Our second day in Albania began in the port of Sarande, an ancient city in the southern part of the country that is quickly becoming a tourist resort. We traveled by bus to the fascinating archaeological site of Butrint, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that retains traces of several past civilizations. Strolling through the heavily wooded site with our local guides, Shpresa and Loretta, we explored the complex ruins, from the massive ashlar masonry of the Hellenistic walls and brickwork of the Roman-era theater, to the mosaic-adorned Byzantine basilica and strategically positioned Venetian fortress. As we departed, we stopped by the local women’s cooperative to browse the beadwork and painted replicas of the site’s famous 6th-century baptistery mosaics.
We then returned to Sarande, heading up the steep roads to Lekuris Castle, built by Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century to control access to this strategic harbor. At the castle, we enjoyed a light snack of local cheeses, stuffed grape leaves, and a dense cornbread that pleasantly balanced the Albanian wines. Then we returned to the ship for a leisurely afternoon that included a swim in the Ionian Sea and a presentation on the history, art, and architecture of ancient Greece in preparation for our upcoming adventures. A bit later, the expedition leader gave a presentation on the history of the Sea Cloud, followed by a tour of some of the original owners’ cabins.