The hostel provided a free, hearty breakfast served on pretty placemats to prepare us for the long day ahead: a choice of omelets cooked to order, bread, jam, a very strong local cheese and endless cups of tea or coffee. It was served on the beautiful, tree-covered back patio that was like an oasis in the center of bustling Tirana.
There were at least three American and Irish guys who received free beds in the dorm and free breakfast in exchange for a few hours each day waiting tables at breakfast and serving in the hostel bar at night. One, Nina, was from Park Hill in Denver and had graduated from CSU with a degree in finance in May and decided to explore Croatia and Albania before joining the real 9-5 work world back home. He and the others had each already spent several weeks in Tirana and were planning to spend several more. What a perfect way to take a break from traveling, meet a revolving door of new people and not have to spend a lot of money to do so.
Street scenes on the way to the bus station:
After walking back to near the National Historical Museum, we got a local bus for only 32 cents each to near the North Bus Station. We didn’t know where it was but some local men kindly pointed us in the right direction. (As I write this on 10/7 ready to leave Albania for Greece, we found Albanians very friendly and eager to offer to help us a number of times when we have looked befuddled trying to find our way even when there was no common language.)
With moments to spare, we were able to just get to the station in time for the 10 am departure to Fushe Kruje, the town halfway to Kruje itself. However, the furgon or small van didn’t leave until 10:15; we think it was a case of the driver wanting to wait until it was full. The bus station was certainly not like the local Greyhound station. It was more a matter of going through the parking lot and looking at all the buses or, in our case, the van, with the destination sign listed in the window.
On the way from Tirana, we began chatting with an Albanian tour guide who was meeting clients in Kruje. He told us how much Albanians were fond of President George W. Bush who, had visited the small town of Fushe Kruje on June 10th, 2007. Rather than staying on a prescribed tour, Bush walked into a café there and began chatting with the locals. The owner was so honored to have had him visit that he changed the name of the café and forever made sure one chair was never sat on again.
Kruje, our destination for the day, was nestled very close to the top of the mountain below.
Once we arrived in Kruje about 11:20, the very helpful Albanian tour guide we met on the bus suggested a number of things we might want to do while in the small town.
Since the bus's last stop was right by the old town's pedestrian street at the top of a very steep hill, we didn't have to walk far before reaching the bazaar, one of the town's main sights.
These men were just preparing for a folk show, our bus companion told us, before we went our separate ways. Too bad we couldn't have watched the show as that would have been fun.
A lovely view of the valley:
Kruje is famous for its carpets, traditional felt hats, shoes and other crafts. I couldn't wait to do some shopping and support the economy!
When we had met the Minnesota couple and their Albanian tour guide as we climbed up to the Fortress in Prizren, Kosovo, they had told us to check out this man's shop when we came to Kruje as he is so well known for making the traditional Albanian men's hats.
Views of the bazaar:
In my last post about the National Historical Museum, I had told (or was it 'warned'?!) you that we would be seeing more of the Albanian national hero, Skanderbeg, in this post! After the bazaar, we walked up the Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg Museum devoted to him alone. It and all museums throughout the country were free because September 29th was National Heritage Day. The Museum was built in Kruje in 1982 because it was the center of Albanian resistance against the Ottomans in the 15th century.
In the Medieval Ages, Kruje was the capital of the Kingdom of Albania but, in the early 15th century, it was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. Kruje was then recaptured in 1443 by Skanderbeg, leader of the League of Lezhë, who successfully defended it against three Ottoman sieges until his death in 1468.
The Museum's fabulous entrance way showed a sculpture group with Skanderbeg in the middle of a group of people. According to the information provided, the warriors are not named but their garments and headdresses indicated the participation of all regions in the war. Female figures showed their involement in the battles.
Paintings from Albanian National Renaissance Period on the 500th anniversary of Skanderbeg's death: 1498-1968.
Another large room contained terracotta tiles of songs and verses by different authors dedicated to Skanderbeg. I found them very appealing.