I can highly recommend this type of holiday if you want to delve into the variety of accommodation on offer within Europe. Last night I was having a shower in a wet room and then donning a white bath robe in a boutique hotel in was of Europe’s lesser-known capitals. Tonight I’m in some guy’s garden next to some apartments that he rents out eating bread and cheese and knocking back a bottle of Montenegrin Chardonnay that cost me 4€ in the local ‘supermarket’ run by a wide boy who wouldn’t look out of place on Clacton pier. Apologies if you come from Clacton. Or work on a pier. Please just write to my solicitor if you work on Clacton Pier. I don’t have a solicitor yet by the way as I haven’t yet sold a sufficient number of books. And I’m not worth suing anyway…
So… This morning I woke up in my boutique hotel in Tirana, indulged in the all-you-can-eat breakfast (the muesli is working wonders on my digestion), checked out, loaded up Reggie and was off! As far as the British Embassy about ten minutes from the hotel. In most of e countries that I’m travelling through I’ve been able to fix up meetings with people who live, work or just spend their holidays in that part of the world. But not so in Albania. This became apparent a couple of weeks before I left for Athens so I put my thinking cap on and decided to contact the British Council in Tirana to see if anyone would be willing to meet me for coffee and chat about where Albania is in 2013. Aida, the country director for the British Council in Tirana kindly agreed to meet me and that was just what we did this morning at 9am. It was a fascinating chat and it makes me wonder why I haven’t set up similar chats with similarly well-informed people all along the route of my journey. I don’t want to offend those of you who I have met or who I will be meeting over the next few weeks but Aida was a kind of human Wikipedia of what Albania has been through in the last 25 years as she has lived through it. I could have listened to her all day. Only the knowledge that’s needed to cycle to Montenegro by the end of the day and the fact that she isn’t really paid to spend time entertaining people like me kept me from staying longer. If there had been no constraints the security guards would have had to throw me and Reggie out of the building. This actually wouldn’t have been that easy as even the Albanian embassy has levels of security that any man off the street (and I am that man) would have normally associated with a place like Kabul and would have required being thrown through several air-lock kind of doors. It would not have been comfortable. More about that discussion in the book that you will all be buying in summer 2014.
Yesterday I posted my plans for the following three days and I have to say that today went very much to plan. It was long, very long, straight road from the Albanian capital to Lezhe. My juvenile humour once again led me to take a picture of the sign; after seeing so many ‘Shitet’ notices over the last few days I must have been on the look out for comedy signage as I also spotted a place to be, well, sick… See the pictures below.
In fairness there wasn’t too much to do apart from look out for amusing things to Tweet. The road was not only straight but generally as flat as a joke about Enver Hoxha at a gathering of Albanian socialists. I wasn’t complaining however as it was exactly what I needed to get me back into the swing of cycling after my two days of pampered bath-robed luxury in Tirana. I paused for a bite to eat in the aforementioned Lezhe before making my way to the border just west of Shkodra. The Montenegrin border guard was slightly up himself asking if I was travelling alone and for what purpose I was travelling. “I’m on a f***ing bike. What do you think I’m doing? Going to meet my Montenegrin bank manager?” Apologies, I shouldn’t swear but his line of questioning did seem a bit bizarre. I didn’t by the way say that. If I had it would have been a one-way ticket back to the British Embassy in Tirana via a night in an Albanian police cell no doubt. It would have made an interesting diversion for the book… but who needs interesting diversions when you end up in someone’s back garden in a tent? Montenegro does seem like a very civilised country but then again Yorkshire seems very civilised when you approach from Lancashire (that was a comment for my lodger by the way… He’s probably not reading any of is. Are you Andy? I hope you are keeping my flat clean!). It reminded me of cycling into Luxembourg from Belgium back in 2010. Silky smooth roads and a sense of motoring calm that the Albanians could only dream about. From the border to Ulcinj I heard only one person use their horn. It was someone with a New York number plate.
So Ulcinj itself. Well… I’ll leave that to the book!