Taking public transport in Albania takes time. Our bus didn’t leave on time, so we arrived in the late afternoon at the bus station, just outside of the city. However, the ride from Tirana to Berat was pretty smooth. Minutes after arriving a local bus arrived. My friend and I hopped on, hoping it would take us towards Berat’s old town. Although we weren’t 100% sure, all the other tourists followed. We were staying in the Gorica part of town, across the river. It is one half of the Unesco protected part of the city. Our hostel was in one of the typical local houses that Berat is known for. They spread out from the river all the way up the hill and create the most picturesque cityscape. When we saw the river we hit the stop button. It was only a short walk to the hostel.
I was eager to go out and explore. We started with the new part of town. First we saw a screen and many long picnic tables and benches. There was a beer festival this weekend. At the other end there was a small boulevard, with cafes, restaurants and little shops on one side and a park full of trees on the other side so you didn’t really see the main road that went along the river. In the distance we saw something that looked like the US white house, so our curiosity took us there. The building with a gigantic dome turned out to be a fancy hotel. I hope the inside was better, because although the building itself was impressive, and really just too much, the outside had no nice garden or any appeal really. A red carpet led up some stairs, but it looked deserted. It was like the money had run out after building the gigantic structure.
We looped back in the direction of the old town via one of the main streets. We passed by a cathedral and then a small mosque. A friendly man gestured for us to come inside. We did, but the interior was very sober. Further along there was another mosque, right before we entered the old town. We didn’t really know where we were going, but decided to see if we could reach the castle up the hill, while wandering the cobbled streets. Some buildings looked absolutely fabulous, others were in desperate need of some love. Many of the well-maintained ones had turned into boutique hotels. They looked gorgeous, with the Ottoman style brick-woodwork combination. The dark brown wood looks so beautiful on the white walls.
The road started to go up and we found a short cut to the castle via a small trail. It led us through a gate into the castle district. A man sat there with his horse, hoping to make some money from the tourists. There was a small cafe, with tables overlooking the city. And there were many people selling plastic cups with all kinds of fruit. At the end of the road was the viewing platform. Berat is beautifully situated between the hills and on the river. We thought this platform would be the highlight and my friend said she’d stay around there while I wanted to see where another uphill path would lead me.
I stayed away for ages, so my friend actually came my way, wondering if I’d left her. But I had found more beauty. I passed a beautiful but abandoned building and then saw more remnants of the old castle. On the other side of it was another beautiful view, where they were setting up for a wedding. I stuck around, because the sun was going to set and it was a beautiful, calming spot. And that’s where my friend found me, sitting on a small wall, taking it all in. I watched as guests came to the wedding and slowly filled the seats. I watched people hiking up from a trail on this side. I watched the sun lowering in the sky. I watched the bride arrive and listened to the music. We stayed until the sun had dropped behind the hills and the colors in the sky were changing to purple. Then we made our way down the same way we came.
Below, the beer festival was in full swing, but we decided to eat something and head back to the hostel. The next day I went for a last wander through the small streets. I took more photos of the old bridge, the river and houses. Some of the roads were sand, with the bricks laying on the side of the road, as if they were just waiting to be used. The bigger road in front of our hostel was also under construction. I imagine this town could become like Mostar in Bosnia, overrun with day trippers, but for now it was peaceful. I was sad we already had to leave. I wished we’d have had another day in Berat, because it was just so relaxing. Our short time there was well worth it!