Today has been eventful to say the least; but I’ll do my best to remember everything… This could be a long one. I’m also following the rugby on a live feed so please forgive the tardiness and any spelling mistakes:
I woke up this morning in a fairly dismal mood. The weather was horrendous and after checking the forecast, it looked set to stay that way. Nevertheless, I got myself out of bed and headed down to breakfast… Or so I thought. Despite the fact that on the breakfast menu (which I’d checked last night) it said they start serving at 7. I was informed that actually that’s not true and that I’d missed an hour of potential sleep. I took a while to decide what to do, I wasn’t sure whether I should take the extra 45 minutes or so in bed or just leave and grab breakfast on the go. I opted for the second option but it took me so long to get ready that by the time I was leaving it was 8 O’clock. So I decided to stay. My mood picked up a bit once I’d eaten something. The rain had also eased off a tad which was a pleasant surprise.
The first 40 kilometres of today contained the majority of today’s climbing. This meant slow progress but it was nice to get it out of the way early on. As for the roads, I was on quieter ones today and whilst that had advantages, it also meant that not much attention had been put towards drainage so I spent a lot of my time cycling though water. I’ve also come to the conclusion that Montenegrin dogs are not friendly. All through Europe I’ve had dogs barking at me but today was the first time any have chased me and I can’t say I enjoyed it. Thankfully, whilst I was moving they couldn’t really do anything except run alongside me; so no harm was done to me or the dogs. As a side not: yes I am faster than a dog, but this took place going uphill so I wasn’t exactly motoring along.
I hit the border sooner than I realised which was a nice surprise and was also allowed to skip a long queue of cars, so no time was wasted. It was a friendly welcome into Albania and once again, the change was instantaneous. I can now conclude that Montenegro is pretty much a transition between Croatia and Albania (believe it or not).
Despite the drastic culture difference between Albania and what I’ve grown up in, I really liked it straight away and I can safely say I much prefer it to Montenegro (so far). I found it fascinating, for the first 10 or 20 kilometres I was cycling through little villages (for lack of a better word); and despite the slightly bumpy road I was really enjoying it.
There is clearly a lot of poverty in Albania – there’s no point dressing it up, there just is. But there seems to be a split when it comes to the style of house in the first few villages I covered. There were the older ones, which were pretty much falling apart – and quite honestly, wouldn’t be very fun to live in. Then there were the clearly newer ones. They were still very basic but it’s as if everyone is in a completion to make their house as brightly coloured possible. I’ve honestly never seen such a wide range of colours being used on houses before. The most popular seem to be either lime green or purple. The one other thing all the houses had in common was a large front gate. The gates are often bigger than the walls around the garden and once again they’re brightly coloured and often have intricate designs. This may sound like a strange thing to pick up on but it’s very noticeable. I would’ve loved to get some pictures, but I’m afraid it’s really not easy when wearing thick gloves and the prospect of stopping isn’t that appealing in the rain. The pictures I have taken up to this point, will probably all go up when I hit Istanbul next week.
After this, I hit a slightly bigger town and from there I was on what must be one of the main roads in Albania. The road was generally good and it was still interesting. The culture differences were noticeable everywhere. All day I’ve been greeted by strangers – most of them say ‘hello’… apparently it’s clear I’m not a local. But all of them wave and it actually gets to a point where it’s hard to return the gesture. I really didn’t expect anything like that coming into the country.
I stopped at around half way and was approached by a boy who turned out to be 13 despite being taller than me (although that’s not difficult). As he said, and as has become clear, most of the younger generation are pretty much fluent in English, whereas the adults speak next to none. It’s quite odd and really noticeable as no-one hesitates to try and talk to you.
The headwind returned after not very long and progress was slow. I was in a good mood though, the sun had come out and I was captivated by Albania. My route then took me on a slight detour off the main road (I think it turns into a motorway for a short section – which makes no sense at all). Anyway, I turned into a few more villages and these were a fair bit more poverty stricken. People would still greet me but the standard of living had dropped significantly more. The road also deteriorated somewhat and it was hard to navigate. Nevertheless, it was interesting to ride through and once back on the main road I quickly came up to the final 25kilometres.
At this point it started raining again, the light started to go and the road got busier as I got closer to Tirana. This trend pretty much continued the closer I got to the city.
Tirana itself is absolutely mental. The traffic is crazy and I’m seriously glad I’ve spent time riding round London otherwise this really could’ve been dodgy. A couple of times I was forced towards large holes in the road and had to bunny-hop them; which on a 30kg bike is neither easy nor a very good idea. Once again, there was a massive split between the outskirts of the city and the centre; there’s a clear divide in the wealth. The thing that remained consistent was the traffic. It’s similar to what I’m expecting from India; it was never really clear how many lanes there were meant to be and people pretty much use their horns at every opportunity – although to be fair, it’s often with good reason. Anyway, I made it through, despite an agonisingly slow last 5 kilometres. The city seems pretty lively and if it’s culture you’re interested in, probably worth a visit.
I’ve just eaten a dinner that could serve 3 people and it only cost about £7. Excited for tomorrow… Reportedly pissed off about the rugby.
Distance: 100.74miles / 162.6km
Riding Time: 7:28:25
Av. Speed: 13.5mph / 21.5kph