In 2013, we decided that it was the year of the Balkans! In the end of September we visited the western part of them: Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia - Herzegovina, Serbia and rushing through Albania and Skopje. Our total trip lasted 15 days, covering 4.240km, with a starting point and ending in Athens.
Our team consisted George, Manolis , Stratos and for the first time followed by Mimis from Kozani ,with the Kawasaki Vulcan 900 and Achilles from Thessaloniki , with the new BMW 1200RT. Achilles met him on the penultimate day of our trip in Nis in Serbia and returned together in Greece .
We traveled to unique mountainous and coastal routes, with unparalleled natural landscapes, earning our interest in every kilometer! This particular cultural identity in Balkans, which once formed a single state, trying to show off nowadays residents through the diversity of their religion....
In the text below, we will try to bring you our impressions and also, what we felt in our journey...!
ATHENS - KOZANI
With the three participants ( Manolis, Giorgos Z. and Stratos ) met 40km outside Athens ( in SAR row) and early in the afternoon we started traveling to northern Greece . The truth is that the road to Thessaloniki had some kind of monotony, but the excitement of our trip won every thought.
In the evening , around 11pm , we arrived in Kozani where in a beautiful cafe of the area, which named " Time Travel " , waited for us Mimis, George ( a friend of Mimis ) and Achilles , who came from Thessaloniki just to to meet us and wished us a nice trip.
We stayed there for couple of hours, chatting, drinking and having fun. Then, we went to Mimis house where, we would spend the night there. As we ordered food, we were planning the road trip of the next day. We were so excited with our morning departure.
KOZANI - KRYSTALLOPIGI (GR) - TIRANE (AL) - PODGORICA (MNG)
The actual day of our journey had come! Mimis woke up us early in the morning and after we said goodbye to Achilles, who would return to Thessalonica, we renewing our appointment in 15 days. Then, we took the road to Krystallopigi , the border between Greece and Albania , which are near Florina.
We drove in highway Egnatia about 60 - 70km, relatively rapidly to saving time, following the signs to Krystallopigi and Korce. As we left behind Egnatia, the road continues in a stunning landscape full of lush greenery filling us with positive energy. After 100km, total, we arrived at the customs post. In contrast to what we had heard the last days on TV for some problems which created by the custom officers for us, things were completely different. We crossed the border in less than 10minutes without any problem.
Getting to Albania our feelings were mixed. Although it is a neighboring country , we never had the desire for some kind of dash in it. Perhaps, the words of older people when i was younger (which were not so good) made me to avoid this country. However, this time I would like to stick around a bit, to get an idea.
We followed the sings to Korce - Ohrid Lake - Elbasan - Tirane - Shkodre - borders. Total, we traveled 350km with varying road surface condition and with incredible congestion traffic! Generally, the roadway was supportableness with the worst 20km, around the lake Ohrid and some kilometers after the capital. There were plenty narrow streets and the highways were only in a few parts. In Tirana, a new tunnel made us to avoid the mountain roadway. Possibly, the mountain path would be more interesting but in this case, we wanted more to leave the country. Also, a big problem for us was the many trucks and the lack of knowledge of driving behavior from the locals, aggressive behavior combined with vehicle demonstration. We drove very carefully, slowly but it was several moments that we avoided pitfalls of roads.
Our passage from Tirana was a real ordeal. It made us to believe that the name of the Albanian capital associated with the word "tyranny ". It was a real mess, which appeared immediately. When, we came in the entrance of the city there were narrow streets ending up in small neighborhoods. Lucky for us, many locals was spoken Greek and it was easier to find the exit of the city. We followed the avenue which leading to the highway Durres and then the exit to Kumze. The traffic jam was incredible and sadly inevitable, since there was no alternative route. Our misfortune continued, when we stopped at a petrol station and theoretically they accepted credit cards, but as it turned out, we should pay in cash - euro (accept them everywhere). The result was that euro did not responding to the real rate and probably, we paid some money more....
Also, difficult route there was after Tirana about 30 - 40km. Endless queues of vehicles and we had to make overtaking wherever this was possible. Unfortunately, the delay was long and tedious.
We should admit that, positive impressions we had from Ohrid Lake, which is a mild tourist development. Most of the houses, in the surrounding villages were new or refurbished giving the sense of "sequence". Very beautiful routes we had after lake where we passed through mountains.
In the quiet town of Shkodre we arrived at 7pm and with a short stop, we enjoyed the view of castle and river. A road junction of the city leads to the center and to the opposite side of the river, where there were signs with distances of the several European cities and the path to Muriqan. We wanted to get to the border with Montenegro, which was about 30km from Podgorica, the city Bajraku Hotit. So, following the signs, we approached our destination. It is worth mentioning that, the police presence was noticeable. We met 5-6 patrol during our trip and for our great impression, none of the other drivers did some kind of "signal" (flashing lights), as a warning, which is common in European countries.
Crossing the border to Montenegro, our feeling was completely different from that of Albania. Perhaps, it was that until that time, we had not the best experiences. Of course, we cannot "reject" a country by some bad moments but we think that is broadly consistent with the reality. On the way, there were so many restaurants, that no one sees easy elsewhere. Impressive for the visitors was the «Lavash» a kind of outdoor laundry... too many and everywhere. It reminded me of an old Greek phrase that say "If you have water hose; You can open a laundry room!". Just before Montenegro there was a very beautiful lakeside path but unfortunately for us, it was already dark and no one has been able to enjoy the scenery.
Near capital, we had to wear raincoats because it had begun to drizzle. We had booked rooms in a hotel, which was on the outskirts of the city, via Internet (BAMBIS HOTEL: 95,00€/4per), but we struggled to find it because the GPS had no map and street names were non-existent. So we arrived at the hotel asking around people. Our choice proved successful since the rooms were very nice and clean. The receptionist spoke English and he helped us with the issue of eating by recommending us to go to a restaurant, 1 km from our hotel, which was frequented by locals, with very good food and affordable prices. The country's currency is euro.
On the way back we had a small adventure with the police, as some of us were not wearing helmet. Luckily we avoided the fine by the tolerance of police because we were tourists. The rest of evening we spent in our rooms mainly due to tiredness...