The Balkans Trip Recap- Day 11: Gjirokaster to Butrint, Albania

balkansDuring our third day in Albania we continued our visit to Gjirokaster and then, later in the day moved on to another UNESCO World Heritage Site. In between, we visited an amazing natural site.

We stopped for lunch (and spent the night) in Saranda, a small, beach town along the Albanian Riviera. During lunch the beaches seemed pretty busy but the restaurants were relatively quiet. At night the area came alive. People were out and about, walking along the pedestrian area near the beach and filling up the restaurants.

Here is what we did during the day:

  • Checked out Gjirokaster in the morning
  • Visited the Blue Eye Spring
  • Saw amazing ruins at Butrint, a UNESCO WHS

IMG_5936After visiting the castle in Gjirokaster the day before, it was time for us to explore the area a bit more and find out why it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We started off with a visit to the Ethnographic Museum. The museum is located on a very interesting site the place where former dictator Enver Hoxha lived for many years. The building is set up like a traditional Gjirokaster house which was very similar to the homes that made up the Ethnographic Museums in Kosovo. The museum had traditional rugs, clothing and other local items on display.

We enjoyed our visit but had one pretty big problem with the museum- there were no signs or information about what we were looking at!

IMG_5944The Old Bazaar is the made up of the main street (in the old part of town) and a few other side streets nearby. The street is very narrow and cars drive both ways which is pretty crazy. Add in cars that decide to stop in front of random shops and you have a traffic jam waiting to happen.

Some of the shops sold touristy items so we had to get Lucas an Albania tank top since it was only about $4 US. There were also some local shops like tailors in the area. We had read there were also craftsman in the bazaar doing woodwork but didn’t notice this in the area. Overall the bazaar was a bit of a disappointment. You could wander through the whole area in 15 minutes if you don’t stop in too many of the shops (we didn’t).

IMG_5952My favorite stop in Gjirokaster was at the cold-war tunnel. The tunnel is under the castle so you can walk through from one side to the other. We took a few photos outside the main entrance and found it funny how people use it today as a way to save some time going from one side to the other. It seems like cold-war tunnels make for great shortcuts.

While walking through the tunnel I figured it would be a great place for a jump. Check out the results below.


IMG_6001Our next stop was the Blue Eye spring, one of the busier sites we’d visited in Albania until this point. When you walk to the Blue Eye from the parking area you immediately realize how the spring got its name. The water was as blue as could be and you could see the water bubbling up from one side. It was a really nice day out and many people were jumping in, going for a quick swim. If I had a bathing suit on I would’ve gone in too. The water was really cold but I doubt that it was as cold as when I participated in the Coney Island Polar Bear Swim.

After checking out the source of the spring we walked along the water which led to an area with some vendors selling drinks and snacks. We took a break here and enjoyed the views of the water.

IMG_6078After checking into our hotel and grabbing lunch in Saranda we drove about 40 minutes to Butrint, an ancient city and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Butrint was a very large ancient city of importance during Greek, Roman and Byzantine times. Walking around the site was not an easy task while pushing a stroller but luckily our driver was very helpful. Lots of structures are visible at Butrint but only 10-15% of the site is uncovered. Many other areas were in the process of being excavated. There are many well-preserved mosaics at the site but all of them besides one, very small sample were covered under mud and tarp for protection from the elements.

Butrint had lots of signs throughout with drawings and explanations of what some of the structures would’ve looked like in ancient times. There were also pictures of the mosaics which were covered up. Too bad they are only uncovered for viewing on rare occasions.

When we were finished walking through the uncovered city we got to visit the small Butrint museum. All of the items on display were discovered at the site which was very impressive. On display were many statues in various conditions, lots of old coins, pots  vases and a mosaic on one of the walls. The museum was well worth checking out at the end of a visit.

There is just a few days left to post about from our trip to the Balkans. Keep checking back to find out more about what we did.

Here are my other posts about the trip:

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