Monday, 2 September 2013


After a good rest in Korce we are full of zippity doo-dah for the ride along the Grammoz mountains which separate south-east Albania from Greece.  The road begins by climbing out of one wide valley and over into another.  In the distance we see a mountain ridge looking like a wall - little realising that we are cycling to the valley at the foot of this wall.  Up and down the road weaves and bucks across the lower slopes of the Grammoz, avoiding most of the villages which are off on side roads.  We pass through one big village and then another - both having some jerry-built communist-era appartment blocks.  The landscape is bone dry - the hay has been cut a long time ago and fields are being reploughed for the winter crop.  Now and again we pass herders with small packs of grazing animals.  It's only as the road climbs away from the farmland that we get into forests of pine and beech.  This is good cycling - big views reward big climbs and we finally reach the high pass mid-afternoon in forest.  We camp just after a trout farm in beech woods.

The next day also provides us with a clutch of different scenery - alpine valleys with occasional farms, hamlets with a few fields, and then after one big village we descend down an appalling road for a long long time into one of the valleys running north from Greece.  We turn down this valley and follow a winding road that climbs up one side giving us more views and muscle ache.  Around midday we stop in a clump of pine trees just before the road drops to the valley floor and after a long siesta we decide to camp here too.  Although we are nowhere near any houses we are awoken in the morning just before six by a barking dog.
the 6a.m. start
The trend now is downwards as the road follows the river, even when it dramatically turns 90 degrees westwards to cut through the mountains.  We stop for supplies in a town and eat our breakfast at a petrol station cafe.  The woman who serves us tea and coffee has a trendy wedge haircut and tatoos.  Market day in one village brings traffic to a standstill.  In the cafes people are eating and drinking and it's only 10.30.  The road surface has reached that horrible broken tarmac stage but there's a fairly good ribbon of macadam down the middle, where it overlaps.  After descending gradually all morning the road emerges in another valley running northwards from Greece and this time we turn southwards towards Gjirokaster, our last stop in Albania.  Just as we are flagging in the afternoon heat we pass a couple of young boogaloos on bikes.  One of them nips past us pedalling merrily and even lets go of the handlebars as a cocky aside.  So, the challenge set, we begin the pursuit down the hard shoulder of the main road.  We finally catch him at the top of a hill and then leave him for dust.  Why is it that kids always want to race us? And why do we succumb?

The racing has left us unprepared for the climb up the hillside into Gjirokaster's old town.  We are greeted by Mario who shows us a room, even though we have told him we can only afford half his starting price.  He phones his mum to check first. Usually I let Gayle check the room out because she's a better haggler than me.  As it is, Mario shows her a lousy room.  So she comes back down and heads off up the street to check out some other places.  I mind the bikes.  Mario seems disappointed and then insists on showing me (too late, I think) his better rooms.  It often works like this - when they know you're cheap they show you their worst.  But this is even when there are no other tourists around.  In the end Gayle comes back with a matching offer from another hotel. (Or does she?  I have known her to pretend.)  Mario shows her the better room.  It's settled - we stay. A cup of tea to seal the deal.

No comments:

Post a Comment