Northern Albania is on the Adriatic Sea. Southern Albania is on the Ionian Sea. Vlorë marks the boundary between these two seas, and indeed the riding in Albania switched dramatically with the sea change. A coincidence? Sure. A pleasant surprise? Certainly.
The road from Vlorë to Sarandë must be one of the world’s great paved coastal rides. Don’t even consider it if you don’t like steep riding. I saw more 10% grade signs during the two days out of Orikum than I’ve ever seen in two days. The grade was much less consistent than the consistency of those signs would indicate, and sometimes felt even steeper. One short section was one of the rare times that I’ve seen Snežana walk her bicycle on a paved road. It was a bit absurd.
The longest climb took us over a pass over 1000m above sea level. As with crossing Bosnia, we lucked out with the weather because just a couple days later the snow came down lower than that.
In addition to great riding it was fun to explore a couple archaeology sites in southern Albanian. The first was Ali Pasha’s Castle in Porto Palermo. Not only should this not be confused with the Port of Palermo in Sicily, but it shouldn’t be confused with Ali Pasha’s other castle(s) like the one I saw from my camp near Butrint.
Butrint is perhaps the most famous archaeological site in Albania. The Roman theatre is pictured on the 2000 lek banknote — that’s the first time I saw or even heard of the place! The site has had walled fortifications for over 2400 years. The Romans made a number of improvements, and Julius Caesar even visited Butrint. Later — like 1400 years later! — the Venetians bought Butrint along with Corfu to control the trade passing through the narrow strait. The Venetains added the castle on top of the hill and a square tower that folks seem oddly proud of in the literature.
Sarandë may be the most beautiful city in Albania, but it will forever bring sad memories for me. That’s where Snežana and I parted ways after 5 months and 5500 km traveling together. Who knows, we could meet up again, but we made no plans.
On to Greece, on my own. I spent my last 200 lek on a hamburger and a bag of chips at a roach coach on the border, probably the last bargain I’ll find for a while. That money won’t even buy a cup of tea in Greece.