Day 12 - Tue 29 Sept 09
Up at 05:00 to contend with a flood in the Grand Hotel's bathroom - it seems that the sink tap leaks and that floods the floor. Checkout of the hotel and walk around the corner to find the bus ready and waiting. The most surreal thing was watching the drivers mate and some other bloke load two double mattresses onto the bus. Not into the luggage area underneath, no into the passenger area. They wedge them into the back row. This is obviously the first class section of the bus.
The bus leaves on the dot of 06:00 and it starts to climb almost as soon as it leaves town. It spends the next five hours going up and down mountain passes on a road with hairpin turn after hair pin turn. The highest pass is 1500m. This trip is classed as one of the "world's best bus rides". I wasn't aware of that category, but the trip is no for the faint of heart. You need a strong stomach to cope with motion sickness.
At the start of the journey I do feel a bit dodgy, but that might due to the early start. Towards the end I even managed 40 winks. The trip costs 1000lek about ten times what a 'normal' bus trip costs.
Arrive in Gjirokastra and walk up the steep hill to the hotel that we'd booked on the Internet last night. Bad news - all the rooms in the hotel are taken - however they have rooms at a nearby home. In fact it's the owners grandmother's house, and it's a great old wooden house, with fab views over the town and castle. We get a full guided tour of the house, and head out to see the castle.
Rehearsals for the last night of the folk festival are taking place, so we sit around watching that for a bit before heading back into town to find a real Albanian restaurant - and the food is excellent! Then it was back to Grandmothers to chill out, have a shower, and chat. Oh when we were walking out of the castle we bumped into the Japanese tour group!
Out at 18:30 to see the Folk Festival proper which was packed with people. Ended up in the same restaurant for a evening meal, then it was back up the hill to see the firework display.