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Berat Backpacker Hostel Day Tour

Posted by | Evil Kristos | June 30, 2011 | No Comments

Alright; I don’t normally write reviews but then I don’t normally go on organised day trips. For once I made an exception. It is simply impossible to do this on your own for that price and especially in just one day.

The tour program is ambitious; monastery, bunkers, Apollonia (a ancient Greek site), lunch at the beach, more bunkers and a wine tasting. Sounds fun though!

We took off at 9 AM. Most of us were still a bit … lets call it slow. We had a dedicated taxi for the day. A van. Not too bad. Since we all assumed it would take some time we snoozed off for a bit. Well, I certainly did. The first stop was the monastery.

The setting was beautiful. Apparently it only survived the communists because the great Albanian hero Skanderbeg was baptized here or married. I can’t remember. The monastery as such was pretty and the church impressive. The frescoes in there are in almost perfect shape. You don’t see this very often. One of the guys from the hostel spoke some Greek so he chatted with the monk. He explained a few things but quite frankly I forgot what it was. I guess it had to do with the frescoes.

The English guy, who spook Greek was quite astonishing. He was in Greece some 20 years ago and still remembered it well enough for a conversation. He also picked up some Albanian on the way. You don’t meet English guys with that talent very often.

If there is one think I would say about the monastery; its not what would you would call tranquil. There is only two monks living there but they keep themselves busy. I assume they got some help. Since one of the monks was chatting with us I’d consider it outright impossible that the other monk did all the shouting and working the chainsaw by himself. It wasn’t exactly quiet. Still, we all liked it. Time for a Raki!

The next stop was a bit of surprise. We suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere. Albanian country side! What’s to see there you might ask? Simple answer: Bunkers.

These bunkers are literally everywhere. The former dictator (Enver Hoxha) had this vision that Albania should never be invaded again. So instead of building something useful, like roads or houses, he started a bunker building program and he used all available resources for THAT.

The idea apparently was that in case of an invasion the residents could go into the bunkers and start defending the country. They even had some sort of bunker duty once a year.

So there we were; in the middle of the Albanian country side looking at bunkers built by a mad man. Sounds fun? Actually, it was.

The biggest of the bunkers was occupied by an old couple. They had loads of little chicken and even a donkey. That’s pretty much what you want to see in Albania. Very picturesque. The old woman was a bit of a nutter. When she heard we brought Raki she went ballistic. Dancing and playing drunk; Raki, Raki, Raki. What a sight. We all cracked up laughing. And since we are polite people, we had a Raki with them. That was certainly fun.

Berat Hostel Tour - At one of the bunkers

Berat Hostel Tour - At one of the bunkers

Our next stop was the archaeological site. It looked alright on the pictures. I didn’t know we would have a guided tour. I’m not a big fan of tours around digs. I have been to quiet a few in my days and from my experience nine out of ten guides talk shite and bore you to death. Our guide certainly made an effort but a) his English was rubbish, b) we ain’t no tourists pretending we care and c) he sounded like he did this for the first time. He wasn’t exactly a story teller. The tour was a bit too long as well. There is little to see in Appolonia, since most of the site hasn’t been excavated yet. To show the old theatre – a hill side – just to tell us that all the stones had been used to build the church next door … put it this way, he could have skipped that part.

Berat Hostel Tour - Apollonia

Berat Hostel Tour - Apollonia

The former acropolis is now a bunker. There is a garage to fit a tank. It is connected to the residential quarters and the other parts of the fortification by tunnels. It’s quite a depressing site. When you see how much effort was put into this you really start wondering. I mean, who would invade Albania in the first place? There is nothing to gain!

The church next door was … well a church and the museum had little to offer either. It looked pretty though. The French have a hand for creating pretty digs. I have been invited to a couple of them when I still studied archaeology and I got the impression that French archaeologists are being looked after. Fair play to them.

Right, so the archaeological site was alright but not much more. Next stop: Lunch at the beach. I was kind of looking forward to this. The beaches I had seen so far were rubbish but then all of the beaches I’ve seen so far were in Croatia. We were pretty close to the Greek border and there certainly are some serious beaches in Greece. So why not Albania?

It turned out the beach was indeed alright. It was pretty much deserted except for a few shacks; and an awful lot of rubbish flying around but that’s Albania. Other than that no complaints. If they’d clean it up it would be a fine beach.

Berat Hostel Tour - The Beach

Berat Hostel Tour - The Beach

The restaurant was basically a van with a terrace and some chairs in front of it. The food was amazing though. I still can’t believe what they managed there. It even stayed in which was a first for the local Albanian cuisine. Delightful!

We all enjoyed sitting at the beach. Some of us began to realize that sunscreen would have been a wise choice. To late for that so on we moved on.

On our way to the next stop we drove through an Albanian oil field. We were all quiet stunned that Albania has oil. From what we heard the oil field is quite considerable. It looked a bit 1960ies. Most of the pumps were rusty and looked abandoned. The air was thick with the smell of oil. Despite the riches and all the tucks that naturally come here to load the oil they never bothered to do the road. It was in a shameful condition. And another thing I don’t get;who calls an oil company Kastrati? Couldn’t they think of something more … hell I don’t know. I just think it’s an odd name.

The next set of bunkers again was in a beautiful location. These were pretty massive and we explored the tunnels. They were full of bats. I assume they weren’t too happy that we just walked through there bed room. It was fun! I cannot imagine how you would feels in such confined space if you were afraid of bats. Paranoia I guess. Time for another Raki.

That left the wine tasting and again we were up for a surprise. The place was simply astonishing. It looked nothing like Albania, it looked like somebody put a lot of effort and money into that place. And the wine was delicious. I don’t think I ever had Albanian wine before, I’m no expert for wine to begin with, but what we tasted there was seriously good. We all gave it a go and kept sampling wine until we were told to leave. We could have stayed.

Berat Hostel Tour - Wine Tasting

Berat Hostel Tour - Wine Tasting

We bought a couple of bottles and took off. A long but immensely pleasurable day lay behind us. We finished it by having a little party in the hostel. By all means a perfect day.

The only bad news; the scrap yard where they keep the old MIG fighter planes is now closed for the public. Nobody knows exactly why – personally, I blame Top Gear who made it famous – but it could have to do with Albania joining the NATO. A crying shame. I would have loved to see that. In fact, I would have paid to see that site.

It didn’t sound like much when Scotty first asked us if we want to join in but quite frankly, it was worth it. I haven’t been on an organised tour in ages but I certainly enjoyed it. My personal highlight of the day; the old dotty dancing on the road singing Raki, Raki. Should you ever get to Berat, make sure to join the tour! And bring Raki!


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