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 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 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 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

Balkans 2016 – Day 19 : Blagoevgrad to Delchevo, Macedonia

The apples started dropping almost in tandem with the rain drops as I woke for a great night of sleep. I was hoping it would be a dry day but it was not to be. 

I waited for awhile in hope that the rain would stop and it did eventually at around 930 am. 

Trying to get on track was a challenge as I have to find the connections out of the city. After  going back and forth on several occasions , I finally found the connection and was soon on the way heading towards Macedonia.

The climb started maybe around 3km out of town and it continued for what felt like eternity.  The beautiful scene and cold weather helped motivating me on. I stopped many times to take photos and to rest.  As I climb higher and higher the skies became cloudier and darker and rain seem to be wanting to show itself.  

It was a long and tough climb of around 25km reaching a height of around 1,300 m. That’s massive since I started at around 350m. In the distance towards Macedonia I was encouraged to see blue skies peeping out of the darkened clouds. It as as if Macedonia is calling me to come to the bright side.  Spurred on with this and with renewed energy I edge myself forward to the control which I am certain is at the peak. True enough it was and clearing immigration was very fast and soon I was in Macedonia. The skies opened up to bright sunshine. What a fantastic welcome. The temperature oddly enough dropped to around 6C. 

Without wasting time I began to speed downhill towards Delchevo which is around 10km from the peak. What ! Almost 30km of climbing and only 10km of downhill ? 

Anyway the downhill was thrilling and it was a blast as usual and very soon I was at the edge of my big first town in Macedonia. 

And what an introduction. I decided to stop for a while to orientate myself as the immediate plan was to go get myself connected and buy a prepaid SIM card and then to have something to eat before moving on. As I was busy trying to look for directions a friendly young couple approached me and we chatted. Turns out Jared and Andrea are Americans teaching English in Delchevo and they have been living here for more than 2 years. They will soon leave Macedonia sometime in November. Jared mentioned that it was his birthday and they are going for a birthday lunch and they could show me the T Mobile store on the way and help me buy a SIM card.  With that done Jared invited me to have lunch with them together with their host family at a local restaurant nearby. What a fantastic welcome to Macedonia. I am already liking it here. 

At lunch I was introduced to the Stojanovski family, Ljubinka the grandma and Alexander the grandpa and Alexnder the grandson. Ljubinka’s son and daughter lives overseas. Alexander is a retired truck driver and Ljubinka is a former bookkeeper. Together I experienced a fantatsic Macedonian family lunch and also had great conversations together.  I had a fantastic time.  To top it off I was invited to stay the night with them! 

After dropping off the stuff at the house Jared, Andrea and me headed to town to a local pub to have a drink and met with some of their friends. We had a fantatsic time. We ended the day at the Stojnovski’s home to celebrate Jared’s birthday and a delicious apple pie baked by Andrea and some sing song with the Ukele and guitar. 

Today couldn’t have been better and I experienced what we cycle tourers seek most on our journies. Warm hospitalities, kindness, friendliness and most of all connections with fellow humans. 

Lions Project : RM 82.48

Dark skies but fantastic vista all round.
Smiles all round
Can almost touch the clouds
Views like these keeps me going
Border crossing. Soon I will be in Macedonia.
Fantastic family luncheon with Jared, Andrea and thr Stojanivskis
A huge plate of salad to start
The meat platter was very very delicious.
The garage that my trusty would sleep tonight.
The beuatiful anf lush home of the Stojanovskis
Grapes everywhere
More grapes
A very bountiful apple tree in the garden
Apples

Balkans 2016 – Day 17 : Gotse Delchev to Bansko, Bulgaria

Today I woke up to very grey skies and some rain. Should I ride or wait it out. I really prefer to ride out to instead of waiting. After the usual packing I headed out towards Bansko. Fortunately I found a host via Couchsurfing at Bnsko so I don’t have to worry about camping in the rain. The rain started as a drizzle and later got heavier. So the first half of the ride although scenic was not very fun. The route was mostly along the Mesta River so winding roads and not too tough.

At some point I stopped to take shelter to wait it out a bit. Once the rain subsided somewhat I continued and tried to find the next town to take a break and possibly lunch. It will also be a great opportunity to warm up and wait out the rain as well. I finally came across a town called Mesta which must have something to do with the river of the same name.

Anyway, went into the first restaurant and had coffee and lunch and waited the rain out. After about an hour or so the rain stopped and I continued towards Bansko.

The area around Bansko seems dry and I later found out that there was little rain today. Managed to meet up with the host Fiona easily at a predetermined location and she brought me to her home.

Fiona and her husband is British and have been living in Bansko for around 3 years. They have around 7 cats and they are property managers in Bansko. They also do dog and cat rescue work here in Bansko.  There are quite a number of British expats in Bansko , as it is a popular holiday resort town for many Brits some chose to buy a place here to stay or as a holiday home.

We had a fantastic home cooked dinner and some local Bulgarian wine and topping up with selection of cheese and home made Chutneys made by Fiona.

Finally it was time for bed, tomorrow I will ride to Blagoevgrad to stay the night before crossing the Macedonian border the next day.

Lions Project : RM 72.33