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Saturday, 6 July 2013

Gjirokaster

While we were at the Shkodra campsite we met a really nice couple from Austria who had been this way before and they strongly recommended a visit to Gjirokaster in the very south of Albania. Our original plan was to go in to Macedonia and on through Bulgaria to Romania and Hungary but now had serious doubts about whether we had time considering that we had to be in Spain by the 22nd July.  So we ditched the original plan and decided to visit Gjirokaster enroute to Greece where we would get a ferry back to Italy for our onward travel.
The road between Berat and Gjiroskaster was, as ever, interesting. There is a huge building program going on here and we experienced the worst and the best of Albanian roads. There is an excellent stretch of tarmac that is developing into a motorway but it doesn't last for long and I'm not sure it's a good idea to start covering the country in tarmac.


 The owner of this house is a great fan of 'Grand Designs' apparently!





Well we thank our friends from Austria who recommended Gjirokaster. What a beautiful place. Gjirokastër is situated in a valley between the Gjerë mountains and the Drino River, and overlooked by the Gjirokastër Castle. The city has beautifully preserved cobbled streets. I hadn't quite expected to drive into the heart of the old town but that's what happened. What a nightmare. The road in suddenly went vertical - a really steep long hill and just before I could reach the sanctuary of the top a car came the other way and damn. I had to stop.  I reversed slowly back to go into a side road to let this guy through and the land rover started slipping sideways on the cobbles which had been polished over the centuries clearly awaiting the arrival some hapless Englishman such as myself. I managed to slide our vehicle into the side street and regain some semblance of control. There was only one way out of this. Foot down and head for the summit and anyone coming the other way would have to give way. That worked but unfortunately the summit turned out to be the confluence of five medieval roads and there I was, plonked in the middle wondering where the hell to go. At this point an angel appeared. "Can I help you?" The owner of a shop had heard the arrival of our land rover and when she saw the harassed occupants she came out to assist. This, dear reader, is typical of the Albanian people. She then moved a big sign at the side of her shop and said you can park here. She asked if we had anywhere to stay, and we hand't, and she then started describing some local places in the city and further offered to telephone them to see if they had a vacancy. We finally settled on the Hotel Gjirokaster and leaving our vehicle outside her shop went to secure a room at the hotel.


 Modern Gjirokastra behind the historical city




















The spot we landed in at the top of the hill.