Reflections - North to the Balkans - CycleBlaze

June 24, 2018


This entry is pretty much a brain dump, with no real organization to it.  I’m still too jet lagged to organize anything, but I want to put a few thoughts down while they’re fresh in my mind.  So, be forewarned that this is pretty random.  

So much about this tour surprised us, it’s hard to know where to start in commenting on it.  For the last few years we’ve had an unforgettable series of great tours, and came away from each of them wondering if it was the best tour ever.  I don’t think we feel quite that way about this one, but it was maybe the most interesting one.  I feel like we’ve had our eyes opened a bit, spending so much time immersed in cultures that travel at a slower pace.

This, at eight weeks, is the longest tour we’ve taken.  How did that go?  Well, pretty well; but we were ready for a bit of a break by the end - from the road, from keeping up the blog, and just a bit from so much daily interaction with each other.  When we go out on longer stretches (we’ll be out for five months this fall and winter), we’ll need to plan for more down time.  We’re envisioning multiday breaks on the coast of France where Rachael can go out on her own day rides while  hang out at a cafe or poke around on my own with the camera.

This entire region is really astonishing - it feels like so many different countries and cultures bunched into a small area, all of which are beautiful and fascinating in their own way.  It feels like we completed a series of about a half dozen different short tours.  I came out of nearly all of them thinking that I would love to return someday.  I left Crete, Andros, northern Greece, and southern Albania fantasizing a future tour that would bring us back here again.  

The only true disappointment was Corfu, although we were a bit less enamored with Evia than I expected.  If we were planning this trip again, we’d make a few adjustments.  I’d drop Corfu completely, or maybe see Corfu Town as an overnight visit from Saranda.  I’d get to Albania by biking north on the mainland instead, from Ioannina or Metsovo.  I’d allow a bit more time in Albania, in particular around Lake Prespa - I really wish we’d stayed there a few nights.

The biggest surprise?  Northern Greece.  To be honest, the main reason we crossed it was because we really wanted to see Meteora and Corfu.  I never expected to enjoy it as much as we did.  I’d love to visit this region again.  If you’re careful about picking your roads, it offers some really outstanding cycling.

The people we encountered were almost without exception warm and welcoming - particularly in Greece.

Greece and Albania are both physically challenging destinations, with few prolonged breathers.  We were surprised looking back to find that this was the second hardest tour we’ve taken, after the French Alps.  And it was arguably too hard, or a bit too long at this intensity.  It would have helped to have a few flat days in the middle somewhere, but Greece wouldn’t cooperate.  Rachael keeps reminding me that I’m not as young as I used to be, and I need to start acting my age; and she’s right.

I wish we had gotten started about two weeks earlier.  We were really lucky with the weather for the last ten days, when we found a prolonged cooler/wetter weather pattern; but I can imagine it would feel too hot at this time of year normally.

If you were paying attention over the last two weeks, you know how remarkable Albania is from a bike saddle.  I’d really encourage you to consider it, and sooner than later.  Others apparently agree - we saw more bike tourists here than anywhere else on the tour.  If you go though, be careful about route selection because I’m sure some of the roads would be awful to bike on.  It’s worth doing some research.

We were warned about and worried about dogs in northern Greece and Albania, but needn’t have been.  They were not a problem anywhere we biked.  This was true of the drivers also.  Like everywhere, I suppose, people warn you of how awful and dangerous things are down the road.  We felt perfectly safe everywhere we went.

Eight weeks of blogging at this level of intensity was a bit much (I don’t know how the Grampies do it!).   It’s time consuming, both while writing it up and using the camera while biking.  We’re so glad to have this to take home with us after the fact because we’ll keep so much more of our experiences this way, but there’s a cost.  We’ll probably start experimenting with the model in the future - maybe have down days from the journal, or summarize multiple days.  It’s a bit of a problem, because my old guy memory is so awful.  I know that if I don’t write it down at the time it will be gone.   

Thanks again for following along and for your feedback; and a special thank you to Bill and Andrea for their help in identifying the flora and fauna we saw along the way.  See you down the road. Next up: the Canadian Rockies, in just two weeks!

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Comment on this entry Comment 6
Bruce LellmanGreat trip - great journal! Thank you for taking the time to shoot, write and post. We all really appreciate your efforts and are all a lot more educated about that part of the world because of it. Beautiful!
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2 years ago
Ron SuchanekVery nice job with the journal and videos. To be honest, I'm.keeping up with ours because of the admonishment from you and Bruce.

I look forward to following you in the Canadian Rockies, one of my favorite places.
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2 years ago
Emily SharpThanks for taking us along and committing to the time and effort to write it up. I really, really liked northern Greece, though you have gorgeous photos and wonderful experiences documented for the whole trip. The guys and I won't know what to do with ourselves without our armchair travelling. We'll understand if you cut down on journal writing days though. I never wanted to spend that sort of time while I was on the road - just making up daily notes was enough - so I respect anyone who can write while they ride.
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2 years ago
Scott AndersonTo Emily SharpWasn’t northern Greece amazing though? What a surprise it was for us. I really hope we can make it back to this region again. Thanks for following along again.

As far as journaling goes, I’m sure I’ll keep doing this. It’s personally rewarding for me, and so much of the experience would be lost to me if I didn’t record it. I just need to work in breaks from time to time somehow when I’m starting to feel burned out.

Best of luck on your continuing recovery, Em. Hopefully you’ll get a confirmed diagnosis before long so you’ll know better what you’re dealing with. So much about getting through life is about managing expectations, isn’t it - coming to terms with your constraints and making the best of them.

Take care,
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2 years ago
Scott AndersonTo Ron SuchanekYou’d better keep it up! You two have got the best journal going. Just the right balance of adventure, humor, and evocative photography.
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2 years ago
Ron SuchanekTo Scott AndersonThanks!
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2 years ago