Land of the eagles. Three years ago, when I travelled to Albania for the first time, I got out of the minibus in Tirana and was scared. The streets were pure chaos and I didn't know how to cross them. Suddenly a car stopped and the driver was approaching me: 'I just opened up a new hostel. Get in my car and I'll take you there.' Thus, I became the first guest of Trip'N'Hostel and a good friend of the owner, Erion.
The unbelievable hospitality of Erion and other Albanians as well as my fascination for the country's loveable disorder is what brought me back to this region now. By travelling towards Albania on my bicycle I got slowly prepared for the differentness so that this time I wasn't scared anymore. This time I could enjoy every single moment of travelling here.
Albania greeted me with a man sitting on a chariot pulled by a donkey. People here have a lot of time and that's why I decided to slow down a little as well. Erion, being amazing as always, decided to let me stay in his hostel without charge for as long as I want. In the end I spent four nights at Trip'N'Hostel, celebrating my birthday with the staff and some guests. If I would've stayed longer I'd maybe ended up like Clement whose plan was to cycle from France to China but who is now working for the hostel for more than half an year already. For sure there are worse things then getting stuck in Tirana, but still there are so many places I want to see.
Three years ago I told Erion that soon his place will be the number one hostel in Albania. It didn't even take him a year to win the first awards. I could have taken hundreds of pictures of the hostels decoration but I guess it's easier if everyone interested just takes a quick look at their homepage.
After three days relaxing in the garden I decided that it's time to move on. It took me one hour to leave the capital Tirana on bicycle and two more hours to reach Durrës, Albania's second city, on the coast. Even though the traffic in Tirana still looks like a scene from a Mad Max movie, it is pretty easy to ride your bike in Albania. The streets are filled with cars, cyclists, pedestrians and animals, all going in different directions. But everyone is patient, respects and takes care of each other (except stray dogs, nobody respects stray dogs). The patience and the respect is what makes this immense chaos ultimately work. As long as you don't stop cycling and just go with the flow the traffic will eventually bring you in or out of the city.
Note #1: I wrote my first article on the road for the ecovelo-project! It's about sustainable tourism in Croatia and you can find it here.
Note #2: Furthermore I uploaded the summaries about Croatia and Bosnia/Hercegovina which you can read by clicking on the pictures here.
Note #3: Since some people told me that they had a problem with donating using paypal, I now added a link going directly to the homepage of ThaiCare e.V. There you can find the banking account details for making a transaction if you decide to donate for the good cause. It's all described in detail on the donations page here.
Thank you and goodbye. After 10 days in Albania these are still the only words I can say. The Albanian language is pretty hard. Even the most basic words are hard to spell. But anyway, before I leave I want to say 'Thank you' to this great country. Faleminderit for the hearty welcomes. Faleminderit for all the smiles. Faleminderit for the nice conversations - in Albanian, Italian, English, German or sign language.
Albania: A capital with no central bus station or even time tables? Normal. People riding donkeys on the highway? Normal. Me cycling on a four-lane highway? No problem. The police is even wishing me a pleasant ride. The national road suddenly turning into an offroad-track? Totally normal. And exactly what happened to me a few days ago.
Modernized Albania ended where the paved road ended. After that it was just mountains, stones and mountain villages built out of stone. I should have noticed before that this is no road for cyclists since the only mediums of transport were SUVs or donkeys. Or maybe I should haev listened to the locals telling me that it is impossible to cross these mountains on a bicycle.
Well, now I can tell you that it is possible. But you have to be prepared to push your bike for 10km up a 1,000m high hill. Going down again isn't easy either since the stone path is giving you a good shake for the next 15km until you reach a paved road again. But the views were beautiful.
I even got attacked by stray dogs for the first time on this journey. On two consecutive corners some big dogs were running behin me trying to bite my legs. I could escape by going full-speed. One dog bit my pannier bag. I was lucky and my heart was pumping really fast. Next time I will be prepared because now I got myself a weapon. And with weapon I mean a stick that I will smash over the head of the next stray dog coming too close to my bicycle. The animal-lover in me will have to look away for a moment.
Even though this all sounds like a hard week, it wasn't. I was taking my time, only going 50km per day. I saw two Unesco World-Heritage-Cities. Berat and Gjirokaster. I crossed several beautiful valleys and canyons and the weather meant it good with me. Mirupafshim Albania!