Thursday, 11 October 2012

Fier, Llundjier, Berat and Elbasan–Albania (11 Oct 2012)

We were up early at 6.30am and spent some time observing the city of Fier as it comes to life. Street vendors selling from their car boot came early to book a parking spot or a spot along the pavement/side walk. If you happen to park in one of their spot, they are quick to shoo you away. We see school children of all ages walking to school. On the street, cars, vans and buses move along with no real rush. Several cars were going slow causing a trail of cars behind them. Yet, none of the drivers honked. Albanian drivers are really patient.

Today we were going to Berat, city of a thousand windows. The roads were alright but can be narrow at some sections and uneven with potholes every now and then. There were also a few lorries though none of them were driving like maniacs.

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Road from Fier to Llundjier (or Lushnje)

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Road from Llundjier to Berat – not so smooth but still bearable.

Berat, city of a thousand windows

(i) Berat Castle

Once in Berat, we followed the sign to Berat Castle. Entrance fee was 100 Lek each. This 13th Century fortress overlooking Berat town once had about 20 Byzantine churches (a lot of churches in Albania were destroyed during the Communist years and only a handful remains) and one Ottoman mosque. Today, there are still residents staying inside the castle.

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Path leading to the south entrance (the only entrance) to Berat Castle.

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  Our entrance ticket to Berat Castle – 100Lek each

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Map of Berat Castle seen at the entrance

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Entrance to Berat Castle

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A little souvenir stall at the entrance archway

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On the castle ground

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  One of the buildings in the castle.

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On the way to the Holy Trinity Church

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Walking down the hill to the Holy Trinity Church. Check out the view!

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Nice view of Berat town and the Osum River from Berat Castle (taken near the Holy Trinity Church)

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Another view of Berat town and the Osum River from Berat Castle (taken near the Holy Trinity Church)

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Another view of Berat town and the Osum River from Berat Castle (taken near the Holy Trinity Church)

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Holy Trinity Church – an Orthodox Church in the grounds of Berat Castle.

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The other side of the Holy Trinity Church

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Holy Trinity Church

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The Red Mosque (14th – 15th Century). See below for more info on the Red Mosque.


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Red mosque – The minaret

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Church of Saint George (18th Century).

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Church of Saint George (18th Century). I believe this is the front.

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Statue of Kostandini I Madh (Constantine the Great)

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There are still people living in the castle. Some of them sold knitted stuff around the castle. We bought bread in a traditional bakery inside the castle.

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Streets lined with traditional houses inside the castle.

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Traditional Albanian houses.

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Another traditional Albanian house.

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Wooden door of one of the houses in the castle compound

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Small wooden window

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Walking up another narrow street in the castle

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We stopped for a while to rest and watch contractors restore wall of one of the houses in the castle. The family next door saw us and invited us for tea.

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Grapes growing overhead

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More grapes. A lot of houses here plant their own grapes. One of the contractors gave a bunch to me when he saw me photographing the grapes as I came up the street. They tasted like wine to me and I did not like them much.

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More grapes growing on the perimeter wall

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Monument outside Berat Castle

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Church outside Berat Castle

(ii) Mangalemi Quarters

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Mangalemi quarters.

Berat is called the city of 1000 windows and here at Mangalemi Quarters you can see why. This old town was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in July 2008.

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Our Sorento in front of the Mangalemi quarters

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Statue of Margarita Tutulani near the Mangalemi quarters. She was given the title Heroine of the People (Heroine E Polpullit) for her role in the anti-Nazi resistance in WWII.

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Sister town with Mangalemi quarters. This is Gorica quarters, situated on the other side of the Osum river, opposite the Mangalemi quarters. Unlike Mangalemi quarters, Gorica quarters get a lot more shade – great in summer, not so much in winter.


(iii) Gorica Bridge

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View of Gorica bridge from Mangalemi Quarters. See below for more info on this 17th century bridge.

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A closer view of the Gorica Bridge

We left Berat shortly after visiting the Gorica Bridge and decided against retracing out route to Llundjier and headed to Tirane via Elbasan instead.  

10km outside of Berat, we made a right turn to Kucove. Our GPS still not showing any roads in Albania, we had to ask a few locals in Kucove if we were in the right direction to Elbasan. The road from Ure Vajgurore all the way to Cerrik were unpaved, gravel road and we travelled at a steady speed of 20km/hr. This stretch of road is lined with acres of agricultural land. Some patches are ready for the next planting season, others had olive and persimmon trees.

At Cerrik we made a right turn at the junction and headed into a police check point. The police waved us to stop. We did and soon as he saw that we were tourist, he told us to move on. We asked him if we were heading correctly to Tirane. He told us that we were better off making a u turn and taking the new highway to Tirane. So, we did. As it was getting late, we stayed the night at Elbasan.

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A lady taking her cow for a walk. This was a frequent sight. Quite unusual for us since cows in Malaysia usually roam around by themselves in groups… Yup, that’s the gravel road we had been driving on – starts near Kucove and goes all the way to Cerrik.

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Our dinner at Elbasan. This could possibly be the worst dinner we have ever had. This was the first and only restaurant we saw near where we were parked soon as we arrived at Elbasan and because we were so hungry (already 8pm!) we could not be bothered to look for others. The shop had really old, out-dated deco and the menu were in Albanian. Thankfully, a boy who could speak English came by and translated the menu for us. There wasn’t much on it, so we ordered salad, pork chops and chips.

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Pork chops – They looked good but tasted so so.

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After dinner, we spent some time walking around the town before calling it a night.

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