Today’s local bus was a bit more like a coach, but one with no air con (the norm) and no openable windows, just two large holes in the roof where sky lights would usually be. I thought I was being clever sitting by one of these holes because I figured I’d be closest to some kind of draft, but it backfired somewhat when the sun was directly above and burnt my neck and right leg.
The buses in Albania stop whenever they’re flagged down, whether it’s a bus stop or not which is quite a nice idea. A few people got on in the middle of nowhere and someone tapped me on my shoulder and pointed to my bottle of water. The girl behind me was being violently sick into a plastic bag. I gave her my water and resigned myself to a journey of vomit wafts, heat and dehydration.
It was a relief to arrive in Berat and we dragged our bags up the hill in the 40 degree heat to our hotel; Hotel Mangalemi. It’s definitely the best hotel so far – lovely rooms, friendly staff, fantastic food and a little garden for sitting out in the evenings. For lunch I had a piping hot vegetable dish with pureed tomatoes and peppers which was simple yet amazingly tasty. It was far too hot to see the town in the afternoon so we had siesta time for a few hours.
In the early evening we set off on an orientation walk of Berat. I really like this town. The architecture is interesting and it feels really peaceful and pleasant.
Finally we walked up the hill to the castle which is the old town where people still live. Our tour leader gave us loads of time to walk around which I love about this trip – we’re rarely timed or rushed anywhere, just given instructions to meet back somewhere when we’re ready; on this occasion it was a little restaurant by the castle entrance.
The sun was setting on our walk and we had 360 degree views of Berat and the surrounding areas. At the end of the walk we were welcomed to the restaurant by the lovely owner, helped ourselves to beer from the fridge, and sat outside waiting for menus. No menus came. The owner had decided he wanted us to try everything on the menu because he was so proud of his wife’s cooking! We just went with it.
Before long, course after course of incredible food came out: home made bread, greek salads, stuffed aubergines and peppers, meat casseroles, potato dishes, everything he had. The food was of an incredible standard but it just kept coming and we were so full! Even after we said we were full and the owner said “no problem” (the only English phrase he knew), more dishes came out, then of course a dessert, then fruit. We were nearly in a food coma. The tour leader started to worry we might be charged a fortune so he finally managed to stop the food and get the bill. It ended up being about £7 each for the lot. Phenomenal!
The owner lit up a cigarette, walked off and came back holding a dusty old bottle of red wine and holding his hand up high to signify it was his best bottle, then, he gave it to us as a gift. We were blown away, and it didn’t stop there. He went away again and came back with shot glasses and announced ‘Raki!’. Raki is a potent home-brewed spirit popular in Turkey and of varying quality and taste depending on who made it. This one was like rocket fuel! I managed a bit but couldn’t do a whole shot as I have an extraordinary gag reflex so I gave it to someone else. The owner knocked back a few shots too, then took us upstairs to his restaurant to show us a photo of his proudest moment – the day the President of Albania ate there.
This evening was one of the most memorable of my life. I love Albania.