31 July to 1 August 2018
Orikum to Shëngjin, N41° 49.00’ E19° 35.05’, 95nm, 16 hours
Before we left Albania there was one last place I wanted us to visit. My friend Jenny had recommended a restaurant in the north of the country, one that she and her family had visited a number of times, travelling great distances just to go there. We worked out that we could sail to Albania’s northern most port, Shëngjin, and from there the restaurant was only a short drive. It turned out to be an interesting stop for many reasons!
If our port of arrival in Albania had seen us moored up with the ferries, our port of departure was altogether more industrial. We had decided to sail there through the night. It was a testing passage to say the least. With 15 to 20 knots of wind on Pintail’s nose it was bumpy and slow and more than once we thought about turning back until the wind died down. But we battled on and we were glad to arrive at around 7am. The harbourmaster was very welcoming on the radio and we were waved in to raft up alongside one of the tugs, in between two huge cargo ships, by a man in a grey vest. He turned out to be Frrok, the shipping agent, and once we were all tied up he invited us to follow him through the dusty, noisy shipyard to what we thought would be his office but turned out to be the café. Sitting amongst the ship workers, over coffee he (very slowly) completed the paperwork. A couple of police officers sat at the table next to us so he wandered over to them to get their stamp. He told us that we might need to move once the tanker had finished offloading so we spent the day resting from the long night before, tucked up against the tug. Frrok told us they only get about 120 yachts in each year and there was only one other in the port that night – an Australian flagged boat, SV Red Rackham, with a couple on board whose acquaintance we made very briefly whilst they negotiated Frrok in his “office” but who we would later get to know very much better once we got to Montenegro.
The following morning we finally got word from Frrok that we needed to move so the tug could do its work and we moved further away from the big ships to go alongside the end of the wall. We were no longer surrounded by the big boys but we were unfortunately somewhat closer to the source of a stink that could only mean sewage. It gave our stay a pretty disgusting odour and is the reason Stefan renamed the town “S**tgjin”.
If you could ignore the stink, Shëngjin would probably be a nice enough holiday town. It didn’t quite have the charm of Sarandë or the Riveria beach resorts but it was a popular spot regardless.
When we explained to Frrok that we wanted to have lunch at Mrizi i Zanave he insisted on taking us. We tried to say we were happy to get a taxi but he would not hear of it so we met him as arranged at 11am and climbed into his 30 year old Mercedes. We asked him why nearly everyone in Albania drives old Mercedes. He explained that they are good on the terrible roads and it is very easy to get parts.
Before we got very far he stopped on the main street through Shëngjin outside his house and called his wife to come out and fill the car with water. After a quick hello to his wife we set off for the restaurant about 20km away. We drove through Lezhë with its castle on a rock, birthplace of national hero Skanderberg.
Mrizi i Zanave is set in the farmland which supplies its kitchen. If it isn’t reared or grown on the farm, the ingredients are sourced from other farms and producers in the local area. It was a very beautiful place. Even the bunker had been planted with flowers and everywhere you looked there was something edible growing, drying or quacking!
We had worried that it might be a bit posh and we might need to dress up but were reassured when Frrok rocked up in his vest! The set tasting menu showcased the best of the local produce with small dish after small dish of cheese, olives, tomatoes, quails eggs, mushrooms, corn followed by more meat than Stefan could manage
and then to finish not one, two, but three mini deserts. The food was incredible – the best we have had on these adventures and perhaps anywhere else. We now understand why people make very long journeys, even across country borders, to go there.
On the return journey Frrok made two unscheduled stops. First to buy a watermelon from a roadside stall, a gift for us. Second to buy a bottle of beer, a gift for the harbourmaster who we needed to finalise our paperwork for leaving Albania.
While we waited for Frrok to visit the harbourmaster to get our check out papers stamped, we had a wander around the abandoned military buildings next door, complete with rusty torpedoes. Very quickly a man in uniform emerged from the derelict building to tell me to stop taking photos!
And that was that. Three weeks exploring as much of Albania as we could ended with the most delicious meal in our bellies but the lingering smell of sewage in our nostrils. With all the necessary paperwork from Frrok we got up early the next morning to leave for Montenegro…