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Published: September 10th 2016
The famous houses that make Berat "the town of a thousand windows".
You can't really call Tirana's 'bus station' a bus station. There is no terminal building, there are no ticket offices - it is merely a parking lot full of buses. It is pretty chaotic - but then again I've seen worse.
Anyway, it was from here that I finally left Tirana for my next destination; Berat.
Berat's appeal lies in its impressively intact Ottoman quarter and its hilltop castle; while I had seen the rural, majestic mountains of Northern Albania
and the urban, modern metropolis of Tirana
, Berat now presented a trip back to Albania's Ottoman past.
The cobblestone Ottoman quarter - with perhaps the most slippery cobblestones I have ever encountered - chock-full of white houses, lends Berat its nickname as the "town of a thousand windows" and a walk around it is certainly atmospheric. A walk around it also led Sophie - a fellow Kiwi I met at the hostel - and I to an awesome, local, culinary experience.
Homemade Food Lili is a lovely little family-run restaurant set in a cute, tiny courtyard adjacent to Lili's house - so you know for sure that the food is homemade! With Lili's daughter warmly welcoming us and showing us the menu, Lili came out after our meal for us
Berat By Night
Looking over at the Ottoman quarter at night.
to pay the chef his compliments. The ferghese
I had here was the best I had in all of Albania - meaning that it was the best ferghese
I've ever had.
Eating traditional food, in a traditional setting, in a traditional town - it was such a peaceful, warm, friendly and authentic dining experience. Choosing to specialise in serving a small selection of dishes cooked perfectly as opposed to a wide array of plates served er, not-so-perfectly, there is a reason why Homemade Food Lili is rated Berat's no.1 restaurant on TripAdvisor!
Back at the hostel after dinner - and against my better judgement - I ended up chatting with Sophie almost through the night. Not that Sophie was a bad chat, but I really should have went to sleep earlier. But meh, I'm on holiday. A two year holiday, yes - but still a holiday nonetheless.
The next day was hot. So hot. That baking, lazy, lethargic hot, similar to what I experienced in Mostar
. Thankfully it wasn't quite 41 degrees in the shade!
But it still made sightseeing hard work, not helped by the fact that Berat's most-visited sight is its hilltop castle, which you have to
View Of Valley And River
Taken from the kalasa with the Holy Trinity Church in the foreground.
A large citadel dating from the 13th century, people still actually live inside it - a living, breathing piece of history. But with a 100 leke entrance fee, it was the first time that I've ever had to pay to enter an area that people lived in. Do residents have to pay every time they go home or do they get an annual pass?
Although it has cute, cobblestone streets and has stupendous views over the city on one side, and sweeping views over the valley and river on the other, I have to say that the kalasa
was generally underwhelming. This is no Carcassonne
- much of the old walled city is made up simply of crumbling ruins, devoid of any interesting or outstanding architecture. The inner fortress does contains a cool water cistern that still has water in it, but it's a far cry from the Byzantine cistern I saw in Istanbul
The feel of the old town as I wondered around it was similar to that of the old town in Ulcinj
- lots of crumbling buildings and of the ones that are still in use, most of them are residential. There are
The Ottoman/Balkan tradition of having a stroll in the evening is big here in Berat. In the background is the lit-up Ottoman quarter.
no tacky souvenir shops, romantic restaurants or boutique hotels - yet.
I have to say however, that my feelings on Berat were probably affected by Berat's misfortune of being my last stop before finally getting to have the short break from my travels that I have been desperately needing for some time. Getting sick in Tirana was probably by body telling me that I really needed to stop for a short while.
The first signs of travel fatigue kicked in towards the latter end of my time in Central America and then again in Cuba - I then knew that I required at the very least, some rest and some time to myself to plan the Asian leg of my trip, as well as catch up on a few bits and pieces (including this blog!) as soon as I got to Europe. But I just haven't been able to do it either because it has been too expensive to stop, or I've just had to keep going in order to stick to my rough schedule.
But now after ten months on the road, I had had enough of sleeping in dorms, sharing bathrooms with loads of people, all the
Cistern In The Kalasa
Lonely Planet describes this cistern as "Tolkienesque" - I just see some really scungy water and unfortunately, loads of trash.
walking, all the sightseeing, the heat, the sweating, the mosquitos and making new friends with the same small talk every conversation - I had finally got to the point where I was just over it.
I had always said that I'd stop the trip if I found that I wasn't enjoying it anymore but I really do think that it's just a bit of tiredness and fatigue and that once refreshed after a week of not doing much, I'll be raring to go again and ready to continue my journey. At least I hope so...
And so it was that my 'break' was the biggest thing on my mind while I was in Berat. I had heard that Berat was a must-see and in terms of seeing an old Ottoman-Albanian town, I guess it is. But if I didn't 'have to' visit the place then I would have just made a beeline for beaches in the south for my break - it just made logistical sense to stop in Berat en route. And so Berat became that annoying league match before a cup final - an extra obstacle to negotiate before the main event, so I probably didn't have the
From the hillside promenade just outside the kalasa.
appreciation for the place that should've and did not give it the attention and objective focus that it perhaps deserved. Every traveller will have a place that they didn't particularly like or didn't particularly rate because they were distracted internally - for me, Berat was that place.
My hostel didn't help in this respect however.
The place could do with a bit of maintenance; you can't do much about city water shortages but you can do something about lumbing, toilet paper and keeping the place clean. The place could do with a couple of extra bathrooms too. And like the hostel I stayed at on Roatan Island
, I was constantly swarmed by mosquitoes. The terraced, vine-covered hangout areas were probably the hostel's best feature but I couldn't wait to get out of there.
On my second and last night in Berat, like I did with Sophie on my first night, I decided to join Berat's giro
; the Balkan tradition of simply going for a nighttime stroll along the town's main pedestrian street. And literally the whole town is at it as the thoroughfare was pretty packed.
It is mainly groups of teenagers doing the walking; on the sidelines are
Streets Of Berat
Cobblestone, pedestrian street in the Ottoman quarter.
loads of bars and cafes whose outdoor tables are weirdly occupied almost exclusively by groups of young men watching the world go by.
My first encounter with the giro
phenomenon was in Sarajevo
but Tirana apart, this seems to be a tradition here in Albania too. Less so in Croatia and Montenegro which makes me wonder if this was originally an Ottoman thing.
Speaking of giros
, I had my first taste on the trip of its culinary namesake - what the Albanians call sufflaque
, which is very close to the Greek word souvlaki
, which is one of my Greek favourites. It is exactly what you think it is - although I would say that it is probably done better in Greece...
Which is almost where I am heading next. My private apartment is in Ksamil, which is a stone's throw away from the Albanian-Greek border and quite frankly, I can't wait to get to my hermit cave!
Shihemi me vone,
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