We love mountains

My thoughts and experiences cycling, snowboarding and travelling around the world

Cycle touring Albania

We have made it as far as Albania, it is an interesting country hugely different from even its neighbours Montenegro and Macedonia. It is kind of how you would expect after being cut off from the world and run by a communist government. An odd combination of horse and carts alongside flash 4x4s and Mercedes Benzs. Not saying these flash cars are all stolen but it seems a bit odd, the UK ones still have UK plates on and many are almost new…make your own conclusions.

The country is hugely varied from the stunningly ruined coast line to the steep and high mountains. There is a lot of problems with rubbish, over development and unfinished developments on the coastline. Inland there tons of rubbish dump dumped  along the roadsides this is everywhere, we passed rivers literally full with plastic, we saw verges on fire from just burning plastic.

From Montenegro we entered Albania to the large city of Shkodra a bustling mass of cars and cyclists all ignoring the road rules! It was a bit of a shock, so what do you do when shocked? Yes that’s correct find a cake shop!

As happened many times on this trip, we had no idea what the currency was,  nor what the rate was and therefore how much cash to get! Luckily I hand gestured in a bank and was a)not arrested for looking crazy and b) somehow given the rates and currency, I then found an ATM to get cash out. It’s a good advert for Visa cards, it shows you can turn up nearly anywhere and land on your feet! Also for the first time in years HSBC managed not to block my account on an extended trip overseas!

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We veered away from the coast for the first time on the trip and headed into the mountains the shot above was the start of a decent 800m climb, up past Ulez and Burrell. Burrell was famous for its hardline prisons during the Soviet era, the remains of the buildings can be seen on approach to the town. It’s remoteness combined with the heavy weight of history created an uneasy feel to the area. This was probably undeserved, although not far from here we were chased by a ragged goat herder, he wanted our brightly coloured helmets, and ran to grab Marion who was behind me, fortunately a black Mercedes Benz appeared which scared him off. The car stopped and a friendly “gangster” asked if anything needed sorting, I gave the thumbs up he smiled back and drove off. I guess organised crime has nothing against tourists!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On this first climb we passed a number of reservoirs the one above separated a farm from the road. It looked like it was from the 18th century, the hay was being cut by scythe and carted by horse. The only access was by rowing boat across the lake. We saw from afar the ladies dressed in orthodox black dresses with white head scarfs bring out refreshments to the workers.

The picture below shows another house cut off, this one had a zip wire style crossing!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Campsites are far apart in fact our map shows none in the entire country! We were fortunate to be offered a spot in a restaurant garden and a churchyard in a mountain village for the first two nights.

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These traditional haystack were a common sight in late June which is prime hay season. It felt little had changed in decades expect the plastic sheeting used at the top!

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Don’t text and ride, the guy in the picture above was texting as he carted down the road!

Below is a more modern scene in Albania with tractors rather than horses doing the work. Note the bits of plastic litter, a common theme.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After entering Albania from Macedonia near Lake Orhid we stayed at a lake resort of sorts, well when I say resort it had these umbrellas. Sadly at 8pm the local sewage started being pumped out into the lake. It roared like a whitewater rapid and smelt well as you might expect.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The picture below is when we got a bit lost and headed up a random back road. It followed an old road littered with Soviet era missile bunkers and an old airstrip before the road ended! We had to cross a river on a plank and then a few dirt tracks to regain the highway, we got a few funny looks and a few much needed directions from the locals.Getting lost in Albania

This picture was looking across Lake Ohrid in the evening light.Lake Ohrid

A regular feature in Albania are horse and carts this one was particularly heavily loaded, there is a mule under there somewhere.Horse hidden under the hay!

The view from our campspot in the churchyard in Suc near Burrell in the Albanian North East.View from campsite in Churchyard in Suc, Albania The many reservoirs make for some spectacular views this one shows more of the haystacks that feature all over the countryside.View Across Albania from near Burrell

Albania was very interesting it certainly had an edge to it that never let us fully relax. The only real incident was being chased by a rock hurling goat herder. The mountain scenery was at times great at other times too ruined by the rubbish piled up or being burnt next to the road.

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