A hop skip and a road side watermelon from the border we entered the Macedonian capital Skopje. An infectiously ludicrous city which has seen literally hundreds of statues erected over the last three years by the right wing government. When added to the ample number of soviet monuments already extant and the result is more Madame Tussaud's than Roman grandeur.

Part ideological desire to create and celebrate Macedonian nationalist heroes (leading to fun discoveries like a 15 foot statue of an obscure lexicographer) and part attempt to woo tourists to a capital formally described as frumpy - the result is a schizophrenic collision of styles with modernist concrete swoops vying with fake baroque pretense all against an Ottoman backdrop.

While the execution may be lacking, and the renovation of the central square has left it feeling like Disneyland meets Las Vegas as the governing classes seek to manufacture a picture postcard view, it is hard not to be charmed by the city.

At the hostel Fred and I stayed in a local girl, Mariana, raged against the mess that was being made of her city claiming she could hardly recognize it. Following the earthquake here in 1963 an international effort was made to assist with reconstruction; overseen by the great Japenese architect Kenzo Tange. There can be little doubt that his vision has been sullied by the current spate of reckless revisionism but the vigour and vitality of the city shines through with bustling bazaars and a cool riverside bar scene. We amused ourselves playing spot the statue and trying to keep tally. (Impossible)

A snapshot of Skopje and it's many littered statues.

Albania and Kosovo

I think it's fair to say that Albania does not enjoy the best reputation. Residents of former Yugolsavian states who can't agree on much (Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia etc.) all seem similarly disparaging and sincerely warn you of the dangers in visiting Albania. 

[Later in Greece I would have similar stereotypes parroted]

I think a similar though less pervasive stereotype exists in the UK with Albania generally often dismissed as a land of thieves and cut purses.

While it's true that I saw rather more UK car registrations than UK drivers I also found Albania to be by some distance the warmest and friendliest of all the countries I have visited so far. Every 5th car would beep enthusiastically while waves and calls of hellos would follow you down the road from pedestrians. I might have expected such attention to be a trifle bothersome but it was in fact really nice.

My first full day in Albania began at 04:30 with Fred's alarm ringing. The sky still black as we set off for Koman to catch the 09:00 ferry. We felt confident that we had budgeted plenty of time to cover the 43k and any contingencies.

However we hadn't expected the last 30k to Koman to be quite so challenging. It wasn't that the road was a tough up hill along pristine lakeside ridges. (It was) But rather that the road conditions were nothing short of abysmal. Pot holes 3 feet deep vied with tarmac-less stretches and even sections where the road had seemingly completely slid off, leaving 45 degree angles to cycle across. 

With a time limit we couldn't afford to take the road slowly. The inevitable result occurred 5k from Koman at 08:00. My first puncture of the trip. 


I tried pumping her up and trying to cycle the last few k but within 200m I was back down to the rims. With the clock ticking I began undoing the back wheel and sent Fred on to the ferry telling him not to wait for me.

Lady luck smiled. A flat bed truck carrying an Albanian family turned the corner five minutes later and having flagged them down and mimed my need for a lift to the ferry the bike were allowed to hop in the back. 

Not a relaxing trip but certainly exhilarating.  

The Bay of Kotor

A muggy day with low clouds heralded my first day cycling through Montenegro proper.

Racing out of the mountains to the sea at Herceg Novi I was soon careening along the coast roads towards the Bay of Kotor. This flooded river canyon bears resemblance to a Scandinavian fjord and as I rolled into its sheltered surrounds, watching as sheer mountains materialised on all sides, the sun started to peep out.

Connecting up the little villages and beach towns that dot the bays northern edge

Hanging out

Croatia has been well known for it's naturism ever since King Edward the VIII and Wallis Simpson went skinny dipping on the island of Brac in the 30's.

As I prepared to leave Croatia I was a little disappointed that, ignoring my own skinny dipping, I had not had a chance to partake. I find the idea of naturism quite rational and intriguing but my own insecurities and British reserve have combined to prevent me from experimenting.

Until now! a quick google showed that Montenegro also had some nudist camps one of which, just over the border, was run by a friendly English couple Steve and Denise.

So it was that I set off and followed the tricky directions that led me up into the mountains, for which Montenegro is both famous and named, in search of some where to drop keks.


Heading out from my Dubrovnik crows nest I hugged the coast south enjoying the seemingly unending loveliness of Croatia's coastline.

While that loveliness remained soon the surroundings had taken on a more rural outlook as I left behind the busy surrounds of Dubrovnik and it's neighboring touristy towns and entered Croatia's southern hinterland, Konavle.

The heat was blistering as it had been constantly since entering the Balkans and despite an early start in the relative morning cool I found myself running low on water as I left the main highway near Cavtat. I hold it to be a truth self-evident that as soon as water runs low you will be unable to think of anything else and a previously perfectly comfortable throat will become desperately dry and scratchy.

So afflicted I began to look around for water points or a shop but after 25k of cycling I had found exactly nothing meeting that description. Of a sudden I heard the strains of classic 80's pop drifting towards me

"girls just want to have fun, girls just want to have fuuuuun"

King's Landing

What sentiment can be expressed about Dubrovnik that hasn't already been formulated far better by more articulate souls over its 1000+ year history.

As you cross back across the Bosnian-Croatian border at the tall hills of Brgat the Adriatic splashes back into view. I raced to meet it, flying down the switchbacks to the coast.

After meeing the busy coastal highway a short run north presented me with a first glimpse of this city...

I left my Hertegovina

Crossing the mountains which separate Croatia and Bosnia had been a slog and it was late as I crossed the border. Entering the broad plain I'm not sure what I was expecting; but the pretty fields, well built houses, light hum of activity, roads filled with Mercedes and Croatian flags everywhere and wasn't it.

A last look back at the western range.

During my brief cycle with the Italians they had mentioned Kreviche Falls and after finding a throw away one liner about it in a guide book I decided it was as good a place as any to head for en route to Mostar. Its location however appeared to be something of a state secret with many divergent accounts. All agreed that it lied somewhere near Ljubuski but where from there was a subject of debate, conjecture and general vagueness.

Split and Dalmatia

Despite sensible advice to the contrary I had slept at the prow of the ferry. While I successfully avoided getting wet from spray I did experience what it is like to sleep in a wind tunnel. Turns out it adds less to the words sleep.

However whatever tired irritability I had was soon cast away as I watched the watery dawn illuminate the numerous islands of Croatia's coast. 

Inevitable Titanic impressions were resisted

Before long we were pulling into Split, glorious retirement home of the tough to pronounce Roman emperor Diocletian.

All aboard the Appenine Express to Ancona.

Nick kindly dropped me off on the main road at Favro and after just a few initial wobbles I made my way through Umbria with the sun beating down on me. 

During my downtime I had made some trip adjustments. Rather than loop back north to Venice, Trieste and enter the Balkans through Slovenia I had decided to head east and take the ferry to Split from Ancona. 

It meant sacrificing the dubious sweaty charms of high summer gondolier-ing and the doubtless beauty of lake Bled but c'est la vie.

The roads were straight and true with occasional climbs to break the monotony and before too long I found myself at the feet of Assisi with a hard but beautiful climb in front of me. 

The pink stone of Assisi mined from the hill it nestles on lends the city a fairy tale quality quite in keeping with the Saintly legends which permeate it.

Rome in a day

Now here was an exciting moment. Having set off from Hadrian's wall months before I was finally at the beating heart of the Roman Empire.

La Dolce Vita

Staying with Nick and Simona was like stepping into a Rossellini film. I really can't thank them enough for their seemingly inexhaustible hospitality even in the face of a distant relative turning up almost unannounced on their door step and proceeding to borrow money and eat (& drink) them out of house and home.

It's always a little nerve-wracking meeting family for the first time especially when you will be staying with them; what if you don't get on? Simona would later confide over a cigarette that she had shared this concern. Would that this distant relation who was cycling across Europe be a bit straight-laced (no drinking no smoking etc) and had been rather relieved to see a roll-up peeking out from behind my ear as I stepped of the train. Fortunately despite my manifest faults as a house guest we got on famously.

Simona's professional cooking skills and infectious good nature. Nick's wisdom and amazing tales from his time as a freelance photographer in far flung war zones. It all combined a breathtaking Umbrian backdrop to feel utterly intoxicating.

The view across the rolling Umbrian hills from the Patio

Furious flight

Setting off at 11:00 after a hugely frustrating morning I resolved not to allow my momentary misfortune to divert me. Yes I had been robbed but I would be damned if I'd let that stop me visiting Pisa and Lucca and Sienna and Florence and damn all those who tried to stop me.

Half an hours furious peddling and I was in Pisa looking at the tourists looking at the Leaning Tower too angry to appreciate it and after a 3 minute cigarette I was back off onto the hot highway heading for Lucca where I planned to walk the walls and eat my lunch.

Anger it turns out is a marvelous motivator and the kilometers fell away easily.

Lucca, unlike Pisa, provided a much needed tonic to my diabolical mood and despite the crowds of tourists walking along the wide and breezy city walls,  just made for perambulating, soothed my bitterness.

I found a nicely shaded bench from which to eat a slightly stale end of bread and some distinctly dubious cheese from the bottom of my pannier.


Imagine the scene if you will:
A 28 year old man in his underpants is running down a dark beech before dawn shouting garbled phrases from a smattering of European languages.

"Mi passporto por favore!"
"Perdu mon sack!"
"Achtung Dieb!"

Suffice to say it was not a great way to start the day.

Where cycists dare

I was having fun negotiating the Ligurian hills on the coast road east from Genoa on my way to Pisa.

Hard hills in baking heat rewarded by invigorating swims in the sea were the order of the days.

Still, I excitedly anticipated being out of the sun and on level ground so with rear light flashing safely I waited in a long line of traffic for the lights to change so we could enter a tunnel.

Green. Go go go.

I immediately regret this decision.

Lombardy, Piedmonte, and Po

**Warning may contain multiple rhetorical questions read at your own risk(of annoyance)**


Even in the pre-dawn gloom Maggiore looked inviting. Awake and feeling good despite the hour I decided to take a dip, enjoying the privacy of the early morning.

Lounging on the concrete dockside Towl-less with a cup of tea and a cigarette I watched a dragonfly mired in some gravel having just sloughed off its skin.

For an hour I watched as this imposing insect exhausted itself crawling. Where was it trying to reach? Why didn't it simply stop, wait to dry, and then fly? The dragonfly was seemingly making his life so much more difficult than it needed to be.

Might a (not so)alien observer find my own journey equally incomprehensible?