tisdag 27 november 2012

Settling in Athens

When leaving Patra I was eager to get to Athens. I have been setting small goals for myself, after a rough start my first goal was to make it out of Sweden after that it was to get to the Adriatic Sea. My third goal was Greece and Athens where I planned to stop for a little while.
So cycling from Patra to Athens I just wanted to get there, and it felt nice to stop for a while since the longest I had been in one place was three nights in Tirana. To begin with the ride towards Athens was nice along the cost and the landscape was flatter than it had been in a while, so I was able to get some distance on the bike. But when I got closer there was less and less nature and mostly towns to cycle trough which I don’t like so much. After a night in a park area by the sea I had about 120 km left to Athens. I didn’t want to cycle in to the city that day because it would have gotten dark by the time I got there. So the plan was to stop when I found a nice place not too far from Athens. But I had problem to find a place to camp and after passing an area with oil refineries and realizing I was only about 20 km from the city I set up my tent not far from the road once it had begun to darken. On Sunday morning there was some kind of market along the road where I had slept so I got a few strange looks when I came out of the woods with my bike.

 It was nice to cycle in in the morning and having all the time in the world to find my way to the hostel. And I’m glad I didn’t cycle in when it was getting dark because it was crazy enough on a bike in Athens in broad daylight. But I eventually found the hostel and took the rest of the day to just relax and settle in.
Yesterday I went to see Acropolis which is a must if you are in Athens. It was really nice but I think my expectation was maybe too high and when they are restoring old ruins the feeling at the sight isn’t as genuine. But I still enjoyed it and the view of Athens from Acropolis was amazing.
I haven’t decided how long I’m going to stay here, but I think at least two weeks. I’m in no hurry since I don’t plan to cycle through central Asia in the winter and having 15-20 degrees here in Greece isn’t too bad.

torsdag 22 november 2012

Finally in Greece

I set out from Sarande with only 40 km left to the Greek border. The weather was perfect and it felt great to finally reach Greece and eventually Athens that has been the goal for the first leg of the trip.

 And Greece couldn’t have started any better, I had a nice lunch at a small beach and met some people who were taking up there boat after a fishing trip. And before leaving they gave me some food and fruit. So that was a great start for Greece and I continued on in lovely weather and on a nice road along the cost. In the afternoon I came to Igoumenitsa and cycled a little bit outside the city where I found an abandoned campsite that looked perfect right beside the beach. I wasn’t the only one that thought so because at the beach I met Ian, another long distance cyclist who was from South Africa. We had company for the evening and decided to sleep in one of the abandoned houses on the camp ground. It’s always nice to meet other cyclists, to cheer experiences and to get inspiration. The next morning when we woke up we knew exactly why the campsite was abandoned. Because we had been eaten up by mosquitoes. And looking back at that night it would have been a good idea to set up the sent where the mosquitoes can’t get in. The next morning I continued on south while Ian was staying in Igoumenitsa and wait for spare parts for his bicycle. I followed a smaller road along the cost that was more hilly but it was worth it because there where beautiful sights along the road.
 But when evening came and I needed to find a place to sleep I got on some smaller road leading away from the touristic area. After a few tries I got permission to set up my tent next to some houses where I had a nice little bench next to a light where I could cook me some dinner. The next morning when I woke up I could hear raindrops on my tent. But It wasn’t raining very much so there were no problem. I set my sight on Preveza where I sat down at a café to look up some things online and also to get away from the rain which had gotten worse. But I didn’t have a lot of time and had to find my way out of the city and under the water through a tunnel to the other side. After that I changed my mind on where to go twice and finally ended up outside of Levkas. Where at the second place I asked for permission I got a nice place for my tent on a lawn. But when the father came home he wanted me to set up where they used to grow vegetables that had a roof and dry ground. That was perfect and it didn’t matter how much it rained during the night, I would still have a dry tent. The lovely Donous family even invited me for coffee and later dinner. And before leaving the next morning they gave me some bread and fruit that filled up my bag to the max.
That day I took a smaller road that was a shortcut on the map but it was a little work uphill in really bad weather. And when I was going down the other side towards the cost still in heavy rain I almost had a crash with a goat. I was going a little fast downhill and all of a sudden a goat with big horns jumped out on the road and came right at me. But at the last moment I managed to avoid the crash and took it a little slower for the rest of the ride down the hill. And even if it was still raining a lot and I was having a terrible headwind I couldn’t be happier that day. Because I got a massage that my sister had given birth to a healthy little boy.
Yesterday I cycled in to Patra where I had made plans with a guy through couchsurfing. I had to struggle a bit with the wind. But there were no rain in sight and it’s always a great feeling knowing that I have a place to sleep for the night. The only problem I had coming here was crossing the Rio–Antirrio bridge. A man at the toll booth told me to cycle on the side where people walked. That worked great until I got to the other where I could see that the only way off the bridge was a steep staircase. The only thing to was to get all the bags of the bike and carry everything down.
And it was great to take a warm shower and have a couch to sleep on. And from here it’s not far to Athens where I plan to stay for a while and start sorting out some visas for Asia.

fredag 16 november 2012

Last day in Albania

After reaching the cost and Vlore the roads got a lot better and I cycled on for a while just past Orikum. I didn’t want to go any longer because after Orikum there would be a climb to about 1000 meters. Even this night I was very lucky with finding a place to sleep. At the second house I stopped by I met a very nice lady who didn’t want me to sleep in a tent since they had an empty room in there house. And I didn’t say no to that offer. It was difficult to communicate because they spoke Albanian and Italian, but we managed somehow even though it took some time. And I got a very nice warm shower and a big tasty meal.
 The next morning I ate a great breakfast with Shqipes homemade bread among other things. And I needed the energy for what’s to come. The climb started almost immediately and it was very steep at times. But the feeling when you are at the top is absolutely worth it. And the road down was great. Perfect asphalt and a winding road down the mountain towards the cost.
 The day continued with roads going up and down and it started raining more in the afternoon. I planned to stop and try to find a place for the night in some smaller villages along the way. But I started asking people a little too late and because of the rain clouds it got darker sooner than usual. I finally stopped at a village and talked to some people who thought I was crazy asking about a place for a tent when it was raining so much. I didn’t really understand the man but followed him to a coffee shop where he talked to some people. It turned out it was really close to a hotel. At first I said no to the hotel but when I walked out of the coffee shop it was completely dark out and it was raining hard. So I agreed on the hotel room even if it was more than I would like to pay for one night. But my attempts to barging got me nowhere.
Today I only cycled for about 30 kilometers to Sarande and found a very nice hostel for tonight. It’s only me and another man staying here. There is a very nice man running the place who even made us some lunch earlier today. Tomorrow I only have 40 km to the border to Greece. I’ve had a great time here in Albania and I have only nice things to say about the people here. Everyone has been very friendly and always wanted to help. So I highly recommend a trip to Albania.  

onsdag 14 november 2012

Bad roads but great people

Yesterday I left Tirana and my friends to head out on my own again. If felt very strange since I had gotten used to having Julius and Millou by my side. But I was also inspired to continue on and wanted to see what more Albania had to offer.
 The ride out of Tirana center was as it was getting in, a bit crazy. But I got out without a scratch and it was a nice feeling to be out on smaller roads cycling through villages. The road was decent, but at times it got really bad with holes in the asphalt. But I have gotten used to the roads here in Albania and as long as I pay attention and keep an eye in my rearview mirror I’m fine. After reaching the cost I continued on south. I had the wind in my back the whole way which hasn’t happened in a long time and stuck to a bigger road. It started to get a little late so took a look at the mat for some a suitable village to stop in. I turn off the main road only to be stopped by a man who told me not to go that way and after listening to some Albanian, Italian and sigh language I got the message that the road was really bad or it wasn’t possible to continue on that one to where I was going. So I continue on and set my sight on a little village a bit longer down the road. I was on the big road a bit too long since the sun was going down and I didn’t feel safe on that road. But finally I turned off towards Bubullime. Before Millou was the one who took initiative and talked to the locals for a place to set up our tents. But now it was only me and I had never asked people to camp in their gardens before. I had learned just enough Albanese to get my message through. The first place I got a no, but then I talked to some men by the side of the road. After a little while they got what I wanted and suggested I would go to the village center and maybe set up my tent next to the school. Another man came by on bicycle and the others flagged him down and told him to show me the way. He showed me to the center and showed me a place behind a kiosk. I was dark and It was good enough even if it was a little too central for my taste.
When I was setting up my tent more and more people came to watch and I think there were maybe eight men watching me pitch the tent. But I didn’t finish it until Mehmeti(the man who showed me the way) came back and told me to pack up the tent. He took me to his house and after his daughter translated I got that he wanted me to sleep at his place. It was a very small place with two rooms a tiny kitchen without running water and a toilet with stone floor and a hole in it. We were able to speak a little with our translator. At dinner I was served a plate with a massive portion of rise, meat and cheese. And too drink I got a glass of water, a glass of cola and a glass of warm milk. Only I and Mehmeti ate in the living room while the rest of the family was in the kitchen. It was a great meal and I slept very well in one of the couches that they folded out to a bed in the living room.
Today I have cycled to Vlore and will be continuing for a little while longer. But no longer than Orikum because after there it will be a climb over the mountains and I need some more time and energy for that.

söndag 11 november 2012

Last days of the European Union.

 Crossing the border into Albaia was probably the biggest change so far. Not just the fact that the biggest religion is Islam, but you can very clearly see that it is poorer. For example in Shkodra, the first big city we went to we saw people with horse and carriage in the middle of town. And because there are such a big difference between the poor and rich you can se e that next to a brand new Mercedes. 

After leaving Shkorda we cycled for a while before stopping at a church to ask if we could put out tents on the church lawn. That didn’t work out but a man suggested a church not far from where we were. So we continued on until we saw a little church up on a little hill just above where they were building a new big church. The only person we found there was a construction worker who was very helpful and took Millou on his scooter to the priest. And after a while Millou came back with some beer given to us by the priest and the good news that we could sleep in the church. And I have to admit that it felt a little strange to sleep in the church. But I had a great night sleep and the next day we set our sight on Tirana.
At first the road was great, but after a while big holes appeared in the asphalt and there where parts that was just terrible. We pushed on for a little longer until we stopped for some coffee and to rest after some hard work on that road. There we met a man who Millou and Julius could speak Italian with and who bought us coffee and lunch. The people here have been very nice and as we cycle along the road almost everyone smile and wave at us.
After lunch we decided to get on the big road because we didn’t want to cycle anymore on the bad road. But even on this road we had to look out for holes in the asphalt. It didn’t take us very long to get into Tirana and once there the traffic really got crazy. We had to be careful and to watch out for cars coming from all directions. But we made it to the center and found ourselves a hostel to stay in. And from here I will be continuing on cycling on my own. I had two great weeks with the guys and it will feel kind of strange to cycle without them. But I’m very inspired to continue on and from here Greece isn’t very far away. I just have to decide what route to take from here.