This is a travel experiment. From 16 September until 2 October 2009 I have been cycling from Ljubljana (Slovenia) to Skopje (Macedonia) through Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo. On the road, I have taken a picture every 123 minutes to document the changing of times, landscapes and moods. Welcome to 123 Balkan.
16:39 – End of trip. 16 days, 1600 kilometres, countless mountains. Skopje is not beautiful, but has a fantastic market and great food. The weather comes full circle. The first and the last day were wet.
14:51 – Just after crossing into Macedonia, I get lost. It is one of the most rewarding detours ever. Rubble roads, always downhill, no traffic until I hit the outskirts of Skopje.
12:48 – Last lunch on the road.
10:45 – Cultural allegiances change every few kilometres here. So instead of trying out my Albanian or Serbo-Croatian, I retreat to safer English, German and signs.
Not 18:21, but 17:53. Sorry.
14:15 – Kosovo is flat. I could easily have avoided this mountain range, but by now I had been addicted to cycling uphill.
12:12 – People in Prizren are very fashionable. I felt extremely underdressed, possibly as much as the KFOR soldiers, who keep their watch in the region with as much understatement as possible.
10:09 – True shaving. Very refreshing.
17:45 – Gjakove (Kosovo)
13:39 – A Hoxha bunker and a mountain. During the communist rule of Enver Hoxha, 750,000 of these one-man concrete bunkers across a country of 3 million inhabitants were built as look-outs and gun emplacements.
11:36 – Upside down. This is, how calm the water is before the ferry stirs it.
09:33 – The Koman ferry must be one of the most beautiful boat routes in the world. More than two hours of non-stop awe and absolutely grinning bliss. The route takes you through rough alpine mountains along villages that can only be reached by boat.
21:15 – Actually, I had finished by 21:15 and was too relaxed to take another picture.
19:12 – (More like 18:40)
11:00 – Bicycles are often more reliable than public transport.
08:57 – We never found out, what the red drink was, but it tasted very sweet.
20:39 – When we asked, what food was on offer, we were told: meat, rice, salad an cheese. We ordered the lot. I especially liked the cheese side dish.
18:36 – No picture. This turtle, most likely called Cassiopeia, must have confused my timing. I also encounterd a dead snake, a belgian and two dutch cyclists during these 123 minutes.
16:33 – Entering Albania
14:30 – No picture. At the time, I was enjoying a wonderful espresso break and my camera was somewhere else. This picture is a substitute, taken at 15:33. The mountains reach into Albania. Some of their flanks are fully covered in sage. The smell is overwhelming!
10:24 – Lake Skadar in the distance. The lake is one of Europe’s most important breeding areas for birds. Being out of season, I counted a total of 2 birds while cycling along the south bank of the lake.
08:21 – Celebrating the birthday of a friend elsewhere.
18:00 – To be honest, it was more like 18:45.
15:57 – Sveti Stefan, the once glamorous hotel island is currently being renovated.
11:51 – Leaving Kotor
09:48 – The first tourists arrive.
07:45 – Kotor wakes up late. So I had the castle, the views and the old town all to myself this morning.
19:27, 21:30, 23:33 – Celebrating Kotor with spontaneous friends.
17:24 – View from Lovcen over the bay of Kotor.
15:21 – Lovcen national park, the pride of Montenegro.
13:18 – Lunch (for Lena).
09:12 – Central Podgorica, capital of Montenegro.
18:51 – I used the cooking kit only twice during the trip. There is great food in the Balkans, even in small villages.
16:48 – Ostrog monastery.
12:42 – No picture. In Niksic I met heavy traffic while also being unable to find much needed spare parts. I wasn’t in a good mood. Fortunately, that was about to change within 123 minutes.
08:36 – Piling wood for the approaching winter.
20:18 – Excellent timing. 15 minutes later and it would have been another picture of an empty plate. 15 Minutes earlier, you would have seen a bowl of tasty fish soup.
17:15 – Timing confused, but trust me, the view at 17:15 was more beautiful than my undocumented hotel room at 18:15.
16:12 – Entering Montenegro
10:03 – Entering Sutjesko national park. Crossing this fantastic stretch of scenery by bicycle takes less than 123 minutes.