Albania – from Llogara Village to Saranda

Today we go for an early morning walk in the Llogara hills and then drive down to Saranda along the beautiful Albanian Riviera. It is now 24th of September 2015.

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Early morning walk to see the Ionian Sea

Ben and I meet in the hotel reception early in the morning at six. Great that the coffee bar already serves an espresso. We walk up to the neck coming across this interesting electrical installation.

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Flag pines are our companions on the way up – they are called “pisha flamur” in Albanian.

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From the neck we climb uphill towards a peak. There is a gorgeous view of the Ionian coast line. In Albanian “jon” means “our”, Ben explains to me. Hence for the Albanians the “Ionian Sea” is “Our Sea”.

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Clouds are announcing that the weather will change soon. There is also a cloud covering the peak in front of us.  We return to our hotel to have breakfast. The coffee is so bad that I refuse to drink it. But milk with honey is fine…

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The young guy at the hotel reception has an excellent American accent. “Where have you studied English”, I ask him. “In Utah”, he answers. Aha, in Utah, in the beehive state? Are the Mormons present in Albania? Yes, he is a Mormon. His whole family has converted. His friends are just on their way to Switzerland, because the nearest Mormon Temple in Europe is in Berne. Albania seems to be open for all religions – I like that.

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Driving back to the neck and along the Albanian Riviera 

We load our car and drive to the neck now. There are German bunkers here – looking down to the coast line and the bungalow resort “Green Coast” that is planned in the bay.

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Between bushes of thyme and salvia we find a stand that sells honey. Ben tries the honey and likes it. We buy a pot. A herd of goats is crossing the road. They seem to think that cars are strange animals…

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Stop in Dhermi with the monastery and church Shën Mërisë 

Now we are in Dhermi. White houses are greeting us. Above them is the church Shën Mërisë. On a small path, we climb up. Most of the tombs are Greek here.

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There are the frescoes inside the church.

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When we walk down, a car from Poland comes up the steep and sinuous street. The priest is following fast in his Mercedes. It is almost eleven and he must soon ring the bell.

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Our next stop is Himara

The Illyrian town Himara lies on a rock at about 150m above sea level. This town has the oldest castle in Albania (7th century B.C.). Himara withstood the Ottomans, kept its orthodox religion and stayed somewhat independent.

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The village is now decaying. This romantic spot would have potential for tourism. Now there is no touristic infrastructure, even not a kiosk selling souvenirs or drinks.

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A Greek minority lives in this area. My mobile phone beeps and  says “welcome to Greece”. But we are still far from Greece. Ben mumbles that here he once got caught and had to pay roaming fees, though he was still in Albania. I am surprised – a kind of battle takes place between the Albanian and Greek Telecom companies.

Below Himara village we stop in the sea resort Himara. It looks ugly. The buildings are decaying. The fountain is falling apart. Only a few tourists are here – to me they look like “old 68’s”.  A ghosty atmosphere. I want to leave this place immediately.

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Porto Palermo with the castle of Ali Pasha and the submarine garage

Porto Palermo has always been a natural port. Ali Pasha built a fortification in 1804, with the help of French engineers, as an engraving shows. Later this fortification has been a prison and it was also used by the Italians and the Germans in the second World War.

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In an unfriendly restaurant, we have lunch (at least the fish was fresh). Then we get the key from the guard who has escaped the pouring rain by retreating to his apartment. With a group of students from Poland we explore the fortress.  The students have come here from Saranda, driving in a convoi of small cars from Sipa Tours. A cheerful group of young people – dzien dobry!

The ground floor of the fortress is groomy, damp and dark. We are happy to climb to the roof and find fresh air with a view of the bay.

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Not far from here is the garage for submarines that has been built during communist times.

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After a stop in a bar that sits on top of water falls (Borsh – unfortunately closed), we drive to Saranda.

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Saranda is a vibrant sea resort in a beautiful bay just across Korfu

We stay in the Kaonia hotel directly facing the sea. Saranda has been an Illyrian and Greek settlement, but in ancient times it has always been dwarfed by Butrint that is not far from here. The name “Saranda” derives from the “40 saints”.

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Korfu and Greece are just across the bay.

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We walk along the seafront. Some palm trees are beautiful – like this one -, while some have caught a disease – just the stems are left. Saranda makes a good impression. Real estate is on sale, in English and in Russian.

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The public beach is clean and the water would invite for a swim… well, not today. It is raining.

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Tomorrow we will see Butrint – the Unesco World Heritage Site south of Saranda – I look forward to that.

 

 

 

 

 

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