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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

10/4: The Un-UNESCO Side of Gjirokaster, Albania

Since we had already seen the touristy things in and around Gjirokaster during the previous two days, we had an extra day just to explore more of the town with no real destination in mind. We felt quite virtuous hiking down the steep streets from the old town to the newer part of the city. Of course, I guess that is less arduous than making the trek uphill!

When we had arrived in town a few days ago, we had seen a street market so that was where we went first. I bought a few handmade items this woman was selling out of a bag as she walked from one potential customer to the next.

I needed some shower gel and thought we were in hog heaven when we discovered the Aldi supermarket, a full size grocery store with branches in many European cities. We had also been looking for a decent sized grocery store back in Berat but had seen nothing but the ubiquitous mom and pop corner stores.

You could hardly walk for five minutes without passing tiny markets just like these ones that sold everything but the kitchen sink, it seemd. These two stores were less than a minute's walk from each other.

Steven had seen some green space on his ipad map so we went in search of a park to sit and read although the weather didn't look as if it might cooperate.
I love this image of Steven as it reminds me of how he looks many times a day as he searches for where we are, and where we want to be heading to next on the map on his ipad. Unfortunately, in this instance, we got to a dead end and had to retrace our steps. Oh well, it led us to another view of the Gjirokaster Castle, billed as the second largest in all the Balkans.

We finally arrived at the 'park' we had been looking for a while - so glad we hadn't been holding our breath, because it wasn't quite what we had been envisioning!
We couldn't recall the last city we had been in with no park space at all. 
We could hear the happy noises of kids being let out from school around 11:30 and figured most of them must go home for lunch since there were so many adults waiting for them.
You could tell we were on the roads less traveled in Gjirokaster by tourists when we saw a number of roosters freely rooting for food.
These were the tallest marigolds we have ever seen!
The hillsides below the castle were a popular grazing spot for sheep and goats.

We took what could only be described as the back road back up to the Old Town where the castle and our B&B were. Fortunately, there had only been a few sprinkles as otherwise the hike up on these very worn cobblestones would have been darned slippery at best.

It made perfect sense that Gjirokastra was also known by many as the 'City of Stone' because of its beautiful slate roofs, stone streets and homes.

I wish I had remembered to ask our host at the B&B what had transpired to cause the deaths of six men and resulted in this monument being built.

Also wished I had asked about this sign. 
One of my favorite pictures of two people trudging up the hill - I don't think the woman was probably much older than Steven yet it looked like she had lived a far harder life than either of us could imagine. 
 Seeing two cars trying to pass each other on these very narrow streets made us realize why so many cars in the town had dents and scratches!
A couple of days ago, we had visited the Skenduli House, one of Gjirokastra’s traditional houses. We decided to see next the Zekate House, the most visited of the town’s monumental stone houses which just happened to be quite a bit further up more hills than even our B&B – lucky us I say with sarcasm!  
The house was built in 1811 and was a gift from Ali Pasha to one of his trusted followers. It is one of the largest of its kind, featuring three floors spread over two large towers. The house, recently restored after having undergone earlier restoration during the Communist era, is kept open by its owners as a museum. 

The entrance was on the second floor, an area set aside for children to play and girls to embroider. The first floor was used for the animals.
The stairs had been painted black with red edges, the same colors as the Albanian flag but I don’t know whether that was a connection or not. 
This room had a very low ceiling even for me and I am, or was at least, 5’6”!

Lace-accented crocheted items adorned every possible spot and were not just limited to windows. 
One of the living rooms: 
The floors upstairs were also painted the same, something we had not seen in any of the other ethnographic museums we had toured elsewhere in Albania or the Balkans.
The house contained both winter and summer rooms, the difference being the latter had bigger windows. There were fireplaces in almost all the rooms. Pots of water were placed inside so they could be used for washing.
This room's floors still were in need of restoration as they were very uneven.
 One of the bathrooms!
 According to the fairly decent English language information provided, this sofa acted to connect the rooms on either side on the floor.
There was a raised sofa between the balcony and the hallway – another rather unusual feature. This spot was used for the home’s owner to sit and assure that work being done on his property was done to his satisfaction.

This room was the most detailed and the most beautiful in my opinion. The walls were painted with murals containing baskets of lots of varieties of fruits. 
 This cabinet was exquisitely painted and was used to store linens.

Colored glass was used to reflect the light. 

The room's engraved and painted  ceiling had been recently restored.
 The sweet little sofa table had mother-of-pearl accents and contained a tablecloth inside.
There were great panoramic views of the city below from the top of the towers. 
Albania has a thriving wine industry but I don't know whether any are produced for export.  The visit was definitely worth the uphill walk to see this amazing old house that was more like a small castle than a big house. We welcomed the easy stroll back down to our B&B and, from there, dinner at the nearest restaurant we could find! 

They  actually had mashed potatoes on the menu which I was so thrilled about after seeing no other potatoes other than french fries the last couple of months. They were supposed to have been an appetizer but I asked them to be served with my chicken dish.
We could hardly believe our visit to Albania would soon come to an end as we were heading to the coastal city of Saranda tomorrow morning, the last town in our whistle stop tour of this amazing country.

Posted from Athens, Greece on October 13th, 2016.

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