Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Day 23 Albania

From our camping near the beach south of Durres, we headed back down the same road we drove on the day before, to the little town of Berat. Driving on the roads is very interesting, as much for the “interesting” state of the roads, and the “interesting” drivers, as it was for the scenery and unusual modes of transport we spotted along the way. Richard loves driving on the crappy bumpy potholed roads with crazy drivers hurtling towards him on our side of the road... so much so that he drove all day! I spent the time snapping photos out the moving (up and down as well as forwards) car window, to try and capture the unusual features of the place.

At one point, we were following a ute filled with large panes of glass (house windows), and he was travelling VERY slowly through and round the large and unpredictable potholes on the road. Poor man, we wondered how many panes of glass would still be whole when he arrived at his destination (going by our poor record of smashing glasses over the bigger speedbumps and potholes, we imagined not many!)

The housing construction fascinated us. There was a very standardised building method involving reinforced concrete square columns with flat concrete floors/ceilings. Just about all had reinforcement sticking out of the top layer, just in case they wanted to add on another floor at a later date. Consequently, even the very lived in looking houses had an unfinished look to them. Often one whole floor would be left open – either the bottom, the middle or the top. The concrete steps climbed round the outside. Next step was infilling the gaps with lightweight large bricks, which were then plastered over. When there were enough levels on the house, a sloping tile roof was built on top. If the houses were painted, they were either peachy, orange, lime green, pastel green or yellow mostly.

We drove to Berat where we wanted to visit a medieval castle. As usual, it was at the top of a big hill, with a narrow cobbled street. Too narrow for the camper, so we found a park and walked up from the bottom. Many locals were also trudging up the hill, carrying a couple of bags of groceries each. It got pretty hot by the time we got to the top, as the sun was beating down on us, so I elected to sit under a tree while the other three went in to explore the castle. I got chatted to for ages by a man who wanted to be my guide. When I said I didn’t need one, he talked about the economy, his child, and his mother with a broken hip – anything to try and get some money out of me. Finally he gave up, and wandered off. There were two wedding groups who arrived at the castle with much tooting of the decorated cars. Sunday seems to be the day for weddings, because we saw two other wedding cars during the day. Everybody was very smartly dressed, the ladies in very high stilettos which must have been very difficult to wear on the very uneven cobbles. At least they looked good I guess! The others enjoyed exploring the castle, as unlike Greece, there were no whistle blowing attendants to stop you climbing on things.... that meant Hayden could climb right on top of the wall of the castle, and happily skip along the top (quite a height from the ground on the other side). Richard said that right at the top of the castle there was a bar!!

After lunch, we tackled the bumpy dusty narrow roads again, and drove to Tirana – the capital of Albania. It is known for its prettily coloured apartment buildings, in all shades pastel and a bit brighter. It certainly cheered the place up and gave it a good look, along with the tree lined streets and bright blue light poles. Again, there were no road markings, so you drove wherever, even if it was the wrong side of the road, and the big roundabouts were very interesting, with people (and horses and carts, going every which direction. We had great trouble getting a park, so ended up driving out of the city without stopping.

Our hopeful destination for the night was Barbullbush – 20 km south of Shkoder – I say hopeful, because it was the very beginning of the summer season, and there are only a couple of campgrounds in the whole of Albania. The GPS directed turn we first took to the camping was a very bad looking road, so we turned round and kept on going, looking for a more main entrance. Finally we found a road to turn off onto, and made it to the camping ground. It was run by a Dutch couple who had settled in Albania with their four children, and set up the camping/restaurant/pension. There was a lot of building work going on, and they were very friendly. There were two other campers in the grounds, including one German lady travelling alone for a year.

We decided to have dinner in the restaurant that night as the prices were quite cheap, and we really liked the look of the building. We ended up inviting the German lady (Christina) to join us. She seemed happy of the company and chatted away to us during dinner (luckily she spoke good English). The tables were all covered in very finely hand woven Albanian linen red and white tablecloths, so fine that it was hard to imagine anyone hand making them. The foyer of the restaurant had an Albanian loom set up in it. One of the daughters was an artist, so her paintings were also hanging up – I really liked the artiness of the place. We had pork, salad and chips for dinner, which was beautifully cooked, and huge proportions. The pork was in a mushroom cream sauce, and so soft and tender to eat, with a very full flavour. We tried not to think of the butcher shops we had seen along the roadside with ½ sheep hanging outdoors on the verandah with no refrigeration. (In fact, the saddest butchery we saw was the one with the usual ½ sheep hanging from the verandah, but also had two live sheep tethered to the poles below it. (Eeek – talk about being on deaths door!)