Balkans 2016 – Day 30 : Germenj to Permet, Albania

The locals told me to that it would rain last night and it did. I think the rain started around 4am and then stopped around 630am. Just in time for me to decamp and get ready for my ride. Had a quick expensive coffee and I started my journey today at around 830 am. The uphill continued for some time before I was rewarded by a great downhill only to be slowed down by the bad condition of the road. After awhile it began to drizzle. I stopped for awhile to have a snack before continuing.

It was a day of excruciating climbs but spectacular views. Traffic was minimal , I think perhaps 1 vehicle per 45 minutes. The road conditions was bad most of the time till Leskovik. However the stunning view made up for it.

I stopped at Leskovik for coffee and rest before continuing to Carshove. It was generally downhill from here but not easy going as the roads are in bad condition.  Took another coffee break at Carshove before moving on. As I reach the first peak of the climb I bumped into another cycle tourist from Germany going the other way. Her name was Katrina and she is heading for Greece. We chatted awhile and thereafter went our ways.

The distance to Permet was 28 KM but the first 15 Km involves lots of climbing and beautiful vistas. After that I descended along the river Viosa and continue downstream towards Permet. Downstream generally means downhill but on a few corners I had to negotiate a few hill climbs.

About 2 km from Permet I stopped by a coffee shop to have beer and I was eventually offered a shot of Raki which is like Grappa. After that I headed to Permet and managed to find a reasonable hotel for 7 Euros with breakfast. I prefer to stay at a hotel as all my battery backup is flat and I need a place for recharging.

Went for a quick tour of the town before heading back to the hotel to have a snack and a couple of cups of wine before showering. Looking forward for a great sleep tonight. Tomorrow I will probably have to wild camp as there are no big towns between Permet and Berat. Berat is around 95km away which I think is too far to ride in a day. 

Lions Project : RM 137.90

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Hello Again. Lets go!
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Many of these bunkers usually outskirts of the village or town
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Ok here is the pine forest.
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Incredible scenic approach to Leskovik.
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Leskovik center of town.
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Many sections up and downhill are like this and sometimes worse.
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My bike also likes a pose.
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Yahoo and it keeps getting better.
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Incredible views.
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up again.
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Very rugged terrain.
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What can I say. Wow!
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In the valley.
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More view from the valley. The whole day has been up verge mountains and down to the valley.
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Bumped into Katrina from Getmany. She is on her way to Greece.
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One pose for the road. Too bad she is as others going the other way. most tourers at this time is cycling away from Winter but I am the only crazy one heading full on towards Winter.
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Incredible view of the river Viosa.
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Start to climb again.
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And again.
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What a view.
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Speechless beauty.
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It’s always fun following the river downstream.
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This is what I am leaving behind.
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My bike’s home for the night.
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Permet town
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My room. 7 Euros with beak fast.
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And a fantastic balcony view
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Sunset at Permet

Balkans 2016 – Day 29 : Korce to Germenj, Albania

Met Algent at his barber shop and walked over to his favorite coffee place to have a cuppa before I said my goodbyes and went on my way. Today I plan to get to Leskovik or near there. I had no clue what to expect but I do know the weather is beautiful again and it would be great for cycling.

I am told that the first 15 KM is flat and the there will be some climbing. The first 15 was indeed flat but after that some is a gross understatement. A lot is more like it. ( SK, when I am back , we need to have a  serious discussion.)

The most part of the day involves climbing and decending and climbing again. Many sections are 10% gradient. This is the first time on tour I am seeing switchback ala Alps style. And it goes on and on. While I curse and swear at every corner, only sometimes at SK, I also rejoiced with magnificent views of the Albanian wilderness and mountains. So if you are a passerby you would not be be able to tell if I am cursing or screaming in joy. Eventually it sounded to me quite alike.

Today I feasted on a full menu of Albanian landscape from flat farm lands, bald hills probably from over logging and forest full of pine trees with it is fresh pine smell rewarding you as you huff and puff up.

It was already almost 5 pm and I have just 1 hour 15 minutes before sunset so I starting scanning for places to stay. I had two option. Wild camping or get to Farma Sotira which had rooms and also paid camping with shower and toilet. I decided I will not Wild camp as I needed a shower. Yesterday at the el Chepo hotel at Korce there was no hot water so I did not get to shower.

I did not get to Farm in the end. I just stopped at the first campsite available and decided to pitch my tent there as it was getting dark and I had enough of cycling uphill.

So I quickly set up my tent and broke open my Macedonian wine and had a glass before hitting the shower. I will skip dinner as I am still full from the huge lunch I had midway at a village called Mollas.

Had an early night to recharge. I am expecting more climbs tomorrow.

Lions Project : RM 131.70

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Algent the barber that cycle tours.

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Wide open fields

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Farmers on the go.

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Climb climb climb

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Lunch time. Super oily and fat. Just the way I like it.

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Hello Albania.

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Can you tell its Autumn ?

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To the hills

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Switchbacks galore

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Wohooo mountains

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More mountains.

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More climbs

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Hello I can still smile.

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More hills.

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My campsite for the night.

Balkans 2016 – Day 28 : Ohrid, Macedonia to Korce, Albania

A bright and sunny day! After having a quick coffee with the host and some photos taking we said our goodbyes and I was off. Today I will cross into Albania and leave Macedonia with a heavy heart. I enjoyed Macedonia a lot mostly because of the fantastic hospitality and friendship with the people I met.

Korce in Albania which is around 80km away is my target. You would have thought that hugging the coast would be flat and easy peasy. You would have been wrong. I had to negotiate 3 hill climbs before getting to Korce. 2 of the climbs were on the Macedonian side and one climb after Pogradec in Albania.

Today was also meet the cyclist and  tourers day. Enroute I met 5 cycle tourers and passed 4 cyclist. First in Macedonia side of Ohrid , I bumped into 3 cycle tourers from Israel. Two of them zoomed past me. One stay behind and we chatted for  awhile before he broke off and rejoin his group. He mentioned they were heading to another lake called Prespa.

I meet two other cycle tourers just outside of Pogradec in Albania, one lady is from London and is cycling to Athens and the other a gentlemen from Alaska cycling Zagreb to Zagreb. We decided to have coffee together and had some banter about our trip and next destinations.  It was almost 2pm and  I need to do another 40Km to Korce so we said our goodbyes and we all went off in different directions.

Upon reaching Korce, I went immediately to look for a telecom store to get connected. So you can guess where my priorities are. Anyway I found Vodafone Albania and I got a 30 day plan with 3 GB data, nationwide 200 mins calls and 500 SMS for 900 Leks ( 6.60 Euros).

With that sorted I started looking for a cheap place to stay. I arrived Korce at around 530pm and the sun is already setting. It gets dark now around 630pm. After going in circles and unable to find the suitable guest house either because it was not there or its way too expensive, I stopped by a fruit and vegetable store ask. As I was doing that a cyclist was bombing down the street and stopped by to say hello.  We chatted for awhile and he told me he is an avid cyclist and also a champion Albanian downhill and cross country mountain biker. Wow what a coincidence and I told him that I was also into Mountain biking. His name is Isert Gjatoli. He also does mountain climbing and motor cross. Extreme sports kinda guy. Anyway he ask me to follow him and he brought me to a barber shop ! Turns out Algent the barber was also a cycling fan and does some touring as well. He used to be warmshower and have hosted several tourers before but now since moved to the city, he can’t host as he has a small place. Anyway he suggested I should check out the Berat hotel as it is cheap. We all went there together and he spoke to the manager and managed to get me a room for only 3.6 Euros ! After checking in and leaving my stuff at the hotel, all three of us rode to the famous brewery in town called Korca Beer and we had a round of beers and dinner at their tavern and it costed Euro 6.60 for all three of us !  Stomach filled we rode back to his barber shop and left my bike there. Next morning we arrange to have coffee together.  I went back to the hotel and crashed. Tomorrow I look forward to another day or great riding. Till then sweet dreams.

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My host Mile and Violetta and Thom the Dutch tourer.
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Scenic lakeside
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Worth the climb
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Beans for lunch
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Scenic lakeside roads

 

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Hello from Lake Ohrid
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Shrine Lake Ohrid
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One of the bunkers at Lake Ohrid
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Hi again at Lake Ohrid
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Sveti Naum Monastery, last attraction before the Albanian border.

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Hello Albania
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That’s a full load.
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Isert the champion MTB in Albania.
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Dinner for 3 and 3 Korca beers for less than 7 Euros.
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3.6 Euros hotel.

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Lions Project : RM 124.70

Balkans 2016 – Day 27 : Ohrid, Macedonia

I woke up to dark and cloudy skies that soon turned  into lightning and thunder and rain. Not torrential like what we have in Malaysia but heavy enough to be unfavorable for cycling.  I decided to wait for awhile in hope that it would clear up. It didn’t and that’s when my hostel host said I could stay another day if I like and for free. Oh wow that was not expected. I thought for awhile and very quickly decided that I will take up the offer.

After awhile he brought me some food for lunch. I was really impressed with his hospitality. It continued raining till past noon. After that the skies opened up to blue skies and sunshine.

Since it turned out to be such a nice day, I went for a walk around town and ended up taking a boat ride around the lake.

As I was walking back to my hostel, I saw another cycle tourer and I tried to catch up with him to have chat. Then I saw he was walking with someone that looked like my host. Indeed it was and it turns out he managed to convince another cycle tourer to stay at his property.

The cycle tourer introduced himself as Thom and he is a 23 year old from Holland and just came from Albania and is riding to Istanbul.

We chatted together with the host and eventually had some beer with the host in his garden and later a simple dinner. After dinner we sat around and chatted for awhile before I turned in for the night.

I am hoping for great weather tomorrow and look forward to cross over to Albania tomorrow.

Lions Project : No change from Day 26

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Thoughtful host wrapped my saddle with plastic bag.
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Nice patio with kiwi fruit tree.
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Complimentary kfast from the host
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Exploring the town’s back alley
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View from the boat cruise
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More views
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More views from the boat

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The boat captain
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The captain and his boat.

 

Balkans 2016 – Day 26 : Resen to Ohrid, Macedonia

 

Another short ride day as it is only around 40km to Ohrid. Weather is sunny and cool so it’s perfect for riding. The mornings so far starts at around 10 to 12 C and then climbs up to around 25C. After a quick coffee at the motel restaurant I pushed off towards Ohrid. I have heard a lot about this resort lake town so I am really looking forward to it. Just outside Resen I noticed a lot of apple trees. I am told this region is famous for its apples. So I decided to ask a nice lady if I could have some . She gladly gave me 8. Yes free fruits.

The ride starts with gentle climb and it eventually got steeper and steeper. I had to climb to 1,200 m again. Thankfully I am on the A3 main road and road conditions were good. It was not as interesting.  I was happy that the descend was long and fast.

I rode all the way to the waterfront of the ancient lake just to orientate myself and wanted to take a break and maybe some lunch before looking for places to stay. Almost immediately someone in a bike approached me and offered me a room to stay but at a price. I have heard of this. It is common that you do not look for rooms in Ohrid they will look for you. He initially offered me a private room for 15 Euros but I was not interested. I was planning to look for a place called Sunny Lake Hostel recommended by Iuosu. Then he came down his offer to 10 Euros and I decided to go have a look at his place. It’s slighty off the main area and it has a beautiful garden and porch with a huge Kiwi Fruit tree. Yes Kiwi. The room was nice and comfy and comes with attached bathroom and also with a balcony. He is such a nice fellow so I decided to take it. Wifi is included as well.

After sorting out my stuff and settling in I decided to go visit all the famous sites in Ohrid. I am told there are 365 churches in Ohrid. So I will focus only on the famous touristy ones. The great thing about Ohrid is that all the famous sites are all within walking distance from town and also between each other.  So I left my bike and walked instead.

I headed to yet another ancient amphitheater first. All these sites are situated on the hill so you will have to walk uphill to get there. Enroute I passed by a fortified town which must be the old town of Ohrid. Beautiful town with narrow cobbled stone roads and houses all perched on the hill overlooking at the mighty lake.  The Amphitheater as with the one at Bitola is very well preserved but it’s smaller.  After a rather quick look see and photos I headed towards the Samuels Fortress which is the largest fortress in Macedonia and it takes up the entire peak of the Ohrid hill. Before arriving there I passed by a church. I did not go in as you have to pay. So I just enjoyed it from the outside.

Samuels fortress is truly magnificent and has a fantastic view of the Ohrid city and the lake. I took many pictures there. The fortress is built in the 10th century. After that I moved on to see the most famous and photographed building in Macedonia called Saint Jovan Kaneo Church. I can see why. It is beautifully preserved and situated in a corner of the cliff overlooking the Ohrid. I also took many photos here.

On the way there I met a Korean solo traveller and chatted for awhile. Turns out he shared a room with a young Malaysian just yesterday. Interesting indeed.  The Korean guy took a bus from Albania and hitchhiked to Ohrid. After while we said our goodbyes and went off in opposite direction.

After St Jovan Kaneo I decided I had enough of sightseeing and headed back to town to people watch. It was close to dinner time and the city walkways as full of people sitting outdoors either having coffee or a bite.  Since I had a substantial lunch earlier on I decided to have a simple dinner back on the balcony of my room.

After dinner I turned on the TV to watch a bit but soon was sleepy and turned in early. Tomorrow I will cross over to Albania and will say goodbye to Macedonia with fond and great memories.

Lions Project  : RM 116.50 ( Represents 10 sen to 1KM ridden so far in support of the fund raising effort )

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Apples galore
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Ancient tunnels
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Lake Ohrid
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Lake view
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Lunch a tad salty
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Fortified old city of Ohrid
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Amphitheater
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Hello from the fortress
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Nice scenic coffee place
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Lake Ohrid
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Old town
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Hello from the peak
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The mighty fortres
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St Jovan Kaneo
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Another view of St Jovan church
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Great views for the hill

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More fantastic views
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Albania is across the lake

Balkans 2016 – Day 25 : Bitola to Resen, Macedonia

Today was planned to be a short ride to Resen so I took some time in the morning to have a long morning coffee at a cafe in the center of Bitola. After I had my coffee fix sorted, I proceeded to ride out to see the ruins of the ancient city of Heraclea Lyncestis.

Heracles was an ancient Greek city in Macedon, ruled later by the Romans. Its ruins are situated 2 km south of the present-day town of Bitola, Macedonia.[5] It was founded by Philip II of Macedon in the middle of the 4th century BC, after he had conquered the surrounding region and incorporated it into his kingdom of Macedon. The city was named in honor of the mythological Greek hero Heracles. The name Lynkestis originates from the name of the ancient kingdom, conquered by Philip, where the city was built. ( Wikipedia)

I had a great time exploring the ruins. The mosaics and the amphitheater was amazingly preserved. I was a tad disappointed that a couple of the attraction was closed for renovations.

After this I proceeded to ride out of Bitola towards Resen and continued on the rural road R1101. Around 3km out I finally bumped into a fellow cycle tourer from the opposite direction. So I waved him down to have a chat. Turns out he is from Basque Country in Spain and he is doing a 15 day tour to Greece. I asked if he knew Lorenzo Rojo whom I have hosted earlier this year in Malaysia. And to my surprise he said he did. He told me Lorenzo is kinda famous in the cycling circle in Basque Country. Amazingly, Iousu will be the third Basque Country cyclist I have had the pleasure to meet.

After a couple of pictures together Iousu and I parted ways in opposite direction. The climb started soon after which was moderate and when the downhill came I was hit with mostly cobbled stones road. Thankfully these stones are modern ones that are flatter and more uniform. Even so it was bumpy and slowed me down.  The rural road is very low in traffic which is a good thing but there is really nothing in between except for a couple of farms.

The second climb was a monster one and it took me to almost 1200 m and must be around 15km of climbing. The road was mostly badly maintained Tarmac with long stretches of cobbled stones. So the climb was slow. I was relaxed about it as I had plenty of time to get to Resen today.

After awhile the road became narrower and narrower and the elevation steeper and steeper. It felt as if I am riding on a mountain bike route. Maybe it was. In any case the bike performed well and I had no issues.

Upon reaching the peak it was a steep decend of 5 km to Resen. The road started fine but the last 2 km was cobbled stones again and that kind of spoil the downhill fun a bit.

Anyway just 2 km before town I found a hostel that was offering beds at 8 Euros a night so I grabbed it. The room has 3 beds but I am the only guest for the day so I have it all for myself.  Had a simple dinner and turned in early.  Overall another great day of riding with great discoveries and wonderful weather.

Lions Project : RM 112.40

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One for the road with Robert
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Coffee time Bitola
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Ancient city of Heraclea
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Amazing well preserved mosaic.
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Beautiful
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Amazing
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Amazingly preserved amphitheater
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Hello there.
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Amphitheater
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Distant view of coal generator

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Iousu from Basque
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My first encounter so far with a fellow cycle tourer.
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Many sections of the road today is like this
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And this.
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Time for a refreshment to cap off the day.

Balkans 2016- Day 24 : Prilep to Bitola, Macedonia

Woke up to another beautiful day. I am looking forward to the ride to Bitola. There I have a host from the Peace Corps to help and provide a place for me to stay the night. So I plan to take my time to cycle to Bitola. As I was checking out, the motel manager offered me Turkish coffee and then I met Katrina from Solvenia who was on business trip to Prilep. Turns out she has been to Malaysia before on some business trip relating to PROTON. In the end she offered that I should call her when passing Solvenia. How nice.

After checking out I went in search for breakfast. After breakfast I went for a quick citytour on my bike before heading to Bitola.

I followed the county roads. It was nice change with little traffic. However it was hard at times as many sections were cobbled stoned. So it slowed me down a fair bit.

Eventually I arrived Bitola and almost immediately met Scott who also works for Peace Corps and a friend of my host Robert.  We chatted awhile before ending up at a local bike shop to finally fix a kickstand for my bike. After that we went for a beer and waited for Robert to join us after his work.

Later went for dinner with Robert and then returned to Roberts place to shower and eventually turn in early.

Lions Project : 112.40

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Katrina from Solvenia 
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Drying tobacco leaves. All over city you will see this. It seems it a Prilep special 
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Prilep vista 
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More tobacco leaves. 
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Macedonian Daisho. 1 Euro store 
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More stuff drying in the balcony 
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Breakfast
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Prilep morning market
Peppers are very common here and staple food

Nice day out and quiet roads
Hello Malaysia

Hello Bitola

Balkans 2016 – Day 23 : Kavardasi to Prilep, Macedonia

Much to my surprise the camping was quite ok at the petrol station. There was a bit of rain but nothing nasty. The temperature was surprisingly moderate at around 17c evening time and at night around 14c. I just noticed that yesterday on the way to this camping site, I already passed the 1,000 km mark almost 1/3 of my journey. Time really do fly when you are having fun.

Just about when I was decamping. I heard shouting and it appeared that a bunch of road workers was calling me over. I just waved at them and indicated I was busy packing and would go over after. Which I did. They offered me sandwiches, meat, cheese and some chili peppers and of course Rakiya. After that they even packed a sandwich for me to take on my journey. They say I will need it.

Indeed they were right. I really do need it. It’s 40KM to Prilep and I can tell you that 90% of it uphill. Long and gentle at first but then it got steeper. The scenery was spectacular though so I am not complaining much. However the headwinds was very gutsy and strong. That made it even more difficult cycling.

After what seemed to be eternity, I reached the peak and started to decend to Prilep which I can already see in the distance. I was just about to start riding down a guy from the van that passed me hailed me and we spoke for awhile. He works with a car tire workshop and was just curious about my cycling adventure. Anyway nothing much but casual banter and I pushed off after saying a guick goodbye.

Upon reaching Prilep I went straight for the food and after that found a nice motel to put up the night. Tomorrow I have some time since Bitola is less than 50km away , I will explore Prilep a bit and have a late start.

Lions Project : RM 104.40

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A new friend who works the road.
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I am not a big fan of tunnels. Thankfully not many long ones so far.
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amazing vista
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Feature pose of my hardworking friend.
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Amazing views
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Many such alters along the way
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Take a rest before final assault
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Well deserved lunch.

Balkans 2016 -Day 22 :Negotino to not very far, Macedonia

What could have been the worst day of the ride so far turn out to the one of the best. I did not get very far though. Let me explain.

The day began with moody cloudy skies and rain. It was not raining too bad so I decided to check out of the Monastery and start my journey to Prilep. The fix I did on my rear tires did not work and the wobbling was still there. In fact I thought it was worse. In any case I was confident I could get to Prilep which is around 55km away and look for a bike shop.

It continued raining and in fact got heavier. That should explain the lack of photos.

I decided to stop for breakfast at Kavardasi which is around 15km from Negotino. I waited for an hour to see if the rain would stop. It didn’t and I decided to do some grocery shopping to stock up. Ended up buying a bottle of Rakiya a local brandy and local wine. The rain eventually subsided and I was happy to continue my cycling.

The wobble got worse and worse as I cycle. Not more than 2km out of the city limit, disaster. The rear tire exploded with a loud bang. The side wall was ripped and I don’t have a spare tire so no choice but to push back to town and look for options. The thing is today was a public holiday and most shops are closed. So no chance to find a bike shop to fix my tires. I went back to the breakfast place as the waiter mentioned something about a bike shop nearby. I wanted to get the location so I can go there the next day.

Then as I was about the leave the place a passerby approached me and introduced himself as Branko. He said he noticed that I needed help with my tires and he say he will try to help. He made a few calls and then a young man turned up 15mins later took my wheel set and came back another 15 mins later with new tires all done. wow ! Branko tells me he is a casual cyclist and am glad to help. Branko is also a professional drummer and plays for a traditional Macedonian band called Drim Tim.  The young man is his friends son who runs a bike shop in town but it is closed today . So he made special arrangements with his friend to have the tires fixed .  It costed me around RM100 all in!  After that he asked me to join him for lunch at his nephews place called Kino Bavca. And what a lunch. We had a huge plate of grill, salads, meat patties, homemade rakiyas and wine from the region. After 3 hours of lunching I told Branko I had to go as I like to find a place to sleep before it get dark. Branko told me there is a Makpetrol station around 12km out on the way to Prilep. So we took pictures and then said our goodbyes. Thanks to Branko and his nephews and buddies.  You guys made a disaster of a day to a wonderful day.

I started riding out with fond memories of Kavardasi and finally arrived and Makpetrol and ask the manager if I could pitch a tent. He says no problem. The spot is quite close to the main road and the sound of the cars and trucks quite loud. I had my noise cancellation headphones with me and so I manage to get a reasonable sleep. What a eventful day. I will remember this day. So far I am so impressed with the Macedonians  as they are so friendly and helpful. I am loving it here.

Balkans 2016 – Day 21 : Shtip to Negotino, Macedonia

The complimentary breakfast was omelette with cheese and ham served with coffee. After finishing breakfast I started to pack to leave for the day. It looked like a wet day ahead as the rain or rather drizzle started late last night and continued even as I set out. The good thing is temperature is not too low at around 14c. 

I had my underlayer on just in case and after awhile I found it too hot and decided to stop at a petrol station to remove it. It also would be a good time for a brief break. The manager there was a friendly chap and we chatted for awhile and he even made me coffee. He introduced himself as Trajanco and mentioned to me that he took his family to US before but it didn’t work out and he came back instead. He also lamented that the Macedonian economy is not doing too great and salaries are decreasing while cost of living is increasing. He plans to go back to US , this time alone to see if he can make it. I wished him all the best and after a selfie with him I pushed on. 

In order to get to Negotino I had to negotiate a hill climb of around maybe 15km. It was not too steep but gradual. As I ascended higher and higher it became foggier and foggier. Eventually visibility dropped to around 100m. Interestingly the temperature remained constant and I did not feel cold at all. 

I felt the cold only when decending. It would have been the best part but it was partially dampened because my rear wheel started to wobble quite a bit.  Before I left Malaysia , the bike shop had some difficulties in setting the Mondials properly and I noticed both the back and front wobbling slightly.  A day ago I increased the pressure of the tires and maybe that caused the problem. 

Anyway it was not serious, just a bit annoying. My immediate focus is to get some lunch. The interesting thing is there is actually nothing much in between the petrol station and Negotino. 

At lunch I was asking the restaurant owner of places to stay and at some point they told me the cheapest option would be to try the monastery. 

So after getting some directions I headed to the monastery to check it out. On the way there I saw a huge convoy of trucks laden with grapes waiting to deliver to the winery nearby. The line must be around 1km long. I spoke to the young man on one of the grape truck and he told me that he has been here for 2 days! Waiting for his turn. 

Upon arriving the monastery I went to register and paid 9 Euros for room with double bed and attached bathroom. Later on I deflated my rear tire and try to reset the tire and reinflate. It seemed to wobble less now. Let’s see how it goes. If it gets worse I will bring it to a local bike shop for them to have a look. 

I am hoping for a sunny day tomorrow. Fingers crossed. 

Lions Project  : RM 97.56

This region is known for its wine grapes.

A very friendly Gas station manager Trajanco.

Misty mountain ride
Lunch time !
Wine grapes by truck loads.
Long queue!
Monastery at Negotino