2009/10/11: South of Shkodër 83 km
Our departure from Tirana was a late one. The road north was fast riding, but straight and busy. The sky got darker and darker as the day wore on; the wind picked up; car lights came on. We dove for the shelter of a small coffee shop just as the heavens unleashed a torrent. After coffee, we dashed for a hotel next door.
2009/10/12: South of Bar 79 km
Waking to sounds of more heavy rain, we pulled up the covers till the pelting slowed a little. We thanked ourselves for not having camped as we took to the wet roads towards Shkodër for something resembling breakfast. There is much good to say of Albania, but not much good to say of Albanian breakfast. The road to the border with Montenegro passes over a rough wooden bridge and winds along a small road, and we stopped to spend our last leke on chocolate bars.
After getting our Albanian exit stamps, we trundled by a closed-up log building which may have been Montenegran Customs and Immigration. Since no-one was there, we pressed on, wondering briefly whether the lack of entry formalities would haunt us when we tried to leave the country.
After following small roads to Ulcinj for a good lunch, we turned south along the coast towards the beach my brother had recommended. It’s a gorgeous beach, but it’s probably much much more developed than when he was there. Also, the weather was chilly enough to to preclude anything more than foot-splashing.
Continuing north, the weather was still cold and windy, and rain threatened. The Adriatic coast must be teeming with sun lovers in summer, because there are hotels, apartments, and rooms advertised everywhere, but most of these are now closed for the season. We stopped to inquire at a sign that said “apartmani”, and were quickly tucked into a room in an otherwise empty building. It rained hard again that night, so we were glad to be sleeping indoors.
2009/10/13: East of Herceg Novi 83 km
The road climbed and dropped over headlands with spectacular views, and we fought a strong headwind. We met two solo cyclists: first a young French guy and later a German – even older than we are. We treated ourselves to a large and delicious lunch of local cuisine, the decision assisted by the lack of other options. Stopping at a monastery to look at the ocean view from the headland, we popped into the picturesque courtyard. An Orthodox monk indicated that our cycling shorts were not appropriate attire for visiting the church itself. We could have changed –but didn’t. It was the setting that we wanted to admire rather than the dim church interior.
We took the ferry across the Bay of Kotor. White caps danced along the water. A bus load of Chinese tourists looked down at us from their tour bus through tinted windows in bemusement. It was getting dark as we reached the farther shore, and it looked as if another wild night was upon us. The area was too developed for easy camping, so we found a hotel.
2009/10/14: Dubrovnik 61 km
It wasn’t far to the Croatian border. The Montenegran exit procedure involved a quick swipe of our passports, and there was no comment on the lack of entry stamps. After a climb to the Croatian border facility, we were quickly stamped and waved through what might have been a luggage inspection. We were travelling through rocky hills and a forest at some distance inland. The cypress trees grow straight, tall, and elegant. There was heather in the open areas, and fall wild flowers bloomed along the roadsides. We passed villages with red-tiled roofs, and noticed walls and fortifications everywhere. Dubrovnik was once an independent republic, and a system of fortifications extends both north and south from the city itself to protect the entire peninsula.
Descending steeply into Dubrovnik, we found a room just above the old city. The kind owner offered us a well-equipped apartment for the same price as the room, so we’re in self-catering mode. There’s even an oven! From the roof top terrace we’ve found we can pirate a wireless connection. One of the imposing corner towers of the walled town is so close to us that it blocks part of our view across to the chain of islands where we’ll cycle next, connecting northward by ferry.
The days are quickly getting shorter and the evenings are cold. We feel as if we’ve moved through fall and are heading into winter. The fuchsia bougainvillea that trails over walls is tinged with late-season brown.