Getting the bus from Gjirokastra, Albania, to Kalambaka, Greece, the town nearest the dazzling rock formations of Meteora, was an adventure in itself.
As we wound down around picturesque mountain bends from the town of Ioannina towards Kalambaka at the end of my long journey by bus from Albania to Greece, I held back my neighbour Kara’s hair. The continual swerving motion had caused her upheaval of the local equivalent of cheesy Doritos, a packet of which she’d just shared with me.
The majestic Meteora came into view at the same town as Kalambaka town, and I eagerly awaited the bus to pull into an out-of-town terminal.
I had a long wait.
Rookie error: Check where the bus terminates. NOT in Kalambaka, as I’d thought!
Would my bus journey from Albania to Greece be my highway to hell?
By the time I realised any out of town terminal was but a figment of my imagination, I decided to stay put until the next town to avoid being stranded on a highway in the middle of nowhere.
“It will be easy to get a bus back,” I thought.
Sadly the only unhelpful Albanian (the bus driver) in a nation full of super-helpful people dropped me off in a highway layby at least 3 miles out of the next town.
I’d have been ok with that (ish) if the driver hadn’t completely ignored my best attempt to speak Albanian by asking, “where is the bus station, please?” by blanking me, closing his door and driving off. Despite the Albanians I’d befriended on the bus (one of whom spoke some English), trying to help me out by asking him in rather better vocabulary than I was managing.
The bus from Albania to Greece … the journey before the “abandonment”
It gave a sour taste to an otherwise entertaining and fun journey, which had included, in no particular order:
- the lady who sold me my ticket making me Turkish coffee whilst we chatted waiting for the bus to arrive (as bus-ticket-sellers do, obviously!!)
- playing several rounds of the “find a common language” game to communicate with the 50 Albanians on the bus, most of whom wanted to talk to me
- having my knickers rummaged through on the Albania-Greece border (in my luggage, not in the fun way!)
- a natter over a lunchtime beer at a rest-stop with a fellow passenger who turned out to be a former political prisoner
- the lovely Kara, my cheesy-doritos sharing passenger. Before she was sick, obviously.
See … Albanians (apart from one bus driver) are universally lovely.
Anyway, back to being stranded in a layby somewhere in northern Greece.
I didn’t really fancy the 15-mile walk back to Kalambaka. Funny, that.
Figuring I’d give it an hour to see if a bus passed by before sticking my thumb out, me and my luggage trudged to the opposite side of the main road and dug out my Lonely Planet Greek phrasebook.
The big question: Would there be another bus? #firstworldproblems
The Saints of the Meteora monasteries must’ve been smiling on me.
No sooner had I perfected my “yassas”, when a lady appeared. With a suitcase. Heading to “my” layby! I mean, how many people do you normally find hanging out in random highway laybys (in daylight 😉 ?
Even more fortunate – said lady spoke a few works of English. This was definitely handy, as my Greek efforts of “hello”, “bus?” and “Kalambaka?” combined with shrugging shoulders and pointy hand gestures weren’t super-helpful as a conversation-starter.
Better still; a bus appeared! And, the lady encouraged the driver to do a little detour to drop me back in Kalambaka town itself, rather than by-passing it on the highway.
I instantly decided I loved all Greeks.
So, after an 8-hr journey from Gjirokastra, Albania; I arrived safely at a lovely B&B in Kastraki, a village neighbouring Kalambaka, and the closest to the monasteries of Meteora.
The obvious thing to do at this point was to go and buy a bottle of wine, a glass or two of which I enjoyed immensely, accompanied by the hues of a bright pink sunset.
Practicalities – the bus from Albania to Greece (Gjirokastra to Kalambaka)
- This particular bus from Albania to Greece originates in Tirana (Albania) and goes to Thessaloniki (Greece) via Gjirokastra (also spelt Gjirokaster), Kalambaka and Larissa. It passes Gjirokastra on the highway between 7.30 and 8.00am.
- A taxi from Gjirokastra old town to the highway is 400 Lek and worth every penny.
- Your accommodation can call ahead for you to reserve your bus ticket, which you then buy from the little office on the Gjirokastra highway from the Turkish-coffee serving lady. She speaks a FEW words of English and is very friendly, but a phrase book that includes Albanian will be very helpful. You’ll need to show your passport.
- From Gjirokastra to Kalambaka the fare is €18 (October 2014). You can pay in Euro or Albanian Lek.
- Count on a fair chunk of time at the Albania-Greece border. Albania isn’t in the EU but Greece is, and as your fellow passengers are likely to be Albanian, everything is checked a gazillion times – you, your passport (at least 3 times), your luggage (in detail), the lot.
- There are no official currency exchanges on the Albanian side of the border (where you’ll spend some time waiting), but the people at the food/drink/other stalls will unofficially exchange Lek to Euro for you, or find someone who will. Again, lovely Albanians 🙂
- There are stops for refreshments/food at highway services.
Oh, and don’t forget to get off the bus in Kalambaka 🙂