After leaving the Rhône I drove alongside the Mediterranean to Genoa. In contrast to the ugly weather at first in France there was always sun sun sun... I look into the mirror every evening and see that I'm being transformed into another beast. After the Mediterranean it was of course necessary to cross the Alps for around 20 km (which is not exactly the Alps but only the extension). Going through the north of Italy where the plane was flat and the weather is so nice, with a shocking exception at the end of the way to Trieste. But the "Italianity" of the culture cannot stop anywhere here, in different senses. The surrounding nature of Croatia was then completely different than in western Europe, and sleeping in my tent has started, but the coast side of the Adriatic sea is not less beautiful than that of Côte d'azur. And I have to say, I'm so amazed of all the couch hosts I've met so far!! Anyway, negotiation for a place to put my bike with an old lady in Italy, sleeping on the shore of the Mediterranean etc. There's been already so much to experience and I can hardly write what I've done so far but let's get right into it.
... and the start of the story is already with a lot of friends weeping around and they don't want to get away from me... No. There was just my flat mate Julien standing round who said good bye to me and went to bed again. Well, ok. It was the nicest start ever. Anyway it started well.
Since I did Göttingen to Lyon last year, as you can read on another page, I knew about how to do a bicycle trip, though I never know how to spell bycicle or bicycle or whatever. I think it was byecicle. Anyway, as you can see on the photo, I had a flat tyre directly on the first day. It was just a pin of around 5 cm? or so.
As you know, it is very rare that it rains in France. So nicely, it was raining almost all the time. Well I should stop complaining at this point. It's just to show you how depressed I was.
Anyway the first day was over like this and I could find the couch host, Ben, in Valence. Ben was a guy apparently interested in the Japanese culture. nice. Anyway it did not be a difficult introduction to the couch surfing session for one year (?). And telling you the truth I had a small farewell party on the previous night and of course, or let's say like the last time, I was not prepared at all. Hence I had to prepare everything after midnight and in the morning I rushed into my bike and started the journey. The reason why I'm writing it at the very end of this section is that it would forever be a shame to start this log with such a history. Anyway, for this reason I was so tired and slept for 10 h on the very first day. Sorry, Ben...
One big advantage of the region around the Rhône is that you can easily orient yourself by cycling alongside the Rhône, if your orientation sense is not extraordinary bad. For the first time in my life I can be proud of myself thinking to be lost in the middle of a never ending street which did not have any crossing. Well, this type of trauma comes if you are too often lost.
The photo you can see on the right side is a typical landscape alongside the Rhône. Doesn't it look great? Just be jealous.
For the second day, I stayed not far away from Avignon, in the place of Michel. And it turned out to be a full course of French cuisine with Chartreuse after the dinner during the soirée and so on... Probably not so appropriate for a world trip like this but well, this might have been the first and last time to enjoy the gorgeousness of Europe during the travel. Hence, authorized.
Second day is over and I almost reached the Mediterranean. And to be honest, from the great beginning of this trip, it's been raining all the time. As far as I know Europe suffered under the dry weather this summer. I can still clearly remember the cracking sound of sunflower we harvested (?) in Ukraine. And then, exactly some days before I started the trip it started to rain and it's still going on. Actually, last time I came to France by bicycle from Göttingen it also started to rain in France. I heard from all the exchange students from France that it never rains in France. I'll hang them all when I come back. The pumpkins are visibly at least as unmotivated as I.
After passing through Aix-en-Provence, a city by the way I found pretty ugly, I went to Saint-Maximin. Here at least as a proof that I've been there once in my life a photo of Aix-en-Provence. It certainly has its own beauty but the French beauty does not come over to me anymore hehe.
One stupid thing is that I forgot to take a photo while staying at Fabrice's place. A nice thing is that I know that there are Europeans looking inside Japan and China and being able to tell me stories about Tokyo I have never heard so far. Well, apparently there are things I have to see in Shanghai. I'm now quite looking forward to it.
And so, three days over, and the bad weather was also over! And finally, Côte d'azur. Endless blue sky and the eternally shining sun. The everyday-simply-looking-into-same-screen of 5 years turns to an endless paradise of the heaven. Sorry that you are also looking into a screen now.
What also makes you feel the nature of the Mediterranean mentality is that there are so many people lying around, granmas and granpas going directly into streets without regarding the security, and especially, the road signs are imprecise... If you are a real Japanese, you are too precise. Don't come to the Mediterranean. How lucky that I'm allegedly "too German".
And for the first time in my trip I couch surfed at someone's place who's younger than me, Thomas. Youth is a nice thing. You can be jealous that he's still so young and energetic but has already started to work and do a lot of things other than work. And he's also fond of cycling. At least I could find one person for the plan of the next year, to go to Spain or Russia by rickshaw. I don't know how many we are now since I've been inviting all the people I've told this story to, but I would want him to participate to my stupid plan as I think with him we can make it. I can play the guitar for him while he's cycling. Well, we'll talk about the details later.
And the Mediterranean goes on after Antibes. After passing through Nice Monaco and small cities where again granmas and granpas are lying or chatting or eating frogs and snail or whatever I finally arrived in Italy!! This was actually for the first time in my life to be in Italy. In Germany I knew a lot of Italian exchange students but just on parties and since I don't remember anything anymore after the party, I've never really got in touch with Italy in my life. Just before the border, I had the feeling that I'm getting out of the old world transforming into new Sam and with new items I'd let out the new Kamehameha to get a new dragon ball and ... Well, at least the weather in France was playing with me by creating the atmosphere of an old world.
~ And here comes the ... sun? no, well the sun was certainly there, but here comes the problem, that the couch host who contacted me did not respond anymore. What to do? This pretty much the first problem I've got during the trip. I think I will have a lot more problems like this but anyway, I've got to solve a problem without using C++ nor Gnuplot. Well, Gnuplot is based on C++ (or C I don't know anymore) so it would be a real problem if... Anyway, I've got some different possibilities:
- Look for a camping place
- Cry as strongly as possible
- Go to a souvenir shop to look for something for my mother because she likes Europe
Well, the situation was a little bit more serious than I presented here (as it should be...) The strategy I finally took was to look for a small restaurant to ask for permission to put my bicycle and luggage for the night and I sleep on the beach. You may be wondering now why I listed up the possibilities above while the strategy I took was none of them. Well, actually it's a miracle that you are still reading this report.
And here you are the restaurant. After negotiating around 10 minutes with the old lady, maybe the owner of the restaurant, she allowed me to let the bicycle there. I took my sweater and sleeping bag and then to the beach.
Under the clear sky with a lot of shining stars, listening to going and coming waves at an emply shore of Côte d'azur, I strongly hope that this eternal peace realized in this tiny part of the world will forever be here, as I was experiencing.
So, Italy. I've just said that France became so imprecise at the Mediterranean, but Italy is of course even more. As (limited, otherwise countless) examples, if you see a road sign in Italy, don't expect to see the enumeration, but look at the cities you are going to, and don't expect that the signs lead you to the places since they are missing at important crossings. Just consider that you might be able to get the "orientation feeling" with these signs. And when you order a pizza with cheddar, don't be surprised if you get one with Mozzarella. They will tell you that they forgot to buy cheddar at the market this morning. If you are German, you are too precise. Don't go to Italy. How lucky I became a little more French last year.
And as you can see in the photo, not only toiletts, but also lifts are separated for men and women in Italy. Be careful.
One thing I hadn't taken into account was that the geography just before Genoa was not as simple as it looks, since it's just going along the coast. In this case, you can really hate the weather at the Mediterranean. And you'll hate it even more, if you look at the people splashing in the water and lying on the beach. Gradually you get the feeling that they are provocating you. If ever I should experience the same scene, I will pour Balsamico on people bathing in the sun.
Genoa is a chaotic city with a lot of cars. It's not very comfortable if you are there by bicycle, and sincerly it's partially too steep. One good thing was that the couch host of today, Luca, welcomed us without offending the fact that I brought a friend of mine from Göttingen, Hannes (who did a nice job by hitch hiking to Genoa from Munich), and we arrived too late. The thing is, not too late for the time for the appointment, but also generally too late to couch surf, namely around 11 pm. What an ideal example for couch surfing. At least he hasn't drawn back his presence in couch surfing. I hope there will be other couch surfers following me in his place (without being too late).
Before leaving Genoa, please note by maybe looking at Google maps that there is pretty much no way to go to Slovenia without overcoming mountains. And the way I took was to Alessandria. Mentally I was prepared for anything but I had really no idea what would happen there. So, if you have been at the Mediterranean, you've certainly seen the highway high in the sky. It's literally a "high"way. As you might have thought, this photo is the view from the way I took. Well, the way high in the sky might be an optical illusion, since it can also be in the bottom of the world. According to Google Maps, I did 550m in around 20km. I'm looking forward to 2000m in Turkey... By the way, in this street, you can see that the distance to Alessandria becomes 30km less in 6km according to the traffic signs. And don't expect it to decrease all the time. Increase or decrease, it's 50/50 in Italy.
And another big problem in Italy is that, you can hardly find a hotstpot. In Germany you can find starbucks and McDonald's in France, but in Italy, there is no starbucks and at McDonald's you cannot use the internet if you do not have an Italian cell. I think this is pretty much the case for all the tourists. (I'm still wondering how they manage to find a hotspot in Italy). Well, I had an appointment with a friend of mine, but didn't know where. After trying to find a hotspot and then to contact her directly on her phone, I realized I arrived simply too late. So, here comes again the same problem as two days before, but this time I really needed to use the internet since I didn't have a further couch surfer, and if there is no internet connection furtheron, I cannot find a couch surfer. After trying to find an internet café at around 11 pm in the middle of Alessandria, I found out there was an open spot for the internet. But there was no chair nor table so far. I was standing next to my bicycle trying to find a place to stay for the night. Well, the youth hostels were closed. I was about to get out of Alessandria to sleep in the forest where a guy in the near, Matteo, spoke to me and helped me to find a place to sleep. And for me he negotiated the price in a hotel in the near and I could sleep for 30 € with breakfast. And I see now that it would have cost 60 € normally. And fortunately I could find a couch surfer for the following night and I could sleep quite well, with fridge emptying action at the breakfast.
And now, up to Cremona. Since it is a saturday, I decided to stay there on the week end and to go further on monday. A nice thing is that the north of Italy is simply flat all the time. Without problems I could reach Cremona then. And there, I surfed at Pier's place. Located at the heart of Cremona, Pier's place was so graceful. Cremona is as you might know a city of violin, and there is no heavy industry. Just a handful of food producers and that's all.
Just after arriving at his place we went to an open festival where we drank bottles of beer and some wine. It's apparently usual in Italy to drink wine on a festival. And with a lot of effort and patience of the friends of Pier (and of course Pier himself) we talked in Italian, though they all spoke English.
On the next day, sunday, I could visit the city, while Pier was suffering under effects of alcohol of the previous day. And in order that all of you who have some link to music can be jealous, here is the house of Stradivali. But not only this street, you can find a lot of violin makers in this labyrinth of Cremona.
Well, the highlight of the day was of course not the house of Stradivali, which was simply a house. There was a house party at Pier's place. I think I am the very first Japanese who could participate to a house party in Cremona as a couch surfer. Well, of course nobody knew me before but it did not really matter. It's an Italian thing that nobody cares about known or not known or anything like that. The Italian imprecision has a positive effect when it goes around relationship among people.
So, here's a question. How does an Italian learn the Japanese word "Kampai (=cheers)"? It's as follows:
"Uhm, Amaretto? No. Martini? No. Ah!! Kampai!!"
The house party was to be the "lunch" which continued until around 8 p.m. The others went to another party where I was also invited but I wanted to update my website I had deserted from the beginning of the trip. But I swear you, I will be there next year. Since the beginning, there are a lot of promises concerning "next year, I will ...". Next year will be, if I would like to hold my promises, a hard year. But every time it's really a pity that I see them only one day or two days at most and we say good bye, since I have the feeling that it may be a long lasting relationship and not to be ended only for some days, as it was often the case when I was in Göttingen as a student.
Pier told me, "you can sleep as long as you want". I said, "No, we can leave the house together at 7 a.m.". I got up at 6:40 and we left the house at around 7:30. What an ideal example of a couch surfer. I hope he did not have any crucial difficulty for me...
So, up to Ferrara. Just as a remark, if you thought as I did, Ferrara does not have anything to do with Ferrari. If I can be honest, it does not have such an elegance. It's rather a city of bicycles. And as the flat way continues on, even if the distance was around 170km from Cremona, I could go there without any problem. And there must have been someone very creative and very good at Chinese to name a restaurant like this.
After the journey of 170km, I arrived in Ferrara at around 8 p.m. This time it was at Ana's place, with his boyfriend Luca. There are apparently a lot of Luca in Italy. Well, in a country where the name of a Chinese restaurant is "Nihao" it's maybe not so surprising...
Unfortunately, this photo is not so well focused, since my camera obviously recognized the glasses on the table as faces.
Just after my arrival, what to do first. Well, of course, go out for ice cream. After strolling around Ferrara, looking for McDonald's to try to use the internet, which of course did not work whatever the reason is, sitting at the market in the middle of the city where there was internet, whatever the reason is and eating Italian kebab we went on to an ice cream shop just before midnight. In Italy, there is no supermarket which is open after 7.30 p.m. no one is working after 10 p.m. but there you can always find an ice cream shop in Italy. The economy is suffering, the salary is getting lower and jobless rate is getting higher. But you can always find ice cream shops in Italy, according to Luca.
Another nice thing in couch surfing is that depending on the host you will lead every time a completely different life, since after two days of Italian elegance, I could experience a dynamic students' life in Ferrara (even if Luca was not a student anymore). And I found both of them so great.
And the ongoing imprecision takes place also here in the inner courtyard of their place. Number plate in paper, hand-written. I think I'm still not enough Italian.
So, then going to the paradise of water, Venice. Well, there is not a lot to say about this. The only thing, if you happen to want to go to Venice by bicycle, I just say no don't do it. There is a railway and apparently also buses. Well, if you nevertheless want to go there by bicycle take attention to areas where bicycles are forbidden on SS11 (Strada Statale). And on the bridge, which connects Italy and Venice, there is no way for pedestrians and in Venice, there is no bridge in Venice without steps. But, if you still want to go there by bicycle, tell me please because I would like to know what a fool you are.
And here you are, Venice, and the guy in the middle is Alex, who hosted me in Venice. He will start to study English at the university of Venice (?) this semester. And all the other guys present were also students but in architecture. It's quite interesting to know what they learn in architecture in Venice.
And since I was hosted by a student, there was a party going on. Since I arrived in Venice fairly late, I could not see how many tourists walking around during the day, but in the night, it's obviously a paradise of students, at least in the district where we were. A lot of students were sitting around on the bridges and drinking wine. I think I still haven't fathomed out the importance of wine in the Italian society.
And this is an important scene of the day. We stayed in students' district for a while and then Antonio, who is the second from the left on the photo, suddenly proposed to go to San Mario (I'm not sure about the name anymore...). While other guys wanted to go back to watch a movie we went to the most important place of Venice which is normally occupied by tourists during the day and took this photo. Que bello!!
We all think Italians are the coolest around the world. Straying into small streets of empty Venice with a bottle of wine each guy, sitting around on one of the aged bridges with a little bit of light coming from old buildings and reflection from the water of the channels and ongoing conversations... I think the Italian coolness is more than what you can see as an outsider.
Well, it's a nice thing to be cool. If you are, however, too cool, you stay in the city until 3:30 a.m. and you get up at 9 a.m. and you have 170km waiting for you. What a wonderful day.
Well, let's stop beating around the bush and go directly into the subject of the day. If you speak Italian, you will certainly understand this article. I don't know how long this article can stay there in internet but anyway, it was a record storm in Trieste today. In this storm, I was cycling at around 9 p.m. in the middle of a mountain just before Trieste. With thunders to be heard everywhere, with their frenquencies getting higher and higher. I think I have never seen so much water in my life on a street. The thing is also that there is pretty much no light in the mountains at Trieste. In a complete darkness, I was cycling all alone. I think the cars which passed occasionally were more afraid of seeing me than I was. And what's more, this lasted for about 2 or 3 hours. It was quite a nightmare so far.
I don't know why, but I never wanted to give up after all. I knew that it would last so long and I had everything I needed. And I do not have any problem with money, so, if I wanted I could have taken one of the hotels or B&B's. The thing is maybe, if you know where you are to go, you do not give up the hope. And so did I get through the storm.
I was completely exhausted when I arrived at Max's place, but regardless of the fact that I arrived 2 hours too late, he prepared a meal for me, an Italian meal with pasta with paste and a lot of meat.
On the next day, the rain was still going on, so I decided to stay at his place to update the website.
So the break was over and the weather got also much better after one day. Italy was really a nice country but I cannot stay there forever since this is a "world trip" after all. I left Max's place at 7.30 a.m. and headed for south, in the direction of Slovenia.
Slovenia is (to me) like a bridge between western and eastern Europe. Now it is attached to EU but it was quite apparent that the cities lost the Italian elegance. And this was exactly what I was waiting for.
And so was the beginning of Croatia. Actually I knew a lot of exchange students from Croatia in Germany, mostly due to the civil war. Cycling along the coast, I thought it must have been a completely different world during the war in this region. Well, in this sense Côte d'azur also must have been one of the scene 70 years ago so it's not really a reason to be hysterical.
One thing which would be very intersting to know in Croatia is that the nature itself is completely different than what we know in Germany or France. Well, in Germany or in France you can normally see only forests or only grasslands, but in Croatia there are a lot of places where you cannot really say if it's a forest or a grassland. Another thing is that, there is a shed like this one everywhere around the country. I'm not sure if it was used during the war or built afterwards, or maybe before everything. Anyway, I find the landscape of a lot of trees in a meadow quite cool.
Well, on the first day in Croatia, there are not so many things to tell. I stayed at Andrea's place but he did not really have time for me so, we scarcely talked and it was over. It was pretty much the first experience in CS, but I'm also quite sorry for the fact that I stayed exactly the day where he was occupied... Well, I'll look forward to seeing him again.
So, when I got up at Andrea's place, I was pretty much destined to sleep outside today, as I could not find a host. Anyway, I was heading for Rijeka or whatever might be nearby.
The problem was, the slopes were getting more and more strenuous. And the wind was coming from the north. I have the feeling that the wind is always coming from the north these days. Am I right?
And for the first time I used the water purification machine in a mountaineous region. Well, I must say it works quite well, even if I used it for clean river water :) The Swiss quality, my dear.
Unfortunately, I could not reach Rijeka on this day. The geography of this region is more than just tiring. And as I announced, I used my tent for the first time, in a deserted house, in the middle of a small village. The floor was asphalted but well, at least I could sleep one night for free and anyway the life will be like this when I arrive in Asia. I have to say it worked better than I had expected :)
So the following day, I got up at around 6 and headed for the next destination, Senj. And I heard from tourists from Germany (and attention there are so many Germans in this country, and people speak German better than English partially) that you can pay in euro too. Well, on the first day in Croatia, I had the problem that my credit card was stopped so, what a nice surprise. And so I was in a café just at the adriatic sea, drinking a cup of coffee while checking my mail box. What a luxury. I think my body was stinking.
The geography at the adriatic sea is streneous, but after a long slope of several kilometers, you will notice that your effort was not done in vain. Look, how happy this guy looks, even after the night in a horror house I forgot to take a picture of.
Maybe you've noticed that the tone of my text is a little bit different now. It's simply because I'm in a different horror house today, without roof this time, and of course in my tent. It's grassy under my tent this time so, I think I will be able to sleep quite well.
Since it would have been too creepy to take the photo of my tent during the night, I made it in the morning. It was very comfortable after all but I don't know why, I noticed that I had failed to construct the tent correctly. Probably for this reason it was instable all the time and with a slight blow of wind the tent flapped pretty loudly. Anyway I could start my day early in the morning.
If you are traveling in the nature, it will certainly be very important to take attention to your health. In my case, I had apparently my water for a too long time in my bag, something like two or three days.
One important thing to remark is that I was planning to go more than 150 km this day. And it turned out that I had to go upwards and downwards all the time. It can probably never change until I reach Iran... At small restaurants, I tried to recover, every time in vain.
At least one thing which helped me a lot was that actually it became less and less mountaneous. I heard afterwards that there are not so many people who try to come to Zadar from Rijeka by bicycle due to its geography. Well, tell it to me earlier...
Just before arriving in Zadar, I completely dried out (well, in the sense of water. Nothing to do with alcohol) and the Italian nightmare came back again: remaining distance doubling. It had already become quite dark and anyway there are not so many street lights in Croatia. And there, from 6km to Zadar it became suddenly 12km. Nice magic boy I was shocked.
And once again I had an excruciating stomach ache at this moment.
And the happy end you may or may not be waiting for came when I arrived at Boris's place (at least for this day). With his friend, Vanja, we went to a restaurant and when we came back home, I was completely dead because of tiredness and my stomach ache.
Following day, after Boris went to work, I stayed at home, struggling with my stomach ache. This was probably also a good experience to go, as it might happen again, or I will be able to prevent it since I know what was not really good to do etc. I was really lucky that I was at Boris's place. He let me stay there for three days altogether without complaining.
The second day was then over without doing anything at all. I updated the website a little but I did not have the energy for it either. The only thing we did was to visit the kingdom of Nin, which was destroyed by Venezians, if I understood it well :) This was a kingdom consisting of an island just next to Zadar and a lot of churches a lot of old building and a lot of Germans. The season is over and there are everywhere Germans to see. I thought I was in a foreign country now? Well, Germans are omnipresent it will certainly not change during the whole trip.
I found the Russian language difficult but is there anybody who can read this plate? Especially the first word "Trg" which by the way means "Square". You know how to pronounce it? Yes, trg. Too easy.
Third day, I recovered. You can never know how lucky you are, being healthy. The good feeling I had this morning cannot be expressed in words. And it was at the same time Boris's birthday. So I decided to prepare gratin and something Japanese, and I successfully created a swimming pool in the kitchen since I was not really used to Croatian small kitchens. Boris was complaining all evening long and I think it was a very nice birthday present after all :) Happy birthday Boris and probably I will come back again next year to destroy your beloved Xperia :)
Next day, I restarted the journey and headed for Split, which was around 170 km away from Zadar, since there was a couch host who accepted my request. 170km was pretty much impossible but I nevertheless decided to go there.
It's maybe better to see the zoomed version but I saw a lot of times a construction like this one, on the mountain in front. Is it some kind of Croatian geographical speciality or does anyone know it has any importance?
170km is not too much, to be true. The only problem is that it gets dark very early in this season. And of course in the east it is even earlier, at least in the countries of the same time zone as Germany. Around 7 p.m. I was 20km away from Split and it was pretty dark. So what to do?
Well, actually it's not really a question since I'm not really a person that gives up so often even if it's a little bit more dangerous than usual. So, with the guitar it's pretty much impossible to see my back light but I continued until I reached Split. And to be honest, I was twice on highway today :)
And I regret now so much to have forgotten to take a photo of my host today, Ivan, as he was an exemplary couch host (as the others were as well). He's a journalist and working for a local newspaper. Unfortunately he works for the sport section so it did not have so much to do with my hobbies so far but his opinions to couch surfing were as those I could so much share. In order to hope that he will continue to be a great host, I offered him a bottle of wine named "Faust". What a mysterious blow...
Actually, I bought gas for the gas burner in Zadar so, finally in the trip I could eat something warm in my tent. The menu of today was: simple mixture of whatever. Probably no one has noticed but more than two years I tried as often as possible to cook something with a single pot, as a preparation for this trip. Well, since it's just a mixture of canned stuff plus onion and tuna plus seasonings, it's probably not so difficult to anyone first of all...
In the tent, it looks like this. Here you can see my mighty MacBook but while I eat I watch a movie with my iPad, since it can be charged while pedaling, if necessary. And after the meal, I write a lot of rubbish for my website and the next day, as soon as I find a café in the near, I have an elegant morning coffee while updating the website and hopefully charging my computers. Isn't it nice?
NB: it's illegal to tent in a public space everywhere in Europe, and in Croatia as well. I do it because I find it too stupid to waste money for nothing in camping facilities, but if you happen to do the same thing, don't count on my experiences. The croatian police might boot you out :)
Septempber 2012 is now getting to the end and I'm now at the end of Croatia as well. The generation before us can still clearly remember what happened in the most southern main city, Duprovnik. Speaking of which it's also very important to note that there is a country called Bosnia and Herzegovina that is at the Adriatic sea as well. Probably they could not leave out the whole Adriatic sea because of its beauty. The only city called Neam (? I'm not sure if this was the name, again writing in my tent there's no internet and 'm too lazy to open up my map :) takes around 20km and then it's Croatia again. I still daresay I was in a different country today.
And so comes Dubrovnik. I heard it used to be a city of piracy. Now the city of piracy is called Moscow but at that time it was Dubrovnik, and also in a little bit different sense.
It was around 4 p.m. when I arrived there so I did not need to stay there, but staying in my tent two consecutive nights and especially cooking inside the tent the smell and sanitary conditions were not at the optimal level. So I decided to stay in the local youth hostel for today and tomorrow and day after tomorrow, if I don't find any couch surfer, in the tent again.
And there is always someone to meet in every city. With Pini from Israel I could explore in the old town of Dubrovnik, which had maybe 400m in each direction. Probably it was not larger than my high school.
In the same evening, we talked about "kickstarter.com". I had never heard of it but it's basically a website where you make a proposition for something, like you will make a book etc. And those who want a special issue or offer or whatever can donate money and according to its amount you may for example get a personal letter or so. Well, what Pini proposed me was of course to make a book out of this trip and start a fund raising. Then we thought of it a lot but finally, I think I won't do it after all :) Well, maybe I'll make a book but I cannot really believe that this kind of website would really work.
On the next day, as usual after a gigantic breakfast at the youth hostel, I headed for south. That's pretty much all with maybe the exception that I entered Montenegro.
Just before entering Montenegro, I probably should mention, that Croatia is a country which needs a lot of tourists from northern Europe like Germany or France, however, it's quite clear that it's not really expecting people entering from the southern part, since the "main" road leading to Montenegro looks like this. Since there is no highway, this is supposed to be something between a highway and a main road. This is the reality of Croatia, be careful.
In Montenegro, you can use euro again. Otherwise it's exactly like Croatia, though there are less tourists. Most of the people apparently go to Croatia, since it is simply nearer to Western Europe. A nice effect to this is that the prices are very low. This is also a very important feature since I eat like a black hole at the moment.
And as in Croatia, the Adriatic sea still has a lot to offer. Again, the streets are not as flat as in France, but you can always expect to see something spectacular or unusual. Here one example, the small Mont-Saint-Michel in the clear water. The greatest difference to the real one is that it's never sunny in Britanny.
And without really seeing anything, Montenegro was over. The next country: Albania.
Those who have visited Albania by car know probably what the geography in this region look like. Yes, mountaneous. And even so mountaneous that I eventually destroyed my pedals. And therefore, I arrived relatively late in Albania. And I didn't have the Albanian money at all.
For around one hour, I cycled to the east, to the first large city Shkodra (?). The thing is just Albania has only 4 million people. I mean, even the tiny mini capital of Europe Berlin has 6 million people. And it's not a touristic site anymore, so it's clear that you cannot find any supermarket where you could use your credit card and you don't dump into anybody who speaks English...
... and here's the secret of Albania: the coolest country of the world for them, it's not the states nor Germany. It's Italy. If you happen to speak Italian, you definitely should say it in Albania. Anyway in my case, I went into a small grocery shop where it turned out to be ok to pay in euro. And through the fact that the shop keeper said "quattro" I found out everybody in that shop spoke Italian. And after a small negotiation, they let me put my tent in the garden!
And here you are with the family of the shop keeper. The kids you can see on the photo were so excited about seeing an Asian for the first time (and I was apparently the third foreigner who visited this family after one Swiss couple) I played the guitar and the piano for the kids, struggling with these instruments. The father and I drank beer, the first one since Zadar. (Yes, it was a long break compared with the quantity I had in Italy) They taught me some Albanian of which I remember only "mierdita" which means "good morning" (and if you speak Spanish you know why I haven't forgot this word :)
On the next day, I got up at 5:30 a.m. and headed for south, passing through Shkodra. Since the start of this trip, I have never had any problem with my bicycle (except the flat tyre on the very first day), but I noticed that the pedals are not functioning correctly anymore, starting to squeak every now and then. Well, it's been around 2500 km until now so, it's not really a wonder. So in Lezhe, which was the next city, I bought a pair of pedals.
Which is the "coolest" country to you? It might be the states, or maybe Germany, and it's certainly depending on your speciality and interest. However, for Albanians, it's no doubt Italy. As you can see on the photo, the battery for cars, especially for BMW and Mercedes, you can rely on it if it's made in Italy. I don't know how much it makes sense. In any case the best car batteries are surely not from Italy...
As I really needed the Internet in the evening, I took a hotel for the second time in this trip as an exception near Durres. It turned out to be one of the worst hotels I have ever experienced.
There are a lot of muslims in Albania. What is very nice about them is that they really respect travellers. And one of the things you should not do too often is to ask someone, especially a kid, the way or whatever, in the middle of a village. What then happens is that all the kids available at the moment, pretty much all of the kids in that village, surround you and ask you questions or whatever, in Albanian... In my case I was on the way to Ballsh, which is near Greece, and as I did not know exactly the way I asked just one of the boys around. In the next moment there were around 30 boys without anyone saying anything at all. The thing is also they ask you the name on facebook. And on the next day you can be pretty much sure that the complete homepage of your facebook is written in Albanian, unless you refuse the requests. For the Albanian kids it was certainly the first time to see a stranger personally. What an honor.
Interestingly, I found out that though it's nearly impossible to talk to the people here in English, there's a certain number of people speaking Italian, not only the guys of the first day. It's maybe related to the history, but in contrast to French or German in whatever region in Europe like Poland or Ukraine, here the people really speak Italian, the way that they can discuss and whatever. And this even in any small village of the ass of the world.
And here you are, Ballsh, which was also a small village and it was getting dark at the moment. In this moment I was not sure about where to put my tent for the night. Well, I was feeling the limit of not having a couch surfer at this moment, since I could find nobody in Albania. Actually you cannot find the Internet everywhere in Albania. Just in hotels and then nowhere else. And it's almost impossible to pay by credit card. Most of the shop keepers I met didn't even know what it was. Anyway, I first bought something to eat and then I tried to talk to people around to ask them if there's a secure spot in the near. Hey boy, miracles happen sometimes. I dumped into a guy who worked in Great Britain for 7 years and spoke somewhat English and he invited me to his place! He is a carpenter and I don't even know what his name was. Anyway, here the heros on the photo and the guy who invited me is the third from the right.
This was his family (his wife missing who stayed at home). We went to a restaurant and ordered two gigantic pizzas. And a 2l tower of beer as you can see in the middle of table.
Hey, do you think that this kind of things might happen? Sure, before I started this trip, I had thought this would certainly happen. And once it happens, you can never believe that this kind of thing would ever happen to your life. What a contradiction in itself. Anyway I was so high and I was so happy to talk to the kids (even though they did not speak English so well) and discuss a lot of things later at home.
at least it was as incredible as this photo. This beast is supposed to produce eggs.
In this occasion, it turned out to be a not so clever way to go to Greece to go through Ballsh. You may see the U turn on the map. Anyway, I did not want to continue the way I had taken since I passed through a highway, which is of course illegal but nobody cares in Albania, and I wanted to have a complete map without highway, which is by the way not possible anymore since I had taken a highway twice in Italy. So the second plan is: go to Korce.
Next day, after going back the whole way, passing through the highway again, as I have or have not written. Actually there was a police control and the moment I saw it, I thought it's pretty much over. Looking at me, one police officer said "good". What's the meaning of police presence in Albania?
It's actually very hard to find the Internet in Albania. Maybe I've written it before but anyway I don't know anymore so exactly what I've written and what not and having written so much I suppose anyway there's nobody reading this part anymore. Anyway, for the same reason it's very hard to find a couch surfer (eventually I could not use it at all for Albania). I was wandering in Librazhd and asking around if there's a secured space (what an ignorant question) to put my tent. For the first 5 persons or so I could not have any answer at all. However, in a café there's the next wonder of the same type again: here the guy in the left, Sokol, proposed me to stay at his place for the day. Probably it's a difference of mentality because I can hardly imagine that anything like this would ever happen in France or Germany.
Sokol is a soldier living with his parents, his wife and a small child at the end of Librazhd. Nothing from the modern society seemed to have arrived in this region. The only one thing was that Sokol spoke Italian pretty well so that we could eventually talk together without difficulty. Otherwise the parents did not speak a word in English, though it obviously did not matter to them. If you are a guest in the muslim society, you are a guest. It doesn't matter if you speak the language or not. I think I am the very first Japanese who has ever been hosted by a traditional Albanian family.
So after leaving Sokol's place I directly headed for the border to Greece. As you may know, this is one of the most mountainy regions of Europe. After sleeping near the border, in Korce, I headed for Greece.
So, this time, where did I sleep exactly? As well as in every country there's a lot of constructions going on in Albania. Near Korce I could find a large building, to serve as a hall (?), I suppose but the inside was not done at all. There were only two old sofas standing around. So I put them together and I put my tent on them. And in order to save gas, I put fire on wood I could find at the building. Again, NB: It's strictly forbidden (especially in northern Europe) to put fire in a public space. So if you happen to want to do something like this, don't count on me. One day I will create a page numbering the illegal actions I commited in my trip.
On the very last day of September, in the morning, I arrived at the border to Greece. I'm quite proud of writing "Sep. France-Greece" on the first page of my website :) The only thing which disturbed me was that I had to wait around 45 minutes at the border because at first there was a problem with the computer and then at the Greek side there was nobody working. Well, it doesn't really matter. I like the mentality.
So welcome to Greece, the land of never ending summer. After driving 20 km only downwards, I went to a café. And at the very first contact to the local people, they offered me a sandwich and a coffee. Hey, that's the Greek way of living. If you are German, maybe you are bit too greedy to live in Greece, because the people here are willing to offer things to the others.
One good thing is that in Greece almost everyone has the Internet, so there are enough people on couch surfing, but according to what I see here in Greece, the direct couch surfing method I took in Albania would probably work as well :) And here's the first host, Tommy, in Kozani. The guy on the right was an American who lost his wallet (which was eventually found) and had to stay at his place as well. I think it would have been really cool to drink with Tommy. At least we have promised to fool around in France next time.
And actually we were on a market. One big problem in Greece is that everything is very expensive... Maybe even more expensive than France. Generally I don't buy any junk food but when I have a standard breakfast here I pay more than 10 € in the supermarket (even if I eat 2 or 3 portions at the same time now :) Apparently though, the average salary is much lower than in France or Germany. But anyway the food quality is not bad here.
So far it was my first month on the trip. Shall I give you a summary? Well, the summary is what I have written so far. All I experienced this month is only in my head and what you can see here is unfortunately a little tiny part of it, and as you see, it is already extravagant. And of course at the same time there were a lot of things I learned, as I was supposed to, since I dind't know anything about anything. One thing I at any rate have to mention is that I had not expected to get so much support from every one of you. Initially, I thought there would be Eduard (Göttingen) and bros. Chénel (Lyon) and maybe some other guys who would follow me. And especially I thought it would be a lonely travel with my tent all the time. However, it turned out to be an enormous number of people that I met and a great deal of support I could get. Now, I can hardly say I'm continuing my trip on my own. At the last part of the blog of my first month, I would like to express my gratitude towards all of you and I'm looking forward to your feed back as well. And of course it was only the firt ten percent of my whole trip so, smack you lips further on :)