Cycling trough the Balkans

Right after the border to Albania a different mood begins to rise in me. I feel like taking a step into a whole different area than just crossing a border. Smoke is rising from different spots. As I will learn later, the smoke comes from burning garbage. During the first kilometers, I cross a variety of dead animals. From dogs, cats, foxes and later even a donkey. The smell and view of the rotting bodies combined with the smoke of burning garbage confuse me and lowers my mood. It should accompany me during my stay in Albania. Some lonely sheep still manage to bring a smile on my face while casually heading in the same direction following the street to meadow land.

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The contrast between the country and the people amazes me. Applauding and cheering people in small villages, encouraging drivers on the way up, the never ending “Hello, Hello” from the children and the generosity of the people are the greatest so far. I find it hard to deal with the opposite experiences between the welcoming people and the road. If I find a campsite I usually pass by and ask the locals if I can stay there. Several times I had a camp site all for myself.

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I decide to make some extra kilometers and cycle through Mavrovo national park and Skopje. Besides of statues of Alexander the great the city has chosen to redesign and make it more attractive for tourists by adding even more statues to it. The sheer amount of statues is extraordinary. With my lifelong experience of statues easily doubled I continue and again make some extra kilometers where I hope to find a road I detected on a map. On other ones like Google maps and any other official sites it wouldn’t show up.

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After an exhausting day and camping in cold conditions, I am glad to find the little trail existing. I follow the street till a fence with a gate appears. A guy that looks like a ranger comes out of the cabin and approaches me. He tells me that I can’t go through this territory. As the only way to Greece would be back to Skopje we had a little conflict of interest. After unsuccessfully trying to scare me off with the danger of bears and the Balkan lynx he feels correctly that I wouldn’t turn back under any circumstances. We finally agree that I will not stop once and drive as fast as I can and make noise to scare the bears away. He lets me pass. Even though I tried not to show it, his stories of the bears made me a little nervous. Later, I tried to search for this region but found nothing.

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One might think going up is exhausting. Yes, it is. Also, it is rewarding with mighty sceneries and thrilling downhills. The love to the hills is a changing one :)

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Dogs are getting a bigger and bigger problem. At first, they just barked which didn’t bother me much except at night. As I’m heading more to the southeast some of them start chasing me. Usually, they just run beside me and stop after about 100 meters. On few frightening occasions, they started to push against the bike and bring me out of balance. Luckily my bags protect me against attacks from behind and nothing has happened so far. Still, the fear of a dog accidents grows as the chasing continues and I try to avoid dogs as much as I can. Stray dogs are usually afraid or just make noise. Sheep dogs are the ones that worry me the most but I normally head directly to the shepherd and give him signs and he calls the dogs off.

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Puncture. Only 2 Kilometers left to the Hostel in Thessaloniki. I pump some air in the tires and hope it will get me to the Hostel. Who thought a hot shower and a warm bed can make a man so happy! The lovely company of fellow travelers and catching up with home bring up a deep, warm joy. Almost like the cozy evenings with my friends in Bern. I’m wondering if Sattler still sells ice cream in November. What new beers might Erzbierschof have on tap? I really could eat a Schnitzelbrot at Sous-les-ponts right now. And… I start to realize how much I miss those moments. HA! Am I really getting homesick? On this big adventure? With all those huge impressions every day that I love so much? It must be the age. The age and the burden that comes with it. After all, my 23th year on earth is coming quicker than I can get to china.

The next day I exchange the tube. 5 holes aren’t worth fixing so I make myself some nice hand brakes. After over 2000 Kilometers I bring my bike to a shop and let it get checked and exchange the chain. Everything still seems fine so far. Before the trip, I choose tires that would handle off-road well but had a little more friction. I did not spend as much time off-road as I thought and the rear tire is already halfway through! I will most likely change to a touring tire in Ankara.

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