Albania – a country so weighed down in its history that it may never be free of its complex past. Conquered by the Ottoman Empire, ruled by Italy, dominated by first the Soviet communist regime and then by Chairman Mao, and now struggling with democracy.
At first, none of this history was visible in Sarande, a cheerful tourist port lying opposite Corfu. We caught the ferry in, and obtained our Albanian visas at the border. We strolled past roadside markets, and along the marble boulevard, until we reached our hotel. We had a nice bright room with a balcony looking out across the sea, with Corfu in the distance.
We strolled through the city center, stopping at a park to watch the people of the town, and then hired a taxi-driver to take us to Butrint. Butrint was a magical place – an old Roman city, complete with an aqueduct, city walls, theater, and acropolis – visited by Caesar. The ruins were surrounded by cool dense foliage, standing in a clearing. The recent rain collected in the foundations of the old houses, causing the walls and columns to rise above the ponds, their reflections gently shimmering below. The intricate Roman floor mosaics were hidden below sand, limestone, and water, but they could occasionally be glimpsed in the alcoves of old fountains, or a cleared corner of a church. We explored the ruins for a couple of hours, passing through narrow gates in the walls and visiting the home of the nymphs. A castle lay at the top of the former Acropolis, proudly flying red Albanian flag with its black two-headed eagle.
The next day we visited Blue Eye, a tranquil spring in the woods. A plaque nearby declared that 8.4 m 3 per second of water was gushing from the spring, which went down vertically for over 100m. We paddled in the 10 oC water for a few moments – my calves quickly numbed by the cool water. We wandered through the nearby glades and stood on bridges watching the clear blue water rushing below us. On the drive back, we spotted dozens of the 400,000 domed concrete pill boxes, hastily scattered over the country at great expense.