Albania
Qarku i Shkodrës

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  • Day57

    A Tough One

    October 22, 2016 in Albania

    German Version: www.cyclingfornepal.com

    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

    Koman Lake Ferry

    August 15 in Albania

    Koman Lake Ferry
    Die Verbindung über den Koman Stausee wurde zwischenzeitlich aus finanziellen Gründen eingestellt. Heute gibt zwei Gesellschaften, die mit zwei oder drei kleinen Autofähren und einer Personenfähre zwischen Fierze und Komani verkehren.
    Gestern abend waren wir schon am Anleger, da die Autoplätze sehr begrenzt sind. Ticket gekauft, "Parkgebühr " bezahlt und auf den nächsten Tag gewartet.
    Um sechs Uhr brüllte schon der Diesel der Personenfähre .
    Ab 11:00 wurde auf die Ankunft der Autofähre gewartet. Ab 12:00 geschäftige Hektik, runter von der Fähre, die rückwärtsfahrende Schlange auf die Fähre formiert sich.
    Wir sind fast drauf - dann doch nicht. Da wohl zu viele Tickets verkauft worden. Aber kein Problem. 200 Meter weiter wäre der Anleger der anderen (befreundeten) Gesellschaft. Die würden auf uns warten.....
    Gewartet haben sie natürlich nicht und es war auch bis zur Abfahrt nicht sicher ob wir mitkommen, aber .... am Ende, alles kein Problem 😊
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  • Day15

    Theth - eine Zeitreise ?

    August 16 in Albania

    Theth ist sicherlich eines der bekanntesten albanischen Bergdörfer. Eingeschlossen von hohen Bergen (1700m) waren es tschechische Wander, die die Schönheit dieses Tals entdeckten und den Tourismus (2005) begründeten. Die Bewohner Theths wussten damals noch nichts mit den Touristen anzufangen, die kamen und von der Natur begeistert waren.
    Mit dem Auto war das Dorf (eigentlich eine Ansammlung von kleinen Siedlungen) nur über schlechte Wege mit dem Geländewagen zu erreichen.
    Vor drei Tagen erzählte uns ein Kosovoalbaner, er wäre damals mal der Crossmaschine in Theth gewesen und das wäre eine Zeitweise 200 Jahre in die Vergangenheit.
    Zwei deutsche Reisende empfahlen die Nordroute (weil einfacher) für den Hin- und die sehr schwierige Südroute für den Rückweg. Unsere Plan war eigentlich andersrum.
    Da wir uns im Süden und mit der Koman Tour viel Zeit gelassen haben, soll es hin und zurück über die Nordroute gehen.
    Bis auf die Passhöhe geht es meistens über Asphalt. Die 20 Km bis ins Tal über eine fahrbare Piste. Nicht gut, aber nicht die schlechteste der letzten 10 Tage.
    Wären da nicht der dauernde Gegenverkehr und die Überholer. Theth hat sich in den letzten 10 Jahren zu einem der Topziele in Nordalbanien entwickelt.
    Gab es damals vier Guesthäuser (vor 20 Jahren keins) gibt es heute Platz für 400 Touristen (Camper wahrscheinlich noch nicht mitgerechnet). Mit Geländewagen und Kleinbussen werden Tages- und Übernachtungsgäste nach Theth geschafft.
    Unsere Reiseführer beschrieb noch fehlende Campingmöglichkeiten.

    Trotzalledem ein sehr schönes Tal mit tollen Bergpanoramen.
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  • Day6

    All Shkodered out

    August 10 in Albania

    Plan was to take a 9am bus from prizren to gkakova and then catch a furgon (mini bus) to bajram curri in Albania and then another furgon to fierze for a 1pm ferry through the long, narrow canyon of lake komani. Supposed to be one of the best boat rides on the planet (Google komani ferry).

    Anyways that whole plan went up in smoke when we woke up at 10:15 and arrived at bus station around 11. No way would we make those connections. Asked a taxi driver how much to bajram curri and he offered 60 euros. Giddyup. After a brief stop at the taxi drivers house so could put his garbage at the side of the road, we were on our way. I'm not making that up haha.

    Did our best to sleep off the pounding headaches we earned from the prior night, until reaching the Albanian border. Arrived in bajram curri which is in the thick of the striking Albanian alps, and found a new taxi to get us to fierze. Who knew we had just hired a retired racecar driver. We barrelled down winding tight mountain roads at over 100km/h leaving fingernail imprints in the car upholstery.

    Got to ferry landing and we had just missed it and no more ferries until the next morning. And we were in the middle of nowhere. Still frazzled from the white knuckle taxi ride and the effects of night prior, anxiety levels weren't so great heh.

    Smelling opportunity, an Albanian offered to charter us a small motorboat for 100 euros. Putting our money together, we had about 110-115 euros. And we still needed transportation from the other end of lake komani to shkoder plus we hadn't eaten anything and this was a three hour boat ride. Got his price down to 90 euros, bought two bags of chips and were on our way.

    Impossible to describe, and pics don't do it justice. One of the most beautiful rides ever. Huge mountains dropping straight down to waters edge as we winded slowly through the narrow water passages. About half way we noticed a storm coming over the mountain range but fortunately never hit us.

    We were a bit concerned that in missing ferry, there wouldn't be any transportation at landing to get us to shkoder but fortunately there were furgons there waiting to go. 16 euros for our ride plus a few more for water leaving us with 2-3 euros in our pockets.

    Shkoder wasn't anything special. We knew today it was all about the journey and not the destination. Nevertheless we found a nice area of restaurants for a good meal. Hotel was a bit of a disaster though. We had choice of private bathroom and no a/c or shared bathroom with a/c. Tried the former but it was too hot and shower didn't work. Then switched to latter but bathroom was on top floor and toilet didn't flush. Eventually arranged so we had both rooms at our disposal to cover all our needs. It was a very fitting end to the kind of day we had. And perhaps a summary of sorts to the organized chaos that is Albania :) -SP
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  • 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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  • Day732

    Der letzte Tag in Montenegro liegt vor uns, wir werden dieses Land in sehr guter Erinnerung behalten! Auch heute geht es ein weiteres Mal bergauf und bergab, stets mit guter Sicht auf den Skadar-See und die dahinter liegende schneebedeckte Bergkette. Einige Bergdörfer später erreichen wir nach steiler Abfahrt am späten Nachmittag die Grenze nach Albanien. Als Radfahrer dürfen wir an der Autoschlange vorbeifahren und sind innerhalb weniger Minuten im 10. Land unserer Reise.Read more

  • Day58

    Unsere erste Anlaufstelle in Albanien 🇦🇱 war bereits zu Beginn unserer Tour klar! Wir stoppen im „Lake Shkodër Resort“, dem angeblich schönsten und besten Campground ⛺️ in ganz Albanien. Nachdem wir die Grenze passiert hatten und wir die ersten Ziegen und Esel auf der Straße umkurvt hatten, waren es nur noch einige Kilometer, bis das Schild ➡️ rechts auf eine Schotterpiste zeigte, in Richtung Camp. Dann standen wir vor einem riesigen Schiebetor was sich automatisch öffnete ... Willkommen im Paradies 😉.

    Ja, schön ist es! Wir bekamen mit Finn 🚐 einen super schönen Platz unter einer Überdachung, so dass wir eine Art Sonnen ☀️ und Regen 🌧 Schutz hatten. Eigentlich wollten wir nur ein/zwei Nächte bleiben, um etwas zu entspannen und viel wichtiger, unsere Wäsche zu waschen. Schlussendlich sind es fünf Tage geworden, die wir im Resort verbracht haben.

    Es war einfach zu verlockend auszuschlafen, nach einem ausgiebigen Frühstück 🍯🍳🥖🧀🥓 an den Strand am See zu gehen und im Liegestuhl oder der Hängematte nichts zu tuen und sich zwischendurch im See abzukühlen. Sozusagen Erholung vom Reisen 😊!

    Ganz untätig waren wir dann nicht ... ein wenig gearbeitet wurde auch. Wir haben endlich ein eigenes Logo 👏😍. Es war einen lange und schwere Geburt. Auch wurde noch der ein oder andere Blogbeitrag geschrieben (ich hinke aber immer noch hinterher 🙈).

    Abends wurde nicht gekocht, sondern wir ließen uns kulinarisch im Strandrestaurant verwöhnen und genossen bei gutem Essen und Trinken (und sehr günstigen Preisen💰) die Sonnenuntergänge 🌅. Dazu gab es jeden Abend einen Raki. Die Tage verflogen wie im Fluge, so dass wir uns nach fünf Tagen entschieden, einen weiteren Stopp 🛑 in Shkodër selbst, also lediglich ca. 25 Kilometer weiter einzulegen, um auch die Stadt noch etwas zu erkunden.

    Schaut auch gern mal auf Instagram und Facebook bei uns vorbei #finnweltenbummler
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  • Day732

    Erste Nacht in Albanien

    April 8 in Albania

    Die erste Nacht in Albanien verbringen wir auf einem Campingplatz in der Nähe von Shkodra. Wir werden sehr herzlich empfangen, neben einem Wohnmobil sind wir die einzigen Gäste. Die eigentliche Zeltwiese, bzw. der Zeltwald, ist aktuell nicht nutzbar, da der gesamte Platz noch mit den Folgen einer Überflutung zu kämpfen hat. Von unserem Zelt aus blicken wir auf eine auf einem Hügel gelegene Festungsanlage. Wir fühlen uns sehr wohl, einzig die kitschige Festbeleuchtung, die auch nachts über unserem Zelt leuchtet, hätte nicht sein müssen...! Den nächsten Morgen beginnen wir entsprechend wärmster Empfehlung unserer Campinplatz-Gastgeberin mit einem Spaziergang hinauf auf die Festung, bevor es dann gegen Mittag wieder auf die Räder geht 🚴🚴Read more

  • Day61

    Bei strahlendem Sonnenschein ☀️entschieden wir uns die Festung 🏰 von Shkodër (Rozafa Castle) zu erobern. Da die Burg oberhalb vom Camp ⛺️ liegt, ging es sofort los. Vorbei an ein paar baufälligen Häusern und ein paar Wellblech-Hütten der Zigeuner ging es stetig bergauf. Oben angekommen, treffen wir auf drei Reisebusse 🚌 ... die auch schon wieder hier 🤨?

    Die Touris waren tatsächlich unser Glück ... freier Eintritt 💪 ... es machte den Anschein, dass für heute bereits genügend Einnahmen in der Kasse sind, so dass wir umsonst rein durften 😊. So stapften wir mit breitem Grinsen 😁 in die Festung hinein. Da die meisten Touris älterer Generation waren, hatten wir die Festung größtenteils für uns alleine. Auf jede Mauer und in jedes Loch wurde hinein geklettert und die 360 Grad Aussicht über Shkodër und das Umland genossen.

    Nachdem wir wirklich in jeden Winkel geklettert waren und in der ein oder anderen Ecke das Gefühl hatten ... hier wohnt oder sagen wir besser, haust doch einer 🧐, ging es mit dem Bus noch nach Shkodër rein. Wow der Eselskaren fährt hier neben dem Mercedes Benz, eine recht nette kleine Fußgänger Zone, daneben heruntergekommene Häuser und streunende Hunde auf der Straße. Ja, so haben wir uns Albanien vorgestellt! Fasziniert laufen wir umher und knipsen hier und da ein Foto und probieren die Atmosphäre aufzusaugen. Von unserem Host im Camp ⛺️wurde uns erzählt, dass der Norden Albaniens der „ärmste“ Teil sei und je weiter wir im Verlauf unseres Trips gegen Süden fahren, würde es „optisch reicher“ ... wir sind gespannt und lassen uns überraschen.

    Zur Abkühlung ging es nach unserem Stadtbesuch noch eine Runde zum Planschen 🏊‍♂️ in den Pool mit Blick 👀 in Richtung Festung von Shkodër. Den Abend liessen wir dann bei großen Pizzen im Restaurant ausklingen. Morgen früh geht‘s dann endlich los 👏 ... die Albanischen Alpen 🏔⛰ warten auf uns 😊.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Qarku i Shkodrës, Qarku i Shkodres

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