Our Bus took us to Ulcinej, I’d met a swede and a young canadian on the bus to Ulcinej who were also on their way to Tirane but had decided to stop along the way in Schoder. Schoder is a town just south of the Crna Gora/Albania border. its a decent sized city but the real attraction is an ancient fortress built up above the city. the fortress looks out over the plains and ruefully watches the city. in the past she was part of a great signal system which would warn Albania of impending attack.

From Ulcinej we found a taxi driver willing to drive us the hour and a half to Schoder for 20 Euro. split three ways we each payed 6.20Euro. Not bad for a private car and boarder crossing. we crossed the border and then headed to Schoder. our taxi driver dropped us off at the foot of the mountain at the top of which lay the attraction we’d come to see. Rozafa Castle. we paid our taxi driver and then wandered up the trash filled dirt streets to find the cobblestone path leading up to the ancient gates of the castle.

Albania is a country filled to the brim with natural beauty, but the quality of the life there is awful. the streets are crumbling and lined with garbage, there is no area not filled with plastic, paper and refuse. the amount of offal that is thrown into the environment is stunning. it is a tragedy. we marched up the slick cobblestone to Rozafa and entered through its great gates. we discovered that we had the castle to ourselves and took our time climbing the battlements, exploring the ruins and enjoying the beautiful clear view. as we wandered we discovered a small cafe set into the far corner of Rozafa and found one of its most amazing secrets. the owners of the cafe, dressed in traditional clothing offered to show us something amazing. our Swedish traveling companion had asked him if there was something special to see.

the young man lead us back through the kitchen of the cafe, and then down into one of the open courtyards of the castle proper. there we passed through a large chain link, reinforced fence, then past two guard dogs, and past a wooden fence. once in the open area of the courtyard he lead us back into the corner where there sat a thick rusted iron cage. then it caught our eyes. Inside the cage sat two big browns. to find two big brown bears sitting in a ruined castle courtyard in Albania… now thats a treat!

marveling at the curiosity and beauty of the bears, with healthy coats, no scars or damage to their noses – pawing at the cage, lifting themselves up to say hello.

stunned we returned to the cafe and enjoyed cool drinks reflecting on the experience we had just discovered. we marched back down the slick cobblestone and into the city. we were surrounded by children, one deaf, who guided us to the bus station and helped us flag a mini-bus for the four hour ride to Tirane.

We met an Albanian man, who’d never finished his education but knew decent english, although mostly slang, from working in England. he adopted us and five beers and a few hours later he lead us to a cafe where he again bought us a round. there we waited as his friend came and picked us up. we then wandered around the embassy district of Tirane searching for our hostel. we ended up leaving our new friends and wandering up the streets until we stumbled upon the hostel.

the hostel was wonderful, roomy and wedged between the Italian residence and another embassy. we sat around the bench talking and enjoying the time we had there and then retired for the night.

the next morning I made the decision to head to Gjirokastra and explore the city and its fortress before crossing the boarder on a night bus to Athens and stopping off in Ioannia.