Fig jam and careless days

Balkans cycling trip, Days 24-27  29 July – 1 August 2017: Qeparo We thought we deserved a few days’ rest and Qeparo was the perfect place to relax. Lying on the beach, picking figs and preparing fig jam were the main programs during these 4 days. Distance: 0 km Total distance: 1321 km We felt we deserved a few days off cycling after the hard days through the mountains. Anyway, Qeparo was one of our main destinations apart from Greece because we had spent very pleasant days in this small seaside town in 2009 and 2012.  The four days were …

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Forest fire and Albania’s worst road

Balkans cycling trip, Day 23 We get back the asphalt road for most of the day so we can concentrate on the picturesque scenery. At least until we notice the smoke of the forest fire. It drives up the mountain quickly and we spend the rest of the day struggling with the crumbling gravel road to the coast. Day 23 (28 July): Kotë – Qeparo Distance: 53 km Total distance: 1321 km We expected to wake up to the grazing sheep, a shepherd or his dog in the morning but it was the sun and the growing heat that didn’t …

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Fresh chicken and a man of odour

Balkans cycling trip, Day 22 27 July 2017: Greshicë – Kotë We enjoy the rain and Turkish coffee in a small village and later cause the death of an innocent animal because we want fresh chicken. After crossing the Vjosa River we struggle hard to cross the hills on terrible roads before Peshkepi only to find an equally bad road to Kotë. We have our first real crisis and I almost end up in the canyon of another river. Distance: 50 km Total distance: 1268 km We couldn’t say goodbye to our friendly hosts in the morning but at least …

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Forgotten roads and moonlike dust

Balkans cycling trip, Day 21 26 July 2017: Ura Vajgurorë – Greshicë My bicycle is finally repaired properly and after a short stop in historical Berat we continue south across the mountains. The route offers a row of surprises, good and bad, as we learn to ride our bikes on roads with potholes and huge stones covered with ten centimetres of fine dust. Distance: 70 km Total distance: 1218 km Crossing the central mountains of Albania is not an easy feat unless you have a 4-wheel drive because there are very few paved roads. This was the reason why I abandoned the plan …

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Rural idyll and smell of oil

Balkans cycling trip, Days 19-20 24-25 July 2017: Golem – Ura Vajgurore More visits to repair shops, donkeys, lovely lakes and delicious cakes. A long and tiring but also relaxing journey from the bustling tourist resorts and industrial cities to Central Albania’s farming country with a drop of oil. Distance: 102 + 10 km Total distance: 1148 km To our surprise, there was thick fog in the morning by the sea and it also meant that it was a little less hot. I had to start the day with some maintenance: I noticed a big cut on my saddle so …

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Back streets and parasols

Balkans cycling trip, Day 18 23 July 2017: Vorë – Golem A light half-day ride to the crammed seaside resort Golem just south of Durres. We stop in a sleepy town where the red star is still a central element of the main square, survive the deadly holes on the road and marvel at the contrasts of an impossibly planned Albanian holiday paradise Distance: 35 km Total distance: 1036 km We knew we had a short distance that day so we weren’t really motivated to get up early. We had the bananas  left over from the day before, stuffed our …

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Dust and getting lost

Balkans cycling trip, Day 17 22 July 2017: Ulez – Vore From the green mountains down to the plain. A long and exhausting day with a little from everything: crazy traffic and deserted dirt roads, big city crowd and goat herds, getting lost and luckily finding a nice hotel in the end Distance: 84 km Total distance: 1001 km I was woken up by the sound of cowbells before sunrise and I didn’t feel like going back to sleep. I sat down on the concrete wall over the lake and watched the fishing boats on the lake. Later a woman …

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Goats and bridges

Day 16 (21 July): Shengjin –  Ulez Distance: 50 km Total distance: 917 km The last night in Shengjin I checked the map and our route once again and I noticed that the road we wanted to take was not just very low category (meaning that it could easily be a gravel road) but it meant having to climb from 200 m to over 1200 m again, a deadly combination. So I changed the route at the last minute and decided to reach Berat from the plain instead. The problem is that this area is where the capital and the …

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Watermelon and grubby workshops

Days 14-15 (19-20 July): Shkodër – Shengjin Distance: 65 + 20 km Total distance: 867 km Three years ago when Aron and I were on our way back to Montenegro, we spent two days on the beach in Shengjin, a popular holiday destination for Albanians. We liked the laid-back atmoshphere and the campsite, where hens, pigs, ducks and turkey were running around our tent so this time I included it in our route to relax there after the mountains.   It was supposed to be an easy ride with no hills but I was nervous because we needed to find …

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Hairpin bends and helpful priests

Day 13 (18 July): Vermosh – Shkoder Distance: 89 km Total distance: 782 km After a wuthering day of doing practically nothing, we were all ready to cross the mountains although we knew it wouldn’t be an easy ride. Two passes were ahead of us. The first one, 1355 m over sea level, seemed to be the the easier one because Vermosh itself lies at 1050 m. But the road then zigzags down to below 300 m just to climb back to over 700 m again, before heading downhill to the sea. We had a quick coffee in the other …

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