Tirana, Albania: I have discovered that most Albanians are off-the-charts friendly. It’s been an incredible day of meeting so many warm, hospitable, generous and welcoming people. In all my cycling around the world, I have never received such a reception — or generated as much interest — as in Albania.
Today as I pedaled to the capital of Tirana through mostly farming communities, all kinds of salutations — waves, hellos, ciaos — were expressed. As I cycled past one fruit stall, the seller ran after me to give me some fruit. As I pedaled through the suburbs of Tirana, a car pulled up and yelled “amigo!” I turned to my left and saw an outstretched hand from the front passenger seat offering grapes.
But the highlight was my interaction with the traffic police this morning. I stopped to take a photo of some sheep and a police car pulled up. Two officers got out and approached me. I had a major Uh-Oh moment, thinking back on Day 2 when I got reprimanded by the Portuguese police. “Everything ok? Are you ok?” one Albanian officer asked. After assuring them all is fine and explaining what I am doing and showing them my bike, one of the officers surprised me by asking, “Will you join us for coffee?”
Off we went to a restaurant next door for a late morning drink. I started to park my bike near the front door but they suggested I park it next to their police car. Don’t worry. No one will bother it next to a police car.
Over Pepsi and water and lemonade we had a good long chat, and were joined by a third officer as well as the restaurant owner. Erwin, who speaks very good English and was the translator, explained that he is in charge of the traffic police in Northern Albania. With him was his deputy. They were genuinely interested about my ride, and asked more questions than just about anyone else I have met on this trip. How did I get from Portugal to Albania? Have I been treated well in Albania? Am I tired? Do I cycle at night? How much does the bike cost? Is it carbon fiber? What is my profession, and how did I get time off? How many people live in Hong Kong? I also learned about their life, and the deputy showed me a picture of his son. We then returned to the police car and bike to take some photos, and one of the officers gave me his walkie-talkie to hold as a photo prop. Erwin asked me to email the photos, and gave me his personal address.
It was a most unexpected but positive experience.
Not long after taking leave of my new police friends, the stretch of road I was riding turned into a highway, possibly the only highway in Albania. Bikes are prohibited. So I detoured on a massively potholed, occasionally asphalted secondary road. It was very dusty and gritty, hard and slow going; rough on both bike and body.
On Albania’s roads just about anything goes. Thankfully I am no longer the slowest vehicle on the road:
Eventually I made it to Tirana during rush hour. This is a hyper-active city with so many movements. It required full concentration and defensive cycling but eventually I made it to the city center and after a couple tries found a comfy hotel in a happening neighborhood.
Day 67: Shkoder — Tirana, Albania
Distance: 110.4 kilometers
Ascent: 236 meters
Weather: Beautiful but windy
TransEuropa 2011 Trip Summary:
Distance: 4,737.71 kilometers
Ascent: 33,508 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