"We had decided to start our journey in Corfu, to avoid the chaos and expense of the capital, Tirana. On the other side of the strait, the mountainous outline of Albania came and went tantalizingly in a halo of clouds, so when the hydrofoil finally entered the port of Saranda, it was a shock to find a jungle of skyscrapers haphazardly embracing the Riva ”, this is how Fiona Dunlop's journey begins with her partner in the deep south, in search of Byzantine jewels, picturesque Ottoman period houses, mosques, castles and restaurants.
"You can't lose yourself, Albania has only one road, it goes all the way to Kosovo"their driver at the harbor had exulted.
In this curious time capsule in which private cars are only in circulation by 25 years, double parking, irregular driving and unclear road signs have become part of the rich experience. The sturdy Mercedes and shiny SUVs were the norm, but when we passed an old man on a bicycle or a donkey, it was about changing the centuries.
The idiosyncrasies accumulated, not least the Albanian habit of shaking their heads to mean yes, and nodding for no. The language itself is different from any other, even if sprinkled with Italian imports.
The first destination of Fiona was the UNESCO World Heritage site of Butrint , just south of Saranda . Scattered on a wild and wooded peninsula and accessible through a tangle of unsigned paths is an incredible array of ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Venetian buildings, as well as a superb small museum.
Resurfaced, they headed towards the magnificent spring of Syri i Kaltër "It was like a mirage, or perhaps an Albanian fairy tale, because shortly after we saw that wolf, its tongue hanging out. Not only him, but also wild horses, flocks of sheep and goat herds "
Gjirokastra, the stone city was their next stop. Gjirokastër is renowned for its castle and its harmonious Ottoman neighborhood, we at Albania News have dedicated it a report some time ago.
Fiona also talks about the surprising and chilling bomb shelter, a labyrinth of underground tunnels and offices and an incredible reflection of the paranoia of the regime of Enver Hoxha, the dictator who ruled Albania from 1944 to 1985.
"Dizzy drops, steep rocky mountains and patches of light industry have always accompanied us northwards, along the main highway that cuts through the country along the wide, silvery Vjosa river. Other ancient ruins awaited us a dirt road that, slowly, took us to Byllis, an Illyrian city of 2500 years, haunting and deserted, before reaching Berat - for me the star of the show. "
Their journey continued to Berat , a place they understood as Christianity, Islam, bektashi (a trend of Sufism) and Judaism coexisted harmoniously for centuries in Albania. This tolerance can be seen from a 15th century Sultan mosque, still in use, a teqe (Sufi shrine), a small Jewish museum and finally a magnificent Orthodox cathedral, all at a distance from each other.
Albania is a very Mediterranean country. Thus The Guardian discovered that Albania is an illuminating cultural crossroads where Greece, Italy and the Balkans meet.
You are all welcome in beautiful Albania
Source: The Guardian
Follow Albania News on Google News