Ferrying in July 2018, Part 5
Tuesday 17th July 2018
This morning we are still sailing through the Adriatic Sea on ST. DAMIAN, heading in sunshine towards Albania and the port of Vlore. There was time for a breakfast cappuccino and croissant from the lovely Forward Bar that I had only seen last night after we boarded in darkness. This morning it was flooded with light from the semi-circular windows and full of cheerful people waiting to disembark in the port.
I had time to take some more photographs and then look at the port of Vlore ahead of us. The city there now looks huge, set against the magnificent mountains behind it. I recollected that I have been to Vlore once before, so it will be interesting to see how the port has developed since July 2007. These are some of my notes from that visit.
12th July 2007
Arriving in Vlore, Albania, on Kapetan Alexandros A.
Under intense heat we walked along the jetty (still under construction) to the terminal building to collect our passports, and wait for the staff to decide whether we should pay a tax, even though we were foreign tourists and only visiting for an hour, until the ship set off again. After discussion, we paid no tax, and set off through the terminal exit door to view Albania.
Oh my, I think ‘frontier town’ says it all: mountains behind Vlore, a small town with a new part in the process of construction, dust and sand everywhere, high security fencing all around the port area, uniformed guards and security-labelled people everywhere. I admired the way the country and this little port are trying to encourage tourists, after years of being closed to much of the outside world. We walked beyond the jetty to take photographs, still within the fenced port area, but were soon accosted by a policeman who knew just one word in English: “stop” and pointed to us to go back to the ship. On the way back we stopped at the one and only port café for some tea, achieved through sign language, giggling and a certain maritime author’s quick sketch of a steaming cup of tea. A sign on a little jetty building told us to “Have a nice trip”.
end of quote
Now, in July 2018, the city has developed enormously by the look of it. High rise buildings can be seen everywhere, with wide shopping streets and traffic. Those magnificent mountains form the backdrop to an ever-increasing city, with a population at the 2011 Census shown as 104,827. The Republic of Albania, as it is officially known, has had what I shall only call an interesting past, but it is no longer communist and is described as an emerging democracy.
We arrived about 8 a.m. and disembarked into the hot sunshine. Passport Controls were ahead of us all, but many people must have had Albanian passports because they were in a different queue and were soon waved through. The rest of us had to wait to enter a small office at the end of the jetty. My passport was looked at, and so was I, then it was copied and finally handed back to me. At least I had my passport with me when leaving ST. DAMIAN, which was not the way of it in July 2007 when all the non-Albanian passports (probably half a dozen) were handed in to Passport Control for checking first.
Once free to enter Albania we could start putting today's plan into operation. My friends wanted to take some photos of the ship at the quayside, and I sat in the shade along the waterside looking after the rucksacks and watching the world go past. They were soon back and then it was time to find a local taxi driver who would be prepared to drive us north to the port of Durres. We are to sail from there tonight on another ship, back to Italy.
We found a local taxi driver, who seemed to approve of us as passengers as we did of him after a short chat. A price was agreed, which seemed acceptable for a distance of 118 kms. (about 80 miles) and our bags were put into the car boot. We set off through this huge city, admiring the wide dual-carriage way roads, the colourful painted high-rise apartment buildings, and then on the outskirts soon joined another dual-carriage way route through the mountains and then through obviously fertile countryside.
An hour later the driver pulled into a big petrol station with an air-conditioned cafe and we all had cool drinks and a small snack. We thanked him for that stop, paid for his drink and set off again north up to Durres. He dropped us at the seaside, near a pier, and near the port. We all shook hands after paying him, and he drove away; we always like to try and establish good international relations on our travels.
Nearby we could see a couple of ship funnels, and also a really tall building. Our destination was the 14th/15th floor Fly Bar. My friends had been there before and delighted in showing me the location and views. There in immediate sight were two sister ships: the GNV-SNAV AZZURRA and, our ship for tonight, RIGEL II of Ventouris Line. After a cup of coffee we set off along the sea-side promenade towards a row of restaurants.
Our destination was Belvedere Bar Restaurant where we enjoyed a cheerful lunch watching the sea and eating well. This meant that the beach then beckoned where we could enjoy comfortable big beach chairs for a couple of hours, in the safe shade of large umbrellas.
We walked back along the promenade, admiring the unusual pier structure jutting out into the sea. Back at the Fly bar we could indulge in afternoon tea and enjoy the views, before deciding to visit some of the travel agents in the nearby streets.
Before we left I was amazed to see the remains of the ancient Roman theatre in the nearby hillside; one of the thoughtful Bar waitresses decided to open a big window so I could see it over the balcony and take a photo. That looks an interesting place for a future visit.
Ships seen: St. Damian, Rigel II, Azzurra
To be continued...