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Photo by Mark Newton, Mexican camping

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


Photo by Mark Newton,
Camping in the Mexican desert



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  #1306  
Old 24 Dec 2016
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Merry Xmas Gene & Neda from downunder
May Santa bring you a watch, so you won't be so tardy with your wonderful reports & pics
Have a good one guys
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  #1307  
Old 22 Jan 2017
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Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/326.html



I've heard of the French Riviera, the Mayan Riviera, but never known of the Albanian Riviera. Until now.

We've spent the last month traveling slowly down the beautiful Dalmatian coast, the rugged shoreline and sporadic pebble beaches giving way to the flatlands of northern and central Albania. That's where we headed inland to enjoy riding in the mountains. It was only when we headed back to the coast at Vlorë that we picked up the familiar scenery we last saw in Croatia and Montenegro - the same scenery that flocks of Polish, Czech and other Eastern European tourists have already discovered.

With accommodations and food priced at a tenth of the costs of the French Riviera, the Albanian Riviera represents a huge bargain for beach holidayers. It's just a matter of time before the rest of Europe and the world finds out about this hidden jewel.


Beach at Sarandë

We arrive at Sarandë, the unofficial capital of the Albanian Riviera in the late afternoon. Cheap as Albania is, we still save a lot of money by finding accommodations away from the beach. It's just a half km walk to the shoreline, and we take in the old buildings and streets in our neck of the woods.


Our neighbourhood may not be the swankiest, but that doesn't mean there aren't Mercedes-Benzes parked up and down the street!


This is where we're staying!

Our hosts don't speak a lot of English, so once again, we're relegated to pantomiming. Everywhere we go, I make sure to learn the one basic phrase we need to show that we're civilized people: "Faleminderit" - "Thank You". Perhaps many people don't make an effort to learn any Albanian, because every time I pull out the "faleminderit", I get a smile or a laugh. Or maybe it's because it's so unusual for the only Asian tourist in Albania to speak any Albanian at all! Seriously, I haven't seen one brotha or sistah the entire time we've been here!
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  #1308  
Old 22 Jan 2017
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Walking down the boardwalk in Sarandë

After unpacking, we head straight down to the beach to try to catch the last rays of sun before dinner. This is where the city has put most of the money into. The boardwalk is very pretty and it seems everyone in town is hanging out right here.


Sarandë used to be a fishing village before it became the tourist mecca of the Albanian Riviera


Boats coming in at sunset, tourists apartments line the shore in the background


Neda prefers the pebble beaches to sandy beaches because it reminds her of Pula
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  #1309  
Old 22 Jan 2017
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Locals hanging out at the beach


Taking a little stroll on the boardwalk

Neda and I love people-watching. So interesting to see what common facial features define an ethnicity. In Albania, it seems to be a prominent forehead, mostly in the men. I noted that in all cultures, ethnic features seem to magnify as people age. Apart from the obvious differences in hair and skin colour, we all look pretty much the same as babies. As the cartilage in our noses and ears continues to grow in old age and the skin on the face starts to crinkle and wear in a set pattern over time, it's like the DNA in our cells exaggerate these ethnic differences. I'm fascinated by this racial blueprint in our genes.


We found a nice restaurant right on the beach and we watched the sun slowly set on Sarandë, then we strolled back to our apartment along the boardwalk

Although much of the scenery is still reminiscent of the Adriatic coast (I suppose technically it still is), Albania has been such a surprise to me. I didn't think it would be this pleasant and inviting. While the infrastructure is not as developed as Croatia, Albania still has the same pebbly beaches, deep aqua-marine waters and picturesque sunsets. Except without the crowds and at a fraction of the price. We love it!
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  #1310  
Old 22 Jan 2017
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Riding on the road next to the boardwalk, heading out of the city. Past more Mercedes-Benzes

I read something funny the other day. It was a mock advertisement for tourism for the country: "Come to Albania! Your Mercedes is already here!"


Our last visit to archaeological ruins didn't quite pan out. We're going to try again at another site called Butrint

Butrint is the site of ancient ruins dating back through several periods in history. We ride just a half hour south of Sarandë, along the coast and on a thin spit of land where the structures are situated. It's been a Greek colony, a Roman city, an outpost of the Byzantine Empire and part of the Venetian Kindom in the middle ages, and the remains of all these empires are all in this one place.


Right at the entrance of Butrint National Park is the Venetian Tower built in the late 1500s
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  #1311  
Old 22 Jan 2017
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Neda is giving me the history of Butrint as we enter the back of the Roman Theatre

Neda is one of the most studious people I know. She loves reading and researching stuff. Quite the opposite of me. Every new place we go to, she's avidly soaking up all the information in the signs and brochures, while I am wandering around snapping pictures. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't know anything about the place we visit, except that they look kinda cool.


While Neda is learning about the history of Butrint, I take pictures of turtles.


The Agora, a gathering place for the citizens of Butrint


Neda checks out the Roman Theatre. She yells over at me, "This one is not as good as the Pula Amphitheatre!"
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  #1312  
Old 22 Jan 2017
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I think Neda should seriously consider being a tour guide when we're done traveling. She's really good at it.


The Butrint site is on a spit of land, this is the view across the waters


We found a secret entrance!
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  #1313  
Old 22 Jan 2017
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Museum in the Venetian Fortress


Neda explaining to me how the plumbing works in one of the bath houses


In turn, I take pictures of a Balkan Green Lizard! So well camouflaged!


The Baptistery, the most famous monument at Butrint... and the most disappointing!

There is a beautiful mosaic floor hiding underneath all that gravel in the Baptistery. It used to be a Roman bath house until it was remodeled in the 6th century. The tiles have been wonderfully preserved and it's supposed to be the signature piece of Butrint. Unfortunately for us, they periodically cover the mosaic to preserve it, and this is one of the times that the tiles have been obscured.

So disappointed! If you Google "Butrint Baptistery", you can see the beautiful mosaic floor.


The Basilica beside the Baptistery

Still, it's a very cool site! But now we're jumping on our bikes and heading to a country that's basically the king-daddy of all ancient ruins!
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Last edited by lightcycle; 22 Jan 2017 at 10:46.
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  #1314  
Old 26 Jan 2017
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Updated from http://www.RideDOT.com/rtw/327.html



There's a road we want to try but it's going to take us on a pretty circuitous route around southern Albania. There's no pass that goes over the 6,500 foot peaks of the Trebeshina mountain range where we currently are. Although Sarandë is only less than 15 kms away from the Greek border, we turn around and head north to find a dip in the mountain range to cross inland.


Twisty roads crossing the county line between Vlorë and Gjirokastër.

Everytime we see a sign for Gjirokastër , I think of an Albanian electric guitar shaped like a pita sandwich. Then I hummus a tune in my head.


As we clear one set of mountains, the road is flat and fast as we travel north in the valley between mountain ranges

We grab an amazing (and cheap lunch) at a roadside restaurant, lots of yummy Albanian meats. We do a lot of pointing at the pictures in the menu because our Albanian is non-existent. But I offer up a "faleminderit" and the owner of the restaurant smiles at me. The people here have all been so friendly, it's such a shame that more tourists don't visit Albania.

We finally round the bend across one of the breaks in the Trebeshina moutains and we stop for the evening in a town called Përmet.


Had to shop around a bit to find a hotel in our price range (about €20). Right in the middle of town, not bad!
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  #1315  
Old 26 Jan 2017
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Next morning, we set off to ride SH75 through the mountains

We had read that this road was really bad, even by Albanian standards, but the scenery is supposed to be awesome. So all day, we were expecting the asphalt underneath us to crumble into gravel and mud, like SH20 in the north, but the road just narrowed and the pavement got a bit broken. We worried for nothing.


Those are the some of the mountains we rode around yesterday on our right


Twisties on the outskirts of the Fir of Hotova National Park, home to the largest area of Bulgarian Firs

The national park is the largest protected forest in Albania. They protect the trees from predatory fir traders.


Riding alongside the Vjosa River. I can't believe the weather we are continuing to have. It's a marvelous day for exploring on two wheels!
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  #1316  
Old 26 Jan 2017
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Man sitting side-saddle on horse watches us ride by


One of the larger towns in Gjirokastër county


Neda getting her lean on!


And then getting stuck in traffic. Check out the sheep dog clearing the way for us!
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  #1317  
Old 26 Jan 2017
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We saw a lot of painters out in the countryside. Apparently, this is a big thing here.


Okay, the road did get a little bit bad in some areas...

SH75 was a great road, lots of twists and turns as it climbs up and down the mountainside. Here's a video of some of the roads we did in Albania, both in the north and the south.

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  #1318  
Old 26 Jan 2017
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We rode through Korçë without stopping, but here's the main attraction: the cathedral of Korçë.

Korçë was quite a nice town, lots of people and we rode past some nice cafes. Would have been a great place to stop for a bite to eat, but we are saving our appetites for something else...


Crossing over at Korçë into Greece. Yay!

We had to show our passports again since we were re-entering the Schengen Zone. Greece is a bit of an island, it's entirely surrounded by non-Schengen countries, although that is slowly changing.

But we're in a new country! Very exciting! Greece has been on our bucket list for a while now. We were originally supposed to spend last winter here, but opted instead to go to Thailand. When I was a kid, I used to read about all the Greek gods and heroes. I dreamed I was Perseus and had nightmares about the Minotaur and Medusa. I couldn't get enough of it! And now we were here in the birthplace of Greek mythology!


As soon as we crossed the border, it started raining. Uh oh, was our dry weather streak over?

I thought I knew a lot about Greece, but riding around the northern part of the country was not like I imagined it. I always thought Greece was sun-drenched, golden sand and Greek temples in every street corner. The scenery up here is still very much like the Albanian countryside we left. Still lush and green. Where are all the temples?!?


The town of Kastoria, on the other side of Lake Orestiada
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  #1319  
Old 26 Jan 2017
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Thankfully the sprinkles were brief, lasting only less than an hour. It was already dry when we pull into our first Greek town, Kastoria, to look for some food. I know exactly what I'm ordering! My favorite Greek food is souvlaki, mainly lamb. We find a nice restaurant overlooking the lake and perused the menu. Unfortunately, no lamb souvlaki, but they did have pork instead. With lots of tzatziki sauce. Mmmmmm...

Then we looked at the bill. Holy crap, it was expensive! Over double what we were used to paying in Albania. Whut!?! I don't think we'll be eating out a lot in Greece. Aren't they supposed to be having a recession in this country?!


Outside the restaurant where we ate. I love all the Greek writing, it really makes you feel like you're somewhere exotic!

GΣΠΣ & ΠΣDΔ in GRΣΣCΣ! Haha! Or, I should say... HΔHΔ!

So obviously with prices so high, we didn't stay in town. I found a nice place in a village called, Sidirochori, up in the hills a few kms outside Kastoria.


This place was a lot nicer than I thought it would be based on the price! And amazing views of the countryside too!

We're going to take a couple of days to rest up here.


Neda is starting a new cross-stitch pattern. This one is going to be her most ambitious one yet! Can you guess what it is?
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  #1320  
Old 26 Jan 2017
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I woke up early the next morning to catch the sun rising over the hills in Northern Greece.


The apiary across the street from us was buzzing with activity. Was so tempted to lob a water balloon at them. HΣΣ HΣΣ HΣΣ...

Our host is a really nice Greek lady who didn't look at all like what I thought Greek people looked like. I thought everyone here would be olive-skinned with dark hair. She had fair skin and blonde hair and spoke really good English. She gave us some suggestions of things to see in the area. She said there was a road behind where we are staying that's really popular with motorcyclists. It leads to a traditional Greek village called Nymfaio, which is one of the prettiest villages in Northern Greece. Oooh, temples and ruins? Okay, let's do it!


More cool Greek writing on the way to Nymfaio
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