Berati appears as I would imagine a Greek town
. The steep streets are white cobblestone, the houses made of white stone or whitewashed, and of course, there are ubiquitous grapevines. I start my visit with a hike up to the oldest part of town, where the Illyrians built a fortress in the 3rd century BC. It has since been added to by the Byzantines, Serbs, and Turks, and was a pleasure to wander through, even in the rain. During my stroll, I pass a woman and her turkeys. Turkeys! I've actually seen several women minding flocks of these birds in Albania. They're loud things, and I wish I had a tape recorder to remember them by, but I do manage to walk through the flock of surprisingly large creatures without getting pecked. Can turkeys carry rabies?
Continuing my walk. I come along stairs leading up to the wall and some more complex fortifications. Crawling across them (I'm quite adventurous) I round a corner and see a booth below me. It looks suspiciously like a ticket booth. Was I supposed to pay for this? There were no signs. A surprised looking man slides open the window. I think he's going to yell at me, so I stand there waiting to be admonished. Nothing. Odd. I turn around and scamper back into the town's alleyways, like the miscreant I am. I think he couldn't be bothered to track me down in the rain.
Slowly but surely, I make my way to the inner most fortifications. The grass around them is bright green in the rain and with the gray sky, it almost looks like I'm in Scotland - not that I've ever been there to really know. Quite wet by now, I decide it is time to return to the hotel and dry off - if only the heat were on!
At 6:30, I decide to go for a stroll around town
. The power (which has only been on for two hours) cuts just as I step outside. Power cuts at night are annoying, you can't see anything, but 6:30 is a round number, and I suspect the power will be back in an hour. Berati is not so prosperous as Tirana. There are many fewer generators, and the streets are dark. They are also full of packs of men doing whatever it is groups of men worldwide do. I can't imagine how men can spend all day on a street corner talking with their buddies, day in, day out, but then, they probably can't understand the joy of shoe shopping. Speaking of which, I am wearing my Odessan boots and their click-click on the pavement echoes up and down the street. I see few other women and none alone, but I feel safe. Every man I have met so far in Albania has been exceedingly polite, kind, and friendly. Were that all men on my travels could be this way. Of course, I am an oddity and I can't help noticing the heads I turn, the flurries of conversation in my wake, or the occasional low-pitched whistle. Yes, I am so sexy in my North Face rain jacket...
I'd like a place to eat, but the packed pizzerias I pass are populated exclusively by men. Exclusively! Apparently four years of engineering classes haven't emboldened me enough to walk into a restaurant full of Albanian men. The stares on the street are enough, I'm not sure I could take an entire meal in the limelight.
Eventually, I come to a fast food joint with a woman behind the counter dishing up souvlaki. I go inside and her husband? brother? charming prepares my dinner, carrying on a decent conversation in English. He also finds me a seat on the ground floor, which I greatly appreciate. I really hadn't wanted to go upstairs to a room full of men.
Sated, I return to the hotel and at 7:30 on the button, the power comes back on, after I fumble around in the dark for five minutes searching for my flashlight, of course.
Today, I got my first real experience of Albania's roads, or what there is of them. It was a pretty bumpy, rainy, muddy ride, but once I arrived in Berati (ahead of schedule) the rain did agree to hold off long enough for me to find the Hotel Mangalemi, a wonderful B&B, complete with affable host, beautiful terrace, and traditionally decorated sitting area. When checking in to hotels in may parts of the world, it is recommend practice to ask to see the room first. This supposedly ensures management will give you one of their nicer rooms. When checking the room, one should make sure the lights work, the toilet flushes, and the taps provide hot water. Entering my room, I go to flick on the light and quickly ascertain that the power is out. "It's Albania" my host says, shrugging his shoulders. Indeed. Fortunately, when the power does come on some four and a half hours later, I am pleased to find that the lights do work and there is lots of hot water.