The Balkans – Berat, Albania and Crossing into Macedonia

Berat in Albania is known as the city of a thousand windows. I didn’t want to head upwards to Tirana since it was a little out of my way (on the map, that is) towards Macedonia and I like the idea of visiting a well-preserved Ottoman city. 

Unlike Sarande and Gjirokaster, Berat was much more touristy and yet, somehow more serene. Perhaps it’s the stretch of river that cuts through the city, breaking up the stony, grim landscape, whatever the case, it felt much more peaceful wandering the streets even after sunset.

Berat was the first Albanian destination I actually saw busloads of tourists at the landmarks although it seems that much of the city isn’t open for tourists either. I had been searching for a post office over the last days and for some reason, every single one that I’ve been to don’t offer postage services but deal with bills and government work. There was supposedly a pretty good restaurant by the river but that too is closed.

My purpose in Berat was as a quick detour before heading into Macedonia through Ohrid. There’s a surprisingly modern (but empty) bus station a walk away and not entirely clear directions how to get to Ohrid. I was told to get to Elbasan where there should be some transport options.

One of the sights you’ll notice as you travel through Albania are the scores of bunkers that litter the hills and mountains. There are apparently upwards of 170,000 of them in Albania in various states of disrepair, built during the communism days.


Image from Wikipedia

The day I left happened to be the rainiest and coldest day ever. The furgon stopped me in the middle of the streets in Elbasan – a little unexpected since I was expecting some semblance of a bus station. No one on the streets had any idea how to get past the border and after asking around in the pouring rain, I met a nice lady who offered to walk me to the bus station and figure things out.

As luck would have it, there’s no buses and I could take a furgon further out towards the border but there’s no guarantee there’d be onwards transport since it would be late in the afternoon when I arrive. She found me a cab driver who’d take me all the way to Ohrid for 30 Euros and since it was raining buckets and I was feeling quite bad that she was getting wet with me, I took it.

Best decision ever.

By the time the cab pulled in by the border patrol, it was snowing. Immigration seemed to understand why I didn’t have a passport stamp for entry and didn’t bother about stamping my passport either on my way out. In Macedonia, I made sure to get a stamp since I was to head out to Kosovo from there and I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t have trouble. I’ve read somewhere that cabs are a little dodgy in Albania but since the locals didn’t have any reservations asking me to board one, I figured it wasn’t as bad as is broadcast. My driver was nice, but quiet since he didn’t speak any English. I passed him what’s left of my Albanian Lekes and he seemed pretty happy with it and I really couldn’t be happier about a warm ride to my destination.