You asked me to write you and tell you what I thought of Berat. You meant for me to write when I arrived, to share my first impressions. You told me what a great town it is, how much you enjoyed walking the main streets lined with cafes as is so typical in the Balkans. You told me the fortress is well worth the hike and showed me a delicate hand embroidered handkerchief you’d purchased from a sweet lady. You loved that handkerchief and even told me how to find her shop, “Take a left when you enter the fortress’s gates. You’ll see mountains to one side, and she’ll be on your right.”
I had planned to visit her and look for a cloth similar to yours to take home as my own souvenir.
You said you’d be leaving Tirana a few hours after me. I would be down in Berat, Albania exploring the ancient lands and you’d be going to Ohrid, Macedonia to enjoy some lakeside peace and quiet.
When I said goodbye to Tirana, I thought I’d also said goodbye to you. I still couldn’t believe our luck, ending up in the same hostel for a second time in a week. It was a different country and we’d both made stops in between, but chance had brought us back together. We first met in Kotor Montenegro, where we’d shared a casual breakfast in the hostel’s lounge on Valentine’s Day morning. We enjoyed each other’s company for an hour or so then said goodbye and thought that was the end.
We both traveled south from Kotor. You went to Tirana and Berat, then back to Tirana. I stopped in Ulcinj and Shkoder. A week after first meeting you, I checked in to a hostel in Tirana, Albania and grabbed a bed in one of the dorm rooms. It was the only bed available: a bottom bunk. Later that afternoon, after taking in the sites of the capital city, I returned to the hostel and noticed a tall skinny guy with funky glasses sitting in the hostel’s lounge. It was you.
I couldn’t remember your name but sat down next to you and we reintroduced ourselves. The rest of the night, we said little to each other, but occasionally exchanged humored glances as you interpreted another French guest’s comical phrases for me. I called it an early night, and later noticed you climb into the bunk above mine.
I woke equally as early and we said hello over a cup of coffee before I left in search of the city’s interesting architectural draws. In the afternoon, I intentionally took a wrong turn and ended up far from city center. As I slowly found my way back, I spotted your bright blue jacket in a sea of black. This time, I remembered your name.
“Pierre.” (yeah I know that’s not your real name, but for a charming Frenchman it’s fitting)
You turned, shaken out of your daydream and back to reality. What a strange coincidence for the both of us to be in Tirana, let alone in some random neighborhood on the outskirts of town that neither of us could ever find again if we tried.
We agreed to visit one of the city’s mosques together and you shared your excitement about an upcoming trip you’d planned through the Middle East. You’d be visiting Turkey, Iran, and “the -Stans” and you were looking forward to exploring a new hobby of collecting rare, unique jewelry from countries you visit. I shared with you some experiences from my own travels in the Middle East. We listened to the Call to Prayer, and you stopped walking as the Quran’s words were sung out. You told me how much you enjoyed the sound and words, and related it back to your time spent in Morocco last year. We tested each others’ knowledge of Arabic and decided neither was (or is) very skilled.
I brought you to my favorite cevapi place (surprise surprise) and you marveled at how inexpensive your dinner was. 50 cents! That night we attended the rap concert and I was more than impressed by your shoulder-shimmy dance moves. Afterward, we joined others from our hostel at the tavern next door and split two glasses of craft beer. It was tasty, but my favorite part was when you shelled the peanuts, and with each pair opened, you took one and handed me the other.
That night I messaged my best friend and told her how excited I was to have spent this time with you. I told her I’d found my future husband (maybe an exaggeration, but a girl can dream). I didn’t tell you that though. I didn’t even kiss you. I just knew there was something special that led us twice to the same place. Once in Montenegro and again in Albania.
The next morning, I stuck around an extra few hours as you and some other guests spoke in French and jokingly named me “Koala.” I didn’t want to say goodbye to you this time, but we both had already made separate plans. We were told long hugs are the only hugs that count, so after our ten-second embrace accompanied by a countdown from other guests, we agreed that one day soon we hoped to be able to meet again. Maybe after visiting Berat, I could find my way to Ohrid as well.
“Write me from Berat,” you said, “and tell me what you think.”
Click on an image to scroll through the photographs:
I woke up at 3am that first night in Berat, unable to sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about you so I sent you a message telling you I’d made it safely. I also wrote a sappy few sentences saying how I was happy to have met you and sad to have let you go. I knew you wouldn’t get it until later in the day since you’re all rough and tough traveling without a computer or smartphone, but I sent it anyways.
I was fully prepared to tell you more about the adorable couple I stayed with: a man and wife who have turned their large home into a guest house: Viva Lili’s Guesthouse. I was going to write to you about the juice Lili offered upon arrival, freshly squeezed from mandarines picked off a tree in their courtyard. I was going to joke at my ability to gobble up the entire breakfast the hostess cooked just for me: two sausages, two eggs, and eight palm-sized pancakes slathered in homemade orange and grapefruit marmalades. I was going to justify it by hiking up to the fortress afterward.
I was planning to write you all of this, but then something happened. On my way to the fortress I spotted something, someone, strikingly familiar.
A tall skinny guy dressed in khaki pants with a bright blue jacket and funky glasses.
He didn’t see me until I quietly called his name.
“Pierre?” I said, not believing my eyes.
He turned, and we pulled each other into a koala hug, this time no one needed to count to ten for us.
Still in shock, I wrapped my arms tighter around him. Around you.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I didn’t know whether it was a dream or reality.
“I can’t believe you’re here!” was all I could say.
You’d postponed your trip to Macedonia and instead taken a bus to Berat the night before. You were on your way to use a computer to send me a message, and hadn’t seen my note to you yet. You followed your heart. And it took you to Berat. Right to me.
Click on an image to scroll through the photographs:
While smiles miles wide stayed plastered on our faces, we went up to the fortress together. We posed for photos with locals and found the same seamstress whom you’d visited during your first trip. You took out the handkerchief you’d shown me earlier, the one she’d embroidered with your nickname “Pye.” You offered it to me.
“But I can’t. You love it so much,” I declined.
“And that’s why I want you to have it,” you insisted, handing it to me.
Accepting, I picked out one to gift you in return: A white square created by piecing together individual cutouts of butterflies. The seamstress embroidered “Ani” into the center. When I handed it to you, you immediately knew why I’d chosen this particular one.
That night, we drank hot chocolate and shared secrets and dreams. You returned to your guest house, and I returned to mine. This time, for the first time, we said goodbye knowing there would be another hello.
The next day, we set out together with a map in hand and big dreams in mind.
I’ll share more of those stories in another letter but for now I wanted to let you know:
I made it to Berat safe and sound. You told me it was a charming place and that I would fall in love, but never did I imagine the truth of your words.
Our journey didn’t end in Berat! Take a look at what happened next HERE in Letters from Girokaster.
Curious what it’s like to Date a Girl Who Travels? I’ve got your answers HERE. Check them out! xoxAnika