Western Balkans – Day 6 – Albania and North Macedonia

In the morning, as expected, we were greeted with a splendid view. We had our breakfast at the terrace outside with a scenic view that can match many places in the Alps.

Before crossing through Albania, we had to exit the Valbona valley again, a nice ride. When the direction of light is different and the sky is blue, the views also change. If you are used to the Alps, it’s quite beautiful, for Albanian standards it must be exceptional. Down in Bajram Curri, we took a different turn and headed south this time. Soon we passed a large water dam and followed the bends upwards above the lake.

For the next hour, we had a lot of good views on the large dam lake, riding along the flanks of the mountains. The road range was from acceptable to bad at times and we soon began to understand the Albanian road code. Well, if there is any. The unwritten part says that there are only roads, not lanes. The concept of „this is my side of the road and this is yours“ is not applicable; it omits the last part of this approach and leaves only „this is my side of the road. Period.“ In practice, you have to be prepared that an oncoming car comes flying around a corner, on YOUR side of the road where you are trying to avoid some potholes or gravel that are quite abundant. Strictly defensive riding is the only way to avoid any problems. This is not new to me. Every now and then I stopped and took some pictures.

No traffic, no pain

This road turned into another one that led over mountains and valleys with scenic views. We came to a junction with a motorway (!) And rode the last kilometers to Kukës on a dual carriageway, what a contrast.

In Kukës, we learned two things. First, road signs are not needed in Albania (just like in Kosovo). The locals know the way to the next town, so there’s no need for them. Luckily, my Sat Nav worked very well and showed me the right way. Without it, Albanian cities could pose a challenge. Secondly, we had to notice that Kukës was populated by a remarkable concentration of high-end luxury cars, preferably Mercedes. If possible, in a S-Class AMG version. We were reflecting about this oddity and I came up with a possible explanation. Kukës must have a hard working, law-abiding population that takes out the fruit of its hard labour on its free Wednesday morning to proudly ride it around town, showing that diligent work does pay off. I could not think of another explanation than this one.

We filled up, paying in Euro with a correct exchange rate. We left the city on the way south and rode on some mountain roads until I spotted a new and pretty hotel with a pretty terrace. Why not making a short break with a soft drink. I checked the map and it occurred to me that me must have taken a wrong turn outside of Kukës (note: road signs can be missing outside towns as well). This is a weakness of the Garmin Zumo 590: sometimes it doesn’t take the route that makes most sense, but the one that is shortest. The road in the valley should have been the better option. We decided to risk it and to continue on the mountain road. In the end it was worth it. The road was challenging at times, but the itinerary was surely more rewarding in terms of scenic views.

Abysmal road conditions in Albania. However, please note the exemplary construction site setup.
You don’t need balls to fill up here.

In Peshkopi we were back on the main road, the Sat Nav showing me the way to exit the town again. Soon we were at North Macedonian border that was very quiet.
On the Macedonian side, I was asked for my insurance for the first time. Luckily, the „MK“ logo is not stroked through like the „AL“. On the road, we noticed immediately that the road conditions improved. No more suicidal drivers and monstrous potholes. After having passed the town of Debar, we rode fluently along a long lake, making good progress.

Here, close to the border, the road signs [sic!] were in three languages: Macedonian Cyrillic, Macedonian Latin, and Albanian. The latter mostly sprayed over.

Finally we reached the Ohrid Lake and rode through Ohrid, a popular holiday destination. The Ohrid Lake is a large lake surrounded by a mountain rim and lots of accommodation around it. One of them is the Hotel Belvedere. With views on the lake. We parked our bikes in front of the entrance, just like the VIPs as we were, and approached the reception. I remembered positively that I had made a booking for a suite with two bedrooms. It was very spacious indeed with a view on the lake. At the first look, a plush accommodation, at the second, no so much if you have an eye for details.

We had considered to extract some cold beverage from the mini bar to quench our thirst, but the amount of life forms in the small fridge and the stains on the cans made us change our mind. We moved to the restaurant terrace where we went for the safe way (bottled beer).
We switched over to dinner later, once we got hold of the young waitress that occasionally blessed the restaurant with her presence. We learned that the hotel was also the chosen place for the entire football team (name forgotten) occupying the third place of the Kosovar Superleague.
The downed the Kosovar Rakija from the monastery on our large balcony later.

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