In the morning we caught the ferry across the Corfu straight to Saranda in Albania. We had been expecting a small fishing village, but Saranda was actually much larger. It is built in a horseshoe around the bay, with brightly painted modern buildings and a long boulevard along the shore creating a charming environment. We checked into our very nice hotel and had pizza on one of the many cafes on the shore, then explored the town together. On the spur of the moment (much to my dearest’s chagrin) we hopped in a taxi and drove to Butrint through the countryside, down windy narrow roads.
Butrint is to the south of Saranda, nearly on the border of Greece. It juts out on a peninsular with only a narrow connection to the land, making it an ideal site to fortify. The original settlement is 3000 years old, but most of the buildings we saw were Roman era, since major extensions were made after joining the Roman Empire in 228 BCE. The ruins were in excellent condition, we could see the Roman bathhouse, the theatre, a nympaeum, old palaces and temples. It was delightful to slowly wander around the city hand in hand, seeing these ancient ruins covered in water from the recent storms. The wildlife was beautiful too (the area is a national park) with hummingbird moths, bright green grasshoppers and black birds with a splash of brilliant blue. Slightly younger was the large baptistery (built after Butrint became a bishopric in the 6th century CE, with beautiful arches and hidden under our feet complex mosaics. The walls surrounding the city were impressive, strengthened by Emperor Justinian, with highly fortified gates and a castle on the hill top. There was once an aqueduct stretching across the water to a stream in the mountains, but in 550 CE the city was sacked by the Goths, and never fully recovered, dwindling in population and infrastructure in the Middle Ages, until it become completely unoccupied shortly after Venice built a fortress there.
We had dinner at a romantic Italian restaurant by the shore, and an early night’s sleep. The next morning we caught a taxi out to the Blue Eye. The Blue Eye is an outlet for underground rivers running from the mountains in inland Albania. The water coming out is so clean and pure, that the stream is nearly colourless except at the outlet where the hole is so deep it takes on a brilliant blue. It is hard to measure how deep it is because the volume of water gushing out is so great that stone thrown in get push back up, but divers have managed to get down to 45 metres. We stood in the freezing cold water of the stream, and wandered through the green forest together, before returning to Saranda. On the way we say many of the tens of thousands of circular concrete pillboxes built by Enver Hoxha after the communists finally achieved independence for Albania after WWII, after centuries of Ottoman rule. Possibly not complete paranoia, considering the constant occupation Albania has had in its history (and the current occupation of Kosovo). Our final stop was at an old Ottoman castle overlooking Saranda, a beautiful site over the Albanian country side, before we returned by ferry to Corfu.