Another day, another day tour. Early morning, the day after our visit to Macedonia, we got picked up by the Apollo-bus yet again, this time for a day trip inside the borders of Albania. To our great happiness, Mili, the guide from our trip to Ohrid, was also on board. This time however, our destination was the city of Berat, one of Albania’s oldest cities, listed on UNESCO’s world heritage list. Berat, which is also known as “The City With a Thousand Windows” contains a lot of exceptionally well kept houses in the Ottoman building style.
After a couple of hours, we had a small stop at this little café next to an incredible huge corn field. The field, together with the dress I was wearing that day (thanks a million, Brita!) made me feel like I was suddenly starring in “The Little House on the Prairie”, so of course I had to make Thomas take some photos of me. Again Mili entertained with jokes and a lot of interesting history both of the places we passed along the roadside and about Berat.
First stop as we arrived in Berat was the old castle, Citadel of Berat (Kalaja e Beratit). The bus stopped almost all the way up at the fortress, which is located at the top of a hill overlooking the city of Berat, but even so some of the passengers struggled to walk up the cobblestone hill. That it was about 35 degrees and a bright sun did of course add to the stress of walking up.
After having a few minutes to walk around the fortress our next stop was and old church. As we entered the church we, as always, got our cameras ready to take some photos, but a brisk lady shouted “NO PHOTOS! NO PHOTOS” while waving in our direction. This stunned us a bit, but of course, we lowered our cameras and respected the lady.
While the rest of the group spent quite a long time listening to the story about the church, Thomas and I went outside to find other things we could take photos of – and we ended up talking to Mili, the guide, for quite a while. I found myself having to ask him about the strict “no photo”-rule in the church.
“Well…” Mili laughed, shaking his head. “I think it’s an old Albanian thing. Some people believe that if you see a photo of somewhere, you go “well, now ‘I’ve seen it in a photo, I don’t need to go there”, and so they want to avoid pictures in order for people to be curious enough to visit here themselves”. I was a bit stunned, and looked over at Thomas, who I could see shared my reaction. “But… that’s not how it really works these days, is it? I mean, we see photos of amazing places all over Instagram or blogs, and that’s exactly what makes you want to go and explore somewhere yourself?” I said to Mili. He nodded. “Change takes time. Some changes are small, easy to adapt, while others might take generations. Albania is still only learning”. (I will write a lot more about some of these differences between Albania before and now, and how they are adapting in another post later, for those interested).
After our great talk with Mili, and with the others coming out from the church, it was time to walk around for a bit. Again, the streets were covered in cobblestone, and so the speed was rather slow but steady, past The Holy Trinity Church which had a great view over Berat, down at the river Osum, and to the mountain Tomorr, to mention some, and then walk back up again to the castle, where it was time for lunch. Some of the areas on this trip were pretty steep, and several times we saw people crawl down on all four in order to get down safely in one piece.
In the center of Berat we got some nice views of some of the very well preserved Ottoman building style, as we walked over to our next stop. The white houses neatly built up alongside the side of the hill looked spectacular. King Mosque, an active mosque in the city centre was our next stop. Outside there was several men working on the current restoration of the mosque, and Mili told us that if we were to return at a later time, this mosque would be very improved by then. As a photographer with a love for details, churches, mosques and other usually spectacular places, I loved the mosque as it was already. It’d be interesting to go back and see the changes one day.
Final stop, and by far my favourite was a wine tasting tour at the Luani winery. We were greated by the owner of the winery, who together with Mili gave us a tour of the winery, and also explained the process of making (the different kinds of) wine. I was really impressed with this young girl, being the owner, and that just at the same age as I am.
After the tour it was time for wine tasting, where we were presented with a glass of white, a glass of rosé and a glass of red. They were all delicious, and we even got some cheese to go with the wine. I made sure to buy a bottle of wine before leaving, as a nice souvenir to bring back home. Just before packing up and leaving we were also served a taste of raki, the local Albanian liquer.
Thank you, Thomas, for letting me use some of your photos in this post.