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GJIROKASTER (1995) 11111.I spent the day in travel and made good connections for the most part.x I caught the 8:45 bus leaving Kalambaka, Greece, fifteen minutes early. It was a four hour bouncy, curvy, slow ride through the mountains to Oianina (Ya nee' nee). When we finally arrived, everyone piled off the bus to get tickets to Ignauminitis. I did too. It didn't do a lot of good to ask questions. Nobody spoke English. I just bought my ticket and headed in what I hoped was the right direction -- two hours down the road -- to a coastal town was near the border of Greece and Albania. When I asked for a ticket to Albania (only saying that one key word), they said I must first go to Oianina. I just came from there! I bounced back for a couple of hours.

In Oianina, again, I purchased a ticket to Kakabia. Nobody seemed able to tell me if it was a town in Greece or Albania. It wasn't on my Greek map. As it turned out, it was only a border crossing station in the middle of nowhere. No hotels. No restaurants. Only a border crossing station. 

Someone spoke English and said the closet hotel was in Gjirokaster, 30 kilometers away. A taxi driver took me to a bed and breakfast run by the Kotoni family. Their home was a two hundred year old building that overlooked the old town. The walls were a meter thick. The family exuded Albanian warmth and hospitality. And the food! Way too much and so good! Good food, great hosts, beautiful scenery, and the mosque sounded the call to prayer. I decided right away that I would stay an extra day in Gjirokaster.


Haxhi Kotoni worked as a barber in the center of the old town. I teased him that one day he would slice someone's throat or cut off way too much of a customer's hair. He cut hair with one eye and watched for tourists -- potential house guests -- with the other.

Julianna, the daughter, took me on a tour to the castle on the hill with lots of passages and cannons. We joked how it would be nice to hail a cab home. The curator said the only taxis in Albania were donkeys. (There actually were more donkeys in use than cars.) 

It's better to stay too short than too long, but my stay with the Kotoni family was way too short. And, my bus for Tirana left at 6:30 in the morning.  I told Vita that it was too early for breakfast.  Still, she woke me and gave me the strongest coffee I'd ever had. Okay, so I was awake. Then, she hugged me and waited on the balcony as I walked through town.  I knew she'd still be there as I crossed over the hill in the center of the old town. She waved.

But, once is not enough, and I finally went back to Gjirokaster.


Copyright 1995 and 2009 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.