I had already spent 3 days in Albania and this was my last before going to Italy. It was also my first visit to Tirana, and I think I was left with some very nice impression about the whole country.
There are about 40 km from Tirana to Durrës. And I wanted to take the late night ferry to Bari which meant to me only one thing: I have time to have one more beer in Tirana and then head on to Durrës in the afternoon. So that was exactly what I did. After a pleasant lunch I parted with my friends and moved on.
Well, not so fast. I had my host draw something on my bicycle frame as a memory of my travel. I find that to be exceptionally personal and memorable. This was the third ‘signature’ I got.
I rode of to the centre of Tirana and there on I went along the long, wide street ‘Rruga Industriale’ going towards Durrës. It felt like a never-ending street with a lot of trade centres, industrial buildings, shops, and other big buildings along this road. It was a bit messy.
I first decide to take the parallel road to the highway, so I would avoid heavy traffic. Taking the smaller road, as always, turned out to be much more fun. I saw a Mercedes Benz service shop that had a lot of old Mercedes cars lined up to be used for spare parts. It was magnificent to see this, because all my life I have been hearing about the great amount of Mercedes cars in Albania. It was all true.
I also manage to bump into a couple from Spain on their bicycles going to the coast. It is nice to do just that, and spend some time with fellow bicycle riders on a tour. But they were heavily loaded and moved very, very slow. I thought that I would need to get earlier in Durrës so I can have time to get a ticket for the ferry. So I left them behind.
The parallel road to the highway went up only to Vora (Vorë). At least to me and to my GPS did not seem that I have much options on continuing but to go on the highway. In any case it was the fastest and most straight forward road to Durrës. So I continued my riding on the highway. And I was not worried about legality since I saw the two cyclists that were training on the highway the other day. There was plenty of side space for me to ride freely without being disturbed from the passing vehicles. The only down side was that the surrounding landscape was no longer charming from the highway. The frequent traffic made it feel insignificant, since great part of my attention was on the traffic.
In the very moment when I got comfortable on the highway and felt that I will be soon arriving to Durrës, I got a problem. The highway started sloping downward, so I picked up some speed. Now riding on the side of the highway was not much of a great experience since there were all kinds of stuff on the ground, and some cracks on the road, but I had managed fairly to avoid them. Until one really big one appeared. It seemed that from the braking of heavy trucks the road had been wrinkled and one such wrinkle was just in front of me, and it was about 30 cm high. I was speeding with about 40 km/h and a truck was just passing right next to me. I had no other option but to head straight for the bump. I figured it would not be a big deal. So I held the bars strong, raised my ass, slowed down a bit, and headed straight for the bump. As I was suspecting, nothing terrible. But as I crossed the bump, I made a short flight. I landed fast, but in the process one of my panniers broke. My right sided, back pannier broke. Since it had two QMR easy fix hooks holding onto the rack, one of those easy fix hooks got tore out from its place and out of the bag. The bag was hanging on only one easy fix hook. I stopped immediately. I had my laptop there. If the bag would have fallen I would loose a lot of important content, and a laptop.
I had Vaude Aqua Back panniers. And they have one plastic rail on which the easy fix hooks are attached with a metal plate that slides through this plastic rail. So upon the landing impact, one of these metal plates crack opened the rail and got out. I had no problem to put it back in. But the problem was that now it could very easy go out again. So what I did was I moved the easy fix plate a bit to the side to a part of the rail that seemed more solid. I hated Vaude at that moment. I paid 99,95 € for the panniers, I had them less than 2 years and travelled only about 2000 km with them. This was in no way something that I wish for anyone to happen, and not on the first few days of the tour. I was pissed. I hoped only that the panniers would hold to Durres. I figured that I could get new panniers once in Bari.
So I continued to ride towards Durrës. Only this time very slowly, and avoiding every single crack on the road. I could not bare another hit that could potentially completely destroy my bags.
Near the village Sukth I got off the highway and took a local road towards Durrës. It seemed shorter as well. There were much more holes, but I moved very slowly. It was around 18h and I had plenty of time to get a ticket. The ferry was supposed to leave at 23h, but the boarding was by 21h.
I asked some people around, and they told me that I can get tickets at the port. So I went down the road to the port where the boarding was. The port and the train station are at the same place in Durres. This was nice information to know. And just opposite the entrance for the peers there were some sandwich shops and tourist offices where I could get ticket.
I was looking on the internet about the prices of the ferry tickets, and I remember that a return ticket was some 58 € at that time. But I was not sure when I would be heading back, in fact I was not sure when I would be heading to Italy either. A friend of mine told me that there are agencies all over the town and that it was cheap to get the ticket from them. So I was counting on it. I went to an agency asking for a ticket to Durrës. I was surprised of the price – 43 € for one way trip. A return ticket was not an option as I wanted to be relaxed and do not think about returning time as a constraint to my travels. It was a basic price and only for me as a passenger. There was no extra fee for the bicycle.
I had a minced meat sandwich prior boarding at a bar just where the agencies were. It was cheap, but I could not say tasty. I was just hungry. Then I moved to the entrance and on to the border police. Passing the border was easy. A simple check with a scanner. The bicycle, naturally, was not possible to pass. But no one made any problems. On the contrary, they were all very nice.
I got on the boat. They told me to put the bicycle in one small room on the floor where the cars were. So I did it, and I locked the bicycle. I was not the only one going with a bicycle. Though I saw the bicycles I did not see the people.
I did not take a cabin. It was an all night travel, but from my past experience there were always options to sleep in the bar or the desk. What I did not expect was that I would take the journey on the worst ferry boat on the planet. It was scary how everything seemed like it is going to fall apart.
When the time came, I went to the bar. There were some people sleeping on the chairs already. But it was not a crowd so there were plenty of chairs to choose from. I got some beer and slowly started getting comfortable on some sofa like chairs. But before I got to sleep, I got an idea how to solve the problem with my panniers. If I would set the hooks from my left sided bag to become right sided bag and the hooks from my right sided bag to become a left sided bag, I would position the hooks on a place along the rail that was not damaged. So I played a bit, and took some photos.
I was happy with what I did, but I was still disappointed from Vaude and the Aqua Back panniers. There was a lot of road ahead of me, and I did not know if I can trust the bags anymore.
The beer had made me relaxed, I was falling asleep.
Date: 11 September 2012
Difficulty (1-5): 2. The number is not one because of the chaotic traffic and state of the road. Otherwise, the difficulty of the road it self is pretty easy, and mainly downwards.
Time spent cycling: 2:30
Average speed: 16.3 km/h
Length: 40.86 km
Landscape impression: Riding along a freeway is almost never a true landscape experience. However there are a lot of crazy, huge houses along the road that are worth the look, a smile or whatever one may deem as right.
Water availability: On such a short route I did not bother to look for more than what I already had with me. But water is available once out of the freeway.
Security issues: It is Albania, I have to face it. But it is not in a bad way. It is just the appearance of the chaotic traffic that makes me feel a bit insecure.
Contact with locals: As expected along a freeway – there are no people to talk to. However in both Tirana and Durrës one can have some conversation here and there.
Accommodation: Can not say really, since I did not use any. Perhaps something outside Durrës might be better. Like the beaches in the north or something.
Food availability: Along the freeway there are some petrol stations that may be checked here and there. Once off the freeway and into a settlement area, there are some shops, pastry bakeries, and restaurants.