Some extra curricula. Well, if you’re near the border with Albania and have some time to spare, what are you going to do?
The night before after the race we were served the local traditional food of goulash, and I was even asked to pose for a photo with the locals, they insisted that I held my Goulash! The organiser had then sorted out transport for us back to the hotel, putting all of our bikes on the back of the broom wagon, and sticking us in the back of the said van for which seats had never been taken as the optional extra. ‘Just hold onto the sides you will be fine!’ We did and managed to get the air we needed ! by Lewis holding open the sliding door with his foot. Daniel decided he would rather ride back to the hotel… not sure why! It was in fact a great laugh; definitely not part of the norm, definitely not UK health and safety approved. At the last hotel we were able to settle a bit more. We were to spend the next 3 nights here. We used the Spa, ate out with our winnings (yes we bagged some money – enough at least for some food) and abused the free buffet in the morning. Food is the absolute must when you are getting through 1000s of calories a day.
The day after the race we had all agreed to do a long ride on our Monday. As we were to fly back on the Wednesday and didn’t want our last ride to be a big one, as this can often lead to illness (taking a weakened immune system onto a plane with lots of other people. No the best idea.) So …we rode to Albania!
And for good measure and in keeping with the theme of our trip Daniel had found a 24 mile climb to get us there. He wanted to take the KOM.
It’s the first ride I’ve ever done were I have had to take my passport with me! Like many of the rides we did the first part was flat and that got us into Albania hassle free. Even able to get stamps in the passports as we went across.
Once in Albania the road quality worsened, we didn’t quite realise the difference between the two ex-Yugoslavian nations until we were able to see them side by side. Still ridable, but not the smooth fresh tarmac of Montenegro. We headed to the climb and straight up. Daniel shot up the road determined to take the KOM, whereas Lewis and myself road at a much easier steady pace.
Dave and Lewis were less interested in more pursuit of pain and eased off early. The climb took Lewis and myself 2 hours to get to the top. It was a mentally challenging climb as from the start the gradient was shallow but the uneven surface meant the road was slow. The climb was also straight through the valley meaning that the only turns to break up the climb came in the last 5 of 40km. With the change in elevation that meant the temperature also dropped from 31 degrees to around 16 degrees. Which left us quite cold and underdressed.
On the way down the mountain we stopped at the first café we came across. It turned out to be the Local Albanian Prison guard’s café! Yep that’s right, we had stopped next to an Albanian Prison. No choice really and no choices around. We had ran out of food and water so were happy to settle for just about anywhere. We walked in hoping for something we could work with. We ended up having to order by walking around the café pointing at other people’s food whilst getting stared at by everyone and not a single word in a shared language ! We ended up with a bowl of salad, 3 rolls and 8 sausages. That was the total of the diversity in the café after all! We ate our meal, constantly watching our bikes as the locals admired them. It then came to paying.
Wanting to get out of the place I got up and walked to the bar. On me I had two twenty euro notes and a 500 Albania Leke (about 4 euros). I held out all three notes I had, just thinking if he takes them all at least I can leave… I asked and gestured to pay for everything. He took the 500 Leke. I was shocked so little, he then handed me back 275 Leke, the meal had cost 225 Leke …or £1.57! I tipped him 75 Leke as I didn’t want the change for the rest of ride. His smile was ear to ear. We shot off and got back to the hotel across the border, all alive and with a memory for life.… exhausted.
Before we flew back we were invited out by the local cycling club for their weekly BBQ and by the organiser for a meal out with his family on another. Really good friendly people.
Our last surprise would come as we headed home. Packed up and waiting for our transport to the airport. This turned out to be the same broom wagon the race had used. We had assumed it would turn up with another car to transport us, as the broom wagon was just a transit van after all. But no, just a 3 seat transit, 5 of us, 1 driver, 5 X 30kg bike boxes and 2 X 20kg suit cases all with wheels. We ended up, 4 of us in the back of the transit with all the luggage and in the pitch black and 27 degrees outside. For 10 miles he bounced around over rough roads with all the cases in wheels, eventually arriving at the airport. As the driver pulled up he stepped out and had look directly at two police officers, then walked around to the back of a white transit and unloaded 4 people. All of us clocked the policemen, not an issue at all. Only in Montenegro.
An amazing country well worth a visit.