I’ve finished my trip. I spend a couple of more days at Rob’s apartment in Sarandë, being a tourist by day and an alcohol drinking nudist in the evening. On my first full day we take a walk up to the ruins of Lëkurësi Castle, which sits high on a hill above town. Looking inland I can see the hills I cycled over yesterday, and the route I took along the dry valley floor to reach Sarandë. If I look out to sea in the opposite direction, the Mediterranean is flat and calm below me. Both sea and sky are the same colour of hazy light blue, looking almost like they are joined together. From here I can also see the dark, hilly outline of Corfu Island’s North coast. This will be my destination for a direct flight back to Glasgow.
Two days later I get on the Sarandë to Corfu ferry with about five minutes to spare, due to me misunderstanding the difference between sailing times and boarding times. It’s a one hour crossing and the thing that hits me most is how green Corfu looks compared to the dry Albanian mainland. My first stop on the island is Corfu Town for some Euros, and then it’s an easy 10km cycle to the fairly posh Hotel Pontikonisi. This accommodation clings to a seafront cliff, with reception on street level and the five floors below descending to a private beach. The location is superb, with brilliant views of the Ionian Sea and over the tiny Mouse Island, which looks almost square-shaped from my vantage point. I go downstairs and have a refreshing swim in the sea, before lazily falling asleep on the shore.
My other reason for choosing this hotel was that it’s very close to the airport, which will only leave me a short cycle tomorrow. In fact, it’s so close that the airport’s flight path runs over the sea directly in front of the hotel. As we’re on a high cliff, the planes are flying just above our height when they pass. I’d seen a few guest reviews warning about loud aircraft, but I didn’t really care. It is noisy, but it’s such a cool spectacle. Later I go for a walk and find a concrete causeway in the sea, only wide enough for pedestrians or bikes, which sits right underneath the flight path. Locals are used to the sight, but there’s a constant gaggle of about twenty tourists all lined up with smartphones and cameras to capture the moment a plane zooms in overhead. It seems silly not to join in the fun for half an hour.
The following morning’s breakfast is an all you can eat buffet, where I gorge myself on my favourite Greek food of stuffed vine leaves. I take a short cut to the airport by cycling over the plane spotters causeway, then begin my pre-flight ritual of wrapping my bike in bin-bags. I had toyed with the idea of just abandoning it, because buying a new bike would cost almost the same as transporting and repairing the current one. In fairness though, the old thing has done me proud, so I decide to stick with it.
The airport is chaos. I have to carry two heavy pannier bags while shuffling my packaged bike through a teeming mass of waiting passengers. I’m sent to the far end of departures to have my bike scanned in a machine that doesn’t work, before I have to manhandle it all the way back round to the same Oversize Goods door where I started from. I’m starting to get a little stressed by this point, and having serious second thoughts about bringing the bike back with me. I do cheer up somewhat once the groundstaff accept my bike and I pass through security. Then I realise I’m sitting in a departure lounge that’s dominated by Brits flying home after package holidays. I try to amuse myself by guessing which people might be British before I hear any giveaway accents. Mind you, it’s hardly a challenge when I’m surrounded by an army of chavvy, tattooed families with kids called Shanniqua-Rose or Blaze. My God, this is depressing.
A four hour flight transports me from a sunny thirty degrees in Corfu to a slightly less sunny sixteen degrees in Glasgow. However, I’m not really too bothered as I know the temperature difference could have been an awful lot worse. I retrieve my bike and set about unwrapping it, all set for a short cycle back to my sister’s place. Unfortunately the spindle used to reattach my front wheel has been bent during the flight. It’s so twisted that I can’t even remove it from the wheel, and thus my bike is now unrideable. Well played Thomas Cook Airlines. Grudgingly, I fork out for a cab as I still need to get the bike back to my sister’s. Returning with this bike has caused me nothing but stress, hassle and expense. I knew I should have left it behind ! And, with that uncharitable thought, the journey is over.
One of the best things about going on these trips is that you really appreciate seeing family and friends when you get back. This time is no exception, and it’s great to see everyone again. But then, all of a sudden, two months seem to have passed like they didn’t even happen. Winter is just about to descend and I’m not looking forward to a painful cascade of cold weather, Brexit news, Black Friday and the hideous three month run up to Christmas. I’m missing my cycle trip ! It gave me a goal and such a sense of purpose, even though I was probably more free than I’ve been in years. Now the trip has ended I feel rudderless and at a bit of a loss. I need to get back out there while I still have the opportunity, because I know I’ll regret it later if I don’t. Plus, I’ll probably be too decrepit to cycle big distances in a few years time. So, at the end of November I’m going to head back out to Albania and pick up from where I left off. It looks like this return to Scotland wasn’t the end of my trip. It was just an intermission. Let’s see what happens after the break !