Ben meets Allah

Our arrival at the big mosque in Edirne has been a special moment. Peter has been touched because after more than 8 years he arrived again at the same place but now with his wife and son. He also felt happy to travel in islamic countries again. After 10 days of living in nature the sounds, colors and smells of islamic culture shocked Petra. We held each other for a short moment and stayed for some time to calm down.
Ben was asleep all the time till we cycled to a small supermarket. We took off his hat and immediately people started to kiss and touch him. There are not a lot of children as blond as he is in Turkey. Suddenly a car stopped in the middle of a turn. The driver kneeled down in front of Ben, kissed him, prayed (we only understood “Allah” which he said almost all the time), kissed him again and jumped back into his car. Certainly Ben was overwhelmed by this warm welcome and the first two days he felt uncomfortable that people touch and kiss him all the time. But by now he is used to it and just ignores them.

Lost in Bulgaria

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Back in Bulgaria we had some tough days of cycling. Our map of Bulgaria was not so good and after crossing the border from Macedonia we only knew that we had to do one pass but it didn’t show us how high it was. We have been surprised by 4 passes and 4443 altimeters in 4 days. After the mountains we had a few days of rain and cold. On the second rainy day we lost each other because Petra stopped to put on her rain jacket. Peter continued but took the wrong road while Petra took the right one. In the expection to overtake Peter soon again she cycled on. After some while she realized that something went wrong. She asked three men at a crossing if a cyclist had passed but they told her that they have seen Peter behind her. Some tears caused that one of the men drove back to look for Peter. He found him 6 km away heading back where he had come from (we have the agreement that if we would loose each other we would cycle back to where we saw each other for the last time and wait there) and told him to turn around. We were relieved to see each other again after one and a half hour of uncertainty.

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After the rain a cold head wind started which lasted till İstanbul.

Generosity

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Islamic countries are well known for their generosity and hospitality amongst cyclists. We experienced this generosity also in the Balkans. In Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Turkey we got something each day, no exaggeration. Apples, pears, nuts, honey, juice, breakfast, bread, cookies, chocolate, candies, grapes, peanuts, tea, an orange safety jacket and so on. Ben is the main reason why we get so much. People love his blond hair, his blue eyes and his cute face. Even now, in a hostel in Istanbul, it became a habit for Ben and Ahmet, the owner of the hostel, to go together to the supermarket and buy chocolate for Ben every day.

Fears
We can’t deny it: our fears have increased
We are parents, responsible for another human being.

We could rent a house, lock the door against beings with wrong meanings
Instead we bought a tent which can be damaged very easily.

We could buy a car, travel safe within a bubble
Instead we cycle, are vulnerable between the trucks.

While traveling others use hotels and campings
We choose to wild camp, create safety ourselves.

We learn to recognize dangerous nature, animals and humans
Everyday again sharpen our senses and travel safe.

Ben is our miracle, we love him a lot
He trusts us completely a beautiful feeling to us.

Whenever he thinks there is danger and gets scared
He would run towards us and we have to pick him up.

We choose to travel like this, it enriches our lifes
Our way to teach Ben what is important to us, enjoying nature, respecting people and life

We can’t deny it: our fears have increased.
We are parents, responsible for another human being.

written by Petra on 21-09-2013

Main gate to Asia: Istanbul
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Cycling into Istanbul is a hell which most cyclist might know. Peter found a website which describes a different and more quiet route. (http://abikejourney.blogspot.com/2010/08/cycling-into-istanbul-on-d020.html) We had no problems at all and didn’t get scared by heavy traffic.

Statistics

We are now in Istanbul, Turkey. We cycled 2683 km in 45 cycling days and 6 resting days.

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Serbian politics

Severe policemen again at the border between Kosovo and Serbia but no smiles this time. “No stamp of Serbia. Problem.” That’s what the policeman of Kosovo told us but his English was too bad, he couldn’t explain why it’s a problem. After half an hour talking English and German with about 5 different policemen of Serbia we turned around and cycled back where we came from.
Serbia refuses to accept the independency of Kosovo. For them this border does not exist and are we already in Serbia, without a stamp. They asked for our ID cards which we don’t have. Later on a friend told us that she uses her passport to enter Kosovo. When she wants to go on to Serbia she showes her ID card, which is allowed. That’s the way to cross this border, or put some money in your passport to bribe the police. We turned around in disbelief. We knew about the troubles between Kosovo and Serbia in the past but didn’t think of that the situation is still so bad. The policeman of Serbia did not say the word “Kosovo” once. They didn’t explain to us what the problem was. All they did was telling us which way we have to take to enter Serbia.
The policemen of Kosovo were much friendlier. We got the feeling that they really felt bad that we could’t enter Serbia. “Shit Ben, going back. Want an apple?” Lucky Ben.
This whole story costed us two days of cyling. No problen we have time. But we want to go South because we feel the autumn coming.

Dobro došli to the Balkans

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.

Crossing borders

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.

Ben

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.

Statistics

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!

Ferry on Koman lake

Ferry on Koman lake

Bad weather

Bad weather

Albania

Albania

Albania

Albania

Albania

Albania

Albania

Albania

Tieri and Michele with their tandem

Tieri and Michele with their tandem

Albania

Albania

Montenegro

Montenegro

Montenegro

Montenegro

Montenegro

Montenegro

Montenegro

Montenegro

Montenegro

Montenegro

Montenegro

Montenegro

Montenegro

Montenegro

Thanks Jelena and Bojan for the shower

Thanks Jelena and Bojan for the shower and the food

Montenegro

Montenegro

Peeing time

Peeing time

Montenegro

Montenegro

Bosnia

Bosnia

Bridge

Bridge?

Soccer while raining

Soccer while it’s raining

Mostar Old Town

Mostar Old Town

Mostar

Mostar

Croatia

Croatia

Croatia

Croatia

Croatia

Croatia

Croatia

Croatia

Petra

Petra

Croatia

Croatia

Breakfast with Emile

Breakfast with Emile

Us

Us

Walking on a quiet road

Walking on a quiet road

Croatia

Croatia

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Croatia

Croatia

Dinner time

Dinner time

Beauty of the nature

Beauty of the nature

Croatia

Croatia

A beautiful river

A beautiful river

Crossing a bridge

Crossing a bridge under construction

Croatia

Croatia

Bordercrossing to Croatia

Bordercrossing to Croatia

Croatia

Croatia

Beautiful old house

Beautiful old house

Croatia

Croatia

Sleeping in the trailer

Sleeping in the trailer

Camping

Camping

Ptuj, Slovenia

Ptuj, Slovenia

Drawing

Drawing

Break

Break