Exploring & Escapades

bits & pieces of my travels

Tag: Europe

Përmet, Banjat e Bënjës, & Other Adventures Driving Through Rural Albania

Driving inland through rural Albania, Durres to Permet to Gjirokastra. Across great green space, over mountains, and along the river. Dangling in open space, wide-eyed and full of wonder to think of how this piece of the world has always existed and will continue to exist when we leave, unnoticed by most.

From my travel notes:
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“We began the three hour drive through rural Albania just after breakfast, our destination was the small town or Permet. It was so interesting to see it all. So much land and space. The most beautiful mountains. We drove along the edge of a ice-blue-grey river canyon, over rusty bridges, and past donkeys, sheep, goats, and horses. When we finally made it to Permet, we parked and walked to find food, only to find that it would be harder than we expected to find an open venue. But finally, we prevailed and  found one small shop, from which we ordered two salads and two waters. Before we left, unsure of when we’d see civilization again, we visited a convenience store for cookies and more water. We wondered if we were the only Americans in the entire town at that moment, and if we had ever been anywhere else in the world where that statement would also be true. Then, off to our real destination, the Benjes Thermal Baths, twenty minutes down the road, set under a giant Ottoman bridge. They were practically deserted when we arrived; eventually, we had the entire main pool to ourselves.  The view, breathtaking. Water flowing to infinity, snow-glazed mountain back-drop. It all seemed a little unreal.

We left this secret little corner of the world around 5 pm and began the 1.5 hour journey to Gjirokastra, back-tracking and absorbing what we could.”

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Durrës

Seaside Albania, the north. Part 2 of our first day in Albania, following our morning adventure in Krujë. I never would have thought to spend any time here at all, if it weren’t for the recommendations of an Albanian friend. It was a modern, clean, and quirky little city that deserves more time than we gave it.

From my travel notebook:
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Day 1
“Our Airbnb for our first night in Albania was a small and simple, but cute flat behind a restaurant called Troy in Durres. The room cost $16 a night. After we arrived, we left our things in our room and drove about 10 minutes into town near the boardwalk, where we were able to park our car easily on the side of the road. We walked by the historic amphitheatre and out to the sea, past carnival rides, beach bikes, and stray dogs, wandering to the end of the boardwalk and back, until we eventually returned to the center for dinner at a restaurant on the pier. The place had sort of an odd casino vibe – trying hard to be fancy, without needing to be, but the food was good, and the view  of the sunset was stunning. For dinner: two carafes of house white wine, seafood bruschetta, octopus salad, roasted vegetables, calamari, fresh caught fish, and complimentary fresh fruits for dessert. After that, it was late, and we were tired; we returned home to have some local Tirana beers at the restaurant in front of our flat before going to sleep. And of all the possible things that could have been on the bar walls, there was a Massachusetts license plate. The world is so small – and I am so lucky to see so much of it.”

Day 2
“We woke up at  7 am in Duress and ran along the seaside, on the boardwalk and occasionally on the very firm sand. It was a resort vibe, Gray-Malin-style colored umbrellas in geometric patterns all along the way. We passed a group of school children playing football on the beach. Then, shower, pack, get ready, get out, quick stop at our Airbnb restaurant for food. We had a full breakfast – eggs, sausage, cheese, tomato, toast – a plate of fresh fruit, and two local coffees; the total was about the equivalent of $5 USD. By 11 am, on the road again, on to the new day’s adventures.”

Krujë

Albania, we made it. Five days driving from the city, down the coast, through the countryside, between the mountains, all the way south. Meandering roads, animals everywhere, and so many friendly faces. We spent the first part of our first day, here, at Kruja Castle.

Direct from my travel journal:

“I woke up this morning, half-asleep and mixing up the book I read on the airplane with reality. It was 6:30 am – we flew into Tirana around 11:30 pm local time the night before from London Gatwick and checked into the Best Western across the street just after midnight. It was definitely the nicest hotel we’ll stay in this trip. That was last night. Today, we were out the door by 10:45 am to pick up our rental car at the airport and then on the road to Kruja Castle by 11:30 am. The roads were so windy and intense. The town, so interesting. Multi-storied, colored buildings spread between green fields. Men, dressed so nicely, walking along the highway (blazers and collars). Goats, everywhere, including this very sad scene: a store with dead, skinned goats hanging in the window by their feet with three living goats tied in front. Driving in Krujë town, we kept taking the wrong turns; the directions we had were so confusing, and the roads were so narrow. But we made it just after noon and paid 200 lek (about $2) to park in a lot for a day to an attendant with the most stunning, incredible, piercing blue blue blue eyes I think I’ll ever see anywhere in the world.

After parking, we walked down a cobbled path, past the bazaar, to the castle. There were roosters! And so many cute store fronts. We entered through the castle walls, and the fog was SO intense. Maybe the densest fog I’ve ever seen. It’s supposed to be one of the best views in Albania, but we could barely see. But it was good; the lack of view pushed us into the museums, which we never planned to enter and loved. First, an Albanian history museum, where we learned about Skanderbeg and the military history of the country. Then, the ethnographic museum, where we saw traditional items in a traditional home. By the time we exited, the fog had lifted, and we went back outside the castle walls to have a traditional lunch at a restaurant above the bazaar. I forget the local names for the dishes, but I had a tomato/eggplant/goat cheese dish with a spinach byrek and a house white wine – so delicious.

We had planned to go to Tirana in the afternoon, but we loved Krujë so much that it was already 3:00 pm when we were paying our bill, so we decided to skip it and stay a little longer to explore before driving to Duress – that meant, to the bazaar. There were so many local crafts and antique stalls, especially selling carpets and lace, mostly shades of red and black. It was hard to properly look without pushy shopkeepers interfering to make a sale, but we finally made it into one store and found the most beautiful copper. The owner there was so nice; she showed us how they literally melded and created the pieces right downstairs and even gave shots of cognac. We bought a copper vase that reminds me of Aladdin’s lamp, a small tray in the style of the ones we watched them create downstairs, and a bottle of the local brandy that we read we should try.  And then, just like that, it was 4:00 pm; our morning excursion evolved to an all-day affair. We left to drive to Durres.” 

Sorrento Sunset

Arrived in Sorrento just in time for the sunset after a day of travelling via train, plane, and cab. We had wine and cheese on the balcony, and I took it all in with my cousins from above the marina at their hotel on the cliff.

The Backs

Wandering along The Backs with my camera on a sunny, chilly spring day. The weather was moody; one minute, warmth, the next speckled with sun showers. And then when I finally returned to my bike to travel home, ice fell from the sky. Even still, it was nice to be in the light. Spring is here. 

Tower

I’ve been inside the Tower of London before, and while it’s one of my favorite activities in London, it’s also not free; I didn’t want to pay to do the same tour again, and so, while my visiting friends went inside, I opted instead to explore the outskirts with my camera on this misty, moody English afternoon. 

The area is one of the most crowded in London (from my experience, at least), and there were tourists everywhere. Some might find that annoying, but I thought it was sort of nice. In this one little area of the world, so much of that world packed in together. All of these people here for the same view, to walk the same street, hundreds of years old. 

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