We left Podgorica in the morning via bus. The trip was supposed to take 4 hours. Instead it took nearly seven, and for no specific reason other than traffic. traffic out in the middle of the countryside, traffic at a traffic circle, traffic into town. The whole route into Tirana from Podgorica is on what seems to be a local highway that the whole country uses to get North and South. There is no autostrada. Furthermore, the bus has to take the same route even if there’s a shorter path. to add insult to injury, Max said he had to pee before we even left the bus station. I had to run out the door with him to let him pee on a tire right before we left.
This just goes to say that travel days are hard. We made it into Tirana and quickly caught a cab to the airport to get our rental car. Albanian cash exchange does not take Bosnian currency, by the way.
We packed our things into our next vehicle and drove another two hours to our final destination that day, the town of Roshnik I Vogel, outside of Berat. The drive was scenic, and we kept getting glimpses of a lonely mountain sticking up in the distance. our route took us on quite small roads, with us passing the occasional donkey pulling a cart.
We got in close to 7, unloaded the car, and put the kids to bed. our destination was Alpeta winery, a charming little winery with restaurant tucked at the end of the road in town. Sara got a salad to supplement our relatively sparse “car dinner”, and we were pleasantly surprised at how lovely it was. we split a pitcher of their house wine and sat on the porch until bed. there was an engagement party going on, and I caught a glimpse of some traditional dancing under the arbor beneath the restaurant.
The next day was a school day. The kids worked in their journals on the deck and then moved to the terrace. We read outside all morning. We had breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the winery, all lovely. Before dinner I took the boys on a hike, where we found wild berries, a pair of tortoises, walnut trees, wild cherries… and some great views.
We visited Berat on Tuesday. We parked and walked into town, grabbed a coffee in a cafe overlooking the park, and hiked up to the castle at the top of the hill. There views were great. There are the ruins of a mosque as well as an underground cistern, which looked like a chapel buried underground at the top of the hill and filled with water. Extraordinary! We had lunch up at the top and then hiked down a very sketchy, slippery path to the old town at the bottom. in search of gelato, we crossed two old bridges and toured both banks of the river. After ice cream we drove back to the winery, seemed the kids dinner and stayed for the wine tour, letting the kids stay in the room by themselves. It was worth it; we met some fun people and had some adult fun that has been rare on our trip.
The next day we hit the books early and hard. The reward after lunch was a hike with me, Ben, and Sam. We tried to follow a local trail but just ended up walking along the road, going above a nearby town that offered views of the winery and Tomorri mountain, the subject of most of my outdoor scenery photos.
Nature was on display during our hike. we saw three frogs, a jumping stick bug, a water snake, I caught a glimpse of a fox darting into the brush, and the kids found two more tortoises.
On our way back down the hill, am older man flagged use down on the road as he came out of his field carrying an armful of grapes. he thrust then at me, telling me in so much Albanian to give them to my kids. I tried to give them each a grape and he said no, and gave me the whole armful. We said thank you as he walked back to his field. We are grapes the rest of the way home.
This experience turned out to be quite typical during our time in Albania. The people are so friendly, giving, and joyful, especially around our kids. The servers would play with our kids in the restaurant or come over just to tousle their hair. The folks at the winery gave and got so many hugs from the kids, and clearly enjoyed them. Sam got a couple wasp stings and was surrounded by adults wanting to hold him, help, or comfort him.
On our last morning at the winery the kids were invited to pick tomatoes with one of the farm workers.