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Photo by Michael Jordan, enjoying a meal at sunset, Zangskar Valley, India

I haven't been everywhere...
but it's on my list!


Photo by Michael Jordan
enjoying a meal at sunset,
Zangskar Valley, India



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  #1276  
Old 27 Nov 2016
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Check out the new animated route map in the corner! Neat, eh?

Very cool. Please enlighten me how you got this going.....
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  #1277  
Old 29 Nov 2016
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Quote:
Originally Posted by troos View Post
Check out the new animated route map in the corner! Neat, eh?

Very cool. Please enlighten me how you got this going.....
I found this neat utility called Route Generator. It creates an avi which you can embed into your movie.
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  #1278  
Old 6 Dec 2016
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Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/323.html



There are certain places in the world whose names, for whatever reason, conjure up images of remote wilderness and mysterious lands that modern civilization has yet to take over: Timbuktu. Kathmandu. Deepest, Darkest Peru. Pretty much any place that ends in a "u", apparently... But also Albania. I admit to knowing absolutely nothing about this country, except that it sounds remote and mysterious.

Surprisingly, Neda also had little to offer despite her living just a few hundred kms away.

So let's discover Albania!


I like to start off the riding day by taking a sheep shot

We're starting fairly early because there are a couple of unknowns for the day: a border crossing and some variable terrain ahead of us. The morning weather is a bit chilly up here in the mountains, but it's looking to be yet another nice day for riding!


7 kms later and we find ourselves stamping out of Montenegro. This is the last time Neda will use her Croatian for a while.


In No Mans Land heading to the Albanian side of the border. Mirsivini! Our first Albanian word!

We read up on Albania last night and the language has no relation to any other in the world, it is it's own branch. The guys at the Albanian side speak a little bit of English and they are very curious about our bikes. I don't think there are a lot of people crossing the border up here in the mountains. The main highway is closer to the coast, and these border control buildings look more like shacks!

This is such a remote outpost that they don't even offer the mandatory vehicle insurance here. They just told us to purchase it when we got to a larger city. *shrug* Okay, cool. This border crossing was so laid back. I can't remember if they even looked at our passports! *shrug*
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  #1279  
Old 6 Dec 2016
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And not 100 meters after the Albanian border, the road turns to gravel. We stop to air down our tires for better grip in the loose stuff.

We had read that the roads in Albania were very bad. Many of the secondary roads were unpaved and the ones that were were broken and full of potholes. We're prepared for some adventurous riding!


The "road" that we're taking is called SH20, it follows the valley of one of the mountain ranges which define a natural border between Albania and Montenegro


The mountainside is dotted with these bunkers

These bunkers were built during the communist era, from the 1960s till the fall of the Iron Curtain. The country's dictator at the time, Enver Hoxha, had 750,000 of them built all over the country, even up here in the mountains. We read that on average, there is one bunker for every 5.7 square kms. The construction was a huge drain on Albania's resources, taking money away from housing and roads. None of the bunkers were ever used for their intended purpose.
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  #1280  
Old 6 Dec 2016
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"I'm just going to leave this here for a minute..."

We haven't been doing a lot of off-road riding lately, so we're a bit out of practice. We're only a few kms into the gravelly section and Neda decides to let her bike nap in the dirt. This early section was littered with fist-sized stones and baby-head rocks, so it was a bit challenging while we were in the process of getting our off-road legs back again. We woke Neda's bike up and we're off again!


This is my favorite picture of the day. Albanian man on horse says, "Hi!" So friendly!

Not a lot of motorized traffic on this road... But plenty of construction though. In 2014, the European Union contributed €51 million to refurbishing all the mountain roads in the area. Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe, and the hope is that improved access to the rural areas will be good for the economy and education - transportation of goods from the farms to the cities, and also busing the kids up here to school and back.

I'm sure in a few more years, this road will be entirely paved. And then the Harleys will come...


Road goes through some farms... and more bunkers. This one was being used as a storage shed!


Sploosh! Must've rained recently.
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  #1281  
Old 6 Dec 2016
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Gorgeous mountains as we make our way through more dirt


Some sections are more gnarlier than others


Every now and then the road opens up into amazing vistas

I don't particularly seek out dirt roads. Neda likes them. I prefer going faster on twisty tarmac than having the front wheel constantly pointing in a different direction than where I'm headed. But the nice thing about dirt roads is that they often take you to some amazing places where it's impractical or too expensive to pave over - like these high mountain passes. Also, there are no other vehicles to share the road with. Maybe a horse or two... You really feel like you've got the entire place to yourself.


And then it rains a bit. I'm worried about the ground beneath us turning into mud... Ack! I hate mud!
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  #1282  
Old 6 Dec 2016
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Big, magnificent landscape all around us!


Riding alongside the Ljimi i Cebit River

After about 30kms in, the gravel road abruptly terminated into fresh asphalt. It looked brand new, probably courtesy of the EU.

That was a very fun ride! I was a bit worried about how long it would take us but here we were at the other end of the dirt road and it wasn't even noon yet!


Back on the pavement! Looks like twisties is next on the menu! Yay!


Neda makes us some sandwiches while admiring the mountains we just came through
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  #1283  
Old 6 Dec 2016
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While I air up our tires for the asphalt


Back on the road. There is an awesome staircase of switchbacks heading back down the mountain. We stop at the side of the road to admire the view and a car pulls up beside us. Uh oh... are we blocking the way?

There's absolutely nobody else on this road. Probably because it terminates at a dirt road. So when this guy pulls up beside us, I thought he was going to tell us to park somewhere where there was more room.

Instead, the guys in the car saw our out-of-continent license plates and they asked what we were doing in Albania. But not in a nasty way. They were genuinely curious why we wanted to visit their country. We motioned all around us and told them, "Your country is beautiful!" They seemed to ponder on this like it was the first time anyone has ever mentioned it. I don't think a lot of tourists come to Albania, which is a shame.

After a couple of minutes of chatting right in the middle of the road (traffic is politely routing around us like it's not big deal - What's the Albanian word for "pomalo, pomalo!"), they wish us a friendly farewell. Nice guys!


At one of the corners of the switchbacks, we stop again for more pictures
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  #1284  
Old 6 Dec 2016
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Here's a viewing platform that extends out into the valley. Albanian safety standards. No glass? Rope will do.


Check out this amazing road we have ahead of us!


More sheep shots at the bottom! Very Albanian!

Our first day in this new country has been full of amazing riding and friendly people! A very good impression so far! We can't wait to explore more!
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  #1285  
Old 6 Dec 2016
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Good to see other riders venturing into Albania.

I rode through Albania this past summer.

The good

Great mountain scenery, interesting culture and history, very friendly hospital people, inexpensive.

The bad

Crappy roads, predatory police everywhere, techno-pop music. Albanians are the worst most dangerous drivers in the world.

I crossed over into Albania from Greece, I never was able to find anywhere that would sell me insurance.

Have a safe trip
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  #1286  
Old 10 Dec 2016
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Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/324.html



"I'm done planning. If you think you can do better, then go ahead!"

I screwed up.

Over the past few years, the way we plan and execute our journey has evolved. When we first started, we'd both put our heads together and excitedly pour over maps and laptops figuring out our routes and accommodations. But these days, in order to preserve our energy and stave off travel fatigue, one person takes the lead for a segment of our trip, doing the majority of the planning and logistics while on the road. Then after some time, we switch up to let that person rest for the next segment.

So far it's worked out. In SE Asia, the locals seem more comfortable talking to me, and I sort of knew Malaysia a little bit so I planned and led that leg. Along the Adriatic coast, Neda naturally took over, since she spoke the language here and was familiar with where she wanted to go.

Until now.

Unfortunately, since leaving Thailand, all I've done is complain about the price of things and the amenities of the places we're staying at. All the while waiting on the bike as Neda ran around trying to find accommodations and communicating with all the hosts. So, finally fed up of my whining, she tossed the reins back over to me. At my feet. In disgust.

It's not my turn yet. I did over two months in Asia and now a month into our European leg, I'm back in the driver's seat. I had a pretty cushy thing going on and I ruined it. Now I find myself riding from hotel to hotel all over this mid-sized Albanian city, knocking on doors, looking for a cheap place to stay with adequate amenities. All the while Neda waits patiently on the bike. She doesn't even have to say a word. I know a Not-As-Easy-As-It-Looks-Is-It? and an I-Told-You-So face when I see one.

Because we didn't pre-book anything the day before, I'm knocking on a lot of friggin' doors. Shkodër is expensive! Every suitable place we find is €40-€60. We ride concentric circles around town getting further away from the commercial centre until I spot a small sign posted on a lamp post advertising a place to stay. It took us a while to find it, and when we pulled up, parts of the hotel looked like it was still being renovated. The owner came out and didn't speak any English, but he conveyed to us that the price would be €20, no breakfast. Perfect!

€20 is the sweet spot we aim for for accommodations in Europe. While that could afford us a mansion with a staff of 20 people waiting on us hand and foot in Thailand, here it's just a simple room. But at least it's clean, comfortable and cheap.


Walking down the touristy piazza in Shkodër

Shkodër is a fairly modern city. Not what I expected when I think of Albania. The tourist centre is very done up, but once you're outside of it, like where we're staying, it seems a bit more older. Not run-down, but not manicured either.


Kids play in the streets in the neighbourhood near our hotel
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  #1287  
Old 10 Dec 2016
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Just around the corner, we went to a traditional Albanian grill-house for dinner

It's funny, although the language changes dramatically from former Yugoslavia to Albania, the food here is still familiar. Lots of meats and cheeses just like Montenegro and Croatia. Our old favorite Bosnian pastry Burek is called Byrek here. It's more filo-based, closer to the Greek filo pastries found just a bit further south. It's interesting seeing how the food is starting to morph between regions.


Some yummy lamb and steak roasting in the pit

Shkodër is not really a destination town. In the morning, we pack up our bags and the owner's daughter comes out to say hi. She speaks perfect English and we find out more about her and her family. She's starting university in the fall in the capital city of Tirana, and she's just helping out her family as the hotel here in Shkodër is brand new. They seem pretty affluent, which again spoils the stereotype of Albanians. While talking to her about our motorcycle trip, one limitation that came up is the inability for Albanians to travel easily because of their passport restrictions. They need a visa to go pretty much anywhere outside of the country! It reinforces how lucky we are to be from a country that has minimal travel restrictions.

Our new friend gives us some ideas for where to go in Albania. Yes, even though I am now head of the planning committee, it doesn't mean that I've done any work on it yet. We're still wandering around by the seat of our pants and I think we've now crystallized a route through Albania just this morning.

We thank our new friend and wish her well in her new school year. And then we're waving goodbye to Shkodër in our rear view mirrors.


Packing up to leave
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  #1288  
Old 10 Dec 2016
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Before we leave Shkodër, we need to find vehicle insurance. The Montenegro border is about 14kms outside of town. So we head back towards the coast to find an insurance store. The road is nice and twisty, but our enjoyment is spoiled by the terrible Albanian drivers who take every opportunity to cross over the line onto our side. We hug the right side of the road on every blind turn because 8 out of every 10 oncoming vehicles will suddenly appear in our lane. It is terrible how bad the driving is here!

I read online that driving cars in Albania is a relatively new thing. In 1991, there were only 600 cars in the whole country - most of them owned by members of the ruling communist party. Everyone else rode bicycles, horses and carts (which we still see on the road). After the wall fell, everyone went out and got cars. But they never learned to drive them properly. The licensing here seems not to be very stringent so as a result there are many accidents. We'll have to remain vigilant around here.

Oh yeah, when I say everyone went out and got cars. They didn't get any kind of car. They all got Mercedes-Benzes. Everyone here drives a mid-to-late model Mercedes-Benz. Kind of suspicious for the poorest country in Europe... Not to cast any aspersions, but I was sorely tempted to check the VIN numbers on some of them to see where these Mercedes originally came from. But they were all whizzing by too fast and dangerously close to my left ear for me to make them out clearly.

Back to our hunt for insurance. Every building that advertised vehicle insurance at the border was closed. We finally found a shack on the side of the road that seemed kinda official. €15 for 15 days. Not too bad. If it was real...

Armed with our kinda-official-looking insurance document, we dodged more erratic Mercedes-Benzes and headed further south.


Enjoying the sunny weather in Albania. Oh look, a fort on top of a hill. Haven't seen one of those in a couple of days now...


Downtown Tirana

Tirana was not too interesting to us either. It's the capital of Albania and was just another place for us to sleep while we relocated further south into the country. We did visit the museum while we were there. Not that interesting...
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  #1289  
Old 10 Dec 2016
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The hotel owners' daughter highly recommended we see Berat. Now I see why...

Berat is 2,500 years old. It's a UNESCO site. Total Gringo-Trail Town. Which is why we're going to stay there for a couple of days! We're absolutely suckers for a good Gringo-Trail Town.


Motorcyle parking, like everywhere in Europe, is free and wherever you can find it

We park right on the boardwalk overlooking the Osum River. That's the name of the river. Osum. How Osum is that?


We can see our motorcycles from the cafe where we're having lunch

Pizza seems to be very popular in Albania. But that is true pretty much everywhere in the world. Here are a couple of random pieces of trivia: There are more Albanians living outside of Albania than inside the country. In New York City, Albanian-owned pizzerias are fast displacing Italian-owned pizza-pie restaurants...


This is what Berat is known for.

White Ottoman houses line the valley on both sides of the Osum River. This has led to Berat being nicknamed the "town of a thousand windows". One side of the river is more commercial, with the white buildings housing restaurants and stores. The other side, the Quartor of Gorica, is more residential and also has some hostels for backpackers to stay in.
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  #1290  
Old 10 Dec 2016
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Crossing the bridge to see more of these white houses on the other side.


There are three bridges across the Osum, two pedestrian and a main vehicle crossing


Okay, back on the bikes. Let's see where we're staying.

On the commercial side of Berat, we climb a steep cobblestone road up to the Kala, a walled citadel at the top of the hill. There's a few churches inside the fortress, as well as some cafes, stores and restaurants.


At the gates to the fortress


The bumpy ride into the Kala

We ride past all the vendors selling clothing, their wares hanging on the inside of the walls of the citadel. Most people trek up here for the view and to visit the churches. We're actually sleeping here! How Osum is that?
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