Sunday, December 20, 2009

Berat vs. Gjirokastër

There are two UNESCO World Heritage cities in the whole of Albania: the charming Berat, (where I live) and a place in the deep south known as Gjirokaster (GK). I frequently hear the locations being compared and contrasted, so when I discovered the “once every four years Folk Music Festival” was being held in GK at the end of September, three words came to mind: Count.Me.IN!

The day finally arrived and it was not a pretty one. Here is a summary of the unfortunate events:

1) As I lugged my baggage to the center of the city, I discovered I forgot my wallet. I had 5 minutes before the bus left and 20 minutes round trip to my house. I took a TAXI to my house, grabbed my wallet, had a friend buy me breakfast and also hold up the bus for me.

2) After stopping for gas, all I could smell inside the bus was gas fumes. Fumes + carsickness = vomiting (Good thing the buses are always loaded with plastic bags specifically for this reason…no joke, they are stocked like a supermarket!)

3) While taking a break from the 5-hour journey I discover gas splattered all down the side of the bus and dripping out of the tank. The driver stares at it, shrugs his shoulders, and tells everyone to board the bus. I choose to lie down in the back and try to sleep. Once peacefully sleeping, the driver decides to slam on the breaks, the row of seats I’m on top of decide to all tip up, and I am thrust not only OFF the seats to the ground but I continue to fall down into the back stairwell feet over shoulders, skirt over head. NOT ONE OF MY 5 FRIENDS TURNED TO LOOK. Only one Albania lady saw and helped me up, then asked what happened. When I answered she interrupted me to say: “drink water or something, your voice sounds weird like you just woke up.” Well, duh, not only did I wake, I was RUDELY awoken and thrown onto my head. This incident left me with some severe arm & leg bruising.

4) Once in the GK, we hiked up a mountain just to get to a restaurant where I decided to splurge on lasagna. The restaurant however replaced noodles with slices of hard-boiled eggs and I’d have to get them a zero on the food. I should have assumed: they had menus made out of wood and advertised for an appetizer called “bags filled with cheesy creams.” (SEE PIC)

Luckily, this is where the unfortunate events ended. I spent the next two days enjoying the Folk Musical Festival. It was held in the GK castle, which was simply stunning and very well preserved (though I AM biased to Berati’s older castle). Folk groups came in from all over Albania for a 5-day show. Most groups showcased traditional dancing, singing, and musical instruments. My favorite, however, was one showcasing acting skills and a group of older men. They had big fur coats, muskets, and at one point they were doing forward rolls across the fur and getting spanked halfway through the roll. It was extremely dramatic and wildly entertaining. I live for the cultural event here in Albania, and had a great second half of the weekend in the rivaling town of Gjirokaster, but in the end, Berat is still number one in my heart.

The castle from below

FFK 2009

Performers from Kukes

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