Balkan-Istanbul, exploring the gems of south-eastern Europe
True to the motto "Ride what you have" we went on a trip through the Balkans on two Sportsbikes. We - that's Andi and myself, Severin. We've known each other for a few years through school and ride together very often. He wasn't available on the trip through Russia and Scandinavia last year, but this time he wanted to join in. Sure thing!
Andi rides a Triumph Daytona 675. He just got it a year earlier in September. Before that, he had a few other street bikes. We've done quite a few smaller rides together in the past years so we are more or less on the same level. He wasn't quite sure if moto travelling (more than a few days in the Alps) really is "his thing". But he decided to come along since I was so enthusiastic about it. I am glad to have him tag along. :clap
Our rough itienary should be from Switzerland to Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, Albania and and back to Italy and Switzerland. And all that in three weeks. The exact route will unfold while we are en route.
A video with some impressions of the ride. Sit back and enjoy.
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Here are a few pictures from the ride to make you subscribe. :wink:
The only picture I have of us together. Andi on the left, my humble self on the right.
Planning a trip is something I enjoy, it's a bit of the trip before it actually happens. Sometimes I plan trips just for the heck of it. If I were to be laid off work tomorrow and had some time and money I'd have quite a few already planned trips I could pull out of a drawer. This trip partly came out of said drawer.
Initially, my plan for this year was to go back to Russia to explore the northern region around Murmansk some more. Maybe even on the DRZ400. But during winter plans of going on a trip with Andi resurfaced. He rides a Daytona 675 and a KTM 300 EXC. So we decided maybe the Daytona is more capable for a three weeks ride than a two stroke KTM. The only thing left was the destination. I knew for sure it had to be someplace with some kind of an adventure appeal to it. Everybody can ride the Alps. :D Andi luckily let me do all the route planning and I picked the Balkans as a destination, Istanbul being the turning point of our little trip.
Since I was rather disappointed by my luggage from the last ride, I invested in a Great Basin saddle bag. That plus a small dry bag for the camping gear and I'm set.
My SV650 has a bit over 70'000km (~45000 miles) now before the trip starts. I had some problems with a cable frying and killing the ignition during the summer, but I got it sorted out before the trip. New tyres (Pirelli Angel), brake pads and chain and we're good to go!
On the first day we planned to ride as far as we could - away from regions we can reach on weekend rides. This is a map of the route covered in this installment:
(you may want to zoom out a bit)
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Having planned this route, I have quite a few expectations and image of how the trip will be. I formed many images in my head, some more and some less detailed. This anticipation is great - because no matter how much you plan and prepare it will be different. So that way you get two trips for the price of one. :deal
A short stop on the Gotthard - I mean you can't just ride THROUGH the Alps when you can ride OVER them.
On the south side we are greeted with more rain. Hello rain pants!
Somehow, we often see gas station clerks with expensive bikes and cars. But then again, have you seen the gas prices?
I wouldn't mind riding that thing.
Speaking of highway robbery... Almost 2€ for the liter on the italian Autostrada. That's about 10$ for the gallon. :huh
After the Alps, there is a long stretch of flat land ahead, it's a long way across the Po Valley from Mailand to Slovenia. But the Italians are also a bit less anal about speeds. So I test out the capabilities of the now unrestricted 72HP the SV has. 200km/h with luggage is not too bad. :clap
We have a cruising speed of about 140-150km/h and make breakes every hour. With this strategy, we're not really that fast apparently. Every time we get back on the Autostrada, we have to pass many cars and buses we've already passed. After a few times of overtaking the same guys again and again, we start to honk at each other and wave. :lol3 Fun!
The heat takes its first toll - goodbye straps.
Almost 900km later the Autostrada drops us off shortly before the Slovenian border and we decide we can't leave Italy without having eaten here.
A short digestion ride later and we cross the slovenian border - the last bordercrossing without passport control for a while.
After setting up our camp we enjoy a cold beer and the lure of what lies ahead of us. It is absolutely windless and only a few crickets chirp in the distance.
Our stealth camping spot turns out to be a very nice place the next morning.
We left a part of our dinner outside - constricted in a plastic bag. These critters were not impressed a bit. We'd probably have to learn a lot for camping in bear country.
In beginning rain we finish packing our stuff and head out onto the twisty road. The asphalt is unpredictable and in a right turn I feel my front wheel going loose but I manage to stay upright. Andi has less luck and I see him sliding into the ditch in my mirrors. Damn. I turn around after the next corner and find him standing upright again. He's fine and the bike only has some minor scratches and a broken indicator. The sidebags, already weakened by the missing strap need some fixing. He want's to continue riding and I snap a picture of the scene. He doesn't know of this picture and I'm sorry if you see it here, Andi.
Riding towards the croatian border.
Slovenian coffee stop.
Shortly before the croatian border we exchange for some Kunas and buy some fruits - I love those convenient roadside fruit stands.
Welcome to Croatia - we have all the dark clouds you could possibly wish for!
Great start.. Looking forward to the rest!!!
good stuff, keep it comin! :clap
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Crossing the border to Croatia was easy-peasy - a short passport check and off we go. Unfortunately, we end up on a newly built stretch of highway and have to pay some toll. Toll! (german for great)
In Rijeka we get onto the coastal road. There is quite some traffic heading south, with many motorcycles from throughout Europe. We decide to grab something do eat when the clouds seen in the pic above form on the horizon.
We end up in a Pizzeria where I order a Pizza with anchovy. Now, living in a landlocked country I'm not to keen on fish - but anchovies are great. What I didn't expect was that they put almost a whole fish on my pizza. With eyes and some bones, too. Shudder. After a quarter of the pizza I'm done. Sorry.
The rain isn't going to stop so we just ride anyway. The coast road is beautiful and we have the road almost to ourselves. After about 150km in the rain, we stop at a roadside café to have a drink. There we meet three austrian guys enjoying their vacation in underwear, drinking and joking around with the waitress. :rofl
View from the camping place in Starigrad.
After a stormy night of little sleep I awake with eyes full of sand. Our dutch neighbours invite us for a coffee before we make our way to the back country.
After a while we take a small gravel road for a few minutes to have a break there.
Looks like a fun road! Would be great to ride a dual sport here.
A fun way to get your bread.
The road leads us through beautiful wide valleys, sometimes with lakes or rivers beneath. There is quite some lorry traffic and some of them honk and wave at us.
The contrast to the coastal regions is immense. Not a lot of tourist money ends up here. A common sight: half-finished building, sometimes abandoned, sometimes with people living in the finished parts.
It's time for us to head to the next country: Bosnia and Herzegovina.
We definitely arrived in eastern Europe - many drivers are way too fast (so are we :evil) and motorcycle riders wear helmets only if they are safety fanatics.
Bosnia and Herzegovina mainly consists of two political entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska. While the former is mainly inhabitated by Bosniaks, the Republika Sprpska is dominated by bosnian Serbs. This led to ethnic tension and, among other reasons, to the Bosnian War after the dissolution of Yugoslavia. While the Serbs wanted to stay a part of Yugoslavia and be close to Serbia, the Bosniaks thrived for independency.
The Bosnian War may be over, but there are still many relicts of the war. Many bombed houses remind you of the war that has ended in 1995 - mere 17 years ago. The country still has a high density of land mines, so it's wise to stay on marked roads.
Land mine contamination in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Traces of the war are also still in the heads of some people. In the Bosnia and Herzegovina part, the city names in cyrillic is painted over, while some signs on the Serb side have the latin ones painted over.
The countryside is beautiful, with a lot of rocky hills.
I am only navigating with a big map of Southeastern Europe. So we take a wrong turn and end up on a gravel road. Although we know we might not be on the right road, we decide to follow it for a while.
After a few kilometers we decide to turn around and get back on the main road. A great fast gravel road it was. :clap
Adventure is Attitude. The bike just takes you to a place where you can eat an anchovy pizza. Wonderful ride. Have seen the Alps many times from the cockpit and the Lugano area is pretty from the ground also. Thanks for taking the time to share.
Fantastic adventure report and pics!! Thanks for sharing your terrific ride with us :thumb
What is your total kilometers traveled on this ride?
Great to see another Swiss ADVer! Loved your Scandinavia RR, will definitely follow this one as well.
Thanks for another great RR !
And croatian rain is well known,a few years ago i was lying 24 hrs. in my tent during heavy rain.
Alone not really funny.:waysad
Great ride on great bikes. Is that a 2003 SV by any chance?
Looks identical to my one that I just sold to get a Tiger, a proper so called adventure bike. Just more proof that its not what you ride but where you ride it :thumbup:
Brought a tear to my eye that we didnt have as far flung an adventure as you guys before we parted
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We ride on through these beautiful but very dry hills and reach Mostar just as the sun begins to set. We descend from a hill on a nice twisty road. It was a lot of fun but I should've stopped for a picture, the view over the city in diminishing light was great. Mostar lies in a basin which gives it a special climate. While it has the countries highes precipitation it also has the most sunshine hours of whole Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Entering Mostar, I just follow some signs pointing me towards the city center. There is an unofficial looking Tourist information kiosk at the roadside on an intersection. The guy there stops us and asks if we were looking for an accomodation. We do, but this guy seems rather dodgy and so I wasn't sure if he is to trust. He calls someone and shortly after another guy appears that has an apartment he rents out to tourists. He seems like a good guy with honest intentions and after exchanging talking to him for a bit we decide he's trustworthy. After some bargaining we agree on the price of about 30€. I think it's a reasonable price for an apartment for two, three minutes from Stari Most.
View over the Neretva and Mostar from Stari Most bridge.
We follow 'the guy' in his car and after parking the bikes in his garage get into our apartment. It's simple but nice. While I take a shower a Muezzin begins to sing. It feels strange hearing it for real - I've never heard it 'live' before. The excitement is big and after the refreshing shower we soon hit the street.
Mostar is astoningly beautiful after dark. Many lights illuminate and highlight the bridge. This is the Stari Most, unfortunately best known for being destroyed at the beginning of the Bosnian War in 1993. It was rebuilt and reopened in 2004 with stones recovered from the original bridge. Now it is back as THE landmark of Mostar, connecting the christian and muslim side of the city. On one side of the river bank there are church towers ringing their bells while on the other side a Muezzin sings from his tower.
The narrow alleys of Mostar feature many interesting gems. We are attracted by loud Balkan Techno (not that we like it that much) and end up at a disco in a cave. Looks very cool.
It features both modern lasers with a very good and loud soundsystem and medieval decoration here and there. Would have loved to enjoy a party here - but we are way early, the party only really starts long after midnight.
Very early, I think around 5:30 AM we are woken up by the singing Muezzin. It's not as cool as yesterday to hear him, I really don't like being woken up so early. :becca
The signs of the war are probably most prevalent here (after Sarajevo I guess). Only few old houses still exist and many of them have bullet holes and even missing walls and ceilings.
The old town is laid out like a labyrinth (although rather small) and it's easy to lose yourself at the various stands that sell interesting stuff.
I'm not sure what I should think about the war memorabilia they sell though. Ranging from the first world war to the bosnian war a lot of stuff can be bought. In one store we find an original "Kauft nicht bei Juden!" (Don't buy from Jews) poster. Notice the toy tank made out of bullet on the right.
But in the end I'm only another tourist. I buy one of those Mostar shirts (the yellow one, but in red) because I really like Bosnia and Mostar so far.
Cat's dominating 'the hood'. They are half domesticated half wild. Only few let you come close to be petted.
Oh, so I'm not allowed to bring my gun into a bank? Well, damn! (probably not as staggering for americans as for europeans :lol3)
We leave the town shortly before noon or at least try to do leave it. It is rather difficult to find proper signs that point me in a direction. A bit outside of Mostar I stop at a cop standing at the roadside and ask him which way to go. He is very helpful, although we don't really have a shared language. He's also very excited, welcomes us to Bosnia multiple times (WELCOME is one of the few english words he speaks) and wants to shake our hands. :clap When we ride off, I see him high-fiving a friend he had talked to before. :freaky
We take a nice pass road over the surrounding hills towards Gacko (pronounced gats-ko, not gako). We must have taken a wrong turn somewhere because we don't reach the town I had been looking for. The road gets worse and worse and suddenly around a corner the road is blocked. Blocked buy a couple of guys parking in the middle of the road, standing outside their cars and talking and laughing intensively. There is no traffic except for us, so what's the problem? :D They point us to the right direction (where we come from) and off we go!
We've been seeing many of those ruins and wanted to check one out. Well, they're more or less like you'd expect them to be - full of broken beer bottles, stones and a bit smelly. A lot like the WW2 bunkers that are scattered around Switzerland. :evil
Since we left the coast and headed into the much drier back country we've seen a few forest fires. This was the third in Bosnia, I think. As we will be told later by a local, they are left alone as long as they don't endanger people. It's simply too expensive trying to extuingish every forest fire.
I probably won't have to tell you that there is a lot of trash at the roadside. Sometimes after a few years of lying there some things become roadside attractions for the inquiring tourist.
Maybe he want's to change vehicle?
This sign is often seen along the road so I take a picture of it to translate it at home. It just tells you to not light a fire and throw your trash away.
I leave you now to guess what this could be. See you in the next installment. :deal
Sure it's more about the rider, but if the rider isn't comfortable on the bike he should switch it. To be honest, that was probably the last 'big' trip on the SV. It's great, but also it pretty much confines me to riding on paved roads.
Hi, thanks for sharing. Your pics are nice and the trip looks interesting !
Sutjeska monument (Tjentište).
For the picture.
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