Budva to Montenegro is only a short ride of 20KM something so I took it easy in the morning and had a late start. The weather was perfect again. I am so blessed with this weather. I believe out of 40 days I had 2 days of which I cycled in the rain.
Anyway the ride is by no means easy. Multiple hill climbs and descend and then a 1.8 KM tunnel before arriving to Kotor. I really don’t like tunnels. I hope I don’t have to pass too many along the way especially the long ones.
Since I was early into Kotor, I checked into the hostel and then went for a hike to the city wall and fotress to have the best view of Kotor bay. It not an easy climb but the view was glorious. I had to pay 3 Euro for entrance fee. Painful but necessary. I find Montenegro expensive compared to the others I have been so far. I hear Croatia is even more expensive.
The whole Kotor town and vicinity is stunning as soon as you arrive. It was also full of tourist still. But when night falls all the tourist are gone and the town is nice and quiet.
I was expecting Fumi San to creep up on me but did not see him at all. Anyway had an early dinner and updated my blog after that. The Internet at the hostel was terribly slow so it was a pain to work with so I call if the night and turn in.
Today my plan is to hug the coast of Adriatic ocean all the way to Budva. After having a quick coffee and light breakfast, I started my journey. The weather was great again and looks like sunshine all the way. The temperature is getting colder though at around 17c up till 1 pm where it will heat up slightly. Actually a perfect temperature for riding.
The headwind was massive today. At some point I was finding it very difficult to ride especially uphill. The hill climbs were manageable but tough when the headwind strikes.
Headwind aside the ride was fantastic and very enjoyable. It seemed that every corner come out of presents you with a scenery more beautiful than the last. Wow! The Montenegro coast is absolutely stunning.
Mid way I stopped for a hearty lunch before pushing on.
The stunning views continued all the way to Budva. I arrived at the hostel at around 430pm and around 15 minutes I was surprised with the arrival of the crazy Japanese rider Fumi. It seems he rode from Shkoder which must me at least 110km away. Fuyoh indeed.
I decided to go check out the city and have a quick look at the old town and the fortress before buying a light dinner and going back to the hostel.
Fumi as usually cooked up a huge dinner for himself. We chatted awhile before we turned in for the night.
Today I leave Albania with a heavy heart. It’s has been an incredible , wild and memorable 11 days. The challenging and rugged rural terrain and the incredible friends I met along the way will have a long lasting impression on me. So thank you Albania for the ride.
My plan today is to cross the border at the coast and end up in a town called Ulcinj in Montenegro.
After a simple breakfast I pushed off from the hostel and headed towards the border crossing which was around 20 KM away. The weather was great again but a tad windy. And headwinds again. The route initially was hugging the river so it was relative flat until after Montenegro border control. Once after that the hills welcomed me and reminded me at every corner I make that Montenegro means Black Mountain. Montenegro is also called Mali Zi in Albanian. So at times people mistook it with Malaysia when they asked me where I am from.
Anyway the border crossing was smooth. In fact it was an interesting crossing. There were lanes for tour bus, cars and travellers. I guess travellers means other transport means like walking and bicycle. I passed my passport to the grumpy looking Albanian immigration officer and waited. After awhile I thought I saw him throw my passport on the floor. So I was naturally alarmed and concerned. Actually later I found out that he was throwing it to another counter to a lady who later continued to process my passport. She finally stamped it and return me my passport and I was happily on my way. I reached the signboard that says Welcome to Monrenegro. Eh? No Montenegro border control? I stopped for awhile to ponder a bit the situation. I deduced after awhile that the border complex was a joint complex for Albania and Montenegro. The grumpy guy was Albanian immigration and the lady was Montenegrian. How efficient in terms of time and cost. Maybe more border controls should adopted this instead of building multiple complexes each.
The hills were not too difficult as it typically rolling with nice downhills as reward for every climb. What make it a bit tiring is the strong headwinds.
I reached Ulcinj around 230pm and settled in at the hostel and proceeded to walk to old city to check it out. The old city was very charming and beautiful. I hiked up to the fotress and was rewarded with a fantastic view of the Adriatic ocean and Ulcinj. I waited until sunset before heading back to the hostel. I had a quick and simple dinner before turning in early. Tomorrow I plan to ride to Budva which is around 70KM away. I suspect it would not be flat all the way.
A big and ambitious day today. Since I missed Bunkart yesterday, I decided to go there today before heading to Shkoder. It’s already around 95 KM to Shkoder but with the detour to Bunkart total ride distance would be at least 115 KM. Good thing the terrain is expected to be flat.
Anyway Bunkart was fascinating. The underground bunker is huge and elaborate. It was built by the dictator Hoxha who was paranoid about being attacked by enemies. He also planned to build around 200,000 small bunkers all over Albania but only 160,000 plus was finally built. I have seen many while cycling in Albania.
After Bunkart, I pushed off towards Shkoder. At some point I joined a dual carriage highway and was not too keen about it. I started looking for exit to country roads. I found one about 20km out and followed that till I reached Shkoder.
Broke for a quick lunch before continuing. I arrived Shkoder eventually after sunset at around 6pm. I immediately started looking for the hostel I planned to stay.
The hostel was a bit way out of town but eventually I found it. After checking in and showering, I was invited to join the other guest for dinner which consisted of home cooked vegetarian Albanian food. The food was mainly vegetables from the host’s garden and it was fresh and deliciously prepared. The host also brought out his home made red wine. We had to pay for the dinner but wine was free. So you can imagine how many glasses we had before calling it the night. A lot.
Today will be another non cycling day. Had a nice breakfast with Adrian and Cristen in their apartment before leaving to check into a hostel. Adrian and Cristen is not able to host me as they will leave for Berat for some meetings.
I checked into a backpacker hostel called Zig Zag for 7 Euros per night with breakfast. When I arrived I saw another touring bike parked in the garden. Turns out it belong to a tourer from Korea who have been on the road from London.
I checked in, left my stuff and went out for city tour. I was intrigued by the attraction called Bunkart. It was a former ‘nuke proof’ bunker complex built by the dictator Hoxha during his time. It’s now a museum. So I asked the hostel host how to get there by bus. It was a complicated process as she doesn’t speak English at all. So finally after getting gist of how to catch the bus, I went on my way on foot. It’s a 2km walk to the bus stop but I managed to see some sights along the way and also enjoyed people watching.
When I arrived I asked a bus ticket kiosk which bus to take and how much. So happens there is one there and then and it costed 40 Leks for a single ticket. The bunker is around 6KM from the city. It took awhile to get to the point where I need to get off the bus to go on foot to the museum. It’s around 1 Km walk uphill. When I arrived I found that it was closed today! What an anti climax. Anyway I walk back down and caught the next bus back to town. Oh well the bus ride was a great experience in itself.
I decided to then check out the National Musuem. It was moderately interesting for me so I did not spend too much time there and so I decided to return back to the hostel to relax.
When I reached back at the hostel, I met the cyclist from Korea and another guest called Richard from Holland. We sat together with the host for a light meal and chatted for awhile. Richard works in the Army in Holland and is on a driving holiday in the Balkans. Incredibly he arrived in Tirana with just 2 days of driving from Amsterdam.
Anyway as we sat and talk another cycle tourist checked in. He identified himself as Fumi from Japan. He looked really beaten up and tired and we wondered why. So we went to check out his bike and then we knew. We were so shocked to see the bike condition and the set up. Single speed and rusted with a customer made back rack. Later he told us he bought this bike from Singapore for 10 Singapore Dollars ! He told us he is on the road with this bike for more than a year and has ridden over 14,000 KM on it. We asked how he manage the hill climbs with the bike and he answered ” with a lot of pushing “.
So Fumi is proof that you can tour without an expensive bike and equipment. But definitely not a comfortable way to do it.
After awhile we all went separate ways for dinner, Fumi went out to buy rice to cook dinner, the Korean cyclist needed to do some planning for his journey and Richard and me went out for a quick dinner.
We had a few rounds of beer before turning in for the night. Tomorrow I will try to go to Bunkart again before heading out to Shkoder. It will be a challenging day tomorrow as I will have a late ride start because of the visit to the museum. Shkoder is around 93KM away.
A short ride to Tirana today . Only 40KM plus. So I decided to spend the morning to explore Durres a bit. After a simple breakfast at the hostel and took a walk to the waterfront to have a look. The weather today was really incredible for late October. It’s almost as hot as summer with bright sunshine the whole day. The walk was through a nice boulevard with many cafes. The waterfront was not so interesting so I took a couple of pictures and moved on to see the Roman amphitheater. Compared to the one I saw in Macedonia this was smaller and not as good condition. So I walked back to get ready to hit the road to Tirana.
After saying quick goodbyes to the hostel folks I pushed off around 1230 noon. The road to Tirana is very straight forward and flat so I was making great time again. I was initially on a highway which I didn’t like so I found a rural road parallel to it.
I decided to make a lunch stop at a place call Vore which is around 17 KM from Tirana. I saw a place that had grilled chicken so I decided to have lunch there. It was not a great experience. The food was good but the owner lady cheated me. First she charge me the beer that I think was paid for by another guest ( Thats what I thought ) and then she gave me the change that is short. So after a few backwards and forwards we settled the issue with a lot of communication through sign language and writing down numbers. Albania has great and hospitable folks but also I find many of the vendors try to cheat you and charge you more just because you are a foreigner.
As I rode closer to Tirana the traffic became heavier and heavier. In fact around 10Km from the city, for the first time I experienced an Albanian traffic jam. It was total chaos and I have a difficult time getting into the city.
Once in the city, I phoned Adrian from the US Peace Corps to work out our meeting plan. Adrian and Cristen had kindly offered to host me for the night. We agreed to meet at around 7pm so he can bring me back to his apartment to leave my stuff and then go for dinner together.
Turns out that Adrian did a fair bit of touring himself and ridden from Alaska to Ushuaia in Argentina before. After dinner we went back and I had a quick shower before hitting the sack in a nice big room provided by Adrian and Cristen.
Tomorrow I will move to a hostel in Tirana and spend some time exploring the city before moving on to Shkoder.
Today I was flying past villages and town towards Tirana after a good day of rest. The terrain was flat mostly along the valleys. First few KM, the road had great shoulders but after that and most of the way without any shoulder at all. My initial end point for today was neither Tirana ( 128 km) nor Durres ( 90km). I was planning to stop somewhere in between maybe after 60km. But I was making great time so I pushed on and on and I didn’t realized I pushed passed 60km. Since I was making good time I decide to push on to Durres.
It was great to be on flat good roads again and I had a great time cycling today. I enjoyed the scenery although not spectacular but it was interesting. During the early part of my ride I stopped to buy some local olives for snacks. It costed only 0.70 Euros per kilo !
I decided to break for lunch in a place called Lushnje. I was scanning around for a while for a suitable shop to eat and actually looking for something cheap like Donner or Byrek ( Local pastry pie). Spotted one and I started to park my bike and before I could order , a middle age guy with a smiley face came up to me and started talking to me He asked me about my trip and where I am from. He then ask someone to take a photo of us and shouted to everyone around to tell them that I am a cyclist from Malaysia. Well ,he sometimes gets mixed up between Malaysia and Indonesia.
After awhile, I proceeded to order my food and beer and sat down to eat. The same guy came over and now with a friend and sat down with me and told me in sign language he would pay for my food. He told me he owned the shop and building next door and offered me a room to stay the night. Wow ! Too bad it was too early to break the ride or else I would have jumped on it.
He spoke mostly in Italian which made it slightly better than Albanian as I could understand some words especially the word gratis. Anyway we continued to banter for awhile me in English and he in Italian and I found out his name was Gezimi. He proceeded to tell me that he is a traditional Albanian classical bass baritone singer and conductor. He even asked me to YouTube his performance.
I wanted to start cycling again as it was past 1 pm already. So I said my goodbye and then Gezimi asked me to join him at the back and showed me his garden and also his goat, chicken and ducks. He said I should take a photo with his goat and a child that was with him all the time. I am not sure what the relationship is with this young child of 4 years old. Anyway I assumed it was his grandchild. Well before we could grab the goat by the collar to take the photo the goat slipped away and went towards the street and the owner and me gave chase. Finally he caught it and brought it back to his backyard and we managed to take the photo. This must be the strangest experience for me as I have no clue why he wanted me to take a picture with his goat.
Anyway picture done and I was about to leave but he was not done yet. He then plucked a few tangerines and pessimons for me and then 3 stalk of roses. After that he went to his gift shop and got me Albanian flag cube dangling thing. Finally I was able to leave and I jumped on my bike and was off.
For the first 10km after that I couldn’t help smiling and at times laughing at the whole experience in Lushnje. I will remember this town and Gezimi.
The road continued to be flat and good condition. Somewhere around 28KM from Durres I took a break at a petrol station and bought a drink. I bumped into anther cyclist from Poland. He was touring Greece and Albania and heading the same direction as me. However his end point is Tirana. It’s already 3 pm and I have still some ways to go so we did not chat for long and we said our goodbyes.
I reached Durres at around 430pm and started to look for hostels to stay. Since it is a tourist town I expected prices would be high. I found Hostel Duress right in the heart of town and checked in for 11Euros per night with breakfast. There is free wifi and dinner is communal with minimal donation of 1 Euro. A pretty good deal.
There were many guest from all over the world at this quite hip hostel and after a quick shower I was ready for dinner. I contributed my olives. Some contributed in cooking and some baking dessert and other offered wine. Wow ! free flow of wine and also loads of food. We had a fantastic dinner and also great conversations. Dinner went on to 11 pm before we all call it quits and hit the sack.
It was a truly wonderful day of great cycling, connections, interactions and experience. I like. A lot.
Today is my non cycling day and the plan is to spend some time to relax, rest and do some sight seeing in the old town of Berat. A little about Berat.
Berat is a city and a municipality located in south-central Albania, and the capital of the County of Berat. In July 2008, the old town (Mangalem district) was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Berat lies on the right bank of the river Osum, a short distance from the point where it is joined by the Molisht river. The old city centre consists of three parts: Kalaja (on the castle hill), Mangalem (at the foot of the castle hill) and Gorica (on the left bank of the Osum). It has a wealth of beautiful buildings of high architectural and historical interest. The pine forests above the city, on the slopes of the towering Tomorr mountains, provide a backdrop of appropriate grandeur. The Osumi river has cut a 915-metre deep gorge through the limestone rock on the west side of the valley to form a precipitous natural fortress, around which the town was built on several river terraces. The earliest recorded inhabitants of the city (6th century BC) were the Greek tribe of the Dassaretae or Dexarioi. The town became part of the unstable frontier of the Byzantine Empire following the fall of the Roman Empire and, along with much of the rest of the Balkan peninsula, it suffered from repeated invasions by Slavs. During the 18th century Berat was one of the most important Albanian cities of the Ottoman Empire(Source Wikipedia)
So a pretty interesting town with a lot of history. I am staying at the old quarter of Gorica right across the river from Mangalem town. It as nice a old 14 Century townhouse with a lot of character and charm.
The other fellow roommates, one from New Zealand and one from Portugal and me had breakfast together prepared by the host. Simple French toast Albanian style and coffee. We all have seperate plans and we went off our own ways after breakfast.
I spend sometime to relax in the guesthouse and also to update my blog. Later I took a walk to have a look at Mangalam town and its ancient houses. After that I hiked up the hill to the huge castle compound of Berat Castle. There are still house inhabited today in this castle. The view from the castle was stunning and I spend most of the afternoon walking there and taking pictures.
My next place to visit is downtown Berat which was quick and after that I decided to walk back to the guesthouse to rest. On the way back I bought some tomatoes and some other supplies to stock up.
The host offer a home cook dinner for 4 Euros and I decided to go for if and also have a bit of interaction with the host and the other guest who also signed up for dinner.
We had a salad and a main dish of Beef wrapped with cheese and batter fried with chips. It was very delicious and home made wine from the host. It was a nice night of chit chat. After that we call it a night and all went to bed in stages.
It started raining at around 4am and I fell back to sleep in hope that it will stop later in the morning. Thankfully it did stop around 7am and the day is turning out to be fine with sunshine breaking through the clouds. After a quick cup of coffee and adjustment of one of the rear brake pads. The pin of one of the rear pads fell off and I noticed the pads slipping out. so I have to get that fixed in anticipate of more extreme riding today offers.
I am told Berat is at least 48KM away. It should be a easy riding for that distance even if it involves hill climb but with the broken roads I am sure it will be another long hard day of riding.
So I carried on anyway because I am looking forward to a nice 2 day rest in Berat. It’s more or less the same kind of terrain as yesterday. Hard going to say the least. Would have been easy on a mountain bike with suspension and minimal load.
I was so eager to push off from Buz that I forgot to refill and have the potential of same water situation again. Luckily I bumped into someone and ask if there is a place to refill water and he says there was in just 50m by the side of the road. After refilling I was happy and went on my way.
My food supplies was low enough probably for one meal so I was eager to get to a store to buy something for emergency in case I have to camp the night before Berat. So I started to look for a village. I saw one on the way and headed towards it. I then noticed that the planned route towards this village goes off the SH74 which I am on and goes on another country road. I hesitated at the cross junction to analyse the situation before proceeding also because the road to the village was a steep downhill and that would mean a steep climb upwards if I decide to back track. Then some guys passing by in a van told me that Berat is better via SH74 and not where my planned route. I decided not to take the planned route and headed on to SH74. Some considerations why I made the decision :
Because the planned route was suggested by SK. So the torture will continue.
SH74 is the main route so in case I have some troubles I have higher chance to come across help.
SH74 has also more villages so again can get some help in case I need.
It’s recommended by the locals and they must know what they are talking about.
So I proceeded on SH 74 with hope that I made the right decision. The terrain in the beginning was more or less the same but magically it became progressively better and not as rocky. In fact in some parts I could ride much much faster. Looks promising.
On one of the village I was passing, I stopped by a house and asked a nice lady if there were shops nearby and she said none for at least 25 KM ! Wow that would be already close to Berat. Then I asked if she could sell me some food. She said she can give me some food but no need to pay. Yay ! Free food. I got a bottle of yoghurt drink, some homemade bread, white cheese and some cold cuts.
With renewed confidence after getting food and water, I started my ride again towards Berat. I broke for lunch at a beautiful but windy location before powering on to Berat. The road has indeed become better and I seem to be making great time. At parts it was more or less same and stony that slowed me down and some parts were basically gravel laden which is not great on steep downhills. Overall better than yesterday.
I was happy to see Berat at the bottom of the hill and know that I am close by. I passed by many olives plantation on my way down to Berat.
I finally hit Tarmac 500m from Berat city and I proceeded to look for a suitable hostel. I found one at the historic Gorica Quarter called Lorenc Guesthouse. I paid 8 Euros per night per bed with breakfast. I planned to stay here for a couple of days to recuperate and enjoy this historic city.
What a few days it has been. A wild wild ride in the interior. This what you call pleasurable suffering. I wonder why the Albanians name the country road SH74. Now I know maybe it means Soh Hai 74 !
This is the most challenging day of cycling by far. My plan was to reach somewhere halfway to Berat and settle in for the night. The weather was marvelous again. So after a quick breakfast I headed out from Permet. Permet is a nice and quaint town by the mountainside that’s worth a stopover.
The first 20KM or so was rather flat and ordinary. Mostly farmlands in the valley. Nothing spectacular.
I stopped by a small town Kelcyre for coffee before continuing. The road to Ballaban continued to be ok with ocassional pot holes here and there. However after Ballaban it gets worse and it was totally upaved and very rocky. After about 30 mins of cranking uphill on these conditions I asked someone by the roadside about how far these conditions go on for. He replied for at least 30KM ! Oh my ! That would definitely be a challenge. It’s too late to turn back now as going down hill is just as difficult to negotiate with my fully loaded bike. So I decided to push on.
It was a hard hard day of cycling. The unpaved road were rocky and hard to climb and descend was also just at hard. Mid way I took a rest and break for lunch. I noticed after that I did not have enough water. I have been looking at places to refill. I have not seen watering areas so far. I check with a passerby it seems there are none. I saw a lake nearby and thought of the water but the local said it was not for drinking. At this point I was considering to camp here but in the end I decided to move on. After about 500m , I noticed my Gramin GPS was missing. It must have dropped off. So I rode back and finally found it laying by the place I stopped near the lake.
After awhile I hailed down a car and asked if he had water. Luckily he had some. So I refilled and continue to push forward. It was getting late and I want go find a place to put up the night. I asked another passerby and he told me that there is a village about 5km away where I can get food and drinks. The village was called Buz. The bike and equipment held up well with the thrashing. The tires front and back seemed ok as well.
I had a beer in one of the shop and asked if I could camp in his place. He says no but told me I could stay with one family. A boy came and offered a room in his room and we haggled a bit and finnaly settled for 5oo Lek which is I think 3 euros. Anyway the room was comfortable and had a warm shower so I am happy.