Waking up in Vlore‘s pleasant Lux Hotel we could see the town coming to life as we got ready to go through for breakfast which was the typically Albanian bread-heavy affair but nice enough washed down with peppermint tea and orange juice.
Given that we’d discovered what scheduled transport there is in Albania tends to leave early in the day we thought we should be out and about fairly soon. Checking with the staff at reception we were told that some buses left outside another hotel nearby but they had no idea when. Grabbing the rucksacks we headed off to the tourist information office to check.
Asking the woman who worked there if she spoke some English we got a hearty yes. Sadly that and ‘No bus Sarandë. Morrow! Morrow!’ was about the limit of her command of the language. Somewhat discouraged we wandered down to the hotel the buses were meant to leave from anyway dodging the hosts of insistent taxi drivers (another annoying feature of Albanian life) who are in your face everywhere you go in this country. We saw a minibus arriving from Sarandë and asked the driver when the return journey was. It didn’t leave until 2pm so we had a few hours to kill but at least we could relax safe in the knowledge that we would at least get there and it was pretty cheap at about €7.
Unfortunately we had rucksacks to drag about all day so we wouldn’t be doing too much exploring. We sat at the hotel bar and had a soft drink before setting off to find an internet café to pass some time. Having walked past a few of them on the rucksack-free previous day we couldn’t find one now we were hauling all our worldly possessions around on our backs in the growing heat. Typical! Eventually we stumbled across one when we stopped to get another drink and managed to pass a couple of hours reconnecting with the world. It’s amazing how cut-off you can become due to linguistic isolation.
Eventually two o’clock got nearer and we boarded our minibus and set off for Sarandë. I wasn’t really prepared for how crazy this journey was going to be. We passed some fairly pleasant farming land with mountains in the distance before I came to the realisation that we were actually going over the mountains.
The road wasn’t in the best condition in places, indeed on more than one occasion we had to slow down to cross areas without tarmac where landslides had more or less broken the road in two. All the time we were climbing higher through a series of hairpin bends through some beautiful pine-forested mountain slopes with the occasional glimpse of the valleys below.
That was fine until we came to the top of the pass. All of a sudden the trees disappeared and all that could be seen was a tiny ribbon of tarmac zig-zagging down the mountainside towards the coast and some toy villages about a kilometre below. It was at this point that Captain Acrophobic nearly re-enacted the Durrës incident, this time providing my own props!
Our driver seemed relieved that the climb was over and hit the accelerator like a lead-footed madman which did nothing for my feelings of personal safety. The seemingly endless descent was broken when we stopped at a mountain village for a brief break. Long enough for me to have about five ciggies to calm myself down before we were all aboard the adrenalin special for more daredevil driving.
Finally we completed our journey with a descent into Sarandë and it was great to get our feet back on terra firma. We grabbed a taxi to our hotel, checked in and set out to take a look around the town.
Due to our late start it was evening already as we walked back towards the centre of the town but the seaviews across to Corfu and the picturesque setting of Sarandë were lovely.
Coming down into the centre of town we found the typical Albanian evening promenade under way. The promenade along the coast was thronged with people going to and from restaurants and bars and looking at the goods on display at the many market stalls selling souvenirs, jewellery and craft goods of all descriptions.
Sarandë is a town which has seen significant expansion in recent years but also one which has retained some of its older buildings and its character which makes it a huge improvement on Durrës and gives it a more ‘genuine’ character than Vlore. We shared a pizza in a small seafront restaurant before checking out some of the market stalls and buying a couple of souvenirs for the kids back home. After this we checked out the transport to Greece the following day and booked a couple of seats on an early bus to Ioannina. We would’ve liked to have spent more time in Sarandë but this just wasn’t possible during our all-too-short trip.
We wandered back to our hotel later in the evening grabbing a few beers and Smirnoff Ices on the way and chilled on the balcony before our trip over the border the following day.