After the beautiful coastal route along the Adriatic Sea, we enter the inlands of Albania. We feel it is getting warmer. Fortunately, we can often tap cold water in the mountains. We make a lot of new friends in North Macedonia and go through Bulgaria to enter Greece.
Before Saranda we leave the coastal route and head inland. We are on a quiet road surrounded by countryside and mountains. At Gjirokaster we have to cycle another day on the motorway. We use the emergency lane as a cycle path.
After Gjirokaster we cross the river Drino towards Permet. We cycle in river valleys between gigantic mountains. The road is quiet again and the view is phenomenal. We still have 25 km to Permet. The thermometer touches 44 degrees. The cold river in the valley calls for us. However, there is no good place to stop for a cooling dip.
At Hotel Ramiz in Permet we stop for 2 nights. After unloading our bicycles completely and carrying all our bags into our room on the first floor, we put on our bathing suits and go to the river Vjosa. The temperature is delicious! There is a strong current so you have to stand strong.
Hot spring Benja
We ask if it is possible to go to the hot spring Benja by bicycle. Sure you can: there is a tarmac road to the source. Ben, however, follows Komoot and we end up on a goat path. Even on straight stretches cycling is impossible because of all the small and large stones. At 2 points we have to push the bicycles up a fairly long stretch one by one. At the end of the path there is a descent, but we also have to walk it in order not to slip.
After an hour we arrive on the tarmac road. A few more km and we are at the hot spring. It’s well worth all the hard work. The old arch bridge is beautiful and the water is very nice. Not too hot and not too cold.
Erseke, Korça and Ohrid
We are all alone on the route to Erseke. We don't hear anything around us. The silence is amazing. The road is getting narrower and worse. The valleys deeper and the mountains higher. Erseke is the highest (1,020 meters) city in Albania. There are few cars. Everyone is on the street, at the market, in the supermarket or on the terraces. There is a nice atmosphere.
We continue to Korça. We still have to climb about 6 km. After the climb there is a beautiful descent.
At the top “Albanian exhausts” is written on the wall.
Well! It certainly does, but the more we enjoy the descent.
At the bottom there are large fruit orchards. Plums, apples, pears, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions are sold on the side of the road. And then we see the town's nameplate. We are in Korça, an important cultural and economic center of Albania.
At Lake Ohrid we cross the border to North Macedonia. This lake is one of the oldest and deepest (296 meters) lakes in Europe. In Albania we saw a petrol station or mini market every 50 meters; here there’s nothing.
At the pass to Lake Prespa we stop to consider what to do. The pass passes through the Galicica National Park. The sign has a beautiful saying:
"Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints."
We already cycled 50 km and it is a tough climb of 12 km. It is late, we don't have enough water and no food. We decide to cycle to Ohrid: rather a few km with fewer climbs than Linda pushing her bicycle many kilometers.
Prilep 1e aid project
In Prilep we happen to meet Dejan from Judo Seishin. We also meet his friend Harry, who lived in Maastricht, and Goce. We spend 3 days with them and really enjoy this insight into their lives and North Macedonian culture. The hospitality is fantastic!
Dejan, Harry and Goce have a large network in North Macedonia. We contact a NGO in Gevgelija. Marina from Changemakers4all likes to meet us.
Behind the scenes we are busy with our first aid project in Prilep. As soon as we have arranged everything, this will be posted in our blog and on our website.
The old road along the motorway to Gevgelija is traffic-calmed. Marina from Changemakers4all welcomes us with homemade lemonade. She tells us she wants to make her city greener. Together with Changemakers4all she holds demonstrations and actions in the field of ecology, education and sports. Cycling is not yet commonplace in North Macedonia. Children do not have a bicycle to go to school or to play. Many families do not have the money to buy a bicycle.
We discuss which aid project we can best set up for the changemakers. We are also working hard on this project.
Marina takes us to Venci where we can sleep for a few days. Many members of the Changemakers4all come to visit us. With Opre we cycle into the mountains and with Kosta we go to an archaeological site and museum. We also had a TV interview with TV NOVA. This is the link to this video.
When we set off to Evzoni, the border crossing to Greece, we are escorted by changemakers Opre, Kosta, Venci and Dimitar. Unfortunately, the border is only open to Greeks. We have to cycle a lot more to enter Greece through Bulgaria. We receive a small note with road instructions. At the bottom of the note it says '120 km/2 hours'. With a bicycle that's a different story. 😅🤣
We look at what awaits us on the route to Bulgaria. After 22 km there is a continuous climb of 5 km with an average 5% gradient. The gas station employee also says it will be a tough climb. He gives us both a bottle of water. It is indeed a tough job; 33 degrees and no shade to be found.
At the border they ask how long we have been in North Macedonia. We name the places and say 10 days. The policeman indicates that you may only be in North Macedonia for 1 day. Fortunately we are allowed to cross the border. Greece is within reach.
Greece has to wait for a while
After 110 km we are in Petrich (Bulgaria) and we spend the night at Hotel Rio. In the morning we doubt whether we can cross the border at Promachonas without a Corona test. There is a telephone number on the note of the road instructions. We make a phone call to be sure. We are told that in addition to the PLF form, we must also have a negative Corona test result with us.
In Petrich we look for a hospital. On September 7 unification day is celebrated in Bulgaria, so unfortunately we cannot do a Corona test that day. We can come back the next day and it will take another 24 hours for the results. Greece has to wait for a while.