Trip Start May 16, 2005
11Trip End Jun 07, 2005
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We were herded onto buses and given a tour of the city of beautiful downtown Saranda (see the photos). Most noticeably, many (most?) of the buildings are half finished. In fact, the hillsides look like honey combs with empty frames of buildings-concrete floors with rebar sticking out of the top. We were told that Albanians like to secure their ownership of the land by starting construction. They do not believe in mortgages, so it may take several decades to finish a home, hotel, office or other structure.. There are seemingly hundreds of unfinished buildings everywhere. Mexico has nothing on Albania
On our way out to an archeological site, we drove by a lake that is the mussel capital of Albania. The lake is strewn with wooden structures that are used for mussel farms.
One of our more interesting adventures was driving to and from the archeological site (the ancient city of Butrinti) along a very narrow dirt road, which should have been a one-way road ... but wasn't. At the widest places in the road, as busses passed each other going opposite directions, we literally had a few inches between buses as they sought to avoid going over the rocky, steep cliff road.
Albania was a communist country until 1991 and our buses were definitely from that era.
The ancient ruins were overrun by thousands of high school kids who were on vacation and were dressed very "stylely" with high heels and all. Butrinti was originally built in 200 BC by the Greeks and then taken over by the Romans who added to the structures (pubic baths, etc). The ancient church as you can see has a mosaic floor which the Albanians covered with sand and dirt to preserve. In the pictures you will see a circle of columns with a baptismal bath in the center. Paul risked life and limb to photograph this never before seen by modern man "abysmal baptismal" as it was in a forbidden area with a large DO NOT ENTER sign which Paul immediately ignored with Jim on his heels
Upon leaving the ruins we barely made it back to Saranda due to the congestion on the one way road and the "Mexican" stand-offs with the other bus drivers. Upon arriving in Saranda we immediately proceeded to our "gourmet" lunch feast of authentic Albanian food and wine at the "five-star" Three Roses restaurant and were entertained by the singers as seen in our short video. They were our "Albanian Idol" winners.
Before re-boarding the ship we had to of course stop for more wine at the local seaside pub as pictured.
Oh Albania, we will miss you!