A Travellerspoint blog

The Denouement

Albania to Macedonia to Greece

sunny 35 °C

The afternoon temperature was climbing it was 30 degrees and it would continue to rise, at least for an hour or so despite being well past Noon. He lay spread on the Concrete, he was asleep yet not totally oblivious to his surroundings. 10,000 years of having his genes manipulated had produced in this supine mass of skin, bone, hair, flesh and sinew an ever aware Sentinel... He was asleep, but yet despite this an outside stimuli had begun that unstoppable journey to the awareness centre deep within his brain. The irreversible process of awakening had begun, a lip began to curl back to expose slightly bared teeth, but for this one instant he slept on. No matter, it was all now too late, the brain had in an immeasurable moment responded. Signals were flashed along neural pathways, the Asleep was asleep no longer. Lurching upward, twisting his body and scrabbling for purchase on the rough surface, already assessing the threat he quickly looked around. This would never be a choice between flight or fight, for he would always fight. Now fully awake and in full vocal fury, he charged toward the source of his anger, reassessing and constantly evaluating. He would now engage and the question now posed was how best to ensure total victory for nothing less would be acceptable. A full and violent confrontation was imminent. It would always be this way. He had to do now whatever was necessary in defence of his territory, it was expected of him.

I left Camping Albania, Barbullush Bushat and pressed on southward but with the later intention of veering eastwards at Lezhe, through to Milot, Burrel and then to continue on the Road to Klos. Quite flat for a good 25 miles. It made me look good because the total distance covered on that day was 67 miles. I learnt later that the temperature on the southward leg had been around the 45 degree mark. It is surprising how you do get acclimatised to working at these very high temperatures. It should be noted tho` that it is very easy to get caught in the trap of not drinking enough. I remember naively thinking that I hadn`t sweated as much as I usually did when doing these hot treks, quite forgetting that this would be one of the sure signs of not taking on enough water.
An unusual aspect of the weather in Albania in general is that because of its aspect the weather can be quite different just a little further along and this can be measured in just tens of miles, and not the greater distances that you might imagine you would need to get such a change in for instance: a 5 to 10 degree change in temperature.

I arrived in Burrel just before dusk and the town was abuzz with folk out walking. I had become unused to crowds and seeing such a mass of people here was unsettling. However there was also something a little odd and a little intimidating and at the time I really could not determine what it was that caused these mixed feelings. Well I`m sure that you are ahead of me. The population is 70 pct Muslim the rest purportedly are Catholic. The crowds were all men, the softer, and some say the calming side of society was plainly missing, with only a few of the very young, and much older women out and plainly in sight.

I had to keep going through the town as it was soon to become night. Once dusk has begun then darkness very quickly arrives. I still needed to find a place to sleep but out of town. Options were now lessening and I had to make a decision. I took a right down a track and found myself in a gravel pit. Oh it will do... bread a cheese tonight but get that tent up quick, find the torch, I reckon I`ve got five minutes.. Oh no! The ground is concreted where over the years they have been mixing and loading and shifting cement.. Where is the torch. Decision: don`t use pegs, use rocks... that`s it get the tent up... Oh its collapsing, doesn`t matter get the kit inside, lock the bike, bring in the metal cable from the lock, run it under the mattress and secure it to one of the panniers inside the tent. Seconds later it`s total blackness just as my fingers close around the torch.. all in the nick of time... Bread and cheese?... What I really want is a cooling and steadying beer.... No beer, no bread and no cheese, I laid down and succumbed to total inactivity. I was exhausted and moments later I was asleep.

I had only been cycling 4 or 5 miles the next day when I noticed a guy at the side of the road with a cage in his hand and a parrot striding around authoritatively on top of it but on the outside. It was such a beguiling sight that I just had to stop and attempt conversation. They were both waiting for a bus back to Burrel, he suggested that it would perhaps be better for me in the direction in which I was travelling if I considered getting a bus to at least as far at burqize as the road ahead was very difficult, unmetalled in the most part, rugged and very steep. I explained that my deal was to cycle to Cyprus where at all possible otherwise I`d forever feel a fraud. But not wishing to appear dismissive said I would reconsider and do that here at Suc – Burrel Albania www.campinggallachiesa.com Holidays to Church. I could see the Church above him and to the right on a high point some 25 metres away.
I left both of them to their bus, (Frank, an American and the parrot, probably African) and said I was now looking forward to seeing them both later, as I pushed the old Gal up the hill to the gates, thru and into grounds where the accommodation block for the clergy, the visitors and the Church and the well tended grassy area were laid out before me. I decided there and then to stay two nights as it all felt so welcoming and restful, and perhaps this then was the time and the place that the beginnings, the seeds of my own unsettled feelings and doubts began their early growth.

I had been hearing over the last few weeks on occasions but always in the early hours sounds of drumming. Boom ba ba Boom! It had always sounded spooky, the near proximity of the drumming, at times maybe less than 50 metres away – I have learnt only very recently that it is because of Ramadan and that the drumming are the sounds of the ‘Lodra’ . It stirs everyone from their sleep over the period that Ramadan extends. The Lodra is a double-ended cylindrical drum covered in sheep or goat skin. The drummer hits each end with different sticks, resulting in a two-tone beat. One side is beaten with a wooden hammer-head drumstick, while the other side is hit with ‘thane’ – red branches, stripped of bark, which grow mainly in the mountains. The drummer is traditionally from the Gypsy community and it is customary to give him food or money in recognition of this vital service. He strolls around from habitat to habitat and on one memorable occasion my tent, raising my pulse rate significantly. He might also be invited for Syfyr (pre dawn breakfast), or Iftar (meal at break of fast). Ramadan this year ends here in Albania on the 30th of August. Ramadan doesn`t appear/seem to affect day to day life quite as extensively as it might do in other countries that are predominantly Muslim.

On the 23rd of August I was up at 0545 had coffee and decamped on a bright and dewfilled morning. Saddled up and climbed a further 4 miles levelled out, and there before me was the Dogana/customs check point that would process me through and into Macedonia. I wanted to spend my remaining Lecs but it was quite impossible, it does appear now that I will have them for ever. I bought a double expresso in a well presented coffee/bar restaurant about 25 metres away from the border the only retail outlet I`d seen in the last 7 or 8 miles. A thought occurred to me, it was probably prospering because others would do what I was about to do – give a very generous tip for what probably would be pretty average service just to offload the Lecs.

I was through pretty quickly, still hilly but as it was still early I felt fit and up for it, had a spot of lunch midday and bathed in probably the coldest river I`d ever known. My feet loved it. What I have learnt about these mountains is that during the ascent which can be over many miles, as you then turn the corner, and look across into the distance like as not on to the next and higher mountain you will see the route that next needs to be tackled far far away in the distance, seemingly carved into the mountain and extending over maybe a five mile tract and at a maybe perfect 35 degree angle continuing upward perhaps disappearing and continuing round yet another corner.. Inspiring or disheartening? Take your choice.

Arrived at the Macedonia/Greek border at 1115 a.m on the 25th, very quiet and very shabby, just a dusty wide looking street edged with empty buildings that were once maybe open and thriving and dealing in `duty frees`. Reminiscent of the empty towns in the wild and woolly west of America in the 1890`s...with the sage brush bowling down the often windy but always deserted main street would be an apt comparison, and on that basis I`d guess you could call this a Ghost Crossing. It took the official an age to process me through. I think he was lonely, just wanted a chat. It was around ten miles south of Bitola, the last largish town in South-west Macedonia. I had crossed over into Niki, Greece, and from Dinars for a return to Euroland. I was now heading off to Thessaloniki, and the route was to be via Edessa and Galatades.

Looking back on this period I remember thinking that I was losing my motivation that I no longer looked at the scenery as closely as I once did. I repeatedly found myself deep in my own thoughts, snapping out of it and trying then to remember without success the countryside that I`d just cycled through. The journey had also become deeply repetitious, very few trees and if there were any they would be of the short bushy variety. I remember constantly stopping and eating the blackberries which were growing everywhere, eating by the handful those small round yellow damson like fruits, the stones only slightly smaller than the fruits themselves, and that they were very very sweet. Then as I neared Thessaloniki it became 20 miles of industrialisation. Large buildings with familiar logos, mile after mile after mile of showrooms, cash and carry`s, light industry and non of it attractive or dare I say It? Busy!

Thessaloniki, an easy place to arrive - a very hard place to leave.
I`d already plotted a route over to Alexandroupoli, in readiness for my continuing journey into Turkey. Right now though I needed to plot a route out of Thessaloniki.

If you look closely at the map and Thessaloniki in particular you can see that exit routes in the North-East corner are dominated by motorways. However there does appear to be a number of minor roads that would lead me out via Lagina and then subsequently on to the main road, onwards to Kavalari and Aghios Vasillios and finally out to Alexandroupoli.

That day I arrived in Thessaloniki at midday with the intention of getting out and onwards immediately. I cycled extensively over the next 5 to 6 hours all over this north-west corner in my varied attempts to escape the clutches of the Thessalonikians. I quizzed the locals, I continually explored dead end routes. I followed a variety of tracks over this range of hills but all to no avail. I stubbornly would not accept defeat in my search for a way out. I could not see that there would not be a route out other than the Motorways. One local chap advised that since the Motorways were built that the alternative local routes were not now maintained and had subsequently fallen into disuse. At one point as I laboured up a tarmac lane that had then turned into a track I was harassed by a pack of dogs, they would not give up parrying me, running as a group, as well as making individual runs at myself and the old Gal. Its occasions like these, I remember thinking, that boots should be worn and not the flimsy sandals of the type that I was wearing. Time was against me as dusk was now approaching. I had to change my plans and make a run southwards down the length of Thessaloniki, take a route out, again avoiding the motorway and head toward Nea Redestos edging further eastwards all the time and ultimately heading north-west to Alexandoupli.

As I cycled Southwards I realised that I would need water and cash. On seeing a Bancomat and supermarket I stopped and hurried over. It was then that I realised I no longer had my debit card. I`d lost it. I was still in a busy and very crowded Town, I was all but broke, it was getting dark and I was miles from a bed. I lent the Old Gal up against the wall, I crouched down beside her and did the same. 30 minutes later I was on my way home.. I cycled in the dark a further 25k to the Makadonia airport and booked a seat on a flight to Gatwick. I was done. It was over. I had discovered that I no longer had the resilience, the tenacity or the will to continue. I needed now to go home.

I feel desperately sad that I did not get to Cyprus. Desperately sad that I`ve disappointed people particularly my brother and his family. We had all looked forward to seeing each other.
I had completed 2974.2 miles. I had been away 120 nights. I had lost 12 Kilos.

I had just arrived from across the border and one of the first villages that I cycled into was Itea, with its white walls and blue painted edges. It was quiet and sleepy. A group of men were sitting outside a coffee shop and some shouted out to me as I rode past. I filled my water bottles from a running tap in the square, I enquired in the one shop about maps, spoke to a mother and her daughter who appeared to own It. They sold me some bread. I cycled to the edge of the village to a bench under a tree near a farm. A gated track led up to the property from where a dog emerged at high speed. I watched and sat mesmerized as the drama unfolded and the yapping and totally enraged dog got nearer. Then in what I thought was a well practised manoeuvre threw himself angrily at the gate, his shoulder bulging the gate outwards and toward me and from barely 5 metres away. There was now no longer any point in sitting there. I packed my belongings, repacked my panniers, climbed on the old Gal and left the village. There were other places to go and very many other things that I now wanted to do.

Posted by BikingBarman 09:24 Archived in Greece Comments (2)

Foot passengers travel free – Bicycles no charge

Travelling out of Montenegro and into Albania

35 °C

Well of course I met Tippy at Tivat as she beamed her way in with that incredible smile from customs into arrivals. How lovely it was to see her, but wait a moment! No luggage and no wheel. Hugs and greetings and all but where is my wheel! How churlish it would appear to say ``where is my wheel``? when she may well have lost her luggage. Imagine it, a girl with no luggage and arriving on holiday exotically in Montenegro and continuing to smile. The dawn of understanding drifted down as she took my hand and we headed off to the lost luggage office, ourselves, accompanied by the footfalls of 12 others.

Well it took a while, 5 days for the suitcase, we returned to Tivat to collect it. There is no arrangement in place for the airport authorities to forward luggage to Hotels. Tippy`s bag, offloaded in Belgrade and left. My wheel we later learnt had been offloaded in the same way but in Belgium and also left, we could not collect that until 8 days had passed. Two trips 50 euro. We now know every nook and cranny of Tivat airport. Tis small. Small upsets in the grand scale of things. The Old Gal almost ran toward me as I bought the wheel in. A couple of hours later on and ready. I had all my gears back, until then I`d been making do with 8, all mid range. Both my girls are perfect!

Look if you are tempted to do anything like this Then might I make a suggestion. But only if you are serious and you want a tiny adventure.

Bike and kit on a plane to Dubrovnik Croatia. Some airlines do this at no extra charge. Cycle round that grand city see the old part and then head off to the last AutoKamp in Molunat, South Croatia, about 15k from the Border and when ready go to Montenegro, cycle the coast road to Albania stop where you want.

Must do`s are a boat trip round Kotor Bay, stay perhaps at Autocamp Zelenika near Herceg Novi, both in Montenegro, leave in good time and continue your journey along that same coastal road, the scenery is stunning, don`t look tho` you`ll fall off. There are many other camp sites, continue thru` the border crossing at Sukobin and onwards into Albania, this campsite where I am is uncharacteristic of Albania itself. I cannot complain about anything here, I thoroughly recommend it. Camping Albania at Barbullish Bushat, its on the web. Make your way to Tirane via maybe Durres. The distance at a guess, 250 miles. You`ll have the time of your life. Flights are non stop London Dubrovnik, as is Tirane Albania to London. On the other hand Montenegro can be as many as three, Heathrow to Belgium to Belgrade and then finally to Tivat.

All good things must end we all know that, so Tippy upped and left me. I cleared the room and headed off after her a couple of hours later. We head off initially in the same direction. It was the 3rd time for me crossing by ferry from Kamenari to Lepatane across the very beautiful bay of Kotor. Cuts off about 30 miles should you continue the trip by road. It can be on some occasions a very busy crossing point with as many as 4 or 5 ferries working this short stretch of water.

All the passengers without exception are out of their cars, out of their buses. all are taking in that incredible scenery, no matter in which direction you look there are mountains, trees and water. In the beginning I was in the queue to get on the ferry but was reminded ``please go the front, foot passengers there is no charge and bicycles travel free``

Please tell me if there is anywhere else in the world other than a Montenegrian company that would have this as part of their travel policy.

I passed Tivat airport on the right, I looked to the right and passed by struggling with conflicting thoughts. It is nice to do this and have the sense of freedom that goes with it. But it can get lonely. I`ve no real idea where I will sleep from day to day or whether its to be in the wild or a camp. Whether I will find a Bancomat, a shop or water or just simply be able to talk to someone and as I progress along the road these thoughts are on the periphery, and then from nowhere suddenly invade my mind. Oh Brian do get on with it!... Oh right, yes and O.K!

I joined the queue at the crossing point at Sukobin into Albania and was immediately approached by an official. He said I was to go to the front and to show my passport at a separate window on the left. I did this and I was through and into Albania, it was just the one checkpoint, the guy at this window passed it through a sliding window to his counterpart in Albania who then gave it me back. I hadn`t moved my bike.

Montenegro as I enter Albania. How do I describe this?..
I was not sure where the road was it seemed to blend in to whatever was at the sides of the road, fields, waste land. It was a sensory overload. I saw a crowd of young children with open smiles and bright intelligent eyes running toward me. Not for anything other than to make contact, wandering donkies, several fluttering chickens spiralling toward me and the kids wanting high fives, jumping and making contact with my raised palm, giggling and laughing and they of course were doing the same, giggling and laughing.

I made it to Skodra which is to the north of where I was eventually to go, but I did need some local currency (main cities only) and of course the map. Got both turned round and headed south and I`m now at this more than decent campsite. Camping albania.

Tomorrow I head off first thing, direction of Burret via Lezhe. How do I now feel? Much much better about things in general, thanks for asking. Writing this might be considered therapy?.. No not considered, it is therapy!

Posted by BikingBarman 09:11 Archived in Albania Comments (0)

The Kindness of Strangers

with an acknowledgement to Kate Adie

semi-overcast -31 °C

There is no appropriate title for this short but very telling narrative. I would have liked it to have been original and written something like `The Sympathetic reactions from people I have yet to meet` Doesn`t have quite the same ring does it, so I`m sorry and grateful Kate and I hope you`ll forgive me.

Apart from Mantova, and my 10k walk carrying the damaged old Gal fully loaded into the city centre and then sleeping in lovers lane later in that same City and again early next morning continuing to carry the old Gal forward further around that City in my quest for a supplier of spare parts.... Well to be honest at the time it was ridiculous there was obviously very little hope of success.. But I did have a margin of appeasement. What I did receive in the end with help from some of the local population was a wheel that to be honest was not really up to the job, we all new that... But it might have worked... and in a sense it did, took me forward to Trieste, through Slovenia, and the length of Croatia, before dying as we crossed into Montenegro... Cost of wheel 23 euros... cheaper than the train fare, but on the down side far more inconvenient, no wheel, no forward progress... Bike shops in Croatia no! Bike shops in Montenegro no!. I have been told time and time again ``Montenegrans are far too wise to cycle in Montenegro`` Look at those Mountains if god wanted you to cycle then he would have given you circular feet... So here I am feeling much more round at heel, Oh I`m sorry, down at heel than I`ve ever felt before... I`d gone as far as possible on the old Gal and in her present condition she will go no further, she will be for the knackers yard.. No hooves equals no horse.. No horse, well it goes without saying - I`m now dead in the water.

I`ve been at the Autokamp Zelenika for two nights now, 1st day I travelled back to Herzeg Novi a large town, practically dissected it in my search.. Went to Zelenika after a tip off, nothing.. went back again to Meljine after a further tip off, losing 3 more spokes all on the back wheel.... This happened to the old gal in her slimmed down ``unloaded..`` condition... I was reluctantly beginning to think the unthinkable.. That my time on the road was up... It hit me like a punch to the throat! I couldn`t think, I welled up... Only one course of action open to me, other than giving up.. and that was Tippy, but she was in Thailand.. Not due to see me until Tuesday or maybe Wednesday or perhaps Thursday of next week.. certainly no time for her to go off shopping and all that that might entail... I opened my e-mail in a dispirited mood during that day.. I saw an e-mail from Charles.. Charles I hope you don`t mind.. I`m making you public... We had exchanged e-mails earlier in my journey, before I had reached Slovenia, he had suggested sights I should look out for.. Nothing again until yesterday when he wrote and said ``Can I help in anyway, perhaps with fundraising?``...
This when I`m truly on my uppers!.. Er Yes! I replied.... So I breath again.. With A.W. Cycles of Colliers wood, and Charles bossing them about. Charles getting the stuff and getting it to Tippy, well I reckon right now I`ve got an odds on chance of a rousing success........ Don`t you?.. I hope so.. Guys and Girls you will have to wait and see... Me? - I will be doing the fretting and the worrying... until the unfolding events reveal themselves for what they really are.

I am really looking forward to next Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday of next week.. Perhaps now I will really get to Cyprus.. Oh I really hope so....

Posted by BikingBarman 08:48 Archived in Montenegro Comments (1)

My Journey from Senj to Molunat (A gorgeous part of Croatia)

Poised now to go to Montenegro

semi-overcast 35 °C

My Journey from Senj to Podgora, maybe, 150km from Dubrovnik?... and so much nearer to Montenegro.

It seems a lifetime ago that I was in Senj inwardly marvelling at how far I`d got without some major incident having taken place. Its not that I want one, and I do hope that in time to come I can say I escaped unscathed having got all the way home without encountering any problems at all. But there is that other side of me that needs an adventure, the reason for being. The whole trip cannot be just like an extended shopping trip to Kingston in the Royal Borough of, or I would not have set off in the first place. So a warning to myself, be careful!.... things are likely to happen when you least expect them and particularly if I start thinking that this is anything like an ordinary life, or just an ordinary bike ride.

We had a dry spot for tourists and their en-masse milling from about midway from Senj to where I am now... It only picked up again from Split onwards, where the villages there had decided that that was where their future might lay...... When I Started seeing people out in the street openly touting that they had `Apartmen` to rent.... Not a spelling mistake, it`s a German thing.. This can be displayed as filial groups making an affair of it.. Table & chairs... Grandmother smiling approvingly at her extended families industry, she sitting nearby on the ever present rock. Or young girls parked up with the same sign in the back window and sitting nearby reading a book... all looking up expectantly, and holding up the sign as the next pulse of traffic roars past.. I always smile at them, it is ridiculous of course, I know the young girls will smile at me as I pedal past.... They are hoodwinked, and think that my smile is a prelude to letting a room, or a flat. Me? I just love seeing those smiles in return, it is really good for my morale and helps me get through those really hot, sweaty and gruelling July days, and no question, it is a guaranteed response!.. Oh I know I`m such a tart!..But happy that I can still smile, and get some smiles in return... fraudulent? Absolutely!.

I`d first had a conversation with a guy in a site just outside Selce.. When the subject of `The road of Death` first came up... It was a very small campsite, a short but steep gorge, created a millennium ago by the run off of water from the mountains on its journey to the sea. The present owner a young lady and 3rd generation of the original gentleman who owned this piece of land, her Grandfather, decided that this would now be a campsite, and that was back in 1960, it is beautiful, and for those months that the site is open.. between, April-August.. It is almost a Hippy Commune, loved it there.. I`d have let my hair down... If I had some. No that`s wrong, what I meant, is the inclination; and I really don`t have that anymore! .. The original tunnel was only big enough to let the expected amount of water thru` to the sea, but now it has been enlarged to accommodate quite biggish vehicles, but not some of the huge stuff that you now might see... But, as she said, its a small unspoilt part of paradise who would want the monster traffic, it would be a mismatch... Hey now, and read this, the Government of the day paid to have the tunnel enlarged and a narrow road built to accommodate the sites new use.... because they were now returning the land back to him!.. Or as it is now: Her.

Oh I must mention: Apparently the water course has changed and does not now pour off the Mountains in the usual way. That this area has been ignored by those extreme torrents of water, and that this has been so for the last 50 years. In case you were wondering!....

As with all these places along the Coastal road, they cannot be open during the winter months.. There is a real risk of being `Blown off`` a delightful expression, but not what you might think... I see now the signs that warn of this, on this, just another hot July day... The risk is so high that often the road will be closed...... Cycling along it, I can imagine the way it might be during those winter months. Many of those passes are so very high and exposed, the wind even now can hit me like a hammer blow, as I pour downwards into a sweeping bend to be met by the ``pushy, unpredictable, do be careful I will now try blow you off and down into the deep and rock strewn sea`` wall of air!... Conditions so much more extreme than when I cycle quietly to Sainsburys back home to do the weekly shop.

So back to the Campsite in the Gorge, and the conversation about the `Road of Death`. We agreed that there was much evidence to back the reasoning for such a name. My personal experience as I`m struggling up a pass my head turning from side to side with the effort, and then suddenly to see the angelic features of a young woman from only a feet away, shook me the first time it happened. Now I see these memorials all the time along this road. Very thought provoking, and with few exceptions all so young. Seems as you might guess, mostly motorcycles, cyclists.. and then cars. Beautifully cared for, coloured bottles containing candles, flowers. A stone depicting DoB, a short dedication, that `far to soon` date of death, and the Photograph, usually as part of the memorial itself. Our conversation developed, we shared that weekends camping with a diving club who were carrying out qualifying dives and other practical and theoretical tests... Instructors and their pupils, working hard and playing hard. Having once been a Diver myself have found usually a hard core of selfishness prevalent, these guys had that. I must also add, that that additional qualification although not in my log book, should have been during the diving segment of my life. This lot stayed up all night frolicking, its a wonder they were not lynched. Lovely tho` to see them suffering the morning after.
We spoke of Wreck diving, my new friend said that these guys are heavily in to ``wreck diving`` Oh! I said.. My own experience of wreck diving was a few of those that littered the med around Cyprus all those years ago.. Probably a lot more now. I remember one wreck being recovered from off Kyrenia on the North side of Cyprus. It had been preserved by being under the all encompassing, oxygen denying sludge of the sea bed, I think I`m right in saying that it was then known as the very oldest wreck ever recovered.. I think it is still now, perhaps 30 odd years later still undergoing a preservation process, in or near Kyrenia Castle? (Girne).
These guys here in the Gorge, their Wreck Diving, as it turned out, was on the vehicles that had taken that final and very dramatic high dive off the ``Road of Death`` of these there were many... I know we shouldn`t but - Oh! How we did laugh!

I have to apologise for the way this narrative reads. It`s a work of progression. I cook it offline when I don`t have access to the internet, which seems now to be most of the time... So the ending of this and some other editions can make a nonsense of the opening Paragraph... I think that this may have happened here.

I am now at this time just south of Dubrovnik, waiting for an appropriate time to crossover... Ah! I hear you sigh! another revelation. He is to finally announce that he is to `come out of the closet`
No - What I mean is the arrival of the exact moment that my dwindling amount of Kunar runs out, that I`m sleeping somewhere even nearer to the Border with Monenegro, that I have managed to buy a large scale map of the next stage of my journey after Montenegro. It is after all, only a short distance away. No. Important as those reasons are, I must have news of another imminent, arrival in Montenegro before I `crossover`

As I passed down the Coastal road from Podgora to Dubrovnik, I briefly left Hrvatska and entered Bosnia I Hercegovina... Just for ten miles, both borders were a `wave thru` no documents required. The old Gal and I have become seasoned European ``bikesetters`` Not Jet...and thoroughly looked the part, even if I do say so myself!

Mileage to date 2,431.3. Lost two more spokes over the last few days, the old Gal must lose weight. One on the front and one on the back.. Another puncture in the rear, must now be now ten altogether. I am scratching my head in puzzlement as I see quite excessive wear on my rear tyre, I don`t think I have got anywhere near 1000 miles on that, more like 500 I would say.
It`s the Balkans Brian the Bikingbarman. You are not commuting in Raynes Park - is the why..!

It was late afternoon the sun was low and to the west of me, it was warm on my back. There was a lull in the traffic that had been speeding to and fro` for the best part of the day... I guess they`d all got to where they wanted to be and were now leaving me to get on with it... I was watching my shadow, it was thrown on to the road and in front of me.. I could clearly see the flap of my open vest within the shadow as the still warm wind tugged at it.. It was a downhill section, I was careful not to take my eyes off the road. The potholes were waiting, the protective rail that would impede my downward fall off the mountainside was not there.. I was conscious of how near I was to free flight. I then suddenly noticed that my shadow neatly and smoothly was being swallowed by one that was much larger, and a moment later mine was obliterated ...It was as a barbers upward stroke with a strop razor, the beard was gone in one, so had my shadow. The sun was off me now. It was instantly and considerably cooler, the sweat was cold on my bare arms. I knew now that I must concentrate, as from experience I knew what would happen next. There was no sound, deceleration doesn`t make a sound.. That what was behind me remained silent, I then heard the click of, maybe a solenoid, a switch being flipped on – The ear shattering, bowel shuddering cacophony of a close proximity triple klaxon would now surely begin. I held firm in my resolution to stay cool, upright and resolutely in control of the old Gal. I would not be bullied into free flight. No matter what, I was determined to stay on the road.
Well what I heard next was the .. ``I was born under a wandering star`` as rendered by … craggy faced Lee Marvin, hugely talented in my opinion... but not a singer …. It was not loud, but quiet and close, almost intimate. The Driver had a selection, I got this one, and then the huge white Bus pulled to the left, came alongside, I felt the suction, and then the blast from it as it then pulled away and sped off into the distance...

What an extraordinary experience. Until that point I had been making preparations to die. It is after all `The Road of Death` …. ..
.... Was that dramatic? Or not?

Do not forget `Help for heroes`... This is the point... www.Justgiving.com/Brian-Pilkington1.. Or a search will do it....Cycling to Cyprus, and a fiver will do... or more.. Thanks in anticipation... I will then personally thank you by e-mail..

Posted by BikingBarman 25.07.2011 08:06 Archived in Croatia Comments (3)

My journey to Senj Croatia

sunny -35 °C

It must have been around 4am when the first dollops of rain hit the outside fabric of the tent. Moments later everything in the tent lit up brightly, just for an instant as lightening began its race across the sky. Well I thought, the old Gal will now get a much needed wash after our `interesting` journey of yesterday... The storm although boisterous was a poor relation to the fine examples I had endured in France. Those were special ones. My experience of this morning however I know not to take too lightly, I feel there may be other storms to experience before I leave Croatia.

It`s now 8.30am. The rain is still beating its tattoo on the tent.. Had to go out a little while ago to tighten everything up, have a look round and then try to dry off inside. It is a small bivouac with enough room for me on the one side, full length, and on the other side, everything else. This comprises of four panniers and the one box that sits on the handlebars.. Re-finding something that you have just picked up and put down now that you found it, to then link it with the other thing that you needed to couple it with does get a bit wearing at times.. In this case it was first the toothbrush and then the toothpaste. Why oh why were they not together?... Just an example of small tent living, or perhaps its an age thing, someone will know.

Leaving Venice and getting on with the trip was a bit tricky, probably took me an hour what with being misdirected by folk who didn`t realise that Bicycles don`t do motorways.. It`s the same old story really. Why would bikes want to do long distances, they don`t, so therefore there is no need to cater for them exiting cities, and for them then to continue to the next. It must be true! or it would not be so.

Anyway and finally on the S14 heading off to Portogruaro, not pleasant, one lane either way – no pedestrian facility, flat, hard and close running traffic, and when I did arrive I looked closely for campsites and other facilities that may be on offer at Portogruaro. Suddenly a cyclist almost tumbled into me, half on the road and half on the pavement. The exuberance of youth I thought, love it! - But no, It`s that he was French, mid twenties, and completely bonkers. But what good fun, and so likeable. He`d been on the road for three months intended to keep going until April of next year, had no money, blagged food from supermarkets, you know, foods that had approached their sell by dates.. Camped out all the time, and could you not just tell!.. He had a good deal of experience dealing with the police in a variety of countries. He said watch out for those Croatia boys they are really tough, he said, grinding a single knuckle hard into the palm of his other hand, doing the same thing to his temple, and then doing the same thing again into his groin, camping in a free way is an offence. You must be very careful... (I wanted to do that bit in a Peter sellers `Closeau` accent but its useless!) Then with a crash bang and a wallop, he was gone, two lightly loaded panniers on the back and a sleeping bag on top. How does that work, when I carry a house?... and headed off toward Trieste!.. Me? I wouldn`t be there until tomorrow lunch time.

You know I have met many like that Frenchman throughout my life, and on this occasion so short a meeting but always the same result.. Good value! His attitude was forthright and direct. He expected hardship, and got them. He as those others before him always going onwards where angels would not have even peeked. With this really working positive attitude, not treading mind, but charging, full steam ahead, whatever happens I will deal with it, shoulder at the door let me in, attitude always worked for them...They kept score, they knew they`d lose at some point, but given the whole run, the whole picture, they would come out ahead of the game.. .. I remember saying to him ``don`t you mind being alone all the time`` and, ``don`t you mind the upcoming prospect of all those months ahead also being alone?``.. He looked at me without any comprehension. It must be the exuberance of youth I thought, He`s thinking ``I am immortal!`` And that he`s time ahead for that very ordinary, but different aspect of life which may include such things as `loneliness`.. Me? - I should understand that, after all I did do that course, I was once his age!... I remember those others that I knew from the past, those who were just like the Frenchman, all without exception gave good value!... Hope I continue to see their like.

It was all so very quick, out of Trieste, struggled for the dutiful hour to get on the right track to Slovenia... Went thru` the unmanned border point. The buildings are all still there as if they`d just shut down the night before.. Bought a map at a supermarket at the crossover point.. Wondered if I was doing the right thing. It did cost 8 euros.. .. became acquainted as best I could with the local layout. The language, the signposts, and where I might be going next.... toodled along a a while and then coming up to the Croatian border crossing, thought well perhaps that tiny little bit of research, such as it was, and relevant to Slovenia was time wasted... Nah of course not!.. I`m almost fluent!

This border crossing was slightly different, well it was manned for a start, but examination of documents was still fairly cursory as far as I could tell. However there may well have been other stuff going on unseen in the background, I would have no idea.... I wobbled thru` on the old gal whilst at the same time trying to show my British Passport... I was waved at impassively, it was only later that I realised I was showing the deep red of the back of the passport and not the open pages..... I always thought I`d be pretty calm in a situation such as a border crossing.. But the old Gal being the way she was .. You know, slightly overweight, and a little old sometimes does me in... On occasion when I have to take one hand off the handlebars to show a document.. And because she realises this and being fully loaded, she will then wobble..... Well!... My sole intention at that moment as I was cycling thru` was to be the totally impassive Englishman travelling abroad unfazed by being asked for documents.. Not an Englishman out of control and immediately veering to the right as I approached the crossover point because I`d taken my left hand off the handlebars to show a useless vision of an English Passport!.... Ah well it could have been worse, heaven forbid. I could have fallen off, and in front of a load of following traffic.... It is after all a very very busy crossing point.... I didn`t fall off.... At that level I think I got away with it.!...But with impassiveness? … Not a chance!

I finally got away when the storm and the rain finally abated at around midday, my intention was to get as far north as possible today. On the Map, just where Pula sits, and at 3 o`clock is Sisan. Further to the east, is the coast , a pretty remote place which stretches up to Kavran in the North. I knew that the likelyhood of going off road was pretty high, but would commit to having a look at this other side of life... and to let the devil take the hindmost. This then was the prelude to my `interesting` journey` that I mentioned earlier.

I did take a series of photo`s of my descent from metalled road, to unmetalled and then downwards to the sea, I had been given an instruction to always bear left when opportunity came. Made sense, it is the way to go, north that would be.. So I was reasonably optimistic! - Once I arrived at sea level, I would go left and eventually meet a road, I could confirm its existence as it was on the map.. The strategy could not fail!... I became oddly accepting as the terrain became more difficult, not for me, but for the old Gal – We would of course thru` thickness and thin always stick together, and it was with a sense of resignation and after 10 miles that I reluctantly had to accept defeat. The way forward was now blocked for as far as the eye could see upwards and forwards along the coastline with a gorse like growth. Impenetrable to me and the old Gal. I had seen a possible exit route a couple of miles back heading back up the mountain, not a particularly attractive proposition, as it was upwards. It would be by definition a struggle, but the only other alternative would be to go back all the way.. Not a chance, that was steep!...

For the rest of the afternoon we made progress upwards and it was around 6pm.. When we knew we`d cracked it, when we left the branch impeded, but still used narrow pathways, you could see evidence of rural activities.. The going got easier, certainly flatter and suddenly we were home and dry and back on the road.. It may make you smile to learn that I had travelled no distance at all in the direction I intended... But had travelled 15 miles down along and upward, to a spot not far from where I`d started at around midday following the storm!.... Hmmmm!

Not sure when I will be able to post this Blog Entry. I do always try to upload photographs at the same time or even afterwards but it has become a pain. The process can take upwards of 5 minutes for the one photograph and to sit quietly with patience when this is in progress is deeply frustrating. Whoever I`m using as a provider at any given time may also have their own criteria. It may sense that I`m no longer using the service as I`m waiting excessively to be connected and will log me out to save me money.. Also, I often get the statement `your server has reset, please try again``.. and that can repeat and is also very irksome. Perhaps I should write folks!. Oh and how quaint that would be!

This by way of an explanation and an apology for the lack of photographs. However I will always continue to try.

This country Croatia continues to be harshly beautiful.. If you fall it will always be the hardest rock that you fall on, if you tangle with the bushes they will be be the most vindictive and will almost tear your eyes out.. We always knew tho` didn`t we kids `Beauty has a price... In addition saw a child fall of his bike, broke his wrist, it was very obviously broken, it was skewed..... Had to go back all the way to Triest to get treatment... No fracture clinic, no treatment and not an ambulance, after a telephone discussion it was ``make your own way to Triest!`` It will shortcut the sequence of events that will anyway and ultimately lead you to Trieste.. That is what I heard!.

I am at Senj in Croatia. I have 2081.7 miles on the odo... I`m heading full speed to Montenegro.. To
the Black Mountain, and Podgorica where someone special might just be... ?

Posted by BikingBarman 09:06 Archived in Croatia Comments (1)

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