In Albania, the country is called Shqipërisë in Albanian. How that’s pronounced, I have no idea. “Po” means “yes” and “yo” means “no”.
Yesterday, I went to Gjirokaster. It was where the former dictator, Enver Hoxha, was born. It’s also where Ismail Kadare, a famous Albanian writer was born. He described it as: “Everything in the city was old and made of stone, from the streets and fountains to the roofs of the sprawling ago-old houses, covered with grey slates like gigantic scales…It was a strange city, and seemed to have been cast up in the valley one winter’s night like some prehistoric creature that was now clawing up the mountainside.” A pretty apt description. The city is listed on the World Heritage List as “a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town, built by farmers of large estate.”
It took an hour bus ride to get there through some very windy roads. There were a couple of drop-offs that I tried not to look at. It stops at a gas station along the main road, and I made my way into the town. There is a main drag that’s more modern and newer with a lot of internet cafes, pharmacies, and mini-markets. I could vaguely see the castle and the old town, but I saw no signs or direct way to get there. It was getting hot, so I figured I would just get a taxi up there. It was 300 leke, which is about $3 so I guess it wasn’t too bad. Got up there after the ride along the hilly and cobblestone streets and headed into the castle.
It was cool and quiet inside; I could hear what I assume was bats rustling around in the ceiling. I was also quite startled outside by a small brown snake slithering along side walls, about at eye level! The great hall had a collection of old weaponry and cannons. Also a large statue that, I assume, was of an Albanian soldier. There were some nice lookout points, a stage for the National Folk Festival that is held every couple of years, and a shrine to some babas of Bektashi in a garden. I went to look at them, but the woman who takes care of that area shooed me away as she was leaving for lunch. After she left, I went back in to take a look around; there were some candles and flowers near the tombs. Kind of an interesting place, but I wasn’t going to stay too long in fear the woman would come back and catch me!
I walked back down from the castle, my shoes don’t have quite the grip that I would want on the slick cobble stones and the steep hills. But it wasn’t too bad. It took about 20 to 30 minutes to get down from the castle. After that, I was pretty hot and tired, so I headed back down to the bus stop. I didn’t know when a bus would leave; there was no real schedule. Apparently some of the drivers will just wait until they have enough people to make it worth their while before they head out. There was a little bus waiting, with seats for 10. Or at least I would have thought that it held 10. After the 10 of us were in, they brought out little stools from somewhere for people to sit in the aisle and folded down a spot for people to sit behind the seats in the luggage storage area. No air-conditioning and not much deodorant being worn by people, but I figured that it wouldn’t be too bad.
After a few minutes, I noticed that there was a new smell along with unwashed people. It was vomit. The small girl sitting next to me had gotten sick, and some of it ended up on me. She got sick a couple more times on the way back along with another guy up front. The driver and the other riders seemed to take it in stride; he passed back a bag and some paper towels. Didn’t slow down on any of the curves though, which I thought would have done more to help than just passing back towels would do. Oh well. I got back OK and it was definitely memorable.