We left Corfu yesterday, somewhat delayed, but we began our cruising life with a short trip to Sarandë, Albania.
We are very experienced travellers with dozens of countries and hundreds of flights under our belts, but we have never travelled across borders into unknown countries by boat. It would be fair to say that at least one of us was worried and the other cautiously optimistic. Albania has a bit of a rocky history and has only opened its borders as of 2010. We discovered that Sarandë, if it could be held up as an example, is a welcoming stop on any itinerary. Our short visit was very fast, packed with a guided tour and some very tasty food.
To start we bought our fuel (3000L) and the fuel truck drove out to the fishing dock. Our first impression was a scene of old men arguing and procedures that were 30-40 years out of date. What’s wrong with this picture?
Because we didn’t expect to stay long we used an agent to do our paperwork locally (Sarandë summer tours) and decided to spend an extra day to see the sights. The agent meant we had a nice berth for the boat, that we didn’t concern ourselves with paperwork and documentation and we got an amazing price for the fuel. We did have to wait for a few hours after fuelling for cruise ship passengers to clear out before we could tie up to the dock, so no bike ride for me.
Our tour guide for the second day was a young, local man and very pleasant. His English was good enough and we learned a lot about the local sites. We saw Butrint, which is a UNESCO heritage site and an ancient castle/walled city.
The roads in Albania are not great and road construction could be classified as chaotic,but the local driver didn’t even notice. That was the benefit of a local tour guide. That meant a quick drive to our next step, Lekures Castle was nice. It has a beautiful restaurant area and would make for a spectacular wedding venue. It was closed however, so we could only walk around a bit and enjoy the views.
There were many locations around the country where communists had built machine gun nests/pillboxes to protect against invaders that never came. Over 1000 of them are scattered around the country and a few were at this castle along with some big guns from the soviet era.
Next we went to see Blue Eyes. It is small, almost inconsequential but if you consider the geography it is one of the coolest things I have seen in a long time. Essentially it is a hole in the earth with water coming out of it. A natural spring except the water rises straight out of the ground, from a lake inside the mountain and of course you get beautiful clear water running over the minerals making the water beautiful blue. The water feeds many underwater plants which are a rich green. Again a very simple thing but still remarkable if you consider the source and causes.
Next was a trip to Gjirokastra, and it’s large castle namesake. This castle is also a UNESCO heritage site and is a remarkable castle for its domination of the surrounding area. It houses a significant collection of 20th century armour/guns, has a spectacular view of the surroundings and was also well worth the visit.
The old town was fun to walk through and had lots of tourist paraphernalia if you wanted any of that. Given our small boat we don’t want any of that stuff!
That was it. We ate at Limioni restaurant for a second night and thoroughly enjoyed the food and amazing prices.
We pulled off the dock at 5:45am on Saturday for the crossing to Otranto, Italy.