It’s been a while since i last wrote something on the site.. Since Salzburg we haven’t had many internet oppurtunities; either no internet cafe’s were to be found or they were simply way too expensive (along the coastline of Croatia they ask a staggering 6EUR per hr) All too soon however we will enter the world of el cheapo internet cafe’s so by then we will try to update a bit more frequently (especially the picture part has seen a bit of a delay.. mainly due to our digital clumsiness how to get them uploaded on our site)
Finally we have arrived in Greece where we allow ourselves a little time off.. Our 2 wheeled beauties are safely parked at a sweet couchsurfer’s garage in Thessaloniki, Shaun is soon going to relax a bit on the island Samothraki and i’m hanging out with some old friends in Athens (hence the title of this post, i am feeling like a roasted turkey) I am enjoying however to not be on a bike for a while.. There is a feeling of being impatient for something, itchy legs and an appetite for new impressions, but its only a matter of time for that feeling to disappear and become a lazy dog again…..
Since my last update in Salzburg quite a lot has passed. After Salzburg we had a very enjoyable yet very tough going through the Austrian Alps. Till the Alps we hadn’t yet experienced any serious climbing (apart from a few hills in Germany but that was peanuts really) so it took a bit of adjustment to tackle them monsters. Going up with an average of 5km/hr and cruising down with 60km/hr.. It’s worth the struggle! I experienced Austria as a pleasant country to cycle around. Plenty of amazing sceneries and an abundance of nice small country backroads with hardly any nasty traffic (except for the roads thru the Alps which need to be shared with cars ‘n trucks)
After Austria we got to what would become our favorite country so far; Slovenia! Its a small ‘n cozy country with a beautiful nature, mellow cities and most importantly; some of the most friendliest people we have come across on our trip so far. Unfortunately we only got to see a little bit of Slovenia (Maribor, Ljubljana and some spots in between) but we are both sure about returning one day to taste a little more.. From Slovenia we rolled into Croatia and surprisingly enough no harrassing at the customs as usually is the case (we met some Belgians who were less fortunate.. they got catched because they found a tiny dot of weed in a guitarcase.. most hilarious was when they asked them what a condom was for and if it had been used before..) It was all pretty much downhill all the way to Rijeka on the Adriatic Sea. We cycled to the island of Krk (manouvred ourselves over a bridge) where we experienced our first night of thunderstorms and refreshing showers. As Shaun mentioned already in his post, we love to have clean bodies and undies so we took the oppurtunity to take a shower in the rain and have our undies washed.. From Krk we went to the island of Cres where we spent a few days to cycle from North to South and took the ferry from Malin Losinj to Zadar. We enjoyed having seen some islands but the downside is that the prices are in general more expensive and the tourism is so densely concentrated that it becomes a bit obnoxious.
Zadar to Dubrovnik in the very South left me with mixed feelings; some of the coastline sceneries are jaw-droppingly beautiful and worth a visit without doubt. What left me a bit annoyed is the package-deal tourism on the way (dull looking families and everything focussed on getting pennies out of the tourists.. which does not say i necessarily blame them for doing so) and the aggressive traffic on the narrow roads that need to be shared along the coast.
After Dubrovnik we finally crossed into another country: Montenegro. This little mountain state only recently gained independence from Serbia but has had it’s eyes fixed on the West for quite some time already. Shortly after the collapse of Yugoslavia, Montenegro wanted to be free from it’s bigger brother Serbia and among some of it’s deeds was to abandon the Serbian currency (Dinar) and adopting the German Mark. Nowadays the official currency is the Euro although Montenegro is by no means included in the Eurozone. Anyway, just like Croatia there are some amazing sceneries to be spotted and the tourism is also of quite another degree.. Whereas Croatia is mainly catering to Western tourists, Montenegro is mainly focused on local tourism. Local tourism means that it’s gotta be done the Balkan way. What’s the Balkan way? Make it very noisy, very kitsch and add cheap booze to it and you got some of the main ingredients. I observed that many people, also the oldies, rather go and sit on a cramped polluted little beach right next to some megaspeakers with hardcore techno, than to find a quiet spot somewhere where they can enjoy calm and peace. I recall how on one night i was lying in my hammock and far far away i saw a little boat with a couple on it.. They were enjoying the romantic view of a sunset.. as well as the loudest version of “a total eclips of the heart” i have ever heard.. I’d say that’s quite a Balkan way to do it……. (as well as the rounds of fire of a Kalashnikov we heard from our hammocks at some far away wedding party)
From Crna Gora into Shqiperie or from Montenegro into Albania. Finally leaving the slavic countries behind us for a few days to explore the homeland of the Illyrians. I have been in Albania a couple of times and each visit the country seems to be making some progress although not in all fields and it certainly doesn’t apply to all regions. My first 2 visits mainly involved visiting the capital Tirana which nowadays seem to have become a flourishing city nowadays with a vibrant nightlife and the mayor Edi Rama, a former artist, who did an amazing job turning boring ugly looking flats into true pieces of art (google his name for more info and great pics of some of the flats) Back in the days when i was there there were potholes in the road everywhere and enormous heaps of garbage pretty much on every corner of the street. This is something which nowadays fortunately belongs to the past for Tirana. Unfortunately that can’t be said for most of Albania. Its hard actually to get a grip on Albania at all. On the one hand one can see a vast amount of luxuruous cars, enormous villa’s and booming entrepeneurship, but on the other hand the infrastructure of the country still seems to be of that when i first visitited in early 2000. Old roads with deep potholes (they seem to be working on some of them though) in most little towns open garbage belts right next to living quartiers, for those who can’t afford a villa the living conditions in old Socialist era houses appear to me as far below acceptable, no future for Albanian youth cause there are hardly any jobs etc. To me it seems that Albania is artificially being kept alive by the money that comes in thru emigrated Albanians (most of them live in Greece, Italy, Switzerland and the US) For sure the people of Albania are better of nowadays than when they were suffering under the harsh regime of Enver Hoxha (the onetime crazy dictator of Albania who ruled from the fifties up till the eighties) but they still have a long way to go.. A less corrupt government, less braindrain so that intellectuals stay at home and invest in the knowledge industry, creating a secure environment for foreign investors etc.
I almost forget to mention that Albania is a fairly pleasant country for the somewhat more adventurous bikers among us. People usually go out of their way in order to make you feel at home and it happens more than once that we got free drinks from shopkeepers and strangers. I think what attracted me a lot is that Albania, on the countryside at least, is still very pure, raw and genuine. We crossed through the very heart of Albania and although the mountains will show no mercy on poor bikers, its something you won’t quickly forget nor regret.
Oh, and what really bothered me the most.. The rampant growth of mountains of plastic everywhere. Shaun mentioned it in his blog and i mention it again. Fucking plastic and the ease with which it is used and thrown away.. The government doesn’t really seem to care about it too much and most of the people aren’t aware of the emergency situation we are in regarding our climate (and i think most of them don’t give a fuck about the fact that a pile of plastics looks nasty but i can be wrong about that)
Finally after Albania we cycled for 3 days through Macedonia (or FYROM as the Greeks would like to have it..) to finally arrive at Thessaloniki where we could finally get off and have our well deserved shower..
So far so good and secretly i can’t wait to be back on the bike again for more contemplative moments through deserted landscapes, torture myself going uphill, ecstatic moments when going down.. The ‘what’s behind the next corner’ feeling.. Love it!