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Hawaii, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Nepal, India and England

Friday, October 14, 2016

10/5: The Albanian Riviera Town of Saranda

After spending several days in Gjirokastra, the City of a Thousand Steps, we were heading by bus or furgon to Saranda, our last destination in Albania, located on the the country's southern coast. This would be our last intercity bus journey for the trip. At the station we were shunted, though, to this minivan for the two hour long ride together with four other passengers which left quite a bit earlier than the bus we'd planned to take.
We didn’t realize taking the minivan would involve the driver making multiple deliveries along the way. Nor did we think about getting stopped just ten minutes from Saranda by ‘traffic police’ who questioned the driver for a good piece because he apparently wasn’t authorized to transport passengers. What an eventful last 'bus' ride in Albania this one turned out to be! Just another adventure to tell about.

After checking in at the Hotel Aulona, we couldn't believe our good fortune with the size of the room, that we had our own large balcony and, to top it all off, a kettle and free breakfast included, all for the extremely reasonable sum of just $28 bucks a night.

Could it get any prettier than this, we wondered, as we descended the steps to the waterfront ? Saranda’s name comes from an early monastery dedicated to 40 saints, Ayii Saranda. The town was called Porto Edda for a period in the 1940s after the daughter of the Italian leader, Benito Mussolini.
It was so much fun just strolling along the waterfront. Once again, we saw many women selling crocheted items galore. Perhaps I should have said trying to sell as it was as if we had Saranda to ourselves because there were so few people milling about.

Along the one kilometer-long esplanade was a mini souvenir bazaar for lack of a better word with canopied awnings to protect the vendors from the city's searing summertime heat and other elements. On the other side of the esplanade, lay bars, restaurants and many souvenir shops.
We walked along the waterfront a short distance to the port to pick up the ferry tickets we had ordered online for our journey, two days hence, over to nearby Corfu in Greece.

Saranda is a very popular destination as a day trip for the cruise ships that anchor offshore and increasingly for Albanians wanting a vacation on its many nearby beaches. There is also an important UNESCO archeological site nearby which draws huge numbers of tourists.

An outdoor cinema on the Albanian Riviera!

First time seeing what looked like a concrete diving board or perhaps it was a starting block instead?

In the center of town, I noticed a large informational sign and, what lookedlike to me, a pile of rocks. Turns out, the Saranda Castle had been here that, according to archeological data, had been built in the late antiquity period during the 4th century BC. 
The older part of town prior to the many resorts and much taller buildings that now dot the city's skyline.
We stopped in at the local tourist office that had a gorgeous location on the waterfront. Considering Saranda is such a huge draw for tourists, especially coming off mammoth cruise ships for day excursions, it was surprising the local tourist office did such a poor job representing the city and its nearby UNESCO site. Yes, there was a map of the city but absolutely no information about the sights.
The most obvious sight in town was the ruins of the 5th century synagogue, evidence of one of the earliest Balkan-Jewish communities. According to the information on site, the monument was originally an early Christian basilica with three naves. It is thought that it was then transformed into a synagogue at the end of the 5th and beginning of the 6th centuries. 

Beside religious activities, it was also used a school for biblical studies and a social center. The floors were paved with a multicolored mosaic. The synagogue was destroyed by the Slavs at the end of the 6th century and a church was later built over it.

Directly across from the synagogue's ruins was a lovely park. It was so refreshing seeing this park area with the beautiful palm trees after having searched in vain for one in Gjirokastra yesterday.
We spent time relaxing in the Friendship Park watching the world go by and not having a care in the world about where we needed to be next.
We just happened on the Hillary Clinton statue in another tiny park. It was titled 'Diplomatic Mission: Peace and Prosperity to the City of Saranda.' I wonder when and why she had visited the city since it would seem to be far off the diplomatic circuit.

There was a small archeological museum but it and most of the stores all closed every afternoon for several hours. What a nice long siesta the workers enjoyed. We went back to the museum when it was supposed to have been open but again it was closed. We peered in through the window and were able to see the marvelous mosaic floor which would once have graced a grand villa.

We returned to the waterfront strolling in the opposite direction this time away from the port. We had never seen what sure appeared to be a portable mailbox before!

Yeah – TMobile banners to mar the beautiful views all along the waterfront.

Dried artichokes for sale in a local market:
Charlie Chaplin sign admonishing passersby to look up rather than keeping their eyes down. It was rather self serving though as itwere advertised a apartment for rent!

We found a perfect place to enjoy dinner with wonderful views just a few steps from the waterfront. Steven enjoyed his tumbler of raki, the licorice flavored drink favored by people throughout the Balkans. It was an ideal place from which to watch people stroll along the promenade as the place came alive during the evening. 
We capped off the day at a lovely Orthodox church that overlooked the water. I never saw the name or any information about it.

It's amazing to think that we've spent almost two months on the road discovering the wonders of Ukraine and the Baltic and Balkan countries. Tomorrow begins the next part of our journey: Corfu, Greece. 

Posted on October 14th, 2016.

1 comment:

  1. Hillary Clinton and TMobile -- Americana in the Albanian Riviera !
    xo Lina


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