Without leaving Macedonia, the challenges of Albania transportation started. I wanted to visit Berat, but there were no direct buses from Ohrid. I could take a local bus to the border, walk half a mile through two borders, and then find a bus on the other side to take me, OR, wake up at 4am to walk 15 minutes to the bus station and negotiate with the driver taking people to Sarande to drop me off in Berat as it was passing through. That didn't seem like much of a guarantee to me, though it would have worked. After a year, I forgot how Albanian buses work. They are a glorified hitchhiking system. Picking up people from random spots along the road, people standing in aisles for hours, dropping people off in the middle of nowhere. Albania standard. Anything goes.
I ended up finding a nearby bus company that would take me to Tirana. From Tirana, buses ran every hour throughout the day to Berat. What was supposed to be a direct bus at 4:30am, ended up being three transfers. 30 minutes outside of Ohrid in Sturga, transfer. Sturga to Elbasan. Winding quickly through mountains, whipping around corners, I felt like I was going to throw up. I had an empty stomach from the early morning, and I was sleeping. At a potty/smoke/food/cigarette break, I switched to the front row to look out. Once I reached Elbasan, the driver transferred me to another bus to Tirana. Since it wasn't a direct bus like I originally thought, we were dropped outside of the city in one of the four bus areas. I was expecting the "international' street when I left for the morning. Luckily, a local guy had me follow him and his mother to the square using the public bus. Albanian's are always super quick and eager to help. As soon as I got off the bus to the main square, I saw construction barricades, and pulled out my offline map to locate my hostel. Finally looking up, a guy standing across the street was waiting for me, and pointed in the correct direction to advert the construction fence.
The next day, when I arrived to Berat, I had to cross the medieval stone bridge to the UNESCO heritage site where I was staying. All of Berat's old town is under UNESCO, which means, I go to stay in it. How cool, huh? The building and surrounding area was peaceful, but required extra mental effort climbing and walking on the 400+ year old cobble street, far from being smooth or even. I had to carry my luggage up the hill, which is no small feat with the road conditions.
The second day, I made the hike to the castle on the hill. It was about an hour walk, steep incline. The stones were so worn down, they were super slippery, and even cars had to creep up and down the slope.
The hike was worth it. The old castle ruins were limited, but the best part was no tourists fighting over the area. Another reason why I love Albania!
After wandering through the castle grounds, I found the main look out point over the river and UNESCO site. The view was stunning, and worth the hike. Naturally I timed it with the sunset.
On the main strip at night, people get dressed up to walk around and show off. There are old men playing chess and dominos, and lots of cafe's lined along the pedestrian street for relaxing and socializing. As someone explained to me, the Albanian culture is impenetrable, which is how they intend it. Even the locals will keep their lives private from one another, and everything is a show. They have limited income (200 euro per month), and spend it mostly on clothing and cars. Otherwise, they are distrusting of others, and it's one big stage.