Mountain and valley
3:40, Valbona in northern Albania. The alarm clock is ringing. 20 ° degrees indicates the thermometer. Mercury has already doubled in 5 hours. Cycling is then no longer really fun and a heat stroke I would like to avoid. So from now on, I force myself to get up early in the morning. Just the mood at sunrise is insane.
The National Park Valbonatal (Albanian Parku Kombëtar Lugina e Valbonës) protects a part of the Albanian Alps in the upper valley of the Valbona in northern Albania. It is a pristine high mountain landscape on the south and east side of the Jezerca, the highest mountain in Albania, which lies entirely within the country's borders. The national park covers an area of 8000 ha and was founded in 1966.
At the campsite in Valbona I met Nadine from Alsace. She has been traveling the world for more than 30 years. We decided together to take the car ferry over Koman Lake. Built in the years 1980 to 1988 in the gorge of Malgun (gryka e Malgunit) near the village of Koman stone dam dam with concrete outer layer is 115 meters high, consists of 600,000 cubic meters of material and dams a lake of twelve square kilometers.
The attached hydroelectric power station, originally named after Enver Hoxha, has a capacity of 600 MW, with four turbines coming from France, which was said to be the largest in Albania and southeastern Europe. Due to water scarcity, electricity production had to be repeatedly drastically cut down in recent years. The Koman Reservoir is fed next to the Drin by the Valbona and the Shala River.
The fare for the almost 2 hour drive I found for Albanian proportions almost a little over. 10 euros correspond here to a daily wage. But the tent sites are (still) very cheap. For 2 euros, I was usually able to set up my tent on one of the many campings.
Actually I wanted to go from Koman to Tirana, to the capital, to recover a few days there. Nadine advised me to choose the campsite on Shkodra Lake.
The lake is located in the border area between Montenegro (Alb Mali i Zi), which covers about two-thirds of the area, and Albania, which covers about one-third of the area. The water level of the lake varies greatly, depending on the season by up to 5 meters. This also leads to a strong fluctuation of the surface between 370 km ² and 540 km ² in flood after the snowmelt.
After 6 relaxing days, at maximum temperatures around 42 ° C (the lake was warmer than any bath), I decided to go back to the mountains. Just a few kilometers after the city came the first wall. At first I tried to count the slopes and valleys that I crossed. At some point, however, I had to surrender. I was particularly impressed by how many people still live here in these remote givings. Somehow, you feel like you're in another time.
Until 1944, Albanians led a guerrilla war against the Italian and later German occupiers. These had also connected parts of Kosovo, Macedonia and Greek Epirus to the Albanian puppet state. In 1944, Albania was liberated from the fascist foreign rule. Enver Hoxha, leader of the Communist Party, established a dictatorship. The pre-war borders were restored. In 1967, a total religious ban was issued. Albania has been declared the "first atheistic state in the world". A year later, Albania withdrew from the CMEA and the Warsaw Pact and remained on Stalinist course.
Fearing an enemy invasion, 200,000 bunkers were scattered across the country. These can still be seen throughout the country today. Albania's foreign policy has changed dramatically since the overthrow of the communist dictatorship in 1990-91. The country is no longer an "isolated island" on the map of Europe, but a member of many international organizations. Since 15 December 2010 Albanian citizens are now also exempt from visas. If you have a biometric passport, you can enter the 25 EU Member States (except Ireland and the United Kingdom) and the Schengen countries of Switzerland, Norway and Iceland without any obstacles.
In Kukës I saw a side street on my map drawn, which should run parallel to the newly built highway. However, it soon turned out that it no longer exists. The locals recommended me all to take the highway. After the many narrow and old streets I felt the rolling on this new surface as a real treat.
The last night before the border I spent in a small village. The teenagers did not want to let me sleep next to the highway because it was supposedly too dangerous. So they placed me and my tent in the village square to protect me. Albania was a totally positive surprise for me both in terms of landscape and people. The mass tourism seems slowly to take root here too. Hopefully he does not establish himself too strong.
I had several reasons to return to Kosovo again. In Prizren, the first city after the border, there was a great reunion with Avni. We worked together 5 years ago in the Swiss Paraplegic Center in Nottwil. Avni is currently visiting his family. Together with his grandson Qendrim we visited the city a bit.
The two of them even helped me to hook up the bike and invited me and Fredrik, a Swedish tour rider we happened to meet, to lunch. Shumë falemnderit Avni! With Fredrik I went to the hostel, where also a Velopärchen from France was quartered Naïla and Yoann. Fredrik left us the next day. Together with Naïla and Yoann I visited the rest of the city.
Prizren plays an important role in the history of Kosovo. It was a religious center for the Serbian Orthodox Church and for centuries one of the largest cities in the region. In the era of nineteenth-century nationalism (Rilindja), Prizren was the meeting point of Albanian nationalists who tried to end Ottoman rule in the Albanian territories and establish a nation-state, partly through literary activity and partly through military force.
Today Prizren is above all an important transport hub, a cultural center and with its partially preserved old town and the many historical buildings attracting tourists.
Mister G, the hostel owner, offered to sleep on the roof terrace. I gladly accepted this offer. Coincidentally, the international short and documentary film festival (DokuFest) on migration took place at the same time. The organizers are trying to draw attention to the issue of visas for the people of Kosovo. Hopefully they can achieve their goal.
Joshia, a bicyclist from England, whom I know from Barbara and Sebastian, wrote to me that he arrived in Pristina. So I jumped on the bus and drove to visit him. He organized an overnight stay for us at Kujtim (Couch Surfing).
I really wanted to watch a few more films at the Doku Fest and drove back to Prizren the next day. Unfortunately, the hostel employee hustled me in the evening when I came back from the festival to leave the hostel. The owner always assured me that I would like to stay as long as I want.
With a monthly salary of just under 300 euros, not everyone is particularly anxious to do their job carefully. Discussing did not help much and the owner was unreachable. So I drove in the middle of the night to the bus terminal and stayed in the waiting room. Completely tired, I drove the next day in the direction of National Park Sara.
Right at the end of town, I drove past the ruin of the monastery. The monastery was the burial place of the Serbian Tsar Stefan Dušan and was crucial for the development of Serbian architecture in the second half of the 14th century and the first half of the 15th century. The main church of the monastery dedicated to the Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel was next to the Visoki Dečani Monastery the largest church in Serbia in the Middle Ages and one of the largest late medieval church buildings of the Balkan Peninsula. The monastery was burnt down on 17 and 18 March 2004 by radical Albanians from Prizren de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ausschreitungen_im_Kosovo_2004#Prizren_und_Erzengelkloster_bei_Prizren.
I arrived on the pass pretty exhausted (1'095 m asl). There I was immediately invited to tea by Xhafer (a retiree who has worked in Germany for more than 25 years). A few serpentines, I then approved before I then dead tired on my tent for the night in the forest.
Up to the border to Macedonia followed again a pass and a dead end, which I owe my totally inaccurate map. But I also deliberately use a road map and no GPS. Through the wrong paths one gets to know much more unknown areas.
Kosovo is the youngest country on the European continent. The wounds of the war have not healed yet. However, people here have surprisingly quickly learned to look to the future. Her optimism and zest for action is enviable and clearly noticeable. I sincerely hope that you will achieve your goals and dreams.