The local bus to Gjirokaster was a mini van jam packed full of the 8 of us plus 5 or 6 locals and heaps of luggage. There were two drivers; one I presume was the driver for the return journey as it was going all the way to Saranda and back, at least six or seven hours each way. There was no seat for driver number two so he whipped out a plastic stool and sat in the aisle sandwiched between me and another woman. With a large bag crushing my legs and driver number two squashed against my right side it was a cosy journey. The door of the bus was open for the entire five hour ride because once again there were no openable windows and definitely no air con.
One thing I haven’t mentioned about Albania, and it’s a sad thing, is that there is rubbish (mainly plastic) dumped absolutely everywhere: by the side of the road, in fields and in rivers. They don’t have the infrastructure to dispose of it properly so it’s just piled up all over the place. During the bus journey I drank a can of coke, and when I finished with it I crushed it and reached for my bag to keep it there until I found a bin. Driver number two reached over and took it from me, so I thought he must have a bin on board but no… as we crossed a bridge he leaned forward and threw it as hard as he could out of the open door and into the river below.
When we arrived in Gjirokaster we were met by a very angry taxi driver who gave us the ride of our lives – shouting into his phone and accelerating towards oncoming traffic whilst simultaneously throwing sweets at us. Bizarre! As we screeched around corners and ploughed towards pedestrians, onlookers saw our startled faces and began laughing. This taxi driver must be well known around here.
The Kotoni Bed & Breakfast was a welcome slice of calm, with a view of the castle, town, mountains and valley. We were welcomed in by the host Vita and her husband who gave us cold juice and helped us in with our bags. It was another hot day so we had a rest for an hour or two and then headed up the hill to the old fortress.
Once again it was a leisurely stroll around the castle whose walls date back to the 3rd Century AD. Gjirokaster, like Berat, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it’s “a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town” and all of this was clearly visible from the panoramic views from the castle walls.
In the evening we went to a restaurant with incredible views then headed back to the guesthouse. It was far too hot to sleep so I stayed up chatting and laughing with my roommate into the early hours.