Bus to Gjirokastra

Monday, July 21st 2008

I got a bus to Gjirokastra. This first involved finding my way to the right bus station. My first guess was wrong, and I had to take a taxi to the right one. The driver was very friendly and told me long rambling anecdotes in Albanian. I didn't understand a word but laughed with him as he seemed to be enjoying the stories. On his radio, incredible atmospheric Albanian electro-folk music was playing. Just as his story ended, with him saying "(something in Albanian)...Deutschland....(something else in Albanian)... Holland!!" and roaring with laughter, we pulled up at the bus station.

It was a hot morning and nothing much was happening. The bus was supposed to leave at 10, and at 9.30am I was the only person on it. I had visions of Zambia, and wondered if the bus would leave before noon, but it left at five past ten. Before long, we were in hilly bunker-strewn countryside.

At a rest stop somewhere in rural Albania, one of the other passengers said to me "You're not from around here, are you?" He spoke excellent English, having lived in London for many years. We chatted for a while and he said that if I needed anything at all I should just ask him. He, meanwhile, had just been bitten by a spider on the bus, and his hand was starting to swell up. I'd been worried by a giant wasp which was buzzing around during the journey but I hadn't seen any spiders. I kept an eye out for the rest of the way.

We arrived at Gjirokastra in the mid-afternoon. The new city was nestled in a steep-sided valley; the old town climbed the hillsides, and a huge atmospheric crumbling castle loomed over it all. I headed up there.

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