Entering Albania from Greece was like going back to the middle east.
Greece has shiny new busses, and Albania has run-down minivans that serve as shared taxis to get you around (and they are cheap!). While Greece was the culmination of a long return to the ‘western’ world’, Albania was more eastern feeling, and much less developed.
First stop in ALBANIA is Berat, an old city with an inhabited hilltop fortress. You walk up a worn shiny marble-paved road to arrive at the ‘castle’ where there are whole neighborhoods living up there within the walls.
We checked out another ‘typical Turkish house’ displaying ottoman-style home features and furnishings,
and damned if in the yard there weren’t a LIVE TURKEY!
For those young readers out there, and those who are geographically challanged, we are now traveling in the countries which used to be known as Yugoslavia.
This means a few things: First of all, they used to be communist.
Religion in this part of the world used to be either illegal or suppressed. So although we occasionally heard the call to prayer, the volume was much softer; and Islam (or Orthodox Christianity, or even Catholicism as we move west) are loosely followed traditions by some of the people, but not such an important part of life for folks round here.
Third thing—they have been, and often are still fighting over who gets what land. (more on this in our upcoming Bosnia blog entry—coming soon).
Next Albanian city is Tirana, the capital.
We couchsurfed here, thanks to a sweet Canadian couple who had just arrived in the city themselves – Thanks Mark and Miranda!
There is a gondola-type skyride to get to the top of the big mountain. You can see the whole city, if you can keep your eyes open!
ANDREW SEZ: Don’t forget the bunkers, a constant presence in the Albanian countryside.
We also went together to the nearby town of Kruja in the hills, where there was another castle and lots of touristy souvenir stalls.
MACEDONIA isn’t on the Mediterranean coast, but we had to make a stop there because we heard so many good things about Lake Ohrid, on the border with Albania. Ohrid offered us another couch to surf, this time with Al.
Al introduced us to his friends Alexander and Martins. They showed us around Ohrid, full of old churches and charming cobbled streets.
Alexander was from a nearby village, and we spent one afternoon walking old footpaths in the hills.
We visited scenic monasteries and had a fresh salad from Alex’s grandma’s garden.
Martins is a traveller from Latvia and we will end up running into him randomly in 3 more countries!
Possibly the ‘worlds newest country’ MONTENEGRO, stood between us and the more well-known Balkans (Croatia and Bosnia). We chilled for a couple of days in the old city of Kotor, a *beautiful* old fortress city at the end of a fjord, with a castle in the hills above.
Pretty for sure, but also rainy and the first sign of the cold autumn which we are about to experience. (expecially compared to 100+ temperatures in the middle east)
And our last castle-ic city was the jewel of the adriatic-Dubrovnik, in the very eastern part of CROATIA.
This town is really, really, really amazing looking, but for my taste it was more like a museum than a living breathing city.
Not many real people still live within the city walls, and the streets are packed with tourists.
Overall advice—go see it, but don’t stay long.
There are only a few countries left to complete our circle around the Mediterranean : Croatia, Bosnia & Herzogovina, Slovenia—and then ITALIA!!. It’s hard to believe, but it’s almost over…