Leaving Ksamil we, in fact, headed just a little further south along the coast to one of the most important and largest archeological sites in Albania.
We sat outside for a predinner drink and snacks, but with winter coming and the clocks now forward it was getting dark and cold very quickly. It was so cold, I was in my tracksuit pants, hoodie and even my beanie! Wasn’t I swimming at the beach only a day or two ago?
The next morning we continued to Gjirokaster famous for its castle and well preserved Ottoman era town. At a small campsite about 2km from the centre we were greeted by the friendly owner, who assisted us with dumping our grey water and chemical toilet, having been free camping recently they were pretty full and getting a bit on the nose. We set up camp then wandered into town, stopping at a small hole in the wall bakery for a delicious meat filled filo pastry Byrek .
It is now a rather informative museum that not only tells its long history, it was still being used as a prison by the communists until 1968, but also houses a small military museum including canons, tanks and even American plane (that has 2 stories of how it got there, depending which side tells it).
She explained local customs of that era, especially in relation to men and women being segregated in the house, the newly wedded couple who get their own room until another family member gets married and how the house has summer and winter areas.
After the tour we zig zagged our way down to the bottom of the hill and the new town. We had seen a butcher on our way up the hill that had some great lamb chops and promised to come back to him before he closed at 3pm. We suddenly realised the time... it was 10 minutes to 3... so we ran! We got to the store and he had already closed - no way! It wasn’t 3pm yet! We called a phone number on the door, the owner answered and said he would be right down, he actually lived above the store. Unfortunately the chops he had on display were all sold out so after some sign language and google picks he happily carved 6 lovely chops from the whole carcass he had hanging behind him!
Over the road from the campsite was a local taverna specialising in lamb. We had seen the whole lamb slowly cooking on the spit as we headed into town, it was too hard to pass up for dinner. It was a great local restaurant, the waiter spoke a little English and was very keen for us to try several of the local foods. Obviously we knew we had ordered way too much food, but most of it would make good for leftovers! As it turned out we took away enough food for breakfast, lunch and part of dinner the next day! We ordered a spinach and egg pastry that was a side dish (also made a great breakfast); plate of the slow cooked lamb (leftovers used for lamb sandwiches at lunch); grilled mixed vegetables (leftovers in sandwiches and used for dinner); local sausages (leftovers for lunch and snacks) washed down with a carafe of house wine. The meal was so cheap and we got 3.5 meals out of it! Bonus. Waddled back across the road to bed.
We noticed a first floor window with a whole lot of loaves on its sill so I went up the stairs and greeted by an absolutely heavenly smell of baking bread and lovely Albanian Nona selling bread through a hatch in her door, Super cool! With a warm crusty loaf in our possession we were on our way but finding a nice location to eat it proved more difficult, by late afternoon we gave up and just stopped in a lay-by for lunch.
We camped that night in an NGO carpark / turned campsite on the edge of Korce. This company looks after homeless and those in crisis. They opened the grounds of their building to campers to get a bit of extra funding. We were happy with that. It was cheap and the money went to a good cause. The showers were hot and toilets were clean. Dinner that night were the fresh lamb chops we had bought in Gjirokaster.
Korce was an interesting town, not quaint, not classically picturesque but an eclectic mix of dilapidated communist era hosing, restored medieval neighborhoods and little to try hard modern glass and aluminum corporate buildings. It also had a couple of buildings by renowned architects Bolles & Wilson. It had a take us or leave us vibe that was nice.
In the local parks groups of older men gathered playing dominos or deep in debate and coffee shops were filled with young guys.. okay where are the females in this town!?
During our ambling we stumbled across a museum dedicated to the Photography of Gjon Mili, who was born in Korce. It was free to enter and the manager was super friendly and passionate about Mili, his photography and style. He was keen to share information about both the photographer and life in Korce and Albania. Many world famous photos were taken by this photographer. He was famous for his use of light and was the first photographer to explore strobe flash photography. He also took a pictures of Picasso using a method called “painting with light”, for a small price, you could try your hand at this style and have it printed. I gave it a go, keen to understand how it was done. It was pretty cool to be able to move about in front of the camera making light shapes but in the final print you aren’t blurred!
We drove for about an hour to the border following Lake Ohrid where people on the side of the road were waving fish at us, strange, I think they were trying to sell us the local trout!
We arrived at the border for North Macedonian, and, as we had done at about 10 borders so far, handed over all the required documentation - both passports, the car registration papers and the “green card” which is the insurance for the car showing coverage in European countries. The officer started to scrutinise the green paper and obviously he felt there was a problem. He took it to the officer inside the building and we were called for questioning. It appeared that there was a problem with the green card and the lady said we could not enter. She said it was not completed properly and we could not enter. Pete tried to explain we had already crossed many borders with it, and no issues. But she playing by the book and would not let us enter. She suggested we go around to the other side of the lake to the other border crossing where we could ‘purchase’ separate insurance.
As night fell we entered North Macedonia a little later than expected and headed to Ohrid...on lake Ohrid!