When I rode my bike into Saranda, 3 years ago, I was so happy to be here.  That was some of the most challenging biking I had ever done.  I went to the neighborhood I stayed in last time and found the beautiful Apollon Hotel.  I like staying just a 10 minute walk from town, it forces me to get some exercise!  Nothing has changed, 1/2 built buildings, gravel roads, garbage, dogs & cats everywhere.  I was talking with a realtor, he was telling me how much has changed in the last couple years. I told him nice try, it looks exactly the same to me as it did 3 years ago.  It told me many of the unfinished hotels were projects financed with illegal money and were shut down.

I was walking around town and saw the “new strip club” banner across the main street.  I took the photo and sent it to my friend in Portland, “you gotta go” was his response.  So after several failed attempts, I finally went and bought an expensive beer.   There were strobe lights, loud music, 45 minutes later?  no strippers.  The business was maybe only a week old, but they forgot the one thing a strip club needs, strippers.  So there’s “nothing to see here”, basically.
I couldn’t find the tourist office, so I did some google searches, “what to do in Saranda?.”  The National Park of Butrint is listed as a must see.  I had biked to this part of Albania last time, but not quite all the way to Butrint.
I’m not going to try and rewrite history here but here’s a little something.    It was first populated between the 10th & 8th BC.  Butrint was established after the fall of Troy. The famous people of Butrint included: Julius Caesar and Roman Emperor Augustus  (I’m a name dropper).  An earthquake in 3 AD destroyed the settlement. The settlement rose and fell many times throughout it’s history of various wars. After the communist government of Enver Hoxha took Albania over in 1944, foreign archaeological missions were banned.  In 1992 UNESCO declared Butrint a world heritage site.  I left feeling I had just seen the most amazing place in Albania so far.  Well I was right,  I found out it was the most visited tourist site in Albania,  I try to avoid busy tourist sites, but the advantage of winter travel, is you usually have the place to yourself.

The museum was amazing, no photos allowed? but your able to touch marble statues that were 2000 years old (there were no “no touch” signs anywhere).
I like doing a loop when biking or driving, well it’s possible here.  I just have to put the car on a ferry to make it a loop tour.  It was one of the most beautiful drives, lots of orchards (I like food), lakes, mountains, trees and no traffic.

When I biked through here last time, I left Saranda and headed for Greece.  Now I’m heading to Shkodra through the somewhat middle of the country.

I picked up a hitchhiker on the way out of Sarande (pretty hot).  She put her music on the car stereo, (I must getting old or something) it was still fun.  I know the Albanian marihuana cultivation operations are somewhere around here, not sure where.
I found out where after I passed it. They busted the whole town, it’s all part of becoming part of the EU.  They let Holland in the EU, what’s the big deal?

I get to Gjirokaster, drop off my passenger and start looking for the “tourist” section of town. The town is busy celebrating “independence day”, but the tourist areas are empty.
I check out a few museums, walk around the old town and buy some really cool souvenirs.

I wish I had stayed overnight for a couple days, it’s a town I will revisit.  I’m heading to Shkodra, but I don’t like driving so I stop at this hotel.  They couldn’t get the key in the door to show me the room.  I walked out and found another hotel.  The shower had 8 different spray heads and the toilet had a pretty sophisticated ass sprayer too.  The next day driving I passed one of the many empty buildings that dot Albania.  I asked someone how much it would cost to just finish Albania.  I mean the sidewalks, streets, houses, buildings, there’s a ton of unfinished work that needs to get done.  He laughed, no comment.  The police checkpoints are every 25km? frequent to say the least.  At first I didn’t like my license plate holder that said rental car.  But then again I never even got a second look from the police.  I love all the roadside fruit stands, Organic? I doubt it.  Some of it is too perfect.

I can’t believe it’s taking so long to blog my 3 week Albanian trip.  As I do this, in the back of my mind I’m thinking how soon can I go back?   Albania really has problems, but the good is so good, you tend to overlook the bad.

Thanks for reading, enjoy.
Next: Shkodra, biking mecca of Eastern Europe, Venice mask factory, museum hotel.


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