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2006 Albania A: Krujë, Tiranë, Elbasan and Berat

Day 1: From the airport to Krujë


We have enjoyed a very heavy, hot and inspiring cycling trip through a wonderful country ful of surprises.
The first city we visited was Krujë, a beautiful place built against a mountain just 20 km from Tirana's airport (called Mother Theresa). In this little town a lot of the beauty of the country is united like the ferocious mountains, the castle high above the city and an old mosque in this most islamic (70%)country of Europe.
Here you see the view from hotel Panorama, highly recommended by me to everyone who wants to visit this remarkable country

We came in over a rocky road over a plain and than upon  the mountains in the east.

High above the city of Kruje there is a fortified complex dating from the middle ages with walls and watchtowers all around. Within the complex you can see old churches, (12th century)a turkisch bathhouse and beautiful ancient walls and towers and a new building built as an old castle as a monument for the national hero, Skanderbeg, an impressive charactere, usually shown sitting on a horse with a fearful beard.Here you see the walk through the olivegarden to the higherstpoint of the castle, a watchtower dating from the 10th century

A hole in the walls of the citadel of Kruje, a magnificient fortification where in the 14thy and 15th century the resistance against the Ottoman invaders was heavy. The national Heroe of Albania, Skanderbeg - you can see him a lot on statues and paintings , complete with ferocious eyes and long beard - held it as a stronghold for many years. The views from here into the valley are very beautiful. like here early in the morning.

If you look to the west you can see for miles and miles. If you look to the east you can see the outsirts of the town and the small valley that leads into the mountains.
The town is tied to the national identity of the country because it held for a long time against the Ottoman troups under the national hero Skanderbeg.

If you look south from the citadel of Kruje, you can see the central valley and the hilly country of central albania.
You also realize what a magnificent stronghiold this must have been. 
Taken early in the morning of a warm day with still some fof hanging in the valley.

the new town seen from the citadell. In the lower part you can see the old turkish Bazar with the mosque.

the bazar, a complex of old wooden Ottoman buildings with red-tiled roofs with little shops inside

Monuments of different centuries in and around the castle of Kruje.
You can see from left to right:
The old Mosque - 15th century, the castle-tower - 12th century, the Skanderbegmonument - 20th century and the monument for those who fell during WW II - 1945.

When two men meet each other in Eastern Europe they greet with a kiss, like these men in Kruje are doing.
On the background the castle with the old tower high above on the left side and the monstruous new monument for the national hero Skanderbeg in the middle.

Day 2: Krujë - Tiranë - Elbasan

Tirana is not one of the most appealing towns of Albania. It is rather small scaled for a capital though and there are some fine parks. The city center still has some relics from the communist time like this enormous wallmosaicabove the National Museum of Albanian History (Thanks Bardhok).
This strange mosaic shows Albania primarily as a military nation in all the facets of its history from the Illyrians on the left (700 BC)till the communist patriots in the middle, of whom the woman with the gun plays an interesting part. The scientist with the beard and the rol of paper seems an exception on this military violence, and also the working man in front.
1. Illyrians 700 BC (Albanians are close descendents of Illyrians)
2. Albanians warriors (Arberesh) during Otoman invasion times.
3. The man with the book and the other man near him is from Albanian renaissance (the first man is one of the fathers of Albanian letterature, and second is an "komit" warrior who protect the Albanian culture books during otomanin invasion.
4.Working man with woman and flag-man rappresents Indipendece of Albania (1912)
5. The last 4 persons are Partizans who gave Albania the great victory from Second World War from invasions of Italian-Fascists and German-Nazists (07/04/1939 - 29/11/1944).

Two boys waving and eating ice cream and in the background between all the green of the hills a mosk in a small village south of Tiranë.
That is Albania. A country ful of friendly people with a great nature and with a population that is in majority (70%) muslim.
When we sat in a reataurant in Kruje we enjoyed the evening and the meal we were eating and when we heard singing from a minaret inviting the believers to pray, we felt we were far away from the western world and still very close.

These girls, hiding for the sun, are selling cherries in strings. They select the best ones to sell directly and the rest is going to the market.
Here they are sitting under an umbrella on the road from Tirana tot Elbasan -thet's how big roads can be in Albania - to wait for cars to stop or once in a year a group of cyclists.

Coming from Tirana you ride into a fine, green and spectaculair mountainous area.
After 50 km the landscape suddenly changes as you look over the brought valley by the city of Elbasan

Just before you leave the mountains to ride into the valley of Elbasan you pass the wonderful situated village of Bradashesh

Although Elbasan is not the most beautiful town in Albania, the view over the valley when you come out of the mountains from Tirana is wonderful and so is the way down on your bike.The view here is to the east looking over the city (with about 100.000 one of the largest of the country)towards the mountains in the east and the lake of Ohrid at the border with Macedonia.

This is an Albanese Butcher and I don't know what it is exactly hanging outside his shop but I'm afraid it has got something to do with amimals,
Maybe skins or something for making sausages

Here you see a typical summer evening scene in a Albanese park. The men gather to play games. For a table they use just a piece of paper. The parks are realy filled uop with men playing games like here in Elbasan. One of the major towns but with a real provincial atmosphere.
View from our hotel window

While in the main street the regular marketstuf is being sold there are allways sideways where farmerswives sit down to sell there goods just before them on the street. Here three elder women,

Day 3: Elbasan - Berat

If you ride south from Elbasan to Berat you coss a rural landscape of little roads, often gravel, rolling hills and little villages. On your left you see the mountains that you will encounter when you reach Berat


The countryside between Elbasan and Berat is quite appealing because of the variety of landscapes. Small parcels with agriculture are combines with nature and lowlands and hilly parts.
In the distance you can see the dominating mountain east of Berat, the Partizan Summit with 2600m the highest peak in the western part of the country.

In the agricultural area around Lushne there are many sand- and gravelroads. Dust is an unavoidable problem when your riding bikes and try to stay away from the main roads. 
Traffic is very low in frequency but when they pass things can get hard.

In Albania agriculture is still handwork and animals play an important role. Transportation but also plowing is still based on real horsepower.

South of Seferan the land became sparsly inhabitant and the agriculure became lardeted with bush and forests, The road was hard to find and every crossroad another puzzle.
It took us several hours to ride the last 30 km to Berat and the only spectators were donkeys

The second of the three most beautiful towns of Albania is the town of the thousand windows, Berat,. In this view from a point on the rocky dirtroad to Gjirokaster you see the modern town in the front and in the bend of the river just a glance of the old ottoman town.

Early morning in the most beautiful town of Albania, Berat. Berat is build against a mountain on the riverside and the town is divided into a Christian part 'Gorica', an old ottoman part and a new part. High above is the castle in which a complete old town with churches and houses. 
On the pictutre you can see the ottoman city with its steep and narrow streets and its old ottoman houses with overhanging windows and the high end of the castle on the left upper side.

High above the city is the castle - citadel of Berat in which there are several monuments dating from the middle ages. Among them one mosque and 7 churches of wich the Shen Maryen (Saint Mary)is the most beauitiful one. It dates from the 11th century and is restaurated a few years ago.
Before the church you can see an old woman who collects herbs in front of the church and stores them in a plastic bag of the German supermarket 'Liddle'. The funny thing is that I saw those plastic bags all over Albania, but nowhere a supermarket of Liddle, in fact I never saw a supermarket at all.

The road from Berat to Gjirokaster through tghe mountains is scenic but rough. In fact it was too rough for one of us to complete the journey by mountainbike in the heat (36 degrees Celcius) of the day.
Here a view over the fields about 10 km south of Berat where the poppies colour the mountains red in a way Monet would have liked it.

On the steep and rocky gravelroad from Berat to Gjirokaster, just 6 km from Berat. There was no traffic on this old road that is hardly to ride even by 4WD or mountainbike.
You can walk along with a cow for example like tis woman.
Time stands still here in the Albanian mountains.

Because the road was heavy on its own and the temperature went up above 38 degrees, we did not ride the road to Gjirokaster but went back to Berat and from there to the coast to Vlorë


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