Published: June 26th 2011June 26th 2011
Now here’s five words I never expected to say – “We went to Albania today!”
That’s right Enver Hoxha’s former ”stomping” grounds. A bus picked us up, brought us over the mountain to Corfu Town where we boarded and Ionian Ferry Line ship. An hour and a bit later we were on Albanian soil in the growing city of Saranda. We took a tour bus to the ancient ruins of Butrinti – by 400BC it was an established Greek settlement, and a couple hundred years later became refortified by the Romans – later Augustus would reframe it as a veterans colony – fast forward to the 900s and it was remodelled as part of the Byzantine empire. Lightly settled again by the Ottomans in 1600, then it was ceded to Napoleon by Venice and in 1799 the Ottoman governor conquered it.
We strolled the various ruins and drifted in and out from an organized tour.
We then went back to town for a lunch and some tourist shopping and took an exciting for us and harrowing and vomit-inspiring for others boat ride back across a very rough Vorio Steno strait – the boat pitched down into the peaking
swells and blasts of salt water drenched the deck – while I was the only one idiotic enough to remain outside the whole time, Marika was with me most of the way. Not a banner day for convincing the variety of nationalities on board of Canadian sanity. Capsizing – OK a literary hyperbole.
Saranda is in a very odd moment of transition indeed. After 45 years of forced rural collectivization under Enver Hoxha, the area became a city as people migrated from rural settings to the town. A few years ago enormous stimulus funding was received and hotel and apartment construction buzzed everywhere. Then the economy tanked and all construction ceased – so in a City of 18,000 there are 5,000 partly constructed units – half finished buildings everywhere. But it gets weirder – last year the government knocked down the front ground floor level of every unit in any stage of completion that did not have the paperwork proving it was built to current earthquake standards so the City is also dotted throughout with buildings that look like cubic giants stumbling and collapsing.
Sunday night at Taverna Sebastian is local bouzouki night – they had a table
for us in the middle of the action. I had not expected to really like it deep down, and loved it – the bouzouki player and local guitar accompaniest (?) are friends of Sebastian and outstanding. The four of us were c lapping and tapping our toes, and then Marika and Will were whisked up to clap to lead the crowd as the musicians played – at the end Will through his fist in the air and shouted “OPA” and the musicians were clearly impressed.
There are more photos below