WHAT WAS MY FAVORITE COUNTRY? PART II

SLOVENIA
I knew nothing about Slovenia except it had mountains and trees, I could camp! It was a country that was part of the Lonely Planets Mediterranean countries, so I had to visit in order to bike “The Mediterranean.” I had done some research, LAKE BLED seemed like a good starting point.

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I WAS SO WARMLY WELCOMED, THIS GIFTED FLAG BECAME A TRADITION IN EVERY COUNTRY
The camping was restricted to campgrounds only. (I may have broke that rule a couple times). There was a sign with a tent that had a red circle and slash “No Camping”. Further down the sign was a picture of a bear. I thought about it, the bear sign pretty much covered the no camping too!

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I STARTED AT, WHAT I LEARNED LATER, WAS SOME OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PARTS OF SLOVENIA, TRIGLAV NATIONAL PARK
I love staying with locals, they have great insights to the country. So got an address at CAMP KAMNE and contacted them 2 weeks later.

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NATASA INITIALLY PUT ME UP IN A HOTEL ACROSS FROM HER PLACE, THINGS HAVE CHANGED SINCE, I’M LIVING HERE NOW!

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THE FUN THING ABOUT BIKE TOURING HERE IS THE DESTINATIONS INCLUDE CASTLES LIKE THIS
I don’t want to seemed bias, since I maybe moving here, but Slovenia, is a must visit country. It has all the ingredients for adventure travel: history, landscape, food (deserts!), great biking and my top consideration for a country THE PEOPLE. Warm, friendly, helpful, inviting and for me and most travelers, they spoke English everywhere.
Slovenia is a country of only 2 million people that you can drive across in 2 hours, in any direction!

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SO THE CHANCES TO TOUR WITH TWO-WHEEL TRAVEL ARE PRETTY GOOD. THEY ARE ALSO FROM PORTLAND, WE LIVE 10 BLOCKS FROM EACH OTHER.

CROATIA
This was a must visit destination for me. I didn’t know a lot about the country except it had beaches and islands that you could ferry hop between. I like to travel “alone”, I get into a lot more fun situations.

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LIKE MY FIRST NIGHT IN CROATIA AT THE CASINO WITH EVONNE, SO MEMORABLE
Croatia is famous for it’s “ NATURIST (nudist) CAMPGROUNDS. I wanted to stay outside of town so I could camp and the only campground was, yep Naturist.

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I FOUND OUT THAT “THE AMERICAN” WAS THE BIG TOPIC AT THE RESTAURANT, “IS HE OFFENED?, “DOES HE THINK WERE CRAZY”? I FOUND IT ALL VERY ENTERTAINING.
I was passing through early October, so the “tourist” crowds were gone and not much traffic on the roads. Island hopping was what I was hoping it would be, FUN and fun it was.

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THE VIEWS FROM THE BIKE WERE SPECTACULAR!
I had 4 close calls, over 7 months on the bike and 2 of them were in Croatia. I got a feeling that drivers weren’t quite sure how to deal with bikes on the road, I used a lot of hand signaling. I didn’t get to spend my normal full month here, but in 3 weeks I saw a lot. Again the history, culture, landscape, food? (not sure) and the people were awesome. Croatia’s main city, DUBROVNIK is a tourist mecca, I highly recommend you don’t visit during the peak tourist season, July-August. It’s a cruise ship destination and 10’s of thousands of people pour onto the streets. I will visit Croatia again for sure, hopefully they can remedy some of their sewer problems before I return, WHEW!

MONTENEGRO
Before this trip, I couldn’t have found Montenegro on a map, any map, not even on a map of Montenegro! I was feeling the pressure to move along and Montenegro didn’t make the cut. I gave it less than 24 hours. For me to say much about the country seems unqualified. But more happened here in 24 hours than anywhere else!

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THIS IS THE VIEW FROM THE BUS, BIG MOUNTAINS STRAIGHT OUT OF THE OCEAN AND UP!
The bus I was on crashed and I was left no option but to peddle to town. It was the end of the “season” all the campings were closed. I did some stealth camping near the beach, actually pretty nice spot. I had resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t get to “feel” Montenegro. I was so wrong about that, a lot happened in 30 km.

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LIKE THIS FARMER WITH HIS SHEEP, BROUGHT ME SOME OF HIS HOMEGROWN FRUIT AND LET ME PICK SOME GRAPES
I’ve never felt so much love and acceptance from drivers. From both directions nearly all of them waved, honked and gave me a thumbs up. I was now regretting cutting this loving country short. Pomegranates lined the roads.

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HAVING A SUNNY DAY WITH LOW TRAFFIC ALWAYS MAKES BIKING AWESOME
I’ll be back to Montenegro, sooner than later. It’s only an 8 hour drive from Slovenia! Talking with some other travelers they said the interior of the country was really beautiful. You may have never heard of or know where Montenegro is, but if you want some adventure travel I think it’s here.

ALBANIA
This is another country I knew nothing about and couldn’t find on a map either. I was told to get a rabies shot because “wild dogs are waiting at the highway overpasses.” The many stray dogs never gave me a second look, so it ended up not being a problem. I was considering skipping this country too, but thankfully I didn’t. Albania ended up having ALL the ingredients for a great travel experience.
The first city I visited was SHKODER, it’s
nick named THE BICYCLE CAPTIAL of Albania. They reportedly have a 27% bike usage, my kind of town, all without special “bike lanes”, just total respect from the drivers.

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THE CYCLING IMAGES WERE EVERYWHERE, (check this LINK)
TIRANA was not a bicycling city, I didn’t see one biker while riding to the hostel. Albania was communisms last stand. In 1991 the Lenin and Stalin statues were pulled down and now reside wrapped up behind the Art Museum. For 40 years ENVER HOXHA ran Albania, some say into the ground but was also credited with some positive things, like raising the literacy rate and making Albania agriculturally self-sufficient.

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HE ALSO USED SCARCE RESOURCES TO BUILD OVER 1/2 MILLION BOMB SHELTERS, WHEN MAYBE THEY SHOULD HAVE BUILT ROADS AND OTHER MUCH NEEDED INFRASTRUCTURE? It may take years to recover from this misplaced priority.
The people were awesome, the food was OK, but one thing it was cheap!

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I BOUGHT SEVERAL “EVERYTHING” PIZZA’S FOR ABOUT $3 (I tipped $2) FROM ONE OF THE MANY HAPPY PEOPLE IN ALBANIA
I found Albania’s cities and museums interesting and full of Albanian pride. I biked the remote south coast and got to see a part of Albania most tourist don’t see. The images of a hard working and honest people were everywhere.

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LIKE THIS COUPLE WALKING THEIR ANIMALS DOWN THE “HIGHWAY”
The scenery along the coast was spectacular and the most dramatic of the whole trip (I started in Portugal).

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I TOOK MORE PICTURES ALONG THIS ROUTE THAN ANYWHERE (can you tell where this going?)
Yep, with the many negative aspects of Albania: open sewers, garbage strewn around, winning most corrupt government of Europe award, roads in disrepair, a train system where people choose the bus, a mafia that scares the Italian mafia.(I must stop). The positives: it’s history, landscape, potential to recover from years of communism and the will of the majority of people to work hard and honestly along with Lonely Planet’s must visit country of 2011, it still holds up as a must visit. Sometimes you must turn your head away. I saw a couple things that were a little tough to take. Lots of countries are counting on Tourism to lift them up, Albania is no different. I never felt threatened or endangered and I was riding solo the whole time, in the middle of nowhere. This country has adventure travel written all over it. Book your trip and surely bring your bike.

GREECE
WOW! “Only 2 countries left” my exact thoughts while on the road too. What did I know about Greece? Economic troubles and Protests about every austerity measure required by Germany’s Prime Minister,Merkel. Greece pride is everywhere, I saw the Greek flag being flown proudly. I didn’t have the energy to tackle Athens, so I stayed north. Lonely Planet stated, Greece is 80% mountainous, Oh Shit! So I took the bus to KALABAKA as a jumping off point. The “BIBLE” (Lonely Planet) said this is a “must see.”

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METEORA IS HOME OF THE HISTORICAL GREEK MONASTERIES
We biked a non-tourist part of Greece, how do I know? no post cards available, none! We were the talk of DESKATI, “what are you doing here?”, “tourist don’t usually come here.”

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ME AND VINCENT OVER LOOKING THE TOWN SQUARE
The people always make or break a trip. Score a huge one here, Yannis made our experience an all around “home run.” Not only was he the “BIKE GURU” of ELASSONA

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YANNIS TOOK US TO HIS “FAVORITE” RESTAURANT TO TRY THE “LOCAL” SPECIALTIES , WE WOULD HAVE NEVER FOUND THIS WITHOUT HIM, (thanks Yannis)
There was Mt.Olympus, Greece’s highest mountain. The second largest city THESSALONIKI had many museums that showcased lots of Greek history. In the old town, I had the best grilled octopus salad.
Writing this reminds me how awesome Greece is, regardless of it’s current (hopefully temporary) economic situation. Again: history, art, landscape, FOOD, and again without hesitation- the PEOPLE I know Greece has many places and people I have yet to discover and look forward to re-visiting, soon!

TURKEY
Turkey was my ultimate destination and I made it. I had no plans of “Bike Touring” Turkey, Istanbul–finished! I fantasized about immersing myself in Istanbul for as long as I can remember. The opportunity finally was here and I planned to rock it off. So this re-cap won’t include any nature landscape highlights. Biking to Turkey had a torturous head wind that killed me. I stayed in the town of KESAN to rest, adjust and explore a little.

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99% OF POPULATION IDENTIFY WITH SOME FORM OF THE MUSLIM RELIGION
I was told by several cyclist “don’t ride into Istanbul.” I saw out the bus window a cyclist riding in best described as Los Angeles freeway congestion. There was a guy selling bananas, on the freeway. On the bus and in Istanbul you could see quite a few Mosques.

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THIS WAS A RARE PHOTO, IN A MONTH I MAYBE SAW THIS 10 TIMES?, TURKEY ISN’T GOVERNED BY RELIGION
We visited TOPKAPI PALACE, having visited several Palaces this one’s best feature was the TREASURY ROOM the world renowned dagger with 3 giant green emeralds and the SPOONMAKERS DIAMOND, fourth largest diamond in the world.
The famous BLUE MOSQUE was just a couple hundred meters from our Hotel.

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AT NIGHT OR DURING THE DAY, THE BIRDS FLYING AROUND THE TOWERS GAVE ME AN EERY ALFRED HITCHCOCK FEELING
Every Hotel, Hostel, Restaurant I or we visited were super friendly. I felt Istanbul attracted a very interesting mix of travelers and quasi-refugees from the Middle East. I stayed a month, the weekend warriors just skimmed the surface of what Istanbul has to offer.

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KARIM (from Egypt) and ANDRE’ (from São Paulo, Brazil) WERE VERY INTERESTING AND ENTERTAINING
I like the option to live without a car and Istanbul’s many options made your daily commute an adventure! I read they move 5 million people a day.

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ONCE I FINALLY GOT THE HANG OF IT THE FERRY SYSTEM, IT WAS A FUN OPTION
I noticed early that border towns were always unique and held true their countries values. I felt Istanbul, the city that divides Asia from Europe was no different, it was very true to it’s cultural values. The food, clothing and music wasn’t over run with western tastes. The Starbucks was crowded!, but Turkish coffee was tough to swallow, so I’m with them on that one!
I stayed 32 days in Istanbul, the only reason to return would be as a launching point to explore the rest of this amazingly interesting country. When I visited other countries history and war museums the Turks always seemed to be involved in some way. They have shown compassion regarding the stressful situation on their southern border with Syria. Corruption is currently threatening Turkey, 350 police and 50 public officials have been sacked during the past month. A countries tourism areas don’t seem to be effected by all the political turmoil. Feel free to visit Turkey, taking a ferry from the many close Greek Islands is a very good option.

*CONCLUSION*
This was an interesting task for me, reviewing and evaluating my 8 month bike journey across Mediterranean Europe. I would return to anywhere and everywhere I visited. But for me, the view from the bicycle seat,
ALBANIA stands out as an adventure on all the aspects that make adventure travel exciting: Landscape, History, Architecture, Art, Bike Friendliness, Food (ok) and again THE PEOPLE:where the vast majority are hardworking, honest and as friendly as you could find anywhere.

Places are always a great experience but like I’ve said, “IT’S THE PEOPLE.” I scored on this too.

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WE BOTH FOUND SOMEONE THAT SHARES OUR VALUES
We’re going to Thailand, Jan 8, 2014, for 12 days. After that, I’m going to Myanmar (Burma) for a month. I will continue to Bike (rent) and continue Jeffs Bike Tour Blog about travel through SE Asia. I hope you find it as interesting as the Mediterranean Bike Tour.
Please write your government representative and plead for action on Climate Change. Prevention is cheaper than the cure!
thanks for reading
Jeff

2 thoughts on “WHAT WAS MY FAVORITE COUNTRY? PART II

  1. Mary Shea

    Hey Jeff! Sounds like everything is going great! Happy New Year. Thank you so much for your cards and post cards. I love getting them and seeing the beautiful places you have been. Will you ever be coming back to good old Portland?
    Miss you,
    Mary Shea

    Reply

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