Adventure in Albania

I really wasn't as prepared as I should have been when I traveled from Greece to Albania.  However, in 1995, I doubt if there was much information out there to be found.  Albania hadn't been opened to the West for all that long.  My guidebook didn't say how or where to go about crossing the border.  I looked on the map, saw Ignauminitis along the coast between the two countries, and guessed it was the best place to start.

My bus across northern Greece bounced along a curvy, slow ride through the mountains to Oianina (Ya nee' nee).  When we finally arrived, everyone piled off the bus to get tickets to Ignauminitis.  I did too.  It didn't do a lot of good to ask questions.  Nobody at the ticket counter spoke English.  I just bought my ticket and headed in what I hoped was the right direction. That was another two hours or so. Upon arrival at the bus station in Ignauminitis, I asked for a ticket to Albania (only saying that one key word).  They said I must first go to Oianina.  I couldn't believe it.  But what could I do?  I bounced back along that same road for a couple more hours.

Once finally in Oianina, again, I purchased a ticket to Kakabia for the evening.  Nobody seemed able to tell me if it was a town in Greece or Albania.  It wasn't on my Greek map.  As it turned out, it was a border crossing in the middle of nowhere.  There was no town -- in either country! It was simply a border crossing.  Everyone got off the bus in Greece and walked across the border into Albania, in the dark.

Fortunately, (Thank Zeus!) someone spoke English and said the closest hotel was in Gjirokaster (about 20 miles away).  They said it should cost 1000 drachma by taxi.  My driver asked 4000.  I started walking.  He finally came down to 1500 (around $7.50).  I took it.  It was a long drive but I'm sure he made good money -- especially since he also picked up three local people.

And so, I was on my way to Gjirokaster.  I'd never heard of it, but it was a Unesco Heritage site because of the Ottoman architecture throughout the old town.  The best thing the taxi driver did was take out a business card for a bed and breakfast.  When I saw that English was spoken, there was no question where I was going to stay.  And, it was there that I met Haxhi and Vita Kotoni and their family.

Their home was a two hundred year old building that overlooked the old town.  The walls were a yard thick.  This was the best place I'd ever stayed. The family exuded Albanian warmth and hospitality.  And the food!  Oh, my, and the food!  Way too much and too good!  I fell asleep contented. Good food, great hosts, beautiful scenery, and the mosque sounded the call to prayer.  I decided right away that I would stay an extra day in Gjirokaster because I liked the family so much.  At that time, Haxhi was a local barber as well as the owner of a guesthouse.   I teased him that he cut hair with one eye and searched the street for tourists with the other eye.  I'd never let him give me a shave.