Where Eagles Soar

One of These Nights
Wednesday 13th July 2022


We both woke from a long deep sleep, a good ten hours uninterupted. It felt so good. The shutters on our patio doors firmly shut out of the sunlight which kept the room dark until 9am, when we went in search for breakfast.

Down in the basement of the main hotel is where we found the buffet breakfast. There was so much choice I was like a kid in a sweetshop, or in a bakery in my case as the pastries on offer was incredible. We had some bite-sized pieces of the fried dough petulla, a regular pancake with honey, a spinach and ricotta filled burek, and my new favourite, a savoury pie made with layers of pancake and something akin to cottage cheese. Amazing!

I thoroughly enjoyed my breakfast. The only thing that let it down was the cheap orange juice and the lack of coffee.  

After breakast our new room was ready for us so we wasted no time in moving from our basic to the new luxurious. 

We almost didn't make it as Julie was struck down with an inability to walk up the super shiny black marble steps to the Hotel Citrus reception. Once she got over her invisible wall issue and I had been given a lesson on how to open the door with a key card by the receptionist we moved into our new room. 

It was nice but actually the best bit of the room was the marble tiled modern bathroom and the massive balcony with another one of those swinging basket chairs. We wasted no time in settling into relax mode.

The view from the balcony wasn't anything special. In the distance we could just about see the sea, where we spent yesterday afternoon, but mostly our panorama consisted of a petrol station, the main road through Ksamil and countless hotels. 

Our plans for today included visiting the World Heritage site of Butrint, either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. The first option had long gone and judging by the cars flooding through Ksamil the later we left it the better. 

So we decided to head out to find somewhere for lunch and stopped at the first restaurant we came across that was open. It happened to be a place humourously called Shakesbeer. Ordinarily we would avoid such a place like the plague!

Today however we were quite content in eating in a restaurant that had photos of their plates on a board outside.

We didn't hold out high hopes of anything special but from that low expectation came a really enjoyable lunch. My simple spaghetti al pomodoro was full of flavour and Julie's chicken and chips hit the spot.

After lunch I couldn't wait any longer and decided to visit Butrint sooner rather than later.

It was no more than a three miles away and we arrived in no time.  We parked on the side of the road anticipating the car park outside the entrance to be full. but it wasn't. To our surpise there were plenty of spaces.

The first interesting structure we saw was a small Venetian fort on the other side of the water. It didn't form part of the archaelogical site and the only way to reach it was to use the small ferry that shuttled back and forth the short distance over the Vivari channel.   

The entrance fee had gone up to a 1000 leks per person (from 750). I paid with my last 2000 lek note. We weren't given a ticket, they just opened a disabled barrier for us. It made us wonder with no record of us having paid if the cash found its way into someone's pocket!

It was 2pm now as we began our walk around this UNESCO World Heritage site.

Following a French language map of the site  (they had run out of English ones) we came to what at first sight appeared to be just a pile of rubble. It was the Sanctuary of Asclepius, a complex of buildings around the temple to the Greek god of healing. The often used symbol for "medicine" of a snake entwined staff is his. The rod of Asclepius.

I went to explore the area but because the access was over water along a rickety (in her opinion) wooden platform Julie decided to take a seat on a bench by the crazy paving path. I walked towards the temple of which only a few arches had survived or at least been restored, and then continued around the corner.

The path opened out into a large open air theatre. The Greeks above all were renowed for their love for the performing arts, although it's believed what stands in Butrint today was built by the Romans.

The city of Bouthroton (ancient Butrint) was established by the Greek Chaonians around the 7th century BC. Then the Romans arrived towards the end of the 3rd century BC. 

It wasn't a large theatre, the auditorium formed a semi-circle a dozen rows up. Wooden boards had been placed to recreate the stage. I waited for a moment for a small group to move on which left me all alone. It was an oddly powerful feeling, standing centre stage.

I walked up to the top row for a great view of the theatre. From there I could also see Julie sat waiting patiently  for me. I then heard a whistle blown by a park official which I assumed was directed at me.  I returned to Julie.

"Did you see those idiots scrambling down the hill at the back?" she asked me. 

I had. They had stumbled out of the trees behind the theatre and struggled to find a way down the hill. The whistle was probably for their attention, not that they needed telling they weren't suppose to be there. 

We moved from the Sanctuary of Asclepius to the forum or as it would have been known during the Greek period, the Agora, the marketplace, a public space to gather. The Romans embelished it with temples. None of which remain.

It's believed that an earthquake at the end of the 4th century AD destroyed most of it.  Although a few small shrines remain and a couple of statues were also discovered.

Moving on we followed the path and came to the remains of the gymnasium.  Only one wall with a few alcoves had survived. There was also a small pool where I imagined rich Romans soaked away their stresses.

However, today it was more of a stagnant pond where a bale of small turtles called home. 

Next up was The Triconch Palace, a detour to the right through the trees. It looked intruiging at first and I suppose it was in hindsight but at the time it felt underwhelming.  It was a large area of just foundations of what was once the largest villa in Butrint.

Back on the path we continued past a section of wall contructed of large rectangle blocks of stone. It looked unremarkable but the information board described it as the Wall of Inscriptions, so I walked up to it to have a closer look.  

A few of the blocks, not all, had messages carved into them. I don't know if it was Greek graffiti or that these blocks were reused from other buildings.  It was amazing to touch the rock that had been worked on by some guy possibly 2500 years ago. 

On another piece of stone some idiot by the name of Emelia had scratched her name and the date 2022 onto it. Seriously unbelievable. 

We then came to the Baptistry, a structure that usually accompanies a basilica or cathedral. The Roman Empire converted to Christianity at the turn of the 4th century with Emperor Constantine. (the one who gave his name to Constantinople, now Istanbul) 

It was contructed in the 6th century AD and it was truly the gem of Butrint, but unfortunately its exquisite mosaic floor is only revealed once every "few years" in an attempt to preserve it. There was an image of it on the information board and it was something special.

If we ever found out when they do the great reveal it would be well worth a revisit!

Up next was the great basilica.  Julie continued along the safety of the path but I veered off to explore the empty shell. The impressive walls and arches of the cathedral still stood tall.

Inside was floored with large flagstones, apparently laid over original mosaic floor. It's believed to have been reconstructed in the 9th century under the Byzantine rule. Locally it's even known as Kishe Mesjetare, the medieval church, which seems to suggest it was in use into the late Middle Ages when the Venetians arrived.

I was surprised to learn that the city was still occupied in one shape or form until the 19th century and the time of Ali Pasha. 

I rejoined Julie and we followed the path to a clearing with a great view over the lagoon to the mountains. We sat down for a while on some benches to admire it whilst making plans for watching the sunset this evening. 

We had now reached the most Easterly part of Burtint, and had stepped outside the tall fortified walls protecting it from attack from the lake.  A narrow entrance known as the Lake Gate or Porta Scea wasn't inviting enough for us to step inside so we continued outside the walls.  

In the distance, glowing in the sun was another entrance. This was known as the Lion's Gate, so called because of a depiction of a lion devouring a bull carved onto the lintel above the doorway. It was hardly a meter tall and not practical as an entrance in its current form. 

The closer we got it did seem that the lintel wasn't in its original position. Some believe it may have been relocated from a temple on the acropolis here. Beyond it, glowing warm in the sun, we saw an immense stone ceiling and then steps leading up. I swooped low beneath the lion. Julie followed asking "Are you sure we're supposed to be here?"

We took the stairs up but they lead nowhere, only to some rough ground which we clearly should not be walking through.  Back down we came, crawling through the Lion's Gate, returning to the path.

It wasn't long before the path came to a dead end where an arrow pointed up the side of the hill. We huffed and puffed, unsure if we were going the right way until we came to a paved path signposted to the museum. 

It lead to a closed locked door. My head dropped. "It looks like the museum's already shut" I said.

We continued on regardless to the area known as the Acropolis.  There was no temple to be seen however evidence of an Iron Age settlement has been found and as well as a 9th century church. 

A little thirsty after our climb up the hill we walked across the central terrace towards a cafe. "Do you take card payments?" I asked. A super smiley server nodded. I'm sure she nodded. Although she also wagged her finger. Anyway I ordered a Pepsi max.

A cold bottle came out of the fridge and an ice full glass waited to be filled.

I pulled out my card ready to pay. "Only cash" said another assistant.

"But ...." I turned to look at the first person. She repeated her wagging finger but was definitely nodding this time! "She must be Bulgarian" I thought to myself.

Having had our hopes raised then dashed we left even thirstier than when we arrived.

We returned towards the three storey Venetian castle, where the museum was located. It had a nice courtyard and garden. After we walked around some statues Julie sat in the shade whilst I explored a little more. 

From its ramparts there was a wonderful view of the Vivari channel flowing out towards the Ionian sea. I could also see the winding road from Ksamil, which actually didn't seem that windy when we drove along it. I gazed out, soaking it all in.

I lost track of time for a while until a bust on the terrace wall reminded me that there was a museum here that was worth seeing. So without further ado I rejoined Julie and we went in search of it. 

At first I assumed the museum was housed in the castle keep but Julie had noticed people walking up and down some steps to below the courtyard.

Having found it we thoroughly enjoyed walking around it. The jugs, vases and many busts were all very interesting.

It was refreshing to see artefacts found here staying here and not whisked off to a bigger more prestigious museum in the capital, which is what usually happens. Although I'm sure anything of great importance is probably on display in the National Museum in Tirana.

My favourite piece was this headless statue, its arms also removed, but the detail of its many folded garment was exquisite.  It stood in an alcove on the way out to an inner courtyard illuminated by the indirect sunlight. It took my breath away the moment I saw it.

We walked around the whole museum casting our eyes over everything on display before returning back up the steps to the courtyard.

It was all down hill from here. Stone steps brought us back down from the acropolis until we came to a fork in the path. We opted to turn left and followed the descent. It soon turned into rough open ground where we found ourselves scrambling down the hillside behind the theatre.

We couldn't believe it! We had now become those idiots we had earlier ridiculed.

The ground was very uneven with several rocks but it wasn't too challening to safely find our way down to the theatre and back to the Sanctuary of Asclepius.

From the forum we made our away back to the entrance and then to our parked car. All in all it had taken us 90 minutes to walk around the archaelogical site of Butrint and really that should be the minimum time needed to see this place.

When we arrived back in Ksamil we decided to return to our hotel room for an hour or so of downtime before turning it around and heading out for the evening. 

Tonight we were determined to focus on the experience rather than solely the evening meal. Shortly ater six we walked up the hill to the centre of town to where the inflatables were sold. Then at the junction where bronze statues of dancing locals stood we turned down towards the main beach.

When we came to an abandoned fairground we turned right and followed the road past several beachfront bars. We stopped at Pisko Beach Bar (I think or was it Perla?). It was the first we noticed with direct access to the actual beach.

We settled ourselves down on the perfect loungers right on the shoreline. I then went to get a bottle of wine. "We have no white wine, only red" the bartender explained. "One moment" I replied "I'll just go and check with the boss"

At 2500 lek (£18) it wasn't cheap but they didn't charge us for the hire of the loungers so I suppose it worked out as value for money in the end.  

The wine wasn't the only thing red, the water safety flag was also flying a warning. Yet despite this plenty of people, even children were splashing about in the water.  You could see that the water went deep quite quickly but there didn't seem to be any strong currents. In fact the conditions appeared ideal for a dip.

We took it in turns to leave the loungers. Julie dipped her toes in the Ioanian first, letting the waves wash her feet as they sank into the coarse sand. She found it too cold to go any further.

Despite the red flag and my non-swimmer status I went straight in. Although I made sure I didn't go in over my head.

The moment was wonderfully idyllic with the waves lapping at our feet and the sun slowly dropping behind the Ksamil islands. The delicious Italian red wine from Salento added to the feeling of immense wellbeing. 

We felt so relaxed, half mesmerised by the sun and hypnotised by the waves. We were also pleasantly surprised how quiet it was. I was expecting us to be fighting for free loungers.  It was a prime location to watch the sunset but only a handful were being used.

When the sun finally dropped we were on our own. Everyone else had left. It felt special.

It had gone 8pm, seven hours since we last had something to eat! 

Our original plan was for Julie to enjoy a traditional lamb spit-roasted slowly over charcoal at a newly opened restaurant near to the hotel. I was going to sit and watch her because they had nothing on the menu for me. Then I would pop out later for a take-away pizza.

Our plans then changed as we decided to go with no.4 on Tripadvisor in Ksamil.

Fourth Island came highly recommended which was fortunate as its naff neon lit "chef" sign would have normally put us off.

We browsed the menu. Despite the extensve choice we were both unable to change what had been decided hours earlier.  It was our destiny to eat and roast lamb and pizza tonight. 

 The "vegetarian" pizza was very tasty without a sweetcorn in sight. "Highly recommended"  began my on-line review.  It was also not pre-cut. Perfect.  Pizzas already cut into slices is a pet hate of mine. How can they presume to know how I prefer my pizza divided into?

Julie tucked into her lamb chops with gusto. There were plenty of them, served over new potatoes and with a portion of alioli. The only thing she left were the green salad leaves and the bones of course.

A wave of tiredness suddenly hit her.  The moment we paid she quick marched back to the hotel, lights out by 9:30pm.

  Next Day >>>  

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