Today we made it to Albania. We stopped at Ksamil on the Adriatic Sea and had lunch at a beautiful beachside restaurant before visiting Butrint. Butrint was a Greek colony, a Roman city, and a bishopric of the Byzantine Empire. This city was built on a peninsula with a wall on all sides. It looks like it would have been a nice place to live.
We then headed north along the coast to Gjirokaster and had dinner at a local restaurant after checking into our hotel. The next morning we walked up the hill, through the old town over cobblestones to the castle on the hill overlooking the city, the castle is now a tourist attraction. Later, we took another walk up one of the hilly streets through an old Ottoman neighborhood who’s collection of Ottoman era mansions is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. We stopped for a prearranged coffee time at one of the homes. We watched as the hostess roasted and ground the coffee beans the old fashioned way, then made each of us a small cup of strong coffee, some of which was pre- sweetend. When the cup was empty, a neighbor lady read our coffee cup sludge to tell our fortune. All in all, she was pretty darn good. We then visited museums, shops, and a large atomic bomb shelter (It is a long story that needs telling, but not now) before once again having a large Mediterranean dinner. The next day we bused to Dhoksat a small village in the hills east of town to learn how to make Rakia, an Albanian spirit drink. We stopped at a nice home in a village that was not so nice. Many of the homes in this small, hillside village are deserted or unoccupied as residents had moved to the city or migrated to jobs abroad. The home we visited was restored due to the money the grandfather had made by moving to Chicago and had a successful bakery. Rakia is started by collecting as many grapes as possible, regardless of type, and dumping them into a large barrel and letting them sit for 7 days while mixing them 4 or 5 times a day. Then this fermented mix is dumped into a large still. A fire is lit under it and after an hour and the Rakia comes dripping out. Was it ever potent. During this first hour over the fire, while waiting for Rakia to begin dripping, we had lunch and walked through the almost deserted village. Walking through a tiny village high in the mountains of the Balkans is surreal. It makes one wonder, is this truly happening to us!