From The Netherlands to Albania and back in the summer of 2017

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by jadvst, Nov 15, 2017.

  1. jadvst

    jadvst Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 19, 2017
    Oddometer:
    28
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Day 9
    From Lake Shkodra Resort, Albania
    To Camping Tirana, Tirana
    108 KM (about 67 miles)


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    In the morning we took it easy and assessed the damage from the time we dropped our bikes the day before. Just some broken plastics and a bent foot-peg, nothing too serious. We had an easy short route to ride towards the next camp site we picked close to Tirana, which is the capital of Albania.
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    We ate some breakfast at the restaurant on the camp site and headed off. One last time through the city of Shkodër and onwards via some bigger paved roads.
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    After a few hours of riding we had lunch at a restaurant alongside our route. It had an unexpected interior.
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    Left and right of the main road there was lots to see.
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    When we approached Tirana we left the main roads and rode the last bit through a little neighbourhood and a short unpaved section to reach the camp site a little north of Tirana.
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    After setting up camp and exploring the surroundings of the camp site we did some shopping, cooked dinner and had some local grape liquor with the owner of the camp site.
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    #21
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  2. jadvst

    jadvst Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 19, 2017
    Oddometer:
    28
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Day 10
    From Camping Tirana, Tirana
    To Camping Tirana, Tirana


    Several chickens were hanging around (and in) our tent, lucky for us they were friendly enough.
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    We started the day with doing necessary chores like the laundry.
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    After our quality time with the chickens and doing our chores we went two-up on my bike to explore Tirana. Tirana is the capitol of Albania and founded in 1614, although the area has actually been continuously populated since the Bronze age. We started off at Bunkart, which is a bunker were through art expositions the history of the communist era of Albania is told.
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    After World War II Albania became a communist country, ruled by Enver Hoxha. Among other things, he reduced illiteracy from 85% to 31%, provided equal rights for women and men, founded the first University of Albania etc. But he is also considered to be a dictator, detaining and/or murdering tens of thousands of people. He was very paranoid and afraid of nuclear warfare, building more than 170.000 bunkers. This was about 1 bunker for every 11 Albanians. The first Bunkart is in the largest bunker of Albania. The bunker has 5 individual floors below the surface, 106 rooms, a big assembly hall and private quarters of important people from the communist party like Enver Hoxha and his wife.
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    During a possible attack, the country could be run from inside the bunker via communication systems. A sophisticated venting system was built to filter out toxic particles.
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    The exhibit was very interesting and made a lasting impression on us.
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    There was a room set up like the living room of an average Albanian family in the 1980's.
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    After a couple hours below ground, it is nice to see the sun again albeit through some bars.
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    After visiting Bunkart, we went to the city center. Somehow, there were no obvious places to park our bike (strangely we did not see any other bikes parked anywhere in the city center). After riding around unsuccessfully, we decided to park the bike in an underground parking garage. But we were denied entrance. We were told that only cars were allowed to park in the garage. Luckily the guards of a shopping mail allowed us to park on the side. We decided to grab a quick lunch in this shopping mail.
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    We asked the lady behind the counter for a good local dish for lunch. It was a sweet, crunchy substance with a lemon on top. It tasted like a big cookie drenched in honey. It filled us up enormously.
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    The shopping mail was located on a boulevard below some nice trees.
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    In the city center is a second Bunkart exposition. It is situated in the bunker connected to one of the old government buildings. We feel that this second Bunkart exposition focusses on the victims of the communist regime, while the first Bunkart exposition provides more of a factual/general overview. The picture below is the entrance (an old bunker dome) showing pictures of victims of the regime.
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    Inside there are numerous rooms with stories of survivors, stories about casualties and background information regarding the secret police. Although we know of these things in a general sense and know of them in historic context, it never ceases to horrify us.

    Aside from the stories a few rooms were left like they were intended. The room below was to enable the government (in this case the ministry of internal affairs) to continue working during an attack.
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    After the second Bunkart we went for a walk around Tirana. Below an artwork called "The Cloud", which is placed in front of The National Gallery of Arts. You can walk through and on it.
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    The daughter of Enver Hoxha co-designed a pyramid like building, which was a museum about the legacy of Enver Hoxha. It was opened in 1988, but closed again after the fall of the communist regime in 1992. The building has been used for a variety of things since, like being a NATO base in 1999 and a broadcasting center for an Albanian TV channel. Currently it is empty and looks poorly maintained.
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    In a small park there are part a real bunker, a piece of the Berlin wall and part of the concrete mineshaft supports from the prison camp at Spaci. Together it is called "The Checkpoint memorial", which commemorates the isolation of Albania during the communist period. It is across the road of the building were Hoxha and other senior members of the communist party had their offices. This part of the city (including the house of Enver Hoxha), was called "The Block" and was only accessible for important communist party members and guarded against the rest of the population.
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    Below a Albanian hero from before communist times: Ismail Qemal Vlora. He enabled Albania's independence from the Ottomans and lead the first independent Albanian government from 1912.
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    Some contemporary city impressions.
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    After our walk we visited the Resurrection Cathedral, which we were told is the third largest Orthodox church in Europe. It was completed in 2012.
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    On the Skanderbeg square one can see the National Historical museum (first photograph below), the statue of Skanderbeg himself on a horse and the oldest still standing buildings in Tirana. Skanderbeg is famous for uniting all Albanian clans to stand up against the Ottomans forces in 1444.
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    The mosque on the photograph below dates from the 18th century and survived the communist period because it was considered to be a cultural monument. The clock tower dates from 1820.
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    A detail of the fresco's on the mosque.
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    I actually thought to have spotted a bike, but it turned out to be a moped.
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    At the end of the day we had a simple burger at a pub.
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    #22
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  3. TheBritAbroad

    TheBritAbroad Just ride it!

    Joined:
    May 11, 2016
    Oddometer:
    334
    Location:
    Portugal, Corfu & London.
    Really nice pics and interesting info. Thanks for sharing this ride, I’m going there myself next springtime so I’m following along with great interest.
    #23
    jadvst likes this.
  4. jadvst

    jadvst Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 19, 2017
    Oddometer:
    28
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Thanks for the kind words, if you're looking for more info/details (like campsites) just shoot me a PM.
    #24
  5. TheBritAbroad

    TheBritAbroad Just ride it!

    Joined:
    May 11, 2016
    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Portugal, Corfu & London.
    Ok, thanks @jadvst. I may well do that a bit nearer the time.
    #25
  6. jadvst

    jadvst Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 19, 2017
    Oddometer:
    28
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Day 11
    From Camping Tirana, Tirana
    To Camping Gate to horizon, Lukovë
    247 KM (about 153 miles)


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    On day 11 we set out to ride alongside the coastline and ride the Llagora pass, but not before being seen off by the chickens on the camp site.
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    After a little unpaved section we rode on paved local roads through the countryside and a few towns and cities heading for the coast.
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    When we reached the coast, the views overlooking the sea were beautiful.
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    Soon we reached Llagora pass, which is said to be one of the most beautiful roads in Albania. The pass flows over the Çika mountains. It did not disappoint, although clouds crept up on us very soon and blocked most views after lunch.
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    We had lunch at a restaurant somewhere near the top of the pass just before the clouds came in.
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    An Italian couple was travelling two-up on a little scooter with a lot of luggage. Amazing.
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    Despite the clouds the roads were dry and fun. A lot of hairpins alternated with fast straight sections.
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    As we got lower, the clouds started lifting (or we road out of the clouds) and we were treated with stunning views of the sea again.
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    South of the Çika mountains is the so-called Albanian Riviera, which is said to be one of the most beautiful and unspoiled stretches of coastline of the Ionian Sea. During the communist era, there was no large-scale development of hotels, large apartment buildings and other tourist development. Along the rest of the Ionic coast this has been common practice since the 70's of the previous century. Unfortunately, almost everywhere we looked commercial buildings were being build at a large scale. I guess it is changing very quickly.

    Most camp sites along this stretch of coast somehow are (only) intended for motor homes or caravans. All stone surfaces and no grass. Luckily we heard about a little camp site on the beach. We had to turn off the main road onto a small seemingly deserted unpaved road down through the trees hoping it would lead us there.
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    While descending and descending down the dirt road, we started to wonder whether the camp site still existed and if it did, whether we had taken the correct road. The sun was starting to set and we did not feel like riding up this road in the dark at all.
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    After a little while longer M. was too weary and I rode on by myself.
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    And off course, 500 meters (about 546 yards) later I found the camp site.
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    It is a very idyllic, secluded place right on the beach. It does not have hot showers or wifi, but the owner does sell cold beers. We pitched our tent, got a couple of beers and watched the last rays of sun turn red as they were disappearing over the horizon.
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    #26
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  7. jadvst

    jadvst Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 19, 2017
    Oddometer:
    28
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Day 12
    From Camping Gate to horizon, Lukovë
    To Camping Gjirokastër, Gjirokastër
    75 KM (about 47 miles)


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    Initially, we planned to stay two nights on this beautiful camp site. But after the first night, we woke early to go and see some sights in the area. But while we were taking our time to head out we spotted some heavy rain clouds over the sea. A quick check of the whether reports made us decide to pack up and move camp sites. The amount and duration of rain that was coming our way would make the unpaved dirt road from and to the camp site difficult to ride, especially the day after when we would be fully loaded again. The new plan: head for the city of Gjirokastër.

    Some photographs before the clouds appeared.
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    When we rode off the skies above us were still blue enough.
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    Everywhere in Albania we encountered locals transporting all sorts of different things using horses or donkeys, sometimes with wagon sometimes like this.
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    Along the way we stopped at "The blue eye", which is a water spring with beautiful clear blue water. Nobody knows how deep it exactly is, some divers have gone down to 50 meters (about 164 feet) and did not see the bottom. We shot a picture from above and some with the GoPro inside the water.
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    Continuing towards Gjirokastër the weather started to catch up with us, but at least is was still dry.
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    At the end of the day we reached Camping Gjirokastër, to the north-east of the city of Gjirokastër. A nice spot with a lot of fellow overlanders. We really enjoyed camping on some proper grass again.
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    After setting up camp we decided to take a walk into town, look around and get something to eat. Off course, we saw the Albanians favourite car driving around Gjirokastër in abundance.
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    The old town of Gjirokastër is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, because it is a very well preserved example of an Ottoman town (from about the year 1400). The fact that it is preserved so well is mainly credited to the fact that people still live in the old town. The city is built against the slope of the surrounding mountains. Gjirokastër is also the birth place of Enver Hoxha.
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    After our walk around town we had a bite to eat, again some really good Albanian food.
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    After dinner we took a taxi to the camp site. The taxi was off course a Mercedes 190D from the 1980's.
    #27
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  8. Blader54

    Blader54 Long timer

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2012
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    1,734
    The presenters from the old BBC "Top Gear" show (Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May) once did a program where they drove exotic supercars around Albania. They made a lot of jokes about horses and wagons and bad roads. From your report, it looks as though the roads have greatly improved. I am wondering if you encountered a language barrier. What did you use with Albanians as a common language? And, were you able to find a bank that would accept your card outside the major cities? Thanks, and thank you for taking the time and effort to make this report! It's very interesting to see this country up close through your eyes!
    #28
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  9. rider1150gsadv

    rider1150gsadv Long timer

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    Ft Likkertail , USA
    Amazing RR! Eastern Europe is so different from the 70's when as a kid I got to Yugoslavia once and Albania was closed off to the outside world...
    #29
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  10. Bonnie & Clyde

    Bonnie & Clyde Wishing I was riding RTW

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2006
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    @jadvst


    Great report. You are lucky to be able to travel with your significant other. As a fellow Transalp owner I love seeing the old Honda's in action. Following along thanks!

    QUESTION

    What tent are you using? Inner floor and bug screen? Fingers crossed for a link on the tent?
    #30
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  11. Teabar

    Teabar Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2012
    Oddometer:
    213
    Location:
    Sutton, England
    Nice RR and really great pics. It's nice to see some blue sky this grim time of year. I was down that way in 2014, although only got as far south as Durmitor and Kotor Bay, Montenegro. Hope to get to Albania in the next couple of years (I have an off road plan all ready to go). Looking forward to the next instalment though looking at your route map it looks like you opted out of the coast road south of Senj to Starigrad /Seline - you missed a fantastic road. Maybe next time :-)
    #31
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  12. bajaburro

    bajaburro Ancient Adventurer

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    Nice report.Why would any country try to nuke Albania?
    #32
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  13. jadvst

    jadvst Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 19, 2017
    Oddometer:
    28
    Location:
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    Still a lot of horses, wagons and bad roads. But roads are continously being paved at a surprisingly fast rate. Before we left we read reports from 2015 about lots of unpaved and bad roads, when rode them in 2017 most of them were perfectly paved with fresh asphalt. I guess in a few years most important roads will be smoothly paved.

    Well, we used English, German, even French once, but mostly our hands and feet. We found that most young people speak at least a little English and in the major cities a lot of people speak English.


    Even in the major cities it wasn't easy, in the first city we tried a lot of ATM's without success, when we ran into a local who knew which bank we should use. After that, the next time we just asked around first. But as it turned out a lot of Albanians also accept Euro's, although they usually give change in the local currency.
    #33
  14. jadvst

    jadvst Adventurer

    Joined:
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    We get a lot of questions about our tent. It is a Nigor Wickiup 4 with a half innertent. There is also one smaller and one bigger model (the 3 and the 6 respectively).

    Without the innertent:
    Floor size Tent - 290x290 cm
    Height - 174 cm
    Packed Weight - 1.4 kg (including pole)
    Pack Size - 49x10 cm

    We use an innertent that takes only half the floorspace (145x290 cm) which adds 0.8 kg and makes the pack size 2cm more in diameter (making it 2.2 kg 49x12 cm).

    This was actually the first trip we used this tent and we are very very happy with it. I plan to make an extensive video review of it in spring.
    #34
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  15. jadvst

    jadvst Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 19, 2017
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    Unfortunately, we only had 3 weeks so we couldn't have it all :) Our main goal was visiting Montenegro and Albania, mostly riding highways through the other countries. We had to skip a lot of beautiful roads and sights (also in Montenegro and Albania).
    #35
  16. jadvst

    jadvst Adventurer

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    I think there was no real threat, but Hoxha got very paranoid and had shut the whole world out. Maybe it was because he actually feared an attack, maybe it was part of the doctrine (convincing the Albanian people the West could strike at any time) or maybe a bit of both, who knows.
    #36
  17. jadvst

    jadvst Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 19, 2017
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    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Day 13
    From Camping Gjirokastër, Gjirokastër
    To Camping Gjirokastër, Gjirokastër


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    We would stay another night at this camp site and visit Butrint, which was an ancient Greek and later Roman city. The area has actually been inhabited since prehistoric times. It is situated in the Butrint National Park and is one of the main tourist attractions of Albania.

    After breakfast and some chores we left 2-up on my bike, taking the occasional scenic route, but mainly riding the main road.
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    Some of the scenic alternatives.
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    The rains of the day before had flooded some area's we came through.
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    Upon arriving, the guard at the parking lot of Butrint tried to scam us into paying some sort of (protection?) fee. But we were able to convince him that we were not going along. At the restaurant next to the entrance we had a quick bite to eat.
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    Below the so-called Venetian tower that was built around 1368, which mainly intended for defensive purposes.
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    Despite the age of some of the buildings, being built a few centuries B.C., there is still a lot standing. Even delicate details like mosaic tile floors and archways.
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    The city of Butrint used to have a wall around it, a substantial part of the wall (including some of the entrances) are still standing. Below the so-called Lion gate. Initially, around the 4th century B.C. the opening fit horse and wagon (you can see the original opening in the background). Later, in the 6th century A.D., the gate was lowered using the block of stone showing a lion sinking its teeth in a bulls neck. So much so that we even had to duck down to get through. This was done to make it better defensible.
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    Looking out over the Butrint National Park from within the old city.
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    We decided to take a different route back to camp. To do this, we had to take a sort ferry to get across a river. The guy asked us way too much for it (it was about € 5,-), but I had already paid before I realized it.
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    The ride back was filled with quiet roads and some pretty nice views.
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    #37
  18. jadvst

    jadvst Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jun 19, 2017
    Oddometer:
    28
    Location:
    The Netherlands
    Day 14
    From Camping Gjirokastër, Gjirokastër
    To Camping Arbi, Lake Ohrid
    234 KM (about 145 miles)


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    Our goal of the day was reaching Lake Ohrid to camp and see some sights on the way there. Due to the rains of the past days we had some stuff to dry out before we left, so we took it easy and used the dry weather to our advantage.
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    In Gjirokastër we did some quick shopping for water and food. Notice the red painted skull of a ram with garlic hanging from it on the wall of the supermarket. Apparently this is to ward off evil spirits.
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    The route we picked took us through amazing scenery riding through Bredhi i Hotoves National Park.
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    Fellow riders walking back to their bikes.
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    It turned out to be a very nice day with good weather and stunning views.
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    This Albanian guy rode his racebike like a madman with any protection whatsoever. Here he is drifting on the loose sand on the pavement.
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    We got some fuel at a local gas station.
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    Around the middle of the day we where heading into the Gramoz mountains.
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    We had lunch somewhere in the mountains next to the road.
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    Before reaching Ersekë, near the head of the Barmashi pass, there is a Partisan Memorial statue. It commemorates freedom fighters.
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    On top of the Gramoz mountains lies a village called Ersekë, which is the highest village in Albania (about 1020 meters or 3350 feet above sea level).
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    About 40 km (about 25 miles) to the north, riding through the beautiful mountains, we entered the town of Korçë.
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    After riding through Korçë, it was a short while to the lake where we found camping Arbi on the shore. A couple of motorcyclist already set up camp here and while we were checking in fellow inmate @motolover came riding up.
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    #38
  19. motolover

    motolover rookie

    Joined:
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    Looks familiar?

    Attached Files:

    #39
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  20. jadvst

    jadvst Adventurer

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    Nice shot :-)
    #40