After a leisurely breakfast, we pulled anchor and headed out. This time we had to head SW to get around the headland before heading the last little bit to Pula.
Along the way we hit water so glassy we could see the reflections of the clouds in the sea.
The entrance to Pula is rather interesting. We had to sail 1nm north to skirt around old disused jetty. Then we sailed into the large bay and past the circa 1856 Uljanik shipyard, one of the world’s oldest working shipyards in the world.
We considered anchoring near the customs jetty but in the end went to the Marina as we needed to get our wind instrument attended to. Our resident electrician got only so far before pointing out the demarcation that meant we needed an electromnics guy!!!
The marina cost us 94 euro a night all inclusive – not too bad by Croatian standards. And it was right in the middle of town.
Af ter finding a Raymarine guy to attend to our non-responsive wind instrumentation, we checked out the impressive Colleseum, second only to the one in Rome.
Then we walked around the cobbled walking streets to the Temple of Augiustus, some pretty impressive Roman Mosiacs, the Triumphal Arch of Sergius, the morning markets and up to the Fortress with its great view and Nautical Museum. Pretty interesting city.
Sightseeing done, it was back to the boat for some pre-dinner drinks before asking the ACI Marina staff where to eat. One of them gave us a lift to a non-tourist restaurant 5km out of town. The Istrian Steak was really nice but lacked a certain amount of ambiance right next to the highway.
Back at the boat, we sat waiting for Pula’s latest attraction, a stunning lighting display at the city’s shipyards, just off the front of the boat.
“Renowned lighting designer Dean Skira has lit up the shipyard’s iconic cranes in 16,000 different colour schemes, which come alive four times every evening on the hour, starting at 9pm for 15 minutes.”
Next afternoon it was off on a night sail to Venice, after visiting the immagation dock to check out of Croatia. The checkout from Pula is quite straightforward with everything close by.
We thought long and hard about how we would attack Albania, bearing in mind that every time you entered a new port you needed a 50-70 euro agent to both check in and check out. Its indicative of how they are not set up for yachts, they treat us like all other shipping, hence the agent and the checking in and out. There is essentially no infrastructure for yachts in Albania so you need to be pretty self-sufficient and make sure you have plenty of fuel and water before you go.
In the end we decided to go back to Orikum Marina where I briefly called into 3 years ago on the way down from Croatia. This broke up the journey north into manageable chunks and Orikum was the only marina in the whole country, so a good place to leave La Mischief whilst we headed off in a rental car for a couple of days.
We left Corfu at 5am so we could get to our destination with plenty of daylight in hand. We however hadn’t factored in the disused minefields off the coast of Vlore that popped up on our charts. The charts advised to go around them and use the recommended path into the port. Not knowing any better (and not wanting to hit a mine) we took the charts advice and took the long way around. Luckily for us, we had a great southerly and with one reef in, we were chewing up the miles.
We made it to Vlore around 4pm and the agent we had organized through Orikum Marina came and collected our passports and our 70 euros. Prices had gone up since we got there 3 years ago. Check in was quick and we motored down the 6nm to Orikum Marina against the strong southerly.
Luigi was there to greet us again – he remembered us from last time. He organized a rental car for us – 40 euro a day. This was to be our strategy – moor La Mischief in Albania’s only real marina and drive up and down the country over a couple of days to see everything. Then an overnight sail to Bar in Montenegro.
We had a little drama mooring up, as we had managed to get a plastic bag wrapped around our starboard prop. We managed enough power to drop our anchor and stern tie before I went over the side with a snorkel to clear it off the prop.
Then it was off to a nearby fish restaurant that Luigi had recommended for a feed and a very nice bottle of Albanian wine. Amazing dinner. All at a very low price.
Next morning we set off on our driving adventure. We decided to take the road from Orikum south through the national park towards Salande. The weather was overcast and quite soon we found ourselves driving in thick fog, rather than admiring the spectacular views that the National Park is renowned for.
Eventually we reached the other coast and the fog was behind us. At one of the villages we picked up an old lady and took her 5kms along to where she wanted to be dropped off. Good deed done, we continued on and stopped at Palermos to take some photos of Ali Pasha’s castle. Then it was onto Salande, which is an interesting touristy town with many shops and restaurants. The weather was miserable so we didn’t stay long before we headed off to Butrint. Butrint is a really nice set of Roman ruins in a lovely bush setting. It was really nice to wander around, especially since we scored a break in the rain.
Then it was off to Blue Eye Spring. Driving in Albania requires concentration and a good ability to judge just how deep the next pot hole in the road actually is. Albanian Speed Bumps.
Blue Eyes Spring is very pretty. And very interesting. The water just pours out of a hole in the flat ground. The colour of the water gives it the first part of its name, Blue, and the shape of the water as it comes vertically out of the ground gives it the second part of its name – Eyes.
We had lunch at one of the cute restaurants that hung over the crystal clear river and pushed on to our final destination of the day – Gjirokaster, an old traditional Ottoman town. It was pretty to drive through on its steep narrow cobbled streets, but we were a bit pressed for time so we didn’t get out and walk around. Then it was back to Vlore to do some shopping – which was a bit challenging because even the larger supermarkets didn’t have a great deal. They were doing up Vlore’s foreshore with a bit of EU money and it looks like it will be good when its finished. They was a beer festival that had just finished – bummer – and lots of people, both young and old, out and about.
Next day, we were off again. This time we would head east and north. First stop was Apollonia, with its old orthodox church, great museum and roman ruins.
Then we checked out Berat, another wonderful Ottoman town. We drove up to the fort on the top of the hill and wandered around inside where the old town is situated. Great views and interesting architecture. Memories of Safronbula in Turkey.
On the way to our final stop of the day in Durres, I got pulled over by the Constabulary and he informed me that I was speeding. Oops. Instead of a fine, I got told to be more careful and then he reached in and turned my headlights on for me. Thank you Mr Policeman.
After my brush with the law, we proceeded (carefully) to Durres, where we checked out the Roman amphitheatre and old walls, followed by the tourist strip along the beach. We could see a couple of yachts in the harbour, but had been warned against going there because of all the crap that gets on your boats from the busy commercial harbour. No thanks!
Then it was back to the Marina, after perusing what appeared to be the biggest supermarket, but finding not much at all. We returned the car, settled our bill (50 euro a night including power and undrinkable water) and ended up going back to the same restaurant again. It didn’t disappoint.
We decided Albania was definitely worth a look. The people are super friendly and helpful, the scenery is amazing, the bunkers and fortification are strangely interesting, and food and wine is cheap. Albania comes with a really interesting history, country. It’s different to anywhere else we have been. The downsides are the lack of infrastructure (make sure you have plenty of water and fuel), the potholes in the roads, and the stupid idea that you need an agent to check you in to each port you visit at 50-70euros a pop.
And not one single AK47. Our friends on Ooroo were way ahead of us on this score from when they visited 3 years ago.
We exited Albania via re-visiting our agent in Vlore and then we were off overnight to Montenegro.
It took us a couple of hours to do the 15nm across from the top of Paxos to the small fishing harbour of Petriti on the east coast of Corfu. We decided to split our time between Petriti and Corfu town to make sure we saw as much of Corfu as we could. Petriki is the last of the real fishing harbours in Corfu and most of the restaurants come down here to buy their fish.
There’s not a lot of free spots on the wall but we managed to arrive just as a couple of yachts were departing so we dropped our anchor and backed up to the wall.
We found a number for a rental car and organized a car for 2 days. We concentrated on the southern half for the first day, visiting a few resort towns on the southern tip, before heading up to Achilleion, an imposing Neoclassical villa built for Empress Elizabeth of Austria. No expense was spared on either the inside or the outside gardens with its impressive statues. Something different from the usual Greek Island sightseeing.
We then headed off to Pelekas, which is a mountain village with great views from a high. Our last stop of the day was Corfu Town, where we checked out the berthing options. Both the Noak Yacht Club and Mandraki had plenty of paid berths available. We stop and chatted with some Australian yachties in Mandraki. One of which turned out to be Andrea (along with hubbie Ian), my PE Teacher from Bunbury High School, way back in the seventies. It’s a small world. Anyway one drink turned into five as we picked Merv and Judy’s brains about Albania, where they had just spent a couple of months. Drove home very carefully that night.
Day 2 of our Tour de Corfu saw us head north on a stunning mountainous coastal drive. Well it would have been stunning if we could have seen anything through the rain and low cloud. The drive is noted for its great views of Albania – it was out there somewhere.
The weather started to clear (a bit) as we wove our way down to Agios Georgios, a spectacular little beachside town with a monastery on a prominent headland that splits the town into two large bays with lots of nice swimming spots scattered around. Dee was here years ago and managed to find some nice beaches when her and her niece found some nice local boys with a boat.
Next day we did the short hop up to Corfu Town. We pulled up the anchor to find a steel cable on the end of it. No way could we shake that off so out came the grappling hook. We hooked the grappling hook on the cable and got the anchor free only to see that I’d managed to wrap the loose end of the rope I’d tied to the grappling hook around the anchor winch mangled in with the anchor chain. It was going to be that sort of Frank Spencer morning – it was in fact May 13th. So now we had La Mischief attached to a steel chain by a flimsy grappling hook that we couldn’t dislodge until we got the rope free from the anchor winch. We managed to loosen the anchor winch and unwind the chain enough to get the rope free. That still didn’t help get the grappling hook off the steel cable – we needed a trip line on the grappling hook. Reminder for next time. However the good news was it was only a couple of metres deep so it was a simple matter to throw Dee over the side and get her to dive down and free the hook. Nothing like an early morning swim.
In our travels to Corfu Town, we’d spotted 15 or so yachts in the beginnings of a new marina being built just south of the old port. We talked to a couple of yachts and they said it was free so that’s where we headed.
We tied up and hit the old town. Corfu has two forts, a new fort and old fort. The new fort was just behind where we parked the boat. It was free and we spent half an hour clambering around it. From there we wandered into the old town, with its myriad of walking streets. It was nice to wander through. We finished up at the Esplanade that runs along the front of the Old Town. Along the way we past a cricket pitch, the legacy of being a British outpost.
The old fort is the highlight of Corfu. Its separated from the Esplanade by a canal, sitting on a rocky promenade that juts out into the sea. It dates back to the middle ages, with lots of Venetian and British add ons around the extensive outcrop.
Ancient fortress done, we set off on foot to Kanoni, 4kms out of town. Along the way we came across a plaque saying Prince Phillip was born here in 1923. Mum will be pleased given she delighted in telling me all about the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations.
Kanoni had good views across to Mouse Island, the 17th century monastery of Vlaherna, and the Airport. We climbed down to the beach and checked out one of the big hotels before hopping on a local bus back to Corfu Town.
Back at the boat, we decided to cook dinner before heading off to enjoy our last bit of Greece with a nighttime walk through the old town. This was not to be as the Port Police had decided Friday night at 6pm was a good time to come around and kick everyone out of the half complete marina. Bummer.
We ended going around to the new port where customs were. We found a berth out of the way from all the ferries and completed our check out from Greece.
Our impressions of Corfu were that it was a little bit over hyped – nice island but must be getting picky given all the other Greek islands we’ve been to.
Then it was off to Albania at 5am the next morning.
With pump bits sorted, we made a late start out of Lefkas. We had to wait in the channel for the swing bridge to open on the hour and then it was off to Paxos. Our original plan was to anchor off AntiPaxos on the way there but time and wind was against us so we had to do with just Paxos.
Paxos is one of those little gems in the Greek Islands that often gets bypassed for the bigger sexier islands – in this case Corfu. Paxos is only 5 miles long and 2 miles wide. Its claim to fame is that Harrods only buys its olive oil from there. We were pretty well stocked with olive oil so we passed but did stock up with more wine from a great little wine shop. Can never have too much wine!
But I digress.
Our first stop was Port Gaios which looks fascinating on the chart and in the photos. The small harbour sits behind a large-ish island with a small channel running between. There’s a south entry but we choose the north one as this looked much more interesting. We weaved our way through the narrow channel past lots of fishing and day tripper boats to the town wall. We found a perfect spot, one of the few remaining and went stern to in clear water. We could literally step out into the restaurant strip perfect.
It’s quite funny cooking on the BBQ on the back of the boat metres away from lovely restaurants but when you are cruising full-time you can’t afford to eat out every night so we limit our restauranting when we can.
Next morning we moved a short distance up the coast to the top of the island where we found the beautiful almost land locked bay at Lakka.
This is what Paxos is really known for – beautiful clear bays with sandy bottoms. We parked up in 2m of water and jumped in for a bit of bottom cleaning. The water is still a little cold but hey its only May. Later on we dingied into the small town of Lakka and had a look-see and a walk around to one of the swimming beaches.
We spent the night here before upping anchor early next morning for our 3 hour sail across to Corfu.