Ever since I heard of Gramsh, I wanted to go there - mostly because of the connection to Antonio Gramsci (social theory nerd alert). So when Terry suggested we join a hiking club that one of his coworkers belongs to for a Sunday trip there, I agreed (cue dramatic footfalls-of-doom music).
We left bright and early Sunday morning, around 8, loading up into assorted vans with about 100 young, well-equipped hikers eager to see the famous waterfall at Sotira. The plan was to drive to a small village, hike 1.5 hours to the Falls, then back to the village for a barbecue before heading back to Tirana. Our family plan was to hike as far as we felt like it, then have a little picnic before going back to the vans.
We were doing more or less ok - despite having dragged Valerie out of bed without breakfast, feeding her dried fruit and water in the van, only to have it all come back up on the windy roads - only her clothes got yuck on them (not the seat in the van) and we always pack back-up outfits for the kids - and we were very glad to be out of the van, except - we weren't at the village. Instead, we were dropped off at this shallow river, because the drivers couldn't find the road. The guides assured us that the village was "just over that ridge, about half an hour's walk," so off we went.
It wasn't long before a hot and tired Gabriel started fussing in the Ergo (Valerie was very happy in the Kelty backpack carrier we bought three years ago and were very happy to be putting to good use at last). I tried to distract him with songs and sprigs of rosemary (see dark green patch in photo above), or pointing at goats munching leaves in the thickets, but pretty soon he started screaming for "Gak-gak" (his word for nursing, from Albanian "xhoks"). We were already bringing up the rear, and the guides were anxious to keep the group together because this was a (ahem) short-cut and the path was not clearly marked (cue more footsteps of doom).
wedding we attended last September!) very kindly helped carry Gabriel part of the way, at least as long as G would consent to it. (See that mountain? Gorgeous.)
I have no photo record of the next phase of the journey, when we got lost in brambles on steeply descending goat-paths, and Valerie started crying because the prickers hurt her and she needed to pee (we had a successful pee break under a tree, thankfully), and Gabriel screamed himself into a frenzy asking for gak-gak, though there was no place to stop and sit... Our fellow hikers were so solicitous, holding aside branches and offering helping hands every step of the way.
(There was no turning back at this point because the vans were going to a different point to pick us up.)
At last, we made it to the village, about 2.5 hours after setting out from the river.
Check out that lovely, lovely road.
It does, actually, go all the way to the river.
It takes about 15 minutes in a van.
Not that I'm bitter, or anything...
Good grief, though, is this not stunning scenery???
Gabriel fell asleep about 15 minutes before we reached the village, as soon as we were out of the brambles, so when we reached the originally-planned jumping off point - a small farm - we Phantzis gladly accepted the hospitality of the family there while the rest of the group went on ahead to the waterfalls.
I laid Gabriel down on a couch inside the two-room farmhouse and he slept soundly for the next 2 hours, while Valerie ran in and out and Terry and I visited with the family.
Actually, it was one of those afternoons that you remember and treasure for the rest of your life. The family was so kind and hospitable, so generous in sharing their home with us, and it was so interesting to talk with them and learn about their lives.
The kids had so much fun just running around in the soft grass thick with clover, watching the farmer sharpen his scythe, drinking fresh cow's milk sweetened with sugar, eating fresh thick-crusted bread from their oven. We had turkish coffee served up in tiny little cups and drank yoghurt mixed with fresh well water. Gabriel was especially fascinated by all the farm animals we saw - cows, goats, sheep (the funniest moment of the day was when a very woolly young sheep started running away from some of the city girls, appearing to be running after one of them, and she ran away screaming. Scary, scary sheep!), chickens, roosters, dogs, cats, horses, and donkeys.
By this time the drivers had fortunately found the road to the village and so we didn't have to walk back over the ridge. The ride back to Tirana was fairly uneventful, except it was my turn to get carsick (half a bar of dark chocolate on a nearly-empty stomach + windy roads = bad news) and it just took what seemed like FOREVER. At one point one of our fellow travelers, tired of the patchy sound-track coming from the van radio, started playing music off his phone, and Terry reports thinking in that moment "have we actually died and gone to Purgatory?" We left the village around 7 p.m. as the sun was going down and rolled into town around 10:30 (for the record, Terry had told me we'd be home around 1 p.m. and I'd mentally adjusted that to around 4 p.m. Right). The kids fell asleep periodically but it was a very windy, bumpy road, so not as much as I'd hoped.
We were all awake and grinning like maniacs as we rode the elevator up to our floor, and as we came into our apartment all four of us were running around and jumping up and down waving our arms going "Yay! Yay!" we were just sooooo glad to be home.
Few things feel so good as a soft bed in a dark room with plenty of water to drink and a bathroom down the hall after a trip like that. On balance it was a good day, but I did say to Terry in the late afternoon, "your next suggestion may be greeted with some measure of skepticism."
I put a bunch more photos up on Facebook than I did here, if you want to check them out. Enjoy!