Exploring & Escapades

bits & pieces of my travels

Category: Albania

Corfu


The ancient, wild, potent island of Corfu. A ferry ride across the Adriatic from Albania, a quick stop for us between one adventure and home. We travelled to Corfu for the airport, but fell in love with it’s architecture and the local foods, extending our stay by a couple of hours by opting for a cab instead of a bus at the last minute. In the brief amount of time that we spent there, I remembered how much I love Greece.

From my notes:
___

We woke up early to run one last time along the coast of Sarandë before we needed to leave Albania; this time, we ran in the opposite direction toward the port, and it was an entirely different world. We hadn’t realized that there was a boardwalk with restaurants and souvenir stands on this end of the street – it definitely was a more active part of town, but there was no more time to explore. Our time in Albania we over. We quickly packed and prepared to leave by 9:00 am, since we needed to return the rental car. This, to be honest, was an absolute nightmare. At the time, all of the roads to the port were closed, our maps couldn’t navigate around the closed roads, and no one spoke English enough to help us. It was so, so, so stressful, especially knowing that we had a ferry to catch, but finally, the rental car company told us just to stop on the side of the road and that they would find us, which was such a relief. After that ordeal was over, we walked to the port, bought our tickets, and finally boarded the 10:30 am ferry to Corfu. Surprisingly, the boat was so old and dingy with no clear windows. It was a bit disappointing having no view, but at that point, we were simply happy to have made it on time.

After we arrived in Corfu’s new port about 40 minutes later, we walked toward the direction of the Old Town, and paid to leave our luggage along the way, before stopping for lunch at a small place across from the water for tzatiki, a local potato/garlic sauce, rose wine, octopus in vinegar, and a gyro. And then, we wandered for three hours. We stopped for coffee (frappes – my first) and for the local Kumquat liquor (so good – we bought some to take home duty free). It was a typical tourist village, full of food and shops. I stopped to buy a pair of leather sandals at one point, since I knew I needed a new pair for the summer. We chatted with the shopkeeper for a bit, a really nice girl from Athens, studying in Corfu. Later, I talked with another shopkeeper, this one selling Turkish cotton products, and purchased one of her drawstring bags that I loved. She was also so nice; I remember her very interesting accent. She said she studied English in Scotland, but was born in Corfu.

It started to rain in the late afternoon, but we decided to skip the 5:20 bus and stay a little longer, which ended up being a great decision, because we found a hidden Greek yogurt shop and ate the BEST local yogurt with honey, kumquat, pistachio, and walnuts. After that, we were satisfied enough to walk back and retrieve our bags to head to the airport for our 8:40 pm flight. It was all very easy from there, especially compared to our earlier trials in Albania. We took a cab to the airport, and sat our front drinking the last of our bottle of Albanian brandy until the gate opened at 6:30 pm. Then, flight to London, no line at Stansted immigration, a 10:27 pm train, and home by 11:30 pm. It was a wonderful end to a wonderful (and exhausting) whirlwind of adventure. 

___

Posts from this trip:

Albania #1
Albania #2
Albania #3
Albania #4
Albania #5
Albania #6
Albania #7
Albania / Corfu #8

 

Advertisements

Ksamil

Ksamil, sun and sand; we came for the pristine and beautiful Adriatic beaches, just opposite the more famous Greek island of Corfu. This was our treat after days of driving and exploring. It was as relaxing as we had hoped. Perhaps even more than we had hoped, as we quite literally had the entire place to ourselves.

From my notes:
___

It was our last full day in Albania, and we let ourselves sleep in, since we were exhausted from the last few days of constant driving and moving. It’s worth noting that the time was also weird for us; we were so close to Greece (we could see Corfu from the balcony) that our phones kept switching between Greek time – which is an hour ahead – and Albanian time, so I’m not even sure what time we did anything all day, which actually ended up being nice and freeing. Whenever we did get up, we both went for a long walk into town along the coastline. Then, finally, after days of anticipation, the beach.

Getting there was a bit confusing. We drove 15 minutes south to Ksamil, expecting a natural, wild, island-like setting. Instead, we found another mini, developing city. After getting lost on some dirt roads and driving into the hills for views of the city, we eventually parked our car at a place called Lori Beach to spend the day. It was so pretty, white sands and turquoise waters. We had nearly the entire thing to ourselves – chairs, umbrellas, beach bar and all (though, we were never really sure if the beach bar was open or even staffed). There was one family, but they left soon after we arrived. Otherwise, there was only one man and one separate woman. Sometimes, the bar played music. Beyond that, it was quiet.

We stayed on that beach, lying on those chairs in the sun until 5:00 pm, reading, swimming, napping. It was so, so, so peaceful. I still can’t believe that of all the people in the entire world, we were the only people there.

After 5, we finally brought ourselves to leave in search for food, and ended up at a place slightly up the coast called Bar Restaurant Korali. We drank Mojitos and more local white wine on the deck, sitting in the breeze, watching the waves while snacking on another local speciality, peppers and cheese. Then, for dinner, we finally were able to try the local mussels (a speciality and national export – so fresh!) and another local dish, a grilled vegetable plate, which honestly reminded us of pizza. The staff even brought us complimentary dessert – apple slices and ice cream served in this absolutely amazing sauce; we assumed it was honey-based, but when we asked, we were told it was burnt sugar with citrus and cinnamon. It was such a great meal, one of the best of our trip, and certainly perfect for our last night.

By the time we drove back, the sun had already begun to set. We went across the street to buy one last bottle of local wine, and then we drank it on the balcony, the very end of our wild, unpredictable Albanian adventure. 

___

Posts from this trip:

Albania #1
Albania #2
Albania #3
Albania #4
Albania #5
Albania #6
Albania #7
Albania / Corfu #8

 

Sarandë


Bright, beachy Sarandë; an odd paradox of a place. Unexpectedly developed and modern, yet unexpectedly empty. While drinking wine on the balcony one night, we thought, if it does take off in several years and become a mainstream destination, how strange and wonderful it will be knowing that we were here alone just before it really came to be.

From my notes:
___

The drive to coastal Sarandë from mountainous Gjirokastër, like all driving segments of this trip, was beautiful. We arrived in the early afternoon and immediately went to our Airbnb to get our lives together, running and napping. Eventually, we set out to find food – but everything was empty. It was like a ghost town, but instead of abandoned buildings, full of modern buildings that had never been filled. So much was brand new, well designed, and … just empty. No staff, no furniture, etc. My understanding is that this was because we were here in late May, and in Albania, where tourism is still a developing industry, the off-season IS off. We finally did find a cute place with little huts on the water to have some drinks, and then a small restaurant on the main street that we had passed earlier in the day, which ended up being excellent. The owner was Macedonian, and we had everything he recommended – house white wine, local fish, and Macedonian casserole, served with sauces, veggies, and bread. And *finally,* we tried some dessert.  After that, it was back home to sit on our balcony with some local wine and enjoy the sunset, followed by the slow lighting up of the island of Corfu, just visible across the Adriatic Sea. Even at our “resort” hotel, we were the only guests; a quick glance across the building revealed closed-down pools and only boarded and locked windows, ours the only one with curtains blowing in the wind. We have the entire place to ourselves. 

___

Posts from this trip:

Albania #1
Albania #2
Albania #3
Albania #4
Albania #5
Albania #6
Albania #7
Albania / Corfu #8

 

Syri i Kaltër

The Blue Eye, known locally as Syri i Kaltër. There’s not too much more to say beyond the photos; it’s a beautiful place, off the beaten path, but not anything more to it than what you see. It was good that we stopped here along the way from Gjirokastër to Sarandë, as opposed to making a day trip out of it.

The water, though, was the most pure turquoise blue that I have ever seen. Magical. It seemed almost unfair that you couldn’t swim in it.

___

Posts from this trip:

Albania #1
Albania #2
Albania #3
Albania #4
Albania #5
Albania #6
Albania #7
Albania / Corfu #8

 

Gjirokastër


For me, Gjirokastër was the unexpected highlight of our trip, mostly because of the uniqueness of our accommodation and the local foods and floral smells that came with it. It was quaint, but also busy. From the castle on the hill, a new soccer stadium in one direction and dirt road farmhouses in the other. Full of contrasts, but beautiful, nonetheless.

From my notes:
___

Monday Evening

It’s 11:05 pm. I’m writing this from a twin bed in the basement guest house of an Albanian family in the rural, UNESCO town of Gjirokastër. The family is the sweetest, very friendly and personable, even in spite of the fact that we can barely communicate across the language barrier. We arrived here from the direction of Permet shortly after 6:30 pm, and immediately upon our arrival, our hosts brought us into their part of the house and gave us flowers from their garden, cherries, and homemade fruit pastries, rose nectar juice, and spinach byrek – all so delicious and freshly prepared by the “host mom.” She is of Greek descent, but born and raised in Albania in a nearby Greek village (her son later clarifies this for us in English).  Also, THERE IS A KITTEN. He is so small. I can pick him up in one hand, and I love him. The family rescued him from the trash, and now he lives with them in their house.

Eventually, we escaped into town to eat dinner (after a brief scare with our rental car, which temporarily wouldn’t start, but all is well now!). The drive into town was insane – the roads were SO narrow and windy, and in some places, just dirt and stones. It was one of the scariest drives I’ve ever done, and I wasn’t even driving. When that part was over, we parked close to the castle in the town center and walked to our hosts’ store; Mario, the son, manages the AirBnb and the store, which we purchased mountain tea from for about $2. Mario recommended his friend’s restaurant down the street, Taverna Kuka; we took his advice and were so glad we did. The place was perfect. I only wish we were more hungry, because the food here is seriously so good and so low cost. We ate the local speciality of baked cheese and stuffed peppers as a starter, then moussaka and an unlisted  apple walnut salad recommended by the server for dinner – all delicious and fresh. We were, sadly, too full for dessert. 

Driving back home was another terrifying adventure. We kept finding ourselves lost of stuck in the sharp turns of the narrow streets, but we made it back, and now it’s time to sleep. There are dogs barking constantly outside. There are dogs everywhere in this country.


Tuesday Morning

We woke up in Gjirokastër in our charming AirBnb – I admit, I didn’t have a great sleep. It was cold in the room, and the roosters made noise from 5:30 am, but our host family was just lovely. Even though our room was already only $30 a night, we were served a full traditional breakfast outside in their beautiful garden.  Homemade milk, eggs, meat (not for me), tomato, bread, homemade butter and jam, more spinach byrek, coffee, fresh fruit, and cake. They gave us more flowers, and the mom gave me a little bracelet that she made herself. Staying with them and barely being able to communicate was definitely not the easiest, but it’s definitely what I think I’ll remember the most.

By 9:00 am, we were ready to leave. But first, a trip back into Gjirokastër town to explore in the daylight. We survived the windy roads again, climbed up the the top of the castle, and walked through the streets and through a few shops before beginning our drive to the coast. It was only a short visit, but at least the time was full.

___

Posts from this trip:

Albania #1
Albania #2
Albania #3
Albania #4
Albania #5
Albania #6
Albania #7
Albania / Corfu #8

 

Përmet, Banjat e Bënjës, & Other Adventures Driving Through Rural Albania

Driving inland through rural Albania, Durres to Permet to Gjirokastra. Across great green space, over mountains, and along the river. Dangling in open space, wide-eyed and full of wonder to think of how this piece of the world has always existed and will continue to exist when we leave, unnoticed by most.

From my travel notes:
___

“We began the three hour drive through rural Albania just after breakfast, our destination was the small town or Permet. It was so interesting to see it all. So much land and space. The most beautiful mountains. We drove along the edge of a ice-blue-grey river canyon, over rusty bridges, and past donkeys, sheep, goats, and horses. When we finally made it to Permet, we parked and walked to find food, only to find that it would be harder than we expected to find an open venue. But finally, we prevailed and  found one small shop, from which we ordered two salads and two waters. Before we left, unsure of when we’d see civilization again, we visited a convenience store for cookies and more water. We wondered if we were the only Americans in the entire town at that moment, and if we had ever been anywhere else in the world where that statement would also be true. Then, off to our real destination, the Benjes Thermal Baths, twenty minutes down the road, set under a giant Ottoman bridge. They were practically deserted when we arrived; eventually, we had the entire main pool to ourselves.  The view, breathtaking. Water flowing to infinity, snow-glazed mountain back-drop. It all seemed a little unreal.

We left this secret little corner of the world around 5 pm and began the 1.5 hour journey to Gjirokastra, back-tracking and absorbing what we could.”

___

Posts from this trip:

Albania #1
Albania #2
Albania #3
Albania #4
Albania #5
Albania #6
Albania #7
Albania / Corfu #8

 

%d bloggers like this: