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Yes, we Balkan
Of course this week we could tell you about our jaws dropping at the views of the Montenegrin coastline, cycling through snow at (literally) the highest point of our trip to date (1,600m) or the evening sun setting on the historic old town of Dubrovnik in Croatia.
But instead we want to give you an insight into where we’ve been pitching our tent. The first thing you should know is that when we wake up, we seldom know where we’re going to sleep that night. Occasionally, we have somewhere arranged, but usually we cycle for the day and think about where to pitch our tent when we’re ready to stop.
This week we found ourselves just outside Kotor in Montenegro as dusk was setting. We noticed a big meadow beside a stray dogs home. So we cycled down towards the main building to ask permission to camp. Immediately, Darko, the home’s manager, came bounding over, Tigger-esque, waving his arms at us. He said he’d be delighted for us to pitch our tent and he would be there from 7am in the morning to give us coffee if we wanted. He then introduced us to Matilese who lived on-site and offered us milk, eggs, water or anything else we needed. Even the dogs - all 160 of them - gave us a warm welcome by barking the whole night.
Other pitches offer different experiences. One time we found a lovely old vineyard on a Croatian island just as darkness was falling and, as we were setting up, heard the unmistakable howl of a pack of wolves from all around the tent. Nothing quite prepares you for the sound of wolves howling. We could have earned a five star hygiene rating based on the level of care we took not to spill a drop of dinner around the tent (which is five stars more than usual).
This week has taken us through south Croatia, (7km of) Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania and finally North Macedonia. For a geographically small area the cultural differences have been fascinating. It’s been remarkable to meet people, experience each country, pick up bits of language and of course read up on the political history. The Balkans packs a lot in a small space and we loved it.
Next week, we hope to drop into north Greece and cycle to the Turkish border, next stop Istanbul!
This week’s highlights
The friendliness of Albanians - everyone waving and tooting at us like we were local heroes
Swimming in the Bay of Kotor, one of the most scenic dips out there (see Harriet with the bikes, post-swim above)
Staying at an Eco-Social Farm in Albania that runs community projects to help skill up local people
This week’s lowlights
A traditional Albanian dish called Grandmother’s Soup which turned out to be too much for Harriet’s stomach
Albanians shaking their heads to mean yes, which led to a lot of confusion when asking if we can pitch a tent
Matt’s first fall off the bike as he failed to unclip from his pedals in time (too busy gazing at the food in the market we were about to shop at)
Snow, fog and a headwind on top of the North Macedonian mountain meaning a freezing descent without much viability
Quiz of the week: We’ve been clocking a lot of number plates from different countries (not necessarily ones that we’ve cycled through). We’ve seen: HR, S, N, NL, H, D, AL, BG, BY, UA, RKS, NMK, BiH, CZ, GR, SRB, RUS, MNE, TR…how many can you get?
See you next week!