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Tasty legs

40 °C

After I'd savored the delights of Split I resumed my southerly direction along the number 8 road, heading towards Dubrovnik. It was another cloudless day, and the road continued hugging the coast, meandering up and down, in and out and passing through some busy towns. I usually aim to be on the road before 7, but didn't quite hit my target this time due to......another bad sleep! Choosing to enjoy the evening atmosphere of Split, I made the classic mistake of leaving it too late to find a camping spot - a lesson I should have learned by now. Cycling around the suburbs I came across a not so well hidden deck chair. Too tired to continue I got out my mattress, liner and sleeping bag, made my bed and fell asleep to the sound of the breeze sifting through the pine needles. Like when reality invades your dreams, I awoke to the flashing of a torch, and someone kicking my bed - an unnecessarily crass way to wake someone I seem to remember thinking. It was a security guard, who cruelly, at 2 in the morning turfed me off what turned out to be a big hotel complex. Clearly a case of selective seeing the night before.

So as I was saying I'm usually up and going before 7, maybe with a loaf of bread for breakfast, or a some fruit, then head off, aiming for 30 to 40 miles before my next stop. By noon the summer sun is beating down so I stop for lunch, which is either another loaf or a bowl of pasta. My afternoon stints are usually a similar distance, followed by either a rice or pasta dish for dinner. As you can see, I'm struggling to vary my diet beyond a few simple staples, and for good reasons. My kitchen only has one hob, so only simple dishes are possible. A few basic ingredients (pasta, bread, rice, onions, garlic, tomato puree.....) are often the cheapest, whilst offering plenty of energy to cycle many miles with. And just a general lack of inspiration, especially when cycle on your own. It's seems to be a joke amongst cycle tourers that all we can think of to eat is pasta, pasta pasta! But meeting other travellers does help to inspire, and since I've managed to add a few other dishes to list.

Geof was an American chap, cycling around the Adriatic sea. I met him in a town between Split and Dubrovnik. we hit the road together and enjoyed each others company for a few days. He was a sports event organiser, and in between work he would head off to various locations around the world for a few weeks on the bike. Heading into Dubrovnik we battled a headwind, adapting some Tour De France (ish) wind breaking to ease the effort. Past a towering cruise ship, up a hill and in amongst the masses, here we said farewell. Time for some lunch. The shuffling battalion of tourist where seeking out any sufficient shade from the midday heat. I eyeballed a free bench in the distance and made a hasty break for it, doing my best not to catch any of the many ankles with my peddles. As I neared I sensed the desires of others to obtain the same sitting spot (sharing isn't really an option with a fully laden bike), so I upped my pace and just about made it. I sat down victoriously, unable to resist a silly smug smile as my rivals stood in front of me, dispirited and lost. I celebrated with some chocolate spread and bread, watching the boats bob up and down in the harbor.

Just as I was making friends with one of the local cats, Martin, a Dutch cyclist said hello. After exchanging the usual details of distances, times and directions we teemed up and made a break for some countryside relief. Martin was well tapped into the hospitality side of cycle touring, and I was more than willing to tag along. That evening we rode into Marko's place, a Warm Showers destination. Warm Showers is essentially an online directory, offering cycle tourists places to rest their heads for a night or two; like coachsurfing, but for cyclists.

One night at Marko's turned into four. Mechanical doings, a lazy day down at the beach and eating food takes time! Marko, a compelling character, had lived an interesting life. When he was young he left Croatia, bound for Canada. He blagged himself a right to residency and made himself a living in the paint industry. We spent the evenings listening to his life stories, all half glazed over by many bottles of cheap local wine. Here I also met 2 Germany cyclist. Fredericka and Jan where cycling to Istanbul. When the our lust for the road returned we all hit it together, the 4 of us heading for the border of Monte Negro.

My singular preconception of this country was based on it's small appearance in the Bond film Casino Royal; The shot of a train traveling through some hilly countryside painted a nice picture. I was also aware that we'd be following the coastal road, which I feared would follow the trend set in Croartia; over crowded and over built, which it was. To be expected I suppose, so we filtered into the flowing traffic and meandered our way. With the land falling down to the sea on the right, and climbing into rock to our left, camping spots where in short supply. However, thanks to the bilingual talents of my fellow travelers we enjoyed two nights of idyllic camping. The first was on an ideally flat field, the noise of the road falling away with the land. Next morning we enjoyed a breakfast of freshly picked figs, handed to us by some friendly locals. Tender and sweet, they where delicious.

After a bracing morning ride, sharing the road with trucks, motorcycles and cars, we stopped for lunch in a shaded spot in some woods. Martin put his phone on charge, placing the solar panel not far away in a sunny spot. We cracked open our liter tub of chocolate spread and broke the bread. I went for a little walk afterwards, and on returning from my scout, the news came. Both the smart phones and the solar charger had been stolen. Thinking about it it wasn't surprising; it was a busy area, and they were out of our sight. With little to be done, we got back on the bikes and peddled on. An afternoon of generic coastal ridding was followed by a cooler camp in the mountains. Our hosts where an elderly German couple, who generously gave us their front lawn for the night, and supplied us with beer and food. My ability to converse was hopelessly marginal as he didn't speak English. 'David Beckham'! I would shout, which he seemed to like. All night he referred to me as 'Tony Blair', which I didn't like.

New day, new country. We enjoyed a lazy sunny descent into Albania. Crossing the border, the poverty of Europe's poorest country was immediate; Children no older then 8, dressed in ragged clothes where walking alongside the rows of waiting cars, kissing the wing mirrors in the hope for some money in return. The poverty disappeared with the border, and a simple, lazy, pastoral existence soon surrounded us. Enjoying the quiet road, it soon became apparent that we'd left the tourists behind. Tatty novelties where replaced by real functional necessities, and the locals where super friendly; we'd cycling past petrol stations, where the attendants would throw us a big wave, shouting 'Hello, where are you from'?. We all sat down for a cheap Pizza in Shkoder, then cycled into the evening with a glorious tail wind, passing small wooden stalls selling fruit and veg, enjoying the glow of a setting sun.

Next day we headed down a busy straight road for the capital of Albania; Tirane. On our way in we're overtaken by a keen young road cyclist, zipping past us with a fading 'HELLLooooooooo.....' Unable to resist his challenge I just about chased him down. I asked him if there was anywhere to camp in the city, and after taking us to a tap to fill up our water bottles, he lead us to the biggest park of the city, which lay next to a big lake. Thanking him he headed off, leaving us to enjoy the last night of the 4 of us together. We exchanged details and enjoyed a hearty dinner of cheesy pasta. The nest day our local friend joined us for a farewell coffee, and after some goodbye hugs and words, Martin and I left Fredericka and Jan; they were continuing south along the coast towards Athens. We joined the motorway out of the city, which gradually narrowed as it climbed into the surrounding mountains. Boys selling tubs of blackberries would chase after us, shouting their price of 2 euros. Martins chain came off, and before long he was surrounded. He re-engaged his chain, cycling out of the the gathering without any blackberries. A thunderstorm and a descent later we said goodbye in Elbasan, and after a week of traveling with others I was on my own again, my mind fluttering between memories of the last few days and thoughts for the coming ones.

Now I was heading East and inland. The road slowly began to ascend, and the valley tightened into a gorge. Again, camping spots where tricky, and I eventually settled for an OK spot, situated between a river and the road. Some local boys where out fishing, so once my tent was up and my things organised I went to say hi. One of the them spoke good English, so he translated for his friends. They seemed surprised that I was happy to simply camp out in a foreign country. 'Dogs', one of them exclaimed. I had noticed many stray dogs since entering south eastern Europe - perhaps this is one element I overlooked.
Sure enough it was. The next morning I awoke to the sound of a dog barking right outside my tent. It froze me solid............. Not making a sound, the barking soon stopped, and I waited half an hour just to be sure. Quietly opening the zip, I peered out to see if it was clear. Behind me, about 20 meters away a large, long haired spotted dog, the size of a female deer was sniffing about. I quietly zipped the tent back up and resumed my waiting game. An hour later the coast was clearly, so I quickly packed up and hit the road.

After breakfast the road continued it's incline up the narrow gorge, with thick vegetation to the right. Just as I was ruminating on my morning drama, another large dog came running out of the bush, barking aggressively at me and bearing it's teeth. As it ran up beside me my initial instinct was to kick it in the mouth (this may seem harsh but these aren't domesticated pets. They are large, aggressive and possibly carry rabies, so take no prisoners is the best approach) but this would be like handing it a bone, so I just focused on cycling and tried to ignore it (a hard thing to do). It continued to chase me from the side, and I started to veer into the other lane where there was an oncoming lorry. Very kindly it was a this point that it decided to leave me be, turning around and running away. Steering myself back into my lane, I could now concentrate on cycling on the right side of the road. Note to self - get some sort of deterrent (pepper spray's illegal in many countries).

Finally reaching the summit at midday, I crossed the border into Macedonia, where a large proud flag was flowing in the breeze. Descending down into Struga I sat down at a restaurant and enjoyed a big juicy kebab - 'a balanced diet' I thought. Another climb for the afternoon, up a lush and refreshingly cool valley. I could hear a barking dog up ahead, so I stopped and armed myself with gravel from the road, laughing at the idea of filling my pockets with stones on a climb. Turning the corner a large white dog was preoccupied with something in a bush. Whether it saw me or not I don't know, but I simply cycled past, and to my surprise it took not the least interest. FEWF.

Half days ride and I was crossing the Greek border, their modestly sized flags paling in comparison to the single Macedonian parachute. The mountains ranges soon veered off either side, and I enjoyed the scenes of a wide valley. Fields of different crops spread to the mountains, and the jets from water cannons rotated near and far. With a fond familiarity It reminded me of rural Norfolk.

Choosing not to chance my existence with any stray dogs, I scored a camping spot in the garden of another Marko. A little hesitant to say yes at first, he soon warmed to the idea and let me in. Just as I was priming my stove for dinner, he pulled up in his truck and produced a plastic bag. Inside was a bunch of grapes, some tomatoes, half a loaf, cheese and some fried eggs, all prepared by his wife for my dinner. I couldn't thank him enough. I felt like Bacchus, sitting under the grape vine enjoying my delicious diner. 'Coffee for breakfast' he shout as he drove back to his house.
I joined him and his wife in the morning, enjoying his animated and lively told tales. I hit the road with more grapes, tomatoes and a bottle of oil for mosquito bites - very useful.

I finally reached the city of Thesoliniki that afternoon. Nestled between the mountains and the coast it's Greece's second largest city. The sea front has been very nicely decked out as a walkway. Locals taking their time, walking or cycling, enjoying scenes of the bay, backed by a faint silhouette of Mount Olympus rising into the clouds. I've been here for just under a week now. Laure, a lovely French girl has put me up in her flat, and between movies and good food I've been prepping for the Middle East. Getting bike spares, sorting maps and checking out visa requirements (Blahhhh).
Sadly Iran is off the cards due to visa restrictions, which sucks. So it's going to be an up and down route through many countries, until I reach SE Asia. I reckon Visa's are gonna be the biggest challenge here.

Until then, Greece, with it's slow pace and fresh food..........

Posted by Banana Spokes 03:07 Archived in Greece

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Alex, Good to meet you today. Best of luck for your travels. We have joined travellerspoint and see its a good site. Our blog (via wordpress) is www.decade2australia.org

Have fun and stay safe.

David and Bernie Lock

by davidlock

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