Welcome to the Balkans. (For our route see Maps.) As soon as we entered Slovenia there were no bike routes or bike paths anymore. Also the other cycle tourists were all gone. The hills and forests started, the weather got much better but the roads got worse. People are very friendly. Some get enthusiastic when seeing us, others shake their head in disbelief. In Risan (Montenegro) we meet Jelena, Bojan and their three year old son Argosha. They found us on the local playground and invited us to their apartment to have a shower. Which was great because it was our first shower since Graz. We decided to wild camp only, which is really easy because those countries are full of beautiful, abandoned nature. The disadvantage is that you can’t wash yourself properly every day. So be it.
Due to the size of the countries on the Balkan we stay in every country only a few days and have to cross borders regularly. We like to cross borders. Those countries are similar but nevertheless every country feels different as soon as we cross the border. Slovenia is almost a Western country. Clean, good roads, beautiful houses. Croatia is much poorer and there is more trash next to the roads. The traces of the war are still visible in Croatia, especially in the region of Karlovac. Bosnian people are very friendly. They honked a lot at us, turned around to make movies, clapped and invited us for a coffee. But there is a lot of trash next to the road. Same in Montenegro and Albania. There is no recycling system yet, they throw everything somewhere on a mountain and burn it.
The policeman at the borders always look really severe when we arrive. But after they have seen our passports all of them start to smile. I guess because of the way we travel with Ben. Some didn’t know of the existence of a chair in front of the bike and others find the trailer a funny thing.
The maps we have of the Balkan are not too good. We crossed the border of Slovenia and Croatia three times, just for fun, but the last time we didn’t manage to find the small local border we were looking for. We cycled for about two hours up a mountain, quite steep and on a dirt road and found ourselves back on the road we started at. The next day we tried again. After we asked three times we crossed the local border. Completely deserted with no policeman. It was a climb of 7 km with 450 altimeters on a very bad dirt road. We had to walk and push the bikes a few times.
Traces of the Yugoslavian war (1991-1995)
The past is still present in the former Yugoslavian countries. In Croatia (especially in the Karlovac region) there were a lot of houses with shot holes.About three times we saw a sign “Danger! Mines!”. There are a lot of deserted and unfinished houses. We were wondering why and a German guy told us that in the village where he settled down they teased away a Serbian family. We met Zlatan, a very friendly and cheerful Croatian guy who has been fighting in the war at special forces for four years. Jumping out of the airplane and that kind of stuff. Inconceivable for us but great to see that he is still such a lively man. In Mostar shops sell war items such as military helmets and gas masks to tourists. And we met Emile, a Serbian man who returned after twenty years to the family house in Croatia. It has been burned in the war and he is rebuilding it. The location of the house is very beautiful, next to a waterfall, far away from a busy road and with a view over the fields.
I guess quite a lot of you are interested in how Ben is doing. He is doing great. We celebrated his second birthday on 11th of September with popcorn and raisins because we couldn’t find a proper birthday cake. Ben always has been a bad sleeper but since we started this trip he is sleeping 11 hours in a row most of the nights. Maybe it’s the fresh air or the noise of the wind, rain or animals of the night, we don’t know. In the trailer he is reading books and playing with his toys, regularly even telling stories. On the bike he is most of the time singing songs, learning the colors (he already knows about 10 different ones) and counting cars (up to 3). Of course he also gets bitten by mosquitoes sometimes and he doesn’t like this at all and scratches himself, especially during the night. He is very happy to be with the three of us. He very often says “Mama, Papa, Ben” in a way like “We belong together.” This gives us confidence that it is good to be on the road again with him. We feel as an harmonious and happy family.
We are now in Bajram Curri, Albania. We cycled 1435 km in 25 cycling days and had three resting days.
Enjoy the pictures and the videos!