Not Mean Street: into Tirana - Lookin For John Fairweather - CycleBlaze

January 11, 2014

Not Mean Street: into Tirana

I get away about eight-thirty without a goodbye or wave to the hotel owner; sour after he overcharged me for the night before's dinner.

The nice wide highway continues and with a poultry thirty kilometres into Tirana, I'm thinking this is how it'll be the whole way. But I couldn't have been more wrong. After some twelve kilometres of carefree bowling along on smooth asphalt, on the inside, safely away from the hundred plus kilometre-per-hour cars swishing by, the niceness come to an abrupt end and the good road narrows into a badly surfaced irregular strip.

By now I'm entering the suburbs and there's all sort of chaos happening on the road. There are suddenly lots of scooters and older vehicles spluttering along and often pulling in to the side in my path to let people off. Or moving back out just as I'm passing. Or even just slowing and pulling-in on the shoulder to think.... There are pedestrians dashing across in brief gaps in the traffic. One woman is caught midstream and waits as accelerating cars swerve round her on both sides. And one man almost gets run over: the van simultaneously brakes hard and blairs the horn with the body rebounding forward. Though, two hundred metres on, the van has to stop anyway because the road is bunged with tailback traffic; making me think, why are these drivers in such a hurry; almost killing people by hit-and-run and yet not getting to their destination any quicker than if they'd driven sensibly.

I'm mindful all the time of holes and deviations along the road's crooked edge upon which I keep tight in out of harm's way.

The air is rancid and the cumulated exhaust fumes are visible. There seems no end in sight. I begin thinking how much further it is into Tirana city-centre. Or I'm I on this seemingly endless thoroughfare through sprawl and what if I don't find the way and am stuck and still lost after nightfall. I wouldn't feel safe on this street with this expensive bike and all my personal belongings.

I pass markets; fruit and veg and clothes and masses of people to the side and more crossing through the moving traffic with lots of blaring horns. A ragged woman salvages what she can from an industrial wheelie bin in the heaps of rubbish along the sidewalk.

Then an open-back van passes with an emaciated cow standing tethered in the back. Further along the same cow is seen being led down a ramp by a human from the rear of the van; ahead of which, there's a trailer with tailgate open and sheep gazing out. Strange to have a farm market this far into a big city, unless this is a final place farm animals come when they've outlived their usefulness in the countryside.

I then come to a junction from which a secluded tree-lined avenue leads off. I assume this leads to the centre. There are parked cars along one side and pedestrians walking full abreast underneath the leafy overhang canopy with only an occasion car moving slowly through. It leads to the university and a café full of what looks to be students. I continue pass and downhill, but straightaway I'm in the most depressed looking slum of tenement block with flaking plaster and broken windows and filthy rubbish strewn streets whose inhabitants haven't yet noticed me as I turnaround and make a hasty retreat.

I return back along the avenue and between two parked cars, see a traffic-warden whom I ask the way to the centre. He has no idea what I'm saying. Then along come a silver Mercedes: the driver a young man must've overheard, asks through the lowered window "are you looking for the centre?" I confirm I am. "You continue straight and turn left at the bridge. It isn't far. Only two kilometres. Not even that."

With the reassurance I'm going the right way, I left the helpful Mercedes-driver in traffic, but he pass me later, shouting out "turn left at the bridge!" The bridge when I get as far is an elevated road across an oval contraflow. I've to inch around this with care crossing each exit in turn; then continue left in relation to the highway I had been on.

Another roundabout to cross without being rammed by an accelerating car and a little further I come to a pause by the curbside on the edge of a huge central square. There are stately buildings and monuments and a high-rise Hotel Tirana. And behind me a funfair.

At that moment along come the helpful Mercedes-driver now on foot. He asks "Is there any place in particular you are looking for" I ask "do you know where the tourist office is. I need to find a hostel." He replies "I don't. I'm not from here.." But then come a man and asks "You look for hostel. There is one in the street behind building" he points towards Hotel Tirana.

I find the hostel. It is actually Hostel Freddy which I'd seen recommended on an online site. Cost fifteen Euros per night for which I've a room to myself; not that its meant that way; it being January there are few travellers. Continental breakfast is included and as prices for eating out are low, I spend a further seven Euros during the day.

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Here a few days, I haven't done much sightseeing beyond the central square. Its time spent pondering the next phase of this journey and updating this journal. Much time in a café, a place Is glad to find as they do long coffees, rather than the minuscule one sip and there gone expresso-only establishments commonly found everywhere else in the region. I prefer using the wifi at the café because of the barmy climate here, the café is open; whereas, the hostel has no outside siting area and during the day, I don't want to sit in a windowless commonroom or, the bedroom where the window looks out on a near wall. The nice weather for January makes it feel like Italy. This afternoon though, the blue sky has clouded over grey and there's rain in the air for this evening.

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Bicycle! Bicycle! Bicycle!

Bicycle riding is coming to town.......

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A mix of architectural styles; some nice; some not so nice.
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Synthetic though brilliant colour.
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Today's ride: 31 km (19 miles)
Total: 9,174 km (5,697 miles)

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