Back at the Milingona!!
It will be remembered that I had spent about 2 weeks, one and a half years ago, in Tirana – most of it at the awesome Milingona Hostel – while Julius flew back to France, rocked the German teaching exam, and flew back.
It was a wonderful time, rich in encounters and alcohol. I didn’t know if I’d ever be back but I did remember Tirana as a special place, warm-hearted, passionate, and the Milingona Hostel, a hub of alternative travellers whirling with stories and dreams. There I had met vegan-anarcho-cyclist Dan last year, who has since started a webzine called Antidote which does excellent pieces on geopolitics, politics, racism, sexism, speciesm; I had also met the colourful crew of Tirana Ekspres art space!
But wait! Here’s a short recap of the trip so far (here’s a map for those who are into this sort of things).
I left Thessaloniki on April 18, cycled eastwards through the mountains of Florina until reaching the border with Albania (April 22). The next day I went North towards Lake Ohrid, and took a right hook into Macedonia, around the lake (through the wonderful Galichitsa national park!) until the city of Ohrid itself. There I rented a room from friendly and helpful Aleksandar for one night and took a bus to Skopje early the next morning, leaving my bicycle and bags at Aleksandar’s. I met Julius in Skopje, and we spent 24h together; see below.
I bussed back to Ohrid the next day – April 25 – gathered my bike and cycled a few kilometers outside the town to spend the night. The next day I crossed back into Albania; the road from the Macedonian mountains to the Albanian plaines was almost all downhill for 80 kms, including the gorgeous gorges of the Shkumbin river; and though the rain was unceasing since the border, I had a great day!
I tied up the hammock right by the river, taking care to be properly protected from the weather. Luckily though, the rain stopped at sunset, and the night was warm. The next day I stopped in Elbasan for breakfast; there were two ways to go to Tirana: moderately climbey and populated highway or super-climbey deserted old road: the day was sunny, quite hot even, and I went for the old road, which was beautiful! I reached Tirana in the evening and went straight to the Milingona hostel. Where I am now! yay. The hostel was almost full (good for them!), including 2 other cyclists – Ken from England and Laurent from France! First ones I meet so far. Going south both of them – of course :)
Julius was visiting his friend Daniel, who works in Skopje, so since I was passing through Macedonia, I decided to go and meet him there! Well the decision almost made itself really, chance events just clicked into place and suddenly it was obvious that I was going to Skopje. We visited the funny-appalling centre (massive statues, monuments, and buildings commemorating all stages of the struggle for Macedonian independance, and towering above them all, of course, bloody Alexander the Great), the cute old town and animated bazaar; visited what a friend had misleadingly nicknamed the “propaganda museum” – it is not a museum about past propaganda, but a propagandist museum reflecting the official version of Macedonian history, another instance of recent and overblown expenditure. I did enjoy the (compulsory) guided tour though, as it did help me piece together my notional Balkanic history (I only have some basic knowledge of Greek history really).
Together with Merle, another friend of Daniel and Julius (the three of them were once flatmates in Münster) we had relaxed chats around coffee in Daniel’s apartment, strawberries in a park, Turkish food in the old town; Daniel took us to an alternative cultural space in the old railway workers’ communal building, then to a friendly bar built essentially of wooden palettes in an empty lot; and then to a more trendy bar in the old town with live bossanova. We got acquainted with some unforgettable individuals, had many great and varied conversations, and did drink quite a lot. It was really really cool. I left the next day back to Ohrid feeling dazed and amazed by the lively city!