Throwback Thursday – City of Mirrors

I am thinking of warm sunny places as a wintry mix surrounds my home. Here is a post from August 2012 about volunteering in Albania in 2009.

City of Mirrors

I spent some time working at a hostel in Berat, Albania. Berat Backpackers is a fantastic little hostel, which I recommend you visit. If not the hostel, at least the website. There are some beautiful photos of the city and surrounding areas which will enhance this story for your imaginative pleasure.


I was volunteering at the hostel. I did some landscaping, cleaning, registering guests and a little shopping for the kitchen.

It was the end of the season, so the hostel was closing up. We helped board up doors and harvest some veggies from the garden and deplete the left overs from the kitchen.

The locals would come hang out with us in the evenings. We found some speakers and had dance parties every night. The bar was full at the beginning of the week. We did well at “depleting the leftovers.”

When the week started wrapping up, we went out to celebrate a successful season, though my friends and I had just arrived. We went to a local bar and had dinner. Then we stayed until 5 am drinking delicious wine that stained our teeth purple and dancing to whatever pop music the make-shift DJ put on.

The next afternoon, my travel companions and I decided to go for a walk through the city. As you can see from the pictures, it’s a gorgeous city with a lot of things to see: castles, mosques, orthodox churches, white washed houses with a wall of windows, cobblestone streets that only people and donkeys can pass.

As we strolled through the city, it was completely silent. We went during the afternoon call to prayer. I could hear it being sung from the speakers on top of the mosque. Our shoes clacked on the cobblestones, reminiscent of an old movie; the ominous clapping of shoes in a large corridor. Suspense.

But this was not suspenseful. It was peaceful. The birds welcomed and sang to us. The white walls seemed to warm as we approached. The flowers sitting in their pots turned their faces towards us to say, “Hello! So glad you came to visit!”

It was warm and sunny. The singing from the mosque came to a close, and people started appearing, smiling to us, asking us questions that we couldn’t understand. We visited the orthodox church. The doors were open and the sanctuary was empty. The carpet and pews were bright red like a rose. There were golden ropes guiding people where to sit and worship. Dried flowers sprinkled every ledge giving off the faintest hint of a garden aroma. The ceilings were high and intricately adorned mostly in gold. The crucifix looked down on us in mournful solemnity.

We stopped at a cafe for lunch. We had sandwiches and coffee. People came to talk to us. Some left because we couldn’t speak Albanian. Others wanted to practice their English with us. Most were friendly. Some were creepy.

Later that day, I sat on the patio at the hostel reading Dostoevsky’s The Idiot while smoking a pipe. I was enjoying the scenery that spilled out in front of me. We were on the side of a hill facing a small valley. There was another hill opposing us. The houses crawled up the side of that hill. Every wall was made of large windows (see photo above). The sun was setting behind me and the windows were singing her beauty. I was getting a little hungry. I leaned back in my chair and picked a pomegranate the size of my head. I cracked it open and thought, “I will never leave Albania.”

I truly believed, as I still do today, that I had found a magical world not of this planet.

Image credit: Johnny Ward

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