2,5 months passed since we left Wageningen, we crossed the Balkan region and we are now already in Greece! Time to settle at a new farm and share our first thoughts on cycling through the Balkan region.
Croatia in our opinion felt like a cross-over country. It had traits from Western European countries but with a Medetirenean flair. There were no cycling paths in the country and we had to get used to all the cars and trucks passing. While cycling through Croatia we encountered a great amount of biodiversity. The country is truly gifted with a wide diversity of landscapes from flat plains to mountains and rocky landscapes. While the northern part of Croatia was more suitable for agriculture we have not seen as much agriculture as we were hoping to find. Most of the cultivated lands consisted of mainly monoculture landscapes (maize, wheat and barely). We were cycling in June/July and the temperatures in the country were around 30 to 35 degrees. Cycling in the heat was intense but still doable as we changed our schedule to cycling in the early morning from 05:00 am to around 12:00 pm and then sometimes also in the evening until sunset.
When it comes to sustainable farming we had a hard time finding farms that were operating commercially. We got to meet Kruno who was practising and teaching about permaculture and have visited him to hear more about and learn about sustainable agriculture in Croatia. He told us that there is a small network of sustainable agricultural practitioners but that the country still needed to make a major leap in order for sustainable farming to be more attractive on a larger scale.
We cycled approximately 160 km along the coastline of Montenegro in the direction of Albania. Cycling through Montenegro has been absolutely terrifying and stunning at the same time. To avoid the enormous hills we decided to cycle along the coastline. The absence of cycling roads has forced us to take the car roads once again. We, however, were more confident since we have also been doing this in Croatia. Little did we know… that the car roads in Montenegro are equivalent to highway roads that are extremely narrow. Cars, buses and trucks would speed by with almost no space left to cycle. Trying to keep our balance while dealing with an increased heartbeat we made it through 2,5 days of cycling in Montenegro.
Albania was a great surprise to us. Albania has been closed off from the rest of the world for decades but now ±30 years after the fall of the most radical communist regime, the country is experiencing economic growth. Wich was visible through the massive amount of construction work and modern cafes and restaurants all around the capital city. The rural areas were less developed but the transition towards a free market has helped a lot. When we visited Tirana the Albanians were celebrating the start of the negotiations to enter the EU. To them, this marked the beginning of a new era of growth and possibilities for further development of the country. Being part of the EU would mean more linkages with external markets.
We could feel the energy and eagerness of the people to connect again with the neighbouring countries and to be part of the global economy.
We have spent almost a week in Tirana, to do some video editing work. Watermelon has kept us alive in the 40 degrees. Just below the place we stayed, we found a mensa/ canteen, where we fall in love with the food. We would describe it as Middle Eastern cuisine with an Italian twist. We both loved it and went there almost every day for lunch.
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Lukas & Aisha