I think I’m going to like Albania

We’ve only been here a few days, and at first it was a bit of a culture shock after 2 months in former Yugoslavia to encounter the unique Albanian culture. It’s like stepping back in time in some ways and like being transported to Asia in others.

We had a great time staying at the Green Garden Hostel in Shkodër for two nights, getting our bearings, picking up a SIM card, local currency, etc. They offer one night of free camping to cycle tourists, but it looked like rain so we opted to pay for a bed in a dorm room instead. Met a lot of really interesting other travellers, and the host had some great recommendations for our trip.

One of the cool random things about Albania is all the bomb shelters scattered throughout the country. They were built in the communist era when there was fear of nuclear war. Now they sit mostly abandoned in random places on the side of roads.

It’s nice to again hear the Muslim call to prayer that we also heard in Bosnia. We find it peaceful and beautiful. The Albanians don’t seem to be super religious, though; I read in a guide that the religion of Albania is Albaniaism more than anything else.

We also hear other sounds like music with horns and other instruments, lots of livestock (roosters, hosts, cows, horses), cicadas, dogs barking, etc.

The traffic is pretty wild, and it reminds me of riding my bicycle in Thailand. There’s a wide variety of traffic on all the streets, including cars, trucks, bikes carrying people and everything from scythes to weed whackers, people walking 5 deep in the middle of the road, mopeds, dilapidated trucks, pedal powered carts hauling produce, horses, goats, mule-drawn carts, horse-drawn carts, and large carts full of fruits and vegetables and other farm stuff. And they all weave together seamlessly. The only horns I hear are toots to let people know there’s someone coming. None of the locals wear helmets when on bikes, and their ages range from 5 to 90.

It’s refreshing after the confused stares we got in most of Europe to be greeted with waves, kids yelling out greetings (“hello!”, “Where are you from?”, “What’s your name?”, “No go! Police!” – this one was concerning, but aside from the barbed wire we walked around, we never saw any reason to be worried), people stopping us in small towns to ask about our trip or our bikes, vendors calling out “please stop”, etc.

For lunch we stopped at a small burek stand, and the woman working there immediately brought out two chairs and a small table from the back and then called up her friend on her cell phone and handed it to me so that the friend could translate what we wanted into Albanian! We ordered two amazing pastries with cheese and onions, and she offered us some grilled meat (looked like ćevapčići but tasted like lamb), turned on the hose so we could wash up, and the total bill with drinks, lunch, and ice cream for dessert came to 400 Lek (about $3.50US). The rumors of Albanian hospitality are certainly turning out to be true!

Speaking of the food, that’s been an amazing surprise! It’s been excellent and very affordable. We have fallen in love with the rice pilaf and fried cheese for breakfast at a place in Shkodër, we hope we can find it elsewhere. For dinner, we ordered something poorly-translated as “dust bin with meat” and it was a delicious mix of ground meat, ricotta cheese, and sweet peppers. The caramel cake and baklava are also to die for. There’s also lots of street food (at least in Shkodër), but so far we’ve only tried some cookies that a woman was selling.

Another thing that reminds me of Asia is the plethora of shops all over the place selling pretty much everything you can think of. Sunglasses, clothes, tools, tobacco, and where the shops are the most dense, there are a dozen street vendors set up on the sidewalks outside selling more stuff. Being on bikes, we can’t really buy much, but it’s fun to window shop and poke around the racks at these places.

There are a few things I’ll need to get used to, though…

The roads are in absurdly bad condition in some places. We’ve ridden on worse gravel trails in the past (I’m talking about you, Parenzana Rail Trail!), but these roads are marked as secondary roads on the map and either the asphalt hasn’t seen the light of day in decades, or it’s been patched over so many times you can’t tell a pothole apart from the road surface. But on the plus side, there is a lot of construction going on, and we had some very pleasant freshly paved roads in parts, and the primary roads are in decent shape, if not with a bit more car traffic. And anyway, we’re riding on gravel bikes, so we’ve got to push them to their limits, right? Yeah… Actually they are holding up really well.

Also, animal welfare is very poor in Albania. Of course it makes sense in one of the poorest countries in Europe that animals take a back seat to human welfare, what with some people living in very bad conditions. But it is difficult to see the wild packs of mangey dogs and cats scrounging through dumpsters. And we witnessed a horrible sight of a horse missing part of it’s foot, hobbling on three legs across the street. I hope for his sake that if he can’t be cared for, that someone has the foresight to put him out of his misery.

Those things aside, we are looking forward to our 2 weeks (approximately) in Albania. Hope to have more pictures to show, soon!

Lake Skadar, Montenegro

If you ever find yourself at Lake Skadar, Montenegro, do yourself a favor and skip the over-touristy boat tours and tourist town of Virpazar. Instead, ride the road south of the lake to see it’s immense beauty. I’d also strongly recommend looking for a local house rental, we stayed with Village House Simonovic, and they treated us like a member of their family and made some of the best local food we’d had in the Balkans! What an amazing few days, even with the rain!


A million people per year visit the Ostrog Monastery in Montenegro. It’s a site of significance for a great number of people, and many walk barefoot up the stairs to the monastery as part of their pilgrimage to this sacred place, often in search of something for their lives, meaning, truth, healing… As we cycled up the many switchbacks to this picturesque monastery built into the mountains, I couldn’t help but think about whether our cycling trip is a pilgrimage, of sorts.

Perhaps ours is not a pilgrimage in the strictest sense, as it is not for religious reasons. We did join the millions of people who have climbed to the Ostrog Monastery using their own power, but for us, it is more a spiritual journey than a religious one. It has been a way for us to discover on our own what is really necessary in our lives, and not what our American culture has indoctrinated us with.

We don’t need a car, we don’t need more than a few sets of clothing, we don’t need a lot of space, and we don’t need to collect “stuff” to be happy. This trip has put a lot of things in perspective because on many days, we are focused on only our most basic needs: water, food, shelter, companionship. Focusing on life in this way is so core to who we are as humans, but few of us in our modern world ever experience this.

Maybe I’m stretching the definition, but maybe it’s possible to see this trip as a spiritual pilgrimage to the unexpected corners of the world in order to learn more about our spirituality and how we fit in with this world.

If you made it this far through my stream of consciousness, here are some pretty photos as a thank you! ?

Ostrog Monastery

Us in front of the entrance to Ostrog Monastery. We couldn’t go in because they require long pants.

Lonely tree set over a dramatic cliff on the road up

Steve climbing one of the final switchbacks to Ostrog

Lake near Nikšić

Kotor Bay, the smoke is from brush fires

Our Lady Of The Rocks, a man made island with a church on it.

Brush fires in Montenegro. Luckily they seem to have them under control now, and they didn’t affect our trip.

An amazing punjena pljeskavica (stuffed hamburger) in Nikšić for 2€!

Šopska salad has become an important part of our diet whenever we can find it.

Boiled is better than fried, I suppose…

Can’t get away from the bees here, but they don’t bite often and there is amazing honey for sale everywhere! Plus the fresh peaches and nectarines are to die for!

This is the sign leading up to Mikulići Nature Park, a legendary stop for backpackers and cyclists in Croatia. Marko has been offering a free place to camp in his peaceful grounds for years, and we met at least 8 others spending the night, including James, who has been staying there for over a year now, working on various business ideas and projects including growing a pomegranate farm and building a tourist train project to take advantage of the rapidly growing tourism industry in the area. www.cirothetrain.com 

And he we are with Marko (far right) and James next to him. Amazing guys, we listened to Marko’s crazy stories of life in Canada, Hawaii, and Croatia for hours. Would have loved to stay longer but after 5 days off the bike waiting for repairs, we were itching to ride again.

Leaving the Dalmation coast

Today should be our last full day on Croatia’s stunning Dalmation coast. We have taken a bit of a pause here and cut back on miles, enjoyed the nature as well as the city life, did some wine tasting, swam in the Adriatic a lot, kayaked, hiked, enjoyed some good food, soaked in some local culture, met up with old friends and made new ones, celebrated Steve’s birthday, and just generally have been more on vacation than on a cycle tour.

It’s been amazing, and I’ve seriously fallen in love with Croatia even more than before. But it’s impossible for us to stay still, so tomorrow my new sunglasses should be ready to replace the broken ones, and we will continue on towards Montenegro and Albania.

Here are some of my favorite photos from the past few weeks. Sorry it’s a lot, I’ve been saving them up. And again, they are out of order because WordPress is weird.

Diocletian’s palace in Split

Selfie before dinner in Korčula

Stunning sunset hike in the hills above Dubrovnik with HikingDubrovnik.com

Tired tourists in Dubrovnik

Just inside Pile Gate in old town Dubrovnik

We island hopped around Split before continuing south towards Dubrovnik

Window in Korčula

Hiking the city walls between Ston and Mali Ston, second only to the Great Wall of China! But yet there were only two other people walking the walls with us.

Flower abstract on Ston wall

Cute konoba in Korčula

Alleyway in Korčula

Our bikes spent a lot of time here on the ferries while we island hopped

Sunset near Dubrovnik

Street art in Split

Sunset in Dubrovnik

Old town Dubrovnik

Stunningly clear water on Korčula Island

Big and small boats in Korčula 

Sunset in Dubrovnik


Island abstract

Road to hell in Korčula

Korčula town

Breakfast with a view for Steve’s birthday

Selfie above Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik abstract

Really good craft beer from Poreč

Coast of Korčula

Creme caramel for Steve’s birthday

Dubrovnik selfie

Which way to aim?


Dubrovnik Walls

Looking down at Ston and the salt flats from the city walls

Crystal clear water on Hvar

O La La!

Wild flower hiking near Dubrovnik

Old town Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik city walls

Small town in Šolta where we camped

Super hot day in a small town in the Pelješac peninsula

Traditional fish stew dish

Tourists walking in old Town Dubrovnik

Sunset hike near Dubrovnik

Split from the boat

An unloaded cycling day on Hvar with some friends from San Diego and Los Angeles!

Old roof near Dubrovnik

This kitty in Ston to an immediate liking to us and my bike

Reflections in Korčula

Sunset over the Elaphite islands

Roof abstract in Dubrovnik

I’ve been shit on 4 times by birds in the past four months. They say it’s good luck, but what the hell did I do to anger them??

Lokrum Island of the coast of Dubrovnik

From the bike to the beach to the ballet

(To counteract my last post complaining about some gear that has failed to survive our around-the-world adventure, I wanted to write about some products that we are happy with!)

Last night we saw a classical pianist perform in Old Town Dubrovnik, and tonight we are going to see the ballet! It’s part of Dubrovnik’s 68th annual Summer Festival, a cultural icon of Croatia.

But one of the challenges of light weight cycle touring is finding a set of clothing that fits all of the situations you might encounter without looking (and smelling) like they’ve been stuffed in a compression sack for months and haven’t been washed for a week. On our last tour, we opted for totally casual shorts and tee shirts, but that made it a little awkward if we wanted to have an occasional night out.

(Spandex works okay at a beach restaurant, but is a big no-no at the ballet unless you’re on stage.)

For this tour, we wanted to have a few nice dinners and cultural events like the Dubrovnik Summer Festival. So, while we mostly wear shorts and tee shirts, we also have a set of clothes that help us look a bit less ragged. You probably haven’t seen too many pictures of us in these, but I wanted to write about them since we are happy with how they are working.

What we ended up with after a lot of research and a few failed trial runs, is what you see above. For pants, we are both wearing the awesome Bluffworks travel pants, which look like somewhat dressy slacks, but resist wrinkles, wash easily, dry really fast, and have lots of pocket space and zippered pockets for carrying cameras, phones etc.

For shirts, we both have Icebreaker polos (although Steve is wearing a classic Ralph Lauren polo in the photo above). These tend to wrinkle more but are odor resistant, light weight, and dry quickly.

What do you think? Good enough for Tchaikovsky in the park tonight?

Pondering pedal peddlers

Suddenly my luck has run out, and I’ve got three moderately serious mechanical issues that are likely going to keep us in Croatia longer than expected. It’s not a bad place to be stuck, I have to admit, but I’d rather be on the road cycling or at the beach swimming vs. fixing my bike.

  1. The spring in one of my Crankbrothers Eggbeater pedals suddenly broke, meaning the pedal no longer clips onto my shoe. I’m a bit disappointed that these fancy pedals lasted less than a year, so I’m looking to go back to regular SPD pedals, which are standard almost everywhere. I can still pedal on the pedal but it’s very uncomfortable and my foot slips around a lot. Amazingly, for a city of 300,000 people, Dubrovnik has precisely 0 bicycle shops! So the only pedals I can find here are the flat variety, which would get me going again, but given that we may not have a good bike shop again for a few months, I need a better solution.
  2. In the process of diagnosing why my pedal wouldn’t clip in, I first decided to replace my cleats, which were just about toast anyway. However, one of the bolts was so tight that it completely stripped when I tried to remove it. A friendly mechanic on Korčula helped me drill it out, but in the process, the plate that attaches to the shoe became warped so that it is painful to walk in and uncomfortable to cycle in. So I need a new cycle shoe, but again, no cycling shops in Dubrovnik. We called around to a few locals and talked to some mechanics, and no one knew where to get these things.
  3. Meanwhile, my prescription cycling sunglass lenses have been slowly cracking on one corner. Finally the crack became bad enough that I tried to repair it to no avail, and tonight they’ve completely broken and will no longer stay in the frame.

So, the closest decent cycling shop is a 3 hour car drive to Split. We’ve got a rental car reserved and will head up there tomorrow to get new cycling shoes and pedals, after we hobble our way 50km to Dubrovnik with my one-legged cycling. Then I’ve got to find an optical shop to get some new prescription sunglasses. Hoping we can get a quick turnaround on those, but if not, we might just camp on the beach somewhere nearby until they are ready. Wouldn’t be a bad excuse for a beach holiday near Dubrovnik…

Sharing the road

One of the things I love about bicycle touring is the infinite number of ways to go about it and enjoy yourself. As long as you are out there on two wheels enjoying the fresh air and putting in the kilometers, you’re doing it right.

Walking around Vela Luka on the island of Korčula tonight, we came across a Backroads van with all their bikes. Apparently tomorrow we may be sharing the road to Korčula town with cyclists on this high-end trip.

We’ll be hauling all of our own baggage, tools, and food ourselves on our gravel bikes; they’ll be on super light racing bikes with a support van to carry their gear or fix any mechanical issues. We’ll be riding from a hostel to a small campground; they’ll be staying in some of the best hotels in town and eating at some of the best restaurants.

I have done both kinds of tours, and both are absolutely awesome ways to travel. For me, just seeing folks outside enjoying life on the bicycle in any way makes me happy. As H. G. Wells said, “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.”

I hope we cross paths so we can have a quick chat about our respective trips!

10 Reasons You Have to Go to Bosnia Herzegovina

1. You want to meet friendly and interesting people. From the random “dober dan” greetings we exchanged with strangers, to the smiling laughing shop keepers and restaurant owners trying to understand our basic Bosnian, to the passionate tour guides, to all of the Bosnians who would lend your ear to tell you about the country’s recent history and how things can improve, and to the other fellow travelers, we met dozens of amazing people throughout our trip through Bosnia. Push your comfort limits to check out local shops and restaurants, and practice your greetings to others on the street, and you’ll have some really memorable experiences and maybe make some lasting connections.
2. You want to take unique photos of beautiful landscapes, small towns, and interesting cities. Everyone has a photo of the Eiffel Tower, but how many people do you know who have experienced the beauty of Bosnia Herzegovina? Let’s admit it, you want to have something really different and less known to post on Instagram. In BiH, it’s hard to even find some of the beautiful churches and monuments on Google Maps, let alone find photos of them. (Below: Crkva svetog Ivana Krstitelja, a Catholic Church in Herzegovina)

3. You love food and want to taste new flavors. From crispy burek to flaky baklava to savory ćevapči to sweet Bosnian delight to thick Bosnian coffee, the flavors of Bosnia are a delightful mix of Western and Eastern palettes that will make your mouth water. (Although my vegetarian friends will need to be creative…)

4. It’s safer than home. If you’re from America, the locals will laugh at you if you worry about crime. More often than not, keys are left under the mat, cars are left unlocked, and nosey neighbors keep communities safe. The war has been over for decades, and Bosnians are relishing in the peace times, even if politically things aren’t perfect. If you don’t believe me, look up crime statistics compared to the United States, and you’ll find some metrics are 10x lower.

5. You want to learn first hand about modern history. From the war crimes committed at Srebinica to the “imperfect peace” brokered through the Dayton Agreement, learning about Bosnia’s history is as easy as talking to almost anyone who lives there, as they all have stories and memories from the war. They will not only teach you important facts but also important lessons about humanity. It’s very important that we keep these memories fresh in our minds to avoid repeating our past mistakes, as is so easy to do, and as is happening already.

6. You want to be somewhere that feels a little foreign, but also comfortable. Sarajevo is known as “Little Istanbul” because it gives a small taste of the east-meets-west cultural melting pot of Turkey’s city that sits on the border of Europe and Asia. Restaurants selling familiar Western foods like pizza and pasta are mixed up with hookah lounges in the busy bazarr in the old town of Sarajevo, and you’ll find Ottoman style architecture blended with Austrian Hungarian and communist era throughout the city.

7. You like to ski (yes, really!). Sarajevo was home to the 1984 Olympics and so has Olympic-quality mountains nearby for a fraction of the cost of other more popular places in Europe.

8. You like to experience other cultures. Ringing church bells are mixed seamlessly with the Muslim call to prayer, and Bosnians are respectful of each other’s religions. It is uplifting to see this kind of tolerance, coming from a country that supposedly has freedom of religion but where many fear expressing their religion in public.

9. You like to travel on a budget. It’s unfortunate that Bosnia Herzegovina’s economy is struggling right now, but that means it’s more affordable for visitors and also means that your tourist dollars are appreciated. You can find budget accommodations for as little as $10-20 per night, and very nice places for $50. We’ve found some amazing places on AirBNB and also on the hotel search apps Booking.com and Agoda. If you eat local food, you can get by on less than $5 per meal including a drink. (Below: $2 USD burek)

10. You like to have an adventure. It’s almost of becoming cliche, but nowadays it’s not enough to go on the same vacation as your uncle Herbert. You have to step up your game and do something unique. Bosnia is a lot easier to visit than you probably think, but the tourist infrastructure is not as developed as other destinations, so I think it still qualifies as an adventure, and I guarantee your friends back home will be interested to hear about your experiences.