Flashback Friday: European Sunsets

Flashback Friday is a picture series where we “flashback” to some of our memories – from either from our prior travel or from home. We hope you’ll enjoy some of our remembrances! 

We’ve been experiencing some nice sunsets here in Asia, so naturally, we remembered some of our other nice sunsets from the road. During our self-drive safari in Africa, we saw some amazing sunsets almost every night. We shared some of those in a flashback Friday post. We were in Africa for only 6 weeks and came up with 11 photos we just needed to share. We were in Europe for much longer and saw much fewer nice sunsets. However, there were 14 pictures we wanted to show you. Enjoy some awesome sunsets!

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“The greatest sunset in the world” in Zadar, Croatia

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A closer shot of the “greatest sunset in the world” in Zadar, Croatia

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Sunset over the Adriatic from the walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia

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Sunset over a mosque in Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina

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Berat, Albania

Pretty sunset

Tirana, Albania

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Delphi, Greece

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Nafplio, Greece

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Fethiye, Turkey

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This one was so good, we had to show you two! Fethiye, Turkey

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Selcuk, Turkey

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Kas, Turkey

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Pamukkale, Turkey

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Antalya, Turkey

Monthly Recap: Month 4

Wow! Month 4! The month was characterized by slower travels and more connections! We are also so pleased to announce that we have become first-time uncle and aunt this month. Congrats to Eric’s sister Suzanne on the birth of her beautiful baby girl, Sofia.

Here are our stats for this month.

Countries visited: 3 (Montenegro, Albania, and Greece)

Beds Slept In: 12

UNESCO Heritage Sights Visited: 7 (Historic Centres of Berat and Gjirokastra, Butrint, Meteora, Archaeological Site of Delphi, Archaeological Site of OlympiaArchaeological Site of Mystras, Archaeological Sites of Mycenae and Tiryns) Total on RTW: 30

We traveled by 0 planes this month!

We traveled by 0 trains this month!

We traveled by 20 long distance buses.

Top Moments:

~ Our first top moment came at the very beginning of the month! We had been looking forward to our visit to Kotor for a long time. We really enjoyed slowing down in Kotor at the end of last month and the beginning of this month. One of the best days we had there was when we climbed the fortress walls. It was an absolutely gorgeous day weather-wise. We waited until the late afternoon to miss the cruise ship crowds. We climbed up the mountain, enjoying amazing views, and even a sunset on the way down. It was lovely!

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~ Our second moment came in Berat, Albania. We knew almost nothing about Albania when we arrived (though learned a lot while we were there) so we didn’t know what to expect. We had heard that it was not really on the tourist track in Europe. We were so impressed with Berat! Our top moment came when we decided to take a tour of the city offered by the worker at our hostel. He was a native of Berat, and knew a ton about his city and the history of Albania. The tour was particularly personalized because there were only 4 of us. The other couple was an amazing pair of bikers from Belgium. The tour started at 10 am and after seeing the beautiful city of Berat, we sat down for Turkish coffee (tea for us) and then dinner with both our guide and the Belgian couple. It was a fantastic way to spend the day, full of everything we love about traveling – new friends from around the world and learning a lot about cultures we didn’t know much about!

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~ We mentioned above that this was a month where we made some really great connections. The first was our Belgian friends in Berat, the next was a couple of Americans from Washington state (and Idaho). There is almost nothing better than seeing another pair of travelers trying to make the same long travel day as you are. It helps with confidence, knowing that someone else is attempting the same trip, as well as company! It is even better when you find out that you have a lot in common and really enjoy chatting with each other. Our top moment was when we were able to visit the ancient site of Delphi with our new friends. Wow, we have to say, it is a wonderful experience to find another couple who enjoy reading Rick Steves (and other informational signs) as much as we do, and who enjoy talking popular culture, TV, and books (even the Wheel of Time series!!!) in the breaks. What luck! We had a great time!

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Runners up for Top Moments:

~ We already mentioned in this recap that we really enjoyed our time in Albania. Another example of this was our time at the archaeological site of Butrint. This was a wonderful place with a lot of history, but the best part was that we got to experience it practically on our own! We didn’t see any other tourists almost the whole day! What was even funnier was that when we got back to our hostel in Saranda, we found out that 4 other people from there had done it as well, separately, but it was big and empty enough that we didn’t even see each other. This is not to say we don’t enjoy company, but there is something special about experiencing an ancient city (and tourist attraction) without having to dodge the crowds.

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~ Our second runner up was in Meteora, Greece. We were pretty excited to finally reach Greece, which we had been looking forward to for a very long time. Della has dreamed of visiting Greece for as long as she can remember. Meteora did not disappoint. We walked among the monasteries taking in the unique, impressive scenery and imaging what it must be like to make your home on the top of vertical pillar, high above the world. It was especially good when we were able to escape from the tourist bus crowds.

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~ We had a wonderful time with our new friends in Delphi, Greece. One of the activities that we did with them was to take a walk from Delphi, down the mountain, through the olive groves, and to the coast. It is actually the reverse of what many pilgrims did in ancient times on their way up to hear their fortune from the Oracle. We had a magnificent day, with perfect weather. The scenery was shockingly beautiful and our company was grand. It was hard to beat!

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~ As some of you may already know, we celebrated 10 years of being together as a couple this last month. We couldn’t have picked a better locale. Delphi, Greece was absolutely beautiful. It is hard to imagine a better way to remember 10 great years with a person you love while overlooking one of the most fantastic sunsets you’ve ever seen!

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Items Missing, Broken, Discarded, or Added:

Discarded/Broken:

1. Simple Wine Opener

Added:

1. New toothpaste

2. More Complex Wine Opener

3. Butter knives

Packing Update:

We got to use our summer gear a bit this month which made us happy! We also have used our winter and rain gear, so we are glad we have it all. Della hasn’t used her dress since Budapest so is wondering if it is necessary. Eric is happy with all of his contents.

Books Read: (Have you read any of these??)

Della has read Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Eric has read The Persian Boy by Mary Renault, The Golden One by Elizabeth Peters, Black Ice by Lorene Cary, Making Money by Terry Pratchett, Crescent Dawn by Clive Cussler.

Eric and Della have BOTH read The Greek Treasure by Irving Stone and Hope of Earth by Piers Anthony.

Make sure to catch up on all our monthly recaps: Monthly Recap 1, Monthly Recap 2, Monthly Recap 3

Connections: Belgian Bikers!

Traveling is a wonderful way to meet people! Unfortunately, often those connections are strong but only fleeting. Connections is our tag to recognize and remember some of the wonderful people we meet.

We really enjoyed our time in Berat, Albania. We were able to meet and enjoy a lot of people from around the world. Not only did we meet an amazing Albanian tour guide/hostel worker, but we met another amazing traveling couple. This Belgian couple is traveling from Europe to Asia on bikes! Yes, that is correct, they are biking across the world! Amazing, right? Let’s just say that our trip felt positively cushy when thinking about theirs.

We met them during our tour of Berat and found we had a lot of similarities relating to our trip, age, and interests. We particularly enjoyed chatting about teaching (he works at a university to train teachers) and the differences between Belgium and the U.S. especially related to voting, politics, and other governmental systems.

One of the really fun things about meeting people on the road is being able to share experiences like this. We spent a wonderful day and fun evening with them in Albania. One of the really sad things about meeting people on the road is having to say goodbye knowing that it is unlikely that you will meet again. One of the slightly unusual things about this connection was that we didn’t have to say that goodbye right away. We knew that we were traveling the same directions, from Berat to Gjirokaster, and then on to Greece. They would be leaving ahead of us, though arriving behind us (they’re on bikes remember??) but we discovered we would be in Gjirokaster at the same time. We exchanged contact info and planned to meet up again. Unfortunately, our plans in Gjirokaster fell through. What a bummer! However, that made it all that much more fun when we realized a few days down the road that we would be in Meteora, Greece at the same time! We enjoyed another excellent evening with this excellent couple!

Now, it is hard to expect more than that, so we were especially thrilled when we saw the same couple (ever so) briefly in Delphi, Greece as well. After all of that, I hope we do manage to meet again some day!

Unfortunately, we failed and this was the only picture of us... Boo!

Unfortunately, we failed and this was the only picture of us… Boo!

Berat, Albania

Getting to Berat from Tirana was not as hard as we feared. Our hostel in Tirana gave us a map with information about where the minibuses (furgons) for Berat left. There is no main bus station in Tirana. The bad part was that the day we left was miserable and rainy. It was quite funny, actually, we moved slowly in the morning and were planning to leave right at the checkout time of 11. We were a few minutes late, pulled our bags on, and started to head out the door. At that moment, the sky opened up and it started pouring. We decided to stay in the hostel for awhile to miss the downpour. We waited for almost 2 hours… then decided to set out anyway. After a 30 min walk in the rain, we were pretty grouchy. But luckily, the furgon to Berat was not hard to find. We did have to wait for awhile, as the furgons don’t really leave until they are full. But we made it to Berat by late afternoon. We were lucky to have GPS and the google map preloaded on our phones because, again, we didn’t get dropped off where we expected and had to find our way to our hostel. Luckily, by then, the rain had stopped!

Where We Stayed

Ana’s Rest House – We had spent a long time deciding whether to stay at the highly rated backpacker’s hostel or Ana’s, which was right across the street. We are happy with our decision. The guesthouse was quite new and comfortable. The bed was large and lovely. We also lucked out with the new worker there. He was a native of Berat and was starting a burgeoning tour business. He was around all the time and we really enjoyed a lot of discussions with him from everything from books, to American politics, to Albanian history.

What We Did

We stayed in Berat for 4 days but feel like we didn’t do a ton.

Ethnographic Museum – This was similar to something we did in Mostar, Bosnia. It was an old, Ottoman style Albanian house which had a small museum dedicated to arts in crafts in the area. The upstairs was a preserved living area from Ottoman times. It was fun to see the plush carpets and couches. It was also interesting to see and learn about the hidden rooms that women stayed in when guests were present that had small screens so they could watch what the men were doing. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed inside the museum.

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The Ethnographic Museum from the outside

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The grounds of the museum

It was similar to some of what we saw in Mostar. The pictures below are from Mostar, not Berat.

 

Walking Tour – The worker at our hostel was starting a walking tour business. It was not free, but seemed like a reasonable price. It ended up being a tour with just us and one other couple from Belgium (who we really enjoyed meeting and chatting with). It was really nice to have such a small tour because it became very personalized. Both Della and the guy in the Belgium couple were teachers, so we asked if we could see a school. Our guide quickly took us in and chatted with the director and we were able to quickly visit a classroom. We chatted about a lot of different things, learned a lot about the history of Berat, and enjoyed walking through the medieval center, entering a mosque and a Sufi Tekke, and hiking up to the castle where people have been continuously living for thousands of years. Our guide then took us for traditional Turkish Coffee and to his favorite restaurant in Berat.

Some of the things that we were fascinated to learn were that Albania has a long history of religious tolerance and has really never had any violence related to religion at all. Our guide showed us many examples of people of different religions supporting the beliefs of others. Some examples were the Muslims of Berat sheltering hundreds of Jews during WWII and including Stars of David in their Mosques as a way to respect them. He also talked about how during communism, most churches were destroyed. Many mosques were left because, once the minaret was torn down, the building could be reused for something else. He talked about some of the communities of Muslims coming together after communism and helping raise money to assist the Christian or Orthodox communities in building new places of worship.

We also learned about how much Albanians love the USA. This was surprising given how many countries don’t love Americans. The Albanians love us!  We had first heard about this in Tirana but it was confirmed here. Our guide explained that it stems from Woodrow Wilson making sure that Albania stayed a country back at the beginning of the 1900s and was confirmed with the US assistance in Kosovo and President George W. Bush’s visit earlier this century.

 

Visiting a School – Once our guide/hostel worker found out that Della was a teacher he expressed his deep interest in teaching as well. He also was adamant that Della have a chance to see Albanian schools in action. Not knowing what to expect, we said that might be cool. He called a friend, a Peace Corps volunteer from Maryland, who worked in an alternative high school in Berat. This opened the door for us to spend the morning with the Peach Corps volunteer discussing his job and then an hour in his classroom where he works with a partner Albanian teacher to teach English to the students, the equivalent of seniors in the US. It was a unique experience that we quite enjoyed. We felt quite bad thinking that the school went out of their way for us. We found out that even though they are about a month into their school year, they are still working on getting their schedule in order, due to shifting teachers, who may or may not work at other locations in the area at the same time. So, the schedule for any given day comes out the prior day and can shift at the last minute. For this reason, our Peace Corps volunteer explained, the class we saw was not completely typical. There were about 20-25 students crammed into a small room and the class was a bit shorter than expected. There were things that were different that Della sees at home and a lot of things the same. Mainly, the room was very small and there was no technology. We also were told that the books hadn’t come in yet, so only a few students had them. We found out later that the class was combined so was twice as big as normal. We were really fortunate to be able to experience this!

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A hallway decoration

Where We Ate

Hotel Mangalemi – This very pleasant restaurant is attached to a Hotel. We liked it so much we went back twice. The second time we were able to sit on a lovely patio. The excitement of the evening came when a man and his two grandkids (??) came up to the patio where we were eating and proceeded to shoot off several fireworks, just for fun as far as we could tell.

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Final Thoughts

We really enjoyed our time in Berat, in large part to the excellent connections we made. We were so fortunate to meet several other travelers while we there that we really enjoyed chatting and hanging out with. We were even luckier to be able to connect with our hostel worker, who was an Albanian native who loved to talk. We hung out with people every day and almost every evening, learning a lot, and enjoying the ambiance. We even were able to hangout with the travelers who were staying at the backpackers across the road as well. Berat was a charming town with some beautiful scenery, but what made us love it was the people we met.