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120: to Berat, Albania. 2012/8/29

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[Albania’s highlight: Berat = photos.]

Some time ago I thought I would have to first go from Ohrid to Tirana (likely via Sveti Naum), stay over for a night, and then move onward to Berat.  After I checked with the tourist info here, I found out I can go from Ohrid to Berat in one day.  Which is not to say that it is a joy to do so.

Luckily my right shoulder has recovered (from being stretched), even though a bit of the allergy stayed.  Anyway, I found the place for the mini-bus, and when it came, it was mini to the point that there’s no luggage storage at the back, but the driver was friendly and gestured me to put it beside him.  And on the whole way, various men kept yielding seats to women.  As I got off the mini-bus, I asked a lovely woman for direction, and on my way to the bus station, some locals saw me, and since it’s no more obvious that a foreigner with a big suitcase would only head to the bus station, they all voluntarily pointed the way with words I may or may not understand together with their hands before I even asked.  Such nice people.

It wasn’t as close as the Ohrid tourist info staff said, but at least I got there.  The price is 660 MKD or 11 Euros – I had only Euros left, so I paid in Euros.  Oh, and unlike what the Ohrid tourist info said, the price is THE SAME no matter where one gets off: one can ride all the way to Tirana or get off halfway like me in Elbasan, and yet it’s the same price of 11 Euros.

I fell into something like a coma on the bus.  I knew I woke up once when someone came up to take away the passports for the stamp, but I soon fell asleep again.  My passport turned out only to get the exit stamp on the Macedonian side and NOT the entry stamp on the Albanian side.  I hope that won’t cause some problem.

The Elbasan I saw was a street with lots of shops on both sides: they sell all kinds of things, mostly kitchenware and electronic stuff, and there are some vendors on the street with produce and chickens as well.  Once I reached the bus station, which has several bus companies, some guys came up and asked where I was going.  They all very helpfully guided me to the bus with the sign “Berat,” saw me put the luggage onto the bus, and then I went for lunch.

 

No-one spoke any English in the restaurant, and I couldn’t understand anything on the menu.  I pulled out my LP and pointed at the sentence “What would you recommend?” And that’s how I got my first Albanian meal: rice with some oily tuna and some “beef steak,” which is fried and salty.  They were out of salad, but at least I got food. 

After that, I went for a walk, changed some money (better rate here than in Ohrid, although later I was to discover that the rate is even better in Berat), and bought some snacks.  Oh, talking about snacks, there’s hardly any choice.  Even potato chips only come in the smallest mini packs.

I remembered what the hostel’s website said and told the driver to let me off beside the bridge, which he did; I again fell into a coma almost the whole way, even though it was hot.  I got the basic directions down, but I needed to check the map again, which is in my computer, so I went into the lobby of the nearby hotel to check it.  I meant to ask for the price in the hotel as well, just for curiosity’s sake, but there was no-one around, and when someone did come to me, he just asked “#%$& hotel? #%$&”, and even when I asked him “How much?” he only shook his head like an Indian does and didn’t answer.  I was rather annoyed and ignored him – ok, I may not be the most p.c. person at this moment, but I was tired, and I really can’t figure out why someone working in a rather fancy hotel neither understands English nor tries to communicate.

 

I headed to the hostel, and that was quite an ordeal.  The staircases leading up to and away from the bridge are very steep, and after the bridge it was uphill all the way to the hostel.  Oh, and there’s more: the way to the hostel consists of huge, uneven stones, which means that it was basically impossible to let the trolleys have their function.  So what choice did I have left? I had to LIFT the luggage.

 

After some time I arrived, with some murderous thoughts in my mind.  I rang the door bell, a clerk came to open the door, and he said, “Oh, you travel with a suitcase.”

 

If anyone says about how big the suitcase or how come it isn’t a backpack, I would strangle him and dump him to the river right below.

 

Each room has eight bunk beds.  Luckily I got a lower one.  Then the clerk showed me a map, told me there’s a tour to a nearby icy waterfall everyday (10 Euros including lunch and Raki tasting), and asked a girl standing at the counter preparing food whether I could have dinner at 6pm as other guests could.  She answered that there may not be enough material.  No matter.

 

It was probably close to 5pm at this point.  (Look how much I spent on travel time!) I was tired and could use some rest, but I couldn’t.  I called Tz for a short while, giving him some update, and then I strode out with the notebook (yes, crazy me) in my backpack – I didn’t see any lockers.

 

Good new is that I soon discovered the old town isn’t as big as I thought.  Today when I got off the bus, the first two thoughts were, one, wow it’s lovely! Two, it reminds me of Prizren, Kosovo.  And for Berat, the way to the fortress is a somewhat steep uphill climb.  The stones on this path is a bit slippery – I wonder what it would be like when it rains.

 

I went first for Ethnographical Museum.  This is usually not something for me, but this house has a lot of lovely wooden details, especially a mezzanine design where women folks of the household could sit and do their housework while looking down to the living room/ guest room where men folks drink and eat, and this way the women can notice if the men’s cups need to be replenished.  The veranda is also really nice, with all the carpet and wool, and of course it’s a great place for summer, considering how airy it is.  Unfortunately, no photos are allowed.  But it’s quite a lovely house, and the beautiful lady collecting entrance fees here is very helpful by pointing the way and providing explanation notes in suitable languages (for me that’s English, and there was also an Italian couple).

 

Shortly after I reached the fortress the light started to turn less than ideal.  But it wasn’t too bad.  There’re households who live in this area, and kids tend to say “Hello!” to me, while one of them asked me to give him some Euros.  Oh, and a bigger fat kid opted for something less traditional – he said “Hello baby I love you.” Must’ve been too much pop culture.

 

At the farther end of the fortress I saw two young people.  I approached and asked about direction, and it turned out that the young man is British and started his journey from Kosovo, while the young woman is a New Zealander traveling probably from Greece (through Corfu in that case) to Saranda and then to here.  The young man switched to Mandarin to ask me whether I speak the language; turned out he studied for a year in Beijing.

 

I began to make up my mind whether not to stay longer in Berat and instead go straight tomorrow to Gjirokaster.  I know I was a bit spoilt with having my own room in Ohrid, and since that’ll be the same case in Gjirokaster, that might do me some good, considering the hostel here isn’t much cheaper than the B&B in Gjirokaster.

 

The LP-recommended restaurant is closed (an old man sitting in front of it told me “Closed”), so I had to go for a pizza-gyro “fast food” place.  Afterwards I went to find out exactly where the buses/ furgons take off, and when I was standing beside the street, an older man came along and asked me whether I needed help.  He turned out to be a taxi driver, but instead of trying to get business he just wanted to chat and see if I needed help.  (And of course when he asked where I was from and heard the answer “Taiwan,” it took him – as well as many others – to understand (or not?) that it’s Taiwan and not Thailand.)  He told me that Chinese set up a factory some years ago making food and jam, but later the factory was closed down due to “inefficiency.” And he helped confirm where the bus will be tomorrow.  “Don’t worry.  People in Albania are very nice.”

 

Back in the hostel another very nice girl listened to my questions and told me that, while the fresh pastries (bureks/ byreks) won’t be brought in until sometime later than 7.30am, there’s bread, jam and coffee, and I can use as much as I want. So that’s settled: I’ll go for the 8am bus tomorrow.

 

[寫於2012/9/2, 9am]

 

8/29記帳:1EUR= 61.75MKD; 1BGN= 31.57MKD; 1TWD= 1.666MKD
1EUR = 137.45ALL
1MKD = 2.2ALL1ALL = 0.45MKD1TWD = 3.699ALL1ALL = 0.272TWD
Ohrid – Struga
小巴:40MKD
Struga – Elbasan
大巴士:11 Euros(原可為660MKD
中餐:250 ALL
零食:100? ALL
住宿:12
博物館:200 ALL
城堡:100 ALL
晚餐:130 ALL
超市:260 ALL
總計:23EUR+ 40 MKD+ 1040ALL = 1256TWD

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