Europe, Travel diary

A day in Berat, Albania

We arrived in Berat in the afternoon, absolutely sweating. Berat Backpackers is great, a beautiful old building with a big terrace garden. I poked my head into a private room being cleaned, they are so beautiful. Big beds overlooking the valley, all decorated stunningly. We had a quick shower, then made a few friends to find lunch with.

The hostel had recommended Antigoni restaurant, which they said was a bit more expensive but good. I don’t know what they meant by expensive, it was so cheap! I got a lamb and aubergine casserole, which was slow cooked and all fell apart as I ate it. So damn good. Some of the others got a lamb and yoghurt casserole which also looked amazing. The baklava was to die for. My casserole set me back a grand total of 560 Lek. Madness.

It feels about five degrees warmer inland, after coming from Sarande. It was too hot to move in the afternoon, so everyone chilled on the couches on the terraces, napping under the grape vines and fig trees. I made friends with a kitten and the hostel puppy.

We set off as a small group up to the castle on the hill. We were told it’s a citadel, with people still living there. The hostel lady said we might have to pay 100 Lek, depending on who was there.

It was a slippery mission to the top, almost falling over on all the marble paving stones. I’d hate to do it in the wet! Some of the other girls wore jandals but I’d definitely recommend running shoes.

We had to pay the 100 Lek to get in, and walked through the cobbled streets, among clothing for sale. A very proud rooster was crowing at the sunset. We found the cistern, which was huge. You could feel how much colder it was, I’d love to know how deep it was. Bats echoed inside.

We sat and had a drink to watch the sunset. I don’t think I’ve ever watched the sunset over ruins like that before. It was so magical. I could have been in any other time. As the sun went down, it just kept getting better.

Satisfied that we had watched enough, we wandered around further, and found a gorgeous Byzantine 14th century church. It was so pretty in the gentle dusk light.

Carefully making our way back to the town, we headed for the walking street. Deserted no more, the locals get dressed up and stroll down on side and up the other. Stroll would be the wrong word, power walk might be better. We could barely cut across the human traffic as they flew along! It is known a ‘giro’, and there is some all over Albania. It was amazing to see how many people came out for it, to zoom up and down the street!

We noticed many of the bars had no female customers. One of the girls had been reading that the wife is still usually at home cooking while he goes out to socialise. It also means that all the places along the walking street are bars, not restaurants. The unemployment rate is about 15%, and there isn’t a lot of spare money floating around. We realised the reason there was no restaurants is because no one can afford to eat out.

 

We found a few restaurants near the hostel and other hotels. We settled on The Bar House, which didn’t look like much from downstairs. We went up a set of stairs, to an empty restaurant. It wasn’t looking promising! She told us to go up another floor, and we suddenly entered a busy space, overlooking the river. We ordered so many types of cheese, Greek salad, pizza, a shishkebab platter, and drinks. It came to a grand total of 600 Lek each.

The included hostel breakfast was fabulous. Hot, fresh Burek in a few different flavours. Fruit, fresh bread, coffee. What more could you need?!

Check out in Albania is strange. The hostels all seem to make you pay on departure, not arrival. We remembered to pay before we left, and headed for the bus stop. A 30 Lek bus gets you to the main bus station, then a 300 Lek bus takes two hours to Tirana.

Berat has been such a cool wee accidental stop along the way! One night here would be plenty, but it’s a nice way to break up the journey. It’s a cool change of pace from Sarande, and the city life of Tirana.

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