This morning, we woke up in Albania! We explored new scenery, foods, and culture as we immersed ourselves in the cobblestone streets of Krujë. Intricately patterned, handmade items like rugs, slippers, and pashminas lined the storefronts on the street. We walked up and into the Skanderbeg Castle and the museum, where we learned about Albania’s hero, George Kastrioti a.k.a. Skanderbeg. After a fascinating journey through the history of Krujë, we scurried to lunch during the beginning of what would be a very wet rest of our afternoon. Determined to learn and explore, we quickly adapted with umbrellas and “leapfrogged” under awnings. Lunch at the Bardhi Restaurant was delightful. We enjoyed traditional foods paired with traditional Albanian music and dancing. The bus ride home to Sea Cloud was quiet with bellies full, but a few troopers amongst us took to exploring some of Durrës to close out a successful first day in Albania.
It’s hard to believe it is the last day of our magical cruise along the Dalmatian Coast. A visit to the beautiful island of Hvar, the “lavender capital” of Croatia, was the perfect way to end our voyage. Sea Cloud slipped through the narrow channel between the Pakleni Islands and dropped anchor just in front of the old Venetian harbor of the town of Hvar. We tendered into the pier for an early morning walking tour of this delightful town full of Venetian-inspired Renaissance palaces with pointed trefoil windows and ground-floor loggias. Cafes, bars, and lavender stands lined one side of the quay, while yachts and catamaran ferries from the Split jostled for position on the other. Our guides took us along the seawall and out to the Franciscan Monastery to see their little physic garden with its 500-year-old cypress tree and the impressive 16th century painting of the “Last Supper” that dominates the monk’s refectory. This magnificent work was done by a Venetian artist of the school of Paolo Veronese. The artist was shipwrecked on the island and nursed back to health in the monastery. We wound our way back to the main square, then climbed up through the narrow Porta Maestra that was once the main entrance to the fortified section of the town. We stopped in front of the small Benedictine convent, where five cloistered nuns still make lace from the fibers of the agave plant. After a visit to the basilica of St. Stephens on the main square, some of us fanned out on our own to explore the alleyways leading up to the Venetian fortress that protects the city, while others chose to buy a few lavender products or just sit and enjoy a cool drink in one of the many bars along the quay. All too soon, the tenders arrived to shuttle us back to the ship so we could partake in the famous “parmesan wheel” pasta feast on the Lido Deck. As we moved away from Hvar, the captain had the sailors go aloft for one last afternoon under sail.