stunning.

I had one night in Ulcinj, in a room overlooking the bay in the old town, drinking Montenegran beer and wine in the Dulcinea restaurant attached to the apartment and being chewed by mosquitoes. 
Brutalist monument, Ulcinj

Ulcinj is basically three-quarters of a basin, with a beach at the bottom, and if you want to go anywhere you have to go up.... And up... Then up a bit more... Then down a bit... And more up. But it's very beautiful and hot and humid, and the Montenegran wine seemed to improve after breathing a bit, although the local brandy may be an acquired taste.

To see more photos, go to my Flickr photoset.

Day 14

Tuesday 15th Ulcinj - Dubrovnik 


And so the last two days of the Grand Tour were in Dubrovnik, somewhere I've not been since the 70s but Rather A Lot has happened there in the intervening years.

A five and a half hour bus journey up from Ulcinj in Montenegro with quite the stroppiest driver and his sidekick you'd (n)ever wish to meet: overtaking on blind bends as we thundered round rocky mountain passes, shouting at passengers at every opportunity, and generally offering service with a snarl.

Our trip was spectacular though, via cloud-shrouded verdant mountains, over bridges crossing deep ravines, and snaking around the twisting coastline with views down to rocky bays and the almost luminous blue waters of the Adriatic.


As we approached Dubrovnik, roofless and partially destroyed buildings became apparent. The war of '91-95 is ever-present, and I went to not one but three photographic exhibitions dealing with it.

It's in contrast to Albania, where their past seems to be put in a box labelled "The Past" until they decide what to do with it, while the attack on Dubrovnik appears very much to be part of the contemporary consciousness.

Dubrovnik harbour

Display, Fort Srd
I took a cable car up to the steep hillside overlooking Dubrovnik and visited the Napoleonic fort Srd where the defenders of the old city (a UNESCO heritage site at the time, so they thought it would be safe) fought the attacks coming from sea, land and air. It houses an exhibition of photographs, documents, weaponry and other artefacts from the siege. The plight of the civilians caught up in it was very moving, and it felt shocking that such a conflict could occur in the late 20th century in Europe.

The place I stayed in was lovely, with views up to the hillside and fort, and after doing the touristy rounds I felt almost ready to head back to Blighty now. Lots of lovely places and people, and Albania was brilliant - I really want to go back and I'd really recommend it as an untouristy place with fantastically friendly people and a fascinating history, and - I'd hope - a good future.

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Great read, fab photos too!
Thanks Fred!
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