Kurz mal zwischendurch. Ihr da in Berlin, Ihr wisst schon, wenn ich Euch meine. Ja, Ihr. Ich vermisse Euch!!!!! KUSS
07 Dezember 2011
21 November 2011
Sometimes, after a long uphill, what awaits us is a view over vast landscape like this one.. the picture is taken from Montenegro, but what you see is Albania. You can imagine our excitement to get to "the other side".
I imagined myself riding a horse and standing at this very spot a few centuries ago..... ;) it has to do with the book I was reading at that time which depicted a scenario of an Albanian castle situated on the top of a mountain surrounded by thousands of Turkish troops that came to lay siege on the castle. The Albanians would see them come from very far away and finally put up their camps in the plains around them. Yes, I know, I was still in Montenegro, but just imagine!!!
So here we are in Shkodar, 1906km from Berlin, if you take the highway. There in the corner, that's me!
Shkodar is very different from any of the towns that we passed through in the Balkans. Very busy and chaotic, a bustling city. Reminded us of South East Asia. After not having been to big cities for a while, it was a kind of overwhelming experience.
Albania belongs to one of the poorest countries in Europe. Poverty is not as obvious as in Asia for example, but we certainly felt that Albania is less developed than its neighboring countries. Paved main streets would suddenly turn into gravel streets, gravel streets would suddenly end in...water?! A lot of times, there are no indications for towns, no traffic signs..
"Do you think the road continues over there?"
"And which way now? To the right?"
"Yes! ..or maybe not... or maybe yes."
This kind of conversations soon became very normal and part of our Albania experience. We enjoyed getting lost, though.
...the railways were a good indicator for our way.
Due to poor drainage, the interior of Albania is either arid or flooded..
We were not sure what kind of noise it was that woke us up... turkeys! (?)
It was in Albania where we experienced our second storm. Not as big as the one in Bosnia, but this time we had difficulties finding a place to camp. Finally, we knocked at the door of somebody's house, and the kind man who opened let us camp on his property. In fact, he was very excited about our visit. So excited that he payed us a visit in our tent just a few minutes after the rain had started to pour down. He wanted to know if we had already eaten and when he saw that we had already started to prepare our dinner inside the tent, he went back to his house to get us Raki (as an appetizer). There was a language barrier, yes, but we talked a lot!
On our way to Tirana, we met another man who rode his bike to visit his aunt. His bike did not have any brakes and whenever he went downhill, he had to get off his bike and walk. We did the same, so we would be able to continue talking to him. Actually, he also got off his bike when we went uphill and was genuinely impressed by us riding uphill without effort. He didn't have any gears, either. He told us that normally, he would walk all this way, but this time he had his friend's bike because he needed to transport the pomegranates. He told us that actually a few years ago, he had walked all the way to Athens to find a job. It took him 25 days to get there.
Tirana, the capital of Albania, really is a bustling and chaotic city. Tirana used to be an almost car-free city until the fall of communism (only governors and diplomats would drive cars). Basically, the layout of the city was not at all suitable for cars and the streets had to be broadened. As mentioned before in the Bosnia-post, there is a highway starting inside of the city with 6 lanes, which we had to take. People drive however they want.
Oh, and did I mention the young kid, maybe 11 years old, driving a van with more kids in the back and an elderly man next to him, who was just looking out the window?
Albert looking for long underwear.
In Tirana, we camped here in the garden of this hostel. It was kind of Berlin-style, so we felt totally comfortable.
From Tirana we decided to cross the mountains to Macedonia, rather than to go down the coast to Greece, as we had originally planned. We got hooked on mountains.. and we did not regret our choice!
Kids are kids everywhere.
Albert waiting for me while I was trying to have a conversation with a shepherd..
One big problem in Albania is garbage and the lack of education on environmental issues. Plastic bags and bottles are for free and they are everywhere. I don't know if you can see this well, but the pinkish spot there in the middle are giant pigs (and a person) eating from the garbage dump.
Around 60km before the border to Macedonia, we encountered this nice man, Algent. Actually, Algent found our bikes and us in the streets. He is one of the few people in Albania who also take bicycle trips. He invited us for lunch and helped us out with a few things for the bike, the route we would take etc. Very helpful and friendly man! He is the owner of this barber shop.
18 November 2011
..I don't have many words for beautiful, beautiful Montenegro..!!! Certainly very high -maybe the highest- on our list of "places to go back to". We crossed the border from Bosnia and Herzegowina near the National Park Durmitor in the North and went southwards to Skadarska Jezero (lake). Unfortunately, the good-weather season had already passed, so we didn't make it to the high peaks, neither to the east (going to Kosovo). It is supposed to be even more beautiful over there - hard to imagine for us, we were so overwhelmed by the places we traveled through.. but good to know there is much more awaiting us for future trips. Many people had warned us in Bosnia that it would rain everyday in Montenegro. The truth was that it stopped raining the day we crossed the border. Luck us, once again! : )
Riding bike through beautiful landscape not only is simply enjoyable but it is actually like food for the eyes and soul, literally. I forget about hunger, forget about the exertion of going uphill and find myself singing instead. Everything flows a bit easier, even when the ride is hard or uncomfortable (e.g. due to rain) - simply because there are beautiful things to look at. Very nice experience. I wonder in what way the view of ugly, dull modern square buildings must affect us in the cities we live in..
It was in Montenegro where we slept in temperatures below zero degrees for the first time - and woke up from the gentle sound of snow falling on the tent! Thanks to our superduper sleeping bags (& my friends who sponsored me!!! KISSES to you) we did not have to freeze (to death) at night. On cold nights, we turn into mummies with our red noses being the only parts of our bodies exposed to the cold.
Indeed, the downhill ride in the next morning was a freeeezing...! We were not yet prepared for this kind of weather- with improvised gloves and scarves (made of socks and other clothes wrapped around us, ever seen mummies on bikes?). Though again, the breathtaking view of mountains, gorges, small villages and seeing friendly people who either waved to us from a distance or gave us water, made our experience in Montenegro magical.
Confronting the zig-zag road on the other side of the valley that we would take. Mental preparation required!
Alexander invited us to camp on his camping site for free. He would not charge us because the season was already over. This picture was taken in his very cozy living/dining/bed all-in-one room +kitchen +museum where we prepared our dinner on his oven (he actually advertises for the "museum" on his business card for the camp site). The drawing in the backgound shows his grandfather on a horse in the time of the war against the Turkish.
I am writing all this from Greece now. As you see, it is not easy for me to keep things up to date but it is nice for me to write about all these places with a few weeks of delay, because I can re-live everything : ) It is our plan to go to the South of Turkey for the winter and hopefully find a place to stay for a month or two. We will continue our trip in March or so. If you know of any nice places to go, have any suggestions, let us know!
By the way, I changed the settings and it should be possible now for anybody to post comments on the blog. So go ahead, feel free, drop a line if you like, we are always happy to hear from you!
26 Oktober 2011
(Text in English below)
Huhu, Ihr Lieben. Ich habe beschlossen, den Blog auf Englisch weiterzufuehren. Weil ich meine nicht-deutsch sprechende Freunde und Verwandte gerne den Blog mitverfolgen lassen moechte, und dann auch die netten Leute, die wir unterwegs kennen lernen und neugierig sind. Und da die meisten von Euch sowieso gut Englisch koennen oder zumindest gut verstehen, ist das hoffentlich ok.. (Anne!! Ich weiss doch, dass Du's im tiefsten Inneren auch kannst!! Hihi..)
Croatia. Crystal-blue water, white pebble stone beaches, a warm breeze with the scent of pine and fig trees, sage and rosemary. Oh, and also: sunshine, sunshine, every day sunshiiine...! : ) Traveling in Croatia felt like taking holidays from traveling, spoiling ourselves with massive amounts of figs that we picked from trees, swimming in the ocean, hunting for fish markets.. Making a fire at night was so easy that cooking a meal was faster than ever. On top of everything, there are plenty of rock climbing possibilities in Croatia!
We arrived from Crna Kal (Slovenia), riding through beautiful nowhere-land.
..to Rijeka, the third largest city in Croatia.
(..wondering where to camp in such a city?? Most of the suburban area seemed to be industrial. But especially in the darkness, I rely on Alby's nose.. that brought us to
Never mind. All compensated by the view of the Mediterranean Sea the next day! What a feeling to have come so far~~~!
This was the kind of view (and better) we had most of the time riding down the coast. Very amazing. Unfortunately, there are hardly any secondary roads around there but the traffic was not too bad. Most people seemed to be going back home in a northward direction anyway. It was in Croatia that I developed this weird habit of checking out every single number plate of the cars going by.. my statistics say that about 70% or more of the car drivers must have been Germans!!! Followed by Austrians, Slovenians and people from Zagreb..
It was crazy (and a pity) to see that many coastal towns seemed to be built solely for tourists. Being off-season, a lot of them actually seemed like ghost towns. But this also meant: empty, quiet beaches, all for ourselves : ) This is where we spend the second night then.. much better than the first:
It was also where Albert caught is very first fish. Check this out.
...and the proud man here:
Whenever we find secondary roads, we take it. This one was one of the hightlights, I think. When it got too hot, we simply took a dip in the sea.
...and when we got hungry, he ate figs. I won't tell you what too many figs do with your digestion. It didn't keep us from having more anyway.
This is one of the not so touristy, rather authentic towns. I forgot the name but I still remember the nice little local seafood place, where you could chose (we could have chosen!!!) the fish that you like to eat and they would serve it right there for you.
At some point we took a ferry to Pag-Island, pronounced like "Pug" as in "pug dog" (Anne: Mops). I couldn't help but associate the name with pugs and felt weird when I had heard of the specialty of the island.. Pug cheese!
The reason why we decided to go to Pag Island was because we had heard that not too many people go there and we might find more authenticity. As soon as we got off the ferry, we knew why not too many people go there.
It was like being in another country. What a harsh scenery! And people still try to hold sheep there. They were skinny and suffering from the heat, often hiding in the only small spot of shade behind a rock.
Going south, the scenery began to change and to be more friendly...
....more fish attacks
The biggest owl I have ever seen. Maybe half a meter?? I was so impressed when it spread its huge wings and flew away, calmly and very low, just above the ground of a small canyon.
..and the smallest scorpion I have ever seen?? Not as impressive as the owl, but it's got something (threatening and sweet at the same time), don't you think.
I post the picture of this splendid salad just to show off... hehe.. it has pine seeds on top - we are traveling with a bag full of pine seeds !!500g!! that our crazy friend in Slovenia gave us as a present......
From Pag Island we crossed the brigde back to the mainland and continued to Split. Who would imagine a huge park and beautifully situated lime stone rocks in the second largest city of Croatia?!
An even more impressive area to climb than Split was Omis, around 20km further South, an old, small coastal town with huge rocky mountains in the backgound.
Sorry that I write so much about food but.. hehehe, check this out. Alby making a risotto with fresh calamares from the market (right at the place to climb, are we in heaven or what?!)
and here is the outcome:
From there, we followed a river in a valley towards Bosnia... we figured out rather late, but the interior of the Croatia is not touristy at all and super beautiful. Very hilly with semi-arid vegetation, lots of olive tree plantations and tiny villages here and there.
What you see on the horizon here is already Bosnia. The plains down there is where we spent our first night in Bosnia. So you can imagine.. what a feeling to be (rock'n') rolling downhill with this kind of view!!
Just after crossing the border, we already felt the difference between how Bosnian and Croatian people were perceiving us.. People probably don't see many cyclists around there, looking at us rather confused. But it was also visible in their faces that once the confusion had passed, they were curious and friendly, welcoming us in their country.
And then! Bosnia and Herzegovina. Well, actually we only went to Mostar and Sarajevo. These places were not really on our way to the south, but Albert wanted to see Sarajevo.
We had heard that these two big cities are connected by a road along a river in a gorge with magnificent landscape (recommended by a cyclist). It was true, breathtaking... in many ways. What we did not know was that the road was actually a highway with lots and lots of trucks and cars. Now a highway in the Balkans is a bit different than a highway in Central Europe.. we asked some police men in Tirana (capital of Albania) what was the best way to get into town and he told us to take the highway. Yes, there is a 6-lane highway (3 in each direction) starting (!) in the city. They told us it would be only 2,5km on the highway so not to worry..
So there we were on a highway connecting two major cities and with little space on the side of the road. It was actually the first time I used my helmet. The most terrifying parts, though not really dangerous in reality were the tunnels. Every time a car entered the tunnel, there was this droning echoing from all sides, sounding like it was going to eat us. It got louder, and louder, and louder.. many times it simply turned out to be a small Fiat passing by ; ) As mentioned already, the tunnels were the "safer" part of the road, because there were sidewalks and therefore enough space for us. Nevertheless, we had to watch out not to overlook the big holes in the ground..... So most of the time, I got off the bike and walked through the tunnels pushing the bike on my side.
Once we arrived in Sarajevo, I asked Albert what it was that made him want to come to Sarajevo.. he looked at me kind of surprised and said that he thought it was me who wanted to see Sarajevo..!!
-Neither of us regret to have taken the trip though.
This is the view from the famous old Ottoman bridge in Mostar. Sorry, we didn't take a picture of the bridge itself ; ) though it certainly would have been worth it. The bridge was destroyed during the war in the 1993, and perfectly reconstructed in 2002. There are still many, many traces of the war that you can see and feel in the town (and country), but we were also impressed how well renovated some areas were.
..another weird place where we camped. Outside of Mostar, a huge abandoned area with a few destroyed buildings around and much "construction garbage" (bricks and so on) covered by grass and some nice smelling herbs. A stray dog kept barking at us for many hours from the distance.
It took us 3 days from Mostar to Sarajevo. We stopped in some villages on the way, where on one night we got caught in a big storm. Fortunately, we had taken advantage of those 20min when the rain had stopped to find a place to put up our tent. It was a strange night. Again, with the threatening sound of the storm, the rain was so loud that we could hardly understand each other. Every now and then lightening was brightening up the tent, it looked like daylight for a second. The wind was so strong that Albert had to lean himself against one side of the tent.. And suddenly, we started to hear music from the distance.. an oriental sounding melody..very soothing. But where did it come from?? We couldn't say. And how loud the music must have been! Louder than the rain and thunder so we could hear it.. very, very, very mysterious!!
Only in the morning after the storm had calmed down and we were woken up by the sound of prayers of the mosks... we smiled..................ahhhh!
In Sarajevo we contacted Amin through warmshowers.com. He works in a bike shop and offered us to stay in the storage room. We happily took his offer. Did I mention that it was around 5 degrees celsius (in the afternoon!) when we arrived??
We met some nice people in Sarajevo and finally ended up staying a few days longer than we thought. Once again, we had the chance to rock climb in a beautiful area, just 10min on bike from the center of Sarajevo.
But we were also looking forward to go on...
(uff, I can't spend more time on the internet.. sorry.. will write more next time about Montenegro. We had a really, really good time in Montenegro, so keep checking up later!)