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Monday, 10 October 2016

PART 13: BALKAN COUNTRIES

MACEDONIA & GREECE (15TH - 21ST MAY 2016)


Macedonia was actually not in my route. It was a last minute decision to enter this country bcos I wanted to see Lake Ohrid from the Macedonian side. Upon declaring my bike at the customs at Kjafasan border, the officer insisted to see my GC. He wouldnt let me in until I showed him one. The price for GC were EUR50 for 15 days (thats the minimum). It was very expensive. I felt like going back into Albania, but I was so tired and cold after the stressful ride and my hosts house was just 26kms away fr the border. I didnt have any choice but to purchase it. This is the most expensive GC among all 28 countries in GDR so far, considering that I will be in the country for 3 days only.




Finally, I reached Labunishta village after riding 400kms in 10hrs. It was a very tiring and cold ride indeed. The challenge didnt last there as I had to ride on a very narrow and steep road, or I could say alley, to reach my host's house which was located almost on highest most part of the village. It was indeed a scary ride as my small powered bike with heavy loads at the back seemed almost unable to climb up the steep ascend. The last right turn to reach my host's house was so sharp and steep. Past experience had taught me that with my lack of skill and the lack of power on GD's side, taking the turn right away will cause disaster. I had to continue riding straight onto a flatter ground, than only slowly made the turn. Thank god I didnt drop my bike, but God knows how fast my heart beat at that time.


Bertha, her husband, Cani and their grand daughters were already waiting for me. Bertha was an Indonesian who married to Cani, a successful jewelery businessman (specialized in pearls) in Macedonia. She was introduced to me by Adeeb, a famous Malaysian cyclist who rode all the way from UK back to Msia. Bertha served me hot soup right away when she saw me shivering. How shouldnt I be? I had been riding under the rain in the mountain for 10 hours!!! After taking a hot shower, Bertha served me delicious dinner of steamy white rice and ayam penyet with sambal (smashed fried chicken with hot chilly paste), a very famous Indonesian cuisine. It was sooooo delicious. This must had been the best ayam penyet rice that I had tasted in my whole life. Thanks Bertha.




I spent three nights in Labunishta. Bertha and Cani treated me like their very own sister. I felt very touched by their kindness. The same goes to all my previous kind hosts. Bertha told me lots of things, mainly about her past and her experience living in Macedonia for the past few years. I was very amazed by the strong will of this lady. She may seemed small in size, but the way she fought her life battle was undescribable, something which I'm sure many of us will surrender if we were to be in her shoes. Despite being a full time housewife currently and a housemaid previously when she worked in Hong Kong, she was rich in knowledge as she spent most of her time reading academic books. If only her fate turned out differently, I wont be surprised if this lady became a successful woman holding an important post as she's a very smart person. She impressed me with her thoughts and opinions and I must say that I really admired her. She also talked about the charity and Islamic foundation which she raised while in Hong Kong, how she put her efforts (without being paid) in teaching Islamic knowledge to Mualaf and whoever needed one. How many of us could do that? On the other hand, her husband, Cani was a very generous man when it came to Islamic charity. His family and himself had built few mosques in and around Labunishta. Every few months, Cani will allocate a certain amount of his money to buy groceries such as rice grains, flour, sugars etc and he donated them to the poor villagers. Whoever in need will come to him asking for help. Mashaa Allah. My salute to both of them and may Allah grant them jannah for their good deeds.



Cani and Bertha are on my left hand side


I managed to visit Sturga, the Lake Ohrid city, during my stay in Macedonia. Bertha showed me around the beautiful old city. We strolled along the charming little shops and houses with beautiful flowers dangling from the balconies. We also visited an old mosque and a church and spent some time drinking the view of beautiful Lake Ohrid.




Bertha also brought me to an Old Fort near Sturga which I could see birds eye view of the whole city and Lake Ohrid from above.




Its time to say goodbye to my wonderful hosts. Both Bertha and Cani tried to persuade me to stay longer, at least 1 week more, unfortunately I couldnt do that. Bertha gave me lots of food for my upcoming trip that I didnt have the space to put them in my box and panniers. I also got some souvenirs from her. How kind hearted person she and her husband were. It was hard to leave them. I hope we will meet again someday.


The ride from Labunishta to Macedonia – Greece border was interesting. I passed lots of wheat fields. Some were still green, some were golden, waiting to be harvested. Wild flower fields of white, yellow and red dominated the view. At one point, my GPS directed me to take an offroad. I thought that was the correct road so I followed it. It get more and more difficult later with big gravels, whilst in the same time I saw paved road ran alongside with the offroad. Then only it crossed my mind that the road I'm riding now must had been the old road. I found a path which linked to the new road but it was quite a steep climb. I managed to do it but I wasted half and hour riding on the offroad. Later, again my GPS played trick on me when it directed me to a secondary road inside the villages. I followed the road for about 20kms and the whole time I was doubting if it was the correct way. My instinct proved that it was the wrong way as the paved road ended just like that, but my GPS showed as if theres still road ahead. I turned back 5kms and managed to find another road which was connected to the correct one. Again, I loose some precious time here. I hated it when my GPS decided to play games with me.




I arrived the border and exited Macedonia without any hassle. To enter Greece, I need to show the officer my GC. Thats the first thing the officer asked. Greece was listed under EU countries, unfortunately my GC for the EU's expired just 2 days ago. Previously, I purchased a 2 months GC but failure to follow my own itinerary resulted in failure to enter Greece, the last European country for me before the GC expired. I had to pay an expensive lesson for that. It was EUR100 for 1 month GC, too pricey for me considering that I will only be in Greece for a period of 1 week only. Okey, lesson learnt. Next time make sure to follow what you had planned, or if you're unsure, its better to purchase a longer period GC which will be cheaper than purchasing a new individual one.




The road in Greece was better than in Macedonia. My destination for the day was Trikala. The view was interesting as well. I really loved the wild flowers, so beautiful. Before reaching Trikala, I enjoyed the rock formation Meteora views which was very famous here.




The next day, I rode to the capital city of Greece, Athens. The distance were 360kms, via E65 and E75. I had to pay toll for 4 times. It was a very windy day and my small bike was swept by the wind few times. It was quite scary, but the view from the mountain road (which I'm not sure the name) was awesome. There were lots of vehicles upon entering this big city, but that was not a big issue. The big issue for me was how steep the road in Athens were!!! Everywhere in the city, you had to ascend and descend steep road and it was narrow. My host's house was also situated on the steep road. However, to my amusement, Panos who was also a biker and a tall guy, had some trouble to help bring GD inside his yard. He said its unbelievable that GD which looked small in size but was actually quite heavy. LOL...


I stayed 3 nights in Athens and managed to meet Krista, a beautiful and friendly lady biker. She was linked to me by Tiffany Coates (my idol) and Rashmi (the founder of Global Women Who Ride). The three of us were featured in GWWR. We met at a famous bikers meeting place and I met some other men and women riders. They were all very nice. They were amazed to know that I had almost done ¾ of the world.

Krista is the tallest one


In Athens, I also managed to visit the first modern olympic games stadium. It was a fascinating feeling to be here, not because of the structure or the architecture of the stadium, but for the glory and history which once created at this place. This was the stadium which witnessed the modern olympic games came alive after being banned for hundreds of years. I stared at the track for a long time, trying to imagine the glory here way back in 1896.

Self made crown of olive leaves


Visiting Acropolis is a must when you're in Athens. I was lucky because it was Museums Day today, so the entrance was free. I had to climb up a hill to reach the site. There were too many people since it was a free entrance day to visit all historical sites, anywhere in the world. In a way, I could save money, but it also meant that I had to 'fight' with other visitors to get the best picture. Acropolis was impressive, but when I was there, restoration works were ongoing and there were many parts which was covered by scaffolding. It was quite frustrating, especially after seeing a documentary showed in the Acropolis Museum of how beautiful this ancient site was (without the scaffolding). Anyway, in my personal opinion, Lebanon offered much more interesting ancient sites compared to here.






After 3 nights in Athens, I made my way to Thessaloniki. Since today's ride was long (530km), I decided to take the motorway. Through my experience riding in France, Italy and Balkans, you can only do 50kms per hour if you took the back road, due to the low speed limit, lots of roundabouts, traffic lights etc. If you stop frequently for pics, the time spent on the road will be much longer. The motorway here in Greece was nice and less traffic, but the number of tolls were unbelievable. I had to pay tolls for 12 times which cost me more than EUR20. Theres one part that the road suddenly shrink to a single lane, narrow and winding for 19kms, and I had to pay approx EUR2 toll for that part too. It took me 7.30hrs to reach Thessaloniki (with stopping). I took some time to enjoy the seafront view of this city.




On my last day in Greece, I rode to Alexandrapouli, a famous beach town facing Agean Sea. The ride was okey and fortunately, no toll. At one time, as I want to get down from my bike, I felt something holding my Givi pouch and it was stuck. I pulled my pouch with some force and it was freed. However, I noticed that the buckle strap was broken. I felt very angry with myself. The waterproof pouch had served me well and never fail to keep my important belongings stay dry inside it during heavy rain, no matter how long it rained. I had been wearing it on my waist everyday and theres not a single tear on the pouch even though the ride was rough. But now the buckle strap was broken due to my own carelessness. Sigh...


I found a nice camping spot facing the beach and decided to camp there for the night.









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Band: NASTIA, Title: ANGGUR (taken from EP 'EKSPRESI')
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