Day 185: City of a Thousand Windows and City of Stone

Berat – City of a Thousand Windows

Never thought we’d venture this far into Albania, but having read about the country’s two UNESCO world heritage towns, it would’ve been too foolish to miss: Berat, ‘city of a thousand windows’ and Gjirokastra, ‘city of stone’.

A thousand windows staring back at us

Despite arriving in the scorching midday sun and desperately looking for patches of shade to walk in, I couldn’t help but stop and gaze across the river at this awesome view – city of a thousand windows, indeed a well deserved title. White houses and stone roofs from the Ottoman era clamber onto the hillside, which lights up at night to offer even more breathtaking views. As we headed out to grab a bite, we found the town alive with well-dressed locals, young and old, taking their evening strolls. It felt like going back to the time when a city was only a town and people lived nice and slow.

After a night in Berat, we braved the 5 hour journey to Gjirokastra. 5 hours is a breeze by South American standards but in Albania it was a struggle and test of endurance. If you’re lucky, your ride will have windows that open. If not, they are often sealed and the bus supposedly air conditioned (but highly unlikely). Being stuck in a sauna bus was no fun at all. It was like our nightmare ride from Quito to Lima. Good news? Much shorter traveling time. Bad news? No ice to help cool down. There were moments when KF and I thought we were dozing off to sleep but we were actually passing out from prolonged heat. Had to ration our cold water carefully to survive the trip.

Eerie Ottoman houses watching over Gjirokastra

But it was worth the ride. Gjirokastra has that eerie vibe we were expecting. Our guidebook describes the old town as a place “like something from a vampire movie” and I can see it as a location set for one!

Mercedes, old and new, climbing Gjirokastra’s sloped streets

Gjiro has a different feel to Berat – like an older brother with a rougher shave. Ottoman era stone houses scatter around Gjiro’s old town, watching solemnly as life goes by. Streets slope in different directions, crossing at one central point (like an asterisk). I like it here, everybody seems to know everybody.

And everybody was getting to know us too. As we strolled down to find food, we heard someone shout: “zhongguo!” (“China” in mandarin). I turned around and saw a fatherly Albanian waving at us excitedly. “Ni hao!” (“hello”) he continued to show off his Chinese. What a surprise! We went over to chat and learned that Arjan has been doing business in and out of China for the last 12 years, no wonder he spoke a few words! We could tell he was really happy to meet us, and so too were we. He treated us to drinks after we ate and we chatted the evening away.

We’re southbound tomorrow, but will return to Gjirokastra to meet with Arjan again, together with his daughter who studies in Beijing!

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One Comment

  1. Leslie says:

    I love these little stories of meeting these friendly people!

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