• Adam

Albania's interior towns: Kruja, Shkodra, Berat, and Gjirokastra

Heading north from Tirana, soon I arrived at Kruja. This mountaintop town is famous as the home of Skanderbeg, Albania's independence hero. There are a couple museums here and an old bazaar, but I'm not big into shopping or tourist chachkes, so I was happy to walk around and enjoy the views. I stopped for lunch and had tave kosi - an Albanian dish consisting of lamb

cooked in a yogurt-egg sauce. This is considered a national dish of Albania.

Kruja on the mountaintop

Tave kosi... yum

The bazaar of Kruja, if tourist shopping is your thing.

I continued north to Shodra, the largest town in the north. It was a pleasant place to walk around, there is a large pedestrianized zone filled with restaurants. I came here to leave my car and use it as a base for hiking Theth to Valbona (see separate post). So, most of my time here was spent at the Rozafa Castle. This castle occupies some pretty stunning views, not to mention the most epic place to play a game of hide and seek! The ruins are extensive and sit atop a large hill next to a river. You can see Lake Shkodra and Montenegro in the distance. There's nothing really to "do" at the castle but explore the ruins and check out the views. Still, for just a few dollars, I think it was worthwhile.

In Shkodra: A pedestrian street (left) and monument to communist oppression (right)

Shkodra seen behind and below the walls of Rozafa Castle

The place is practically abandoned and you can explore anywhere. Hide and seek, anyone?

In the south-center of Albania is the town of Berat, known as the "City of a Thousand Windows." It has an old walled town atop a hill, and some impressive Ottoman architecture. I hadn't originally planned on visiting Berat, so I squeezed it on between other places and only spent half a day here.

Looking down on Berat from the southern tip of the city walls, which affords a fantastic lookout point.

The Muslim quarter of Berat and its narrow streets (above and below)

Like many other towns, the old city was charming, with narrow streets and lots of history. There is a citadel with a large cistern (below. No railings - don't fall!) and views of the surrounding countryside. One interesting site was the ruins of the Red Mosque, which is nearly 600 years old! (right) But today it just looks like a large chimney. Still impressive given its age.

For lunch in Berat, I tried specca te mbushur (stuffed peppers) and quote (seasoned meat). Both were full of flavor. With bottled water my lunch was just under $4.

Further south of the country, I spent a day in Gjirokastra, which apart from the birthplace of the communist dictator Enver Hoxha, is a UNESCO World Heritage site with unique granite stone roofs, a big castle, and a position high on a hillside.

Gjirokastra, as seen from the castle that stands above the town

A tourist street in Gjirokastra, with the castle above

The famous stone roofs of Gjirokastra

Inside the Gjirokastra Castle. During the communist period it was used as a prison for political dissidents. Below the castle is a multi-room bunker similar to the one in Tirana, built by the communist dictator in the event of an invasion. Sadly, the posted hours of operation were wrong and when I showed up to check it out, it had already closed for the day.

This was somewhat unexpected: A US Air Force jet on the grounds of the castle on a hill! It made an emergency landing in Albania in the 1950's while it was (probably) on a spy mission. The Albanians naturally wanted to keep it.

Ottoman architecture in Gjirokastra

Some 19th century Ottoman architecture on display in the Zekate House in Gjirokastra

Lunch in Gjirokastra. Some qofte meatballs with tzatziki (right) and qifqi fried rice balls native to the area (left). This whole meal with water was $4.50.

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