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  • Day57

    A Tough One

    October 22, 2016 in Albania

    German Version:

    First of all: Albania was a tough one.

    A few kilometers behind the border between Montenegro and Albania lies the city of Shokdra. Already on the way there I felt like in another world. On the street, horses gallop and there are tons of garbage in the streets where street dogs looking for food. To my delight, however, I was no longer the only cyclist. In Albania the bicycle is a much used means of transport and transportation.

    As a first stop I had a campsite in Shokdra.
    I am often approached by other campers where the trip goes and get invited for a coffee or lunch. Also at this campsite, where I was invited by a German couple. I am very happy about the interest and the company.

    Already in the days before I felt not fit at all. That's why I took a two-day break to get me out and plan my next route.

    When I started my trip, I thought I just start without major route planning. But now, route planning has become an important component for me. Especially when the weather is bad or the legs do not have the power, the stage destination is often my last motivation to continue riding. In addition, I feel most comfortable in the mountains, which requires more planning regarding food storage and weather.

    After two days of recovery I felt much better and started again. My route led to the village of Koman, which is surrounded by mountains at a lake, from where I took a ferry the next morning. On the way to Koman, a cyclist from England overtook me. Peter was on the road with a 16-person cycling group, which also had the ferry as their destination. We talked and rode the last piece together to Koman. For his middle 60 he was in a very good shape and hung me up in the climbs every time. To my defense, I must say the travel group was supported by a luggage transport :).
    With a few beers we let the evening end and I was glad about the good company.

    The next day we went early to the ferry, because this only leaves once a day. After a three-hour drive through a sensational landscape, our paths separated and I took the road to Kukes, the next major city in the east of Albania.

    When I was on my own again, my mood was Not good at all. It just makes more fun to ride together. A short time later, I was also hunted by two shepherd dogs. From then on, the pepperspray was always handy on the handlebars, only for safety. Throughout Albania, several more "dog attacks" followed. They never bite after me, but always came dangerously close to me. It seemed to me that the four-legged animals had been looking for people on two wheels.

    From Kukes I took a gravel road up a mountain to the Kosovan border. I had problems with navigation because there were ways that were not on the map. So I needed longer than expected and arrived at the border in the late afternoon. Then the shock followed. The border officer could not let me pass because he does not have a stamp for the passport and the border crossing is only for border residents. The frontier officer was really nice and called his manager. But nothing could be done, I had to turn back. It was already late and started to rain, so I pitched the tent a short time later.

    The next morning it was raining heavily and it lasted for the next two days. I cycled to the south of Albania and thence to Ohrid Lake in Macedonia, with the hope of better weather. The rain and the cold were exhausting, but I was lucky and the sun was shining in Macedonia for two days. I really needed that.

    In retrospect, I must say: Even if Albania was a hard one, the hardships were definitely worth it. Albania has a breathtaking landscape and people are extremely helpful and open minded.

    Your Janosch

    Ps. The boy on the last picture I met in a small mountain village. The air must have been out of his tires for a long time. We pumped it up and he followed me a few meters. Unfortunately, the air was soon out again. He's probably driving better on rims than on pumped tires :).
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  • Day14

    Llogara Pass und kein Gjiepe Beach

    September 14 in Albania

    Heute stand eigentlich die geheime Geheimtip zum sagenumwobenen Gjiepe Beach aufm Plan. Zuerst mussten wir noch über den Llogara Pass, da hat der V8 ordentlich geschnauft und war noch lange warm....😁 Dann haben wir uns die Zufahrt zum Strand angesehen und mussten leider davon absehen. 😤😫 Also mal wieder Campingplatz....

  • Day18

    Das blaue Auge und Gjirokaster

    September 18 in Albania

    Man soll aufhören, wenn es am Schönsten ist... Deswegen mussten wir uns von der Riviera verabschieden und langsam die Biege (nach Norden) machen... Vorher noch die Karstquelle Syr-i-kalter und dann Gjirokaster. Anschließend noch zur Thermal-stinke-Quelle an der alten Bogenbrücke in DingsBums. 😄

  • Day400


    May 6 in Albania

    Hm, was soll ich sagen. Eine Stadt die stehen geblieben ist, mit leider zu viel Armut und heruntergekommen Häusern. Die schlechte Wirtschaft spiegelte sich im günstigen Restaurant Besuch wieder.

    Hoffentlich entwickelt sich das Land zum Positiven, denn Potential hat es allemal.

  • Day14

    The Road to Thethi

    August 6 in Albania

    The road to Thethi is the price of admission. It doesn't matter if you are rich or poor. If you want to experience Thethi you have to take it.

    Thethi is a village high in the mountains and not much has changed there in the last few hundred years. There is internet, electricity and proper restrooms, but everything else here is done the old way. You can see it in how the buildings are constructed and you can taste it in everything you eat and drink. The place where we stayed was hotel-like in that we had rooms with beds and bathrooms, but was like a boarding house when it came to food. Other than beer and coffee you didn't really order food and there definitely wasn't a menu. You tell them the size of your party and you get what they have. Dinner was like a mini feast, with plates of lamb parts (every cut was different), bread, Greek salad, 2 kinds of goat cheese spread and cornbread. The cornbread was exactly like we have back home. The dinner table was outside, under a wooden canopy with a mountain stream nearby.

    In the 2 hours between the drive and dinner a few of us went on a hike to a nearby waterfall. We passed a flock of sheep, tended to by a woman in traditional garb. It was a decent climb to get to the waterfall but it was worth the effort. We took a dip in the Rocky pool of water below the waterfall - it was absolutely freezing but good.

    We took a different route down and followed a small stream someone had built a long time ago to send water to a nearby farm. We passed a small bar that was really just a tiny log shack with a rough hewn deck overlooking the river. The view was fantastic. A hike like that deserved a beer so we stopped in. Colton noticed my arm was bleeding. It was a teeny cut, but it had bled over the hike to make it look worse than it was. I hadn't even noticed it. As we got ready to leave, the owner of the place noticed it and un kinked a hose and insisted on pouring rakki (moonshine) on the my arm to clean it. I pretended to lick the liquor off my arm as a complement and he passed the bottle around.

    The road: getting into Thethi is a challenge. It's paved up to the last 18km but after that it's very rough. Our car, an early 2000s Volvo wagon had been an absolute tank the whole way but this was pushing it. At the end of the pavement we were warned by a group of Italians in a land rover that our car was too wide and wouldn't make it on the narrow rock and dirt road. We knew others from our group had made it in wider cars so we ignored the advice. We had second thoughts one last time when a local guy in a old land rover drove up, took one look at our car and tried to offer us a ride. Knowing how they drive here, we preferred to be in control of the driving, even if that meant we had to go really slow, and we would average about 8-9 km/hr. Three kilometers in, we encountered a guy driving a car similar to ours who had turned back, but we were determined to make it.

    If the road to Thethi were paved, there would be a lot more accidents. It was extremely narrow and made mostly of rocks and dirt, not gravel. The roughness ensured oncoming traffic on blind corners would be slow-ish. Like the day before there were sheer cliffs at some points, so we decided to take off the seatbelts in case a quick exit was needed. When we encountered an oncomimg car at one particularly tight and and cliffy spot the passenger jumped out and guided us past the car, us inches from a cliff and a centimeter from the other car... all the while wearing cool shades with a cigarette from his mouth. Those 18km took hours but eventually we made it in.

    Later on we decided our car deserved a name since it had survived that road. It was a FWD Volvo wagon with 250K km on the clock and it hadn't signed on for this kind of treatment. Vlora seemed like a good fit since it's an Albanian name, starts with V and goes well with Vlora the Explorer.

    There is only one road to Thethi so we had to take the same way out the next day and it took hours and was hairy, but it didn't seem as bad the second time.
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  • Day13

    We knew we had a long day of mountain driving ahead of us, but we didn’t really have any idea what lay ahead.

    As we near the Albania/Kosovo border, we start to see several processions of cars with many of the cars prominently displaying Albanian flags and we couldn’t quite make out what they were, either funerals or weddings possibly, but either way, these people are proud Albanians - but we are still in Kosovo. Talking to a few people from the previous night, many people of Kosovo are ethnically Albanian and they like the idea of someday becoming part of Albania.

    As we enter into Albania, the nostalgia starts setting in for Steve. He came here 23 years ago with his father to work on a mineral exploration camp for a summer. As we make our way deeper into the country, the mountains become more imposing and we start to wonder if we need to go through and across them. Once we get past the northernmost town of Valbona and approach the Fierze Dam, the road becomes fairly devoid of traffic. We would find out later that there is a border crossing further to the south which had a more normal road and a more straight shot to our next destination, but where would the fun and adventure be in that?

    As we approach the Dam, we stop for a few pics and try to figure out where the road goes as all we see are towering mountains. Sure enough, there are a series of tight switchbacks that start to take us up. These switchbacks are intense, have us rising quickly at a 10 % incline, and have no guardrails. This takes the term white knuckle driving to new heights, knowing a wrong reaction to an oncoming car around a bend, could mean a 1000 foot free fall to certain death. The thought becomes more real as we continue the drive and start seeing memorial after memorial along the side of the road. In fact, there are no speed limit signs, but the full-tombstone memorials serve that purpose - for us anyways. Some of the tombstones are dedicated to multiple people, likely meaning they all sailed off the cliff in one car to meet a horrible end. As I write this, the term road might be a stretch, more like a glorified goat path, which goats still use today as if it’s meant exclusively for them. You may have seen roads like this on TV, they are carved into the side of the mountain, mostly one lane, except for slightly widened spaces to allow for oncoming traffic to pass, no guard rails, ever present signs of recent rockslides, and the occasional large stone or boulder which tumbled down to the road, and immediately alongside the edge is a steep drop of hundreds - thousands of feet, with no trees to slow down a falI. I maneuver the road carefully as I see Steve grabbing for the handle and holding his breath on occasion. I assure him that I got this, but he doesn’t seem too convinced at first. The dozens of memorials we see along the route serve as a constant reminder that this is some serious driving and we need to stay ever attentive. This would go on for 6 hours, before we finally came to the main road to Shkodër.

    We were losing light but needed a break, so we stopped in the old mining town of Fusche Arraez, this was the area Steve had worked when he was here in the 90s. The mountain in front of us and the land 20 miles to the south had once been part of a mineral exploration operation led by Steve’s father, Jim Kelly. These hills and mountains are filled with gold, copper and zinc, but unfortunately the Albanian Revolution of 1997 put an end to that operation. We wanted to stop by the area where the old camp was located, but the roads were terrible and daylight wasn’t on our side so we had to skip it.

    A couple more hours of maintain passes gets us to our destination city - Shkodër, a big shout out to the Travel Scientists for choosing such a great route and arranging a fairly high class hotel for us to recharge at.
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  • Day18

    Hometown of a Dictator

    August 10 in Albania

    Our last stop in Albania was the city of Gjirokaster. When I first saw it on the route it seemed odd. I'd heard about most of the other cities on the route, but not this one. It turned out to be a very good choice, as it was nothing like anything we'd seen before in this country. With the exception of Thethi, every other city was more or less 20th century in architecture and layout. Not this place. It was a well preserved ottoman era city, established in the late 1400s. The streets were made of cobblestone and were winding and steep. All the buildings seemed to be of that era, too. Our hotel sat on high ground - it was family run and had a nice out door dining area.

    The drive to Gjirokaster was a lot of fun. I was still feeling the food poisoning so Colton drove the whole way. We wound down the coast of Albania, saw some paragliders launching from atop a mountain and stopped for a break at the beach. Eventually the route turned east, into the mountains. We stopped to check out the blue eye, a famous mountain spring. Picture a river emanating from nowhere and you get the idea. It was so cool, Colton decided to leap from the obeservation deck, directly into the eye. Twice. Normally this trip was a constant game of one upmanship, but I was still feeling green so I passed.

    About an hour from our destination a storm broke out as were driving on one of those windy mountain roads. We were used to mountain driving at this point and Colton handled it with ease and I trusted his driving. It was actually kind of fun.

    Gjirokaster is the home town of Enver Hoxha, the communist dictator who ruled Albania for decades. While many other cities had been transformed into more Stalinist architecture during his rule, Gjirokaster went untouched. I'm guessing this is why he seemed slightly less hated here. In every gift shop we had seen along the way you could buy little statues of Skanderberg, the 15th century hero who led the rebellion against the Ottomans - he is depicted as a bearded warrior who looks like he could give William Wallace a run for his money. Here, you could also buy Hoxha statues in some places. Weird.

    Looming over the town is an old fortress dating back to the 1500s and expanded/updated in the 1830s. You can see it from most places in the city. Hoxha used part of this castle to display his military trophy collection. A great hall was lined with mostly broken artillery pieces left behind by axis forces in WW2. Outside the hall, near the edge of one of the castle walls sat the rotting shell of an American T33 fighter jet from the early 1950s. It had been forced to land in Albania. The stories of how are varied - Hoxha said Albanian jets damaged it, America says the pilot got lost and was forced to land due to weather. The pilot detained and released after several weeks but the plane was kept and put in Hoxhas trophy room.

    Gjirokaster would be our last stop in Albania, and it was a great way to end our time there. The next day we would enter Greece, where the roads are wider and the prices are higher.
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  • Day16

    Along the Albanian Riviera

    August 8 in Albania

    Along the Albanian Riviera

    We’ve missed posting for a couple of days thanks to some food poisoning that slowed us down, but we’re back and ready to finish the rally strong!

    Driving along the Albanian coast is definitely worth doing, if you make it here, you’ll encounter ancient old world history, beautiful coastlines and beaches that are postcard-worthy, with the small town charm from the proud Albanian people who are so happy you are visiting their country.

    Ancient historic sites:
    We’ve explored several castles, remnants of old cities, and villages with evidence from the different periods of history as the control of this region changed. Several sites have reached the status of UNESCO designation as some of the castles and fortifications date back to the 12th century. However, the castles and structures are usually built on top of already existing foundations and loosely defined village layouts as humans have been here for thousands of years, with records of the Illyrians going back to the time of ancient Greece in the 700-1000 BC range. For us, we love trying to imagine all the things that have happened at these locations, from ancient people’s every day life, to decisive military battles, sieges and invasions which would define centuries of life afterwards. An example is an old Roman Amphitheater in Durrës, built in the year 60 AD and used for the next few hundred years for entertainment. The main entertainment was inviting about 20,000 of the towns people to cheer on as gladiators, slaves and animals would engage in a gory battles. A relief from inside the eerie chambers of the amphitheater with the depiction of a man driving a sword into another man’s back reminded us of what took place here.

    Driving up and down mountains of what many refer to as the Albanian Riviera is absolutely breathtaking and makes it a bit hard to keep your eyes on the road as you try to take in the intensely blue-hued Adriatic. For anyone that’s driven along the Amalfi Coast it Italy, the scenery must be somewhat similar. Spending nights in the beachside towns of Durrës and Vlorë, we believe it to be reminiscent of the California coast or Miami strip from the 50s and 60s. Although we didn’t experience that time, through photos and movies, it seems pretty close. The beaches are all lined with small, 2-4 star family run hotels, with a boardwalk which separates the hotels, bars and restaurants from the beaches that are lined with lounge chairs and cabanas. The less stringent rules and regulations mean that you can see and do things you don’t regularly see at beaches in the U.S. There are several BB gun kiosks where you can try your luck at hitting targets, there are people pushing around carts of burning oil so they can serve fresh donuts and people selling beers in glass bottles so you can walk up down the beach enjoying the sights, beer in hand. After all of the intense mountain driving, a couple of more relaxed nights and taking a dip in the warm Adriatic are a welcome change.

    The remnants of a dictator:
    For anyone familiar with recent Albanian history, you may be aware of the ruthless communist regime, led by Enver Hoxha, from post WWII to the early 90s. During that time, Albania was all but cut off from most of the rest of the world, as Hoxha grew more and more paranoid of an Imperialist invasion. He, among many other activities, led an effort to build bunkers across the country, we see these dotting the landscape with machine gun angles aimed toward the sea as we drive. We finally find one that’s somewhat accessible and stop by a roadside stand to enjoy some freshly picked figs and grapes, while exploring the inside of the tiny bunker. Despite the history of being ruled under a harsh dictatorship, everyone we have interacted with here is happy, eager to converse and meet with us, and goes out of their way to make sure our experience is a good one - including the man selling figs, with a smile, handshake, and adding several extra perfectly ripe figs for us to enjoy after we already paid.
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  • Day7

    Heute morgen um halb neun waren wir schon auf der Burg 🏰. Halbwegs angenehme Temperaturen, wenig Touristen und ein Parkplatz vor dem Tor.
    Eine gut erhaltene Ruine die uneinnehmbar war.
    Von der Zisterne gab es eine Wasserleitung in die Stadt.
    Das Burg-Café war leider geschlossen und die steigenden Temperaturen brachten uns in die Cafés der Altstadt.
    Die Bazastrassen prägen sd Bild der Altstadt. Sehr angenehme und freundliche Kaufleute. Keine ständige Animation auf der Straße.Read more

  • Day12

    Am schwarzen Drin

    August 13 in Albania

    Der Plan : vom Ohrid See über die Berge zum Unterlauf des schwarzen Drin, einen schönen Platz am Fluss suchen und den Grill anschmeissen.

    Die Realität : einen schönen Platz gefunden, einen halben Plattfuss hinten rechts bemerkt, also wieder zurück in die Stadt, um 18:30 einen "Reifendienst" gefunden, 19:30 alles wieder okay, zum alten Stellplatz am Fluss zu weit,

    ah da ist ein Restaurant, 😁
    Es lässt sich nicht nachvollziehen, wer wen nicht verstanden hat, aber letztendlich habe ich zur Flussterrasse umgeparkt, nur leider nichts zu Essen bekommen.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Republic of Albania, Albanien, Albania, Albanië, Albenia, አልባኒያ, ألبانيا, ܐܠܒܢܝܐ, Albaniya, Албанія, Албания, Alibani, আলব্যানিয়া, ཨལ་བཱ་ནི་ཡ།, Albanija, Albània, ᎠᎵᏇᏂᏯ, Albánie, Albania nutome, Αλβανία, Albanujo, Albaania, آلبانیا, Albanii, Albanie, Albaanje, An Albáin, Albàinia, અલ્બેનિયા, אלבניה, अल्बेनिया, Albanska, Albani, Albánia, Ալբանիա, Albanía, アルバニア共和国, ალბანეთი, អាល់បានី, ಅಲ್ಬೇನಿಯಾ, 알바니아, ئەڵبانیا, Alibaniya, ແອລເບເນຍ, Alubani, Albānija, Албанија, അൽബേനിയ, अल्बानिया, Arbainiya, Albuanii, ଆଲବାନିଆ, Albaani, Albanìa, البانیه, Albânia, Shkiperiya, Alubaniya, Albanïi, ඇල්බේනියාව, Albánsko, Albaaniya, Shqipëria, அல்பேனியா, అల్బేనియా, ประเทศแอลเบเนีย, Albanya, ʻAlipania, Arnavutluk Cumhuriyeti, ئالبانىيە, البانیہ, An-ba-ni (Albania), Lalbanän, Orílẹ́ède Àlùbàníánì, 阿尔巴尼亚, i-Albania

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