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Posted on 02 August 2016
in Stories

Andorra to Albania - The End

07/13/16

Day 41 - Off Duty

 

First full-fledged day off since Montichiari, over two weeks ago.

A little bit of bike maintenance to make sure it will last a few hundred kilometers more, a ninety minutes massage to relax those overworked legs, the best pita in Tirana for lunch, a daytime nap, packing, drinks, ice cream and a good night's sleep.

 

07/14/16

Day 42 - Layover

 

I wasn't in Albania long enough to draw any conclusions, but I noticed a few peculiar things.

Along the roads I took there are gas stations every couple of kilometers, despite the light traffic.

There were dozens upon dozens of "Lavazh" - not a bread type but car wash - from the ones in gas stations to makeshift ones along the roads. It seems there's one car wash for every few cars.

 

There's an incredible amount of unfinished buildings, both residential and commercial. They range from a carcass to fully built but without windows, some empty and some occupied.

Men's purses are very, very popular.

I haven't heard a call to prayer but I've heard church's bells in this predominantly Muslim country.

 

This morning I thought for a moment to go to the airport by bike but quickly dismissed the idea: too far, too hot. At the airport, the airline agent didn't give me any grief about my "personal mobility device" but I still had another hurdle to jump: the security checkpoint. They tried to tell me bicycles were not allowed any further. Showing a picture of Greengo stowed away in the overhead bin of a previous flight finally convinced them, after some hesitation: "You aren't going to ride it beyond this point, are you?"

 

Airport bar in Athens: what a departure from tasty and cheap Balkan food. During the last few days, with little cycling and lots of Albanian food with a fair amount of beer, I am gaining the weight I lost pedaling. Such a pity.

 

P.S. In Tirana, I realized there are more people speaking English than I originally thought.

 

Today in numbers:

2h55m - total flying time to Cyprus

6h20m - layover in Athens, it was either that or an expensive ticket

 

07/15/16

Day 43 - Nocturne

 

The plane arrived in Larnaca, Cyprus, at twenty past midnight. By the time I went through passport control and got my luggage it was past 1am. It seemed pointless to find a place to sleep in Larnaca, so I headed to my next destination, Limassol, 65km away. I had contacted my AirB&B host Georgios during my layover, and he agreed to greet me at 6am. So I pressed on. 

After the first couple of hundred meters, I found myself on the wrong side of the road, when I saw a sign: "Remember, you drive on the left side". Ah-ha, the remnants of the British rule. I moved on the "right" left side and continued on a small rural road. Within a few kilometers, the street lights gradually disappeared and I was soon cycling in complete darkness. There were no cars passing in either direction for kilometers at a time. It was fun to ride in the middle of the deserted road with a starry sky above. It was also slightly eerie. I could hear nature's nightly sounds. At some point I heard the sea surf, but couldn't see the water. There were occasional villages with street lights, then the road swung back into darkness. That's when a car passed me by, then stopped. While I, in turn, was passing it, the passenger yelled something I couldn't understand. I continued, and so did the car, but it slowed down when it got next to me and this time driver yelled something. That got me worried: deserted road, two guys in a car with unclear intentions, solo cyclist with a few valuable electronics, complete darkness. When I asked "What?" they just took off. 

I continued on and reached Limassol around 5am, just in time for the sunrise. I was very surprised to see I wasn't alone on the waterfront. There were dozens of people already jogging, exercising and swimming. I went to my host’s place, and Georgios was waiting on the doorsteps sipping coffee, just as he said he would. He brewed me fresh coffee, the old fashioned way, on the stove in a Turkish coffee pot or cezve. 

Georgios is an artist, so there are sculptures and paintings and objects he has created all over the place. He renovated this old house to have a studio to work in as well as a place to live. It's in the middle of the old town. 

Since I arrived early, I have the whole day to recuperate, after my long flight and sleepless night. And what better way to do it than on the beach, next to a tiny kiosk with shady trees and all sorts of refreshments.

Today in numbers:

65 km - distance covered 

3h16m - riding time 

32h18m - since I last slept

 

07/16/16

Day 44 - Ethos, Logos and Paphos

 

I left Limassol at 7am to avoid the heat but for no avail. My legs were like cotton wads and my mind wasn't into it either.

My Ethos should've told me: I will overcome these things, I will drink more water, I will downshift only if I really can't pedal any harder.

My Logos should've told me: it's the same distance I did last night, the less I push the longer the ride will be, the hotter it will become, the less time I'll have to discover the city.

And my Pathos should've told me: it's pathetic to be so demoralized by small obstacles in comparison to ones I already put behind me, what about your bragging rights?

But they were mum, and I was dragging my feet. The only reason I finished the ride - I had no other choice (although that's not entirely true).

The whole city of Paphos is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so upon my arrival I went to see an archeological site: I’ve seen better ruins elsewhere. They have very well preserved mosaics but my head wasn't into this either, probably because the only thing I could think about was getting out of the heat and into the sea. That's what I did as soon as I got out of the ancient site. 

Tomorrow I'll go back to Larnaca. I don't see a reason to return the same way by bicycle, so I'll use the bus.

Today in numbers:

69 km - distance covered

4h5m - riding time

3 - out of 9 Kings Tombs I saw today, they are impressive but redundant

 

07/17/16

Day 45 - The Russians Are Coming

 

What took me eight hours by bike in two days going to Paphos, took me two hours to get back to Larnaca on a bus straight outta the 80's. But nothing to write home about.

While I was riding I saw a few road signs that made me think of different meanings different people put in the same words: exodus - what we consider as migration of biblical proportions, for the Greeks is just an exit from a building or a highway. 

 

Although I wanted to see as much as I could while in Cyprus, I haven't met Aphrodite, the native of the island, because I skipped her sanctuary on the way to Paphos due to the heat and resulting apathy, although I passed by the beach where she was born. Nor did I met Adonis, for the same reason. But I met numerous Russians, particularly in Limassol. In 1949, the US Secretary of Defense James Forrestal said "The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! They’re right around!" and then he jumped out the window. The Russians are here indeed, and they intend to stay. And Cypriots love it.

 

Today in numbers:

11 km - distance covered, to get from the bus station to the place I'm staying

32 m - riding time

3 - potions of souvlaki I ate in the last 24 hours, due to its affordability and popularity

 

07/18/16

Day 46 - 30 443

 

My AirB&B host Grigoris in Cyprus was nice enough to drive me to the airport, which saved me time or money, depending on how I would have gotten there otherwise. Strangely enough, I was able to find a direct flight to Malta. This time, the security staff didn't bug me regarding the bike. Two and a half hours later, I was in Malta. 

While waiting for the luggage I changed into my cycling gear, then I unfolded the bike, strapped my bags on and off I went to explore this new country. 

I first went to see the Megalithic Temples of Malta that are supposedly older than Stonehenge and Egypt's pyramids. Unfortunately, because they have to be preserved by putting a tent over them, the view is not as nice as Stonehenge. 

Then I went to Mdina, Malta's old walled capital, which was strangely quiet with just a few tourists. 

After that was Mosta with its Dome that miraculously didn't blow up when a German bomb pierced the dome but didn't explode during WW II. 

I quickly swung by St. Julian's bay, and few minutes later I ran into a magnificent view of Valletta across the bay. I can't wait to go there tomorrow and see it up close. According to UNESCO, Valletta is one of the most concentrated historical areas in the world.

Meanwhile, I am sitting on the rooftop of the place where I am staying, with a Lithuanian, a Dutch and a Serbian who are playing a drinking card game. I am just sipping a beer and enjoying the nice cool evening.

 

Today in numbers:

41 km - distance covered 

3h1m - riding time 

7 - islands collectively called Malta

30 443 - times Malta can fit in the US

 

 

07/19/16

Day 47 - Hospitality of Hospitallers

 

The Knights Hospitallers ruled Malta for 250 years and left an indelible mark on the islands, from fortifications to hospitals. They were the best in Europe at the time, and ever so recognizable by their Maltese cross.

While in Malta I stayed at a hostel run by, of all people, a Russian woman. I am sure she is a nice person; she distributes food to Syrian refugees, she tries to help immigrants find jobs, she spends the money she makes from this hostel on charities. But she rubbed me the wrong way with her tough love style. Everything was "you have to" or "you can't" in a little bit of a brash way. So much for hospitality.

Today I had the whole day to visit Valletta and the surrounding cities. I left the house at 8am and about twenty minutes later I reached the city gates. There was a rush of people but they weren't tourists, they were people going to work. For a couple of hours I wandered around the city, drinking coffee, eating ice cream and occasionally taking pictures. By 11am, Valletta was full of tourists and it was getting hotter, so I came back to the house, picked up my bike and went to see Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, an underground prehistoric burial site. Unfortunately, it was closed for maintenance. If it would’ve been open, it would've cost me a 30€ entry fee. In comparison, a visit to the Louvre is 15€. Just saying. I moved on to Vittoriosa, aka Birgu, on the other side of the Grand Harbour opposite of Valletta. At the tip of the small peninsula where the city sits, there is Fort St. Angelo, built in 870 AD. Squeezed between Birgu and Isla is a marina with a multitude of yachts of all sizes. 

Tomorrow, on my way to the airport, I'll have completed a circle around the island. But there is more to see on this archipelago, so there is reason to come back one day. 

 

Today in numbers:

365 - churches in Malta

14 - public holidays each year in Malta

320 - monuments in Valletta alone

6-1 - countries checked off my target list vs ones still on it

 

07/20/16

Day 48 - Reykjavik 101

 

Since distances on Malta are small, I went to the airport by bike. In fifteen minutes I was at the airport, where passengers were sent off to their destinations by live piano music, played by fellow travelers. It's my third flight in a week, and with each airline the size/shape of carry-on luggage varies - it seems they pull dimensions out of thin air just to be able to charge you more money. So far, however, Greengo has been happily flying in the overhead bin. 

The brouhaha began in Amsterdam where I had a connecting flight. First I had to take my luggage and recheck it again as the flights were on different airlines, then my flight to Reykjavik was canceled, then uncanceled, then my bike didn't fit in the X-Ray machine, then they questioned my telescopic seat post in the bag, then flight was delayed. Finally, with a 45 min delay, we left Amsterdam. At least nobody bothered me regarding the bike as a carry-on. 

Upon arrival I was ready to roll in to Reykjavik right from the airport, but this wasn't meant to be. The city airport where I thought we were going to land is for regional flights only. The airport we actually landed at was 50km away. The triumphant appearance of Greengo and I at this trip's final destination will have to wait. I took a bus that delivered me right to my camping site.

This time of year in Iceland, even AirB&Bs are expensive, let alone hotels. So, after a week sleeping in beds, I am back to camping. This campsite is busy with real outdoorsy people ready to go hike in the wilderness. They all had portable stoves they cooked on, au contraire to me, who had a sandwich and a beer for dinner.

The temperature here is 15°C and drizzling. Stark contrast from 32°C and sunny in Malta.

I still did a quick run around the city. First impressions: Reykjavik is a small provincial capital city. 

Tomorrow I'll start my final stretch: Iceland's Golden Ring, a 250km route that goes through some of its most popular natural wonders.

 

Today in numbers:

12 km - distance covered

1h9m - riding time

3 - next days is going to rain according to forecast

 

07/21/16

Day 49 - 7/11

 

Between white nights and people in campground being rambunctious I couldn't sleep again. I got up around 4:30 am to the sound of rain hitting the tent. I really didn't want to get out but the forecast for next few days was similar - rainy. Hence, I did get out, packed up a wet tent, loaded the bags and went into the rain. It was raining for first 2-3 hours then it stopped for a while. At that time I arrived to first point on Golden Ring - Thingvillir National Park. It's the place where Iceland is being pulled apart by tectonic plates and it is very visible. It's also a place of the first European Parliament dated from 800's.  Then there was Geysir, the original one. By the time I got there it was noon and bus loads of tourist were coming. Actually Geysir isn't active anymore but the one next to it is. It spews water every few minutes, so I got to see a couple while I was there. It began to rain again and by the time I got to Gullfos, one of the most spectacular Iceland's waterfalls, I was completely soaked. There were nearby hostel/camping but the hostel was booked and I didn't want to pitch my tent while it was raining. I decided to go to the nearest village 25 km away. At that time I already clocked in 117km but, oh well. There was nothing there so I moved to my next option, the town I was supposed stay the day after, another 47 km to go. Meanwhile the battery in my GPS device has died, while I still kept going like a Duracell bunny. When I reached Selfoss there were only 53km left to Reykjavik and I briefly entertained and idea to go there and be done with it. But by now I had been pedaling for close to eleven hours and my legs just couldn't do it anymore. I could barely walk. Were the attractions worth the effort and suffering - questionable. But who knows when I'll be here next time to see Iceland's natural wonders. I really wanted to like what I saw but simply wasn't impressed by this particular set nor the surrounding landscape, I found it rather monotonous. If we come here someday, we'll go further in to the country to see things people are raving about.

 

Today in numbers:

198 km - distance cowered

10h42m - riding time

7 - and final country on my list is checked off

 

07/22/16

Day 50 - Head in the clouds

 

Despite the fact that my body hasn’t recuperated much, nothing was going to discourage me from crossing the finish line in Reykjavik today. 

Waking up to no sound of rain drumming on the tent was a good sign. I quickly packed and got on my way. My knees were aching but I knew I could push myself. My concern was Greengo. After yesterday's ride in the rain and on some unpaved roads, he was squeeking and screeching. One of the gear shifters wouldn't work, the only available speeds were 1-3-5, and at some point a high pitch noise started to come from the front wheel. I kept my fingers crossed that there would be no mechanical breakdowns along the way. I knew there was one long uphill on the way but I didn't let it get to my head. When I reached it I didn't even curse, just kept on pedaling, ever so slowly because of my knees, but up and forward. In this weather many mountaintops are covered with clouds, so when I reached the plateau I was covered by one as well. It wasn't raining but it was misty, the temperature dropped and steam was coming out of my mouth. I was getting cold, my shoes were still wet from yesterday and my feet and hands were getting numb. But my spirits were high, I could see on my Garmin watch that I was getting closer and closer to the finish line.

Then there was final downhill to Reykjavik. Soon I was in the city, back at the camp site. 

Greengo and I, we did it. Our cycling adventure is over. Basta!

I took a long hot shower and then gave Greengo a high pressure wash at a nearby car wash. It looks and sounds much better. This is one tough, sturdy little bike. 

We are both ready for some rest. I have a real vacation coming up, but Greengo and I won't see each other during this time. We need a bit of space.

 

Today in numbers:

58 km - distance covered

3h18m - riding time

130 - active and inactive volcanoes in Iceland

1 - spoke missing from Greengo's front wheel

 


07/23/16

Epilogue

 

Although I am still in Reykjavik and my shoes are still wet from riding in the rain, the trip is over. It was a blast. I am tired and I'm glad it's over but I am happy I did it. I saw many places I hadn’t seen before, even in countries I previously visited. I met some generous and interesting people. I was able to push myself a little harder to overcome some challenges. And hopefully I entertained my family, friends and people who followed this adventure.

All this was possible because a couple of years ago, while on tour in London, I finally got over the sticker shock and bought myself a Brompton bicycle. Greengo became my partner and has endured a lot. It is the ultimate riding machine. It survived rain, heat, dust, potholes, speed bumps, falls, dirt roads, constant upshifting and downshifting, 3654 km without a proper maintenance. It is my best investment and prized possession.

I hope there are more adventures ahead of us.

 

Trip in numbers:

3655 km - distance covered 

216h - riding time 

2066m - highest point I got up to above sea level

198.35 km - longest ride

10h42m - most time on the saddle at one time

64.2 km - fastest speed 

205 - max heart rate, I don't know if this is possible but my Garmin watch said so

108 899 - calories burnt

8.4 kg - I've lost since the beginning of the trip, if I trust the scales

50 - days it took to finish this adventure 

21 898 km - of air travel

15 - countries I visited on this trip

 

P.S. Thanks to everyone who let this stranger stay in their homes. I found the Swiss people warmer than the Swiss weather.

Special thanks to Mirco who saved my ass when I had mechanical problem.