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To Tirana, a definitive guide.
After the recent excellent Euromeet 2011 organised wonderfully by Valentina I needed to travel to Tirana in Albania to get my flight home. an internet search produced a lot of conflicting information that was either undated, out of date or just plain wrong so I intend to provide a step by step guide which was current as of 5th June 2011. Obviously, travel information is usually out of date as soon as it is written so chack to see if there is anything more recent as the usefulness of this decays.
Firstly, a bit of mythbusting. I had heard talk of a daytime bus, which I would have preferred but it simply does not exist. There is one bus per day, it departs at 1900 hours and this is how to get it. I decided to get my ticket early although it would have been possible to turn up a short time before as the bus was nearly empty. Go the the bus station, which is on Bulavar Kusman Josefovski Pitu and is actually under the main train station. Both are signposted and a taxi will take you there although if you wish to walk and / or save a few dinari it is only about a twenty minute stroll from the centre. From eht centre, keep the river on your left, walk past the large Vero shopping centre and you will come to where the railway crosses over the road. It is just on the right and I have included a photo to help you.
When you enter, there are a number of different ticket booths and you need to go to the last one on the left which says Eurolines in Roman script. I went in and spoke to the two helpful ladies both pf whom spoke reasonable English. I purchased my ticket easily in local currency although it was quoted in Euros. Be aware that you need to produce your passport to purchase a ticket, I think it is something to do with speeding up the somewhat notorious Albanian border procedure.
One thing to note is the difficulty in obtaining Albanian currency. I tried at the bureau de change in the bus staion but they couldn't help even after making a couple of 'phone calls on my behalf. I asked was there a bureau at the border and the lady couldn't help. In the event there was not but don't panic, you can use Euros until you get to Tirana.
All the perceived wisdom is that the bus departs from stand #1 although they told me it would leave from #3 which it duly did. They did, however, tell me the bus would have the Eurolines livery although, as you can see, it wasn't.
The bus left on time with myself and one other lady on it. It was comfortable and had a toilet onboard although I did not use it so cannot vouch for it's cleanliness or otherwise. I took my favouerd seat which is the back seat in the middle. That way I can stretch my rather tall frame out a bit. As it happened, I managed to get a bit of sleep stretched out over all five seats.
the journey could probably be achieved a lot quicker but they tend to stop every couple of hours, always at a restaurant so you can stock up on food or snacks as well as attending the call of nature. All the places we stopped seemed to be clean.
In the dead of night, our assistant / ticket collector disappeared into a small building and appeared to be conducting some sort of official business. This was explained a short time later when we approached the border. The assistant took our pasports and got them checked for us (we did not leave the bus). Then he gave them back, we drove a couple of hundred yards and he took them again at the Albanian side. No, I don't understand why either. Anyway, a few minutes later I had my passport back with my long-coveted Albania stamp. All completely painless. There is supposedly an entry tax of about one Euro but we didn't have to pay at the border, I think it is inbuilt in the ticket price.
After a few more stops we arrived in Tirana at about 0430 in the morning. Tirana does not have a bus station and you are dumped in a carpark, not too far from the centre. There I was, middle of the night strange capital of a new country with not a word of Albanian nor a penny piece of the local currency. Still, I like an adventure. This is what you may care to do. If you look for the carpark, there is a main road in front and a wide boulevard going away for you. This leads to the main square. Go down there a couple of hundred yards and there is a cafe / bar just beside the casino. Both are open 24 hours a day. The staff in the cafe were friendly, spoke a little English and, most improtantly, accepted Euros. I spent a very pleasant couple of hours there until the town started to come alive and I bid farewell and moved on.
This then is how to get from Skopje to Tirana by bus and it is not as scary as some might have you believe.
I shall unashamedly crosspost this in my Tirana page.
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Bus Skopje to Pristina
There are three or four buses a day from Skopje to Pristina. It costs about 5 euro each way. Infuriatingly it takes over 2 hours to cover a distance of just 60km! It only takes about 20 minutes to get to the border from Skopje Bus Station. After about 45 minutes at the border, it then took about another hour to get to Pristina, via a couple of short stops at bus stations in Kosovo itself.
The scenery is quite nice to look at through the windows of the comfortable bus. There is a large military presence still in the area with peace-keepers from a number of different countries driving around in their military vehicles.
The last bus in both directions leaves at 5pm.
Arrived in and departed from the main bus station, it's a little out of town a taxi should cost (May '09) less than 100 MKD from the centre.
Tickets are easy to buy, English was spoken perfectly and there is a currency exchange office here too.
International bus times
The bus station at Skopje is excellent. It's just under the train station. There's an ATM, shops, ticket and (English speaking) information windows open all night. I had a bit of time to spare so I asked about various international bus times. Here's what I was told (September 2009)
Buses to Sofia leave every day at 0700, 0830, 1500, 2100 and 2400. The journey takes about 5 hours
Buses to Belgrade leave at 0745, 0925, 1310, 1430, 1645 and 2030 every day. The journey takes about 8 hours
There's a bus to Podgorica every day at 2000 or 2100 (alternate days 2000 and 2100 - the Saturday one leaves at 2100). It takes 8 hours
There are no direct buses to Bucharest. Get one to Belgrade and change
There's an early bus to Thessaloniki leaving at 0600 on Monday, Wednesday & Friday only
There's a bus to Tirana every day, leaving at 1900, arriving at 0400
There are buses to Istanbul every day, leaving at 1600, 1700 and 1900. It takes 12 hours
There are buses to Sarajevo. It takes 12 hours, Not sure of the times
There are buses to Novi Pazar (5 hours), going via Prishtina, Prizren, etc, leaving at 0800 and 1300, BUT the driver won't let you on these if you have a Kosovo stamp in your passport (for obvious reasons). In that case you have to get a bus to Kraljevo (crossing the Serbian border at a legal entry point, where they'll stamp CANCELLED on top of your Kosovo stamp) then change. Take the Uzice bus from Skopje, get off at Kraljevo, then there are buses almost every hour from Kraljevo to Novi Pazar.
You can also see the timetable on the bus station website, at http://www.sas.com.mk/ (it's isn't in the English version - only the Macedonian one), but I'm not sure if it's up to date. The website also has the telphone number to ring for information.
UPDATE (June 2011). Timetables now at http://www.skopje.com.mk/angliski/megju.asp
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Plenty of buses
The city has plentiful buses. What can be amusing [or frustrating] is that there are two sets -- the official city ones and the private ones. They can do some funny dances trying to beat each other to a bus stop! Also the routes where the city has competition are much cheaper than the other routes.
Buses to Skopje
I found it easy to arrive in Skopje by bus from Ohrid (there are departures almost every hour throughout the day). I also had an easy time finding the bus to Pristina. Although the bus station is large it is easy to navigate, and it's also easy to connect to city transit here.
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SAS international bus service in Skopje
You can find a lot of information about the international bus services from the central bus station (Skopje) on http://sas.com.mk/.
They have added the google translation button recently so you it understandable now.
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new routes to / from skopje airport
I am going to Macedonia in two weeks and have booked a room at the Shanti Hostel in Skopje, who offer airport pick-ups at 5 euros less than the fixed taxi tariff of 20 euros.
I emailed them today to confirm we are still coming and the owner, Dina, emailed back to say that as of today (2nd March 2012) there is a public bus service to and from the airport to the centre of town. She sent me a schedule so just in case the link doesn't load, i'll try to summarise in details below:
The route is AIRPORT - HOTEL CONTINENTAL - INTERNATIONAL BUS / RAILWAY STATION - HOTEL HOLIDAY INN - HOTEL ALEKSANDAR PALACE.
The buses are daily and start from midnight throughout the day until 6 or 7pm most nights, and there are more services on weekends. I can't list all of the times but the link below should be ok if you copy and paste it into your address bar.
The cost is 100 denars one way.
From Google Maps I can see that the station is very central - if you find Gazi Baba Park, look south southwest from there over the river and you should be able to make out the train lines and roads for it in the intersection of Belasica and Boulevard Kuzman
Hope this helps, i'll update my information when i get back at the end of March with further tips
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Website of the Skopje bus station
With time tables and prices!
Website of the bus company:
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