European no man's land - Trip to Albania

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by ADVRadu, Oct 9, 2012.

  1. ADVRadu

    ADVRadu Adventurer

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    First of all - Why "no man's land"? Because that was the impression Albania left us, since entering the country. Impression that changed radically as we started to discover people and places. I at least know that I had not many expectations, but still, I think I had an open heart. I went to discover, to see, to admire. And although the initial plan was to just cross Albania towards Montenegro, we ended up spending our entire holiday in the beautiful Albanian lands.

    But let's start with the beginning ... Friday, August 12, 2011, Sibiu, Romania

    Helloween are singing in the Grand Square and I am struggling to shove a bunch of shirts, boxer shorts and socks in a side bag. I'm angry as time goes by and I miss the concerts, but a fresh weissbier from the refrigerator and the thought of the trip to come calms me. Finally, the bags are ready, I get out in the yard and mount the on the Vroom-vroom. The "one beer" becomes about four beers ... and I go out in the square to continue with the good mood. I miss the Helloween concert, but at least I make it to Tarja's. Finally I gather a group of former and current colleagues, we share all shorts of memories and experiences, and we get "a little bit" drunk.


    The next day, with great difficulty we pull out around noon.

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    We meet my coworker Marius and his wife, in order to start the trip "softly": a biker meeting about 150km away.


    We get there in the afternoon and enjoy the fun until late in the night:
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    It is here we discover that we have a problem - a broken sleeping mat. So we decide to spend two days on our next sleeping place to wait for a new mat. That is even better - since next place is one of my favorites - Bazias. It is the place where the Danube enters Romania. It is a place where the water is really wide, really calm, not a lot of currents, you can swim without any problems, and you get an amazing view of the sunset.

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    Almost forgot to mention - the bike is our trusty '99 SV650S :evil

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    After receiving the mat we start early in the morning towards Macedonia. We follow the narrow winding road near the border with Serbia, we pass through semi-deserted villages, where the few people we see are looking at as as if we were riding an UFO. We arrive at the border where we face a very surprised customs officer: "Where are you going?" "Albania and maybe further" "Albania?!? Why?" "Well we don't know yet, but we hope to find out!" "OK, have a good trip" "Thank you!"

    And we are off riding through Serbia. The road is good, almost empty, the sun is up, and it is not too hot, not too cold. Just perfect for riding. Everything in green around us. The sky is an intense blue. I listen to the beautiful rumble of the V-twin engine and to good ol' Johnny Cash. A small tear is going down from my right eye - but it's because of happiness - a bit of freedom at last!

    As we were in Serbia before and this time we were looking for something else, we just took the shortest way to Macedonia. Another quick border control and we are riding on Macedonian roads. Landscape is different here, green fields have been replaced by arid mountains. And it is quite hot:

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    We arrive in Strumica at sundown. This is the last pic we have taken before getting dark. In Strumica we find a cheap and nice hotel (altough I think this was the most expensive accomodation during this trip - around 30 euro) and we sleep for the night. Next day we will visit the waterfalls and head for Ohrid.
    #1
  2. Dickyb

    Dickyb Bewildered Adventurer

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    Looking forward to this:freaky

    Cheers,

    Dickyb
    #2
  3. GB

    GB . Administrator

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    Let's go :thumb

    :lurk
    #3
  4. Comrade Art

    Comrade Art Working stiff

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    Foarte frumos. Keep posting :thumb
    #4
  5. ADVRadu

    ADVRadu Adventurer

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    So let's go ahead with Macedonia then :nod
    First of all, it's hot and dry. From our point of view, really hot. Over 40 degrees Celsius. But nevertheless, almost all the fields are being used for agriculture. The Macedonians have definitely not forgotten how to grow real fruits and vegetables. Even in supermarkets you can find ones that are really really tasty, not like the plastic-tasting ones usually found in our supermarkets. You won't find any garlic imported from China or anything like that here. Respect!
    In the morning we head for the waterfalls.

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    They are not really spectacular, I have to admit, but they are still beautiful, the place is quiet, there are almost no tourists, and, most important, it is quite cool, compared to the heat we face on the road. After a bit of relaxing here, we get out in the sun and head for the other side of Macedonia, Ohrid lake.
    We pass by many churches:
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    At some point we encounter a very interesting gorge on the road near Demir Kapija. We enter a tunnel which opens up into the narrow gorge. After the valley, there's, guess what, another tunnel. And the rocks are, I think, about 200m high, and the valley is less than 50m wide. You have the illusion that the mountain is literally falling on you head. You can see the location on google maps here:

    http://goo.gl/maps/yRizf

    Too bad the locals (or the tourists, I don't know) have transformed the place under and around the bridge into a vast public toilet. So you have to make a hard slalom through piles of crap if you want to hike through the gorge. Disappointing, because the natural beauty is really impressive.

    The sun is setting as we are closing on Ohrid and I think I get the idea how the Macedonian flag was conceived - or something close to that...

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    Finally we arrive in the city. Seems to be a quite touristic destination. Many, many people on the small streets of the old city. And at one traffic light, there is this old guy on a bicycle who comes to us and asks us, in perfect English, "Do you need a place to stay for the night?" "Well, yeah, sure we do" "Well then follow me!" So there we go, we follow the push-bike on the motorcycle. The old guy seems to be going as fast as he can - but luckily his house is quite close. Lucky for us too, because it is just starting to rain.
    The room is really modest and there is a shared bathroom, but we really don't need much, so we take it for something like 20E.
    After a quick shower we go out in the old city and drink a couple of well deserved beers. Honorable mention, I think the beer we drank in Macedonia was the best in this whole trip. Skopsko is the name, I highly recommend it!
    After a short but good night sleep we wake up early next morning, with the sun in the window. We have a chat with our host about the city, a bit of history and recommendations, we pack up, say goodbye and we are on our way again. Of course, not before viewing a couple of the sights in the city:

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    And we are finally on our way towards the (for us, at least) unknown:

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    So long Macedonia, Albania here we come!
    #5
  6. Vlad.tm.ro

    Vlad.tm.ro n00b

    Joined:
    Sep 23, 2012
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    Bucharest, Romania
    Subscribed ! Drum bun !!

    Eu am fost akum 3 ani, pe ruta Timisoara-Atena, Pireu. Drumul de la Tirana catre Macedonia este wow !! Trece printr un oras care incepe cu B... Nu mai stiu cum se numeste.... View uri excelente, pamantul este rosu, zici ca esti in alta lume.

    Have fun.

    Vlad


    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk HD
    #6
  7. Dickyb

    Dickyb Bewildered Adventurer

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    And then what happened?:huh:huh:huh

    Cheers,

    Dickyb
    #7
  8. ADVRadu

    ADVRadu Adventurer

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    The rest will be happening pretty soon, I hope. At the moment I am really stuck with a lot of work, so I don't really have the time to finish the story now. I apologise for this, but don' worry, I will post it soon enough.
    #8
  9. ADVRadu

    ADVRadu Adventurer

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    Here goes nothing - the follow-up:

    After circling a bit around Lake Ohrid we arrive at one lone border crossing. There is only us and the guards. It seems not so many people are trying to get through here. Oh well, if this is where the road takes us...
    We pass quickly and easily, just using our ID cards. We are being wished a warm "Welcome to Albania!" and we move on.

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    The road is different - narrower and bumpier than in Macedonia. And there's almost nobody on it. After passing through a couple of villages and seeing the looks on peoples' faces we decide to put away the camera. They don't really look friendly and we are trying to keep a low profile. Also, you don't see any women on the streets here - probably in these parts they are following the Muslim ideas more fanatically. Anyway, we don't want any trouble.

    The road just keeps getting narrower and narrower. The landscape is also different. From the fields of Macedonia, filled with growing plants and well fed animals, here we only see unused terrain, trash thrown all over the place and blown by the wind, and skinny cows and donkeys scavenging for food. And, yes, there is one more thing. There seem to be only two means of transportation: donkey-based and Mercedes-based. This naturally means that there is a very big difference between social classes - and there does not seem to be a middle class.

    Out of nowhere, literally, we find a restaurant. A mafia style one. It's like an oasis. There is nothing around, just the same landscape as before. The place is surrounded by tall trees and a marble fence. The grass in the yard is green and as nice as the one on a football field. There are rose shrubs all over the place, and the tables are set in between. A few Mercedes cars parked in front. Oh well - this should be a good place to get some food after not eating anything for almost a day. So we walk in and we are wondering: how's it going to be? Will they feed us, knock us out, rip us off? Who knows? So we sit at a table and we see some surprised looks on the waiters' faces - yet, here nobody looks unfriendly. It is really OK. A boy who looks just as intimidated as us comes and explains which food is what on the menu, and then takes our order. Not much later, we find ourselves in front of a very nice nice meal: veal, pork and lamb meat, zaziki sauce, fresh bread and salad. And we though wow, this is going to be expensive - not to mention that we did not get the chance to exchange any money yet...But what the hell, let's enjoy it. It was like nothing before - really, really good. And in the end we were allowed to pay in euro an get the change in Albanian leke. Guess what - it was really cheap too - about 10 euro for the whole thing.

    So we are on our way again with full bellies and a really good first impression on Albanian cuisine. Again, the road is more and more narrower, and more winding too.
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    After some riding, close to sunset, we arrive in the mountains. The road becomes bumpy again, as the sun is descending behind the crest in front of us. We only ope that the road is going to get better at some point - no more plans of getting to the sea this day, we are still 200km away...
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    The road follows every detail of the terrain. There is no traffic. We really like it - yet it's bumpy and we have to ride rather slowly. There is no village on the road. Here and there we see signs that point to villages, but they are all at least a couple of kilometers from the road.

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    More and more it looks to us that we will be sleeping with Albanian bears tonight...
    And yet again out of nowhere, in the middle of the forest, we find a small restaurant with a guesthouse. There are young people eating and drinking at the tables outside, so it must be good too. And since our first experience of Albanian cuisine and hospitality was so good, we decided to stop there for the evening.

    We are received by a man who looks really happy to see us. After trying to communicate a bit, I find out he is actually Vlach: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vlachs He doesn't really speak Romanian, but somehow we can understand each other. I don't know if this was because of my enthusiasm or because of the Korca beer we so eagerly drank,but after a while we were like two friends or cousins who just met after being apart for a couple of years. At some point he also told me that there are actually many Vlachs in Albania: in Gjirokaster, in Parmet, in Vlora...

    And this was not the only interesting person we met. There was also an Italian couple who were traveling in their 4x4. After Morocco and some more north-African countries they were driving through the "exotic" southern Europe too. I am really ashamed that I got a bit drunk and I forgot to ask for contact details. The next morning when we woke up they were already gone. Pity...

    We also enjoyed the company of Goje and his friends, from Korca. They spoke really good English, and although they seemed to be rich kids (they had a couple of rather new Mercedes cars) they were not at all like the spoiled brats we see at home and in western countries. Goje also played the guitar really well and we had a very fun evening. They also did not let us pay for the dinner and we really enjoyed many Albanian specialties. Here you can see the Albanian kids, the Italians, and my Lore. I am behind the camera...

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    Next I will tell you how did we finally reach the sea and about some of the things we've done there.

    Stay tuned!
    #9
  10. Loutre

    Loutre Cosmopolitan Adv

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    :lurk I surely will stay tuned :eek:)
    #10
  11. asilindean

    asilindean Adrian

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    Timisoara, Romania
    Keep it coming :)
    #11
  12. ADVRadu

    ADVRadu Adventurer

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    Timisoara, Romania
    Indeed, I guess it is time to finish up this little ride report and move on to the next, SV adventures, Caucasus, 2012. But until then...

    I am rather ashamed that, by following the main road, we missed the city center of Korca and also the famous Brewery. However, the beer we did not miss. In my opinion it was the best beer in Albania. And the second best beer in this trip, after the Makedonian Skopsko.

    Next morning we started late and lazy. We rode slowly and relaxed over and around the mountains again.

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    We pass by trees, small lakes, herds of sheep, logging activities, bunkers and almost derelict small villages.

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    And at some point we see these guys:

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    Eva an Attila are Hungarians, but they are from Romania. We are happy to share a few moments and words with them in our native language, and then we all go our way. They are coming from Montenegro and the sea, and that's just where we are headed.

    Road becomes worse, but landscape is just more and more beautiful. The heat is getting us down a bit (it's over 40deg C), but we're still hanging on.
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    It was here, by the side of a small stream, where we stopped to refresh, where we met this Polish couple who were heading to the sea too.

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    We rode with them for a while, until they decided that my SV was too slow on the bumpy road compared to their Transalp, so I let them go faster. And since we were behind anyway, we thought that it was a pitty to pass by such a beautiful river in such heat and not take advantage and go for a bath:

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    And here is the bathing spot:

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    We like to respect our privacy, so no XXX-rated pics here :lol3

    But here's a little guy that we met on our way to the water:
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    This seems to be "it" for today. Work is calling me again. I hope next time I get the chance to share more.

    Cheers!
    #12
  13. AlpineGuerrilla

    AlpineGuerrilla Been here awhile

    Joined:
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    413
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    Basel, Switzerland
    Very nice trip! Looking forward to the rest. Cheers from another SV rider. :freaky
    #13
  14. roadruns

    roadruns n00b

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    Great reading.
    #14
  15. Rutabaga

    Rutabaga Been here awhile

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    Southeast Lower Carolina
    I look forward to the next installment. Very nice.
    #15
  16. TonsOfFun

    TonsOfFun Been here awhile

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    Western Oregon
    Good start...... we need more.
    #16
  17. ADVRadu

    ADVRadu Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2012
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    60
    Location:
    Timisoara, Romania
    Again, apologies to everybody reading this for the very very long time I am taking between posts. A lot of stuff happened to me in the meantime. I got the bike running really well during this winter after the Caucasus trip (I will tell the story about that one soon, I hope), then after a few K kms of riding again problems...the I changed my job, the city and country of residence. Bad part is that my bike is stuck back home with problems and with nobody to give it a little TLC...
    Pretty disappointed so far, but at the least the money I make should allow me to afford a long ride in the quite near future.

    Anyway...enough with my frustrations, on with the little Albanian story and then hopefully with bigger and better things.

    It seems in Albania some men really respect their wives:
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    And some cows ran out of water to bathe in:

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    At some point we are reaching a main road and things get very easy now. It's basically just as good as any good road in Romania.

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    At some point we pass by a police car and a policeman holding up something that appeared to be a radar gun. So what the heck...I was doing about 120kmh and the sign said 40kmh...oh well. Lucky for us, he did not stop us. Later I heard that they generally do not stop bikers. They know they can't catch them if they decide to make a run for it, so they don't even bother. You have to do something really really bad, case in which they might set up a roadblock and eventually catch your sorry ass.

    Not much time to think about possible complications though, as we have to leave the main road and cross some small mountains again before we reach the sea. From wide and straight, the road is becoming again narrow and curvy:
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    So we stop for a little brake to relax our asses a bit.

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    Passing over the top of the hill holds a little reward for us:

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    And finally, in a pitch black night (seems these guys have not really heard of street lighting) we reach our (al)most southern point of this journey, Ksamil. Apparently there were many nice guest houses around (as we found out the next day) but with almost no light around we did not see any, so in the end we crashed at a dirty camping near town. This was probably the worst we've experience so far (bushcamping is luxury compared to this, me thinks) and it also had a boom-boom disco right near to it. Well anyway, we were tired enough to be able to sleep while overhearing the Albanian manele. Good part is at some point they stopped and we could only hear the waves...sweet dreams now...

    Next morning, pleasant surprise: the spot was not actually all that bad, nice sea view, nice sandy beach nearby and Kerkira island on the horizon.

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    After a well deserved bath, we packed our things, headed into town, found a nice guesthouse and went to find some food. And we found something, simple, yet very very tasty:
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    We have to admit, the food in Albania is definitely one of the best we ever had the chance of tasting. They have a really special way of making these lamb meats melt in your mouth and taste so so good. I suppose it's similar to greek food, but since I have yet to go to Greece, this is all I know. anyway, I totally recommend it. And Korca beer is really good too, unlike the goat-piss Jelen from Serbia or crappy Niksic from Montenegro (IMHO!).

    And, according to Lore, the coffee is brilliant! Personally, I have no phreakin' idea, since I don't drink any coffee, but since she's a really devoted coffee drinker, I suppose she knows what she's talking about.

    And from the bar we can see the beach...and this guy, riding the waves like a bo$$:

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    Later we go to Butrint. Some nice old castle, but the entry is overpriced for tourists. We feel free to say no.

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    And here's the lake as well:

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    And after this we found the most beautiful and interesting beach of this trip. Bunkers turned upside down by the waves, nice sand and pebbles, warm and crystal clear water, olive trees, cold streams flowing down the mountain all the way to the sea. And almost NO people. Great place to spend an evening. And the next days, because, I admit it...we got lazy and spent another 3 days in this area before starting the journey back home.

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    Next day we even saw one of this guys:
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    Did not know they were still doing that with the poor bears.

    But....more form the beach:
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    And finally it was time to go back home....so here's some pics from the road:
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    Astounding road up the mountain:
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    Riding on it:
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    And some views from above:
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    And finally back in Romania, by the Danube (I know it's not a relevant pic...but we did not take that many on the way back, the road was quite crowded, the winds were very strong and we were getting a bit tired).

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    Overall - very nice, and especially Albania, a (very!) pleasant surprise.
    Hope you enjoyed this, and are looking forward to my next report.

    Cheers!
    #17
  18. achesley

    achesley Old Motorcyclist

    Joined:
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    Location:
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    :clap:clap:clap Enjoying your report and pictures. Love learning about the countries, people and customs. Thanks very much for the time and work to share. :clap:clap:clap
    #18