Albania

  • 10 tips for wild camping when cycle touring

    While cycle touring or bike packing through remote parts of the planet it’s sometimes necessary to sleep in random places. So far I have enjoyed the comfort of sleeping in places as diverse as a bus shelter, a mosque, a Buddhist monastery, outside petrol stations in Turkey and Chile or on the tops of mountains in Tibet. Why you ask? read more

  • Greece Lightning – Cycle touring the length of Northern Greece

    We made it into Greece a few days ago and have now arrived at Kavala. It has been such a friendly country so far. It makes you realise how they came into such financial troubles, when everyone insists on giving us free stuff. Free fruit from roadside stalls, free internet in cafes, free coffee and advice on routes and places to visit. Most of all everyone tells us to free camp, we haven’t had much chance on the trip so far, but in Greece we can camp anywhere, or so the locals keep telling us. We camped in glorious mountain meadows after the Albania border, behind stunning beaches, next to ancient olive groves, this was mainly on the amazing Island of Thasos, where the olive trees can be up to 1000 years old. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We have found yet more wild cherry trees to snack on by the roadside. We entered from Bilisht, Albania into Krystallopigi, Greece. Then headed south east to the coast, all down hill from the ski resorts to coastal resorts. The roads into Thessaloniki is border by a huge, rich orchard area. The trees were loaded with fresh ripe fruit, a few apricots might have gone missing…. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This sadly also brought with it huge refridgerated lorries rapidly exporting to all of Europe. These lorries had little interest in avoiding cyclists. So we detoured into a train station. There was no timetable. We detoured into an internet cafe. The online timetable showed that a train was running and the next one was in an hour. Marion had stayed outside as a group of kids had gathered in the village to spy on our bikes. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We then proceeded to train station, set up the camp stove and cooked dinner as we waited. The train rushed us for €2 into the city centre we were glad to avoid the lorries but spent a while navigating the busy city roads, finding our hostel.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The roads out of Thessaloniki were busy but fresh fruit stalls fuelled us to the coast again. We camped in a random disused campsite, with abondoned buildings just set back from a beach, it made for a creepy night. The coast had some nice spots for swimming so we made plenty of stops along the way.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Today we get a ferry over to the island of Kasos for potentially our first day off the bike in 25 days! The legs are starting to feel it a bit too much now! Sadly we didn’t have the day off… Not sure if the budget cuts are responsible but Greece might need some new signs OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We camped in the trees behind this beach. A great spot although someone mentioned there being lots of snakes which spooked me a bit.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We called into Alexandroúpoli but again busy roads led to a short train journey, equally as cheap as before. We then road out to the Turkish border. On the last night in Greece we stayed at an hotel that was best described as traditional Greek, super helpful but a little dated. We set off early for Turkey to avoid the increasingly hot midday sun. The Turkish border was heavily armed and involved a large number of checkpoints and visa booths. Luckily as always us cyclists got to queue jump.   Goodbye Greece, I suspect we will be back to cycle here again we loved it.

  • Cycle touring in Albania

    Next up is cycle touring in Albania, it is an interesting country hugely different from even its neighbours Montenegro and Macedonia. However many people ask me if it is a dangerous country, and it certainly has a initial uncomfortable atmosphere when you cycle tour through the north. This area is just not set up for any kind of tourism and there is also an edge with the poverty which is a slightly disturbing contrast with the rest of Europe. Here every inch of land is used for farming or housing and wild camping spots were initially hard to find; making us further anxious. Organised crime is obviously an issue as I will discuss below, however we had nothing but kindness and friendly waves, bar the odd confused glare as we rode through.
    We soon learnt that the secret to camping here was just asking around, despite the communication gap we were offered gardens and churchyards to use. That edgy feeling I mention was still apparent, for example one garden we used had large locked gates with huge security lights that were lit up all night. At the same place an English speaking friend was invited over for us to chat with, over some home made toxic spirit, which was all super fun, we were left with her comment of ‘don’t all the bad men around here scare you when cycling?’. With that ringing in our ears we felt like replying, not until now they didn’t!

    The country is pretty much how you would expect after being cut off from the world and run by a communist government. An odd combination of disused bomb shelters like wild mushrooms are dotted about the country side, set against horse and carts that were being overtaken by flash 4x4s and Mercedes Benz’s. I don’t want to say these flash cars are all stolen or that they were anything to do with organised crime, but it does seem a bit odd, for example the UK left hand drive Mercs still have UK plates on and many are almost new…make your own conclusions….
    The country is hugely varied from the stunning beaches in the south to the stunningly overdeveloped and ruined coastline in the North, the steep and high mountains in the east and the lush green remote rolling hills of the north. There are a lot of problems with limited rubbish collection across the country as well as over development and unfinished building sites in many places. Inland there were tons of rubbish simply dumped along the roadsides, this is everywhere. We passed rivers literally full with plastic, we saw verges on fire from just burning plastic. It brought home just how much even the least consuming individuals consume and waste.

    From Montenegro we entered Albania into the large northern city of Shkodra a bustling mass of cars and cyclists all ignoring the road rules! It was a bit of a shock, so what do you do when shocked? Yep that’s correct find a cake shop!

    As happened many times on this trip, we had no idea what the currency was,  nor what the rate was and therefore how much cash to get! Luckily I hand gestured in a bank and was a)not arrested for looking crazy and b) somehow given the rates and currency, I then found an ATM to get cash out. It’s a good advert for Visa cards, it shows you can turn up nearly anywhere and land on your feet! Also, as a bonus, it was the first time in years HSBC managed not to block my account on an extended trip overseas!

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    We veered away from the coast for the first time on the trip and headed into the mountains the picture above was the start of a decent 800m climb, up past Ulez and Burrell. Burrell was famous for its hardline prisons during the Soviet era, the remains of the buildings can be seen on the approach to the town. It’s remoteness combined with the heavy weight of history created an eerie feel to the area, a sinister past hidden behind the pleasant rolling meadows.
    Adding to the surreal, not far from here we were chased by a ragged, crazy goat herder, he wanted our brightly coloured bike helmets I concluded, but worryingly he ran along trying to grab Marion, who was behind me, fortunately a sleek new jet black Mercedes Benz appeared which scared him off. The car stopped and a friendly, but potential “gangster” who asked if anything here needed “sorting”, I gave the thumbs up that all was good, he smiled back two gold teeth reflecting in the sunlight and then drove off. I like to remember he had a gruff voice and casually pointed to a hand gun under his jacket when offering help, this didn’t happen but at least I guess organised crime has nothing against tourists and felt safer!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    On this first climb we passed a number of reservoirs the one above separated a farm from the road. It looked like it was from the 18th century, the hay was being cut by scythe and carted by horse. The only access was by rowing boat across the lake. We saw from afar the ladies dressed in orthodox black dresses with white head scarfs bring out refreshments to the workers, I dreamily dazed that I was part of some Jane Austin era novel, clearly I would be the dashing newcomer arriving by bike.

    The picture below shows another house cut off, this one had a zip wire style crossing!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    Campsites are non existant, in fact our GPS map shows none in the entire country! We were fortunate to be offered a spot in a restaurant garden and a churchyard in a mountain village for the first two nights.

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    These traditional haystack were a common sight in late June which is prime hay season. It felt little had changed in decades expect the plastic sheeting used at the top!

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    Don’t text and ride, the guy in the picture above was texting as he carted down the road, good skills!
    Below is a more modern scene in Albania with tractors rather than horses doing the work. Note the bits of plastic litter, a common theme.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    After entering Albania again this time from Macedonia near Lake Orhid we stayed at a lake resort of sorts, well when I say resort it had these umbrellas. Sadly at 8pm the local sewage started being pumped out into the lake. It roared like a whitewater rapid and smelt well as you might expect.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    The picture below is when we got a bit lost and headed up a random back road. It followed an old road littered with Soviet era missile bunkers and an old airstrip before the road ended! We had to cross a river on a plank and then a few dirt tracks to regain the highway, we got a few funny looks and a few much needed directions from the locals.Getting lost in Albania

    This picture was looking across Lake Ohrid in the evening light.Lake Ohrid

    A regular feature in Albania are horse and carts this one was particularly heavily loaded, there is a mule under there somewhere.Horse hidden under the hay!

    The view from our campspot in the churchyard in Suc near Burrell in the Albanian North East.View from campsite in Churchyard in Suc, Albania The many reservoirs make for some spectacular views this one shows more of the haystacks that feature all over the countryside.View Across Albania from near Burrell

    Albania was very interesting we never felt fully relaxed for the only part of the trip, but sometimes this brings a greater reward, it means you are exploring. On reflection the only real incident was being chased by the rock hurling goat herder and this was fairly unusual I suspect. The scenery was at times great at other times too ruined by the rubbish piled up or being burnt next to the road, it isn’t a stunning world class beauty spot but nevertheless an interesting place.

  • Cycling Montenegro – A quick hello and goodbye

    In Montenegro we cycle toured through some stunning and beautiful scenery but sadly also some stunningly read more

  • Croatia

    It seems Croatia has a very long coastline and tomorrow will be the last day before we arrive in Montenegro. read more

  • Cycling from Chamonix, France to Istanbul, Turkey

    So only a few days to go until we cycle across Europe to Asia. Crossing 9 Countries (France, Italy, Slovenia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey) and 9 language borders.

    The route is about 3000km and we have 31 days. This is fixed as we fly out to Argentina on July 17th to go ski touring for 3 months. Therefore we have  to average 100km everyday, and probably a bit more after factoring in some rest days. It is not an epic challenge to cover every mile so we might get the train if struggling to make that!

    Kit is almost ready, I am taking a Kona Jake the Snake cross bike, and I have created a pimped out CroMo framed hybrid type thing for Marion, still waiting on some brakes but it is looking sweet. We have manged to keep kit minimal so should be fast and light.

    We are a bit interested to see what happens in Turkey and Istanbul…so far the situation seems OK, we still might detour to Athens if needed.Cycle Route

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