The last 7 days were incredible. As soon as I entered Albanian territory I sensed a warm, welcoming and super friendly culture. People never stop waving at me throughout my ride across the country. Kids were running after me, everyone smiled and it felt like I was returning home from a championship. I was randomly invited for lunch while climbing up a hill, people offered me fruits and nuts as well as water along the way. Nevertheless, it seems like Albania is around 30 years behind. The roads are in bad condition, many potholes, many unfinished houses, people on wagons pulled by horses and donkeys, you rarely see a tractor.
It also seemed like many clothes donated to charitable organizations are worn down there. I saw a guy walking around in sweaters saying, “Squash Club Uster”, a local sports club of the region I live in Switzerland. People in Albania don’t have a lot. Everything, except gasoline, is very cheap. However, a surprisingly large number of people drive a Mercedes. Seems to be a highly valued status symbol in Albania. You can also find a car washing place every 50 metres in a town and people spend hours cleaning their cars. Until now, Albania was my favourite country to cycle through.
There are just like at the Tour de France longer and shorter stages. Let me take you through my longest day so far. I camped in Kashar, a town close to Tirana, the capital of Albania. I got up at 6:00am, and with a small breakfast, it takes me around one hour to get ready for the ride. I still didn’t know how far I wanted to ride on that day but generally getting up early is advisable because then you can invest more hours of the day to get kilometres done. I left the campsite at 7:15am and headed towards lake Ohrid, which is situated in the western part of Albania. At 10:00am I was already dying from the heat. My average speed was 12km per hour and I just didn’t feel like cycling at all. I had already changed my music a couple of times and podcasts or audiobooks didn’t help much either. While climbing up a street towards a mountain pass, a guy shouted at me waving me over. Not motivated at all I was an easy target to catch. He was fluent in English and just out of nowhere invited me for lunch.
I asked him about the road, which I was about to take and he shook his head and told me: “This is the old highway, it is long, steep and you are going to suffer with the current heat. It is better for you to take the new highway. There will be a tunnel at the beginning but this shouldn’t be a problem since local people drive carefully due to the installed security cameras and the police won’t care.” It was an easy decision for me, having a highway that only runs downward, or 600 meters of altitude to climb at lunchtime. Heading towards the tunnel a guy in an orange vest started shouting at me, STOP! I went over and told him with the innocence of a tourist that my GPS was leading me this way, pointing at the tunnel. He shook his head and told me that I needed to talk to his boss. It was clear from the beginning that the boss had no intention to talk with me whatsoever. He just pointed to a pickup truck indicating that I should load my bike on it. Super cool, I thought. I was about to be escorted through the tunnel.
They dropped me off right after the 3km tunnel and it seemed like I was the only one on the highway. Highways are not used as much as in Germany or Switzerland, and the hard shoulder is fairly extensive. I felt safer than on the roads before, where cars and trucks passed me with 100km/h with no hard shoulder at all. These two events pushed my feelings again and I was subsequently having the time of my life on the bike. A friend also messaged me that day saying that the Tour de France was doing Alpe D’Huez on the same day. For non-cycling fans: This is one of the toughest parts of the tour. So, I thought why not having my own Alpe D’Huez here in Albania. I continued to cycle for hours and hours, climbing meter after meter. I finally arrived in Pogradec at 7:30pm.
With a pedalling time of 9 hours and 15 minutes, 145 kilometres and a little more than 2000 climbed meters that was clearly the longest and toughest day I had so far but it felt great.
You might think now why am I doing this to me. I guess that’s just what I love to do, challenging myself every day, see where my limits are and push it even more when my mind thinks I can’t anymore. If you believe now that I am rushing through a country, please don’t forget that I am on a 50kg bicycle with an average speed of 15km/h. In my opinion rushing looks quite differently 😉
People I met along the road
Gioia and her Husband are walking from Milan to Athens.
Hampe and Andrej, two great guys from Aargau Switzerland spend their summer vacation every year together traveling around in their customized off-road Nissan seeking for adventurous roads and hidden places. The moment they passed me I started shouting and waving at them. They saw it and pulled over. Right away they offered me some cold water from their fridge and we talked for about 20 minutes.
Albania – Greece border crossing
My GPS suggested me a route, off the main roads, passing through small villages towards the Greece border. I asked three people before I took off if that road would be good. They all nodded and told me that I would be fine. I guess they have never been on that road, there wasn’t even a real road and I had to push my bike over the mountain to the other side, through a lot of sand and rocks. I was literally in the middle of nowhere, crossing a border with no border patrol, not even on an actual street. It sometimes feels like I am hiding something haha. Soon after passing the first town after the border the Police pulled me over and checked my identity. First, they didn’t believe that I came all the way from Switzerland but I think after I showed them my tan line, they realized that I had been on the road for some time (34 days today).
Wild camping Greece
In the northern part of Greece there are no campsites at all and barely any tourists. Either I sleep in the front yards of people’s houses or I find some hidden spot to pitch my tent. I decided for the second option. I found a nice and quiet spot close to a river. Nevertheless, I have to admit that just camping somewhere by yourself, all alone in a foreign country feels kind of weird sometimes. Every crack and noise could be something. Yes, there are those times where I wish someone would be with me.
Tomorrow I will head towards the Island of Istiea and I plan to arrive in Athens by Friday. Today is my day off and I will hike up the beautiful mountains of Meteora for to enjoy the sunset. Once I will arrive in Athens I will need to disassemble my bike and to put everything in a cardboard box to fly it over to Cairo. I am not very excited about this, but since there is no ferry running anymore, it’s the only way to get to Cairo.