Entering southeast Albania: cycling Pogradec to Korça

The cycling from Librazhd to Korça proved suddenly smooth: relatively flat terrain after the mountains and asphalted roads. (The people in these parts also speak in a fashion closer to Standard Albanian, making understanding much easier). Early September, however, brought perpetual rain, which made it very difficult to enjoy this portion of my travels. Continue reading Entering southeast Albania: cycling Pogradec to Korça

Challenging roads in northeastern Albania: cycling Kukës–Peshkopi–Librazhd

Cycling across northeastern Albania from Kukës to Librazhd via Peshkopi was an enlightening experience. I had traveled through other parts of Albania before and thought I knew the country, but the northeast has a very different feel. The people seem different, and sadly the overwhelming feeling is one of poverty and abandonment. The views, however, are just as stunning as they are elsewhere in this mountainous country. Continue reading Challenging roads in northeastern Albania: cycling Kukës–Peshkopi–Librazhd

From Kosovo to Albania: cycling the Qafa e Prushit pass

For getting from Kosovo to Albania, I settled on the border crossing at the Qafa e Prushit pass south of Gjakova, which would lead me on to the Albanian city of Kukës. I was intrigued by this border crossing because the Bradt Albania guidebook describes it as “desolate country”, but there are hardly 50 km between Gjakova and Kukës, and the Albanian side of the border is a continuous string of villages. It’s really nothing special by Balkan standards, though the mountain views are nice. Continue reading From Kosovo to Albania: cycling the Qafa e Prushit pass

A rushed Western Balkans trip

I spent most of July unwinding in Cluj and visiting friends in Hungary, lazing about somewhat. Still, I felt like talking some time to see somewhere new before heading up to Odessa for the 789 Project hitchhiking festival. Because I had never been to the Western Balkans before, that seemed an appealing destination, though touring this beautiful and complex region in the space of a week didn’t allow for much.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia was a good country to save until now, as it has remained quite cheap while the rest of Eastern Europe has become dramatically more expensive than when I first came to this beloved half-continent. Bosnian people reminded me very much of Israelis: gruff and brutally direct, but it doesn’t take long before you find they have deep wellsprings of kindness.

As I undertook this trip with little advance preparation, Mostar was just a point on the map for me, though along the way I heard mention of an old bridge there. I was very surprised then to find that the city is one of the most heavily touristed spots in Bosnia and the entire Balkans, thanks to that picturesque bridge, the 16th-century Stari Most.

Albania

Albania still seems to me like the most exotic country in Europe, two centuries after Gibbon spoke of a land within the sight of Italy which is less well known than the interior of America. As I proceeded across the country from Montenegro to Macedonia, everyone I met during my brief journey here treated me with the greatest hospitality. Understanding them, however, was a challenge. I did not have access to a textbook of their particular dialect of this very regionally variable language, and the claim that everyone here has some command of Italian proved untrue.

Pressed for time, I mostly saw the capital, Tirana. This city was too similar to the south of Romania to interest me much: lots of concrete, the architecture of a madman’s regime, skimpy fashions and bad turbo-folk music. Were it not for the bizarre orthography of every posted text, I could have thought myself in some part of Bucharest or Craiova. The smaller towns and countryside I passed through had much more individual character and they will be the focus of my next journey here.