topics: Adriatic Sea, seas, fishing, currency, border crossing; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: April 5, 1998

Food of the Day: chocolate milkshake

Because of the spread of fast-food chains (that shall remain nameless), the milkshake has joined the pizza, the hamburger, and french fries as a pan-Mediterranean food. A mixture of soft ice cream and some sort of flavoring (our favorite is chocolate), it is simple and delicious treat, especially after a long, tough day.

Person of the Day: Oerd Cukalla click to view a photograph

We met Oerd Cukalla on our first full day in Albania and he scarcely left our sides for the rest of our stay. He proved himself as an invaluable asset to the group... as a translator, a guide click to view a photograph, a cycling companion click to view a photograph, and as our Albania advisor (for example, he explained that in Albania leaning against sculptures is permitted click to view a photograph.) Without Oerd, how could Anthony have made his ill-fated attempt to break the Albanian record for most ice cream cones in one day? How would we found such nice cafés or have discovered Albania's special foods and desserts? How could any of us have understood the exhibits in the National Museum? Indeed, when we said goodbye (see Word of the Day) to Oerd in Durrës, we wondered how we were going to do without him, and how much we would miss him.

Of course, we appreciate all his help, but we also consider him a friend. We hope to hear from him, by email, snail-mail, and during the Wednesday chat n' debates, and to see him again soon. What's more, if Oerd manages to visit us in the United States, Anthony has offered to show him how it really is possible to eat dozens of American ice cream cones all in one day.

Place of the Day: Adriatic Sea

Although the Mediterranean Sea has been the unifying element in our journey from Morocco to Albania, we have sailed through or ridden by a number of different seas. Different parts of the Mediterranean Sea have different names. The most famous of these smaller seas are: the Levantine Sea along the coast of southwestern Asia Syria, Lebanon and Israel); the Ionian Sea west of Greece and below Italy; the Aegean Sea between Turkey and the Balkans; the Adriatic between the Balkans and Italy; and the Tyrrhenian Sea west of Italy. Hence, our ferry from Durrës to Bari took us across the Adriatic Sea, and we will continue following the coasts of this sea all the way through Montenegro (Yugoslavia), Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia and the first half of Italy.

Named after the ancient Roman port of Adria, the Adriatic boasts some of the finest ports in the Mediterranean, including Bari (Italy), Brindisi (Italy), Venice (Italy), Trieste (Italy), Rijeka (Croatia), Split (Croatia), Kotor (Montenegro), Dubrovnik (Croatia), and Durrës (Albania). It has also been one of the most heavily fished parts of the Mediterranean, though today it is mainly only for sardines, tuna and lobster. From the low-lying eastern coast of Italy to the rocky coast of the Balkans, the Adriatic is famous for its many fine beaches and beautiful shorelines. The Adriatic also boasts two of the loveliest cities in the world, Venice and Dubrovnik, both of which we plan to visit. Because we spent much of the day on it, and will spend most of the next month traveling around it, the Adriatic is our place of the day.

Tech Fact of the Day: counterfeit money

Over the last eight years, as the American dollar has become the alternative currency of choice in some Eastern European countries, counterfeiting American currency has become a major problem. Counterfeiters have found it particularly easy to copy the American $100 bill and Europe has been flooded with these fake bills. Partially for this reason, within the last three years, the United States Treasury designed and began printing new American bills that would be more difficult to counterfeit. In 1996 they began with the $100 bill and have since changed the $50 bill as well. Now, many European banks and moneychangers will not accept $100 bills printed before 1996. In Albania, however, the currency traders are willing to gamble a little for a higher profit. So, you can exchange $100 bills printed before 1996, but at a considerably lower exchange rate. Needless to say, you have to be careful not to accept older $100 bills if you are buying dollars yourself.

Group Dispatch, April 5
picture of Padraic

We woke up early to enjoy our last breakfast in Albania and relax as much as possible before the bumpy ride to Durrës. While Ethan rushed off to buy ferry tickets to Bari, Corinne found a florist and bought bouquets for our host families and for Toni, two of the strongest forces in making our stay in Albanian so spectacular. Both Ethan and Corinne stopped by AEDP on the way back to the hotel to present Toni with his flowers and to say goodbye and good luck. We all hope that Toni and AEDP are able to carry on their important work.

While Ethan and Corinne were out in town, the rest of the group began to assemble. Oerd (our Person of the Day) and Fiqo appeared and helped us disassemble the bikes. The neighborhood children soon appeared to offer their help as well, though they consented simply to have their pictures taken. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph Next Burhan and his wife Lavdie rolled up in the mini-van. When Ethan and Corinne returned, we carefully stacked the bikes and the luggage in the back of the van and jumped in ourselves for our trip out of Tirana to the ferry port in Durrës.

On the way out of town, we stopped on Tirana's main square, called Skanderbeg Square, where Padraic and Oerd jumped out to exchange the remaining BikeAbout Albanian leke back into dollars, being careful not to accept any bills printed before 1996 (see the Tech Fact of the Day). That accomplished, Burhan steered the van towards Durrës, doing his best to avoid the biggest of the potholes that had so bedeviled us on our bike ride a few days before. By this time, however, we had become used to the roads and hardly noticed the bumps (except when our heads hit the roof of the van).

Once in Durrës, Burhan took a shortcut through the train station to get us as close as possible to the port. click to view a photograph After we had unloaded and reassembled our bikes and posed for a group picture click to view a photograph, we reluctantly began to say our good-byes (see Word of the Day). Burhan had talked the guard into letting Oerd and Fiqo help us get through the embarkation process, so our parting came in stages. First we bade farewell to Burhan and Lavdie, who had to wait with the van. After Oerd had helped us obtain our boarding passes, we said goodbye to him as well, reminding him to join us on the chat when able. Finally, we said arrivedierci to Fiqo, who had stayed with us to make sure we made it through Albanian passport control. Again, we can't thank the Berishas, Fiqo and his family, and Oerd enough for their hospitality and help. We will certainly miss them as we push on.

The last obstacle to clear before we could enter the ferry was the Italian passport control. It was better for us to face this hurdle without our Albanian friends. As Americans endowed with American passports, we have a tremendous advantage over the Albanians at almost any border. Once the Italian immigration officers recognized our passports, they waved us through. Unfortunately, many of the Albanians in the line were not so lucky. The Italians minutely scrutinized their documents and ended up turning back dozens because of problems or irregularities with their passports or their Italian visas.

Once we had stowed our bikes and luggage, we made ourselves as comfortable as possible aboard ship. Ethan ran up on deck to get a few last pictures of Durrës. Between the wrecked pillboxes next to the dock click to view a photograph and the sunken ships in the harbor itself click to view a photograph, we surmised that despite the regular ferry traffic, the port was still in the process of being rebuilt.

Our ferry journey was uneventful. We had very little Italian lire so we could not divert ourselves in the normal way - that is, by eating. Instead we gnawed on dry crackers and spent the entire voyage working on dispatches, trying desperately to catch up after our hectic days in Konitsa and Albania.

The ferry steamed into Bari at around 10:30 p.m., and once again our American passports (which have certainly been the cause of problems in the past) served as magical tickets. While the Albanians sprinted to try to get a position at the front of a huge line, we had only to wave our passports and an official directed us around the line and directly to the window. We were through in minutes. It must have taken the Albanians hours.

We had a much ruder reception as we rode from the terminal building. A wrong turn took us away from the exit and straight into a pack of dogs - or, to call them by their proper name, the Hounds of Hell. These canine minions of Lucifer barked angrily and chased us for hundreds of meters/yards. We narrowly escaped their brimstone-tinged fangs only to realize that we were going the wrong direction. So we had to turn around and brave their netherworldish snarls and snapping teeth again! Luckily our sudden return surprised these Beelzebubic fiends, rendering their second assault ineffectual (they only ate Ethan, well, actually just his hat... but it was a nice hat).

A little shell-shocked after our run-in with the hounds, we nervously began to ride through the city towards the one budget hotel listed in our guidebook. Bari has a reputation for being a center of crime and drugs, and, after the hounds, we had all sorts of nightmarish scenes running through out minds. We have found, however, that bad reputations are seldom deserved. Even at this late hour, Bari seemed a lively, pleasant and safe city. After some riding around, marveling at the potholeless streets and expensive looking shops, we checked into a moderately priced hotel (Italy is, after all, one of the more expensive countries in Europe - certainly more than any other country we've yet visited) and ate a quick dinner at a fast food restaurant. We then went straight to bed so that we would be ready to make our way to Yugoslavia the next day.

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