Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hot water - Berat

Posted by Hippo Bean at 9:59 PM
And suddenly the people were more friendly and smiled. In Bulgaria, I havent gotten a single smile not even from the hotel staff. First stop in Albania was the Adriatic. We stopped at a beach front cafe near Durres. The weather was warm and the salty smell of the sea inviting. The buildings were painted in bright colors. Tired of soviet grey and depressing apartment blocks, with finally freedom, the Albanians went wild painting their buildings. First thing we noticed was the garbage everywhere; plastic bottles and bags just dumped on the side of the road. First thing we visited in Albania was the fortress in Berat. The cobblestoned walkway up to the fortress gate was truly European and the walls and stones were white. The view from the fortress was spectacular. We could see both the Tomori and the Shpirag mountains, and the city of Berat nestled between them. Legend said the Tomorr mountain was originally a giant, who fought with another giant, called Shpirag over a young woman. They killed each other and the girl cried and her tears became the Osum river which forever separated the 2 suitors. Later we visited the Leaden Mosque (made of iron and copper), the King's Mosque and the modern St Dimitri Orthodox church which had Turkish design, all in the center of town, across from our hotel. The hotel room was bare, no TV and no hot water. So I resigned to another showerless day. But from my hotel room I could see Mtn Tomorri. Later after a sumptuous dinner of Mediterranean salad, pizza and lamb, I've tried the water again because Gert said there was something wrong with the water and we should have water later the evening. I wasnt entirely convinced. Thought he said it as an excuse for his country. But after letting the water run for over 5 minutes, it finally got hot enough for a shower and to wash my hair. It's nice to feel clean again. Little thing we took for granted.

The village was illuminated at night and couples came out for their Sunday night strolls. The bridge over the Ossum river was lite up and so were the houses on the other bank, the houses with lots of windows, giving Berat the name of 'the city of a thousand windows'.

While waiting for the rest of the group for dinner, rock music blasted from across the street from the hotel while suddenly the call for prayer also began from the mosque minaret. Nobody seemed to pay much attention to either. This was simply wild! Albania was known for religious tolerance but I've never thought rock music and Moslem prayer could go side by side.

Today at the Onufri castle museum the curator pointed out that the Madonna and Child icon (all Orthodox churches had an icon of Madonna and Child on the left of the iconostasis - wall of icons that separates the nave from the sanctuary) had baby Jesus on Mary's right arm instead of left. Baby Jesus was always on Mary's left arm as a standard in Eastern Orthodox churches. I've never noticed this before. There's a painting of the Last Supper depicting Jesus and the Apostles sitting around a low round table with utensils and cups showing Turkish influence. This is what I like about Albania. A blend of cultures and religion. Tolerance and peaceful cohabitation.

I walked everywhere on my own. Men were always sitting drinking and smoking in the cafes. No women out except in pairs. People (men) stared at me. I wondered if it's because they seldom saw Asians or because I was a female and out without a chaperone. Maybe both. But I didnt mind. They didnt bother me. I was used to being stared at. Later Gert said in provinces women didnt go out by themselves unaccompanied. He even joked about the women being locked at home watching soap. It's not because of religion or the way women were regarded. It's just tradition. Big cities like Durres and Tirana would be different. But I walked alone and felt safe.




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