Sagiada beach (Greece) to Borsh (Albania)
A short 7km stint took us into the hills to the border, which seemed in the middle of nowhere. If it wasn’t for the flags flapping around, we would have assumed the border control office was just an abandoned building. Unexpectedly, we really did feel like we were in a new country. The temperature had plummeted and the vegetation in the hills had become brown and scrubby. The colourful orange orchards of Greece were behind us and there weren’t many people or signs of life around for miles. Once out of the hills, we cycled through arable flat land through small villages; it felt a lot less developed here and it was evidence that Albania is one of the poorer European countries.
Big hills soon bubbled out of the ground, and the descents provided some glorious views and switchbacks galore. Lindsay lost her marbles in a story of mental strain and exhaustion, but we soon found a guesthouse and, despite the lack of heating, the old lady was extremely sweet and gave Lindsay a hug.
Strava upload failed so no map for this one, but around 52 miles
Borsh to Orikum
Our breath was visible inside the room when we woke; we were already conditioned to the outdoor temperature. Luckily, the undulating hills comprised some fairly leg-warming gradients.
When we stopped in Himare right down by the sea, we could see more aspects of Albanian life reminiscent of Asia: grocery shops were stocked like a garage sale – who knows what you’ll find; the cafes were full of men we guessed without jobs, and groups of kids just wandered around…a favourite pastime in our experience being to set off firecrackers, which scared the hell out of Lindsay all too often!
We took a coffee break and sat on a stone wall looking up at the mountain – the top shrouded in cloud. Here we could trace the road cut into the mountain, and counted the number of switchbacks. Before us was Llogara Pass at 1000m. It was a grind, indeed, but each 100m was closer and once on the other side and out of the fog, we had a magnificent descent through dark green forest and then views overlooking the Albania Riviera.
The only downside (besides the downhill) was the amount of rubbish we saw…
Orikum to Durres Bay
The howl of the wind awoke us but we couldn’t miss an opportunity for a potential tailwind. We knew this day would finally arrive.
We saw an Albanian tradition, a teddy bear hung by a noose around its neck from a building – a superstition to avert evil spirits from entering the new home and to stop envy from those who may covet your good fortune.
We had got away from most of the rain and joined a nice fast highway – with only the drivers to battle with. Albanians have only been allowed to own their own cars for the past 30 years or so since dictatorial silliness ended.
Along the highway, the sky blackened, so we dived into the shelter of a petrol station for a coffee until the worst had passed.
Later in the afternoon, the wind continued to push us along so we couldn’t resist letting it. We carried on, all the while getting wetter. We were drenched, all of our wet weather gear tested to the limit and suffering in the rain; the seal skin socks had reached saturation and our fingers and toes were starting to get cold. Ok, now we must stop. Only, at this point, we were on the wrong side of the train line and had missed our turning to get across. There wasn’t one ounce of me that wanted to turn around and face the wind that had pushed us this far. The pedals continued to turn and we dived off the highway onto a very quiet road. We tried a couple of the hotel doors, but they were closed; they had closed up for the winter. We tried a third with a lovely garden, Christmas decorations in the window. I watched in agony as Will approached the door – would it be open or closed? The bitter wind was doing a good job of wicking away any warmth and trying to push over the bikes. Thankfully, the door opened and inside he went for what seemed like too long; maybe they said they were closed and were giving him directions to another hotel in the previous town…
He popped out and declared: Don’t worry, I’ll put this on my credit card. We had a lovely warm dry hotel room – which wasn’t actually expensive, only for Albania – in a cosy pub which served us food and wine while we watched the lightning in the sky and wild waves of the sea.
Durres Bay to Shkoder
After the excitement of yesterday, today was calm and the sky was blue. We cycled through farmland then industrial estates and met a group of 4 cycle tourists on their way to Greece. It must have been strange for the locals to see 6 cycle tourists huddled on a bridge.
Sadly, rubbish littered the highway and flooded the rivers; even the trees were decorated with plastic bags that had become tangled in their branches. What did amuse us, however, were the number of turkey herders. We have become quite good at calling out to the turkeys as they jolt their way around the fields, who often stop, throw up their necks and call back to us in response. But today we cycled past fields, each containing a man with a long stick standing behind groups of turkeys. I don’t know whether the farmer believed he had control over his herd, but I don’t think the turkeys even noticed him there. Maybe they were the security personnel…it was getting close to Christmas after all.
When we performed our ‘turkey call’ and all the turkeys sung out in unison, the farmer looked on to us dumbfounded. Thank god we had bicycles, we could cycle away quickly and he would never see us again. Plus, tomorrow we would be leaving Albania to our next country, Montenegro.
Shkoder (Albania) to Podgorica (Montenegro)
A cloudy and drizzly start, we headed for the border to our next country – Montenegro. We cycled past Lake Skadar but couldn’t see a thing through the cloud.
The border was next to the lake further on, and we sailed through, the road winding around wetland areas, the weather turning slightly better – but not by much.
Soon the road flattened and straightened out as we pedalled towards the capital. The hills had gone and we sped along the flat road, with a mix of houses along the side, some with huge gardens. The houses weren’t particularly fancy, and it didn’t give an impression of a wealthy area, it was still more like parts of Asia. However, one gentleman looked slightly out of place, making some good progress mowing his enormous lawn with a gated perimeter; he had a bright red Ferrari parked in the middle of his acre plot to match his bright red face.
We had a super apartment for a couple of nights as it was time for a rest day. Podgorica is a strange capital city, but definitely wealthier than its neighbour, Albania. Things were smarter, cleaner, more orderly, more European, and among the fancy whiskeys, we went pikey and chose a cheap bottle of red – at least it didn’t come in a plastic bottle or in a box.
Podgorica to Tivat
The rain fell heavily outside as we had breakfast and packed our bags. We stepped outside, and it decided that it just wasn’t heavy enough. So the clouds tried harder. We didn’t feel like camping was a fun option in this weather, so we headed west for the coast where there would be a better chance of finding a place with a roof.
In the middle of nowhere, we did our good deed of the day and saved a dog that had become trapped between the cliff and some wire. He was very jolly and ran straight into the road – luckily nothing was coming.
We patted ourselves on the back for our decision as we slowly got very damp. Nothing even seemed waterproof today. The road climbed to around 900 metres and even that did little to warm us up, with strong gusty winds blowing us off our bikes, the cloud was so dense we could hardly see where we were going and it was only until a few metres in front of us we could see car lights disappear into the fog.
We reached the top and were looking forward to getting down and out of this thick fog. Road construction, however, posed a problem. A truck was parked across the road, dangerously so as it was completely invisible hidden in the cloud unless you got really close; a couple of cars had to slam on the brakes. It felt mysterious as we couldn’t see what was going on and couldn’t understand the builder who was flailing his arms around. There were no signs warning that the road was closed, but closed it was. Cars had to turn around and head back down the mountain.
We didn’t like the thought of cycling back down the hill we had just spent 3 hours cycling up.
After a bit of pestering, the workmen decided to let us through. We then continued slowly into the fog, having no idea what was before us – with no signs, we took a wrong turn down a mudslide and stopped to realise we then had to push the bicycle beasts back up the slippery slope. Now back on the ‘right’ road, which was completely dug up, we negotiated muddy potholes, big diggers and hesitantly pushed ourselves through an eerie tunnel that was funnelling the wind and howling at us. Though it had felt like quite an adventure, we were very much hoping the coast of Croatia would be kinder…and visible.