Friday, 28 August 2015

San Marino

Well, I was well enough to get up, get on the bike and ride 170 miles to San Marino. Then collapse in my hotel room for an hour before going to see the world's fifth smallest country.

It was worth it. I suppose I wasn't expecting much, after all as it's such a small country what could it offer but essentially San Marino is a medieval hilltop settlement situated at759 m. It has commanding views.

Looking east towards Rimini and the Adriatic

At the top is the Citta do San Marino, the walled city now full of tourists, restaurants and shops. Bizarrely ( at least I think it's rather bizarre) lots of the shops seemed to be selling guns and knives and medieval swords. Rather odd.

But essentially,  it's a beautiful place, which also happens to be a country.

I found these 19th century drawings in the castle prison. 

So that was San Marino.

The world's oldest Republic (301 AD) 
The world's oldest surviving sovereign state
5th smallest country

I'm still not feeling well enough to be overly enthusiastic about anything at the moment. Sorry. 

I've got 375 miles to do tomorrow to get to Germany and then 350 miles the day after to Belgium. Then on Monday I get the ferry to the UK and will go and see my friend Justin in Brighton. ( If you've read 'Gone Riding', Justin is the guy I mention at the beginning who bought me a copy of Ted Simon's Jupiter's Travels - starting me off on this whole motorcycle travel palaver)

In the next few days I'll post some final thoughts and facts and figures. But thanks for reading my blo.


Thursday, 27 August 2015


A 5 hour ferry ride became an 11 hour ferry ride but I made it to Italy and across the Matera.

A UNESCO World Heritage site this place was the setting for Mel Gibson's 'The passions of the Christ' and you can see why.

It was a little like walking around the 'Life of Brian' set!

"He's a very naughty boy..."

So all was good in southern Italy... And then I went to bed...

I woke up at about 4 am and just made it to the toilet in time - both ends. No idea why but I'd caught food poisoning or at least a bug. I went back to sleep until 7 hoping it would go away. Especially as I'd spent the evening planning my 5 days back to the UK and booking my ferry. I've got a couple of reasonably long days ahead ( especially in this heat) and was planning on riding around the bit of Italy that sticks out like a 'spur' above the heel.

I took some imodium,  paracetamol and drank as much water as I could and set off. Two hours later I pulled in to a Lidl to buy some fluids. I got a litre of mixed juice, with bits!!!

Then I felt really faint. I sat down by Heidi, in the shade and sort of dozed off for an hour but I could feel I wasn't well and my stomach was really giving me jip. I drank some more juice.

But I took the decision NOT to detour round the 'spur' bit. It would add at least 3 hours to my journey and all I wanted to do was find a toilet and bed.

I headed for the toll road as I wanted to get as far north on safe well paved roads without having to ride through town centres in 30+C. It was the right decision.

An hour in I pulled over and drank some more juice and then set off again. Overtaking a lorry I knew I was in trouble. My stomach was telling me the juice wanted to come back up and I needed to pull over. I just made it.

I didn't even have time to get off the bike. I pulled up on the hard shoulder, just had time to lift my helmet up and, there is no other way of saying it, projectile vomited. Leaning over I tried to miss Heidi and my trousers/ boot. I managed to miss Heidi.


I threw up four times, quite violently and some came up through my nose. I was really regretting getting the juice with 'bits'! 

But I had to carry on, I was on a motorway and had to ride to the next service station which was, thankfully, only 20 minutes away.

I bought, and drank, 2 litres of water.

It took me 7 hours in the heat to cover 200 miles today. I never want to repeat that experience. 

Now I'm sat in an expensive, non-descript hotel in a beachside town called Pescara. I got here at 4 pm took the first place that had room and fell asleep for three hours. I still feel shit but hope tomorrow will be better.

There, thought you should know. Had I not made it across the carriageway I can just imagine the police finding my body and saying " Well, we're not sure why he crashed but his helmet is full of sick ;) 

Hopefully tomorrow will be better.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Albania - part 2

Apollonia. An important Roman centre in Illyria where Octavius ( who became Emperor Augustus) was sent for an education.

As I left Apollonia I stopped to take a photo of a 'typical' Albanian road. Paved and OK but rather bumpy.

You can't see it in the photo but just at the end is one of the famous Albanian bunkers. Thousands of these were built all over the country in the 1970s and 1980s. Albania had fallen out with Russia, Yugoslavia and China and Hoxha was paranoid that someone might invade. Quite what these bunkers would do, I wasn't sure. Surely it just tells your enemies when you are and they can either ignore you and go another way or lay siege for a couple of days. 

They look a little like sunken Daleks.

As I was taking these photos the local farmer came over to show me around his bunker. He spoke no English but insisted in talking to me in Italian and was very enthusiastic about his bunker. 

After a while he left me to it and went off to pick some figs.

Then, just as I was packing up, the farmer came back and insisted that I take a big bag of figs with me. He wouldn't take no for an answer! 

This sort of generosity was very common in Albania and one of the reasons it was rapidly become one of my favourite countries. 

So off we set with some figs tied to the front right indicator. ( I don't actually like figs!)

My next stop was Gjiroskata. Famous as a pretty hillside town with a huge castle on top and also birthplace of the Communist dictator Hoxa and Albania's most famous writer, Ismail Kadare. 

One of the Balkan's largest castles sits atop Gijistraka

With lots of WWII hard wear

Including a rare Italian FIAT tank

And a US spy plane shot down during the Cold War

Much of the castle is a rambling mess - great for exploring. 

But inside there are huge ceilings and thick walls. Very impressive. 

As I headed towards the coast I stopped at a major tourist attraction. Visited by Albanians and foreigners - and as I was now near the coast, day trippers from Corfu.

The Blue eye waters. Spring water bubbles out from the Rock and the colour of the water and rocks give it the appearance of a huge blue eye


It was very beautiful but there were so many other people there it rather spoilt it. My misfortune to go on a Sunday morning I guess.

Perhaps it says more about me that I thought this constitutes a'lot of tourists'. Having been travelling for a month in the Balkans I've got used to small numbers. This doesn't bode well for Italy does it!

I got a similar sensation to the one I felt at the Grand Canyon. A lovely natural phenomenon somewhat spoilt by the number of people there trying to experience the lovely natural phenomenon. (Graham Field knows what I mean!) 

But it was pretty

And then the coast!!!

I know this isn't a good photo but it was an excellent campsite. Run by an Albanian couple, who were teachers, and equipped with hot water, clean toilets, wifi and a 2 minute walk to the beach, this place cost me £3 a night and they welcomed me with a tray of coffee, water and their own grapes.

You don't get that in a UK campsite!

I had a chat with Linda and Alexander about life in Albania and the education system. Albania and the UK are the only two countries in Europe where students can drop History aged 14! They were a little surprised that I was a teacher as teachers in Albania aren't allowed to grow beards. 

When I mentioned this to a German cyclist I was sharing the campsite with he actually said that this was true in Bavaria as well. And no tattoos either!, AND you have to go where the Bavarain Governament want you to go to teach. Also, get this. In Bavaria they have a sort of 11 plus and students are selected to go to one of four different grades of schools. The cyclist taught in one of these and seemingly ages 11-14 are taught all (or most) subjects by the class teacher, like in Primary in the UK.

 I didn't know this and need to some research on it when I get home. It all sounds very interesting. 

But I digress. It was really interesting to talk, even briefly, to two Albanians who grow up during the Cold War. Linda learned Russian at school because she was educated in a village and Alexander went to school in a town so was taught English. Interesting eh?

I also leaned that the coast road was only paved in the 1970s but then again there were only 2000 cars in the country for Communist officials. With Corfu just a few kilometers across the Ionian sea this part of Albania was off limits to most Albanians as it was feared people might try to swim to Corfu and thus Greece.

This is what I was finding so amazing about my time in Albania. When I was growing up Albania was an unknown, forbidden land and here I was riding around it on my bike and talking to people, who thirty years ago I would never have dreamed of being able to meet. And they were so friendly. 


I've said it before, as have others, but travel really does broaden the mind. I would love for Farage, Cameron, the Daily Mail, Amanda Hopkins and anyone who has ever said or thought anything negative about migrants et al. to actually travel. I have been met with nothing but kindness in Albania and indeed in all of the Balkans and last year in Romania. 

It is no surprise to me, or anyone who travels. 

But the narrow minded don't travel. Or rather those who travel don't remain narrow minded.

If David Cameron had spent August riding a motorcycle around the Balkans we would all be living in a fairer, happier and, importantly, safer world. 

But he didn't, so we aren't. 

I know, I know. I've been on my own too long and if I don't go home soon I'll just go mad.

Well, there was one last site to see in Albania. 

Butrint. An amazing, confusing, important and intriguing mismatch of prehistoric, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Mediaval buildings near the Greek border. 

Back at the campsite I went for a sunset walk along a promenade built in the 1970s for Communist Party officials. The only people they could trust to be this close to Corfu which you can see in the sunset photo below.

And that was that. Albania. - everything I hoped for and more. 

I'm typing this up on the (very delayed!!!) ferry as I cross the Aegean Sea to Brindisi. Around me people are playing cards and Dominios and Italian is very much the language in the air. The ferry food is charged in Euros and I have to  admit to myself that I have left the Balkans and am on my way home. 

On my way back to Western Europe; expensive petrol; expensive food; expensive accommodation; crowds and noise and rampant consumerism. 

And I can't say I'm happy about it. I know my trip still isn't over. I've got 1,500 miles to ride before I get home. I want to stop off in Matero and San Marino and it'll be a week before I'm home. But as I watch the mountains that have been my company for the last 35 days and define the Balkans slip over the horizon I cannot help but feel a little sad. 

Goodbye Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro. 

I'm not sure I'm ready for what's coming next but there is only one way to find out... "Deep breathe and go to your happy place" 

Saturday, 22 August 2015


Albania, at last! I've been skirting around its border for a while now, almost as if I don't want to visit. Which is crazy as I do. I've wanted to come to Albania for ages. Who wouldn't want to come to a country with a self proclaimed King Zog; the first country to delcare itself atheist (1967) and the place famous as a closed communist state throughout the Cold War. In the 1980s when I was learning to ride a motorcycle Albania was a forbidden land ( a little like North Korea now). What's more, there were only 2000 cars in the whole country! And now, now I'm riding my motorcycle in Albania! #happy

I entered the country from Kosovo and then took the famous three hour ferry ride down towards Shkoder.

Heidi and a I make it to our 43rd country together 

I'd read that this was going to be an amazing ferry ride - I prepared myself for a disappointment.


I camped at 'Camping Albania' a lovely little place with lots of grass, wifi and a swimming pool for £3 a night

I went to visit Shkoder fort.

The story goes that when it was being built it kept falling down so to appease the Gods one of the daughters of the leader 'volunteered' to be bricked in to the walls ('cos that will help!) as long as two holes were left so she could breast feed her child. ( I so hope this story isn't true) 

Now, at certain times of the year a milky liquid drips down the walls and some local women come to smear it onto their breast.

This is where it all happens. I waited all day but...

Only joking.

Back on the road I headed south for Tirana. I was so excited about actually riding my bike around a capital city which I associated with the Cold War/ Communism, an oppressive regime, and a place the teenage me would never have thought I'd visit. It's like planning a trip to North Korea or Syria. It may well happen but I wouldn't bet on it. 

Tirana's main square with the National Museum in the background.

I visited all the sites, the National Museum, up the clock tower and down to the Tanner's bridge. Billed as a 'slippery when wet kind of old bridge' - context is everything.

This is what the bridge looks like- nice

But when you see the context- slightly less nice.

Several of the main Communist buildings were designed by the Communist dictator's (Hoxha's) daughter. That's true communism!

This pyramid building has been empty for years, they're not sure what to do with it.

I've no idea what the bell signifies but the 'youngesters' had fun trying to ring it.

I liked the look of this Communist Comgress building, designed by Hoxha Jn.

I quite liked Tirana.

I went for a walk in a park above Tirana and stumbled across a Commonwealth War Garves site. 30-40 UK and Australian servicemen who died in Albania during WWII.

All war graves are sad, solumn places but this one had a sad story associated with it. During the Communist dictatorship Albania refused to let the UK authorities in to Albania to collect and bury the dead. So, I think these graves are symbolic, as in the bodies are not there, and no one really knows where they are. And presumably between 1945 and 1991 relatives weren't allowed to visit.

Very sad. 

Then south again to the pretty little UNESCO town of Berat. 

Called the village of 1,000 windows.

In the evening the village walks up and down the promenade - Friday night in Berat!

Albania... To be continued...