The Garden of Eden

Mehran and I were curious to try one of the few activities Gjirokastra offers to tourists. I told you the big problem of Gjirokastra are that there is nothing to do here for more than max one or two days. It is very important that they expand their tourist products if they want to attract more people here.
We knew nothing of this horseback riding business but when we did our interview with Denisa at the tourism service she said she knew someone, who knew someone that owned horses.

Mehran got a number and we book ourselves on a two days horseback riding adventure. I am not a horse person at all – a bit scared of horses actually. But what do you not do for science? We want to see what tourists can do here so on an adventure we went! And what an adventure! Best nature tour I’ve ever been to!

First we met Kristina and Illir for a coffee in town where we talked about the itinerary. Then they took us up to the beautiful landscape of Antigonea where we walked around with Kristina, our guide for the first day. Meanwhile Illir prepared our horses and then drove our things to the first. kristina told us a lot of interesting things about the park we haven’t heard before – things the posters there don’t tell you. Kristina has worked on BBC and was thus a perfect guide.

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An old measuring stone and pillars on Antigonea

We met with the horses. I was given a brown one called Baby – supposedly he’s so calm. But he was so calm I ended up way behind the others. So then I got Nelson instead. A black beauty with a blind eye. We fit together perfectly.

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It’s hard to write about this trip because my words can’t make it justice. It was a meditative stillness amongst the mountain sitting on the horse slowly rocking from side to side. The flowers bright yellow, blue, purple, white in contrast with the fresh green. The sound of the wind through the mountains and the swish of the horses’ tail chasing flies. The bumble bees buzzing around. The smell of flowers and fresh grass. The suns warmth on the skin and the coolness of shade. The taste of the mountain water – how do you describe such things in words?

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We stopped in a mountain village to visit an old couple. Old dancers. They showed us photos of their youth years and how it was to live in Albnia during the communism years. We were given honey from the mountains and walnuts to dip in it. This was served with raki and fresh made cheese. The honey in Albania tastes only flowers. It is also something you simply can travel here for.
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The day continued. We stopped for a picnic in an old church. Almost collapsing. There are so many really old monuments in Albania that nobody knows about or simply know what to do with them. No researcher comes here, not even the Gjirokastra people have been here. People don’t know about Albania – it is a hidden treasure, a treasure that needs help! Attention, research and restoration otherwise it will be lost in a few years time.

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In the evening we stopped in paradise. I say so because this is the best place on earth. I have travelled around the world but never found anything so peaceful and close to our roots. The Garden of Eden.

Here we were greeted by Ati and Julia. A retired artist couple from Tirana who bought a piece of land and built a home and guesthouse. Its organically build to shape after the nature and it was nestled here like a secret garden. Here we rested our minds and took a timeout from everything. Truly detoxifying.
We were served food only from the surroundings. Bread, cheese, fresh butter! Fresh butter is white and taste like heaven! Chicken, rice balls, salad from the garden, eggs, sugar peas, yoghurt, spinach.
Julia taught me how to make Byrek. A pastry with layered thin pieces of bread with a filling of feta, egg, olive oil and spinach

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In the morning we had breakfast in the garden. Tea made from oregano and mountain herb picked by Julia. The bread, butter and cheese made by here – same with the marmalade. The mixture of sweet and salty enough to make you cry.

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We left with heavy hearts

Next day we travelled to the oldest church in Albania from 545 AD. The tower is tilting and they think it will soon collapse. An architect has been here to calculate when it will. Even though it’s an important record of the human history nobody cares. The international attention is non-existent. It’s really sad. What can we say other then: please come here and help! Bring carpenters or restoration students!

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From there we made our way back to Gjirokastra – The tour ended way too quickly and I already have planes to come back to my little garden of Eden!

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