Powered up on a delicious and nutricious breakfast of drip coffee, Greek yogurt, apples and tahini! Ready to pedal into the rain and out of Thessaloniki towards Turkey with my new cycling buddy Martin!
I felt quite ill upon arriving in Thessaloniki, but when I felt better, I went out to a relaxing meal at a simple and lovely neighborhood place down the street from my hostel and ordered some MEAT! Pork souvlaki served with mustard, red onion and roasted potatoes. A complimentary shot of ouzo was brought with my bread and water.
Traditional, healing and visually unappealing patsá! Pork belly and hoof soup with rice. Served with a chunk of bread, vinegar and red pepper flakes on the side. Simple and good. Commonly eaten (at 6 AM) after a hard night of partying or when feeling ill.
I also met Maria and her dad who treated me to Loukoumás, showed me their knickknack shop down the road, pictures of their last family vacation and birthday party and tried to get me to buy into their coffee pyramid scheme! Ha! I left with a belly full of sweets, my second frappe for the day (made with said coffee) and a handful of special coffee packets! Great people, really.
First gyro (γυρο) in Greece! Not knowing how the locals do, anything they asked about I said yes.
Pork or chicken? Pork. Ketchup and mustard? (really? Ok!) Yes. Tomato and onion? Yes. Tzaziki? Lots. French fries? Yes?!
φ ξ ψ π σ ε λ ν β μ η χ τ υ θ ο ρ ζ δ
Today, I was planning on riding south towards Mt. Olympus. But last night I met Martin, a cyclist from Austria also heading to Istanbul who’s staying at the same hostel. After much internal debate I decided at the last minute (I’m wearing my bike clothes right now and my bags are packed!) to hang out in Thessaloniki one more day and go with him tomorrow. I’m glad I did! It’s pouring rain! Vacay from a vacay day today? Do nothing but sit in the courtyard under the umbrellas drinking coffee and attempting to finish Moby Dick? Yes! Two blog posts in less than 24 hours? Yes! Maybe I’ll throw in a museum or church, or go to a cafe and sit for a while. These decisions are tough, but a cyclist’s gotta make them!!
Most businesses are closed in Thessaloniki today. It’s the feast day for the patron saint, Saint Demetrios, and the anniversary of Thessaloniki’s liberation. Originally, as I began my day’s wanderings I noted the empty streets and closed shops with a tiny bit of disappointment. The bustling sidewalks and vibrant markets that I only got a brief preview of the past couple days, in a sick delirium, riding from the bus station to my hostel and then again yesterday when I forced myself to go out in search of more tire patches and ferry info (and was really happy that I didn’t pass out or puke along the way!) would not be my experience today. What I did get to see, was the amazing grafitti that is gracing most of the metal doors covering shop stalls and windows, as well as nearly desserted streets that allowed me to notice and leisurely take pictures of them!
All of these were taken within a half hour and a few blocks of each other. I passed by hundreds of more walls, doors, windows and ruins garnished with this contraversial art form after my brief moments of inspiration passed. Love this city!
A few pics from the land of free fruit, vegetables and wheel truing. Lovely and giving people here and great cities that make me want to linger…
Here are some pics I took today. The first few are in Prishtinë, the capital. They love ol’ Bill here! The rest are taken from the saddle on my way to the border of Macedonia. As you can see, the new building style here is quite… BOLD?
After the thrilling architecture south of Prishtinë (these photos represent only the smallest portion of the creativity! If only I were quicker with the camera, more agile on my bike, I could have captured more.) I rode for most of the day through industrial corridor ugliness; specialty building supply stores, each selling only one thing – doors, roof tiles, concrete blocks, showers, etc., furniture stores, tire shops and junkyards. I got two flat tires today before the border.
I’m now in Skopje, Macedonia and love it so far! Quite the grand city from what I’ve seen and my first exposure to Cyrillic – fun stuff!
Amazing sando with 6 different sauces – you pick which ones you want and I picked them all, chicken (yes, I ate chicken – I’m not a chicken eater normally), veg and fries on top! I was real full after this one. Real real full.
My second day in Albania I pedaled to Koman and from there I caught a boat up the huge resevoir to Fierze. This resevoir, underneath which used to be farmland, towns and a road connecting all of them, is one of the largest resevoirs in Europe and provides 99% of Albania’s energy, making Albania Europe’s greenest country! On the boat I met two Spaniards and two Californians and had a great time with them during the 3 hour boat ride. Another 45km after I landed in Fierze and I came to the end of the road, Rrogam, where my hike the next day to Theth would begin.
I camped at Hotel Natura in Koman that also has a quaint little terraced camping area with chairs carved from tree stumps and stone tables at every site. Next to the bridge leading into town and on the river, it was a great spot. AND, when i arrived they were distilling Reki (Grappa) over a an open fire and crushing grapes with a device cranked by hand. I had a shot of grappa out of a 5 gallon plastic jug, still not quite cooled to room temperature. The next day before I left, Marko was changing the water in the olives he’s curing! I was wondering what was in the buckets in the campsite next to mine. Love this place!
Plan A: Go on a hike through the towering Albanian Alps towards Theth.
Plan B: It’s raining and cloudy. Ride to Gjakovë, Kosovo instead and head either back to Montenegro or towards the Albanian coastline (this is, surprisingly, the best route -asphalt roads and fewer climbs).
Plan C: It’s now POURING rain. Hang out in my little hotel cabin in the mountains, read Moby Dick all day under the dim florescent light and eat Albanian bread, butter, sheep cheese, fig jam and pickled veggies from the hotel restaurant – all homemade and really cheap.
By this morning the rain lightened, and eventually disappeared. I departed the Albanian Alps never having hiked in them, but I was glad that I made the trek anyway. It was even worth the ride up and down the 20km gravel road that gained about 1000m of elevation for those amazing views I had on the way in two days ago. I had some great views through the patchy fog and clouds on my way down today too.
I’m now in Prizren, Kosovo, enjoying a Peja beer and I just sampled flija – a traditional dish of layered, savory crepes. I counted 10 layers. Really tasty. Note the ashtray. Not a table or hotel room complete without one!
Prizren used to be the capital of the “Big Albania” as the owner of the hostel I’m staying at described it to me (Yes, there’s a hostel here. I stumbled upon it in my search for a cheap hotel for the night and I’m glad I did!). There are mosques and churches all over town, a huge old Turkish bath and a river running through the city with quaint little bridges crossing it every other block. Here and Albania are the first countries I’ve visited where I’ve heard the Muslim call to prayer. When all of the mosques are calling at once it has quite an eerie and entrancing effect – trippy?!
In the center of town is a little fountain. I kind if laughed at this fountain being the center of the central square when I first saw it, as it is, for a decorative fountain, not much to look at. It’s about 5 feet high, made of brick, with four streams just pouring out. No lion’s busts or naked women adorning it, no vertical streams of water defying gravity. However, sitting and observing as I did over my beer and flija, it is truly fountain for the people! It’s Saturday night and people are constantly walking up and taking a drink, washing their hands or faces, and I even saw a waiter from another restaurant get a glass of water for a customer from it!
Today and yesterday have been days that make travellers like me travel. Here are a few great things about the past two days.
1. I was all fueled up with love, food and warm fuzzies memories of my great time with mom and dad. All day long I kept thinking about funny times we had and how lucky I am to have such great parents!
2. Sunny and perfect temp, and awesome landscapes. For the first 20 or so km I did encounter some amazing wind. Constant, swirling, scary gusts and no fun. Here’s a picture of my windy comb-over with Dubrovnik (amazing city BTW!) behind me.
3. Great people!
-Thorsten, from Berlin, on a mountain bike tour of one week in Montenegro – we rode across the border from Croatia together and shared a cup of coffee by the sea before parting ways.
-The lovely, young family that let me stay at their closed for the season beach restaurant because the campground i was shooting for was closed, north of Budva, Montenegro.
– I stopped at a roadside stand to get a tomato for dinner and the man gave it to me for free!
– Ollie, who I met about 20km before the Albanian border, is riding his bicycle from Greece back home to England. We swapped country info and stories and headed in our opposite directions.
– Across the border in Albania, everyone said “Hallo!” and kids on bikes way to big for them raced me.
4. A beach dog befriended me last night and slept just outside my tent, snuggled up to my head through the tent wall all night and barked when anyone strolled by. Good dog!
5. I woke up and went for a swim before breakfast in the still warm Adriatic. Froze when I got out!
6. Funny sights along the way:
– Horse in the back of a Yugoslav era yellow van
-Groups of men chipping away at limestone rocks with a hammer and chisel at construction sites
-Guy pooping on the side of the road
-People having sex on the beach down from where I perched to have lunch (I moved on and ate on a beach down the road)
-An 80’s model Mercedes station wagon with “Air Conditioned” written in gold cursive on the back windows
– A family of donkeys walking down the road seemingly unaccompanied
-Lots of adult men paired up on tiny, old school motorbikes in Albania
7. 3 countries in two days! I wasn’t ready to leave Montenegro today, but it just kind of happened. I’m planning on doing a loop in Albania, then heading back into Montenegro and up to Bosnia and Herzegovina next. I realized yesterday that I have a solid month to explore the Balkans en route to Turkey, so I am in no rush and can wiggle and loop and zig and zag!
8. Albania is awesome! I’ve actually only been here for 4 hours and 20 km, but so far, I love it. I am staying in Shkoder and it is gritty and alive! People on old bikes everywhere, crazy drivers honking at everything (good and bad!), people out strolling and socializing en masse in the center this evening, fruit and veggies being sold on every corner, lots of tiny markets and cafes. Between here and the border was flat farmland and tiny towns – women in headscarves, livestock, trash piles burning, crops growing, all against a backdrop of majestic mountains looming in the distance. It is a developing country and has a drastically different feel from anywhere else I’ve been in Europe. And I get to learn a totally new language.
I just have to say, I continue to diassapoint myself with my innability to remember to take pictures of the wonderful people I meet along the way! I forget, time and time again, and the people I meet are the best part of my trip! How many pictures of old buildings and plates of food and pictures of my head do I need?! A vow to myself in the future: PEOPLE PICTURES!