ALBANIA RE-VISITED (by car), PART I BERAT

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When I biked through the Mediterranean 3 years ago, I picked Albania as my favorite country.  Why?  Number 1 is always the people, they were so warm, welcoming and generous.  The nature was spectacular, the history: (both the Roman & communism) was super interesting. The arts and crafts, especially the rug designs that are very vibrant & colorful.  Albania  offered the main things that interest me when traveling.  On a bike I  wasn’t able to buy the souvenirs that I wanted, like a rug.  So I had a mission on this trip (mission accomplished).
I have never rented a car when traveling, this will be a first.  I wanted to revisit people & places and retrace my bike tour route and also visit the middle of the country.  I first drove an hour to Durres, on the coast.  I’ve stayed here before, but never really connected with this town.  I got a great ocean view hotel for $25, with breakfast.


Google maps says it’s a 2 hour drive to Berat , but I intend to take my bicycle route, it will probably be longer  Berat, is a UNESCO heritage site, that I’ve never visited.
Some still use horses and donkeys for transportation and farming.  I took photos of the ceramic tables my first time through here.  When I stopped the car, they came running out of the house, hoping for a sale.  My first time through I photographed them harvesting carrots, this time I got them washing them.  Oh course they gave me one to enjoy.  I love the stone work: patios, walls, sidewalks, and houses.  I stayed in the town of Fier last time, but stayed in the “old” part.  They were working on the roads, with no signs of how to get out of town, it took me an hour to literally escape.

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So I’ve always had this mentality of staying at Hostels: cheap, meet other travelers, save a little money,  cook some of your own food.  So I thought I would try the Lorenc Guesthouse & Hostel in Berat.  I was the only guest, but I still chose the “private” room.  It had 3 beds in it, he told me to sleep in the small bed. WTF.  It went downhill from there.  I went into town to eat and checked a few hotels, that cost only $10 more than the hostel.  When I returned to the freezing cold room, I asked for a space heater.  So Lorenc gave me a space heater, but said I could only have it for 2 hours.  I told him I was not very happy and he offered to give my money back.  I happily took it and the next morning I found the  “SUPER” Mangalemi Hotel, right in the designated UNESCO area.  Berat is the hottest part of Albania so most houses and restaurants have covered patios (verandas) for eating and socializing.
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I parked the car at the hotel and never used it again during my visit. I was at the center of everything, the castle, ethnographic museum, town center, bars and culture.  Albanians struggle everyday, but through it all they keep a positive attitude.  It seems like every other person is selling fresh food, everyone eats!  There were these 2 guys competing selling sunflower seeds for 10 cents.  I bought some and told him to keep the change.  He put his hand on his heart and thanked me.  It makes me happy to share my good luck.
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My hotel is on the main road up to the Castle.  Stone walkways, walls and houses line the street path. Like Portugal, Spain and every country, castles are always at the top-with spectacular views. I really like the castle it seems totally authentic, not rebuilt or staged. I see a turkey “herder” walking his flock around the castle grounds.  There are a few vendors around the Castle.  I bought a wood carving of the “old town”, he gives me the postcard that the carving comes from.  I also stop at the  ethnographic museum on the way down.
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I love walking around the town, does it say USA on my forehead?  Everyone always saying hi or nodding their heads at me. Turkey is my favorite meat (when I eat meat), I see turkey’s everywhere, but never on the menu?  Then this guy is carrying some turkeys towards my hotel, I watch, then he enters the hotel.  I order turkey for dinner, I think it’s very fresh!  It came with a stuffing type side dish, Thanksgiving in Albania.
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There was a museum near the castle that I didn’t see the day before, so I went up again. The castle area is also called a citadel (where people live). It’s amazing how things can be so different the very next day. Do the building stones come square? No.  I see a guy taking a pile of rocks and making square building blocks.  Isn’t that what you have to do when your bad and go to jail?  Then I spot the turkey herder again. He’s coming back to the citadel and through the museum grounds.  This time I hike around the entire castle and citadel area.  The stone block maker got a lot done while I was being a tourist.
*Click on photos for full size carousel 


The tourist office is finally open, they have  photos of the Bogova waterfalls, I want to go.  I hire a taxi to drive me there.  It’s only 50 km, but takes over an hour to get there, Albanian roads are shit.  It was great just being a passenger, I got to take lots of photos.  My driver speaks no English, he drops me at the trailhead and waits.  There’s just one sign, the first one, the dirt road splits several times, I guess wrong?  After walking up river for 45 minutes and coming to a somewhat dangerous mountain side trail I turn back without making it to the water falls.  Albania, like most other countries want tourism, a few signs to the waterfalls would really help. I love all the stone work and discover where the stone comes from. What a mess, the trimmings are dumped everywhere, including the river.  Traveling Albania isn’t for everyone, there’s some things that you need to overlook.
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I can’t believe how much I’ve seen and done in just 4 days.  When I first arrived to Berat I spotted a street bike repair shop, so I had to get the photo on the way out of town.  He waved his finger, like he was saying “no photo”, to late. The two yellow bikes were in the post office.
*Click on photos for full size carousel 

I’ve got 3 weeks in Albania, I originally had over 700 photo, I’ve reduce that somewhat.  If you went to Mexico you would see similar images of people using horses, donkeys, herding sheep & cows.  Albania is just an hour flight from Slovenia, but a world away.  When I hear the young people complain here in Slovenia, I tell them “go to Albania for a few days”  that should help them put their situation into perspective.
I’m heading to Vlore, about a 2 hour drive.

I took a few videos, I get better at it, but for now this is all I got.

NO CROSSWALKS OR LIGHTS


HOW BAD ARE THE ROADS? SHIT

YOU KNOW THAT 99cent LIGHTER THAT YOU USE AND THROW AWAY? NOT IN ALBANIA YOU CAN HAVE IT REPAIRED AND REFILLED, WHO KNEW?

Next I re-visit Vlora, which I called the museum capital of Albania last time I was here.
HERE is the blog post about Vlora from 3 years ago
Thanks for reading
Jeff 

For some reason WordPress & Facebook posted “final” Albanian post from 3 years ago, it’s deleted now and I’m almost done with part II of Albania by car, stay tuned.

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2 thoughts on “ALBANIA RE-VISITED (by car), PART I BERAT

  1. Kathryn Reder

    What a simple world. Pasture raised turkeys! We’re looking forward to seeing you this summer. We’d love to have you stay with us for a week but please let us know so we can get you in the schedule!

    Reply
  2. Pingback: ALBANIAN COAST & BEACHSIDE APT. PART III | Jeff's Bike Tour

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