Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Today we entered Albania. Our last night in Montenegro we spent near Bar in an “apartmani”, a room that is called an appartment because it has a cooker and a small sink. We were charged too much, we found, but these are the things that you have to learn during the process. In the house we met Sebastian, a 29-year old Polish marketing man in the paint business. He was on his motorbike (an Aprilia for the connaisseurs) making a tour from Poland to Istanbul and Athens and now on his way back. That day he had come from Igoumenitsa in Greece, had passed through Albania and now he had stopped in front of the same gate as we had. Until late in the evening we had a nice and interesting discussion, mainly on his motorbike, which indeed was a sleek and mean machine. He is an enthousiastic and energetic young man and it's always nice to meet youngsters like him. At breakfast this morning we said goodbye.
Our last kilometers in Montenegro were a preparation of what was ahead for us in Albania. After having left the urban area of Bar we had to make a left turn and the road changed into a narrow road steep uphill. We feared another heavy day of climbing. But after the initial 200 meters ascent the road stayed on the rim of the mountain range and was quiet and the scenery was really beautiful. This we liked very much, since all the way in Montenegro, except for the Kotor bay, the road had been noisy and busy. Now we rode smoothly and extremely quietly and enjoyed wonderful panoramas over the Adriatic sea and the most southern Montenegran town of Ulcinj. The road surface was poor, now and then a donkey would walk astray on the road, cows were grazing in the road side. We passed several little shops and bars, but all closed. What's up? Where is everybody, why is nobody working? We passed several mosques and Islamic graveyards; of course, we were entering into Islamic territory. The first break we could take was at a brand new and modern gas station. Lots of young man were sitting there and having coffee. When we left they started asking us questions about our bikes, they had seen they were special ones. On the other hand we asked them about them all being gathered there and the shops being closed. They explained: a muslin holiday. Then we realised; August 30th 2011, end of Ramadan (Lonely Planet!). So again we were entering a new world and we had to learn how things work in this region.
As a wiser couple we continued and reached the Montenegro-Albania border after some kilometers. It was so nice to see that the first border official we had to pass was a cow. These are worlds we like to be in.
We crossed the border without any problem and then we almost immediately recognised the feeling. This is a different world. The country makes a poor impression, but the people greet you friendly. Young children wave and shout and give you a high-five when yo pass. It reminded us of countries like Laos and Cambodia, this friendly and relaxed atmosphere.
The road to Shköder (Shkodra) was easy. Seven of ten cars is a Mercedes, of all types and years and we saw some dozen of the app. 60.000 one man bunkers that have been built under the great leadership of the late Enver Hoxha. Here and there between the simple houses and fields there were nice looking restaurants and just befor the town we enjoyed a lovely break at the riverside in such a new and very well run facility. It seems that Albanians from abroad invest in these enterprises, they look extremely well. Professional and agreeable staff, no nonsense, they make us feel very at easy and comfortable. We are now staying in Hotel Kaduku in the centre of Shköder, again a place where it is absolutely nice to be. Airconditioned room, wifi, tropical, cosy and cheaper than the appartmani of the night before.
We spent the evening in town where now everyone was about, enjoying the holiday. We had dinner and after that another drink in a bar, where the owner sat with us for almost 2 hours. We discussed many items and mutually learned a lot. This is what travelling is for.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Bay of Kotor. Entering Montenegro for a moment gave me a small reminder of the former east block feeling. On the border, when it was our turn, the customs officer waved us back without giving us a glance and leisurely started a conversation with a colleague, pretending not to be aware of the long line of vehicles waiting for him to do his simple job, just look at their documents, give a stamp and ask for the next one. But no, he used his full power and let all of us wait so that he could enjoy the full benefit of his monopoly. Well, the only thing one can do is wait and behave as the man likes. So, when they were finished, he gave us the uninterested glance and we got through in a wink. The first kilometers immediately showed a difference with the countries we had passed until now. There was rubble along the road, abandoned used cars, unfinished buildings, unattended places of land. It was not dramatic, but still obvious. It's small things, f.i. the toilet in the bar where we stopped for a coffee was dilapidated.
Riding through sometimes chaotic traffic we reached the bay of Kotor. It is a butterfly-shaped bay, 40 k circumference, with a narrow, funnel-shaped, opening to the sea. There is one road along the bay, some villages and historic towns and then steep and rather high mountains. All in all this makes a wonderful setting, much used for calender illustrations and therefore classified World Heritage. We could have skipped the bay and taken the ferry across the bay's opening (maybe 100 m), but we wanted to enjoy the beauty of the bay. Some kilometers further we found a campsite, well, something like it: a small field with 2 caravans and 2 small tents directly on the bayside, the outdoor-shower took its water from a plastic container on top of the concrete 2-squat-toilet house.
This morning we stepped out of our tent directly in the cool water and, to top the cake, when we were having our breakfast a group of dolphins gave a show within 100 meters from our tent. So for us the bay is OK.
Today we rode further round the bay (flat road for once) and visited agreeable and historic Perast and Kotor. The latter, like Dubrovnik but much smaller, completed surrounded by high and thick walls and pressed against the steep and rocky mountain behind it. Now we have pitched the tent on a small campsite again, not bad but not as nice as the former one.
Today we decided not to continue via Skopje. There are at least 2 rather high passes, and this combined with the heat and the road conditions in Kosovo and Macedonia made us decide that it's better to go more south. Now the plan is to pass via Tirana and the Ohrid lake towards Thessaloniki.
We'll keep you posted, as long as there are internet opportunities. This may become less. The last days we regularly had difficulties becoming online. We don't know much about the situation as to this in Albania, but the countries reputation does not suggest the best.

Friday, August 26, 2011


We reached the campsite near Dubrovnik before noon. Temperatures again were that high that we kept low until about 16.00 hrs before taking a bus into the old centre. It was worth while again. A fantastic monument of history, architecture, balanced good taste and atmosphere. It's got her Unesco World Heritage status for good reasons. It was crowded, like it always seems to be in summer. There were two cruiseships lying in the port and a third one was coming in when we were approaching the place. Huge vessels, with undoubtedly a couple of thousand passengers on each one. Eveline and I don't quite understand why people want to be on such huge cruiseships. With some thousands of other persons in a limited space. We found ourselves lucky when we could have a ferry during the night, so that we could sleep the time at sea.
All these cruise people and other tourists and us and a couple of other cyclists were wandering through the beautiful street and alleys of old Dubrovnik, almost shoulder to shoulder. But it's amazing how easy things go, how gallantly people behave among each other. A nice and happy atmoshere as a consequence. Who is telling us all the time that people don't know how to behave? They do!
As we want to continue further south and east we needed information on the countries that we may cross during the next few weeks. We still have not decided which route to take. We wish to go via Skopje, the capital of Macedonia. This cannot be done without having to cross some high passes again. And since it is so hot, we have our doubts. The heat is overwhelming, today on my bike I registered 37C again, in the morning! So it might be better to go more south into Greece and avoid such high mountain ranges. If possible there, because there are not many flat places in the world, we know by now. In any case, to make a decision, we needed more information. And it so nice to see that in the main street of old Dubrovnik, between the monastries, churches, souvenirshops and restaurants/bars, the only other shops are two well sorted bookshops. Clever town! We found a good map of the region including Montenegro, Albania and part of Macedonia and a Lonely Planet of the Western Balkans. So we have all we need now and tomorrow (aug 27) we'll depart for Montenegro. They say the Bay of Kotor is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. We'll check it out.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dalmatia revisited

We have visited Split before. In 1974 and 1975 we travelled in our Renault 4 through the Balkan countries, Romania and Kosovo included. That's an awful time ago, many years have passed and a war was waged after that. But we found Split in the way we remembered it, agreeable, beautiful and very touristic. We spent a day wandering through the old city-centre, which originally was built by the Roman emperor Diocletianus as his summer palace. We also vivited the museum of the here very famous sculpture Mestrovic and the museum of Fine Arts. Both worthwhile the visit. We concluded the day with a dinner at the campsite restaurant. Like we experienced in Italy, also here the quality and atmosphere in these restaurants meets rather high standards, especially when the price is taken into account. But you can imagine a dinner at the beach on a warm evening, not bad to have it now and then.
The next day we got on our wheels again to ride the Jadranska Magistrala southward to Dubrovnik. The name Magistrale was given to this coastal road because they were so proud when it was finished in the late sixties or early seventies. Before that most of the settlements on the coast had been isolated places, only to be reached via the sea, as this coast is all mountains. Technically it indeed was quite an acheivement. It was a dangerous road from the beginning. Motorism was new at the time, for ourselves (we owned our first car in 1970) but certainly for the locals here. (Development of Yugo-Slavia lacked behind Western Europe). The road was all slopes and turns, cars were less safe than nowadays. I remember the old wrecks lying down the slopes. Now it has been improved and, though pretty busy, is a wonderful scenic road. We have done 160 k on it now and are some 35 k before Dubrovnik, our next destination.
The road goes up and down, so we have to do our share of climbing again. This is to be done, but what is makeing extreme is the heat. We are having a heat wave at the moment. The locals are telling us that they have never had it this hot before, inland there was even a measurement of 50C. My gps came to 39C. And what are we doing? Riding! We don't find it an option to sit and wait till it's over. And it can be done, we ourselves are the living proof. But I must say that I'm not enjoying the fantastic panoramas the way I would if it had been some 15 degrees cooler.

Monday, August 22, 2011


Siena, then Perugia, that we did visit. Very historic, beautiful and lively town. After that Assisi. Very historic, but a museum in our eyes. Beautifully preserved, but not a living city as f.i. its neighbour Perugia. It's all San Francisco, with the extraordinary double cathedrals, monastries, nuns and monks in the streets.
Then Spello, small, old and beautiful again. Then our puzzle to pass through Foligno and up north into the vally towards Ancona. We stopped at alt. 538 in Fossato di Vici, just before the last pass we had to cross in Italy.
The next day we rode 100 kms, over the pass and then downhill to the port of Ancona. We found the ferries' ticket-office quickly and were happy to hear that we could leave the same evening for Split. A double cabin with shower and toilet with a discount, since I have reached a certain wisdom during my life.
So this morning we woke up with a different country in front of us. Different experiences will follow. For us Italy belongs to the past now. We enjoyed it, it must be said.

Single minded infrastructure and helpful natives

I have to conclude that Italy is a not very bike-minded country. In spite of its, earlier mentioned, colourful tradition in this field. And with the exception of some northern areas, where last year we rode many beautiful kilometers on fine bike lanes.
Though there are many quiet small roads in the countryside, especially in the urban regions we have been passing through these days the complete infrastructure is based on the use of the motorcar, little or no thought has been given to cyclists or foot paasingers. Especially in the more urban regions a desert of asphalt exists, with exits, junctions and by-passes one after and over the other. Between them there are the commercial areas with their shopping malls. The result of all this city-planning is that an Italian without a car must be a handicapped person. He won't be able to reach any of the modern facilities that he is told to need.
Pray that such developments will not occur in our home country.
Now we come and try to pass these knots of roads on our way to the east. Road signs galore, but never we can be certain that we will not end up on a motorway or another road aligned with high safety barriers and racing cars just inches away from our right arms. Situations we don't want to be in.
So often we stand and check our maps and gps and don't know anything better to do than ask someone. Very often we address a cyclist. Rather many of them, pensioners on racebikes mostly, can be seen on the Italian roads. And a couple of times already such a cyclist would start to explain how to ride and then come to the conclusion that he better accompany us for some time. And so it happens then. Yesterday f.i. a man rode with us for maybe 20 minutes up a pass untill there was a tiny road to the left, la strada vecchio. We should take this old road, for else we would come into some long tunnels, and that would be “multo pericoloso” There he left us and returned.
Once we had crossed the pass this way (multo bello, by the way) we descended and again, in the narrow valley, the old road and the new motorway mingled into an unclear situation. At a certain moment a car passed us, stopped and the man asked us where we were going. Wrong road, according to him. He told us to turn round etc. But some 4 kms further, there he was again. The situation was too complicated, he said. He would drive in front of us for 3 kms. So it happened. Then he made a drawing of the situation of the coming roads and pointed out how we had to ride. Then he said goodbye, after we had expressed our gratitude of course.

Such kindness!

Friday, August 19, 2011

It's great to be a European

I've always deeply considered myself a European. I remember my childhood. I was born in the year when WO II came to an end. We lived in a house along the road from my native village to the neighbouring village, which was Meer in Belgium. This village was very close, the people there spoke my language, but at the border the road was blocked by steel posts fixed in concrete blocks.
Today is different. We move and feel as free Europeans over our own continent. Uncredibly much has been achieved by our politicians in my lifetime. Unfortunately at the moment they seem to lack the vision and leadership to solve the current problems, and the wind is against.
What I also like tremendously in my continent? Europe has been inhabited by people for a very long time and thus it has a long history from which the remains can be seen and experienced in very many places. In Italy this is so obvious, it is teeming with well preserved historic places. I find it impressive to see how normal 21st century life takes place in places where numerous generations over tens of ages have done the same. Another reason why I consider it great to be a European.   

Monday, August 15, 2011


We are glad we followed some good advisors. Gianni in Torino and Hans, one of Eveline's running friends in Breda, have done well. Bellisimo is probably the word that a native would use to decribe the beauty of the countryside that we have been riding through this last period. The crossing of the mountain range south of Parma, the ride over the Volterra plain and especially the day towards Siena presented one scenic highlight after the other. Sometimes we had to work hard because of Apennines and the Tuscany hills, but it's no secret: good things don't come free. And it's not that we especially like climbing, but we have developed a skill in it by now. We don't mind so much any more. As long as the rewards are so good. And we have not finished yet! We have only reached Siena today. From here we want to proceed towards Perugia and Assisi, and then down to the Adriatic coast. So more climbing and hopefully more beautiful scenery is coming up.
Tomorrow there will be this year's second Palio in Siena. The famous and wild horse race on the shell-shaped central square in the centre. It's a contest between the city's districts and a centuries-old tradition. The town is crowded and hot, we are a bit tired, so we don't go into the centre. We've been there before, even on (rented) bikes.
We do remember the Palio-square as one of the most beautiful squares ever seen though: bellissimo!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Translate button

You may have noticed the `translate-button' on the top right hand side of the page. This can be used to immediately (Google)translate the text. This button is also available on the Dutch page. If you're interested in what Eveline has to say about our endeavours this could come in handy.

A pain in the eye

Not so many Italian people ride a bike. But still, on a warm summer's day you see quite a lot and today, a Sunday, we saw many groups n racebikes speeding along. It's strange to notice that in a country with such a rich cycling-history, with it's illustruous Giro d'Italia, many world champions and many Tour de France winners, so few countrymen know how to use this simple but clever machine properly. Over 90% of the ordinary cycling Italians, especially the female ones, assume a thoroughly wrong position on their bikes. Wrong here means that the position in which they are when riding the bike is ergonomically not according to the meaning of the design of the vehicle. Very often you see the saddle in the lowest possible position and the middle or back of the feet placed flat on the pedals. The result is that the knees rise up high between the arms of the rider. This position is comfortable in that sense that when standing still the feet can be placed flat on the ground while the rider remains seated in the saddle. A position taken based on a feeling of insecurity, better be sturdy on the ground when something happens.
But this is not what the designers of the vehicle had in mind. They meant a position in which the legs can be stretched to the full, thereby using the muscels and the joints of the hip, the knee, the ankle and the forefoot. A modus that is efficient and makes use of all muscles and joints in the legs. The position that one observes most of the time in this country is inefficient, more tiring and, one must agree, doesn't look good at all. On the contrary, it's a pain in the eye.
How come that in a country with such a long tradition in dominant cycling teaches its own population such bad cycling. Maybe here lies a chance for the prime minister, who has been experiencing some bad days lately. Wouldn't here be his one and last chance to make his governance a succes after all. He could use his far stretching powers to make sure that that in the future his countrymen and -women are thaught to ride their bicis properly. The rest of Europe, at least I, would appreciate it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Mediterranean, so blue, so blue.

A translated quote of Toon Hermans, the Dutch father of the one-man-show.
We left Villafranca in Lunigiana in the morning and it took still some 30 kms of descent through the valley before we reached the sea. The crossing of the Appenines from Parma to the sea as we did it is very beautiful. Mostly quiet roads too, only past Aulla there was much traffic.
When we started it was not our intention to see the Mediterrenean, but since we abided to our Torinese advisor Gianni, here we are.
This stretch of coast is very popular among sun and beach lovers. Some 40 kms we cycled along it and it is one uniterrupted line of bars and restaurants with their own secluded beaches, where you can rent a sun shade and 2 beach chairs for 20 or more euros a day. We hardly saw the sea, as all these conveniences were blocking the sight. So not much blue for us. Looking in the opposite direction we saw mountains with huge pieces missing. Understandble when you realise that we passed Massa and Carrara. Since the tourists here transport themselves by their private cars the roads were busy and it was parked cars wherever you could look. It's high season, so we are not complaining, but these are not the places where we want to be very long.
Now we have landed at a campsite near Viareggio and tomorrow we will continue to Lucca. Not very far from here, but we want to see the place and have some time for that. As there are no campsites or warmshowers hosts in the vicinity we expect that we will spend the night there in a hotel or b&b-room.

On the road again

On Tuesday we buried the old man. As a family we had prepared a worthy and beautiful ceremony in which he was commemorated as the man he had been, how we remember him and what he had meant for us. I realised that saying goodbye was not that difficult any more, since – by his illness – we had lost him quite some time ago. Though there have been moments of contact until very late in his illness, even very humorous ones. Now we all feel that it's good that he has found his rest.

We flew back to Pisa on Thursday. There was some stress that morning. I have acquired a new MacBook Air (Yes, I know, too much). Just to try how it is Tjetske borrowed my MacBookPro. She took it with her to Amsterdam, but she also took the adapter of my new little Air-thing. Two Macs in one room appeared to be one too many. So we travelled to Amsterdam Central first, where Teunis handed over the adapter and then back to the airport. Actually nothing special, a smooth operation, but imagine me not finding the adapter the day before. Well, Teunis compensated by also handing over a bag of concentrated fruit as a strengthener for us when cycling. Good stuff.
Nice to mention also is that we travelled to Amsterdam with the high speed train Fyra, together with our friend Lisa, who was going to visit her daughter and grandchild, who moved to Berlin a couple of months ago. Such a coincidence.

We arrived at the campsite at 17.45. They knew we were coming. We were warmly welcomed and 30 minutes later we sat in front of our little tent and we were set again. Mentally it took a bit longer.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Yesterday, Wednesday Aug 3rd, we took a flight home from Pisa. The reason to return home is the very bad fysical condition of Eveline's dad. The worst is to be feared.
We left our gear on a the campsite in Villafranca in Lunigiana and will pick up our journey later. We'll report again at that time.

Aug 5th: We have seen Eveline's dad the same evening and the day after we were there when he passed away. His death was a relief for him and ourselves, since he suffered too much during his last days.
We estimate that we'll return to Villafranca app. the 11th of August and continue our journey from there.

Over the Appennines

We followed Gianni Gandini's advice. After Torino we passed and visited Asti, Alessandria and Piacenze. Italian towns, historic and beautiful as you wish Italian historic towns to be.
First we avoided – as advised – the strada statale (national road) because of the traffic; a nightmare they said. So we chose beautiful countryroads along the vineyards of the Grignolino and the Barbera d'Asti. Later, since the Po-valley became less interesting and it was weekend, we used the strada statale after all just to make progress, with a rear wind to assist us. Just before Parma we turned south to enter into the valley that would lead us to the the Passo della Cisa (alt 1041). Through this pass we would cross the Appennines and leave the land of the Parmezan cheese and enter into Tuscany. The road up to the pass was not light, but extremely beautiful, we enjoyed the crossing very much. Now we've put up camp in Villafranca in Lunigiana, some 30 kms north of La Spezia and the coast of the Ligurian sea (Mediterranean). From here we intend to continue via the famous coast-line with f.e. Viareggio to Pisa (Lucca), San Giminiano etc. towards the east.  

An Italian is bound to be special

This country is inhabited by Italian people. People who above all boast of their land as a land good for food and wine. They keep on telling you this and they are not telling lies. There is nothing that's more important than food. And wine of course. And family. And home. But don't forget the food!
They are proud of their region and they find the people in the north of their region, let alone of Italy as a whole, quite different from themselves. And so they find the people of the south, and the east and the west. These people are much different, you know what I mean? (Do I?) We've heard it so many times. Yes, and the reason why he is telling you all this is that he is a special Italian. OK, but I have a friend in Torino who says the same thing. Than he is also a special Italian. Yes, and in the end every Italian is a special Italian.