There's a road we want to try but it's going to take us on a pretty circuitous route around southern Albania. There's no pass that goes over the 6,500 foot peaks of the Trebeshina mountain range where we currently are. Although Sarandë is only less than 15 kms away from the Greek border, we turn around and head north to find a dip in the mountain range to cross inland.
Twisty roads crossing the county line between Vlorë and Gjirokastër.
Everytime we see a sign for Gjirokastër , I think of an Albanian electric guitar shaped like a pita sandwich. Then I hummus a tune in my head.
As we clear one set of mountains, the road is flat and fast as we travel north in the valley between mountain ranges
We grab an amazing (and cheap lunch) at a roadside restaurant, lots of yummy Albanian meats. We do a lot of pointing at the pictures in the menu because our Albanian is non-existent. But I offer up a "faleminderit" and the owner of the restaurant smiles at me. The people here have all been so friendly, it's such a shame that more tourists don't visit Albania.
We finally round the bend across one of the breaks in the Trebeshina moutains and we stop for the evening in a town called Përmet.
Had to shop around a bit to find a hotel in our price range (about €20). Right in the middle of town, not bad!
Next morning, we set off to ride SH75 through the mountains
We had read that this road was really bad, even by Albanian standards, but the scenery is supposed to be awesome. So all day, we were expecting the asphalt underneath us to crumble into gravel and mud, like SH20 in the north, but the road just narrowed and the pavement got a bit broken. We worried for nothing.
Those are the some of the mountains we rode around yesterday on our right
Twisties on the outskirts of the Fir of Hotova National Park, home to the largest area of Bulgarian Firs
The national park is the largest protected forest in Albania. They protect the trees from predatory fir traders.
Riding alongside the Vjosa River. I can't believe the weather we are continuing to have. It's a marvelous day for exploring on two wheels!
Man sitting side-saddle on horse watches us ride by
One of the larger towns in Gjirokastër county
Neda getting her lean on!
And then getting stuck in traffic. Check out the sheep dog clearing the way for us!
We saw a lot of painters out in the countryside. Apparently, this is a big thing here.
Okay, the road did get a little bit bad in some areas...
SH75 was a great road, lots of twists and turns as it climbs up and down the mountainside. Here's a video of some of the roads we did in Albania, both in the north and the south.
We rode through Korçë without stopping, but here's the main attraction: the cathedral of Korçë.
Korçë was quite a nice town, lots of people and we rode past some nice cafes. Would have been a great place to stop for a bite to eat, but we are saving our appetites for something else...
Crossing over at Korçë into Greece. Yay!
We had to show our passports again since we were re-entering the Schengen Zone. Greece is a bit of an island, it's entirely surrounded by non-Schengen countries, although that is slowly changing.
But we're in a new country! Very exciting! Greece has been on our bucket list for a while now. We were originally supposed to spend last winter here, but opted instead to go to Thailand. When I was a kid, I used to read about all the Greek gods and heroes. I dreamed I was Perseus and had nightmares about the Minotaur and Medusa. I couldn't get enough of it! And now we were here in the birthplace of Greek mythology!
As soon as we crossed the border, it started raining. Uh oh, was our dry weather streak over?
I thought I knew a lot about Greece, but riding around the northern part of the country was not like I imagined it. I always thought Greece was sun-drenched, golden sand and Greek temples in every street corner. The scenery up here is still very much like the Albanian countryside we left. Still lush and green. Where are all the temples?!?
The town of Kastoria, on the other side of Lake Orestiada
Thankfully the sprinkles were brief, lasting only less than an hour. It was already dry when we pull into our first Greek town, Kastoria, to look for some food. I know exactly what I'm ordering! My favorite Greek food is souvlaki, mainly lamb. We find a nice restaurant overlooking the lake and perused the menu. Unfortunately, no lamb souvlaki, but they did have pork instead. With lots of tzatziki sauce. Mmmmmm...
Then we looked at the bill. Holy crap, it was expensive! Over double what we were used to paying in Albania. Whut!?! I don't think we'll be eating out a lot in Greece. Aren't they supposed to be having a recession in this country?!
Outside the restaurant where we ate. I love all the Greek writing, it really makes you feel like you're somewhere exotic!
GΣΠΣ & ΠΣDΔ in GRΣΣCΣ! Haha! Or, I should say... HΔHΔ!
So obviously with prices so high, we didn't stay in town. I found a nice place in a village called, Sidirochori, up in the hills a few kms outside Kastoria.
This place was a lot nicer than I thought it would be based on the price! And amazing views of the countryside too!
We're going to take a couple of days to rest up here.
Neda is starting a new cross-stitch pattern. This one is going to be her most ambitious one yet! Can you guess what it is?
I woke up early the next morning to catch the sun rising over the hills in Northern Greece.
The apiary across the street from us was buzzing with activity. Was so tempted to lob a water balloon at them. HΣΣ HΣΣ HΣΣ...
Our host is a really nice Greek lady who didn't look at all like what I thought Greek people looked like. I thought everyone here would be olive-skinned with dark hair. She had fair skin and blonde hair and spoke really good English. She gave us some suggestions of things to see in the area. She said there was a road behind where we are staying that's really popular with motorcyclists. It leads to a traditional Greek village called Nymfaio, which is one of the prettiest villages in Northern Greece. Oooh, temples and ruins? Okay, let's do it!
More cool Greek writing on the way to Nymfaio
As we left our bikes in the parking lot, a bunch of horses came down from the mountains to greet us!
"Can we keep him?" Dunno. Is your tank bag big enough, Neda?
So, we walked around a little bit and no temples or ruins...
It turns out that there are other periods in this country's history besides Ancient Greece. This town was first settled in the 1300s, but developed as a major centre in the 1700s. Okay, so we're a couple thousand of years too far along here for the temples and ruins. Our search continues!
Dropping into the village store to check out the trinkets. Neda buys some cherries at the market
Well, the village was not that interesting, but we saw lots of animals!
Everywhere we go, Neda makes sure she stops to smell the roses
"Where to next, Neda? Oh yeah, I'm the one planning this leg of the trip..."