Albania

2009/10/08: To Sailor-Poet’s Camp 113km
The hotel was a bit odd in that they seemed to want us out by 7:30 a.m. The cleaning lady was there and poised to start at 8:00, so we scrambled out with our half-eaten yogurt in hand. The riding was smooth and fast, which perhaps contributed to us missing the turnoff for a lesser road we’d planned to take. No matter. We followed the shoreline of pretty Lake Ohrid, with Macedonia on the other side.

Lunch in a town near the lake finished in style with dessert of cake with sticky caramel icing and bathed in custardy sauce. We’ve learned it’s called trelece. Food is always good, but especially so when cycling. New treats are appreciated.

Trilece with a cool Corona and wedge of lime … life is hard sometimes

Albania is dotted with round concrete bunkers, built by Enver Hoxha between 1950 and 1985. They look like giant mushrooms, and are literally everywhere. Our knowledge of Albanian history is minimal, but we know they were a very isolated communist country then, slightly aligned first with the Soviets and later the Chinese. I’m not sure who they were afraid of.

Note four(+) bunkers in valley bottom
 Closeup of bunker. The engineer who designed these sat in one under tank bombardment. Coming out alive although shell shocked prompted the start of mass production. 
I (Chris) propose a new society for the prevention of cruelty to engineers (PCE). 
These days they’re blatantly pro-American, with a street in Tirana named after George.W. Bush, and the star-spangled banner everywhere, often alongside the European flag. The country generally looks wealthier and more developed than we’d expected, and a surprising number of signs are in English.
Every word in this picture is in English. 
Above the forecourt it says “With us you will fly”

A pass took us westward from the lake. On the downhill, we stopped to scout for a campsite, and talked to a shepherd who pointed us to a tiny cafe up the road. We checked out a track opposite the cafe, found an idyllic spot, and returned to the cafe to fill water bottles. The smartly-dressed gentleman at the cafe gave us permission to camp on what turned out to be land that he owned.

We had coffee with the owner and his son. (A small granddaughter thought we were quite terrifying.) The shepherd moseyed over, and it became clear he was the owner’s brother. The owner, whose name we never got to know, was a multi-talented fellow. He pointed to a photo of himself in uniform and said something like “marinare” – we understood he had been a sailor. When he gave us two large apples, we reciprocated with a Canadian flag pin, and he made such a formal ceremony of the occasion by donning his blazer and having us pin it on his lapel that we ended up by singing him Oh! Canada in both official languages. This clearly tickled him, and he sang us something patriotic in Albanian.

When he came to visit us at our campsite and to inspect our one pot dinner preparations, he looked into the bubbling pot and I thought his comment sounded like “Primitive!” (Albanian has Latin roots.)It was probably a fair comment on that night’s supper. Then, he began to recite poetry that he indicated he’d also written. They were clearly patriotic verses describing great struggles, and we wondered if we’d just met Albania’s equivalent of Canada’s John McRae, author of the poem In Flanders Fields which Canadians often hear recited on Remembrance Day. Communication was a challenge, but we agreed easily on one thing: May there be no more wars.

2009/10/09: To Tirana 91km
We’d discovered the apples our host had given us were tart cooking apples, so we stewed them up with some jam and threw bran flakes on top for an excellent breakfast. Yum! We stopped by the cafe as we left. We’d hoped to get him to write his name and address in our notebook, but he wasn’t at the cafe yet. We’d guessed he didn’t sleep there, and we needed to be on our way.

I had a rapidly deteriorating pedal, and we stopped several times to try to address its issues to to avail. I was in for Chinese water torture all the way to Tirana. After lunch, a steep, hot 750m climb took us to a ridge with good views. It was on this ridge that we met Sabine, a Swiss cyclist travelling solo who had ambitious plans. We talked at some length, and she advised us on routes across the Alps.

Views from the ridge

It was getting dark as we neared Tirana, so we put on lights and pressed on. We had a sketch map made from the Lonely Planet pdf which showed our proposed accommodation, and we reached our B and B relatively easily where we were welcomed by a lovely grandmother. We needed a day off after a night on a ship and five days of pedalling. There’s such luxury in a morning of not having to pack.

2009/10/10: In Tirana
The first item was to deal with my pedal problem; a bearing was clearly going or had gone, and we needed either a shop with special tools for overhaul, or new pedals. The latter was likely to be easier, but we were far from sure we’d find clipless pedals. We bought a city map and headed to the street that Sabine had mentioned was a row of bike and motorbike repair and parts shops. Having the offending pedal in hand made it easy to explain our needs, and I’m now the proud owner of a pair of bright red clipless pedals. They came in a box that said “Made in Germany”, but we don’t for moment believe they were actually made there. They cost 10 Euros and are of palpably poor quality. They only need to see us as far as an Italian or Swiss bike shop, though, so they should do the trick.

In Tirana we’ve spent time in cafes and have been to markets. As for much of our journey, it’s been hard to deny where meat comes from.

Roasted Sheep’s Heads 
(Just in case you wondered what is on sale 
along with the whole roast chickens in picture above)

Market picture for vegetarians.

Tomorrow we plan to head towards Montenegro, and veer towards the Adriatic and a beach recommended by my brother. We may take another day off there. The beach will no doubt have a simple and liberating dress code; I know my brother.

M

4 responses to “Albania

  1. Happy Thanksgiving, you two!
    We've lots to be thankful for here. I was reminded of this by Michael Enright's interview of (Dame!) Vera Lynn on CBC's Sunday Edition. She spoke about war years past and present. She is now at the top of the British pop charts with a CD compilation of recollection and “best of's”, naturally called, “We'll Meet Again”, and has a hot selling autobiography. Not bad for aged 92. She recalled 4 months in Burma where my Dad met her (and was somewhat annoyed by her entourage, largely due to the extra work that landed on his plate as a result).

    So I'll go back to prepping the roast veggies a la Delia Smith and be thankful that we won't be serving one of your roast sheep heads in one of Chris' concrete igloos.

    Cheerio!
    -p

  2. Hello, Margo and Chris – and Patricia! I, too, enjoyed the CBC spot on Vera Lynn, one of my (88y.o.) dad's favourite females. We enjopyed a totally tradiiotnal TG dinner with a bevy of French exchange students who were certain they were eatng a remarkably large Canadian chicken. We had taken them up to the Columbia Ice Fields the day before, where they were blown away, nearly literally, by the cold in Canada.. Our student had arrived in the country with no jacket whatever, for rain or snow. Your wit continues to amuse – are you both funny in writing? Will you publish? XO, Suzanne P

  3. Hi Margo and Chris, Patricia and Suzanne. I, too, enjoyed Michael Enright's conversation with Vera Lynn. CBC is truly a unique and unifying institution in our huge country.

    A book sounds an excellent idea, reminiscent of Beyond the End of the Road: A Winter of Contentment North of the Arctic Circle that Michael Pitt just wrote, about living with his wife, Kathleen, in a a small trapping cabin for a winter. I think of their book because they were also fulfilling for what for most folks would be a challenging dream. See details at http://www.agiopublishing.com/authors/michaeldpitt/ and read the introduction online.

    Cheers.
    Margaret

  4. Pingback: Index for Bangkok to Paris 2009 « candmwanderings

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