Shqipëria

2 10 2017

Shqipëria as it is known in the ethnic language is better known by it’s English name Albania. For many years it was a country closed to foreigners but no longer. We visited for a week on a charter package holiday. As there is still (as far as I know) only one airport in the whole of the country we flew to Corfu then took a hydrofoil ferry across to Sarandë in the south west corner of the country just a short distance from the Greek border.

Hydrofoil ferry between Sarandë and Corfu

The name Sarandë means “forty” and is an abbreviation that comes from the full name of the monastery overlooking the town – the monastery of forty saints.

Apart from spending time on the beach and in the town we also took a couple of guided tours which gave us the opportunity to find some caches. Usually when we are on holiday we rent a car for a couple of days, but due to the very limited number of cache in the whole country (my pocket query gave me 77 caches including 1 event) and due to the fact that the closest ones were reachable on the tours, that was the way we decided to do our caching.

We were fortunate that just a few weeks prior to our vacation a new cache had been placed close to the hotel. Of course, after breakfast on the first morning we went out to find Santa Quaranta beach.

Santa Quaranta hotel as seen from the Santa Quaranta Beach cache

Apart from that there was just one more cache in the town (excluding an event to be held the day after we had gone home) and that was just 800 m away, but at the top of a hill that was only accessible by a steep winding road on the other side of the hill, a walk of some 3 or 4 km. Luckily one of our tours took us there.

Our first tour was to the World Heritage site of Butrint where there was both a traditional cache – Butrint and an earthcache Lake Butrint and Vivari Channel. I hunted and found the traditional cache as the guide was giving a talk in the Roman ampitheatre.

Our guide talking about the history of Butrint

The cache found at Butrint

The Lion gate. The old gate can be seen deeper in the wall

Butrint ruins. Different layers from different civilisations

The ancient site was amazing and we were very fortunate to have an excellent guide who was an English teacher and gave fantastically interesting information about where we were and also about the history of Albanian and what it was like to live during the harsh communist dictatorship that existed in the country after the second world war.

ds8300 in front of the Vivari Channel at Butrint

The earthcache gave a clear picture of how the area was formed geologically and the tour gave an insight into how important the place was in historical times.

Butrint’s devlopment through history

The tour continued back towards Sarendë and took us to Lëkurësi Castle for lunch. The “mushrooms” in the picture below are small bunkers that were built during the communist era and are just two of the more than 170,000 that were built throughout the country. The cache was hidden behind a patch of succulent cacti that managed to draw blood on both my arms and legs. The views from the castle were magnificent.

View over south Sarandë. Note the bunkers.

One of the 170000 bunkers built in Albania

Our second tour took us away from the coast and into one of the inland plains where the main focus was agriculture. The relatively rich county town of Gjirokaster with it’s castle was the goal of the tour along with a natural spring of huge dimensions called Blue Eye (Syri i kalter). I can’t have been thinking as I didn’t take my GPS with me and data over the cell network was exorbitantly expensive. Luckily I had read the cache description and looked at the spoiler picture so locating the place for the cache at Kalaja e Gjirokastres / Castle of Gjirokaster wasn’t too difficult. However, finding the cache was a different matter.

The bus dropped us in the market square where there was a fleet of taxis to take us the final kilometer up a steep narrow cobblestone road to the castle.

A fleet of taxis brought us up the hill to the castle

When I got to the cache location there was a young French woman feeling under the seat where the cache was supposed to be. Geocacher? was my question to which I got the answer Yes!. There were a couple of magnets under the seat but no cache. After a short hunt I found it in the breach of the cannon! We both signed the log then dropped the cache back into it’s hidey hole.

The cache at Gjirokaster

The cannon hiding the cache at Gjirokaster

The visit was followed by a taxi ride back down the hill to the birthplace of Enver Hoxha, the communist dictator who ruled the country for over four decades, then on to a big hotel in the market square for a five course lunch. Very tasty. The only thing they didn’t serve was coffee so after lunch we walked across the street to a small cafe to get our caffeine fix.

On the journey back to Sarendë over the mountain range we made a short detour up a very bumpy dirt track to the natural spring – Blue Eye with the associated earthcache SYRI I KALTER. The earthcache is a great source of information about how the spring was formed. A few brave souls took a swim in the clear 10 C water. Brrr!

Details about the Blue Eye (Syri I Kalter) spring

The spring Blue Eye (Syri I Kalter)

ds8300 at the Blue Eye

With our tours over so was our geocaching for the week so we could spend the remaining couple of days on the beach plus eating and drinking of course. It was possible to sit out in the evenings as it was still warm. One day a surprisingly large cruise ship stopped in the bay.

A couple of tasty Albanian pizzas

Sunset over Sarandë

A cruise ship outside Saradë

The vacation ended on a strange note. When we arrived at the airport at Kerkyra Kapodistrs on Corfu we were told that the plane was cancelled due to technical problems. It and it’s passengers were stranded in Parga, and there wouldn’t be a replacement plane until the next day. After the initial disappointment we learnt that we would be taken to a hotel for the night and dinner and breakfast would be provided. When we got to the hotel we found we had been given an “all inclusive” package so we felt much better about that. The dinner was excellent, but naturally the free wine was not of the best quality, but drinkable. We got home about 14 hours later than planned but it wasn’t a problem. I was pleased to arrive home during late afternoon instead of 2 am the same day.

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