THE END OF THE ODYSSEY
I never thought I would ever see Sarande without being shot dead. In 1986 I stayed in a resort on the Greek island of Corfu. One night I looked out across the water and I could see a dark and rugged coastline across the water. A waiter walked up to me because he saw me staring at this piece of land in the distance. I asked him if it was some rural part of Greece as there were no lights. No, he said. He told me in fact there was a city over there called Sarande, but they had no street lights or many other lights for that matter. He went on to explain that this was in fact Albania and it was ruled by the evil Communist dictator Enver Hoxha. Albania was a paranoid country and the waiter went on to tell me that sometimes Albanians escaped by boat and made it here to the safe shores of Corfu. More often that not though – the bullet ridden bodies washed up. The border guards had strict shoot-to-kill orders. He went on to tell me that there were hundreds of bunkers and heavy weapons in the hills that were pointed right at Corfu. A scary story indeed.
In 2003 I returned to Corfu. When I found out that there was a ferry to the now Free Sarande – I went immediately. As the ferry approached Sarande, I could see why it was dark in 1986. They were still no street lights – or signs. My guide explained that as children they were taught in school to prepare for when war came with NATO. Not if – when. So here I was in Sarande and there were gun emplacements in every major intersection. And the hills were full of bunkers. Just as the waiter in Corfu had told me 17 years before.
The best part of visiting here? I found a brand new bar, looking over 4 of these now obsolete gun emplacements in the street. I sat down and had a nice cold beer and reflected on the changing of the times.
Freedom actually does taste good.
- Historical Travel
- Adventure Travel
- Family Travel
Favorite thing: A great many modern buildings have been built or are still building in Saranda. This one hosts the Emporiki Bank. It is a Greek Bank and this is an example of how Greece is a special partner for Albania. This is more true in the south of the country where lives a significant minority that speaks Greek in their daily life.
Looking southwards in 2009
Favorite thing: All three photos were shot from the sea front, almost in front of the city center. They show the south part of the bay with more and more buildings that grow on the limited space of the amphitheater shaped hills that frame the city. The city is now growing outside the bay, both inland, on the other side of the hill, along the road to Gjirokaster and southwards, in the direction of Ksamil
Synagogue from the Vth AD (2009 photo)
Favorite thing: Almost in the center of the town the remains of an ancient Synagogue have been unearthed. I wonder whether it correspond to the diggings I had photographed in 1988. The poster says that it shows that in the Vith AD, there was in Onzhesmus (previous name of Saranda) a wealthy Jewish community. The complex was abandoned in the last quarter of the Vth AD, after it was partly destroyed either by an earthquake or by Slavic invasions. It became later a Christian basilica.
CHILDREN SELLING BARCELETS
Favorite thing: When you get off the ferry from Corfu there are many children trying to sell you bracelets. These bracelets only cost 1 euro, which does not mean a lot to most of us on holiday, but it is a lot to the children. I bought a few of these bracelets and the children seemed to enjoy talking to us,
Although they seem to be all over you, they are friendly and desperate to earn some money.
1988, southern side of the bay
Favorite thing: In Saranda, though the whole bay is pleasant, the southern end of the sea front boulevard is the most welcoming. If you were not told where this photo was taken, I guess that you would mention many sea-side resorts, Nice, San Remo, Annaba, Parga, anywhere else but you would never think it is in Albania and in Saranda!
The bay of Saranda in 1988
Favorite thing: When I visited Saranda in 1988, one thing struck me. Enlarge the photo and you should understand. Saranda is and was a great sea-side resort and a harbor. If you know neighboring Greece with Kerkyra, Igoumenitsa, Parga and many other smaller ports, the difference should jump in your face. They are packed by boats of every kind and size while in 1988 in Saranda, there were a one cargo boat and three smaller size boats in the background, in the enclosed and controlled harbor.
I will not comment.
- Road Trip
Favorite thing: This picture shows a part of Saranda where a lot of new buildings have sprouted. In the foreground, a new and finished building. In the background as well on the left than in the faraway background, half a dozen of other buildings are unfinished with workers busy finishing them, may be for summer visitors (this was late May)!
1988 and 2007
Favorite thing: In 2007, I found that I knew this part of the city and that I had taken a photo in 1988. Once home, when I compared the photos, I could see that it has not much changed but that the occupancy of the shops had changed !
Enlarge both photos and compare !
2007, a quiet street parallel to the sea front
Favorite thing: This photo shows a quiet street parallel to the sea front. Most houses seem to have been there for a long time and I suppose they were there in 1988. I cannot remember how they looked but in 2007, they are obviously inhabited by wealthy owners! As this part of the city was already inhabited, there are few new buildings, only one in the background.
2007, a passage leading to the sea
Favorite thing: In 1988, I had not noticed these pedestrian alleys that lead to the sea. I suppose they were already there but they are now busy with shops, which of course, was not the case in 1988!
If you enlarge the picture, you will see in the background, on the southern part of the Saranda bay, a lot of new buildings. None were there in 1988 and this part of the city was uninhabited! What a change!
- Road Trip
2007, sea front and the quay
Favorite thing: The sea front might be a part of Saranda that had not much changed since 1988 : in 1988, there were no private cars, in 2007, cars are banned from the sea front! I was joking as the sea front is now very lively, with a lot of bars and restaurants with terraces, where in 2007; we had an excellent pizza!
- Road Trip
Favorite thing: When you're posting a letter or a postcard home, you might find that if you don't have the exact change to pay for the stamps at the post office, you'll get your change in stamps. Could be a problem if you're _very_ short of cash, but if you're a stamp collector it's great!
Favorite thing: Surprisingly, there is actually an internet cafe in Sarande, and it's pretty cheap too. I used it once, and the price in 2002 was 90 leke (about 45p?) for 18 minutes. I seem to remember it being on the main street.
- Budget Travel
1988, water basins with jets
Favorite thing: All along the promenade, water basins with jets are lined as in any seaside resort. They are not flowing but for sure, this is because of the season. This is looking like a regular seaside resort, doesn't it ? It is a regular seaside resort, isn't it ?
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