We left Himara just before noon, with our next destination the coastal central Albanian city of Vlorë, or Vlora. We drove up and down and zigzagged around more mountains on our way but we grew hungry about half way into our three hour car trip. We drove past a sign for an Italian restaurant/guesthouse that advertised homemade noodles, and, since Jesse had been craving pasta, we turned around as quick as we could. We ate an excellent pasta lunch at a picnic table with red and white checkered tablecloth nestled amongst the forest trees.
We finished fully satisfied and were back in the car, on to Vlora. Vlora is the third biggest city in Albania, and the former capital. We stayed at another guesthouse, but this one did not have breakfast included, nor the friendliest of hosts, but they all cannot be winners. We were close to the city center and our first walk was up to a high point in the city.
Vlora was the first big city we visited in Albania, and it provided a different vibe than the smaller towns and beach cities we had been to already, for good and bad. We took back streets up to the highest point in the city where there was a restaurant with a huge, terraced patio, and we watched the sunset.
The next day we spent the morning walking by the waterfront, where there was a park that had all its sites in circular form, including the three basket basketball court (oddly), and a set of steps on a hill to see the city and seafront, amongst other round-shaped installations.
Next we took a drive out to St. Mary’s Monastery, which is located on the Narta Lagoon within the national park/wetlands of the same name. The Orthodox Monastery dates back to the 14th century, and is connected to the mainland by a long wooden bridge. It is in Vlora county, and not more than 20 minutes from the city center.
The inside of the Monastery is fairly typical of Orthodox Churches from this time period, and nothing too special; but visiting and walking on the bridge was the best part of the experience (except the smell. It smelled like dead fish).
We enjoyed our last day at the beach, where we rented a couple of beach chairs and swam until our heart’s content. The warm water in Vlora was not the clearest, but it was clear enough, and we could walk out into the sea at least 100 feet before we even had our upper torsos in the water. We rotated between swimming and sunning; and one of our trips into the water we struck up a conversation with an older gentleman who recognized our English (first assuming Australian) and once we told him we were Americans he lit up.
He was from Kosovo, which was part of Yugoslavia but inhabited by Albanians; he and his family had to leave Kosovo for Germany back when the war there occurred. He held the US in high regard, telling us that George Bush had visited Vlora and that he liked our country very much. He spoke seven languages, including Spanish, so we spoke with him in Spanish a bit, and then we got out of the water and he introduced us to his son, who lived and worked in Germany. We had a nice conversation before returning to our beach chairs.
Once the sun went down we went to eat at a little Italian Pizzeria run by an Italian man living in Vlora; it was great pizza to be sure. Our time in Vlora was short and was probably our least favorite visit in Albania, but was still fun and a great beach time to end our beaching in Albania. The next morning we left for the ancient site of Apollonia, on our way to Tirana.
Only a thirty minute drive north of Vlora, the Apollonia Archaeological Park was founded in the 6th century BC, and is the largest Archaeological Park in Albania. The Monastery and the Church of St.Mary, from the 13th century, are the most well preserved.
There was also a wedding happening that day, so the church was open, and we were able to go inside and get some pictures.
There is also a museum onsite, which is filled with items found at the site, including the normal ceramics, tools, and pottery, to statues and busts, weapons and shields, and grave headstones as well, most from the time Before Christ.
We explored all the courtyard surrounding the Monastery and museum, before venturing to other parts of the site.
We first came upon the remains of the 2nd century BC Buleuterion, and on the other side is the Odeon remains. You can see the wedding party on the steps of the Buleuterion.
We walked around these structures to a cafe and had a much needed snack of fries and some cold drinks; afterward we found a strange, short wooden bridge, that led to the view of the Buleuterion that you see at the top of this post.
We walked around the grounds a bit more and took one last look at the surrounding countryside (which is quite beautiful in itself). Then we headed back to the rental car, as we had to drop it off in a matter of hours in Tirana, our last stop in our month-long journey in Albania.