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July 10, 2002

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Our schedule demands that we leave Albania today, but we’re sorry to go. We didn’t expect much and what we expected turned out to be wrong. Albania doesn’t feel war-torn. People act friendly towards strangers without staring or being too inquisitive. Several times people approached us just to say hi. It's the most liberal Muslim country we’ve encountered, maybe because Communism erased the Muslim tradition for generations. Women wear tank tops and tight pants instead of veils or head-coverings. Our hotel proprietor says he grew up without going to mosque. Now he’s a believer but he still doesn’t practice Islam actively. In short, Albania feels more like a quiet corner of Italy than the Middle East.
Gjirokastra's postcard shows this corner house, a good example of fancy architecture in the countryside.
Surprisingly, Albanian accommodation has been grand. For $20 we stayed at a house furnished with intricate carvings on the ceilings and walls.
Gjirokastra is a 'museum' town, once prosperous from a silk and cheese traderoute. Stone and wood tower houses perch on the hillside.