I’ve been ‘cycle touring’ a few times now. But only in western Europe. Where everyones goes. It was time to brake the mould and for me to explore Eastern Europe. With The Transcontinental race finish in Istanbul, I would already be forced to pass though (explore is a stretch here) new countries in eastern Europe. I decided that as I was only passing through, I should really ride back from Istanbul and take in some of the places I missed on the way out racing. I mentioned the idea to a mate, and he agreed to come along for the trip. Normally I go away alone so this was a good change and also, as he isn’t a cyclist would act as a nice anchor to make sure I cycled slow!
The countries we visited were Greece, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Croatia. (Rough Route)
And to say these countries blew away my misconceptions would be fair. Albanians were some and are some of the friendliest, most hospitable people I’ve ever met. Montenegro was unreservedly stunning beyond belief, along with Albania and Macedonia.
And in Greece a Greek salad comes with a whole feta on top!
We arrived at the campsite in Albania, which was also a convent for nuns. Storms were rolling in and after our welcome to the campsite free beer (perfect recovery drink) we were informed the power was out in the local town. Without food we ventured down to the local restaurant, who’s power was also out. Here we met Yaris, he had lived in England for several years but had returned, acting as our translator, providing us with more beer, informed us that although the power was out, if we were prepared to wait a little a dinner would be served. A few Peronis later, Yaris having driven to the next town over to purchase supplies for out dinner, we were served with an ample sized dinner (for we were hungry cyclists) with food so fresh it melted in the mouth. This is a simple example of many experiences of genuine hospitality we experienced in Albania. The country may have it’s issues (we would see people burning their rubbish on the road side), but the people we met just wanted you to enjoy their country and made you feel more welcome than I’ve ever felt anywhere.
That said, Eastern Europe isn’t just for the t-shirt wearing touring cyclists. Roadies, pack your road bike up and head out there training. The mountains on offer are enough to brake even the toughest of guys, trust me. The coffee is Italian good, for many locals go to Italy and the culture has been brought back. The roads are generally quiet and the locals friendly. Though if the Serbins are short with you, don’t be offended, it’s just the way!
If you need a little more modern world, head up the coast into Croatia. Dubrovnik is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen and been, there is plenty to do there.
I’d recommend anyone out there to break the mould of western Europe and head east, you’ll fall in love.
If anyone is interested in doing so, get in touch with me and I’ll be happy to offer advice!