I am ashamed again and look at myself in the mirror like a real ignorant. We did not know anything about a country called Albania. A month ago, we visited it by accident, for a few hours crossing the border with Montenegro illegally. We saw perfect asphalts, winding roads, pigs in the middle of a roundabout placed on one of the main roads in the country and funny houses - we knew we had to go back there. This was to be Borat's second home, abstraction, detachment from reality, wilderness and parody.
What do I know as a statistical Pole, about Albania? That it is somewhere in the Balkans, but where it is hard to say. That they have organized crime, drugs, mafia, thieves, the Gang of Albania, the Pop of the King of Albania and other pleasant, holiday associations. Messages do not help, because like the week before our visit to Morocco two tourists were decapitated there (I would subscribe to an article, but despise all information media) in the place of our stroller, just a week before the visit to Albania, the plane was attacked to Vienna (our cruise) and the shooting took place at the airport. Apparently, 2 million euros have been heard (Polsat says that even 10 he, he, he), but as this is not the first case at this airport, the police managed to shoot one of the attackers ...
Our conversations before leaving were, for example, about whether to take watches with them, because fear.
I am not exaggerating that nothing has ever surprised us as much as Albania.
NOTE: if you are from those who would like the descriptions of nature to be marked with a different color to be easily omitted, this entry may not be for you.
Albania: how to organize the trip?
Two days before the trip, we had one thing to do with all matters related to the organization of the trip: tickets. There were neither hotels, nor a car, nor even a sightseeing plan. A bit unserious for a guy who wants to write a blog, but lately we've been absorbed by work and other trips, like Island of Usedom, from which we came back 2 days earlier.
We are fortunate in the 21st century and the organization of going to Albania is basically nothing (apart from buying an additional SIM card with the Internet), from organizing a trip to Spain. In the bookstore, I bought a paper, a folded map, Pepco colored pints, I started the internet, blogs, google street view, dangerousroads, Strava, Youtubea, Instagrama (I recommend #Albania and all related, same tits, big mouths and expensive things), several portals I despise and in a few hours I marked on the map what to see and what to drive. I taped at Booking the first, nearest airport overnight (because landing at midnight), I checked where the accommodations are. Then, a visit to the exchange office, purchase of KL insurance via the Internet (necessarily) and the end of planning.
The order of the points we set out on the basis of weather forecasts, and we booked accommodation by booking by phone 2-3 hours in advance.
Albania: why did they lie to us?
"I just got back from Albania. In short, crap, syphilis and graves. How can you put people in such a putty that is beautiful, clean, beautiful views etc ?! Trash and overwhelming shit everywhere. even over the Blue Eye in the mountains there are trash, garbage and rubbish again. The entry to Saranda from the south is a garbage dump on both sides. Even in the beautiful Bystrica river, sacks of rubbish float. A total break on this Albanian dirt. Walking down the main street in Saranda, you have to plug your nose because you can smell stench or garbage stench. People do not believe in this nonsense about sandy beaches, blue water and beautiful wooded islands. All pictures are taken in such a way that you can not see this all-encompassing dirt and muck and that you spend money on the trip. Kasmil pictures make you brain water, showing that they are the Caribbean of Europe, and in real life the beaches are narrow, dirty and crowded to the limit. People lie where they fall, on sand, stones, passages and even on sidewalks among trash, pet and bottles. "
I feel very uncomfortable in preparing this entry. Albania has generated memories that differ significantly from the experiences of other people. Even those that were at similar times, but in other places. Maybe we were lucky, maybe we were a little by the way, maybe the weather was exceptionally good, maybe a visit in Montenegro she prepared us for this visit. Here are the 3 biggest lies that we read many times before leaving.
1. No one speaks English in Albania
It turned out that almost every person in English has anything to do with tourists. Even if he does not speak, he has a son ready for the accident at hand and the son will translate everything. Hotels, restaurants, shops - nowhere to go. During the whole stay we met a few people who did not speak a word in English, but then the strategies were two - they spoke Albanian, and we spoke Polish or did not say anything and just nodded. The Albanian language is wonderful, because it sounds a bit like a combination of Italian and Hungarian, read with an English accent.
The most commonly found words are:
shitet - sell (almost everything has such an inscription on it: cars, houses, fields, etc.)
lavazh - laundry or more precisely: car wash. I have not seen so much car wash all my life. There are places where we can see 3 car washes on a stretch of 100 meters. Each consists of a shed and pressure washer and there is at least one customer in each.
I would like to give here some useful phrases, because it is worth saying something, but when we saw that
|I do not understand||këtë nuk e kuptoj|
and word Gjashtë consists of 5 letters, we have let it go. The only word I remember is poo.
It can be a pile of ice cream (or a ball), I will buy a kebab, hallah, poop and pizza bought on Stravie.
2. The condition of roads in Albania is dramatic
Here is a very important point. Whatever you read about Albania on the internet is probably out of date. A good chance that even this entry is no longer valid when you read it. If you are looking for a description of the road on the internet and someone writes that it took him 4 hours to drive it, because he was driving 30km / h it means that you will either drive 30km / h or you will not. Albania is currently a large construction site. Roads, hotels, all infrastructure are being built.
The vast majority of roads we moved were in a VERY GOOD condition. Our obscenely low speed was mainly due to how these paths were led. I have never driven such long and winding asphalt. In addition to the most major of the main roads (and cities), traffic is negligible. I would not suggest too much color on Google Maps - a large national road may be a gravel or an episode with more craters than asphalt, and a white, side road may be an ideal asphalt. The situation is dynamic. You can find more detailed information in the description of individual fragments that we have traveled, but the driving time is well illustrated by the picture. Valbone and Teth are separated by a few hours 'walk (8 km in a straight line) - Google Maps' car variants look quite interesting.
3. Albanians drive like crazy
Yes and no. The first attempt to drive a rented car through Tirana is a trauma for the rest of your life. Imagine 3 lanes, which you will come across at the roundabout ... and suddenly some 50 meters before this roundabout, the belts disappear and the cars line up in 6 rows. This is the moment when your best idea is to turn on the emergency, get off, go from the shoe to the hotel and come back at 3am. The principle at the Albanian roundabout seems to be simple: who drives faster takes precedence. Possibly who has Mercedesbut Mercedes has every second person here.
For one and a half thousand kilometers outside of Tirana, we did not meet even one of the traffic lights - not too much too lighthouse.
The truth is that the vast majority of Albanians drive slowly and culturally. By the slow, I mean slower than me, i.e. the situation in Poland unparalleled. From time to time, you only get a madman overtaking a column of cars on the mountain bend of your AMG or overtaking the cork while driving against the tide, to turn on the traffic when the cork disappears (WTF?).
You can not drive for it prescribed. The number and restrictiveness of speed limits has exceeded me. A sharp bend on a wide, perfectly level road? Limited to 20km / h. Less spicy? Limited to 40km / h. A more serious arc on the express? 60km / h. Even by bike we often exceed the allowed speed 2 or 3 times. The roadster stands often, sometimes even stops us. Mainly to ask if we like it in Albania and thank you for being satisfied.
What's the most important of course on this blog is: how do you ride a bike around Albania? Perfectly. In my opinion, one billion times better than in Montenegro and six times better than in Poland. The drivers bypass us with such a large arch that sometimes I'm afraid that they will fall into the left ditch. If they are ahead of the turn and it turns out that something will go to the forefront, they will pass with it to the millimeter, but from us they will still leave a safe distance. I suspect that this is due to our typical tourist appearance and the fact that the tourist is a VIP here, but it is irrelevant. Even on a very busy outing from Tirana, a string of cars passed us "in Norwegian". This is probably the biggest surprise of the trip.
4. Everything is covered with rubbish
It was one of our greatest concerns and the saddest memory from Montenegro. Beautiful views, and next to them in parallel scattered garbage. In fact, Albanian cities are a higher level of abstraction. Such a city, in most cases, consists of a large, concrete square (or street), which is empty, clean and spacious. Something like a market with us. In the evenings, such a square and the street (or several) that runs along it are closed and turn into huge strollers. Crowds of people come out and march slowly talking in words that are incomprehensible to us. It looks like a promenade by the sea, only the sea is missing. The problem is everywhere around this square. Buildings in a "moderately moderate" state, from time to time some pile of garbage, full of homeless dogs that look exactly like those of Wes Anderson's Dog Islands - generally a heavy climate. We try to avoid cities.
However, it is not bad in the "province" and in the terrain. Oh, I would say it is quite good and not much worse than in spring. If it were not for the aforementioned garbage islands located in the vicinity of small towns (they look like somebody threw away some containers with waste), we would not pay attention to dirt. According to us, and I realize that this is an unpopular opinion, if you are a fan of nature and instead of city beaches, you choose a bit more hidden, rubbish should not be a problem for you. They were not a bit for us.
5. First, they will kill us, then rob us and then kill us again
As in a country with 173371 (5.7 / km²) concrete bunkers, it can be dangerous?
If Christopher Nolan had filmed "Dunkirk" in Albania, he would call her: Bunker.
During our stay in Albania, we lose two cycling shirts, keys to the apartment, a charger and a battery for the camera, and two pairs of glasses. As it turns out - I forgot to take my shirt from the house, the batteries with the charger from the hotel, the keys were just in the car, and the container with glasses magically found in the backpack later, but you know how it is - disgust remains.
When it comes to bodily-psychic safety, it is specific. In the evenings, young boys, dressed in tracksuits, walk around in the city streets, who resemble our familiar atmosphere, but there are many more of them, surrounded by somewhat dreadful blocks and houses - the view is a bit disturbing. A few days pass, so that we would abandon our stereotypes imported from Morocco and understand that each of these groups would sooner help us in any problem than it showed with bad intentions.
After a few days in Albania, we feel at least as safe as in the Netherlands. We have such a funny feeling that everyone treats us like an egg.
Albania: how is it?
It's hard, really, in Albania.
We never came back with such a great sense of missing so many nice things: roads, places, mountains, strollers, lakes, rivers, everything ... I suffer from cycling and tourist FOMO - from English "fear of missing out". Always on vacation I'm afraid that I miss something nice and that's why we get up at sunrise and fall asleep after sunset filling the time in 100%. Between the west and east I look at the map. In Albania, this feeling did not leave me for a moment, because when you are standing at the intersection and you see that there is a road in both directions, perfect with beautiful views, and you have to decide what's next ... it's hard.
Do you know what is best in Albania? I do not know. I do not know, because I can not decide.
The landscapes are perfect, the mountains are perfect, the azure sea, the endless network of gravel roads and a bit limited, but also a huge network of asphalt roads, each of which looks like a bicycle company's advertisement. Passages, unexpected ramps, walls, lakes, cliffs, rivers, hanging bridges, small villages, goats, sheep, cows. Even dogs, which at first glance look like they are about to tear us apart, turn out to be friendly. We are delighted with the country.
What surprised us the most are people. In our home ranking of the most friendly and positive nations, the Albanians jumped to the first place ahead of the Americans. I do not know how it is a matter of approach to tourists, and how much disposition, but it does not matter to me. We have not seen such a helpful, kind, unselfish and friendly nation yet.
The first principle is that everyone asks you how you like Albania and if you only say positive, thank you very much. The second principle is that nothing is ever a problem. Do you want to leave your bags for 1.5 weeks, parked your car, pay elsewhere / in a different currency?
There is no problem, and the only thing you will encounter is a look of wonder why you ask for such mundane things at all. Or a guy who screams and wavers to you from the tractor that you probably went wrong with the car, because the navigation leads the old way. Or a guest from a car wash who washed you with a washcloth and a rag, two bikes that absolutely do not want money for it. Or a waiter who invites you to the kitchen so that you can choose yourself which fish you want to eat. Or the one that does not allow you to carry luggage to the hotel yourself. Or the girl you meet a little lost in the middle of the mountains, and she decides to take you off the shoe to the correct route, so that you will not be wrong. I can shoot for a long time with examples.
Mu prish gjiza - my heart skipped
(means: it hangs to me)
And the best thing is that it's completely selfless help. It's not Morocco, where you have to pay for every gesture of kindness, because you are the money that came for the holidays. Here we get the impression that everyone wants you to take away from this country the best memories and stories. IN lokalsach there is something that we've only met in America - very strong identification with the country and awareness of how beautiful it is. A great feature that does not combine with this garbage on the outskirts of cities.
How much is it?
The most important financial information: Revolut does not have an Albanian currency. In retrospect, I am very happy about it, because I would probably exchange virtual money and go unconscious instead ... in which I have never used the cards. None of the hotels handled card payments, virtually none of the stores (except larger ones in the capital) and even a gas station with a terminal find it hard. Advice for the future: it is worth asking about such things BEFORE refueling.
Ç to pyll ka derra - every forest has pigs
(that is, everything has its pros)
The plus is that even on the farthest and most remote from the civilization site, in a 7-hectare mountains and 7 lakeside corner of the village, the seller will adopt the Euro. It can easily be said that the euro is the second currency in force (the exchange rate is usually relatively honest). This fits in well with overall ease and openness to tourists in Albania.
The reason is simple - try to go to the exchange office and ask for half a kilo of Albanian medicines (because I received so much more for PLN 1500, when I finally managed to track them).
Flights PLN 1577
2 sets of tickets from Okęcie through Vienna to Tirana with Austrian Air (with bicycles): PLN 1577
The connection is very good, because the departure on Friday evening, and landing on Tuesday at 8.30, so straight to work. Bicycles in "normal" lines are transported very well, because just let me know by e-mail / telephone, that you change the usual, 23-kg luggage, on a bag with a bicycle.
The car is PLN 1132
We rent a car from the rental company surpricebecause he showed us that Discover Car Hirewhich he in turn pointed to Kayakbut it does not matter much. Price w Economy Car Rentalswhich I normally use was similar. The price includes every possible insurance (I recommend, because there are various things here, including roads). The price is slightly increased by the size of the car, because two bicycle cases, two bicycles, two people and luggage must be joined - Renault Clio Combi is suitable for this. Since we changed the bicycle suitcase into a soft one, life has become easier.
In total, we drive 1550 km, with an average combustion of 4l / 100km (average speed of driving 45km / h). The average price of gasoline is around 5.9 PLN.
Expenses on the spot: PLN 2,500
(1000 PLN in EUR and 1500 PLN in LEK)
We pay about 360 PLN for gasoline.
Twice we drive probably the only toll highway in the country (and probably the only highway at all): 2 times 5 euros.
The most important thing, without which there is no life - INTERNET. We buy a prepaid card without any problem at the airport - to choose the Vodafone and Albtelecom stands. 4GB per month costs 17 PLN top-up + 17 PLN per card.
Tickets: 2 tickets for 2 tickets for 18 zlotys to the museum: Bunk'Art 1 and Bunk'Art 2. Some small pieces in the style of PLN 3 somewhere in the parking lot at Rodonita and from PLN 30 for a few hours of parking in Tirana (Toptani Plaza). In total, probably from PLN 120.
The rest of the fun - free.
A one-man pizza on the promenade in a tourist town is just over PLN 20. Double pizza in the city - about PLN 30. Prices in stores similar to ours - sometimes higher, sometimes lower. In a coastal / roadside restaurant kilogram of lamb / good fish costs up to PLN 50.
Generally every day we tried to eat at least one meal in the restaurant (and breakfast at the hotel).
According numbero.com prices in stores in Warsaw are higher only by 12%, and prices in restaurants by about 15-20% compared to Tirana. I remind you that Warsaw may not be the best city in the country to compare with the capital, which has half a million inhabitants. Especially, that the average salary in our country is 4145 PLN, and in them 1433 PLN.
11 nights: 1328 PLN
We look for accommodation only on booking - I suspect that this is not the cheapest option, but certainly the most convenient. Cheap accommodation is under 20EUR per room per pair. A good hotel is 20-30EUR per night, very good> 40EUR, all of course with breakfast (coffee, omelette, bread, jams, cheese). By "very good" I mean luxury (in my opinion) in a tourist town. We decide on cheap, but good hotels, so you can probably go down a bit more seriously.
Details of hotels with links and prices in the description of subsequent days.
The total cost of the trip: 5209 PLN for two people
(departure on Friday after work, return on Tuesday before work - effectively 10 full days)
Day 0: An attempt of the Albanian
We arrive in Tirana around midnight. A walk with bicycle cases on an unlit road to the hotel takes us about 7 minutes. We do not see anything on the way, so it's hard to say what this Albania is.
A nice gentleman greets us in the hotel, whose English would put a lot of embarrassment. He suggests that we leave the bikes in suitcases in the main hotel lobby (right at the entrance) and go to sleep, because why wear it, and he is in the area all night. We are so sleepy that we do not see anything strange in it.
Hotel Verzaci - PLN 135
Day 1: We will die here
It is only in the morning that I am awake to know that we have left two expensive, borrowed bicycles, suitcases and lots of unattended accessories and about 3 meters from the hotel exit. In the morning at the entrance is someone else, but I do not understand my anxiety when I run down the stairs.
Then a walk to the airport, where a nice lady at ALBtelecom explains to me the perfect English, which SIM card I have to buy, and then (after half an hour of waiting for a weather window in a downpour) another nice lady, a similar English lends my car in about 5 minutes. On this day the rain does not stop raining for the next few hours. Already for good morning we change the plan and instead of north, we decide to go south along the coast - it should be warmer there.
An hour spent trying to fold the bikes and stuff them into Clio with suitcases (despite the guest's suggestion in the hotel that we can leave the suitcases with them and pick them up in 10 days). After a few days, we come to perfection in this.
Departure from Tirana impresses strongly on my psyche. Already the first attempt to join the subordinate street makes me want to throw my luggage on the street so that the cars stop or at least slow down giving me a chance to go. Lack of awareness that priority at the roundabout is faster also does not help. Add to this the wall of rain, general gray and on the first day I have a feeling that we have chosen a very bad direction.
We are going to dinner in Wlorze - 140km takes us a little over 2 hours, it's pretty good. Vlora is like that Budvaonly people less (at least that day). Funny, concrete hotels, arranged in a row by the promenade, and in the distance mountains. Here, for the first time, we see the sun and the color of the sea, which suggests that it can be good. It's so ... directory, photoshop.
As we will not do anything this day, I am looking for a place to stay and head a little further south to the town of Himare. We probably go the most famous way in the country - through the Llogara pass. It is steep and long enough that we are sure that we will return to it by bicycle. You will read about her two days lower.
Overnight, where we get, is one of those spots that you remember - how barrels in the Bieszczady Mountains. We come to the bungalows, which are located about 5 meters from the well-hidden beach. The fact that the facility is preparing until the season (as it turns out later, the whole country is just preparing and looks like it was getting ready for the 2021 season, not July), we are compensated by the welcome of the owner (her daughter exactly) who looks like taken out straight from the Jefferson Airplane video (only blond). It brings tea, tells how beautiful it is that tomorrow will be the sun, go to the beach to swim, that it is necessary to walk through the cliffs to the city and generally children flowers, hippies, Woodstock and not at all completely Albania. She is so happy with life that she hurts.
There are several bungalows, there are two, there is also a local pub, a small hotel, several buildings and a very long beach surrounded by cliffs and forest. Panda discovers after these 18 years of his life that when the beach is empty, stony and the water is azure-transparent and undulating, it can be liked (beach in a sense). The cottage consists of a bedroom, toilet and porch, and for the first time we have a strange feeling that we would be able to make it "to spend two days at the seaside". Maybe it's the smell of wood, maybe the view from the window on the water, and maybe 77 PLN per day.
The visit can be described in one sentence: bunkers are and you know how it is ... because of course, as befits Albania, there is a concrete bunker in the middle of the beach. In the evening, we try to reach the town with a cliff, but it turns out that we are looking at the sea more than we are going, so it is dark and is after birds.
Scala Bungalows - PLN 77
Day 2: Great, gravel beauty
In the morning, we pack things into the car, pull the bikes out of the car, assemble large sub-guards, and set off for the trip, from which we will return the next day. There is a majority of our important things left in the car, but you are always cheerful to say that it is safe here
The SH8 road, which we started in Wlorze and which we will finish in the following days going to Saranda, is described on the internet as an epic. Ba, is mentioned on the lists of the best roads on the coasts in the world, next to such colossals as Atlantic road in Norway, They are Colobra in Mallorca, Big Sur in the States - here the list "best coastal drives"(Interestingly, there is also one more road on it that we will go through in Albania - to Gjipe beach). I was convinced that the SH8 would not even approach them. Well, the SH8 is really good and I admit honestly - I prefer to ride it on a bike, rather than any of the three mentioned above. Asphalt is great, the movement is negligible (in May), the water has such color that what I would not do with the photo in the Lightroom will come out exaggerated, sometimes some islands and, of course, animal sounds. Going through the town, just close your eyes, although I must admit that this specific climate crossing the post-apo with the attack of zombies and the horror of dog-killers, also has its own climate.
The plan for this day is simple - skip to the other side of the hill dropping into the sea, return north to Vlora, sleep in a hotel and return to the car with the Llogara pass. The problem is already good for the day, because it turns out that you can get to the other side of the hill in many ways and no map knows which is the best, and Google Street View is very outdated or nonexistent at all. You can drive a new, ideal asphalt arranged in dozens of serpents by Pilur, and then count on the fact that there is still some way. You can turn into a large gravel road in Borsh, and you can also find a badly damaged trail that directs to the towns that should be on our route and start with a stony driveway - it's not difficult to guess that we chose the third option.
In Borsh, we started the climb from the sea level, which is not very impressive in numbers, for some 600 meters. Overcoming another 20 kilometers, it takes us 3 hours. It is a very heavy 3 hours consisting of a lot of stones, stones, which are followed by a 40mm tire quite hard, with loose rocks, after which it is even difficult to go and from small fragments, on which we manage to go. The views compensate for the hardships, although the indecent heat and the falling average make us constantly verify whether we will be able to make that day, do almost 120km. At some point we lose the route and we are in the middle of one's field.
From the house in the distance, which looked deserted, a man with a great cleaver comes out and something screams to us. It turns out that we stopped him from scalping the sheep. He did not shout at us, he just called his daughter, who tells us quite good English that the right road reflected "at the large stone to the right". As we are not quite able to remember THIS big stone, the girl decides to accompany us to him. The back of my head reminds me of Morocco and ugly thoughts are born, that probably for help will want money. Of course, this did not happen.
We bust so with small breaks to the village of Kuc, where a very important decision must be made. If we covered 40km in 4.5 hours of driving (plus probably the minimum of one hour's break in the state), we are in the middle of anything with empty water bottles, then the further journey makes sense. Not only that, we can see a signpost with a reflection on the aforementioned Pilur, which, after all, was accessible by a brilliant asphalt. I have the impression that our loop could have been made with a much more cycling route, but on the other hand - what we saw is ours. Panda makes a bold decision that we are going further. The decision of course (like every Panda) is very good and from Pony, for the next 40km we have a delicate gravel-asphalt convention quite a civilized road, up to the intersection with SH76, where we start the last 40km after perfect and largely abandoned asphalt.
This is a route on which you can safely say - it was worth coming to Albania even if only to do 120 km. We do not know yet that it will be even better each day.
We are landing again in Vlora, in which on this day (Sunday) there are a thousand times more people, and the promenade looks like the center of Sopot in July. We spend the night in a very decent hotel right on the promenade:
Hotel Nika - PLN 110
Day 3: Her Majesty Llogara Pass and the great azure
The second day of the trip is the return from the hotel in Vlora to the car left on the beach in Himare.
This is probably the most well-known car and motorcycle route in the country. Said "one of the best roads on the coasts" in the world, which stretches all the way to Saranda, but it is here, near Vlora, that there is a fragment with a ramp to the Llogara pass. Why is it such a stuck? Well, we start from the sea level and rise to 1027m above sea level. Maybe it does not sound special, but the exit to the south starts with the view of the sea and practically in no time, we do not lose sight of it.
Our main concern is traffic on the road, because it is a big tourist attraction. As it turns out later, the movement actually is, but on the southern wall (the one with better views) - driving from Wlora side passes us an average of one car for a few minutes. Movement at the exit does not bother - first of all, most of the cars go up and disappear somewhere (maybe because we're there before noon), and secondly - we do not go quickly, because the views do not let us.
The driveway is really heavy - it is over 20km of continuous lift, of which the final 10km is around 7%, and some fragments have at least a dozen or so. A guest on a climbbybike he described it as "Hardest climb Ive ever done". For almost 3 hours, which we need to overcome 35km, we observe the growing cloudiness, until the culmination, when we reach the top and the visibility drops to some 20 meters - a beautiful reward of effort. The temperature also drops by a two-digit number, which in combination with the lack of sun slightly freezes us. Moments, when there is a clearance in the clouds, we are good enough, especially that with every subway down there is only better, and the views created in this way are much more interesting than when the sky was clear, when we were here 2 days earlier.
Kush nuk di ç'është lodhja, ai nuk di ç'është çlodhja
If you do not get tired, you will not rest - an Albanian proverb
Llogara certainly was not the most beautiful way we saw in the country, nor by far the best view, but it is undeniably one of the most impressive - from the north steep streamers leading through the forest and distant sea on the horizon, from the south a continuous view of a kilometer down and from 2 kilometers further the coast.
As usually happens with us, when we are passing the main day of the day, the ... even bigger starts. We decide to spontaneously reflect on the little hidden Gjipe beach recommended on the internet. This is one of the few beach bays in the area, just like ours from the bungalows, but the differences are two - there is no asphalt downhill and a small canyon ends - Gjipe, which is recommended for walkers and climbers. The road is on gravele "mostly passable". They also manage to cross the local tourist campers, which stop at the beach for longer.
Despite our initial concerns (hidden beaches on the Internet usually turn out to be beaches that reveal millions of tourists) - there is no crowds, the beach is very nice, and the access road to it is magical. We meet over a dozen people on site, two campers and chalets built for the season. I will not write about the beach too much, because what is it - you can see in the pictures.
In the evening we get to the car, we go to check the aforementioned asphalt driveway towards Pilur (photos of serpents are not there because I lost the drone) and head towards one of the most tourist cities in the country - Saranda.
In Saranda, the escape impulse is already on for good morning, because we get there in the evening when everyone goes out on the street. The city is such a substitute (very substitute) of the Côte d'Azur and some Monte Carlo. This is a very bold comparison ;-) We find the hotel a bit out of the way, among many other building hotels and apartments for sale. From the balcony we see the whole bay.
Harmony Hotel - PLN 146
Day 4: Butrint National Park
It was a day of rest, because most of the day I had to spend at work. A somewhat spontaneous and planned route - from Saranda around the lake, which does not even have a name on Googlach. While driving, we discover why this is so - it's not a lake and the sea bay, which means that traveling around it will not be so obvious. From this complicated situation we are saved by a cable car located near the ruins of an ancient settlement, which judging by the number of tourists and buses must be a huge attraction ... not for us - for us the most interesting are the backwaters through which lead gravel paths.
Before we get there, we decide to hook up to the famous beaches of Ksamil. As predicted, these tiny, rocky fragments are surrounded by a construction site, which will reinforce the entire area for the upcoming season (although it is difficult to judge by the state of the works, or this year). This does not change the fact, of course, that the water color actually resembles a lot of much more exotic destinations. Would I like to sit down there? I doubt it.
We spend the rest of the day roaming the gravel somewhere near the Greek border and trying to return to the not-so-favorable wind. Szutrówek is a lot, and the asphalt next to it is equal and empty. The meter goes 50km and we move on by car.
The famous Blue Eye goes to the first fire. This is one of those places that, according to every online guide, you MUST visit. Well, we pay seven zeta (separately for two people and for a car) for entry, park among dozens of other cars and see a blue river surrounded by greenery and construction site - here also soon will be restaurants and shops. Its source is so interesting that from the deep to several dozen meters of holes there is about 7m³ of water per second (reminder: 1m³ is a thousand liters). The water itself is clean as in a bathtub and is actually nice, but it would be much nicer if there were not a lot of people around. In total, we spend about 10 minutes on the Blue Eye. Maybe if we were sunbathers and jumped out for an afternoon, to take a little bit of nature would be different. What we have seen so far on the bike is rated much higher.
Drug city Lazarat
What is Lazarat and why we had a lot of resistance to visiting this place will be answered by the article: Lazarat - here is the real gang of Albania at Interia. It starts like this:
"It's a small village, but it functions like a drug state in a state. Here the interests are more important than the law or the life-hindering regulations. Powerful SUVs with gold-plated drivers drive here without number plates or with plates made to order of the owner. You can visit this place, but you better not ask for anything, because you will return in a plastic bag or not at all. Welcome to the drug empire of Lazarat! Welcome to the world of the real Albanian gang. "
Like most articles on such portals, I am convinced that it is mostly made up or cobbled together from online stories. The fact is, however, that it produced almost 900ton of marijuana annually, worth half the GDP of the entire country. This is the only place in Europe where cannabis was openly cultivated on an industrial scale. In June 2014, there were 800 soldiers from special units and after minor negotiations with the use of grenade launchers and throwers of other dangerous things, the village was taken over. Apparently there were a few other shootings later, some pacification vehicles in the form of eg helicopters. A local joke says that Lazarat is currently the only place in a country where marijuana is not cultivated. Everyone who is surprised by the fact that the police have a problem with taking over such areas, I invite you to see what the local villages in the mountains look like.
How could we skip such a place during our trip ?! Well, I want to repeat this idea right away: there is nothing interesting in Lazarat at the moment. The only thing that distinguishes them from other mountain villages is a great panorama of the surrounding mountains and ... great walls in front of each of the houses ;-)
To make it more fun, Lazarat is just 5 minutes away from the extremely popular city of Gjirokastra and is perfectly visible from it. "City of the Thousand Steps", one of the two museum cities in the country - narrow, steep streets, stone houses, fortress and birthplace of the most famous dictator in the area: Envera Hoxha. We are drumming the visit and we move on.
It turns out that our accommodation on the booking is in fact a few hours further away than it was on the map. The object agrees to a free cancellation, and we move to Permet.
In which we get to one of the coolest overnight stays (according to the name):
Funky Guest House & Adventures - PLN 116
We spend the night in a hotel that is located in the charming small town of Permet - exactly in the center of the market, which, as is the local custom, happens in the evenings is closed and flooded with walkers. Park the police help us, and then leads to the owner who can and does not speak a word in English, but it does not stop him from telling us different things. He connects us on the phone with his son, who explains the hotel's obviousness, and then he serves glyco (such fruit jelly that tastes like sweetened sugar) and goes on - probably something with proverbs, because it rhymes a lot. We wave our heads smiling, Panda answers something completely senseless in Polish, he also waves his head smiling and we talk like that.
In the evening we get to dinner to an even more funny place - a small pub Hani and Kikes. Orders are accepted by a funny dude who, after each question / order, cries something to his mother - an elderly lady who prepares food in the kitchen, 2 meters away from us. It confirms whether we can do what we order, and after another unsuccessful attempts, simply invite her to us, that she chooses us to eat alone - better than we do. Then the Champions League starts, so a nice lady explains to us who is playing with whom and probably no one will be sure about us for the next 105 minutes. People from the streets are moving to a cafe.
Day 5: Bredhi National Park and Hotovës, meaning a bath instead of riding
In the morning we drive up to Petran and discover that Panda has left the air from the wheel, and I mistakenly bought a tube with a bad valve - all hope in patches. Stupid is always lucky and it turns out that in this village in the middle of nothing, 3 meters from us are parked two buses from the trip organized by cyclist-podróżnik.pl. Later, we find out that it does not matter anyway, because they do not have inner tubes 28 "and 40mm, but they provide peace of mind.
In Petran, we have a planned loop, a road that does not even have a number - around the Bredhi and Hotovës National Park. The loop is excellent - it leads through winding gutters on the slopes of green hills, surrounded by great mountains - along the Langarica canyon. It quickly turns out that the 80-kilometer route will probably take us all day, and the dark clouds that gather over us do not encourage us to ride. So we overcome a piece of the loop and we turn back before going down to the canyon to sit a bit in the hot springs of Llixhat e Benjes (for free!). There is no piston, and the visit to the source is so-called, long-awaited: a bit of luxury.
With Petran we go to Lake Ohrid - the route is difficult.
The beginning is an extremely winding and narrow road with mountainsides (SH75), then a new, very even section near the border with Greece (SH80 and SH65), which in the vicinity of Leskovik turns into SH75 again and is "rather leaky" and wide on one car and half a bicycle. The route is very charming and marked as "landscape" on the maps, but it travels slowly, and we are already seriously tired. I think it is a matter of a few years, because progressive road works in the area are already visible. We pass the village of Eseka on the way, which, apart from the new and nice square in the center, is a nice hardcore. That's how I imagined Albania - not that it is super dirty, it's just very poor and it shows.
We're at dinner for lunch Sofra Kolonjarewhich is a restaurant and accommodation (which we canceled the day before) - for meat and salad definitely to be recommended.
In the evening, we land in:
Hotel Ermano - PLN 91
which on the one hand is probably the worst night in which we were allowed to stay - such a small hotel, on the other - we have a terrace overlooking the private beach and Ohrid Lake. On the one hand, dampness and fear to sleep, because a man without a kidney will wake up, on the other - a brilliant view and location.
Day 6: Lake Ohrid, its blue and K2
What can be cool in the lake when the mountains and the sea were seen the day before? I do not know - so I did not have much expectations. I made a route in Strava to the summit of the surrounding hill in Macedonia and return in the vicinity of the second lake - Prespa, surrounded by a national park of the same name. The plan does not burn - it takes us a long time to reach the summit, that we would not lock the loop in a reasonable time - we are going back the same way.
PogradecNational Park Galicica Pogradec
What is the driveway? Well - we are moving from 700 meters, to 20km to be at 1600 and another 400 to beat a bit from the shoe, a bit by bike. Up to an altitude of 1600 m above sea level leads the ideal asphalt, with many serpentines a continuous exposure to Lake Ohrid, which, in short, looks magical. Then there are two options - exit to the second lake or a gravel-stony path to the top. You can leave it, drive it not necessarily, especially with our technical skills.
The middle 14 kilometers have a steady 5% slope and go very well. An average car passes us for about half an hour. However, nothing else counts with such views. On the fragment with the most condensed hairpin we stand for a moment to fly the drone, which, as it turns out later, is completely pointless. The route runs along the slopes and the same things I saw from the drone suspended 100 meters above the ground, then I see a few hundred meters higher.
In the vicinity of the summit, we can see two people pushing a bike - also Poles, how else. We learn that while Macedonia is average for a bike, Bosnia is a championship. We already know our next direction of the trip.
Dinner is thrown in ALBI restaurant by the coast. We get the Koran fish, which apparently only occurs in this lake and I will say without hesitation - this is the best fish we've ever eaten. The waiter brings to show how she looked alive and then carries her on the grill.
Clouds gather in the evening. Generally, there is no hope for good weather almost anywhere. In the Norwegian forecast, I find that there may be a chance in Tirana, so we are going to the capital again:
We reach Tirana in the evening and once again I want to leave the car in front of a large roundabout and escape.
For consolation we get to the hotel, which is "Like a luxury".
Britania Hotel - PLN 128
In the evening, we decide to play a local game of Albanians, which involves going to an unlit place through a 3-strip, busy street below the hotel. We're doing pretty well.
Day 7: Bovilla Lake, Kruja and... its too nice
When you think that you have seen everything that is best and that now it is just zapchajdziura some in the capital ... discovering the lake. Tirana lies just at the sizeable National Park and very close to the coast. The National Park has both empty and even asphalts as well as gravel roads. With heartache, we have to limit ourselves to one route and combine them in half. We start with Bovilla Lake.
TiranaBovilla lake Kruja Tirana
After about 5km Tirana, we end up with asphalt road and we are out of town, on a huge construction site. It seems that the lake will soon be available to everyone, even in a car with a low suspension - a bit cool, a bit sad. We drive an impressive canyon, at the end of which there is a ramp to the dam. A construction worker guards her, who for 15 minutes tries to explain to us that we can not do something, using the words bumbum and kaput. Sounds convincing, but eventually we do not get along and move on ... 100 meters away there is a sign that tells us the same, but the picture language. The point was that the road we were driving is only open in a few short time intervals, because through construction works, stones fall on it. Fortunately, we come back differently.
Behind the dam is the end of the world, the game over, the final view, the wit of the crazy painter. Albania is crushing us. I can not take a picture like this, so that the person who sees it does not find that something is not playing here. As if that was not enough, at the lake, a gravel path with serpentines begins, which then turns into a trail stretching along the slopes, crossed by bridges over waterfalls. Unfortunately, we do not have time to make an obligatory trek to the next rock from which you can see the GSV it looks like this <- I strongly encourage you to click.
We are slowly gyrating over the next 15km to reach the asphalt road SH38, where again we suffer that we can only go one way. In my opinion, this road is the responsibility of a road bicycle rider in the area - just like the rest. Like many others. The only problem is the possibility of closing the loop - you have to either drive relatively fast or somewhere overnight. SH38 is really strong and impressive, and then it's even better ....
We get to the village of Kruja - there is a castle, a small market and probably the most tours and tourists from all the places we have seen in Albania. No wonder, down there is a nice panorama with the sea, Tirana and some lakes. It's clouding, it's going to rain right now. We, however, run the risk and go a small uphill ride to Teqeja e Sari Salltikut. Jesus Christ, Nazare, as steep and high there. The Krui castle lies some 550m above sea level and is considered a good and high observation point. Our reflection adds to this almost 7km with an average of 8%. Some kilometers exceed the average of 14%.
The view from the top impresses, because as it could be different - a kilometer-long chasm, but still the road is here the main stagecoach.
We ride over 1,100 meters down to the city, we change clothes in the garage of the Britania hotel and start our journey - probably the only toll highway (and probably the only highway at all) in the country - leading to Kosovo.
We aim at Valbone, but we have no doubts - there is no hope for good weather. From Tirana to Valbone is some 260km, or 5 hours (despite this highway).
The distance is beyond us, we stop at:
Oda Kuksit Hotel - PLN 127
Kukes is great, and the hotel where we sleep, even though it's hard to find, is even better. The kindest, as usual, the service does not allow us to even bring our luggage to the room. What's the best, however, is the copybird in the bathroom. There is a shower on the toilet - you can do things and wash at the same time. You can go to the bathroom, sit down and then think about what you plan to do. It's only a little worried about this contact in the wall where the water is flying ... and the vision of mistaking the buttons at night.
In the evening we hit the city because it is known - the main street closed, as everywhere. We join groups going back and forth. In addition, the city looks like this and is placed under a mountain that resembles Fuji:
Day 8: The best known trekking in the country ... almost
From Kukes to Valbone there are about 120 km, which takes us nearly 3 hours to cover. It is not that the road is bad - the road is perfect, only narrow and winding. There are so many corners that we have to take breaks to ventilate our heads. This is a route that seems to be perfect for road bikes because of the minimum traffic and somehow asphalt - you can come back on the other side of the Drin river, which is even more twisted and even less busy.
We go to Valbone for a very simple reason - that's where the most famous trek in the country begins - there's Teth (about 16km). The organization of this few-hour stroll along the valley is not trivial. It takes almost 7 hours to get around with a sensible car journey between these locations.
You can read about the same route on one hundred million blogs and pages describing this place. Although we manage to hit a rainless weather window, we do not achieve the goal in the form of the main vantage point of the valley. We miss him about a mile (1.5 km), but the snow keeps us from reaching our knees. On the horizon we see a group that traverses a snow-covered steeple. I am reminded that GOPR is not operating in Albania and we are making a tactical retreat. We look at the waterfall Shemtina e Shales for consolation. Everything is very nice, although I'm not sure if much nicer than the mountains much closer to us.
We go to the nearest town to eat something and ... pay more than for the night in the valley itself. The choice is small, and the hotel we choose is the only sensible option.
Hotel Vllaznimi - PLN 128
Day 9: Atomic entertainment in Tirana
On the way back, in spite of the huge downpour, we planned another attraction - also one of the most famous in the country: a ferry ride from Fiera to Komani. It shortens the time a bit in the car, and is also called one of the most beautiful trips to the river in Europe. Unluckily, on Sunday the ferry at 9 o'clock is not swimming, and until 13 we do not want to wait. We are going to the capital again, because what to do in the rain ...
Bajram CurriRhodonite Tirana
Tirana is cool ... yes for 3 hours. A large square, some monuments, a lot of concrete, some modern buildings and a lot of very bad blocks. As part of taking a little culture and struggle with inclement weather, we decide to visit two bunkers: Bunk'Art 1 and Bunk'Art 2. The second, much smaller - is located practically in the city center, in the main square.
Which one to choose? If in a statement "An anti-nuclear bunker converted into a museum" the word museum is more of a word than a bunker - choose the second one. For us, the first is much more interesting. Around 100 rooms, a bit of history, a bit of multimedia - quite good and awful at the same time. Especially that we are the only people in the whole bunker - all horrors are reminiscent.
We also visit several other places, but none of them is worth mentioning, in particular a coffee shop modeled on the series "Friends"which in the middle is not like the show Friends does not look.
Hotel Verzaci - PLN 135
Day 10: Rodonite, or the Albanian miniature of the Azores
It's another day that I spend at work, but it's good - it's raining again. At the end of the day the sun comes out for a moment and we decide to check the last thing around the capital - the Rodonit peninsula. Somewhere on the internet I read that it was one of the best things around Tirana. You could say that we went there to prove that it was definitely a lie of people who did not see everything that we ...
Unfortunately, Rodonite is very strong. It reminds us of the island Sao Miguel in the Azores - ubiquitous greenery, steep roads, cliffs entering the sea - is great, and we are alone again. The only disadvantage is the snakes sometimes popping out of the bushes and the plastic that the peninsula collects from the sea. The more we ride in the Balkans, the more we get into it aversion - it's probably good.
The day ends in Nori restaurant on this peninsula, where we get a fish that tastes like mud from the lake, some crustaceans that we can not eat, or even identify and probably the best calamari we've had in our lives. Moments before, to strengthen the effects, Panda accepts the invitation "Do you want to see fish?" and to her surprise, instead of looking at the aquarium, she lands in the kitchen, where a nice lady shows her half-dead fish in the fridge and lets her choose which one she will eat.
Hotel Verzaci - PLN 135
Day 11: End
We get up at 2.30, go with suitcases to the airport and around 10 am we check in at work - clean, rested, smiling and full of life.
... or do not go
Albania has landed in our personal ranking in TOP5 cycling destinations. Like Montenegro, this is not a place for everyone. Nice people, the attitude of drivers to cyclists, the number of gravel roads and views from these few, though empty asphalt roads, the colors of the coast and the nice feeling of being a little off the mainstream, that's exactly what we like. And the fact that in the end we do not have to sort the accommodation on a booking at a price, but you can finally choose nice hotels ;-)
Albania surprised us amazingly. To the extent that I forgive her even the moment in which I decided to check at work what this whole Gang of Albania and Popek is. I forgot to connect headphones - 3 notes were enough to destroy the opinion I worked for years. Although it's probably us who should apologize to Albania for this association ...
My recommendation is this: drop everything and drive before Albania will become a collapsed big, incompatible hotel with thousands of sunbathing tourists. Beaching tourists are after all the worst.
A word about bikes - Canyon Grail
It would be rash not to mention the great Canyon company, which once again saves our lives (similar to Azores). About bike Canyon Grail more will probably be soon, on the occasion of the next-on-internet entry about gravels. I also do not know why you should believe in technical descriptions of bikes for people who for the last 50 hours of driving have been fighting to keep the average gross in the area of 10km / h.
The bike has a lot of more or less debatable solutions (eg a double steering wheel with an integrated bridge, a cushioned seat post) and it is extremely difficult for me to judge them individually without having much experience with gravel driving. As a whole, it is:
This is the 100% HIGHEST bike on which we traveled in our lives. Nothing hurts, it can be (while being deprived of any sport ambitions) go on forever.
40mm tires in the gravel is a super-champion and I do not know why, somebody would not ride 35mm, let alone 33mm. The difference is colossal. The places where I was prepared to let go, just passed. How is it on asphalt? I think we are going too slowly to evaluate this objectively, because it's just going well.
All this is unfortunately paid at a certain price. The cushioned seatpost expands so that it can not be completely hidden in the frame when packaging. The double steering wheel is also problematic when packing (it can not be easily done "wrap" on the frame) which makes trying to put in a bicycle suitcase requires a bit of acrobatics - but it can be mastered over time. Its design and integrated bridge will be a serious challenge when after bikefittingu it turns out that a change is needed. The bridge itself, despite the fact that it looks great and sporty and aggressive, regularly annoyed me when I kept my bike behind it, I cut myself in my hand ... but it was me and my unique problems.
In the context of the most comfortable bike, however, they are always crap. I am immodestly saying that this particular trip was the best bike we could
choose get a thank you for: