Monday, October 14, 2013

ALBANIA: "LOWER" BERAT

After spending several hours in Berat's lonely castle (which really isn't a castle but more of an enclosed city), our guide Elton took us to other parts of the city.

But first we had to become acquainted with a few friendly local residents:



(I think these are the lawnmowers of Berat.)


Our first stop was an Islamic madrasa, or a place where Muslims go for religious training. This one, the Halveti Tekke, was built during the Ottoman rule, probably in the 15th century, and rebuilt in 1782.



The Helvati Tekke has one large room with simple wooden floors and plain walls. Our eyes were naturally drawn upward by the unusual ceiling, so heavy with ornamentation in contrast to the rest of the room.





Like a mosque, there is a mihrab or ornamental niche in front of which men line up to pray (picture on left). The red door on the right is one of two entrances:


There is also a balcony on one end. While women were not commonly allowed to study here, they could sometimes listen in on the lectures and discussions from the balcony:

Back outside, we ran into this neighborhood basketball court. I was surprised to learn that Albania has twelve professional basketball teams and the oldest league in the Balkans. Basketball is second only to soccer in popularity in Albania.
Elton pointed out these two stone designs in one of the main sidewalks, one the tool of self-improvement and the other the tools of survival:

A seven- or eight-foot-tall blow-up Coca-Cola bottle is better advertising than a billboard by a long shot. I confess I suddenly had a Coke Craving.
We crossed two foot bridges that unite the two halves of Berat. (There is a third bridge for motor traffic.) The first was a modern suspension bridge:
The houses behind us are the historic Mangalem district of the city that has given Berat the nickname of "The City of One Thousand Windows." They are built in a pyramid formation at the base of the huge rock on which the castle is stands. In 2008, this region was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The second bridge we crossed was the 423-foot-long Gorica Bridge, originally built from wood in 1780 but rebuilt from stone in the 1920s. Gorica, which means "small hill," is the name of neighborhood on the other side of the river from the castle.There is a local legend that the original wooden bridge had a dungeon where a girl was kept to appease the evil spirits that might threaten the bridge.


We had a good view of the One Thousand Windows from the Gorica Bridge. It is a haunting sight, all those windows with their blank stares.
Our feet followed our gaze to the narrow cobblestoned alleys of the Mangalem neighborhood for a bit of exploration:


Most of the Mangalem neighborhood is very, very old, but there are definite signs of modernity overhead:

Doesn't this look like a tourist destination?
How about this little Byzantine chapel balancing precariously on a rocky ledge? In the United States, there would be a gondola ride to its front door for tourists. (Thank goodness the Albanians haven't put one in.)
A view of the castle/citadel from down below:
We said good-bye to Elton, but not before he suggested a place where we could have a good traditional dinner: Restorani Mangalemi. We had not eaten since having left Ohrid, which by this time seemed like DAYS ago.
The restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating, and we chose the outdoor, which was actually the roof. Again, we were the only people there for much of our meal, even though the place was immaculately clean, had waiters that knew a just enough English, and had menus in English. It's a tourist mecca, I'm telling you!

The view from our rooftop seats was quite lovely:
Bob ordered mish quegji i pjekur, or baked lamb:
I had tave kosi, a tradition dish of lamb baked in yogurt and egg:
It was all very good, especially in contrast to the second dish Bob ordered: kakorec, or seasoned, skewered lamb intestines. I had a bite, and let me just say that it was bit too adventurous for my taste buds.
Thankfully, we had an amazing, memorable, delectable dessert with which to cleanse our palates: kataifi. This Greek dessert is made by wrapping very fine threads of pastry around a nut center. It is baked, then soaked in a honey syrup.The taste is somewhat like baklava, but the crispy pastry strands elevate this dessert to a higher level.  It would not be out of place on any gourmet restaurant's menu. I sincerely hope to run into some kataifi again someday.

Next: Lost in Albania Redux

3 comments:

  1. The lamb intestines were one of my favorite meals on the trip as they were traditional, something we don't find in the U.S., and they were actually quite good. And I agree with you on the dessert, it was great.

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  2. I love the stone in these places: stone walls, stone pavement, stone houses, stone building.

    How can a place that serves intestines have such a wonderful looking dessert???

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  3. (love the above comment--agree!)

    The stone walkways were interesting, and to see the goats, and the lonely city drives home the point that you are not in Kansas, anymore. But what a lovely place to explore. I'd love to try that desert, but nix to the strange tubular organs on the plate. I'm sorry, Bob, but they even LOOK gross.

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