Shkoder, Albania: It’s beginning to feel like I am on one of those European bus tours with a-country-a-day schedule. In the past four days I have cycled through parts of four countries and covered much ground. Consider these transitions:
> I have entered Islamic Europe. Two days ago I was in Catholic Europe. Yesterday and this morning I was in Orthodox Europe. Now I am firmly in Islamic Europe. I noticed the first mosques in Montenegro, about 20 kilometers from the Albanian border.
> After having lunch in Bar, Montenegro, I left the Adriatic sea for the final time and turned inland. I also left the tourist grid. I am cycling again in rural farmland, and the people are super friendly — and curious. I also have to navigate again. When following the coast I never had to think too much about navigation so long as the sea remained on my right. Fortunately, there aren’t many roads to get lost on.
> The environment in Albania is very different from anything I have experienced on this ride. Albania is one of Europe’s poorest and most isolated countries. There’s absolutely nothing to see in Shkoder. Shkoder is a quintessential third world hell hole, and cycling through the city was mayhem, with people, bicycles, mopeds and cars going in all directions. I have no expectations about my time in Albania, which means I will probably have a pretty good time. Albania is one of the countries I have never had a desire to visit prior to my arrival, yet Lonely Planet ranked Albania #1 on its list of top countries to visit in 2011.
I’ve also made many friends today. I met cyclists from Russia and Poland. As I cycled through Montenegrin farmland, not far from the Albanian border, I stopped to buy some fruit at a stall from the woman pictured above. Soon her family members came out to join the conversation. This man spoke good German and was extremely curious about my ride. How many days? Where do I sleep? Why am I cycling alone? I think we could have chatted all day. They gave me some more fruit as a parting gift.
I also got into mild trouble at the border. In most border crossings I join the queue of cars and wait my turn. At the border a Montenegrin guard allowed me to bypass, so I kept on cycling, looking for the Albanian border facility. I did not realize this particular border control was a joint facility. I had cycled past the Albanian officers into my 13th TransEuropa country. They came after me very quickly, and everyone was jolly about my nearly evading them.
Once across the border I had about 15 kilometers to go to Shkoder through more farmland. Almost everyone I passed yelled “ciao!” or “Hello!”
Day 66: Kotor, Montenegro — Shkoder, Albania
Distance: 110.21 kilometers
Ascent: 1,016 meters
Weather: Overcast. Very comfortable cycling conditions.
Terrain: Mountainous along the Montenegrin coast
TransEuropa 2011 Trip Summary:
Distance: 4,627.31 kilometers
Ascent: 33,272 meters
Countries: 13: Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania
Incidents: 4: flat tires on Days 45, 53 and 56; police reprimand on Day 2