Prespa, Elbasan

After returning to Ohrid (btw, the road between Skopje and Ohrid provides quite some views!) I hop back on my bike and cycle in the direction of Greece. I make a little stop on the way at Prespa lake, so peaceful and calm this time of the year… And I pick up a few apples from local gardens…

I reach Elbasan through snow (only a short part of the route, luckily for me), which makes me dream of warm Greece even more. The town is a short walk and it’s the mountains around that make it a worthy place to visit. I do try to enjoy the architecture but it’s quite depressing how it is left to rot…

Po powrocie do Ohrid (a trasa między Skopje a Ohrid jest miejscami bardzo malownicza!), wsiadam z powrotem na rower i ruszam w kierunku Grecji. Po drodze warto zrobić sobie przystanek nad jeziorem…

Shkoder

Partly rotten, partly renovated, Shkoder welcomes me with carts full of junk, Romany camp, spacious boulevards, all turned up pavements, pavements where little entrepreneurs sit… and so do lots of gentlemen who wait for something non-specific and they are killing their time with a game of domino… Later on I discover the neat pedestrian walk, mosques, churches… And the lake, where you definitely want to take a tour and hike up some nearby mountains… If the weather permits, that is….

And then, in the early morning, I discover an earthquake.

Nobody is panicking though, those things just happen in these parts of the world.

And I am impressed with the way that Albanians get organized to help those affected by the calamity… I am lucky to meet the great people from EKO Mendje (local NGO) and I join them, documenting their actions. People are bringing groceries, blankets, mattresses, whatever…

Kotor, Montenegro

(and Herceg Novi on the way, with its lovely compact old town, just the right place for a short break)

The Bay of Kotor makes your jaw drop when you ride/drive in… And this is only the beginning. You have to check out the old town (as well as nearby small towns!), where you can find old Italian villas, cats, churches, winding little roads, cats, countless restaurant and pubs, cats, cats… And the Ladder of Kotor, the trekking trail leading above the town… Each bend of the Ladder is a beautiful view of the city and the bay, each step is a new goat jumping around. The wind is blowing, the clouds are running across the sky… Nest to the tiny church up the hill lays a donkey, waiting for you to take photos… Against the fortress wall stands a ladder and next to it it says you aren’t allowed to climb…

Sarajevo I have heard so much about the strange magnetism of the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I got off the bus and started looking for that Sarajevo magic… First the hostel disappeared in mysterious ways… I was going up and down the streets, receiving conflicting responses from random people. They were all kind nevertheless, always ready to offer a drink… I made it. Inside the hostel I met Charles, the king of hitch-hiking (and a bunch of other colourful characters, including Korean busking guitarist and Venezuelan stone dealer). And it would have been a neat place but: 1. no alcohol allowed 2. a single toilet for the whole hostel (=apartment turned into hostel) + one Kiwi backpacker with constant gastric problems. Changing the hostel. Along with Charles and a different Charles not from France we knock the door of Eternal Flame Hostel… And we are firstestest guests. New owners, Ben and Eda are still finishing up paperwork, still…

Krka

Zadar

Late October in Poland. The Autumn cool is here already, announcing the time for me to leave… And why Zadar? It’s simple – the cheapest airplane ticket that brings me to a destination that is still relatively warm. And on top of that – I had long promised myself to complete the Balkan tour (that had begun with my trip to Serbia…

It felt nice to walk the slippery stone streets among bars, shops and other spots providing tourists with all that a lazy vacation requires. It felt nice, too, sitting on Sea Organs, listening to sound compositions created by nature and captured and amplified by man made structure. And it was still nice watching all those churches, squares, parks…

But it is time to move elsewhere… But where? And by what means? Or maybe I should reconsider the idea of cycling across the Balkans? And yes, a bicycle…

A bus to the outskirts of Delhi, then a minibus with two European sadhu-clowns inside, with their forehead painted and Quechua sleeping backs in their hands… A short quarrel at the entrance to the airport building (I didn’t care to print out the ticket reservation, and it seems to be a problem here; furthermore, my final destination is London… – “On what grounds are you allowed into UK? Do you have the right visa?” – “European Union state citizens don’t need visas to enter UK, and Poland is a member state of EU” – “Please wait, we will check on that…”) and I’m on my way home.

I run through those thousands of kilometres again in my mind… Eight and a half months on the road, so many places, so many people met, so many experiences, so many images I can see before my eyes… There I climbed a glacier wearing sandals, there I bathed in a…

 

Before I get on the train to Agra, on the platform I meet lots of friendly people whom I educate a little about Poland and Europe, and who in exchange teach me something about India and (finally! I’m so ashamed…) some words in hindi.

On the train I meet a delightfully nice family who invite me to their place; unfortunately I have to refuse – I hate booking tickets in advance! The youngest fellow, Krishna, wants to join me in my trip back to Poland, where he is planning to eat chocolate all the time. I promise to meet the guys during the wedding of one of twenty year old brothers – he doesn’t know yet whom he would marry, but the date is already fixed…

I arrive in Agra in the middle of the night and begin my walk towards the most obligatory Indian tourist attraction, Taj Mahal that is. Taxi drivers can’t stop to…

My piece of junk reaches Margao only 4 hours late (on the way the coach staff try to get some extra money from me – luggage handling fee and … handling fee). From hear I head for Palolem beach, recommended by Jankiel, who is already there, waiting. Before I get on the right local bus, I go to the railway station in order to book a ticket to Agra. I’m only 131st on the waiting list. OK, there goes the berth…

And the Palolem beach itself… Well, if you looking for solitude, peace and quiet then you might be disappointed… But on the other hand, the parties that go on here are relatively quiet and not so frequent. And the beach, built up with colourful coco-houses (I lodge in one of them – 200 rupees for a room with a bathroom, just a little dirty) has its special charm…

Jankiel tries to convince me to be the only…

The train from Chennai to Mumbai (25 hours) is cramped but I’m lucky to have my berth for myself. Inside and outside mountains of rubbish are growing – the Hindus never use dustbins. The floor inside the train becomes filled with colours and nobody of the train staff ever cares to clean this mess up. This is sometimes done by “private enterprises” – unbelievably dirty boys who, on their knees, wipe the floor with a dirty rug and then stretch out their palm, waiting for some coins… There are so many beggars crossing the train, they get on at every station and walk all coaches in an endless procession. The old lady has hardly finished moaning about her misery when the singing blind boy walks in; the skinny bearded grandpa is still waving his palmless arm in my face when the legless guy limps holding onto his cane… And others are queuing – gypsies hitting the drums, a…

I take the advice of Kris and skip sightseeing Chennai (formerly known as Madras) and I get on the bus or even two that carry me to Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram) – the kind drivers explain to me where to get off. I only notice the noisiness, chaos and crowdedness of Chennai, as well as a corpse in a plastic bag carried by two skinny guys, I can also smell the presence of the river – before I can even see it in her pitch-black elegance, my nostrils get struck with a vile stench…

The buses somehow manage not to fall to pieces before completing the 60 km in just above 2 hours. I am relieved to get out of the hot, sweaty interior and start an intense sightseeing in Mamllapuram – there is an immensity of temples, one more impressive than the other, with all the amazing sculptures… The most famous one is the Shore Temple, picturesquely thrown right…