Tag Archives: tentnative

Turning Point

Now that we have embarked on the second half of the trip, we thought we should spend a little time reflecting on the trip so far. Berlin makes for a perfect halfway point for our trip. It is known for being trapped between east and west, straddling two cultures. Within our trip it provides a center over which our trip can reflect. We began at the very edge of Europe, right at the border with Asia. Berlin marks the beginning of Western Europe and we will end our trip once again at the edge of Europe, the begining of Africa. 
As I write this we are sitting on a night bus on our way to Cologne and it feels a bit wrong. It’s in every way the opposite of how we have been traveling up until now and neither of us really likes it. Out the window all I see is black and even in the daylight it would be whizzing by at 120 km/hr. Tonight we will cover the same distance we would normally ride in a bit over two weeks. It’s a bit hard to imagine really. We won’t meet anyone, we won’t have any stories and we won’t see much, even if we look. This isn’t to say traveling by bus or train is so terrible, it’s certainly not and is necessary for us to do what we want to do but after the first half it is really different. I can speak for both of us in saying that we have enjoyed traveling by bike even more than we imagined. Sure, it’s hard at times and were often tired at the end of the day but there is nothing else that can really compare. It’s an awesome feeling to look at a map and be able to trace from Istanbul to Berlin through all the countryside and small towns and have a memory for each place. What it looked like, how the weather was that day, people who live there, what it smelled like; every detail is there for as long as you can hold on to it. 

The cities we’ve been to have been amazing. The architecture, history and  sites to see are really really cool but without the people you meet any city could be just about anywhere. Of course they are differnt and have their history but you don’t get a sense of what a country is without getting to talk to people who live there. We have been lucky enough to meet some really incredible people along the way. People have graciously invited us into their home, talked with us, given us great tips on where to go and what to see and through all of this taught us what it means to be from the place they are from. Our gratitude for all these interactions, small or large, is more than we can write. It’s been the trip of a lifetime already and we are only halfway done. 

In the past 6 weeks we have also learned a lot about how to travel and how to do so by bike. We joked the other day that this trip is really just a trip to learn how to travel, but it has a lot of truth to it. (My mother will be beaming as she reads this as I suppose it proves she has been right all along) We have both learned to really put ourselves out there as a result of this trip. Before we left I would never have felt comfortable greeting a random stranger who may or may not speak the same language as me and asking if it would be ok for us to set up our tent and sleep in their yard. These days it’s a pretty regular thing. And even more surprising is how positive the response tends to be. More often than not people go out of their way to help us. It doesn’t matter if they know exactly what we are saying or we know what they are saying. The majority of people are really good people. 
I would imagine a lot of people are wondering how Autumn and I are doing after spending 6 weeks being constantly together. I can tell you it’s pretty rough to be stuck with her allllll the time. (We figured a week ago that we probably haven’t spent more than 2 hours apart since the trip started) It seems pretty overwhelming but really it’s not to bad. We have 5 hours a day on the bike usually and don’t have to spend the whole time interacting. We spend enough time in our own heads just thinking or relaxing that we get along just fine most of the time. Sure we get in some fights but honestly a lot fewer than you would imagine after spending so long around someone. It’s actually been really nice to be traveling together. We spend a lot of time solidifying our thoughts by bouncing them back and forth. Autumn says that she sees the things that keep us entertained and I see the things that keep us alive. It’s a good balance really. Often it works out well that we think really differently as our skill sets don’t overlap too much and we can acomplish a lot of things. 
We are really going to miss traveling almost exclusively by bike (I promise, Autumn said so too) and the experiences that come with it but we are really looking forward to the rest of the trip. Lots more great places to go and tons of people out there to meet. As always, if you know someone where we are headed who might want to meet up let us know!

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    The Strug-a Bus

    The ride into Skopje was long and difficult, and it did not help that I had just started to come down with whatever Autumn had just gotten over. The day after we arrived in Skopje and a good few after I was pretty under the weather. Shanti Hostel in Skopje was really cool, we liked it a lot. As soon as we arrived, soaked and exhausted, the host offered to do our laundry and dry it, and offered us some pasta he had just made. It made the end of the day a lot easier. While we were there a lot of Peace Corps people from all over the USA were in town for the weekend. It was cool to hear about their experience, especially since they have spent so much time in Macedonia. The next morning after breakfast we headed out on the walking tour of the city. We have been doing a lot of these free walking tours and they have usually been quite good. This one was cool as well but with a cold, the 3 hour length was a bit much for me.

    Lots of large new buildings and construction in Skopje
    A newer eastern orthodox church, the largest in the city

    Our tour group

    I was exhausted and ready to relax by the end. We went to a little restaurant and got soup and kofte and Tavče gravče which was really good.

    All we do is eat

    Afterwards we saw a little burrito place and, because they are one of the things we have really missed, decided to get a second lunch. It wasn’t quite a tex mex burrito but it wasn’t bad. Back at the hostel I spent the rest of the afternoon working on the bikes, they had a rough few days in the rain and needed some cleaning and attention. That evening we went out to a little bar with our new friends Eyrk and Ola from Poland.

    #groupselfie

    It’s been great meeting new people at hostels and getting to hear about where they are from and the trips they are doing. We decided that we had to see Ohrid, Macedonia because everyone said it was great. The next morning we planned to take the bus there, stay a night and then another bus to Tirana, Albania before resuming by bike; the buses mostly because it was a bit out of the way and the roads weren’t supposed to be very good. In the morning, predictably enough, we managed to miss the first bus so we went back to the hostel and walked around the city a bit before catching the later bus. As we found out from one of the Peace Corps volunteers a day before, there is some superstition in Macedonia about the crosswind and cold, so buses tend not to have more than one window open. Our bus was really warm, which coupled with probably a slight fever didn’t make for the most pleasant trip. When we got to Ohrid we found that a German girl named Teresa was also coming from Skopje and looking for a hostel, we told her where we were staying and ended up meeting her again there. Once we got to Sunny Lake Hostel I took a little nap to try and fight off the cold and Autumn went to get soup fixings. She tried to go to the green market but it was mostly closed for the day and the one lady selling potatoes was trying to give her 15 potatoes when she only wanted 4 and didn’t see to understand. The kitchen at the hostel seemed to be the main room to congregate in. We met Tobi from Germany, Adam from Isreal, and Jake from Australia while we were cooking soup which we had enough of to share. By the time we were done with soup a few girls from Poland were teaching us all how to make perogi. Cooking and beer in a tiny crowded kitchen, it was a lot of fun. On our full day in Ohrid we wandered around the city along the water and to a few churches. Ohrid is truely gorgeous. The lake is incredible and surrounded by huge mountains on all sides. We went to a tiny church on a cliff with paintings dating back to the 13th century called Sveti Jovan Kaneo and from there walked up the hill to a slightly newer monastery, St. Clement and Panteleimon.

    The views in Ohrid were not bad

    Cool boardwalk along the lake
    Tranquil
    Sveti Jovan Kaneo

    We checked out the green market which was now open and picked up some veggies for dinner. Most of the people at the hostel headed out that day so that night we hung out with Teresa and made buttermilk biscuits to show her some southern style cooking. She was a little shocked by how much butter we needed. We shared some biscuits with a few travelers while watching part of a Macedonian film called Before the Rain which gave us a bit of insight into the not so long ago conflicts in the region.

    In the morning we took a short ride down the road to Struga to catch our bus. After having all the taxi drivers try to convince us we wouldn’t be able to take our bikes on the bus we got on the bus and rode to Tirana. It was a fairly long drive and again too hot on the bus. We didn’t get a stamp coming into Albania which was kind of a bummer. Along the way we also tried ˝”exotic” flavored Fanta which was pretty good. We arrived at The Tirana Backpackers Hostel by early afternoon. The hostel was really cool, lots of open space, orange trees growing in the backyard/bar area. And our friend Tobi from Ohrid was there and building a tree-house. We had some fresh oranges and I helped a bit with tree-house building before we headed out to see some of the city. One of the cool things we saw was this huge pyramid built by the last dictator of Albania and intended to become a museum about him, that is until democracy happened. It did make for a fun slide though and almost burned a hole right through my pants.

    Sliding down was fun

    In the morning we wandered around he city some more and then went to the historical museum which was really cool. They had everything from prehistoric pottery and jewelry from the area all the way up to the fight for democracy in the 90’s. It was shocking to see the exhibit of the personal items of people gunned down trying to escape the country as recently as 25 years ago. Along the whole trip we have seen just how tumultuous the history of this area has been. A lot of these countries have changed dramatically even within my lifetime.

    After our history for the day we got a great lunch (hard to go wrong with grilled meat and yogurt sauce it seems)

    Delicious

    Then we just lazed around the hostel for a few hours. There was a group of french art students at the hostel collaborating with some local Albanian students to do an art installation and they were going to be having a bonfire. The bonfire didn’t end up happening but Autumn, Tobi, and I went over an hung out with them for a while. Afterwards we spent at least an hour gathering ingredients to make pancakes and in the process bought a half kilo of butter. We ate pancakes talked and drank cheap wine. Not a bad night.

    A not so great picture of us with Tobi

    The next morning it was sunny and beautiful as we headed north out of Tirana…

    Highs and lows

    We really hate that we have to write this, but yesterday some of our bags were ripped open and some things were stolen. It’s nothing we can’t manage without for a little while but most are things that we will need to replace fairly soon like Autumn’s cycling shoes. As many of you may know our budget for the trip is fairly tight and having to replace stuff is a fairly large setback. As much as we don’t want to ask, if you’ve enjoyed reading the blog and want to help out a small donation of $5 or $10 would incredibly helpful in replacing the important stuff. You can donate through the PayPal button on the sidebar. 

    As always, thanks so much to everyone following along for your support the whole trip. It really means a lot to us to be able to share with everyone and hear back from you in comments.

    In other news: Albania has been beautiful and we’ve really enjoyed our few days here. Here’s some pictures from a cool castle we visited in Lezhë

      

           

    We’re on to Montenegro today and will be on the coast soon! The weather is looking up and we’re really excited for what is to come.