Not only do they have a Riviera but its beauty is going to surprise you as it has me. And that wasn't the only surprise I'd thoroughly enjoy before the end of the day.
But first it was time to check out of the 'Hairy Lemon' hostel in Saranda. However, so welcoming and enjoyable has my stay here been that its had an affect on my normal analytical way of thinking. As such, I have decided that I will venture north, before heading back down here again to the same hostel before eventually heading back up north. Huh!?!?
Well there's only so much to do in Saranda itself so it makes sense to venture out. I was told that Himara has various beaches and is popular along the coast so why not hang out 'up there' for a while. What's more my Dutch friend has decided she will come along too as she is particularly interested in castles - of which Himara have one. Amusingly neither of us would actually get to see the very thing we would individually like to have seen.
Part of my adapting, learning and self-evolution is to better master time - something I currently have a lot of. (Good health permitting of course). As we know from our busy lives back home, that's not something we say very often at all. This, then, is me trying to do just that and so let the north, south, north journey begin - on this:
We would get a number of surprises along the way including sheep, cows, donkeys, horses and my favourite was the bus driver fairly harshly applying the breaks to avoid running over a slithering snake! I saw it with my own eyes but it didn't hang around long enough for a photo! The others stopped to pose though:
The bus journey took a decent 1.5 hours and wasn't unpleasant although I couldn't rest my head on the window to sleep as the vibrations were to harsh. Still, that proved not to be a bad thing because I was to witness on one of the most beautiful stretches of coast I've ever seen. A big statement considering where I was a couple of weeks ago (Amalfi) and that I've also driven along West Coast America's PCH 1 for quite a distance. I was completely unprepared for this so I only had available my crappy 7 year old compact camera to use on a moving bus ascending a mountain so these pictures really don't do that statement any justice so you'll just have to believe me!
When you've seen so much landscape beauty both over the years and now in a short space of time, it's hard to explain how one setting marginally favours over the other. The reasons I've been so memorized with the Albanian Riviera start from the fact that I didn't know of its beauty and so it was quite a surprise. The Amalfi coast was unquestionably beautiful but its predominantly tourist-filled and so there are many people, hotels and other buildings in close proximity to each other. Here there are hardly any structures to spoil the scenery and also you realise just how unexplored this country is by the majority of foreigners. Even when these beaches will become more crowded in the summer, the majority will be Albanians. For 1.5 hours we would enjoy the vibrancy of the colours before us consisting of the deep green trees and landscape, the vast calming blue ocean and the turquoise patches of water close to the shore. The turquoise areas really made this setting look subtropical. I really couldn't believe I was seeing this in Albania! It felt like scenic perfection - serenity personified. This experience could only have been bettered by use of a private car and a significant other.
When we arrived we checked into our hostel and went out to explore what was around. We encountered more wildlife as this really was countryside territory and then eventually we found the main promenade and so we strolled along here for a while and took some snaps before stumbling on our the other BIG surprise of the day. But first, more scenic beauty:
So would you believe me if I said I came to Himara on the single best day to visit all year!?!? Okay, we're not talking lottery odds here but still a pretty lucky shout you'll agree at like 365/1. It was our ears which alerted us to an event well before our eyes did. This was because suddenly we started hearing music pumping out from the direction we were waking. By the time our feet caught up with our ears and our eyes we were standing outside a large marque with cooks (sorry, chefs) all dressed displaying a variety of dishes. I don't mean run of the mill stuff either! Check this example out:
There were a lot more chefs than what are visible here believe me.
So we appear to have stumbled on an annual culinary festival of sorts. I've since tried looking it up online for more information but I couldn't find anything in English on the event. So if you haven't already guessed as yet, this food was being handed out to the people for FREE. The image above doesn't show the extent of the food on offer. Get this, they had: seafood spaghetti, mussels, prawns, sushi, loads of other mini fish dishes, pizza, popcorn, nachos, chocolate waffles and countless flavours of ice-cream and other mini desserts.
I felt I was in heaven with all this free food around - as anyone who knows me well will testify too. I couldn't believe my luck. Actually who am I kidding, yes I could :-)
Seriously though I cannot imagine what the much younger local kids would have felt like experiencing freshly cooked quality food like this for free. Needless to say the crowds soon increased but as this was still a relatively small town, it wasn't massively over-crowded. The longest I waited in line for one of the many treats was a couple of minutes. Granted, being taller than a lot of young kids helps too!
We stayed for several hours in total and enjoyed the live music and wonderful ambience as The Albanian people are largely really friendly. I didn't once feel uneasy as I quickly felt as ease within my surroundings. The culture here means there are not any brutes getting heavily wasted on alcohol and starting fights so there was much less to feel on edge about. Just families, couples and individuals having a good time. Oh, plus a couple of happy foreigners and an old Albanian enjoying his ice-cream!
Kate (and others) - you'd have really, really enjoyed today so I hope Albania will be on your to-do list.
Top-tip: Come around the 23rd of May next year :-) Oh, and a hire a car if you want to maximise your experience. Oh, and visit Corfu too and take that crossing I did.