Saranda

The first time I went to Albania, I landed in Saranda after taking a short boat ride over from the Greek island of Corfu. At first, I did not quite know what to make of the dusty seaside town. The first thing which struck me as odd was how almost every car I saw was an old Mercedes Benz. I later learned that this is about the only brand of automobile that will withstand the rocky dirt roads, which are full of potholes. Albanians living and working abroad in Western Europe would bring them back and leave them for their families.

It was my husband’s first time back to Albania after being gone for almost eight years, so his Albanian was a little rusty, but we managed to communicate pretty well with people. As an American I was well-received. One time after telling a policeman my nationality he smiled profusely and said “Thank you Mr. Clinton!” Of course he was referring to the 2001 Nato bombing of Serbia forces who had been carrying out ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo.

I was blown away by the hospitality I experienced while in Saranda. Every time we visited extended family who were unprepared for our visit, we were welcomed with a large meal of fresh, delicious, nourishing food. Meal items included locally grown olives, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, onions, fresh bread, and a sour yogurt-like spread called geez. At another relative’s house we were treated to freshly-caught black and orange mussels. If the visit was a short one, Turkish coffee or Raki would be offered. I relished the richness of a culture where people honor their guests by making them feel at home.

Things are changing quickly in Saranda, roads are being built, and you can see the construction of houses, apartments, and hotels at every turn. However, some modern amenities are slow to catch up. The most noticeable of these is the lack of an effective trash disposal system.

Just miles from Greece and only a boat ride from Italy, Saranda is convenient for travelers who want to add some adventure to their vacation. At the same time, Albanians are trust-worthy, hard-working, and do not seek to steal from or shortchange foreign tourists. Instead you will find that for good prices, it is easy to find excellent meals and accommodation, as well as great beaches and welcoming people.

Perhaps it is the beautiful coastal scenery, or else maybe my dislike of the bumpy roads leading further inland (which usually make me carsick), but I have always been more than pleased to spend my time enjoying Saranda. In addition to the beautiful ocean scenery, a visitor can take advantage of everything Albania has to offer, including fascinating history, a warm culture, and an adventure to remember.