Albania and the climb to Gjirokaster.

We took the ferry from Corfu over to Sarande in Albania. Albania isn’t high on a lot of people’s lists but it’s starting to make waves as an alternative to the ever popular Croatia.

Sarande is part of the Albanian Riviera along the Ionian sea, and known for white stretches of beach and turquoise waters.

I was excited to see these beaches for myself and experience a new country however on arrival it started to rain! We visited in late march so knew the weather may be against us, so after a little wander around Sarande we stopped and had brunch along the promenade.

Sarande is a small town, the beach is rocky and there’s only a few things to do, such as the old synagogue ruins, the promenade and Lekuresi castle on the hill overlooking the town, though it’s been turned into restaurant now.

Because of the rain and lack of sights we had to think outside of the box, and decided to visit Gjirokaster.

Gjirokaster old town is a UNESCO world heritage sight, dates back to 1336 as part of the Byzantine empire and has a magnificent fortress overlooking the town.

We walked over to the bus station in Sarande and bought a ticket from the office there before being pointed in the right direction to the bus. Buses leave every 30 minutes to an hour and it cost around €3.50.

The bus journey was amazing as we climbed up into the mountains and were rewarded with amazing views of the countryside. We crossed raging rivers and through beautiful flat plains as we approached Gjirokaster. Surrounded on both sides by looming mountains.

The bus took around an hour and 15 mins and drops you off at the main road, so we started our walk with our backpacks in the drizzly rain. It gave the whole place a mysterious vibe with the low clouds.

The first 10-15 minutes aren’t so impressive, but you soon find yourself on windy cobbled streets with beautiful stone buildings lining the road.

We reached the fortress and loved the views over the old town rooftops. The fortress itself costs ÂŁ1.50 per ticket and houses some interesting statues, a tank and an old plane. A lot of it is in ruin but the main building is still impressive.

After wandering around the fortress and the old town a little more we checked out some cute historical buildings as we descended back down to the main town.

We got some amazing cake and traditional byrek from a little bakery to dry off and recharge. Byrek is a flaky pastry filled with cheese or meat. Even with all the walking Mum was having a great time exploring with me!

We took the bus back with no issues, and arrived back in Sarande in the early evening. We decided to walk along the main road and take a bus to Ksamil, where we would be staying. Unfortunately the bus didn’t turn up, I’m not sure if we got our timings wrong or if it just didn’t run in that hour.

Instead we stopped at a restaurant and had an amazing Albanian red wine and looked out over the bay. We took a taxi to our hotel, which took about 25 minutes and I think we were the only ones staying there! Two older Albanian men greeted us and proceeded to give us a lot of home brewed raki.

Needless to say we got a little tipsy from this, it was a funny experience as neither men spoke much English and we spoke no Albanian. They then drove us to a little kebab place where we ate tasty Greek salad and chips. Funnily enough we were soon sound asleep back at the hotel and looking forward to the next adventure!

Belem and the birthplace of Nata. 

Our last day was upon us! Our flights weren’t till later on in the evening so we had at least half a day to sightsee. This took us to Belem, an area of Lisbon that is easily reachable by train or tram.

Another scorcher of a day, we took the train out to Belem and walked through a small park to get to the main street. Here you can find ‘Pasteis de Belem’ where the original Nata were made from an old recipe taken from the nearby monastery.

We decided to explore a bit before having a Nata, and emerged at the end of the street onto a huge square with the aforementioned monastery taking up one side.

The Jeronimos monastery is an impressive building, it’s also where Vasco de Gama stayed before sailing for the far East!

After taking a few pictures we walked down towards the Tagus river and spotted a huge monument pointing out towards the water. A quick Google told us it was a monument to the discoveries, a nod to Portugals past as a major player in the exploration of the earth.

You could actually go up to the top of the monument but we decided against it. Instead there was a cool love sign nearby which we had to get some pictures with, and once done we got some ice creams and continued our walk along the Tagus.

The views out over the water were amazing, our destination was Belem tower, sitting out in the river and only accessible by a small bridge it’s extremely photogenic.

It was lunchtime and using foursquare I had found the #1 sandwich shop in Belem. Which sounded perfect, it was actually back on the main st we had walked along earlier so we wandered through a couple of cool green parks on our way back.

The food from Pao Pao Queijo Queijo was so good, and the name is great! You queue up and order then decide what extras you want, it was a bit like a much tastier version of subway.

We sat in the shade of a huge tree in one of the nearby parks and water our food, planning the next hour before we had to head back and pick our luggage up. We decided to visit the nearby botanical gardens as they were free.

I’d say it’s definitely not a must see place, some parts were really nice but it as quite run down. The highlights were peacocks and their chicks stalking through the grass and foliage.

As time started catching up on us we walked back towards the station, picking up Nata for the journey back from Pasteis de Belem and took the short trip to Alfama.

Hannah had to get to the airport earlier than us so I waved her off on the train before we sat in our little local square and had a couple of drinks to enjoy the Lisbon sunshine for the last time. We even had a bit of live music to entertain us.

It was really easy to get the train up to the airport from Alfama, and we wandered around a bit trying to decide on food. Eventually we just went through to the gates and picked up a few bits in there.

We were soon flying home and saying our goodbyes to Lisbon, a city that impressed us no end, even with all the sights we managed to see there is so much more to do. It’s cheap and friendly with way transport around, and close to beautiful beaches. A definite must on the bucketlist.