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Old Town

We’re starting our 800 mile cycling adventure across the Balkans with 4 days in the lovely city of Dubrovnik (Croatia)

It’s 30 degrees here, and very humid, so the thought of cycling 800 miles is terrifying. Hopefully we’ll acclimatise a bit before we start cycling.

Dubrovnik has impressive town walls. Mostly used to keep out the Venetians.

Game of Thrones filmed Kings Landing and Qarth here.

We went sea kayaking with around 3,463 other people. All trying to stop at the same tiny beach where hundreds of people were swimming. Sue had to jump out of the kayak to stop us running over some teenagers.

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Hotel Konavle

Tonight we’re staying in a hotel near Dubrovnik airport to put our bikes together and meet the 9 other cyclists.

Some of them have children our age - and boy have they lived. They’re busy swapping tales of cycling in Cuba and hiking to Everest Base Camp and Wing Walking (!)

There is nowhere these ladies haven’t cycled. They highly recommend Patagonia and Namibia!

Inspirational.

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CQFC+W2J, Kotor, Montenegro

Day 1. \240Dubrovnik to Kotor

Countries: Croatia / Montenegro

Today: 40 miles

Total: 40 miles

Weather: Far too hot. 30 degrees plus

Today was tough in the brutal heat - but excellent. We started with a \240long climb which was hard in the heat - and were rewarded with lovely views on the way down.

I was expecting the border crossing to leave Croatia be bigger. It wasn’t anything more than a toll booth. Nowhere to have a rest and Coke and crisps.

Then we had to cycle 1km through no man’s land to Montenegro. Where we couldn’t stop either. So had to keep going in the heat, and I was seriously flagging.

Eventually we got to the lovely seaside town of Herceg Novi for lunch.

The afternoon was hard as we were on a very busy main road with no hard shoulder.

Kotor is an enchanting medieval town. I like it even more than Dubrovnik. Twisty turny narrow streets

It is so hot here the sun umbrellas in the cafe’s spray water on the guests.

The town walls are insane. I’ve never seen anything like it. They go up a steep mountain.

Look closely to see the walls in this photo. They blend in with the mountain

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Old Town

Day 2. \240Kotor to Budva

Countries: Montenegro

Miles: 23

Total Miles: 63

Weather: Very very hot.

Funnily enough, today was also brutal in the heat. 2 big hills before lunch, which we coped with ok, by walking a fair bit of them. \240(although Sue is telling everyone she wanted to go on a walking holiday anyway 😂)

But the final hill was too much for us. We’d planned to walk it, but didn’t realise in this heat we couldn’t even walk.

When we finally made it to our hotel we walked straight into a cold shower - with all our cycling clothes on.

Budva is another pretty medieval walled town.

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Shpija e Gjyshit

Day 3. Bar to Shkoder

Countries: Montenegro / Albania

Miles: 29

Total Miles: 82

We started the day by driving along the coast for an hour to Bar. Just stopping for a photo of the gorgeous Sveti Sefan

From Bar we cycled 5km uphill - but it was the start of the day and it wasn’t too steep so we managed it easily. The rest of the day was lovely, flat or downhill, and very rural.

There are lots of water fountains along the road where we stopped to fill up our bottles and drench ourselves - which really helped.

It feels like Croatia is the west and Montenegro is the East. In Croatia all the churches are Catholic and the alphabet is Roman. In Montenegro the churches are Orthadox and the alphabet is Cyrillic and there are lots of Turkish tourists.

But past Bar it is all mosques not churches. A mosque in every tiny village.

We crossed into Albania today (which is also Muslim, but uses the Roman alphabet not the Cyrillic).

We’re staying in a lovely spa hotel. Not sure why but the restaurant was playing folk music loudly at 2:30am

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Garden Boutique Hotel

Day 4. Rest day

Countries: Albania

Drove from Shkoder to Elbasan, with a lunch stop in the capital Tirana. Got to say, I think Tirana is the ugliest city I’ve ever seen.

Apparently this horse statue is the main attraction.

It was a long, hot drive. So many cars on the road. We did like the haystacks though.

The ugly bunkers that paranoid Hoxha created are everywhere.

It is so hot that even Sue has sworn off the drink. She hasn’t touched a drop since Dubrovnik.

Elbasan is slightly nicer than Tirana, but I still can’t recommend it.

There were lots of older men enthusiastically playing domino’s (on the chess boards)

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Hotel Tino & Spa

Day 5. To Ohrid

Countries: Albania / North Macedonia

Miles: 22

Total Miles: 104

Very pleased to have left Albania. I’m not well so I got in the van while Sue cycled.

Lake Ohrid is gorgeous, but I’m too sick to enjoy it.

https://www.instagram.com/reel/CwZnP6esA8G/?igshid=NTc4MTIwNjQ2YQ==

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Ciflik Winery

Day 6. Ohrid to Bitali

Countries: North Macedonia

Miles: 44 miles

Total Miles: 148

I was too sick to cycle today, in fact 5 of us were sick, so we had to catch a taxi while Sue cycled with the remaining 5 cyclists.

But I managed to get in a bit of sight seeing in Ohrid. Saint Sofia in Ohrid is a very significant church. I read it is the only church in the world that has both Catholic and Eastern Orthodox frescos. The schism between the 2 branches happened in 1045AD and this church is somehow involved, but I’m not sure how.

St Clements of Ohrid invented the Cyrillic alphabet, based on the Glagolitic alphabet. He is also depicted in the church.

There is a small but well preserved Roman amphitheatre.

And lots of churches

And old buildings

Sue’s cycle went well. She’s doing amazing. It was another hilly day for her.

Jenny is inspirational. She’s 72 and much faster up hills than us.

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Hotel-Restaurant International Palace

Day 7. Bitola to Veles

Countries: North Macedonia

Miles: 79

Total Miles: 227

I was mostly better today, but because I hadn’t eaten for 2 days I wasn’t fit enough to cycle so I ride in the van.

Sue however rode the whole thing - 78 miles! 2 miles of it was unsurfaced and very hard to ride. Heat is still unbearable.

It is so hot here that some of the graves have a roof over them (like a car port) \240to protect them from the sun.

A link to a video Julie made of todays ride: https://www.instagram.com/reel/CwdcfYysrvD/?igshid=NTc4MTIwNjQ2YQ==

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bul. "Peyo K. Yavorov" 2, 2704 Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria

Day 8. \240To Blagoevgrad

Countries: North Macedonia/ Bulgaria

Miles: 30

Total miles: 257

I’m feeling better now so cycled to lunch, which was all uphill.

I’m not sure how big the families are here, but a family size pizza easily fed all 13 of us.

https://www.instagram.com/reel/Cwfw8pwsOM7/?igshid=NTc4MTIwNjQ2YQ==

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Guest House โ€œHayloftโ€

Day 9. To Bansko

Countries: Bulgaria

Miles: 35

Total Miles: 293

Today was brilliant. I’m finally over my upset tummy, and, now we’re up in the mountains, the temperature has cooled to the 20s.

We’re staying in Bansko, which is a very cool ski resort. If you like skiiing this would be an excellent place to come.

We started the day with a 25km climb, ascending 900 metres. It wasn’t steep, but towards the top my legs were complaining and we had to take more and more rests.

Half way up we had a stop at a roadside cafe.

At the summit there was a place to stop. We bought peaches from a roadside stall.

This sign says don’t litter as it encourages wild boars.

Once we were over the summit the views were sensational.

We’re staying in a B and B and the owner cooked us a lavish meal, which was lovely. But the best part was actually the conversation.

Caroline (aged 59) was telling us how when she was 18 and blonde and pretty she cycled the Karakoram Highway (Pakistan). It was incredibly dangerous, bandits almost kidnapped her and her sister, and they ran out of things to barter. Money wasn’t used there….

Then Julie told us about her trip round Ethiopia.

Nick told us about driving round Cuba.

And Jenny (aged 72) told us how she drove her classic Austin Healey from Panama to Alaska.

I don’t think there is anywhere in the world, between us, we haven’t been.

Here is a link to a short video Julie made of todays ride: https://www.instagram.com/reel/Cwiaew8siUY/?igshid=NTc4MTIwNjQ2YQ==

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Complex Baroto

Day 10:

Countries: Bulgaria

Miles: 32

Total Miles: 325

We spent the morning in Bankso, which looks a lot like an Austrian ski resort.

Then in the afternoon we had a fun easy ride downhill, by a river, to Gotse Delchev.

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Giannis Hotel S.A.

Day 11. To Krinides

Countries: Bulgaria / Greece

Miles: 60

Total Miles: 385

Today has been fabulous. I can’t believe we’re now in Greece! It feels very momentous, like we’ve cycled half way across Europe. 😀

As soon as we crossed the border things changed. We’re now back in the west. Haystacks are made by machine, not by hand. There are tractors, and irrigation machines.

It is still very pretty. There were lots of signs for cows, and then we turned a corner travelling fast downhill and there was a cow in the middle of the road. Luckily it was an A road so there was plenty of room for us to pass.

Every few hundred metres there are roadside shrines. I think they’re in memory of people. They contain photos - and often a bottle of water. \240

Unlike the rest of Europe, there aren’t churches or mosques in every hamlet. Instead the churches are much grander affairs.

We had lunch in Drama, which had a beautiful church. But I can’t find a picture of it when I google ‘Drama Orthodox Church’ 😀

Service in restaurants now western - there were some restaurants in Bulgaria where the waiter was very annoyed at having to serve us.

Tonight we’re staying by theamazing Archeological Site of Philippi, which is the ruins of the city of Philippi, the most important city in East Macedonia.

It was named after King Phillip II of Macedonia. He was an important king, who unified all of Greece but he was overshadowed by his son - Alexander the Great.

It is the site of the first church in Europe.

Julie’s video of the day: https://www.instagram.com/reel/Cwpx-ihsqkp/?igshid=NTc4MTIwNjQ2YQ==

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Hotel Pegasus - Adult Friendly

Day 12. To Thasos Island

Countries: Greece

Miles: 36

Total Miles: 421

Cycled to the busy port town of Kavala for lunch.

Then, feeling like we were in Mama Mia, caught a ferry to Thassos Island

Where we biked 10 miles round the coast to Thasos town.

It’s a lovely holiday island, lots of happy tourists here.

Link to Julie’s video of the day: https://www.instagram.com/reel/CwrRD7roDSH/?igshid=NTc4MTIwNjQ2YQ==

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Kyrides Hotel

Day 13. To Komotini

Countries: Greece

Miles: 62

Total Miles: 483

A long hot day cycling.

Julie’s video: https://www.instagram.com/reel/Cwsq_jbMD6Q/?igshid=NTc4MTIwNjQ2YQ==

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Emporiou 136, Alexandroupoli 681 00, Greece

Day 14. To Alexandroupoli

Countries: Greece

Miles: 40

Total Miles: 523

A lovely ride today, over a hill, to the seaside town of Alexandroupoli.

Julie’s video of the day: https://www.instagram.com/reel/CwvWYjIMkKq/?igshid=NTc4MTIwNjQ2YQ==

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Truva Restaurant

Day 15. To Cannakale

Countries: \240Greece / Turkey

Miles: 33

Total Miles: 556

We made it to Turkey!

It was a headwind all day today, but we’re much fitter by now and were easily able to complete the day.

It took us an hour and a half to get through the border. The van had to be X-Rayed, and Caroline had to buy a visa. Everything closed for lunch and then again for call to prayer.

We had a brief lunch in Ipsala and got a transfer to Cannakale. We caught a ferry across the Dardanelles. We have now left Europe and entered Asia!

Julie’s video of the day: https://www.instagram.com/reel/Cwx6twesyv0/?igshid=NTc4MTIwNjQ2YQ==

Rest day in Cannakale today.

Lovely town. Turkey very much feels like a place where East meets West.

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Armada Hotel, Istanbul

Day 17. To Istanbul

Countries: Turkey

Miles: 30 miles

Total Miles: 586

We made it! We’re in Istanbul 😊

We started off with a ferry back to the other side of the Bospheros, then cycled 30 miles into the strongest headwind I’ve ever cycled in. Gusts of around 30mph.

The 1915 bridge across the Bosporous.

When we arrived at Gelibolu, when Sue finally allowed herself a drink. She hasn’t had a drink in 18 days!

We were driven the final stretch into Istanbul

The adventure is now over. The cycling has been hard and the weather has been insanely hot. I’m never coming back to Europe in Summer 😀

Highlights were: Istanbul, archeological site of Philippe, Kotor, Ohrid and Budva.

But absolutely the best thing about the trip were the other cyclists on the trip. The 8 others were all amazing people and incredible cyclists.

Todays video: https://www.instagram.com/reel/Cw27ZgoMbf3/?igshid=NTc4MTIwNjQ2YQ==