Fw: Albania, some amazing villages (Gjirokastra and Berat)
Thu 28 Jul 2011 15:03
Subject: Albania, some amazing villages (Gjirokastra and Berat)
Albania is full of surprises, it is so poor but then you just come across a world heritage site, like the village of Gjirokastra, and the village of Berat. Both are built clinging to a 45 degree slope with ancient cobbled streets, castles and Ottoman architecture. Gjirokastra has a castle that was used as a prison in "WW2, housing captured Albanian resistance fighters 10 to a tiny cell. This castle was jam packed with artillery captured from the Germans and Italians. It also has a big collection of oil canvasses, all with historic content, which were on display during the communist era, but which now just stand in a store room (where we were allowed to poke around) collecting dust, and getting torn! Sandy discovered an American plane which came down during the cold war, and is now parked in the castle. The Communists put out a story that they had shot the plane down, but the western story is that it just landed and the pilot was returned to the US.There are 300 year old houses, some open to the public, and we met one chap who told us he is the 11th generation living there. Another of the houses was home to President Hoxha as a young man, yet another to the author Ismail Kadare who wrote a novel about the Albanian resistance in WW2.
We gained a bit of local knowledge in Gjirokastra. The 2 daughters of the gift shop family were very willing to chat. One is studying justice and wants to be a lawyer. The other is a graduate in social work, and works in the methodone centre in Tirana, the capital. She told us there is quite a drug problem. She was home visiting Gjirokastra, but told us she likes to get back to the big city, as Gjirokastrians all know eachother’s business, and young girls have no freedom over boyfriends or social life!
We stayed in a great B & B with Vita and Hadji who really looked after us and gave us loads of advice about where to go. Albanian hospitality is great. We left to drive to the next amazing village (next blog) and saw a bit more of rural Albania. The countryside is littered with concrete bunkers (2 million of them) which the communists built in anticipation of a western invasion. The outskirts of big cities have rubbish tip communities and the roads vary from good, tarmacked highways to incredibly dusty dirt roads, and the switch can be very sudden! Big surprise was to drive through oil towns, with derricks and nodding donkeys everywhere, and a sulphorous smell about them. From the look of Albania, we guess they do not get very much oil out of the ground.