Traveling by bus in Greece is relatively simple. The buses are modern & comfortable… a lot like traveling in Canada. The ones in Albania are a bit of a different story. We arrived at the Albanian/Greece border, checked out of Greece, walked across to the Albanian border through their check point. From there it’s a bit of a stroll to find a taxi, where using hand signals, pointing and bad pronunciation of our destination, produced a 20 euro ride for 4 to Gjirokastra, 50km away.
At the border we befriended a Japanese tourist named Kookaburra he shared our taxi. The last we saw of Kookaburra he was headed off to tour the castle in Gjirokastra.
GJIROKASTRA: “Something out of a Vampire movie, there is no creepier setting than the stone city of Gjirokastra, shrouded in clouds on a rocky perch surrounded by savage mountains. Above it all is a dark gloomy castle with a blood chilling history that is perpetually guarded by black crows”.
This is the guide books description of Gjirokastra. Now if that’s not an invitation that warrants a look see we don’t know what is. Gjirokastra’s (old Town) streets are all cobbled in black stone. They are steep, slippery and narrow with medieval era stone buildings clustered alongside. The narrow sidewalks are inhabited by old men sitting drinking Turkish coffee. We can see where a Hollywood imagination could create a vampire movie out of this setting.
In reality we enjoyed Gjirokastra, walking about the old city exploring the huge castle with its underground vaulted passage ways and displays of heavy artillery equipment of both German and Italian origin. The best thing was, we were all alone in the castle with no other tourists about. Hmmmm! Wonder where Kookaburra disappeared to?
In the Castle there is also the remains of a US military plane forced to land in 1957 due to mechanical problems. As this was during the Cold War, this plane was deemed by the communist gov’t of Albania, to be a US spy plane!!
We visited 2 traditional “tower” houses of the upper class. Arriving at the houses by taxi, the taxi driver goes to the door and yells till someone comes and unlocks the house for us to wander around. In Zerate House, built in 1812, the taxi driver is our guide but speaks no English, so international sign language is used for sleep, drinking and when he showed us the washroom, a hole in the floor, he squats and we get the idea.
The Ethnographic Museum was originally the birthplace of Hoxha-Supreme Comrade who in 1945 sent Albania’s economy spiraling downward into Communism & isolation.