Journeys Cirque Euro Tour Part 6
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Posted on 27 July 2016
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Andorra to Albania - Part 6

07/04/16

Day 32 - Wind

 

Bloody wind. Nothing more to say.

On the other hand, the people I met at my destination were worth the struggle.

Thanks to my birthday twin Marian, I met her cousin Aggie and her husband John. I spent a very nice time swimming with John and later having a roasted pig for a dinner with a bunch of their friends to celebrate the 4th of July.

There were a few Americans, some like me (naturalized) and some like John (born there). We agreed to disagree on a few issues concerning the war in Iraq, the situation in Libya, our current president and the next one. However, it ended up peacefully over dessert.

 

Today in numbers:

81 km - distance covered

4h46m - riding time

0 - fun while riding

 

07/05/16

Day 33 - Psychotherapy

 


A good night's sleep in a bed boosted not only my body but my mind as well. After a couple of difficult days I was physically and mentally drained. But the sea water, interactions with people other than myself, a feast for dinner, generous amounts of wine and a simple thing like bed got me back on track. 

I left Gornje Petrčane early without a clear plan. Stopping there kinda threw me off schedule: if I went to my next planned destination it would be a very short ride, and if I went to the following day's destination it would be a very long ride. I decided to play it by ear. The relatively flat road and practically windless weather had a therapeutical effect on my psyche: I was happy and reinvigorated. I whistled something from Queen's repertoire. Life was good. I passed my original destination, made roughly 100 km in four hours, so I took a chance and went for the following day's destination. I chose the shorter but not necessarily easier road: the first half of it was uphill. While going uphill I stopped often and checked the remaining distance - it was diminishing ever so slowly. But after 140 km I finally made to Trogir, yet another World Heritage site. We were there few years ago when we were going the opposite direction along the Croatian coastline while on vacation. We were driving a car though. 

I arrived early enough to go to the old town, grab an ice cream and take a couple of pictures. I go to the camping site and went directly to the beach. I am actually still here, sitting on the pier, feet hanging in the water while writing this post. Life is beautiful.

Today in numbers:

140 km - distance covered. My longest ride I believe, although not by much

7h16m - riding time 

P.S. The sun just went down behind the nearby hills. Have a good night!

 

07/06/16

Day 34 - Grumpy Old Man 

 

Waking up around 6 am after short and restless night - not fun. Having a flat tire a few kilometers from the start - not fun. Making a detour to visit Split only to realize that at 10 in the morning it is swarming with tourists - not fun. Riding on a busy road inhaling fumes from passing trucks - not fun. Seeing countless signs "Apartmani" and "Pizza - Grill" and hearing ever so loud cicadas - annoying. Not being able to muster any power from your legs to keep a reasonable speed - frustrating. Rocky beach with rocky sea bottom - painful.

Or maybe I was just grumpy because of my lack of sleep? 

Changing the tire wasn't that difficult and long. And I am a tourist as well. And the road was busy for just a short while. And people need to make a living somehow. And what can you do about cicadas - it's in their nature. And I didn't have to pedal as hard - I wasn't in a hurry. And rocky beaches are what you get in the Adriatic.

Today in numbers:

91 km - distance covered 

5h27m - riding time

½ - watermelon I ate at once

Gazillion - signs "Rooms for Rent" in various languages along the way

 

07/07/16

Day 35 - A day in the life

 

It was an ordinary day in the life of the unemployed: got up at 5:20 am, cycled for 4-5 hours along Croatian sea coast, then jumped in the Adriatic Sea in Bosnia & Herzegovina. The only difference from the previous days was a stretch of flat road that was running for several kilometers along the Neretva River, a welcome change in my recent routine. Of course, when I hit the flatlands, the wind picked up. Guess which direction it was blowing? You're right: in my face. By the time the wind changed I was back in the hills.

Upon my arrival in Bosnia, the border official waved me off when she saw me on my bike. Bosnia's sea coast is about 10 kilometers long, snuck in between the northern and southern parts of Croatia.

At the camp site I was bit put off by the absence of people. But it was much cheaper than in Croatia, so I stayed. The guy who greeted me was cooking something when I arrived. To my surprise he said: "Come join us". It was, I presume, a traditional meal: potato with pig ribs. I didn't need to be asked twice, protein was in demand.

I was surprised again when one of the guys happened to speak French. And surprised once again that I was able to carry on small talk in French without searching for words, with no pressure to perform.

 

Today in numbers:

89 km - distance covered

5h9m - riding time

539 km - distance from Rijeka, the first Croatian city on my itinerary

66 km - distance to Dubrovnik, the last Croatian city on my itinerary

 

07/08/16

Day 36 - Route 66

 

I jumped off my air mattress at 6 am when I heard the bells blaring from a nearby church. I quickly realized I am safe and sound after a spooky night at the camp where I was the only customer. After watching the football game, I went to my tent and a few minutes later I heard the receptionist closing the shop. I was all alone in a field of olive trees. It was slightly unsettling.

There was one more push to close off Croatia. I headed to Dubrovnik. It was a mild one. I knew the following would happen but I still did it: I went to Dubrovnik's old city. Split, in comparison, was deserted. When I got to one of the gates it seemed I was in a line, slowly moving in. Once I got in I tried to take a picture, but it was practically impossible as hundreds of others tried to do the same, one obliviously blocking the view of the other. I quickly escaped the insanity and took a few pictures from a road outside of the city.

I am now close to the Montenegro-Croatian border. I rode from the top of Croatia down to the bottom, on the D8 state road. It's like Route 66, only shorter. 643 km to be precise. Some of those kilometers were difficult, some not as much. The sky was clear and sea was blue. Now I can say Doviđenja - Good Bye Croatia!

 

Today in numbers:

79 km - distance covered

4h36m - riding time

17% - grade leading down to the campsite, thus the same leading up to get out of it

 

07/09/16

Day 37 - Odyssey 3000

 

After walking my bike up that 17% grade hill and riding a few more kilometers, I entered a new country.

Despite its ominous name - Black Mountain or Montenegro - the mountains weren't black and as far as the road was concerned, it wasn't ominous. Outside of Herzog Novi and Budva areas, the road was rather pleasant. It ran on the edge of the water following the relief of the Bay of Kotor.

A few years ago, when Julie and I did a tour of the former Yugoslavia, we visited couple of places around here, so this was nothing new to me. I briefly stopped in Perast and Kotor to take pictures. Then I was off to a new place for me: Budva. I rode a few extra miles to see it because my camp site was located just short of Budva, in a place called Jaz. I could've gone there tomorrow on my way to Albania and save myself 10 kilometers uphill, but I did it today. It is a nice little walled-up medieval city, but it was very similar to Kotor and Dubrovnik, so it wasn't really worth the time and effort. But I stocked up on water and beer for tonight.

Jaz is essentially a beach. On Saturday during the summer, it's crazy populated. I could hardly find a place to put my bag down. Tomorrow I'll go inland, so I used this opportunity to soak in the sea once more.

And today - drum roll please - I broke in 3000 kilometers. What's left is peanuts.

Today in numbers:

112 km - distance covered 

6h39m - riding time 

10 - countries I put my foot in

3019 km - total distance up to now 

 

07/10/16

Day 38 - Arrested Development

 

I spoke too soon - the roads got worse, both in quality and difficulty. I already went to Budva yesterday, so I knew there was a climb right off the bat, but it continued to be up and down pretty much all the way to the Albanian border. And that's the last thing I needed, on top of wind, heat when there was no wind, debris on the side of the road and cars passing by too close. The ascents were very lengthy and descents were too short, or so I felt.

I was glad when it was over. Montenegro, with its overcrowded beaches, half-finished buildings, so-so roads, garbage dumped on the side of the road, livestock's manure on roads, left the taste of dust and fumes of a developing country. Maybe the third time will be a charm but I somehow doubt there will be one.

If it wasn’t for the border crossing booths, I wouldn't have noticed any difference between the two countries: similar landscape, similar feelings of a developing country. Only the spelling has changed slightly.

One can see a castle on a hill when entering Shkoder, the second to last city in Albania I'll visit. There is supposedly a nice old bridge outside the town but I ain't riding no more today. 

Yes, I am in Albania, the long coming third target destination on my list.

Today in numbers:

91 km - distance covered 

5h22m - riding time 

3-4 - countries checked off my target list vs ones still on it

2-1 - my prediction France will beat Portugal in Euro 2016 final game, although I am rooting for Portugal

 

07/11/16

Day 39 - Tyrant in Tirana

 

In Shkoder I stayed at an AirB&B run by Vini and his parents. I arrived yesterday early afternoon after a long and difficult ride and was welcomed with a five-dish lunch of traditional Albanian food.

I went to buy water and some snacks for the next ride, but none of the stores would take credit card. Two of three bankomats rejected my debit card. We're talking Europe in 2016. The streets were pretty quiet - it was hot and it was Sunday. At night it was a different story though: the main pedestrian street was bustling with people, and the bars were full. Each one of them had either big screen TV or a projector showing Euro 2016’s final game. I was glad my prediction was wrong and Portugal won the championship.

Today was my final push to close off the continental part of my journey. The last ninety-plus kilometers. When I checked the elevation of the road, it was practically flat. It was a nice and welcome gift from nature. The road itself was well maintained, despite what I've read on travel sites. Riding was a breeze. Many locals were selling watermelons and honeydew on the roadside. I stopped and for about 15 cents I bought myself one honeydew and ate it right there while the two boys who were selling them admired Greengo and its bells and whistles.

I made it to Tirana under four hours. I took a picture in the main square, which contains the three “top" attractions of the city, all in one spot. A few hundreds of meters away was the Pyramid of Tirana - or as it is sometimes called, Enver Hoxha's Mausoleum - a delapidated building that used to be a museum about him. Enver Hoxha was the tyrannical leader of Albania for forty years. I wonder if the word tyrant has anything to do with Tirana.

I am staying once again at an AirB&B, this time with Eros and Doina. I arrived when they were at work, so Eros' father meet me. We sat down at a neighborhood cafe and he surprised me by speaking in Russian; not a lot, but some. He also knew several Russian songs that he continued to recall while we walked to the apartment. With a little bit of English, Russian and Italian he explained what's what in the apartment.

The next couple of days are going to be relaxing: no intercity riding, only a day trip to Prizren in Kosovo, by bus.

Today in numbers:

96 km - distance covered 

4h16m - riding time 

39 - days it took me to ride from Andorra to Albania. This concludes the continental part of my trip.

 

07/12/16

Day 40 - Day Tripper

 

Today, Greengo and I are doing a day trip to Prizren, Kosovo, by bus. The bus ride started out ok, it took about two hours to get to the Kosovo border. The wait at the border was a bit too long but, oh well. A few minutes later I got worried when the bus "missed" the turn to Prizren, but it eventually stopped at a plaza a few dozen meters further away. Many people got out and so did I - a typical pit stop, I thought. I saw one of the passengers, going to Prizren as well, ask something to the driver then got his bag out and moved to a minivan parked nearby. So I in turn asked the driver if the bus was going to Prizren. He waved his hand in the direction of the city, and I interpreted this as if the Prizren stop was further. He, of course, didn't speak English, like most other Albanians I’ve interacted with so far. Luckily, there was a guy who kinda-sorta spoke rudimentary English nearby and explained that the big bus continues to Pristina and the minivan goes to Prizren. So I moved my bike just in time for the minivan departure.

The minivan stopped somewhere in the city and one of the passengers - not the driver -  said “Prizren". When I asked the driver about the pickup point for the return bus, he just mumbled something to the same "English speaking” guy, who stepped outside the bus to explain to me where the pickup would be. Meanwhile, the van just took off, leaving the Good Samaritan behind.

I unfolded my bike, found the bus pickup point, had a breakfast and headed all the way up to Kalaja Castle. No surprise, I was pushing my bike and sweating profusely. Though without my bags, it was much lighter. On the top, I met four military chaplains from the International Peace Corps, who ended up taking a picture with Greengo. Looking down I saw many minarets, way more than in Tirana it seems. Many of them looked new; I presume courtesy to various Islamic states. There was a call to prayer, probably as a reverence towards those states; otherwise everything and everybody looked very secular. 

I came back down, had a few beers in one of numerous cafes on the riverbank, killing time before the bus returns to Tirana. 

And that concludes my day trip to Kosovo, the last region of the former Yugoslavia I haven't been to and wanted to see.

Today in numbers:

3 km - distance covered

43m - riding time 

4-3 - countries checked off my target list vs ones still on it, all downhill now

4 - beers consumed while waiting for the bus