Balkans 2016 – Day 33 : Berat, Albania

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.

Tomorrow I will ride out towards Tirana.

Lions Project: Same as Day 32

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Good Morning Berat
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Nice day for a walk.
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The ancient Berat bridge
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Interesting old town alleys.
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Berat Castle.
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Hello from Berat Castle.
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The view is spectacular here
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wow what a view.
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Lunch and contemplation time
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Old church at the castle
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Another view of the church.
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Nice view
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Museum
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Handmade in Albania
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Nice view of the Berat City
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Dinner at the guesthouse. Salad first
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Main course.
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Fellow roomies at the the guesthouse.

Balkans 2016 – Day 32 : Buz to Berat, Albania

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 :

  1. Because the planned route was suggested by SK. So the torture will continue.
  2. SH74 is the main route so in case I have some troubles I have higher chance to come across help.
  3. SH74 has also more villages so again can get some help in case I need.
  4. 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 !

Lions Project : RM 148.0m

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Woke up to moody weather
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Oops I wonder where they found these
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More of the same hard work yesterday.
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Yes I can do that climb. Yes that’s the hill I need to tackle.
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Magical view
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Time for lunch and relaxation.
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Hardworking bike needs to have a pose.
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The only bus I saw the whole day on this road.
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What a view
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The roads are improving and vegetation changing as well.
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Wonder what happened
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Olives

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Hello Berat.
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My hostel in the old and historic part of Berat
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Beer as a reward.
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Wohooo it’s hard work but view is stunning and there is only me, me and me. Solitude.
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Aiyoh need a break from the bouncing around.
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This is the home where I begged for free food.
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Now the road is more even but gravel laden.
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Can I see Berat now ?
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Downhill is daunting with loose gravel.

 

Balkans 2016 – Day 31 : Permet to Buz, Albania

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. 

Lions Project : RM 143.0

Good Morning Permet
There you go an Albanian cow
Metal bridge
Road is flat for first 18 km or so
Coffee Break
Off road sections starts right after Ballaban village.
It gets worse and steep as well. I am told its like this fior 30 KM. in the end its like this entirely to Berat more than 90 KM away.
Muddy off road adventure
Grassy by pass
Ocassional mini bus passes by
i am going there
Aiyoh very hard climbing la
A viilage at last.
My room for the night

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.