Come Friday morning and we where on the road again. This time we where on the coastal highway, on our way to Saranda. We where to spend the weekend moving along southern Albania. The aim was to see the “Greek” areas. So we passed by familiar landscape. Agricultural land as far as the eye could see. Then, at one point we reached the coastal city of Vlore. We ventured into the port, in order to find us something to eat. But, since the city is a port of entry from Italy, we did not manage to find anything that could suit us and any restaurant that was not a “tourist attraction” . So we stayed our southbound course. In the meantime the traffic was slowly becoming worse, and the roads where gradually deteriorating. After about an hour of trying to negotiate through local traffic, we finally left the city and continued moving on the coastal road to Saranda. We reached the beach where the old submarine base used to be. We stopped at a roadside fishing tavern to make our stomachs quiet down. Our instincts proved right once again and after a rich but cheap meal we where back on our way to Saranda. This time the landscape was changing. We where slowly going up the mountains. Traffic was scarce too. It was as if nobody was using this road. We would find out a little later. For the moment we where driving with the windows down, getting the mid-spring breeze on our faces. Suddenly the freeze turned into a chill, when almost midway into our mountain climb we ran into thick fog. We could see no further than 5 metres ahead of us. Instinctively the speed lowered significantly, and we where driving with the constant fear of falling of an open cliff or something like that.
As we where reaching the mountaintop, the fog was beginning to clear. Meanwhile the turns where multiplying rapidly, so where the potholes and the bumps on the road. But, once again, the Touareg prove to be a valuable and loyal companion. Despite its size, it was taking turns smoothly, and we usually did not “feel” the bumps or any other anomalies on the road. As we where descending to the sea again, the road grew wider. Its sides where also filled with nationalist slogans and UCK signs. We where into the “Greek” area, and Albanian nationalists from the north (the slogans where signed by “students from Tirana” or some similarly named organisation) definately wanted to make themselves seen in the area. This was the only sign of ethnic tension we encountered throughout the whole trip, in reality. When we reached the first villages, the majority of which was dominantly greek, the picture was different. Serene, with no provocations whatsoever. After another fourty kilometres (or so) we where reaching the outskirts of Saranda.
Now, everyone of you reading this blog, might have heard that Saranda is one of the most beautiful cities in Albania. This is partly misinformation. Saranda used to be o lovely town. Until the building boom destroyed it. Now it looks like Durres surrounded by hills. Few traditional pockets still survive, in the old town, but the reality is that most of the city was taken down to make way for apartment blocks and hotels. This looked like our idea, which was later confirmed by a local restauranteur . We lodged ourselves in a cheap third rate hotel and went for an afternoon nap. In the evening we converged on the balcony (which looked over the port and most of the city), had a bit of coffee and searched for a place to eat. Once again the Albanian connection worked, and this time we landed in an uber cozy restaurant, situated just over Dekko, Albania’s biggest and most exclusive summer club. The owner, as it turned out, had a long and illustrious career in the cuisine of some of Greece’s most exclusive and famous restaurants. And that was evident in the decoration of the restaurant and the luxurious plates too. It also looked like a place for a quite select clientele. A suit from the Austrian bank, one of the bigwigs as I learned from my stepfather, was expected to dine there the next day. We where dining there that evening. Our host said that Saranda used ton look like a beautiful village. But then, showing off newly gained cash from Greece, and trying to impress the tourists took over.
Soon we found out that we were the sole customers in the establishment, for the whole night. It looked as if they had had it opened just for us.
The answer as to why we where the sole customers came with the food, and the bill we had to pay. As it turned out, our insightful host had missed out on a couple of things. In fact he was swept away from the way greek fashion-omics work. That means mediocre food in a luxurious environment, complete with over-the-top prices. We where paying a totally “greek” check, which means thrice as expensive as Albanian prices. Truly, the concept of value for money had missed a guy. Or he was so carried away by serving the “elite”, that he forgot about common people. Anyway, with a bit of rage in our hearts we returned to the hotel, where I started to write, only to be stopped by a city-wide blackout, caused by a storm….