Posts Tagged ‘Albania’


Welcome to Macedonia, and hello again, James. In Macedonia the roads are smoother and built such they are less steep although the landscape is the same. A walk in the park as I cruised along a gorgeous valley in the sun to Lake Ohrid where I joined forces with James again.

Our tents on Lake Ohrid

Our tents on Lake Ohrid

James had described it, and it was true. Everything changed at the border. It is probably mostly in the mind, but, I too, felt more relaxed. Everything felt more orderly, better built, and more relaxed.

I passed a few milestones. Firstly, country number 13.

Country number 12. Macedonia

Country number 12. Macedonia

Then 4000km with a nice view out over a lake.

The 4000km mark

The 4000km mark

While cruising along the road through the valley, nestled between steep, high mountains, I could only try to compare and determine what is different. Why is it so easy cycling here? Why is the road less steep? Well, the road didn’t suddenly drop to cross every little stream, but rather there were some (slightly) longer bridges. The road was also cut into the mountain more, meaning that not every bump needed to be traversed. Whatever it was, I zoomed along and was chatting to James at lunch. I put my tent up next to his with a view out over Lake Ohrid, and we spent hours sharing stories and making plans going forward.

Lake in Macedonia

Lake in Macedonia


Indecision and paranoia. I ended up cycling up ‘Samsung Galaxy’ valley seeing trouble everywhere where there was none. I had to use my people judgement today, trust someone, and follow my intuition. I am still here, so I guess it worked out OK.

Some vertical metres

Some vertical metres

The bus I wanted to take on this beautiful, sunny day, was leaving at 13.00. It was 7:30, and the café where my bike was, was very smoky. Outside, where there should have been fresh air, there was a noisy generator running with nasty fumes. I went to a neighbouring café, also with a generator, and spoke to some locals. One spoke very good English, and I felt was more trustworthy. There is no problem on the road to Peshkopi. I am very safe.

(On a side note: It turns out all cafes in Albania have generators running out the front. This is because they have to pay much more for electricity that everyone else. As a consequence, they don’t pay, and generate their own electricity, spending 3 euros a day on kerosene.)

Yesterday a boy took a photo with himself, me and Drahtesel and posted it on Facebook. This meant that I was known through the valley. I understand no Albanian, but I heard ‘Samsung Galaxy’ interspersed in the conversation, and interest in my phone everywhere I went. My friend Mr. Problem had said ‘phone’, and then indicated – stolen, gone. That’s all I could think of. In reality, the kids were just being kids. Joking around, and interested in a novelty (me).

Kids said, ‘remember me?’, and invited me in for coffee or a drink. Me, Mr Paranoid just continued. I don’t like this about myself. I feel the paranoia gone now.

It was a beautiful road, but, my, it was very, very steep and it went up and down and up and down – 100s of metres at a time. I feel very fit – me and Drahtesel make a good team!

The road to Peshkopi

The road to Peshkopi

The road to Peshkopi

The road to Peshkopi

The road to Peshkopi

The road to Peshkopi

The road to Peshkopi

The road to Peshkopi

Day 51. 81km. Pac – Bicaj

Posted: November 4, 2014 in Albania, Cycling
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Who to trust? Who to believe? After an uneventful cycle, I found myself taking down my tent in the dark, and listening to stories of rebels and stabbings in the area in front of a little electric heater in a small room in the town hall building. I didn’t sleep all night, lying on the floor of the café opposite the town hall with the café owner next to me to stop break-ins. Ouch.

Tent position in Bicaj before all the stress

Tent position in Bicaj before all the stress

The day had a happy start, listening to the call to prayer from the mosque directly behind me in my tent at 5am. I was excited all over again camping in front of a mosque.

It was cold, dropping to 0C at night, with some ice on my tent. I started my cycling briefly above the clouds before plunging down into them, where I was most of the day.

My perch above the clouds

My perch above the clouds

On the road to Kukës

On the road to Kukës

On the road to Kukës

On the road to Kukës

My tent stood nicely on the lawns of the town hall in the evening (as instructed by a local). On returning to the tent in the dark, after a stop in the local café, I saw a light circling the tent. The creepy conversation using 3 words, sign language and drawing began. The word ‘problem’ was common, the sign for a throat being slit, a bike chain being cut and the bike being taken away, the rubbing of fingers indicating money, and again, ‘problem’. The guy watched me as I took down my tent in the dark, and moved everything into the town hall building, for which he had a key.
Then it got very weird. There was a ‘problem’ between Bicaj and Peshkopi (where I was headed). Men in balaclavas, slitting throats and stealing. There was no ‘problem’ in the direction of Kosovo. I should sleep in the town hall. That would be safe. He would leave me there, and let me out at 5am. Leaving later than that would cause a ‘problem’ with the officials at the town hall. At this point, I was really getting worried.
‘I’m leaving.’
I got up and lugged bike and luggage out the door, and across the street to the café. My friend followed. I should not mention anything, he said. There are spies in the café.

I was allowed to sleep on the floor in the café. I asked them to help me catch a bus to Peshkopi the next day. They seemed to understand, and made a call to arrange it.

When all the customers had left, the café owner set up his bed on the couch in the café. He has a house just across the way, but sleeps here because of thieves. He told me to keep my wallet and passport in the sleeping bag – just to be safe.
The café owner had been good to me. He had also been friendly with Mr ‘Problem’. The customers in the café all seemed nice people. In fact, everyone in Albania has been nice. Was there reason for worry? I was most worried about Mr. Problem cutting me off at the pass the next day.

My night was spent thinking on what to do the next day, and how to stow my valuables as safely as possible on the bus trip.

Day 50. 42km. Komani – Pac

Posted: November 1, 2014 in Albania, Cycling
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Today was quite a day. A special national holiday meant everyone goes back to their place of birth. Many by boat. Drahtesel just fit, with a bit of help. Ii fit on the roof. Then a spectacular valley in the evening sun, ending in a perfect camping spot on the lawn in front of a mosque. My unease has gone.

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A group of brits/aussies backpacking around the world joined me with the 100s of others on our little ferry along the lake valley. Just after leaving we were all asked to move to one side as the other side was filling up with water. The redistribution of weight did the trick.

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I discovered a spot on the roof had the best view – of the landscape, and also into the toilet.
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On arriving at Fierze, I was really unsure on how far to go today. It was a short trip to the next town, and then a long road through the mountains with only small villages. The weather was good, so I stocked up with water, and cycled up and up along the most glorious road. Down the other side is a beautiful valley. I asked someone in a village where I can put up my tent. They led me to the lawn in front of the mosque. How cool is that? I have been invited for a beer, which I will do shortly.. 🙂 Life is good!

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Today it struck me. I think it struck James too. A weird feeling of unease. I have gone into the mountains and am in Komani, nestled between towering peaks. James is near the coast on the way to Macedonia where we will meet again. I’ve had this unease on other trips. It will go. I have acknowledged it, and have accepted it. It’s part of being on the road.

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Excerpt from my dear diary, written in the tent..
It is midnight as I lie in the tent amid the chorus of barking and snarling dogs in Albania. The tent is cleverly situated in the area patrolled by dogs protecting the cow thoroughfare, and they pass regularly in front of the tent. I feel safe – not directly visible – inside the tent, and consider how to proceed.
My bladder is full after having processed the Albanian schnapps I had earlier. An exit of the tent and urination exercise could end rather ungracefully. I remember our smug chuckles last night over dinner. The other cyclists paid 12 euros to stay in the hostel in Shkroder. We have a much better spot. Day 1 of our wild camping challenge achieved. We are getting a real Albanian experience – just one I didn’t expect when setting up the tents.
Does this experience earn me passage into the club of hard-core cyclists level 5? I will check with James tomorrow.

00:40 The dogs’ barks and snarls are more distant. The tent is fluttering in gusts of wind. I feel a downpour is looming.
I remember seeing bolts of lightning in the distance on the horizon while swimming yesterday. Maybe Drahtesel will get a clean, and the tent will get a test. Is it worthy of a hard-core cyclist level 5?

02:12 The dogs are still. The tent is still fluttering in the wind but the storm refused to arrive. And I need to piss. Standing outside the tent, I look up at the skies to see the exquisite panorama of stars. There is a light breeze. The bottom corner of my tent is flapping around and the peg holding it down is nowhere to be seen. Well. That explains the fluttering. So much for the building storm. I fumble around in the tent for a spare peg, stamp it into the ground, and the tent is ready for a new day. Or night.
Oh. And the regular growl of the fierce dog is just James snoring in the neighbouring tent.

2:43 What are the roosters doing? It’s not even 3am and they are crowing. They haven’t turned their clocks back from daylight saving time.

5:18. I find the Muslim call to prayer haunting and beautiful. The sounds drift across the plains from the border-town mosque, punctuated by rooster calls. It is time to rise and pack up the tent under the starry sky. Our first day in Albania is about to begin.

‘I don’t want to do the mountain route,’ said James over coffee. ‘I want to move south towards Greece.’
We realised our paths were going to diverge, even though we think they will rejoin in Macedonia. There was a funny feeling cycling through the busy chaotic streets of Shkoder, and eating breakfast at a café. I didn’t want to cycle the southern busy roads straight down the coast. I hope James will be OK. It has been great sharing the last few weeks with him.

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I pushed my way into the gale-force winds, then up over a small pass to enter the valley I would follow the rest of the day. I knew this feeling of apprehension would pass. The sun was shining, it was beautiful scenery, and everything was OK.
I followed a lake that wound its way around a steep-sided valley. The road went up and down, the wind blasted as hard as it could – mostly into my face. The road surface was OK some of the time. I took some nice photos.

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Komani is at the base of a beautiful valley, but is a construction site. They are doing some dredging works in the lake, and trucks are plying the roads. A view without electricity wires is not to be found. I am the only tourist in the town. Everyone else here are construction workers. Tomorrow is a ferry along the lake to Fierze, and then I can cycle onwards along a brand new road. I’m sure tomorrow will feel different. I am in the heart of beautiful nature. I love that.


A day of contrasts. Old town in Budva, up and down coast road, refreshing swim, a gaggle of long distance cyclists and camping next to the cow highway in Albania.

Camping along the cow highway

Camping along the cow highway

I am addicted. Addicted to cycling. Addicted to internet. The lengths I go to get an internet fix.

The steel rods in the wall make for a weak internet signal.

The steel rods in the wall make for a weak internet signal.

I am addicted to swimming. Again a beautiful beach, almost deserted in the post summer lull.

Contemplating a swim

Contemplating a swim

I am addicted to chocolate. James pointed out my quirky traits. I have a massive bag of cables, adapters, chargers, batteries and memory cards. I have another bag – my snack bag. It is massive and a treasure trove of chocolate from distant countries. Today I had a minor emergency. My snack bag was totally EMPTY. After a 20% climb to change direction and join the road to the Albanian border, the snack bag was emptied. Luckily we passed a supermarket. I breathed a sigh of relief. A trolley full of chocolate.

The salvation of the snack bag

The salvation of the snack bag

I am not the only cycling addict. Today was a day of the long distance cyclist get-together.

Sotiria, Maarten, James and me

Sotiria, Maarten, James and me

More long distance cyclists

More long distance cyclists

Today the landscape changed. The feeling of it all changed. First we joined a quiet rural road that rolled down to the Albanian border. Roosters crowing, all sorts of animals crossing the road, and a relaxed, non-touristy atmosphere.

Rural approach to Albania

Rural approach to Albania

Back to the wild camping. Let’s have another stab at the 3 days of wild camping in a row. Our tents are nestled in-between some farming equipment hidden from the road. It turns out we are on the edge of a cow thoroughfare.

Near our camping spot

Near our camping spot

Our camping ground

Our camping ground

The tent is hidden from the road

The tent is hidden from the road


Its less than 3 months now before I leave on my big bike trip from Eindhoven in the Netherlands to Australia. I have done the first wave of sorting out my clothes, papers, other ‘stuff’. Next week will be my training run – testing out all my equipment, when I will cycle to friends in Limoges in the centre of France. Stay tuned for a practice blog on that trip.

But now, I am updating and refining my planned route. I will have a whole 3 months to make it from Eindhoven to Istanbul, and I think I will really need 2 or less. No problem. Europe is beautiful, and there is a lot to see. If I have time, I would like to see more of Greece and then south western Turkey. It is hard to find suggested gpx routes through Greece. This alternate route through Greece is the Eurovelo 8 route ending in Athens. After Athens, I could take the boat to Izmir and continue on in Turkey. Click here to see a zoomable version of the map, and download the gpx.

Alternatives in Albania and Greece

Alternatives in Albania and Greece

 

Do you have any tips for getting to Athens? And, more importantly, do you know about which boats run in the winter (November)? I could even think about cycling along Crete, then to Rhodos, and catching a boat to Fethiye in Turkey, although, I don’t think there are any boats running in the winter. I guess and hope there will still be boats between Athens and Izmir in the winter..

I’m looking forward to seeing more of Greece. I hope it eventuates!