Rozafa Castle, Albania

We leave our bags stashed in the laundry room of the hotel and trek off towards the castle. It’s pretty here, right on the water with pomegranate trees bearing fruit. It looks like there is a long, snaking cobblestone driveway leading it’s way up to the castle walls through several switchbacks. “Journey of the Stone II.” “Yeah, damn.” “You hear that?” “Ya.. accordion maybe?”

On the next switch we spot an older accordion player playing in the shade of a pomegranate tree. He’s all smiles as we approach and just continues dishing out some traditional tunes while stomping his foot to the rhythm. There’s an open case for coins but all we have is Euros and Denar. “Don’t have any local currency.” “Oh yeah. I hope they take Euros at the castle gates.” “They probably will. What even is the Albanibucks?” “Albanian lek. One dollar is about 100 lek.” “Nice, that’s easy.” We drop in a few coins of various currencies in the case and he nods in appreciation, smile still beaming, foot still stomping, doesn’t miss a beat.

We pass by some other travelers on their way down and one is wearing a Nasa t-shirt. Those seem to be everywhere we go. I guess the novelty of the design or concept itself resonates across cultures.

A couple of switchbacks in and the view is already sensational.

Found a sweet drone shot online (not sure who to credit it to). It offers a nice perspective on the size and location of the place. Looks like it could have been taken on the exact same day we were there.

We get to the castle gates and they do take Euros. It’s 2 each. What a steal. We get the tickets and head to the gate. Scan them. Nothing. Scan. Nothing. Karate chop. Nothing. Ticket Dude comes over, takes our tickets, scans. Nothing. Wiggle wiggle. Palm slam. Click! Ahhhh there we go. Gotta know the technique.

We’re at the base of some impressive white walls with an incredible view. We enter the gates and immediately get up on the walls. There are lots of people up here just sitting on the wall and enjoying the view. So we just do that for a bit too.

The fortifications are mostly of Venetian origin. But, like all of the locations of castles and forts in the Balkans, this area was a hub of civil societies for centuries. Built around the confluence of the Buna and Drin rivers on an imposing hill, it offered a perfect strategic location and was a cultural and economic stronghold dating back to antiquity.

Lots of famous sieges were set against these walls, which is fun to think about. These include the Venetians versus Ottomans in 1478-79, and Ottomans versus the Kingdom of Montenegro in 1912-13. What seems to trend in these battles is that they take up to a year to conclude and the defenders have an incredible advantage behind these massive walls way up on the hilltop. They inflict damage on their aggressors to the tune of 10x the casualties. But then after a few successfully repulsed attacks they get stuck eating rats when supply lines get cut off and eventually end up negotiating to save lives on both sides and ceding the place to the attackers.

Time to get on some plaques and learn some things. Wow, the walls date back to 4th century BCE.

The castle is separated into three main courtyard areas and only a handful of buildings remain in each one.

This Church of the Holy Mother of God is still in decent shape.

On to the third courtyard. Rozafa has a spacious interior.

Good view off the back here looking at the Buna and Drin.

Ahhhh yeaaah.. that’s stunning.

Narco, you want in on this?

After walking the castle grounds for a bit we’ve got a hankering for fortress beers and hopefully some jazz, as is our new daily custom. We find an entrance to the castle interior that may be what we’re looking for. We wait for a solo Japanese girl to snap a pic. She instantly gets embarrassed that it took so long when she realizes we’re patiently waiting for her to finish.

There’s a glass-enclosed area with that same view of the river confluence in here. Looks like a good spot to rest the legs and down a cold one.

The castle beer of choice is Peja, the Kosovan pilsner we’d enjoyed before our first Journey of the Stone.

After the first beer we’re feeling like we need to finish things up in this castle and start figuring out how to get into the city proper.

We get back up into the third courtyard and take another minute to take in that epic view from the walls.

It’s just amazing. And what a killer day to explore a castle.

Back towards the front gates there are still groups of people coming in and getting up on the walls to take it all in too.

Amazing place, I’m glad we found it. We start the decent down Journey of the Stone II and can already hear that same accordion player belting it out and someone singing along. Come around the switchback and it looks like he’s been joined with some other locals who are singing to his traditional music and having a drink. This guy’s been playing for hours now. It’s a great scene and now we’re the ones that are all smiles. We pass by and wave. It looks like they’re having a good time.

We follow the same roads along the Shkodra Lake back to the hotel where we stashed our bags. A taxi that we’d spotted coming off the bus is still sitting in the parking lot. That should work. Let’s go see if our bags are still there.

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