Surprise! As you can see, this cycle trip is not a democracy (please click “view results” on our homepage’s poll). Mother Nature has spoken, and she does not want us to go to Albania and is thus making getting to either Istanbul or Athens rather inconvenient.
We have spent the last three days cycling through coastal Montenegro and with less than 30 kilometres to the Albanian border we realized we could go no further. As you probably know, Europe is currently experiencing lots of bizarre weather, and this part of the continent is seeing the worst flooding in a century. The area most impacted is where we needed to go (check out this map: , we were on the coast, just west of the affected area). In fact, Shkoder, the city we were aiming for, is currently 2 metres under water! Our options included backtracking and heading further inland and over snowy mountains to get around the flooded area (an extra 500 kilometres), wait out the flood on the coast (an estimated 7 – 10 days) or…. take a ferry! And since the only destination from the Bar ferry terminal is Italy, our decision was an easy one! We are disappointed we won’t be going to Albania as we were really looking forward to seeing a different side of Europe, one in more poverty and with a different cultural history. However, our old route meant we would likely miss Italy, so this is the silver lining! And we are really looking forward to spending Christmas in this country (versus a Muslim or Orthodox one).
Oh the unpredictability :).
Prior to leaving the eastern side of the Adriatic, things were flowing nicely. After writing our previous blog, we (with help from the rain) decided to stay another day, and were invited into Lea’s mother’s home for a delicious Croatian lunch. We had breakfast with Lea the next morning before boarding the ferry for the mainland. We were so lucky to have experienced such hospitality from such a good person, and she has helped make Korcula a very special place for us.
Once on the mainland, we started to head to Dubrovnik, cycling the most beautiful section of our trip thus far. The weather was wonderfully sunny and warm; we were awestruck as we ascended and descended mountains with incredible views, and into lush pastoral valleys. Beside us stood olive groves, fig and kiwi trees, and terraced vineyards. We stumbled upon many roadside fruit stands, bursting especially with the mandarin oranges that are currently in season; all the produce is cheap and delicious, for example we enjoyed two kilos of mandarins for only a euro. The road was quiet and easy to bike, which was a good thing because it was difficult to peel our eyes from the surrounding beauty!
After enjoying a beautiful sunset in an olive grove, we awoke and biked into Dubrovnik, known as “The Pearl of the Adriatic”. It felt appropriate we finished our Croatian experience with this city as everyone has spoken so highly of it. Although we had visited many walled cities during our coastal journey, we were very impressed with this place. The city is surrounded by a three kilometre wall which is between four and six meters thick. We walked the length of the wall and thoroughly enjoyed getting a birds-eye view on this historic and very well preserved city. Despite all the different empires that occupied the Balkan region over the centuries, Dubrovnik managed to maintain some independence throughout the tumult and was a free city state for 500 years. This tiny place at one time had the third largest navy in the world, although it was almost exclusively merchant-based. Dubrovnik continues to be known for its traditions of diplomacy and trade, and we could certainly sense the city’s pride.
One of our Dubrovnik highlights was our cycle tour’s first official media encounter! We met up with one of Lea’s friends named Mark, who is a journalist interested in our journey. Over coffee, Mark asked us questions about our story and he is planning on using our answers for an upcoming article. Stay tuned for a link!
Climbing the mountain south of Dubrovnik we made another lovely discovery: a French couple on a similar journey. Mark and Amandine are newlyweds taking a year’s leave from med school to cycle from France to Uzbekistan and back again. So if you think we are crazy for biking Europe in the winter, imagine these two arriving in Uzbekistan in March! We spent three days in their company and look forward to possibly reconnecting in the summer when our routes may overlap again! It was so nice travelling with such interesting people and exchange cycle-touring tips; for example, they have inspired us to be more creative with out meals, such as making bread from scratch. If you are interested, and savvy in French, you can visit their blog.
We entered Montenegro with Amandine and Mark. After a month of travelling in Croatia, it was somewhat nostalgic to leave the country. It really was an incredible place to visit… so rich with beauty and history (and cafes!). After speaking with many interesting people, and seeing most of the coast, we feel like we have learned a lot about Croatia. Something that we found especially striking is how the nation is still in somewhat of an identity crisis, which is understandable considering that in the 20th century they had five wars and seven different political systems. It seems that everyone continues to long for (and probably romanticize) the socialist system of the 1960s and 70s, which was led by their very popular president-for-life Tito. This system provided much more guarantees in terms of quality of life than the current capitalist system does, although it was not really financially sustainable, or politically just. However, the modern system does not seem too politically just either; the population seems ubiquitously frustrated with the corruption in the government, and this seems to be a major hindrance to Croatia entering the EU. Although most people seem to recognize the short-comings of the government, citizens seem unsure on how to bring about a change… this is probably a result of the previous political systems which disallowed public action against the government.
Needless to say, we will be interested to continue following Croatian politics and the country’s development. But ultimately, our lasting impression of Croatia will be that of hospitality. Over the month of November we were treated so well by so many people, and thus Croatians will always have a special place in our heart. Beautiful people, in an absolutely beautiful place.
And we will finish with a small paragraph for a small country. Montenegro is also strikingly beautiful and home to perhaps the most breathtaking place we have seen yet: The Bay of Kotor (the photos don’t do it justice, and neither will words). The rest of the coast was also physically beautiful, but the human landscape was rather disgusting… it’s very tiny coastline is extremely overdeveloped (marketing especially to Serbian tourists), there is garbage everywhere (with many stray dogs eating it), and the heavy traffic breathes very dirty fumes, which leads to a very hazy feel to the country. One of the worst examples of this, which surely took a year off our life, was cycling through a busy kilometre long tunnel without any ventilation alongside vehicles spewing thick black clouds. Experiences like this helped deter us from deciding to wait out the floods on the coast!
Well, we’re off to practice Italian!
Alec & Caitlin