Pedaling from the Black Forest to the Yellow Sea
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Posts from — April 2008

Day 32 (Albania): Koplik - close to Mamuras

today’s distance: 81km
total distance: 2656km
riding time: 3-4h

The curtain opens: The door flies open with a loud bang … in comes Ujk’s wife and wakes me up. It was 5:45 am. Thought that I had dreamed about sone noise beforehand, but that was real. Slumbered off again for a bit, but 20 minutes later I was up and we just hung out watching the sun come up behind the hills, Ujk taking care of the horse and then taking a silent and smoke-filled rest.


I bid my farewells from the family … I owe so much to them and couldn’t really give anything in return. All I can say is a big faleminderit. Off I went to return to the bad roads and I am in Shkoder in no time. Meet a German biologist looking for a rare species in the nearby lake and wonder around looking for an internet cafe with the bike in view.

Enter the stage: Sven. He asks (in English) what I am doing and whether I have some time to talk to students at the university, 30 minutes or so. I thought: “Sure, why not? Fun places, those universities.” Off we strut and lug up the bike and the packs two flights of stairs. Little reminder of Venice on a bike. The students look puzzled. Sven leads a project on how to market bike tourism of any kind in Albania and is quite optimistic about it. So I introduce myself, say why I am doing this and where I am going and the like. Talk about bike touring and what I think is good and necessary, what people may be looking for and so on. It was a great half hour or so.

Then two students organize a country map and a fast internet connection for me and we agree to meet for lunch with Sven again. For some reason we didn’t meet up until they were halfway done with food and so Sven and I take a wander in the Marubi museum with a faculty member of the Economics faculty. The pictures were nothing short of amazing … showing life in Shkoder from 1850 onwards. Very good insights into the life back then and how Albania was part of the big power game.

(garlic as good luck charme in an internet cafe)

Sven and I eventually end up in a cafe and chat about biking (he’s an avid cyclist himself) and possible routes through Albania. Finally I head out, aided by a big bad wind from the North. I was eating miles quickly in the late afternoon sun and just had a good time flying along smooth roads with a good amount of traffic, almost all of them giving me an extraordinary amount of space.

Enter the stage: Anders (for those reading Swedish). A touring cyclist coming the other way, heading from Athens to Sweden, where he will run a marathon, head over to the US to make an East-West crossing, fly to Hong Kong, bike north and eventually take the Transiberian Railways to Moscow. All of this in seven months. Seems like I am somewhere inbetween Anders on the one hand and Julia & Holm from, who are on a very leisurely pace.

We both move our ways and after stopping briefly in Lezhe I bike on for another hour or so, covering roughly 65km in under three hours of riding. Great tailwinds helping me along. Then I start to get tired, hadn’t eaten much all day. Started looking around for a spot, couldn’t find anything. Started talking to two old men, they didn’t really know what to do with me … My Italian was too weak to explain things properly to one of the guys who had been circling me. There were about 6 or 7 kids on bikes as well. Not a good way to go somewhat undetected.Enter the stage: Alex. All of a sudden this big shiny black Mercedes comes along the narrow side road and the guy speaks perfect English. Alex. He eyes me and asks what I want. I told him I was looking for a place to pitch my tent. He says, just follow me … He translates what I wanted to the others and they all offered to stay at their homes after having looked at me suspiciously. I pedal behind Alex and we arrive at his place and he says: “You’re staying with me tonight. Not a problem.” A big thank you goes out to Alex, for putting me up for the night, to his sister for great slow food cooking (the lamb meat cum potatoes soup was amazing) and for his father for being a good sport about fixing his bike. And for good conversations about Albania and how things might work out in the future.

The curtain falls and Markus slumbers off.

April 25, 2008   1 Comment

Day 31 (Montenegro/Albania): Podgorica - Koplik

today’s distance: 45km
total distance: 2575km
riding time: 2-3h

Rewind the time to yesterday … I forgot to mention something, which I had promised to do. While not an outright fan of the company with the apple in the logo, I have one of their products to provide some background noise. The jack was toast I thought, having checked with some other headphones. The Apple Premium Reseller store in Podgorica pops into view and the people in there were great. We checked the unit and it seemed fine, tested the headphones again and as it turns out it was only the headphones that had given up. Thankfully. I owe a big thank you to the two of them.

Thank yous are also due to the man of the day. He goes by the name of Admir. I was leaving the hotel when I realized that something was wrong with the bike. Something was seriously wrong. The threading for the screw holding the rear rack had completely given up. I had tightened it a couple of times on the way, thinking it would be alright, but as it turns out, it had completely ruined the threading. This wasn’t fun … could be really bad. So, off I went to find Tempo Bicycle in Podgorica. While not working there properly speaking, Admir and I hashed out what the options were. We looked for the right screws all over the store, but couldn’t really find one. Bad stuff … I saw myself heading back to Germany, cursing the manufacturer (I will do that at some point anyway). We finally opted for a not so obvious method and I am hoping that it will do the trick ultimately. The threading was done for the most part, so we reversed the screw position, using a bolt to hold things in place. Because everything was on the drivetrain side of things, there wasn’t much room and certainly none to leave the screw standing out. I could have lived without my highest gear, but I’m sure I would have inadvertently put that one in as well and then the chain and the screwhead would have been nudging each other a bit too much.

We rasped part of the head off. The only way to go apart from trying to put in a new threading. The result isn’t pretty, but should hold up well. The other side didn’t look too great either, but there is ample space for a bolt. Now, I am not carrying a lot of weight and haven’t gone over rough terrain yet. There is much worse waiting in store. I can only believe that the threading was faulty and/or the material not up to speed. Given how Velotraum treats its customers, there is a fat chance they would recognize this as a warranty issue. At any rate as I am tying this, I am in Albania and don’t feel like going back to have a discussion about this.

Back to the city for a couple of interviews … might get a pdf of them, we shall see. Then, the post office episode of the day. I wanted to send two books and a couple of DVDs. Hard to do apparently. They wouldn’t take it. I hadn’t sealed it, but said that as soon as I would put tape on it, they wouldn’t take it. Maybe the main branch would, they weren’t going to. This drove me nuts. I asked whether if I left it open it wouldn’t fall out. They just shrugged their shoulders. Oh well … I left and eventually, after bidding my farewells to the NTO staff (thanks Matea, Biljana and Emile) I made my way to the post’s main branch, which was on the way to Albania pretty much anyway. So … there I encountered a lady who didn’t want to understand me and just threw words after words at me although the look on my face must have told here that I didn’t have a clue as to what she was saying. We figured it out with the help of a colleague, who called a friend who told her what to say in English (instead of just giving me the phone). The books are on their way now though …

That one done, I took off to head to Albania. The panorama was nice, the cycling great. Over some hills and past an increasing number of mosques I got to Albania. The border crossing was easy enough, the Albanian border guards impressed enough so that I only had to pay half the entry tax. Thanks guys!

My first impression was … bad road. Really bad road. My second impression was more bad road. Run down everything, roads, wiring, houses, but beautiful countryside with a lakeside view on one side and high mountains with some remaining snowcover on the other. Chruches and mosques all over the place as well. Unfortunately also a lot of trash lying around. Not so pretty. But here is goodness …

My first town, changed some money. Big smiles already on the way and more curiosity than any other place before about the guy with the bike. Money here is different, they tell you they want 800 Lek for two bananas (which would be 4 Euros, a bit steep). What they really want is 40 cents. I did my shopping and in a couple of places, people wouldn’t take my money. It was small stuff for sure, but a bunch of oranges and some bread was simply stuffed in my packs.

I eventually looked for a campsite as it was getting dark. I was way too late and turned into a side road, hoping to score a good spot there. Nothing to be had. A farmer on my right. He spoke very, very little Italian - so do I. I asked for a place to pitch my tent. Idriz simply invited me into his house. Said, you sleep here, tomorrow you go again. That was that. I was ushered into the house, the whole family surrounding me. The youngest daughter speaks (Fatjona) some French and so we tried out whatever she could muster. It wasn’t much and her father let her know as much. Eventually the brother (Ujk) and his wife come around and turns out that I am sleeping at their place. So, I took my bike along, left other things there to not offend them too much and off we went into the dark. The kids all over the bike, but the hospitality was just amazing. We talked as much as we could with the limited common language, but it worked out alright. Shower and food, some pilav derivative, homemade bread and cheese and freshly milked cow milk. It was great … Idriz never quite getting around why I was traveling by myself and that I am not married yet and don’t have kids. We still communicated a good amount despite the language barrier, talking about religion (they’re Muslims), their life as farmers and their kids … some off to Italia and needless to say Berlusconi didn’t have a good name here.

The family isn’t well off, but they gave me so much and wouldn’t take anything in return. Thanks a million!!!

April 24, 2008   1 Comment

Day 30 (Montenegro): rest day in Podgorica

today’s distance: 0km
total distance: 2530km
riding time: 0h

Thought it would be a day with nothing to report. Seemed like a good day to take a rest … more rain coming in. Supposed to be better tomorrow.

Until the evening I ran some errands and managed to replace my Swiss Army pocket knife. The ersatz knife I was able to secure in Cetinje wasn’t any good.

When I went back to the hotel, I met Leroy going up in the elevator and we chatted it up for a bit. Turns out that he was here to give a jazz concert. I thought - good idea, asked where it would be and thought about joining it later on. It was fantastic, a rendition of Aretha Franklin. Great musicians I thought. The singer with a great and powerful voice, in good harmony with the pianist. As was true for the contrabass and the drummer. Perfect evening for a rainy day. I talked to Roland, the pianist afterwards. From what he said both the drummer and the bass player are big shots in the New York jazz scene … thanks Leroy for letting me know about the concert.

On the way back to the hotel I also encountered a bunch of street kids. I had seen them a couple of hours before, ranging between 7 and 10 years old, a couple of them smoking and all of them pushing passersby quite hard for money.

To end on a more upbeat tone, my guidebook thought practically nothing of Podgorica. And it was right when it comes to sights. There really aren’t any. But there was - even on a Wednesday night - a good bar scene. Fun places and good people to talk to.

April 23, 2008   2 Comments

Day 29 (Montenegro): somewhere close to Virpazar - Podgorica

today’s distance: 46km
total distance: 2530km
riding time: 2h

Woke up with this guy running around my tent. Kept its distance, but mustered the tent from all sides, making sure I was legit.

Not much of a day in terms of riding. Lots frogs doing their thing and providing some background music along the way. Eventually made my way into Podgorica to meet up with the great stuff of Montenegro Travel. Still feeling a bit out of it, eventually made my way to a hotel room after taking care of a few errands. Am still waiting for a package to arrive from Germany.

April 22, 2008   No Comments

Day 28 (Montenegro): Njegusi - somewhere close to Virpazar

today’s distance: 69km
total distance: 2485km
riding time: 4h

Feeling better today - no more problems breathing at night. Woke up to a bunch of Bosnian construction workers enlarging the house not too far away. Took off soon enough and climbed the actual pass between Kotor and Cetinje. More switchbacks with a great panorama. No clear blue skies though, always a bit hazy today. Bad weather looming?

The Montenegrin cousins of the Italian caterpillars were out in full force - and similarly unsuccessful in crossing the road they had set their sights on.

Downhill into Cetinje, where the first thing I noticed was how hemmed in the town is by the mountains (it’s the former capital), the broad boulevards and the massive amount of people standing opposite the president’s palace. Not sure what was going on.

Hung around Cetinje, did lunch and eventually after updating the website and speaking with Aleksander (the son of the internet cafe owner, who is learning English on a U of Montana website and through playing Counterstrike from the sounds of it), left town.

More uphill I thought, but the it soon turned into a constant downhill into Rijeka Crnojevica, complete with almost no one on the marble promenade but with a pleasant atmosphere. The views on the downhill section were great … birch trees had taken over from mostly rocky terrain and the surroundings were lush light green. Good stuff.

Headed on, went the wrong way, returned, took the right way and off I went on a roller coaster. Kirsi had promised a “varied landscape” and she sure was right. The road doesn’t follow the river to Lake Skadar, but rather goes up and over some good climbs, the road going through various small hamlets and villages and the mountains taking on a range of shapes. Eventually I reached Virpazar, which I had thought would be much bigger. Found a great camp spot for the night and will check out Lake Skadar in the morning.

April 21, 2008   1 Comment