The ferry from Corfu to Saranda – what you need to know

Hydrofoil Kristi - Saranda port

Hydrofoil Kristi – Saranda port

One of the best ways into Albania is via the ferry from Corfu to Saranda in southern Albania. What follows is the practical information of what you need to know to make that process easy and – hopefully – trouble free.

I’ve been to Albania three times now, so far, and each time via Corfu. The first time I arrived late at night and was expecting to leave on the ferry the next morning. That was thwarted due to an annual safety check on the hydrofoil (so I was told though I heard a different story in Saranda) which meant there was no departure for three days. The second time everything went as it should and the journey was made much easier due to my previous experience. What surprised me the most was there was no way I could find detailed information about the logistics of getting across a relatively narrow stretch of water. This posting is an attempt to give an as up to date and accurate step by step approach to getting from one country to another as is possible.

Where you buy your tickets depends upon the time of year. During the high season, when there is more than one sailing a day, there is a kiosk just inside the main New Port entrance, to the left backing on to the main road. However, outside of the months of June to September tickets are only sold in the company’s office.

This is the head office of Ionian Cruises. That’s a grand title but it’s based in small shop facing the Domestic Terminal building, which also houses the biggest café in the area (as well as a left luggage office) on the road that runs parallel to the sea. There is a small sign indicating that they sell tickets to Albania (in English).

All the details I’ve been able to collect are as follows:

Ionian Cruises – Petrakis Lines, 4, Ethnikis Antistaseos, 49100 Corfu, Hellas.

(The website has improved significantly since I first published this post. Any additional information will more than likely be found there, e.g., vehicle tariffs.) 

Tel. : +0030 26610 38690, 31649, 25155

Fax : +0030 26610 38787, 26555

The office is open from 08.00 and the people who work in there speak English, which makes life easier for some of us non-Greek speakers.

Fast Ferry – Hydrofoil

You need your passport and you MUST buy a ticket before going to the boat. As of April 2018 the adult cost is  €19 each way in the low season. The cost increases to €23.80 from mid-June to mid-September. Children go for half price. Departure Times (all year) are at 09.00, but with 2 or 3 extra sailings from the middle of June to the middle of September. Check the website for times when you want to travel. The latest sailing from Corfu is 18.30. Apart from possible disruption due to the weather or mechanical issues the ferry should run every day of the year. There is now a facility to book and pay online

The hydrofoil leaves from the top end of the new port. This means that after buying your ticket in the office you have to get to the main entrance to the Port of Corfu which is about 400m along the road, heading northwards out of Corfu town. Once through the main gates turn left and head to the New Passenger Terminal, the sandy coloured building about a 100m away. Here you will get your passport and ticket checked. There is also a small Duty Free shop but few other facilities.

Duration of journey: 30 minutes.

Once on board leave your bag at your seat (or at the luggage store by the entrance) and go right to the back of the boat and get a sensation of speed without being blinded by the spray that obscures any sightseeing from the cabin. The boats are Kristi, Santa and Santa III, Komet class hydrofoils, not that young any more but still up to the task in hand.

Remember to put your watches/time pieces forward one hour when landing on Albanian soil (you effectively arrive before you have left!).

Car Ferry

A ferry taking vehicles is also now an option. From 16th May till 25th October there’s a departure from Corfu at 19.00. There’s an extra ferry between 1st July until 25th October at 13.00. From Saranda the departures during the same dates are 10.30 and 16.00 (local time). Costs are too complex to list here but all are on the website.

Duration of journey: 70 minutes.

These times and prices are valid for 2019.

There are no visa requirements for citizens of the European Union, citizens of other countries should check first. Passport formalities are remarkably innocuous on entering (or leaving) Albania. The passport will be scanned and recorded on the immigration service computer. You normally get a stamp in your passport if arriving or leaving by boat but this is not always the case at land borders. The lack of a stamp took me by surprise the first time I entered by land, from Greece, but later learnt that this is common and you shouldn’t be concerned if there is no entry stamp.

Once you leave passport/customs control you might well be approached by Tomi. He’s an English-speaking Albanian who runs a basic hostel less than 100m from the port entrance. If you are new to the country, want to meet other foreign visitors to pick their brains about what/when/where the hostel is a good place for all of this. Tomi also is a mine of information and if he doesn’t know the answers will almost certainly know someone who does. If you miss him you can call his mobile, +355694345426.

Another good place to check out is the Dolphin Hostel, located at 168, Rruga Lefter Talo. This is just above the street Rruga Flamurit, which is effectively Saranda’s interurban bus station.

The ticket office to get tickets to Corfu is in the building on the main road, directly above the dock. The name over the office is Finikas Lines. Sailings from Saranda vary depending upon time of year. There’s always at least one a day but there are extra sailings in the peak season. Check the link above for exact sailing details.

Recommendations and suggestions

So now you’ve arrived in Albania (hopefully without too many problems) what do you do? Below are some places you might want to visit. Also there’s a bit more (hopefully) useful tourist information as well as some commentary on Albanian politics and society. Click on the image to be taken to the post.

If you are interested in Socialist period culture (i.e., monuments – known locally as lapidars, bas reliefs, mosaics etc.) many examples of which still exist – in varying degrees of repair then here’s a page with links to locations throughout the country. This page also includes some of the post-Communist constructions in the country, e.g., churches and how the reaction has used Socialist Realist styles to promote the opposing ideology.

For more detailed information on Albanian lapidars go to the Albanian Lapidar Survey page.

 

Butrint

Butrint – a Greek and Roman story in Southern Albania

Albanian Town Planning - drastic measures taken

Albanian Town Planning – drastic measures taken

Visiting Enver Hoxha' Grave in Tirana

Visiting Enver Hoxha’ Grave in Tirana

Komani Lake - The most impressive ferry trip in Europe?

Komani Lake – The most impressive ferry trip in Europe?

Impressions of Saranda, Southern Albania

Impressions of Saranda, Southern Albania

'King' Zog's remains return to Tirana

‘King’ Zog’s remains return to Tirana

Reasons to be suspicious – Albanian-British Relationships in the 1940s

Reasons to be suspicious – Albanian-British Relationships in the 1940s

Tirana International Airport - Albania

Tirana International Airport – Albania

Kosovo entry stamp

Kosovo entry stamp

The bus from Bajram Curri to Tirana

Vlora Independence Monument

The Vlora Independence Monument in 2011

A hundred years of Albanian Independence?

Vlora Martyr's Monument on Liberation Day 2011

The workers’ red flags to celebrate Liberation Day in Vlora

29th November 1944 – the date of true independence for Albania

Syri i Kalter, the Blue Eye, southern Albania

Syri i Kalter, the Blue Eye

Chairman Mao and Enver Hoxha

Chairman Mao and Enver Hoxha

The definitive split between Albania and China, 1978

 

Argentinian Diary – The Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito Moreno Glacier
Perito Moreno Glacier

Argentinian Diary –The Perito Moreno Glacier

A visit to the Perito Moreno Glacier is one of things that attract people to the town of El Calafate – the town itself is dominated by tourism and doesn’t have a lot to offer in its own right. It is possible to get to the glacier by public bus (and that would work out very cheap although involving a lot more walking to see as much of the glacier as possible) but again, for an easy life I opted for one of the tours.

As in Puerto Madryn (for Peninsula Valdés) and Puerto Natales (for the Torre de Paine) there are many agencies offering tours. They might all offer something slightly different but by the time you have paid for all that you have to pay for the costs work out very much of a muchness. These tours aren’t cheap (if the Argentinian economy is in a bit of a free fall the tourist industry has protected itself by basing their quotes on the US$) so though the situation is getting dire for many Argentinian workers the companies that run these sort of tours for visitors (from Argentina or abroad)have not really been effected.

The Perito Moreno is visited by hundreds every day for a number of reasons. It’s one of the few glaciers that can be reached relatively easily. It’s still a long day but the roads have been improved as the State realised this site could bring in a lot of money. The area is a National Park and the road infrastructure to and within the park is good enough to not put people off the long journey. There has also been a huge investment is a series of walkways on the hill facing the glacier that give anyone prepared to walk a view of virtually all the face as it reaches the lake.

The glacier is also unusual in that although most of the face of it comes to an end in water there’s a part that hits the land. It is here an unusual event happens from time to time. There’s no regularity overtime and the last was earlier this year but the next could happen within weeks.

For most of the time there’s a channel under the end of the glacier where it touches land. However, for a mixture of conditions which I’m not sure anyone really understands what happens is that this channel will get blocked. This leads to a build up of the water in a narrow branch of the Lago Argentino whose level starts to increase. This can be clearly seen on the shore line where the maximum water level is marked by the lack of any vegetation.

But this huge build up in the weight of the water together with water’s desire to find a way through any obstacle means that this blockage gets weakened. This then collapses catastrophically and is called the ‘Rupture’.

By all accounts when news got to El Calafate that this was likely to happen earlier this year virtually the whole town tried to get a front seat. There’s a series of pictures taken when this happened in 2003 on a poster in my hostel so I’ll see if I can photograph the sequence and post it here.

But the day I went wasn’t so dramatic. However, it was a perfectly beautiful, sunny day which meant you were able to appreciate the beauty of the way the various shades of blue were developed with sunlight refracting through the different thicknesses of ice. This colour show can only really be appreciated by taking one of the boat trips (most cover the southern part of the glacier although there is also a smaller boat on the northern side). The improving weather in the high mountains by mid afternoon meant that a clear view of those peaks was also possible.

Practical Information

I took the tour organised by the owners of the hostel I stayed in called ‘The Alternative Glacier Tour’. It took a different route out of town,providing a panoramic view of the Lago Argentino beside El Calafate itself and also took a route through the countryside, along dirt roads rather than going the quickest and most comfortable route.

Basic cost = A$1,110 (about £20.00)

Then on top of this was the boat trip = A$800 (about £16.00). This I would recommend,especially if it’s a bright and sunny day. On a dull and overcast day you would still get the sense of the size of the glacier but would miss out on the colours.

On top of this there is the entrance to the National Park itself = A$700 (about £14.00).

What follows is a lot, and I mean a lot, of pictures of ice.

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Monument to the Artillery – Sauk

 

Monument to the Artillery - Sauk

Monument to the Artillery – Sauk

Although the plan is to attempt to record all the monuments from the socialist period in Albania’s history there are, and will be, occasions when I will have arrived too late. Either the ‘democrats’ (a mixture of monarchists and neo-fascists) have got there first and destroyed the works of Socialist Realist art as it represents all that they despise and fear – such as any of the statues of Enver Hoxha – or those lumpen elements who see only scrap value in a piece of metal – that has led to the damage to the statue of the Five Heroes of Vig in the northern city of Shkodër. Destruction and vandalism has been the fate of the Monument to the Artillery in the hills to the south of Tirana, close to the town of Sauk.

Even during the time of socialism in Albania this area was probably not that accessible. Now abandoned, two military barracks and a network of tunnels had been constructed on the ridge that looks down on the artificial lake and the forested area that is Tirana Park.

During the National Liberation War this would have been even more inaccessible, with no drivable roads from the valley to the ridge. However, this inaccessibility didn’t prevent a unit of the 3rd Shock Brigade of the Partisan army from transporting a short-barrelled mountain gun to the top in order to disrupt the plans of the German Nazis from establishing some element of legitimacy to their occupation of the country with the setting up of a ‘Quisling’ government.

The date chosen for this sham was the 18th October 1943 and on that day the Albanian traitors met in the Victor Emmanuel III Palace on the outskirts of the city of Tirana. This building seems to be a magnet for fascists, traitors and despots as this is where the remains of Ahmet Muhtar Bej Zogu (the self-proclaimed ‘King’ Zog) were interred when they were brought back to Albania in 2012.

Firing across the valley the small piece of artillery hit its target and caused the suspension of the meeting. For this reason, following the independence of the country with the defeat of the Nazis and the liberation of the country from all foreign forces at the end of November 1944, the 18th October was declared the Day of the Artillery of the People’s Army.

And for that reason the Monument to the Artillery of the National Liberation Army was established in the hills above Sauk.

The monument involved the work, skill and imagination of three sculptors – Kristaq Rama, Muntas Dhrami, Shaban Hadëri (who also collaborated on a number of other sculptures, including Mother Albania at the National Martyrs’ Cemetery and the Monument to Independence in Vlora) – and the architect R Kote.

(It’s perhaps pertinent here to make a comment about the construction of monumental art in a socialist society. An aspect which makes Socialist Realism not only an art for a specific class of people but also a new way of producing public art is the collaborative manner in which artists are encouraged to work. This is a big issue and I don’t intend to go into any greater detail here but the individuality that most ‘intellectuals’ crave, demand and expect gets challenged in a socialist society. This might explain why some of those Albanian intellectuals and artists now hold the views they do. Examples of this would be the writer Ismail Kadare who no longer lives in his own country; Agim Nebiu, who was an active participant in the vandalism of the Albania Mosaic on the National Historical Museum, of which he was one of the designers; and Hektor Dule, who created the statue of Azim Hajdari, one of the leaders of the counter-revolution in 1990.)

The artillery monument was constructed of concrete with the relief being of bronze. Inauguration was in 1968.

The columns were typical of the style that was adopted throughout the country. This time two rectangular columns, of about 10 metres, are at right angles to each other with the shape of a star cut into a red background almost at the top of the tower. The base on which these columns sit was faced with white and red marble on to which the story of the attack on the Quisling assembly was written. In 2014 there were only small fragments of the marble in existence, most of it being smashed and some of it still littering the site.

Artillery lapidar - Sauk - 1971

Artillery lapidar – Sauk – 1971

(The area around the monument in happier times – published in issue No 5, 1971, of New Albania.)

A wall that held the bronze bas-relief has completely disappeared, as has the metal. Whether this was stolen out of pure theft or political vandalism I don’t, as yet, know for certain. This today is still an isolated site but 20 or 30 years ago would have been more so. That would have made either option relatively easy and unobserved.

The relief depicted six Partisan fighters, five men and one woman. The lead man has a pair of binoculars up to his face and would have been looking in the direction of the Victor Emmanuel III Palace. Behind him is a woman with a rifle on her back.

Next is the gun crew and their short barrelled mountain gun. There’s a commander pointing in the direction of fire and a gun aimer is down on his knees making the necessary adjustments to the angle of the barrel to determine the range and trajectory of the shell. Behind him a Partisan holds the shell that is soon to be dropping on the heads of the Fascist collaborators and traitors. The sixth man of the group holds the reigns of the horse that had contributed to dragging the gun into position in the first place.

In 1979 the artist Petro Kokusta created a depiction of this event in a painting entitled ‘Shelling the traitor’s assembly’ which is presently on display on the first floor of the National Art Gallery in Tirana.

Shelling the traitor's assembly - 1979 - Petro Kokushta

Shelling the traitor’s assembly – 1979 – Petro Kokushta

Not only is the monument in ruins the whole of the area is a rubbish strewn mess. The paths are overgrown and the area emits an atmosphere of neglect and dereliction. That’s a shame as from this vantage point you can get one of the finest views of the city of Tirana, with the Datji Mountain range in the background. The day I visited was the worst day, visibility wise, of my visit in November 2014 and the picture is pretty muggy. Next time I will visit on a better day and, hopefully, be able to provide a more accurate photographic impression of the possibilities.

Because this range isn’t as inaccessible now as it used to be. From the top end of Sauk a newly surfaced tarmac road climbs towards the first ridge where the local cemetery is located. The road continues to a second higher ridge which is where the ruined monument can be found. (Looking up from the centre of Sauk you should be able to make out two man-made structures, the columns of the Artillery Monument and a sharply pointed obelisk which stood over a military barracks.)

This road is Rruga Xhrebahimi and, I assume, was built primarily to serve the old barracks. But now it is a very fine, well made and smooth surfaced road – but it basically goes nowhere and is indicative of the ‘development’ under ‘democracy’.

As I was going along this new road I couldn’t work out why no traffic was passing me in either direction until a single motorbike passed me. As I walked uphill towards the high pass I passed a group of six workmen who were making ‘improvements’ to the road which weren’t necessary. They were merely shovelling spadefuls of gravel on the edge of the tarmac and then using a light steamroller to keep it in place (until the next rainy day). A completely useless and wasteful task – apart from keeping them employed.

When I arrived at the pass I realised why there was no real traffic on such a well made road. At the top there was a section of from 100-150 metres where the road was just a rough and rutted dirt track. The road then continued down the other side of the hill, going for how long and to where I know not. Why this crucial section hadn’t been completed I can only speculate. Corruption? Inefficiency? Bad planning? Probably a mix of all of them.

There would be, however, some people who will benefit from this road. Being built very close to the road, in a location which meant that the patios would look down towards the Tirana Park Lake and the city were a small handful of very expensive looking houses. This road, no doubt paid for by public money, would make it very easy for them to get home. What the people of Sauk thought of this road I wasn’t able to discover. They must have wondered why such a road was being built to nowhere when the roads in the town are just falling apart.

GPS:

N41º.29555302

E19º.80888203

Altitude: 328.9m

Getting there.

There are buses leaving at regular intervals, destination Sauk, from the bus station that is located in the square to the south of the Opera/National Library building (not far from The Partisan statue). Get off at the terminus and head for the hills in the direction that the bus had been travelling before you alighted. Cost 30 lek.

It’s a bit of a hike and must be close to 3 kilometres in distance. Once you get to the pass and the temporary end of the road take the narrow path off to the right, on the Sauk side of the hill and follow this to the monument. If you take the wider path off to the left, going pass some tunnels you will arrive at an abandoned military barracks and the site of the pointed obelisk (with a now sad-looking red star at its apex). Chose a good, clear day and you will be rewarded with a fine view of the city and the mountains (as well as, possibly, a sight of the coast).