Our two and a half hour bus ride from the capitol city of Tirana to the southern town of Berat gave us a chance to see quite a bit of the Albanian countryside. Unlike more northern parts of Europe, Albanian towns and villages are not tightly clustered and centered around a market square and mosque or church. Rather like in the United States, they smear up and down the highway with little design or apparent planning. Billboards follow suit, leading to a full course of visual blight. I didn’t take photos; let’s just enjoy the town.

Berat is called the city of 1000 windows. Ancient Ottoman houses stacked on top of one another underneath the protective fortification is what the town is known for. We are lucky to stay in one of these houses, with a covered terrace and a view over the town and surrounding mountains.

View from our terrace

Our host, Dorian, shows us our flat and the view from our terrace

Getting there is a good story in itself. The bus station is way out of town, around on the other side of the mountain that cradled us. There is no obvious way to get to town. Suzi sees a guy standing on the street and asks in her best Albanian what to do. He has an idea; he is waiting for his father. Presently, up drives a fine Mercedes with a huge trunk. We are invited to load all our gear inside and off we go, dropped off almost at our doorstep. A friendly wave goodbye. Another in a long list of experiences showing the friendliness of these locals.

We walked from here to our flat, past ruins of an old palace.

We walk from here to our flat, past ruins of an old palace.

Well, we do have a little walk, pulling our suitcases up the steep, narrow cobblestone alleyways to our flat, seemingly a good quarter mile.

We trundle along rough, very rough cobble stones.

We trundle along rough, very rough cobble stones.

We enter into a stone cave-like room and ascend a stone staircase to our rooms above. We have entered the Middle Ages.

Our front door has seen years of service.

Our front door has seen years of service.

View from the living room, out Ottoman-style windows

View from the living room, out Ottoman-style windows

Below us was our neighborhood mosque, from which came frequent calls to prayer.

Below us is our neighborhood mosque, from which came frequent calls to prayer.

We take a walk through town, looking for food to stock our modest kitchen. Mom and pop shops line the street. Vendors offer their wares right on the sidewalk. No need to walk inside. No one is pushy, but all are on alert to make a sale.

Watch where you step.

Watch where you step.

A few of many things to buy at sidewalk level

A few of many things to buy at sidewalk level, such as eggs, wine and sausages

Street scene

Street scene

Rather odd steps to somewhere

Rather odd steps to somewhere

Four dental offices side by side

Three dental offices and a dental lab side by side

Someone's front door on the main street

Someone’s front door on the main street

Fresh (live) turkeys for sale. Special for Orthodox Christmas on Jan, 7.

Fresh (live) turkeys for sale. Special for Orthodox Christmas on Jan, 7.

We discover that a fortress lies directly above us. We go have a look.

At least we are not pulling suitcases.

At least we are not pulling suitcases.

Up we go past numerous homes behind stone walls.

Up we go past numerous homes behind stone walls.

A common sight is unfinished houses and buildings, abandoned.

A common sight is unfinished houses and buildings, abandoned.

Ner the entry to the fort.

Near the entry to the fort.

A moment to rest

A moment to rest

Does anyone need a loo? We declined.

Does anyone need a loo? We decline.

We meet a character who invokes the gods, or something, for Suzi.

We meet a character who invokes the gods, or something, for Suzi.

Numerous Byzantine churches dot the fort.

Numerous Byzantine churches dot the fort.

The view over Berat is smashing. The peaks are above 8000 feet.

The view over Berat is smashing. The peaks are above 8000 feet.

By the time we descend we have worked up an appetite, of course. There’s a restaurant across the river we want to try. Here’s the menu. I duck the fried liver this time and choose the stuffed gut.

The menu

The menu

The interior is so nice. We are seated by the wood burning fireplace.

The interior is so nice. We are seated by the wood burning fireplace.

As evening falls, we take a stroll along the pedestrian walkway which is often filled with people heading nowhere in particular.

Pedestrian walkway financed by foreign aid.

Pedestrian walkway financed by foreign aid.

A cheery Christmas tree in a plaza.

A cheery Christmas tree in a plaza.

We happen upon the most prominent building in town, assuming it is a church or government building. It turns out to be the Berat branch of a private Tirana university. It’s now dark but we test the front door. It opens. We enter. A guard appears. We put him at ease and he ends up giving us a private tour of the place, including the dome. We step outside for a grand view of the town. The circular dome room houses the library. Most of the books have many copies, as though whole classes are being supplied. All the books are new. They appeared to have never been opened. Curious. This seems to be one of many examples we have seen in Albania of huge sums of money spent on grandiose projects of little or no utility.

The University

The University

The library room

The library room

New Year’s Eve came, and from our terrace we had a front row view over the city when spectacular fireworks were set off at midnight.

Fireworks on New Year's Eve

Fireworks on New Year’s Eve

From our rooms we look down on a new flat-topped building situated between the main road into town and the swiftly flowing river. We check it out. On the top is a restaurant. Time for a late lunch we assure ourselves, despite the rather biting breeze.

Generous lunch is served.

Generous lunch is served.

A view downriver toward the bus station around the bend.

A view downriver toward the bus station around the bend.

View over to our flat

View over to our flat, Albanian flag blowing in the breeze

After lunch is over and we finish taking photos, we somehow have a few words with a nearby couple enjoying drinks and a smoke. They invite us to join them and buy us a round of cappuccino. We spend a very pleasant half hour with them, sharing email addresses, and taking a few photos.

Medical school sister and 19 year old brother

Medical school sister, Daina, and 19 year old brother, Adlir

Time for a selfie

Time for a selfie

Via internet, it was easy to share photos with them.

Via internet, it is easy to share photos with them.

Our time in Berat has now come to an end. The bus to Korce leaves at 4:30 am. We must be up at 3:15 because our host will pick us up at 3:45. He is punctual and helps drag all our stuff down the cobblestones to his car in the dark of night.

Our host arrives on the minute.

Our host, Dorian, arrives exactly on time.

What a great adventure we have had in Berat.

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