BMW R1200GSA vs Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

So what will happen to us in Albania?


Every night we plan to get an early start the next day, but it just doesn't happen. Today We went downstairs to pay our bill, and of course there are no credit card facilities, and we had no cash. Off I go into town to find a bank. No joy. I went back to the unit and Mike the owner offered to take me into Bar in his car. At the same time he would show me the turn off for a short cut to Albania. The locals use it and apparently it saves about 50 kilometres. What concerned me about this is that I thought we were already in Bar, but Bar is a large town about five kilometres away. I'm so happy we got that wrong because where we stayed was so much nicer.

I didn't want to put Mike out so I just took my bike and rode into Bar. It took me ages to find a cash machine, and when I did it wouldn't let me have any money. : ( Another twenty minutes riding around, and asking three people finally got me to another machine that gave me some money. I made good use of it and I won't run out again for a while now I can tell you.

When I got back 
it was about 11 am, Suzanne had befriended the cats, and Mike had a visitor who is a keen motorcyclist who wanted to see my bike, and have a chat. We sat on the balcony sipping fruit juice and talking about bikes, with Mike translating. We finally got going just after midday. According to Google maps we had a six and a half hour ride in front of us. No problem. We topped up the bike and headed off to find our short cut turn off. It was up an incredibly steep road, a little rough, and only one lane wide, but it was pretty good. We were on our way. Tonight we'll be at the Horizons Unlimited camp site.

Suzanne's new friends enjoy breakfast. I told Mike to count them before we left and if any were missing to check Suzanne's bags.

Mike's plans for the future for his accommodation. Mike is an architect and designed the current house for his father. He plans to upgrade it in stages in the following years. I kind of like it as it is. If you're in the area consider staying here. You'll like it I'm sure.

Now Albania doesn't have the best reputation in the world. In fact it's touted as one of the most dangerous countries to visit. Thieves, rip off merchants, bad roads, Mafia, crazy drivers, corrupt Police and so on. Our idea was to be able to ride straight through Albania and into Greece in a day, if we felt we needed too. With the late start that plan was looking a little dodgy. The road was typical of all the roads we'd ridden in the last week or so, so all was good. Then the wind picked up, badly, and it started to rain. Lightly at first, then heavily. We didn't have any dramas and the next few hours went by pretty easily. Then we came across a HUGE traffic jam. A single lane of traffic stretched out in front of us for as far as we could see. Over to the left side of the road and nail it. Whenever a car came the other way the traffic would part and let me in I LOVE this. Then we found the source of the traffic jam. The Albanian border crossing. I looked at the line of cars, and I looked at the checkpoint and thought, stuff it. I rode straight up to the front of the line and pulled up in front of the front car. The guy behind me was going off, and I didn't blame him at all, but we had some ground to cover so... I'm sure he'll get over it. I did smile and wave as we left the check point.

A few images from the road...

This is how high we are on the coast, before we head into the mountains.

Yes, that's a town down there.

Local transport. These are everywhere.

Fruit and veg shop.

We got to Mamurras, had a coffee and consulted our map. There are no sat nav readings here boyo. I was a little concerned that by my calculations, and the map details, we still had about six more hours of riding in front of us. We'd already done about four. Something wasn't adding up. We put the wet liners in the jackets, climbed back on the bike and got going toward Tirana. Our break was a short one.

We stopped for a late lunch, and to check our navigation at a little cafe on the outskirts of Tirana. Here we met Suzanna. Suzanna fell in love with Suzanne and after a huge feed (we must look malnourished as we always get given a giant meal) didn't want us to go. They are now Facebook friends and I'm sure Suzanna will be in touch. As we prepared to leave Suzanna came over with Suzanne's bag containing our passports and money. Suzanne had left it in the toilet earlier.
So this is terrible Albania eh? Once again every person we spoke to or asked for directions was happy and helpful. Even the Police were great when we spoke to them. I rode past one cop doing double the speed limit. It was too late to slow down so I waved to him. He just smiled and waved back. Another copper saluted us as we rode past, and it was a proper salute not a casual one.

Continuing on our merry way I realised I had ridden into a large square surrounded by what looked like government buildings. The only other vehicles there were Police and Military vehicles. I don't think we were supposed to be there. I rode up to a group of four coppers and asked for directions to Elbasan. None of them spoke English and they didn't look happy. Then I pointed at the map in our tank bag and showed them where we wanted to go. They all smiled and pointed in the direction we should go. I was confused, but happy. Nothing new there.

Hmmm, I don't think we should be here. (This was the best stretch of road that we saw in Albania).

Back on track and we hit a road with HUGE everything. Huge moutains, huge bends, huge cliffs. Just huge everything. 
Every time we went round a bend we were presented with another one. We were surrounded by bloody big mountains which meant we had to go up one of them, and we did.

Now we are looking down on the other mountains. Why would you build a pass across the highest mountain around?

Now we are riding in the sky, on the outside edge of the road. I didn't really like the "safety" railing much either. Nervous? Yeah, you could say that.

 It was another ear popping ride up and then down again. I checked the map and I think it's 1,300 M above sea level. I said out loud in my helmet "Please, no more" but there was more, and plenty of it. On one bend Suzanne cried "Holy f ****** s***" we were looking down onto the tops of other mountains and we were still going up. We rode up that mountain for about an hour. The road at the top of the mountain was on the very top, so there was nothing on either side of the road. Looking left or right you could see for miles and miles, and miles.

We finally made the top. The view to the north...

...and to the south.

The road down. By the time I got to the bottom my hands were toast and my wrists were aching from holding the bars and using the brakes. I even had blisters from the brake lever. This is a casual road ride?

Then of course we had to ride down again. It took us about another hour to reach Elbasan where we stopped for a break and another navigation check. Once again we worked out we had a six hour ride in front of us. Now I'm starting to lose the plot. I checked our calendar and found I had factored in an extra day and we didn't have to be at the meeting til the day after tomorrow. We had a whole extra day. Yahoo! We were sitting outside a hotel having our break and I said to Suzanne, we need a room for tonight.

Suzanne worked her magic and in a few minutes we had a very nice room, with air conditioning, a bath, and a fridge, all for thirty Euros. I was told to park my bike right outside the front door and the guy on the desk would watch it all night. After dinner which consisted in part of the very best tasting fish I have ever eaten, Suzanne made a bee line for the bath, but there was no plug. I went downstairs and tried to explain to the guy on the front desk what we needed. Very few people here speak any English, and my Albanian is non existent. He ended coming up to the room and when I showed him what we needed he just tore of some toilet paper and plugged the hole with it, put some water in, smiled, and walked out. It's funny, we're in a room with top quality fittings and marble everywhere, but we can't have a bath plug. You have to chuckle. 

So that was our first experience of Albania. My recommendation is to not listen to anything anyone tells you about different countries. Go for yourself and make your own decisions. We were nervous about travelling here but all we found were more lovely people. As for the roads, OK, they aren't up to Aussie standards, but they aren't that bad either. There are a few places in the bigger tows where the road has been damaged, but if you ride with your eyes open it's not a problem, The traffic and drivers? Well, it's different. You have to concentrate and claim your space. When a car comes up next to you just push your way in front. They'll let you. If you've ever raced a bike, just think second or third corner in a race and you'll be fine.

We hit the sack early because we decided that we would make an early start tomorrow. We only have about six hours in font of us, or do we?

PS I've just checked Google maps and our trip is supposed to be about 500Km. We rode for about seven hours and we aren't even half way. Maybe European kilometres are longer than ours.

Where's Rex's Buff?

The lovely Deborah. Honda CB600F riding legend, and really cool bird to hang out with.

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