Ohrid, Macedonia: I made it through Albania but it was hard going as I cycled eastward from Tirana through the Balkans, climbing more than 1,500 meters yesterday against a hard headwind for most of the way.
When I left Tirana I had no idea how much I would need to climb, how far I would get or where I would sleep that night. I winged it. By the time I arrived in Perrenjas my batteries were on empty and I was almost out of daylight. I had no choice but to pull the wheels up. I am not a fan of any Albanian city, but Perrenjas is a singular armpit of a place. Abandoned factories litter the outskirts of town, and the whole city looks depressed. You can see it on people’s faces.
In Perrenjas there is a newish small inn located in a gas station complex, and with no other viable option that’s where I stayed last night.
The whole experience at Kompleks Tirona was special. My dinner choices were rice pilaf with mystery meat; pasta with ketchup; or a cheese omelette. I opted for the omelette. A most rancid odour wreaked from the bathroom plumbing in my room. The smell was so revolting I did not drink any water last night to avoid having to visit the bathroom. As I sat on the bed watching a Woody Allen film with Albanian subtitles (go figure), I began to itch. So I unrolled my sleeping bag and rested in my cocoon rather than trust the hotel’s sheets.
But the real charm occurred this morning. I went back downstairs to the restaurant for a breakfast omelette. As I spoke to the only server in the restaurant, she picked her nose.
I could not get out of Perrenjas quickly enough.
The bright spot yesterday was meeting an Italian cyclist who likes to be called “Gibi.” Gibi is a pilot for the Albanian airline and he cycled out of Tirana on his day off to avoid the “crazy drivers and pollution” of the capital. We cycled together for a bit and he treated me to coffee at a cafe near the top of a challenging mountain pass.
Today I cycled into Macedonia, the 14th country on this tour and the last of the former Yugoslav territories I will pass through. In Ohrid I am back — at least for a short while — on the tourist grid. Lake Ohrid is Macedonia’s top tourist destination, and in Ohrid you can buy all the tourist essentials — post cards, trinkets, tattoos — plus enjoy a selection of hotels, restaurants and gelato stores. This is a big change from Albania where I did not see a single post card but I did see plenty of cool bunkers throughout the countryside. These bunkers were built by the former dictator to repel an invasion. The only prospects of invasion which I saw were of these mountain goats a kilometer shy of the Macedonian border.
Days 68-69: Tirana, Albania — Perrenjas, Albania — Ohrid, Macedonia
Distance: 110.44 kilometers (Day 68) and 41.89 kilometers (Day 69)
Ascent: 1,532 meters (Day 68) and 533 meters (Day 69)
Weather: Beautiful but windy
Terrain: Mountainous and littered with trash
TransEuropa 2011 Trip Summary:
Distance: 4,890.04 kilometers
Ascent: 35,573 meters
Countries: 14: Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia
Incidents: 4: flat tires on Days 45, 53 and 56; police reprimand on Day 2