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Sarande?

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Mar 1st, 2008, 05:49 AM
  #1
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Sarande?

A cruise I'm interested in stops in Sarande. In my ignorance, I know nothing about the place (though of course I spotted it on my atlas). I'm hoping that knowledgeable folks can tell me something about what the area is like. What does one "do" there? Is it a handsome port? Or are the important/interesting things away from the port area? Etc. Thanks much!
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Mar 1st, 2008, 08:46 AM
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The area is very nice: rocky coastline and rolling green countryside.
One 'does' the Roman archaelogical site at Butrinti. It's about a 40 minute bus ride from Sarande. Your cruise will probably organise a bus tour for you.
No, I didn't think it was a handsome port. Rather rundown and tatty. But the Albanians are doing their best after years of repression and trying to get their tourist infrastructure together. There is a nice promenade area with little cafes and restaurants. Some places take euros, other you have to use lek (100 lek to $1 approx).
If you are on a cruise I'm sure it will all be arranged for you and you won't have to sort it out for yourself.
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Mar 5th, 2008, 02:53 PM
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Thanks for your good detailed reply.
And hoping to get more input.
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May 12th, 2008, 06:44 AM
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Hoping for more input.
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May 12th, 2008, 07:43 AM
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We were in Sarande last October - it was a port on an Oceania cruise. We generally do not use the tours offered through the cruiseline, but we made an exception in this case, as it appeared that independent tour options were non-existent.

We went to the medieval village of Gjirokastra ... the bus took about two hours to get there, winding through the countryside and into the mountains. The village looked very interesting; however the tour guide was insistant that no one stray from the group, and what he wanted us to see was basically the old fortress percehd atop a hill, filled with leftover communist statuary and weapons.

We were marched into a "tour-approved" coffee shop (pricey and terrible), and then through the narrow winding streets of the village. It was really pretty awful, as there were a few shops offering local crafts and foods, but the guide was a jerk and refused to allow anyone to patronize the shops.

My husband and I actually had to sneak off to poke around one of the shops, which was delightful. We found some great souvenirs in the little time we had before the prison warden, I mean guide, discovered us and dragged us back to the bus.

Our group, about thirty people from the cruise ship, was herded right through the main streets of the village, but we were discouraged from interacting with any of the locals, who seemed to view us with a certain amount of disdain. I couldn't blame them, and even when one of the people on the tour asked the guide why we couldn't go into the shops and spend some money, he just said we were on a "timetable."

That was after we had spent more than an hour in the "castle" looking at old guns and communist propaganda.

It was rather embarrassing, as it appeared obvious that the local townspeople could have used an influx of tourist money, but no one had a chance to spend more than a Lek or two on the guide-approved coffee.

My impression of Albania, just from the very limited time we were there, is that they are still recovering from living for generations under the paranoia and isolation instilled by the repressive communist regime in power for so many years. Our guide spoke of the love the Albanian people have for all things western, and in particular the USA.

Everything seemed very drab and depressing, particularly in Sarande itself.

Sarande is set on the water, but it is not what one would call "handsome." Many of the buildings are gulag-type, gray and boxy cheap apartments. Unbelieveable mounds of trash - especially discarded plastic water bottles - are piled up everywhere. It almost made me wonder why in the world I waste time recycling my puny bits of plastic - then to see mountains of it everywhere we looked. Rubble everywhere. It was depressing.

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May 12th, 2008, 08:10 AM
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Wow! Thanks so much for the terrifically detailed report. You're very convincing that Sarande isn't a place I'd be enthusiastic about visiting. I wonder why cruise ships make it a stop. The cruise I'm looking at is with Regent, and I'm interested that Oceania includes that port as well. The itinerary is Venice to Istanbul and there are other stops that I'm quite interested in (Santorini, e.g.), but I may look for a different itinerary altogether-- one where I'd look forward to every port.
Do you generally enjoy Oceania, by the way? We'd looked into switching to that cruise line, but I was put off by the reports of the tiny bathrooms and the absence of king bed. Otherwise, Oceania seemed like a great fit for us (esp as Regent is getting fantastically expensive).
Thanks again for your very helpful response!
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May 12th, 2008, 03:34 PM
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We absolutely loved Oceania - and after a few trips over the years on some of the lower range lines (NCL, RCCL and Princess) we had figured that we are just not "cruise" people.

It was the itinerary that drew us to the trip - Athens to Venice by way of Kusadasi, Delos, Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, Sarande, Kotor, and Dubrovnik. We spent three days in Athens before the cruise, and afterwards, we stayed in Venice for three days before taking a train to paris for another 10 days. All in all, an amazing journey.

I guess the stateroom bathrooms are kind of small - we were on Insignia - but that wasn't a problem for us. And we had a queen bed, again no problem.

The food (truly wonderful!), service, and ports were great. In fact, we are booked on another Oceania cruise for spring 2009 (Rio to Barcelona)

By the way, I have no regrets about having visited Albania - it's always part of the adventure to experience the unexpected. I probably would never choose to return to Sarande, but don't get me going on Kotor. What a lovely destination that is!

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May 14th, 2008, 05:40 AM
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Thanks for another great reply. And Rio to Barcelona! I'm jealous! Happy sailing to you!
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May 14th, 2008, 05:51 AM
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scdreamer: If you don't mind, I'd love to hear a bit about Kotor. Hadn't been on my radar screen of places I'm eager to visit-- but I really am ignorant about much of the world.
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May 15th, 2008, 05:18 AM
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poss, I am by no means an expert on Kotor - we were there only for a day as a port on our cruise, but I was so impressed by the beauty of the walled city.

Perhaps it was the fact that my introduction to Kotor came about early in the morning as our ship cruised in through the breathtaking fjord. I was smitten from the first sight of the sun's rays peering over the mountaintops, barely lighting the lovely shoreline villages and eventually all of the city of Kotor.

The ship docked directly across from the city, which like Dubrovnik, is walled, but is much smaller. It was a two minute walk from the ship to the entry gate of the city. Lots of shops and cafes inside, but the character of the old city has been retained. It was great to wander about the city, a much smaller and less frenetic version of Dubrovnik.

There are ruins of an old fortress, very castle-like, set high upon a steep hill above the city below. It is a UNESCO heritage site, a rather long hike up on stone steps with a myriad of switchbacks, studded with occasional tiny chapels and monuments. We made the fairly arduous climb up, well worth it for the sight of the red-tiled roofs and the lovely fjord below. The castle itself was fun to explore - we found ourselves sidetracked a couple times, as we climbed old medieval steps into the ruined leftovers of old castle rooms along the way.

(If you should decide to attempt the climb, my advice is to start early in the morning, before the sun is too high, and to be sure to wear sturdy shoes appropriate for a hike)

The climb up to the fortress (we got as far as the flag, just about to the top) was one of the highlights of our entire cruise.

As we were leaving Kotor in the mid-afternoon on the ship, there were a few short cloudbursts, with double rainbows falling upon a couple of the small islands in the fjord. Amazing.
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May 15th, 2008, 05:22 AM
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What a lovely picture you've painted! Thanks for taking the time to write these fine posts--truly valued.
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