Wednesday 19.8.2015 Countries:11 416km Total:3215km
We decide not to venture in to Skopje (the capitol of Macedonia) since there really wasn't anything we wanted to see there and I was way to early (100kms) to spend a night there.
We therefor mosty transit through Macedonia down to Lake Ohrid which according to my trusty Lonely Planet guide is the most scenic area of Macedonia and home of the most visited tourist attraction, the church of St. John of Kaneo.
The traffic culture in Macedonia isn't much better than Albania and we travel mostly on the smaller road network so even though the riding is very nice we make very slow progress.
The GPS-coverage for this are is completely hopeless and to make things worse the streets are usually named "street something somethingelse probablyaname somethingmore finish" so trying to get a route is practically impossible.
I get the feeling that the general attitude towards tourists is that they don't give a f**k about you, your money or your vehicle so there aren't a lot of helpful signs (in any language).
We therefore overshoot our target by a longer distance but since we eventually end up at a very scenic lookout point so it didn't really matter all that much.
We head into town Ohrid to give it one last shot of locating the church and judging by the bikini-density this town is a tourist trap of enormous proportions.
I've finally managed to find something in the GPS that seems to correct so I am now a man on a mission, I will follow it blindly, so blindly in fact that I deliberately ride against one way streets.
By now we have already ridden 200kms and the sweat is just pumping out of every little pore so I pretty much gone into a fuck-it-all kind of mood.
This isn't exactly unheard of in these parts either so no one seem to mind until we get to a single lane tunnel and meet a local.
He points and shouts franticly that he has the right of way.
I try to calmly try explain to the gentleman that I may be an idiot but I'm an idiot without a reverse gear so unless he wants to get out of his car and help me push the bike he would to better to reverse and let us through first.
He relents (obviously under violent verbal protest) and lets us through but since this was sure to happen again we decide to leave the bikes at a restaurant and continue on foot.
We actually do manage to find a church but it turns out it's the Church of St. Sophia and not the Kaneo church.
This is one of the oldest churches in the world dating back to somewhere in the late 800 and with the frescos completely untouched.
If this had been a plan b it wouldn't have been bad at all, as complete freakish coincidences go this was stroke of pure luck.
At the church we meet a small group of Irishmen who very friendly and helpful but gives us completely wild directions to Kaneo which I know beforehand that I'm never going to be able to follow but at least we now know we're not even close to it.
It's now almost 6pm, we're pretty beat up from the riding thus far, we haven't eaten dinner and have about 130kms further to Tirana.
We didn't really even need to discuss it we knew just by looking at each other that we'd given up on Kaneo by now.
Instead we decide to enjoy our surroundings and pay our way for the parking by eating dinner, due to language difficulties I managed to order a chicken drowned in cheese but by now I'm completely starving so I eat it anyway and will most likely have to deal with the consequences of that decision later.
We leave the beautiful Ohrid district behind us and head for the Albanian border. If the Albanian traffic culture is the mother of chaos the Kjafasan border passage is no better.
All in all it will take us an hour to cross and by 7pm you would think this isn't exactly peak hour.
A less than professional border police waves us to an empty lane and then promptly leaves without indication where the hell we were supposed to go from there.
After queuing for about fifteen minutes we get told told that we're in the wrong queue like it's the most obvious thing in the world and he doesn't even give us directions until specifically asked to do so.
By the time we get to where we're supposed to go they have opened up the line where our motorbikes are now blocking vehicles that have already been cleared thus causing a bit of a ruckus (not to use the term riot).
The riot begin working for us though when a pretty aggressive Albanian gentleman states that if I don't move my motorcycle immediately he would do it for me.
I politely inform him that it would be very rash and unwise decision that would have some undesired consequences.
He rethinks his decision and instead goes onto full on attack mode on the border guards on our behalf to get them to give us priority so we'd get the f**k out of the way and he is immediately joined by others whose path we continued to block.
He and we get the desired result but by the time we get through into Albania it had already gone dark.
We immediately hit a pretty steep decent and the further down we get the darker it gets due to the surrounding hills and there is not a star visible in the sky.
This is a whole new level of dark, I'm talking coal miners ass crack dark. Completely pitch black.
The difference between high and low beam is so big it's like when you take a bearing for the bed and turn out the lights by the door and then sort of fumbles your way.
But instead of heading for a soft mattress, here you're most of the time heading for a hair pin corner with no guard rails separating the road from a precipice.
We kept descending for what felt like an eternity which felt pretty strange since Ohrid definitely didn't feel like it was up in the mountains.
I have since learned that in total we descended 900m from Kjafasan so the feeling of going down an endless slope wasn't that far off.
Albanian street names are hopeless so I feed in the coordinates of the hotel, or at least I thought I did but unfortunately they are obviously incorrect.
The first guy I ask for directions point in one direction and the female police officer I subsequently ask points in the exact opposite direction.
The gut instinct to trust the rozzers proved correct and we finally get to the hotel, the time is not 10.30PM and the least 2-3 hours riding has been so insanely intense that I almost was afraid to blink.
We check in, get a shower and head down to the bar to try and get the pulse rate down from survival-mode to some thing resembling resting heart rate.
Jim Beam understands my needs and pretty soon my eyelids feel like lead.
This was so recent that the motor of the truck was still running. Luckily everone was unhurt and eventuelly the cut the fuel line to kill the truck.
A pretty strark reminder that traveling by road in these parts of the world is not without its hazards.
Thursday 20.8.2015 0km
Already on the outset we knew that yesterday would be a very long day so we had already decided to have a rest day here so we sleep in until about nine o'clock until we go out to "do the town".
Now, there isn't very much to do and all the tourist guides pretty much collectively asks on all the places on earth, why did you choose to go here?
The few sights available are easily summarized and we plow through all of them even before lunch with the strangest one without a doubt being the pyramid designed by previous dictator Enver Hoxhas daughter made to house a museum to his honour.
It is obvious that this building hasn't seen any maintenance for at least a decade and is in a complete state of decay which had the benefit that you could climb on top of it without anyone even raising an eyebrow.
In Hoxhas "glory days" it would most likely have been a shooting offence.
From here we follow the signs to "Tiranes Castle" and finally end up at a the crumbling remnants of a wall with a sign advertising a hotel at the class that probably rent their rooms by the hour.
It was such an underwhelming experience that we could help but laugh at it.
We make our way to Rania park and eat lunch at what at least seems to be a rather elegant fish restaurant.
The food was excellent and with a total of about €20 for all three is was very affordable.
After lunch we head out on a minor shopping spree and I most likely get completely ripped off by paying twenty euros for a pair of sunglasses and a wallet.
By now we've run of both energy and inspiration so we head back to the hotel to regroup and then meet up at the restaurant to book the hotel for tomorrow.
Instead all three of us fall asleep but no harm done, after all this was a rest day and we obviously needed it.
After the snooze we head out for supper. The trusty lonely planet guide recommends a restaurant called Era and since it hasn't let us down yet, that's where we're headed.
It's obvious the minute we step into the restaurant that it is one of the finer establishments so I decide to live it large and order a three course meal with a fruit salad for dessert that was so big we split it three ways.
The grand total for all this culinary excess was less than €30 for the three of us.
We roll more than walk back to the hotel and take an early night so we can get an early start to get to the Greek border.
There still are some remnants of a bygone era. The fact that it isn't something they are particularly proud of became obvious because right after taking this picture a get a scolding from a guard who proceeded by running us off the premises.
Friday 21.8.2015 Countries:12 401km Total:3616km
At breakfast the hotel staff tells us that the washing machine has suffered a breakdown and the laundry that was supposed to be ready by now is still unwashed.
The problem would be solved and we would get our clothes back tomorrow.
Even though this is said by the same woman who did our check-in she is surprised that we're leaving today.
Change of plan and the pack-roll full to the brim with dirty clothes to prohibit cross contamination we roll out.
We leave Tiranes in completely hysterical traffic situation but this time I have a secret weapon.
Albania is heavily influenced by Italy and has embraced their coffee culture completely which means they serve coffee in portions so small you're not sure if it's worth the trouble to drink it or if you should just snort it up your nose.
When I at breakfast explain that I want coffee in a normal sized cup (which strangely enough they actually have) the waitress simply brews espresso until she's filled up the cup.
I would estimate it to be about a quadruple or quintuple espresso.
About the same time as we hit Tiranes morning traffic the caffeine hits me like a swift horse kick in the ass. In my caffeine rush I see colours I've never seen before (which admittedly might have been because of the cheap sunglasses), I see order in chaos, I foresee every dirty move before the Albanian himself have even thought of it, I see laps in traffic like a heat seeking missile.
I am the alpha and the omega, the universe itself can hold no secrets from me.
It was pure chance but Arch Enemys Out for blood really felt like the perfect sound track.
We find our way out of town like we've lived there our whole lives head west for the town of Duress since we have decided to take the longer route and follow the coast down to Greece instead of taking the highway.
Since SH8 from Vlore was mentioned as one of the most scenic coastal road in the whole world it should be worth the trouble and it sure was.
The traffic density did take a bit away from the experience though and occasionally the traffic was almost at a standstill and if it's something you don't want while riding a motorcycle it's slow moving and unpredictable traffic around hair pin bends.
But those times you got a gap long enough to take in and admire the view it truly was magnificent.
We had lunch at a restaurant in Vlore overlooking the Mediterranean with the vacation feeling at peak level.
I had a risotto with sea food but the bear and the lady felt a bit for experimental and ordered bacon & melon.
I got a taste of it and even though I'm pretty sure the "bacon" was in fact Parma ham I'm still going to use this to support my theory that bacon works with absolutely everything because it was actually quite good.
The border crossing didn't meet my expectations at all, getting out of Albania was a breeze but getting back in to EU-territory took a lot longer then I expected, we are after all members of the cult.
Todays big surprise was a uniformed German Polizie who was happy to greet some Swedes because although being from Lübeck he had lived in the town of Lulea.
Why there was a GermSwedish police officer in a German police uniform at the Albanian border is a mystery yet to be resolved.
The last 60kms to Ionannina roll by pretty fast since the road is good and straight and with a 90km/h speed limit.
I had hoped for a more defensive traffic culture on this side of the border but I got my hopes down pretty fast men I made the mistake of lowering my speed to about 65 in a 50km/h zone which obviously was such a provocation I got overtook on the lane reserved for left turning traffic.
We arrive at the hotel in a small suburb of Ionannina. After a quick shower I turbowash a change of clothes after which we actually manage to find a nightopen taverna.
The proprietor recounts a menu consisting of cheese stuffed with cheese on a bed of cheese. He immediately confirms the Greek stereotype by managing to be incredibly nonchalant and kind at the same time. When he eventually get round to chicken in a red whine sauce I yell stop because I figure that not even the Greeks can think of ruining whine with milk products. Turns out they can't. However they like to have a little pasta under their grated cheese. The portion was big enough that I got pretty full without being poisoned and when the Greek understands the problem he actually offers to get me some fries so he was a kind fella.
So when we've finally left Albania good and well behind us some thoughts comes to mind about that without a doubt has left the biggest lasting impression, the Albanian traffic.
To begin with it's incredibly strange that all vehicles in Tirana are premium cars, they seem, to prefer Mercedes. Comparatively the fleet of cars in Tirana as a whole is a lot more expensive then say Stockholm's. This in a country where the farmers can't afford tractors but instead have some kind of pulling device connected to their carts and to a great extent till use horse and carriage. Call me prejudiced but one can't help wonder where all these expensive cars some from and how they can afford them.
It also strikes me as almost a miracle that they can keep their cars in such a great condition with a seemingly complete lack of traffic rules. For example:
- In intersection no one has right of way, it is the essence of chaos.
- In roundabouts everyone gives way to everything. Vehicles stop going into, going out of and in the middle of the roundabout regardless of lane.
- Lane driving isn't practised anywhere though, people are constanly weaving between lanes and the prefered method seems to be driving inbetween two lanes to keep all options free. Who knows, a lighting fast lane change could probably shave of a few milliseconds from the daily commute in this traffic!
- The outside lane is usually used for parking which leads to a standstill when those who have ventured slightly to the right of the middle force there way back in the traffic "flow".
- The police are everywhere but do nothing. We saw a police officer they'd thrown off at an onramp in the middle of absolute nowhere. He had no purpose whatsoever but to stand there with his spatula and look angry, there where absolute zero chance of anyone speeding or him directing standstill traffic.
By the way, the middle age of the average Albanian police officer is so low I suspect no one stays in this proffesion very long and the requirments to be issued a spatula probably aren't that high.