We woke up in Dubrovnik on our last day in Croatia. The plan was simple: Lounge through the morning, do some last sightseeing and leisurely catch the 8pm ferry to Italy.
That plan terminated suddenly at 10.47 when an email arrived with the notification that the ferry departure was cancelled due to bad weather. In hindsight, the weather forecast had predicted thunderstorms, but we never imagined it would cause the calm Adriatic to roil up to conditions that would prevent a ferry to cross.
The two available options from Jadrolinija weren’t great for us. Take another route further north and add 1000km to our trip or wait two days, hope the next ferry goes and loose the reservation in the kids hotel we had made. After a little bit of hustling and calling people we dug up option #3: The ferry from Albania was not cancelled and would get us to Bari exactly at the same time as originally planned. Downside: it required a 400km drive towards a sharp deadline across four countries.
This was not what we had planned for the day – but there was no time to loose. We booked via phone from a friendly Italian lady while already driving. According to her, we had to be in the port of Durres by 7pm – and our GPS had us tracking towards 6pm. Not much buffer… and that buffer shrank a good bit when the first border guard (Croatia to Bosnia) asked not only for our car papers (which I had ready) but also for the insurance card (which I didn’t). Frantic searching unearthed the card but added 15mins.
As we wound our way through Bosnia and Montenegro we accumulated another 15mins delay due to borders and the rush hour in Podgorica and we arrived at the Albanian border with an ETA of 6.30pm. Luckily, the border was quick and the Albanian roads proved to be very good. Combined with the fact that Albanian speed limits seem to be more of a gentle recommendation we even made some time back.
After a thoroughly confusing boarding procedure (the highlight of which was Yeya answering the question “what does IP stand for” to the Customs police) we went on board and Liam fell asleep before we left port. That last bit proved to be important, as we soon noticed why the Croatians had cancelled the ferry from Dubrovnik. Waves of up to 6m rocked and shook the ship quite severely. Although it didn’t feel unsafe to me, sleeping only sort of worked (for us, Liam slept like the baby he is…).
We were supposed to arrive at 8am, so we had an alarm clock at 7. A view out the window and our GPS location made it clear that we were not too far from Bari, but not moving closer towards it. We hung out in our cabin, occasionally checking progress – which looked decidedly weird. The ship wasn’t really going to where we thought the port was. A question to the crew later we knew why: The whole port of Bari had been closed due to the storm and the captain was hoping it would open at some stage. So we criss-crossed the open sea, which eventually led to sea-sick green faces and the insight that lying down with closed eyes would be the best option.
At midday, the crew announced that Bari would stay closed for the day and we were re-directed to Brindisi. This was not taken with delight by most passengers (80% of which looked like male Albanian men commuting to work in Italy). For us it wasn’t too bad because it got us closer to our destination, but it meant another 6 hours on the ship, although now thankfully travelling in the same direction as the waves, which reduced the movement enough for us to get up and get some food. It was a long day though and all of us were relieved once we cleared the harbour walls of Brindisi. The debarking procedure was similarly confusing to the embarking one. Our highlight here was the customs question “how much Euro do you bring”, which we answered truthfully with “3”, which completely confused the customs agent. After confirming that we did in fact have the financial means to support ourselves he let us through and we had made it to Italian terra firma.