Kotor and the ride to Dubrovnik

Sorry about the lack of text!!

image

image

image

image

image

Kotor city centre

image

kotor from above

image

image

The view from the top of the fortress

image

Ethan and Bec

image

Entering Hrvatska, or as you might know it, Croatia

image

On top of the last hill before Dubrovnik

image

The Japanese guy cycling around the world

image

Dubrovnik from above

image

Dubrovnik from within

Advertisements

From albania to Montenegro and the rules on cheating part three

After getting up and having breakfast at Florian’s guest house in shkodra (this is an official recommendation, we had an amazingly relaxing evening, the family is so friendly and the whole of the garden is overgrown by vines and there are chickens, chicks and cockerals and cats all over the place, with secure indoor bicycle parking) we set off towards Montenegro.

Florian told us before we left that in order to get to Montenegro, we had to pass through a small town where all the (insert politically correct term for gypsies here) lived. It was a bit obvious when we went through that it was where he had meant. We saw a pony crossing the road in a weird way, as if it had broken its leg, and when I rode past and checked to see if it was injured, I realised that its front legs had been chained together with only about 10cm of chain between its front legs. Does it count as self defense if you help a clearly mistreated animal?

The road was fairly flat but for about 5km it had so recently been tarmacked that our tires stuck to the ground, making it almost impossible to move. That in the blistering heat, a cloudless sky and a relentless sun made for me to break down 20km before we got to a town called Bar. I was being sick and sleeping a little on a cafe table (mysteriously, there was no headache involved so I am blaming this episode on the medication I had to take that morning) and whenever I went to drink my fanta, my hands shook so muh that the glass clattered against my teeth.

After a little nap and about an hour’s break, I felt well enough to try and get the 20 km into Bar as Mike had promised we could get a bus from there to Kotor if I didn’t feel up to cycling any further.

The countryside reminds (for 7 or so km after we had a lovely snack of nectarines, cucumbers and a tomato at the top of the hill) us of yorkshire. Every wall is made of limestone, the drivers are extremely respectful ahd the landscape is just incredible with a new type of scenery around pretty much very bend. And then we saw the sea. I had fallen in love. Montenegro is so far my favorite country, the drivers have stopped beeping just for the sake of it, people seem generally incredibly friendly and it’s relatively easy to commumicate. Also, don’t forget about the ever-changing and increasingly beautiful landscape.

That day we made it about 30 km further than we had expected and decided to camp where the old road used to meet he new one at some point in history. We dragged the bikes across a mogley field of dirt with garbage everywhere and then across a really thin ledge up a little but steep gravel hill up to a mountain wall because we thought it would be less windy there. Big mistake.

As a cyclist,  do not ever!!! attempt to set your tent up when it’s even remotely windy. Continue until you find a better camping spot or a hotel. Trust me. Setting the tent up was pure torture, the wind making the tent act as a sort of kite, so not only did we tie it to rocks we found around there, but we had to use at least ten heavy rocks just to weigh the tent down enough so it wouldnt blow away. Then we tried to cook in the doorway and not only were we constantly worried the tent might catch on fire but halfway through the water stopped boiling as the cooker had run out of fuel and I had to crawl outside the tent to get more. The food ended up being delicious which was a bonus, but all the while we had clearly (or so we thought) been caught in a full-blown (pardon the pun) storm. I had about 5 hour’s sleep that night. It was blissful. Not.

And here comes part 3 of the rules on cheating: what we went through made up 10-fold for every time we took the train or bus to get to the next destination, bearing in mind I had been in so much pain i had to go to hospital just the previous day and we were surprised by a massive storm and still managed to camp.

The next morning it was much less windy and therefore easier to get our stuff together and I felt well enough to attempt the next 60 or so km into kotor. The climb and shoving of the bikes from our camping spot to the road was horrible but luckily didnt take particularly long. We faced a climb straight away that punished us with numerous fabulous wind-shaded camping spots within the next 200m and we bit ourselves for not trying further last night. However, that same climb was responsible for us burning 500ish calories during the first hour of the day. The GPS might be wrong and might overestimate but bear in mind the weight we are lugging around. Also, as we continued on mike looked back at our camping spot at one point and realised that we actually had camped in the one place that the wind would get funnelled through from beyond the mountains.

After an hour and a half we found a lovely beach that we went to cool off in the sea for and then had breakfast (22 € for a big bottle of water, two salads, the best pasta I’ve probably ever had and a three-course fish based meal. If that’s not cheap, I don’t know what is.)

The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful,  my antibiotics made for an even harsher-feeling sun, we passed a tunnel that was about 1700m long, I saw a run-over tortoise and a run-over badger (it may have been somethig else) and I realised that while the car drivers in Montenegro are extremely respectful of the space a cyclist needs, bus drivers seem to have a severe problem with us. Every time a bus passed it left us with no more than 20cm on the side. I was overtaken by one bus in particular that trapped me toward the cliff wall with only about 10 cm between us so I was literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. Mike didn’t like me getting scared and breaking at that instant either as he was only 20cm behind me and also had to break.

We have safely arrived in kotor now and are going to enjoy a well-deserved rest day tomorrow before setting off for Dubrovnik.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

Albania

We met another cyclist in Tirana who said entering Albania into Shkodra from Montenegro was a shock. We came from the other side of the country and by the time we got to Shkodra it was entirely blissful. Albania is probably the poorest country we’ve visited on this trip and we entered into Korce, its poorest city. Korce also makes the best beer in Albania, I wonder if this is a coincidence.

The Albanian countryside is beautiful and you’d better enjoy it because many of the roads are so small it takes forever to get anywhere. It’s not anyone’s fault the roads are bad, a lot of the country is almost impassable and building a fast road between Korce and Sarande would be a major challenge even for Switzerland. When you’re cycling this is all a bonus. The cars can’t go fast and lorries are seldom.

When we got off the bus in shkodre we realised that we had left my green jacket and kathi’s towel on te bus and durin our pursuit of said bus, Kathi suddenly felt ill, dizzy and nauseated. She said the pain was in her lower stomach and getting worse so we went to visit the shkodra hospital. The hospital was extremely poor (no wonder, they didn’t ven charge us when we left!) with odd means of drawing blood and the tiniest glass vile Kathi had ever been given for a urine sample. Safe to say she was scared of having to undergo an operation and said that if that was the case, we would have to go back to vienna instead.

She was only diagnosed with a UTI and given some medication, and we spent the night in a hostel called “florian’s guest house”.

We loved Shkodra in the north, the castle takes your breath away and the hostel where you stay in the countryside with an Albanian family and the food and wine made from things grown in the garden is simply amazing. Tirana was a great place to relax from for a couple of days.

Kathi and I never felt threatened, scared or intimidated and we can’t wait to go back. The countryside is really special and there are some great things to do we didn’t know about before.

image

A guy on a bike.

image

Kathi’s favourite modelling pose.

image

They love their flags.

image

Told you!

image

People hard at work in Tirana.

image

The presidents house. He has three legs.

image

Our favourite hostel in Albania.

image

A chicken riding a chicken.

image

East Albania. Can you spot Kathi?

image

North Albania.

image

South Albania.

image

East Albania.

image

Shkodra castle.

image

image

Skopje to Sarande

This was probably the nicest part of the journey so far. There was hardly any traffic, plenty of lakes to swim in and we found the best wild camping spots so far. A few times we camped right at the edge of the lake and due to the 800m altitude no mosquitos!

The second night we were just about to go to sleep and two playful stray dogs came bounding up, they stayed outside the tent all night and the next day one of them followed us for 40km into Struga. The dog easily managed 14kph but struggled if we went faster so the journey took a while. On the way we found three more tiny stray puppies at a bus stop. It’s a shame you can’t help them all.

Ohrid town was really nice and well worth a visit if you go to Macedonia.

image

Flooded church in Mavrovo lake.

image

image

image

image

National park Mavrovo

image

Kits

image

image

Debar lake

image

Camping by the lake

image

Our dogs

image

our dogs accompanying us to struga

image

The centre of Ohrid

image

Ohrid town

image

Trying some tricks with the trailer.

image

Our best camping spot so far.

image

Morning swim in the lake.

image

Monastery and springs at the south of lake Ohrid.

image

Albanian transportation

image

Bikes on the bus

image

Albanian countryside.

WOW Skopje

If you were to ask me where to spend a quiet weekend, Skopje could quite well be it. We’d heard about the crazy building spree that had been going on lately with statues everywhere but honestly we we’re blown away by this. It’s like they are trying to build a historic town in the modern day and to be honest, it looks great.

We spoke to some locals who said that Macedonia didn’t have the money for it, which is true but I really don’t know what to think. I feel that if you give people pride then they will try to achieve more. An example was one of the local waiters in town who in between customers was repainting the lamp posts that had graffiti on them, he didn’t need to do that and if the city looked like a dump he wouldn’t have.

Generally the people we met were very friendly and offered to help wherever they could. There isn’t even a remote air of danger about Skopje, we always felt very safe.

Spot the statue…..

image

image

image

The old stone bridge with the fortress in the background.

image

Well if you are going to build a man on a horse why not make him 30m high and on top of a fountain. Words can not describe how big this actually is when you’re stood in front of it.

image

image

We had “breakfast” around 5 pm in a local restaurant where the waiter talked us through the entire menu and recommended the steak, which he said is the best quality as the restaurant pays 70+ euro for a kilo of it. There wasn’t even any fat on it. It was amazing.

image

He even put together a mix of the deserts they did at the place which looked like this and was a plate with ice cream (home-made), tiramisu (home-made) and a chocolate cake with runny chocolate inside (home-made 20 minutes before we had it).

image

When we walked back to the hostel from the restaurant we spotted a litter of four stray puppies (there are a few pictures of them further down) and spent while there playing with them, when all of a sudden two German girls, who were in Macedonia building a playground in a gypsy slum area, showed up with this puppy. They said they had found it in a hole in the ground, next to a dead puppy and it was being kicked by some kids so they rescued it and thought it might be a good idea to try and integrate it with the other four puppies. Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to work, and not because of the other puppies but because the new puppy was too shy to stay and play with them.

We went back to the hostel anyway, and chatted to a lovely couple from Los Angeles, and then Mike and J.C. decided to go tks the shop and get more wine and when they got back, mike had the new puppy on his arm. We spent the next few hours playing with it, giving it cream cheese and water, and when it was time to go out, Mike and I decided to take it back, find it a bed for the night and take it to a vet the next morning so it could get a flea-bath, all its ticks removed, and so we could get some advice on what to do with it next. Who knows, if it had been there when we got back, we might have even taken it with us for a bit. But it wasn’t. Poor thing.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

<img title="20130526_182218.jpg" class="alignnone size-full" alt="image" src="https://roamingoverland.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/wpid-20130526_182218.jpg"

image

image

We had lunch the next day in a brewery garden, this was the view from our table onto the old town.

image

The fortress was smaller from inside than it looked from the outside.

image

The view on Skopje from the fortress.

image

The old town.

image

Double decker busses made us feel like we were in London.

image

The litter of four puppies that we found. It seems like people here don’t own dogs but they feed the ones they want to feed and kick or ignore the rest. In return, the puppies are extremely cute.

image

image

Me playing with the runt of the litter.

All in all, we were both absolutely blown away by the city and we can only say: Skopje, we’ll definitely see you again soon!

Kosovo and the rules on cheating part two

image

After checking out late of the poshest most expensive hotel in Gnjilane (40€) we thought we had an easy 50km to Pristine. We couldn’t have been more wrong. The 400m climb out if town was easy and we thought we would roll down the rest of the way but were instead confronted by a headwind so strong we had to peddle hard while going downhill. Then the were the drivers. With about average age of 26 you would expect Kosovan drivers to be bad, but not this bad! Finally getting to Pristine we were left feeling lucky to have made it and made a promise to get the bus to Skopje instead.
Second rule of cheating: cheating death = not cheating.

image

Road signs for tanks.

image

image

Central Pristine was a bit chaotic but otherwise nice. People seemed friendly and relaxed but most of the buildings are new. Everything from the smallest store upwards has a security guard but you wonder why, it’s very safe.  A relic of the war perhaps.
The picture above is one of Pristine’s most famous monuments, the Newborn sculpture. Each year it’s repainted with a different design, this year it’s flags if countries that recognise Kosovo.

image

image

image

Early evening we bumped into Andreas, who’s cycled 100,000km around Europe and agreed to meet later in the only Irish bar in town to swap stories. He has a FB page and website called cycleguide, check it out, especially if you can read German.
Later on in the night we met some freelance soldiers and went to a couple of bars with them, a few were decent but others quite twisted. It’s a strange world they live in. I just hope the Kosovo situation clears up quickly so they can move on.
On our way home we found a club packed full of Kosovans drinking and dancing, the music was great, it was good to see how much fun Pristine can be.

I chatted to several people about the situation with Kosovo and Serbia and to me it seems crazy that people fight over territory. I’m lucky enough to be from the UK, live in Austria and work in Italy for a Swedish company and I don’t want or need a country, Europe is my home. It seems inevitable that when these countries join the EU and people can move freely then fear will disappear and tensions will cease. All of these countries will join the EU within the next 10 to 15 years and for me it can’t happen soon enough. There are still disputed regions with Serbian majority in the north of Kosovo, I hope these can be given to Serbia, who cares about history, it’s what the population of those regions wants.

image

image

The bus into Macedonia was interesting with snow covered mountains and a not so friendly border guard. Kathi had a nice sleep as usual.