16 days far from home have passed and I have to admit there were some moments during this second week I had this feeling that takes less than a second, and can only be described here as a thought: “oh, I am having such a lovely time – I don’t want this to finish”. Yes, kind of the feeling you have when you first lick an amazing ice-cream. Well, ice-cream gets melt if you don’t enjoy it fast enough and, same way, days fly by and I can’t say I am enjoying my surroundings that much. I still haven’t managed to put in order my internet life or organise my next few days. For example, this S in A.W.E.S.O.M.E is not that right so far, as I have done no couchSurfing yet. You see, you can’t send a host request one day before you get to that place, and I kind of plan my “tomorrow”…well, today. HOWEVER, I am fused and propulsed by the love I get through this screen and through all the messages I receive and the support. I am grateful for that – I ride my bike and I smile or even burst into laughter as realising-what’s-happening fireworks boom into my head 😀
This second week had been full of surprises. Full of unexpected occurrences that actually turned out really well.
On Thursday the 5th I left Gjirokaster around 12:00 to head off to Ardenica (my middle-stop for the night, cause going straight to Tirane was such a long distance). I had been riding for 2 hours in dark, but before I go I had to finish my 1st blog post and say goodbye to all little friends in the school I had visited.
The funny thing of that day was the following:
While being in Gjirokaster I had asked a good man to communicate with the Holy Orthodox Monastery of the Nativity of Theotokos in Ardenica in order to be hosted there for one night. Indeed the phone-call took place in front of my eyes, or better, in front of my ears, as I listened to the Albanian conversation and stated that I would be at the Monastery at 6 o’clock in the afternoon… So far so good. I finally arrived at the monastery at 8 o’clock, after one hour searching for it in dark roads, fields, and angry (but leashed) dogs. Also, after climbing for some time (cause as you know, monasteries are in the top of mountains). When I finally made it to the door and knocked, the monk there seemed to have absolutely no idea about my coming (!!). For some seconds I thought I was in a wrong monastery, but hey how many monasteries can be around here?! Thank God the monk did know Greek and despite telling me that the monastery does not host, he welcomed me in. There are two monks in the monastery, Fr. S and Fr. A, and I am grateful to them. They cooked sth for me, and next morning they show me around. Funny enough, I happened to have many common friends in Greece with one of the monks as he had spent some time in a Greek monastery.
Next morning, Friday the 6th, I headed to Tirane. That journey was awkward. I had a pain in both knees that intense that I couldn’t stand up on the pedals… But, ok, arrived at Tirane, and went straight at the center of the city. I hadn’t found were to pass the night so I headed to a cafe with Wi-Fi and searched for a hostel. I went straight to the first google result (that happened to be 500 meters from where I was) and asked to stay. Apart from the amazing, aesthetically intriguing, and very clean environment of Tirane Backpackers Hostel, it was also very cheap. For 6 euros per night I had a place in the backyard to sleep, I hand-washed my clothes, I had free breakfast and wi-fi access (!!) The coolest, though, was the price-less part of it: I met some really interesting+beautiful people there. V. – The most cheerful Albanian lady that was so kind and helpful. N. – an Australian 21 yo lady who is travelling around Europe (and beyond) for the last 3 years (!) and D. – her British boyfriend who quitted his job and sold his car to travel with her for the past 4 months! Really enjoyed my time with them!
On Sunday the 8th it was my name-day. I celebrated at the Ressurection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral at Tirana. More on my experience there, on another post.
The center of Tirane is really beautiful. A proper european capital city center. Clean, green, with wide streets, well paved and wide pavements, bike lanes everywhere (although I saw not even one cyclist with a helmet!). I can’t say the same for the house numbering, though. I was looking for number 13 on a big avenue – I must have crossed it 6 times and couldn’t find the shop I was looking for…
In general, throughout Albania, the main streets I was riding at were of really good quality. Albanian people were very friendly and drivers were pretty much respectful of the cyclists (the same doesn’t hold true for Montenegrin drivers). I found Albanian people that could speak Greek everywhere. At the middle of nowhere, at the hostel, at the kebab shop. And also many Albanians who love Greece and Greeks. Overall I had very nice time in Albania. What captured my attention: sooo many places to clean your car (Lavazh.) So many old Mercedes cars, and the most striking: Police Street Checks e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e!!
Words I’ ve learned: Falimenderit schume: thanks a lot, mirëmëngjesi: good morning, gëzuar: cheers, mëshirë Zot: Lord have mercy, Shitet: for Sale, Lavazh: Car wash, Kujdes: Caution, Kisha: church
I left Tirana Backpackers Hostel on Monday the 9th, 07:30, in order to ride a good 200 km (!) and reach Kotor, Montenegro by afternoon. I had seen there was some climbing at the end of my journey (after Podgorica), so I was tight in putting add-e (my electric kit) to work. I reached Skhodër (90 km from Tirane) only with one battery and I was feeling really good and energetic, despite having slept just 5 hours the previous night. There, I had a one-hour break, recharged (not-fully) my battery, had a coffee (espresso for 30 cents!) and left in order to cover 110 km and reach Kotor. Well… Not exactly like this…
After passing through Podgorica (green and beautiful, but I was like non-existent to drivers), just before some serious climbing I was feeling superb…
I had seen there was some climbing after Podgorica, but… that was sth else! MONTEnegro indeed… Steep and endless upward slopes while the sun… had gone to bed a long time ago! I was climbing in dark for 2 hours and started feeling really tired. My legs were ok (for some reason), however the rest of the body seemed unwilling to progress. I was checking at the GPS – I needed sth like 14 km to reach Kotor – zoomed-out the map – at the one side of the screen I could see my location and at the other side where Kotor is. I was climbing and climbing – using my last battery, but this mountain was so steep. My spot on the GPS was not moving at all. I was feeling like “ok – after this turn it ‘s gonna be flat – it has to be flat”, but I could see that the red lights of the cars passing by me were going upwards and turning again and again. I couldn’t ride at all if add-e was off and the time was 18:00. I said “ok, relax – it’s just 14km – with 7kph (that was my speed) you ‘ll be there in less than 2 hours”. I had my snickers – drunk some coffee – ate some raw sugar I had (in case of emergency) and continued riding just looking down at the white lane (since looking up was heart-breaking). At some point, while I had put all my energy into breathing right and concentrating and thinking that “I am not alone – it’s just one mountain”, I saw a restaurant right at the middle of nowhere. There was nothing for miles now, so I was surprised. I said “ok – if I can’t continue I ‘ll just come here”. But as you saw on the video before I was in lack of water, so instead of just passing by, I went in to fill my bottles.. That was it. At that point I realised how tired I was. I sat down and just asked for some food and water. Nobody understood English but body language was understood by everybody. 😀
Put dry clothes on and googled where Kotor is….. Not 14 km far from my location, but 49!!! Stupid gps! I realised it’s impossible to continue, so I just asked to charge my batteries and camp outside the restaurant. I couldn’t eat at all – so I just packed the food, set my tent and went straight to bed. Ah! I should mention here that the “manager” of the restaurant told me the next morning that if I had came 3 minutes later the restaurant would be close!!
Woke up on Tuesday the 10th and headed to Kotor through Budva in order to avoid the mountains (“manager” also suggested that – yes, all through body language – it’s amazing!). Now I am resting like a king, having the best sleep (next-to-hibernation) I could have in an amazing home at Prčanj, next to the old town of Kotor. I am deeply, truly grateful for that to my good friend Ana and her whole family who, despite not being at the house, they let me in – so happy.
Luckiest man in Europe, I think – hehe…
Can’t wait for my next week, as I am heading to Bosnia and Herzegovina 😀