Our plan: Look at Kruja from above, visit Durres, taste wines near Berat and stay overnight in Berat.
Chatting with the Bektashi above Kruja
in the morning, we drive up to the rocks behind Kruja.
On top we reach a crying house that has been built by the Bektashi and then abandoned. They have a small house and a cave below the edge, the Sari Selltik Sanctuary. A priest and a member of the Bektashi looking after the site are sitting on this terrace with a view of Kruja.
We joint them and have a coffee. In Kruja, about 90% of the population belong to the Bektashi. This branch of shiit Islam emerged in Iran in the 13th century, and Ben is proud that they respected women’s rights already then. They have Tekkes or temples in Kruja amd their world center is in Tirana.
We walk along the ridge and the view of Tirana up to Durres on the sea is very clear after the rain.
The hidden valleys around Kruja
Behind the ridge is the world that, in the 14th century, Skanderbeg had defended with his army. It must have been here somewhere that, according to legend, Skanderbeg sent a herd of goats with candles on their horns to. The Ottomans believed, the army of Skanderbeg is retreating and followed the goats. Of course, they were attacked by Skanderbeg and his men from behind, which led to another of the more than 20 victories of the Albanians over the Ottomans.
On the way down, we enter a narrow valley. Ben shows me the memorial of the 86 women who threw themselves to death, because they did not want to be raped by the Turks after Skanderbeg had died.
Driving to Durres
The road to Durres leads through a plane that must have been fertile, but now houses are scattered all over. “There is no plan”, Ben comments. I think we should teach the Albanians, how to plan regional zones – for living, for agriculture, for small houses and for higher houses. All the crying houses along the road that will never be completed!
While driving, Ben tells me this story: A sheep, a goat and a dog take a taxi. The sheep gets out first and pays. Later the goat reaches its target point and runs away, without paying. The dog is the last to leave the taxi. He pays too much, and the driver gives him no change. Even today we observe this behavior, when a car comes: The sheep stay (having paid correctly), the goats run away (having left the taxi without paying) and the dogs bark (having paid too much, they want their change back).
Durres – a city in uncontrolled growth, but with an old history
Durres shocks me with a large number of “crying” houses – ruins that will probably never be completed. They seem to have been built after the 90’s. Here is one example.
The museum would show the old history of Durres, going back to Illyrian times. But the museum is closed. It is Monday again. I thought we have had Monday with closed museums already a week ago… but right, Mondays come back every week.
We visit the old townwall (destroyed only in 1913 and 1915)…
… with the Venetian tower…
and the amphitheater with the small Byzantine church sitting in the middle (covered with a white roof now).
This alley has been tastefully built during the Italian occupation in the 1920s/30s.
Durres has white sandy beaches. During communist times there were two storey houses at a distance from the coast line. Now there is a line of multistorey buildings along the water front, many uncompleted. What happens, when the sandy coast line recedes or when the next earthquake hits? These houses are literally built on sand.
We have lunch in a small Italian restaurant at the beach. I think that Spaghetti have always been normal in Albania, because the Italians ruled here in the 1920s/30s. Hence Spaghetti must have been known all the time. “Oh no,” says Ben, “in communist times you were in trouble, when you knew, how to prepare Spaghetti.”
As a dessert, Ben takes me to the 15th floor in one of the sky scrapers, near the port. We enjoy a great view over the city and to the mountains behind Durres – up to Kruja.
From Durres to Berat
As we are getting closer to Berat, the landscape brightens up. No incomplete houses any more (that will never be complete). There is agriculture… olive groves, corn, fruit trees, green houses.
Shortly before Berat, we stop at the Çobo winery. As the house shows, the owners – two brothers – are making good business. A tasting is going on in the garden.
One of the two brothers guides me through their cellar. There are metallic tanks and barrels from French oak.
The wines are made from the autochthon grapes Shesh i bardhë (bardhë=white, reminds me of Chenin Blanc) and E bardha e Beratit (in Johnson 2006, reminds me of Verdejo), Shesh i Zi (reminds me of Cornalin, fruity nose, tannic on palate, 2013, Zi=black). We also try Kashmer (70% ich Shesh i Zi, blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, 1 year oak, 2010) and E kuqja e Beratit (grape crossbred in communist times, 2011, soft, 25 Euro). They also have Raki me arra (Walnuss, brown, walnut can be felt) and we buy a bottle of Raki.
Arriving in Berat
From the winery it is only a short drive to Berat, the white city of the 1000 windows and Unesco World heritage.
I walk up to the castle. Then we have some light yoghurt in the restaurant Tomori (called after one of the mountains near Berat)… and another interesting day is over. I look forward to discovering Berat tomorrow.