Finally the trip has started and we are right now in a rainy and gray Czech Republic but lets start from the beginning. Per, my uncle came by with the car we going to use for this road trip, a Citroen C1. Maybe not the biggest car but it will be perfect for us two and already when we boarded the ferry in Trelleborg he showed off. Per tried to accelerate on the wet ferry tarmac and we didn’t move an inch and after a few seconds we started to feel the smell of burned rubber. A big laugh later we were parked and on our way to find our cabin.
The ferry between Trelleborg and Rostock is not a fun ferry but to move from A to B its perfect, the ferry leaves at 23.00 and arrives around 6 in the morning so even if its a boring ferry its ok to just grab a beer and then go to sleep and then you wake up, you are in Germany.
In Rosttock we headed for the autobahn. We were not really interested to see anything special and the gray, foggy weather with clouds really close to the ground made us even more confidents that we just wanna go south as fast as possible. Somewhere outside Leipzig we decided to leave the autobahn for according to the map a pretty big road but as I soon have learned is that you cant trust maps. The road was more like a tarmac trail and it went up, down, left right all over , at some places we could only use the second gear on the car because the road was to steep. The landscape was really beautiful though and in Plasy we found an “small” monestry, it needs some renovation but it was impressive now and I can only imaging how impressive it was before it started to get abonded. Right now we are in Plzeň and even if its still rainig we need to try some of the famous Czech beers nd maybe see at least some parts of the city.
After an calm night in Plzen we hit the road again and towards what we should be calling the actual start of this trip, Ljubljana in Slovenia. To find our way out of Plezen was a breeze and rather soon we were on small, kind a picturesque roads through the lovely nature in Czech Republic and Austria. The roads were actually in really good condition and Austria showed us its best side with newly added asphalt on the roads, almost no traffic and a nice shining sun that you could spot between the alp tops. It also added some excitements then it was time to climb over the alps, our poor Citroën had to work hard (first gear only) to climb the Loibl pass but it was totally worth it, so beautiful and if you are in the area, you must do this pass!
120 miles later and we have now arrived in Ljubljana, Per has just interview Robin who is an local which we will spend the night at (Thank you couchsurfing). Unfortunately we arrived a bit late for examining the city but lets do that tomorrow instead and now Robin had given us some advices for what to see and what to skip.
Today we are in Serbia, well not really its more like wanna be Serbia while we are in Bosnia Herzegovina, the city Banja Luka and the area called Republika Srpska. This is Bosnia but beside the custom who gave us a very long and concerned look until he found a stash of beers in the trunk (that made him smile) we haven’t seen any bonsiaks, Bosnian flags or anything that could give an hint that you are in BIH. There are however plenty of flags here, Republika Srpska which is very similar to the Serbian flag, all signs are written in Cyrillic and yea, this is Serbia light.
We also saw the first trace from the war today. Some houses who were bombed and some with facades covered in in bullet holes but maybe that one who caught me the most was probably all the abandoned houses from the ethnic cleaning, now it feels like we are doing the real deal.
Before we left Slovenia we heard some warnings about flooding. We heard the rumors before and a warning is always nice but it was kind a more than we expected. In sweden we had a nice, hot and dry summer while on the Balkan, they wasnt that lucky. Corn fields laid under water, hay was floating around in what looks like lakes and the roads where protected by sandbags. We had no problems driving through and the roads may be narrow but they are in better condition the the swedish ones. The highway do cost money but as long as they keep this standard I have no problem to pay some extra.
The city Banja Luka is quite small but cosy. Filled with outdoor seatings, bars and cafe’s. Vi also found their stadium and by 1 part luck and two parts cleverness we succeeded to get inside and take a look, unfortunately no match today.
Today we arrived in Serbia, the real Serbia. The trip here went surprisingly easy and the roads are in really good condition however Im not jelous of the people who tried to get into Croatia from Serbia. I guess the border control into EU is a bit tougher than getting out of EU. Once we were closing in to Serbia we had a minor discussion, I guess its a generation question, google maps VS old school map. After our discussion we decided to give google maps a try and now looking back at it worked awesome. To get to Serbia we choose the “fast route”, that means drive back to Croatia from Banja Luka and then just head east through Croatia and into Serbia to get to Belgrade. If we had drove this way to Banja Luka it would be much faster but in other hand, we would have missed a lot of the countryside of Croatia.
Once inside Belgrade google maps showed us the way to hotel Moscow and even if its way over our budget we just had to stay at this classic hotel in the middle of the city. The evening was spent walking around in the city and you can really feel that its an bigger city than those we visited earlier on this trip. But even so we found some traces from the war even here, a huge hole in the former military headquarter (Thank you NATO) and you should be kind a careful what you order for dinner, in some way we succeed to order food for the whole hotel and even if its cheap it feels bad to throw away really good food.
I also have to kill one myth, the roads so far while we been driving in Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia is way better than you can expect, actually way better than what I am used to and the worst roads so far has been the smaller roads in Germany, I guess that will change once we get to Albania.
Tomorrow we head for Pristine in Kosovo, it kind a sucks to doing a balkan express tour like this because I feel i’m not done with Belgrade yet but with limited vacation you have to what you have to do, one thing is sure, I will come back to Belgrade.
Serbia is a funny country, on our way out of Belgrade we decided to visit the mausoleum of Tito. This beloved father of the country Yugoslavia which is beloved and praised (at least in Serbia) has a mausoleum and you could guess that it would be signs so you could find it, wrong! We found the address on internet and google maps and after we checked both the ordinary map and and configured the GPS we started to drive. We knew that we were supposed to drive past the Red Star stadium and yes we did. We might be be warned here but even around this big stadium it was no signs what so ever about where to park or anything but we found a parking spot and walked over and took some photos of the stadium.
Back into the car and driving using the GPS and when the GPS we arrived, we were in the middle of residential area, not quite right. Well I thought the GPS freaked out which is not uncommon in big cities where the connection to satellites are blocked but nah, we found a park close by but no mausoleum. We drove around a bit using the ordinary map instead and realized that we actually were on the right address but where the mausoleum is located….we have no idea. Serbia, have you heard about signs?!? Anyway, we gave up and tried to figure out how to find our way out of Belgrade instead. Once again we configured the GPS and this time it took us to a half built resident area, probably the fastest/easiest road out from city once the road is finished and now we were really lost. Luckily for us we met a nice serb who first tried to describe how we should drive to find the highway but after a few minutes he realized that not even him understood how to drive so he took the lead and guided us out.
From that point we drove using both GPS and the old school map and once we got to Nis where we knew that we should turn the GPS said follow road 34, the old school map said follow road 25 and the road signs, they said 14. It kind a felt like Servia does everything to make it impossible to relax. The roads however were in good shape and the border control from Serbia to Kosovo wasn’t any problem at all, almost I got disappointed how easy it was to leave Serbia to a country they don’t recognize as a country.
In Pristina were we are right now the feeling is pretty much the opposite from the rest of the countries we visited. The whole city is breathing change and they are building everywhere. Our hotel is as many other hotels newly built and our neighbor next door is the KFOR base and some embassies. I guess you could say we chose the little nicer area in this city but so far I would dare to say that the feeling I get is everywhere in the city, not just here.
The day started with an early breakfast at the hotel before we walked towards the ministry of interior and the department of Culture, sport and youth. Per had an arranged an interview and myself tagged along pretty much to see what the ministry looked like. It was actually really interesting and I learned some new things but it was obvious that we talked to an politician. All answers was thought-through, impossible to misunderstand and he pointed out both one and two times that everybody had the same value no matter of skin color, race, religion and of course that Kosovo has forgiven Serbia for the cruelties that happened during the war. Well the graffiti on the walls over the city say something different but overall I think he have right and Pristine is not looking in the past, instead its bursting of optimism and a go-ahead spritit I havent noticed in any other country.
In other words it was a really nice start of the day and that we had our first really warm day didn’t it make it worse. We spent a lot of time on the small coffee shops and since they “when in rome, do like the romans do” Ive been drinking a shitload of espressos and smoked way to many cigarettes. I read somewhere that in Kosovo you can buy anything and by some reason I don’t doubt it, if you go for regular wares it really cheap or what about 2 beers, 2 coffees and one bottle of water for €2.50.
Something completely different, Kosovo is the first country i visited where while I sit on the toilet my feets are dingle in the air, what kind of giant are these kosovo-albans?
Yesterday we met Durim at the local hotel bar. Took a beer, talked about the past, now and the future and we picture Durim told us wasn’t exactly the same picture as the politician said early during the day and he told us about tensions between Kosovo and Serbia. After a few beers the question raised if we should move on to next stop and since Pristina skybar is closed because of maintains we went to Germia park. Germia park is really close to the city center but still pretty big for a park, we rented some mountain bikes and started to bike uphill (which was not so fun) to a restaurant. Once we were on top of the hill it was totally worth it though, so quite, calm and not a single car could be heard. The food was really awesome too and as a fun finish you had to bike down the hill to get home. Beside this park it feels like Pristina is a huge construction site and I got feeling of the “wild west” during the gold rush.
Today we aimed for a new country, Macedonia. This is one of the shorter stages on this trip and is only around 80km between Pristina and Skopje, however it took some time to get there anyway because the roads in Kosovo was jammed with trucks, I lost count of the number of concrete trucks we passed. The border was no problem at all and for the first time on this trip we really got the “eastern Europe-feeling”. The city may have been destroyed in an earthquake during 1960´s but its not an excuse. Its grey, its concrete, its boring and to make the city fun they placed statues, everywhere! It doesn’t work, it just feels weird with statues who often reminds about the Ottoman empire everywhere but the good part is that the food is good, the women are beautiful and its so cheap here, almost impossible to spend your money. With that in mind, I can agree to live in a concrete city filled with statues.
No pictures today, the wifi here t the hotel is not the fastest one.
Pretty nervous we entered the car and started our journey towards Albania. We are not afraid of Albania but everybody has scared us about the traffic, the road conditions and how hard it is to drive there. It couldn’t be more wrong an and the roads where in mint condition. On our way towards Albania we stopped in a national park, besides bullet holes in the road signs it kind a ironic that this park was the most contaminated place on the whole trip, plastic bags and garbage everywhere. To bad cause the nature was really beautiful with some mountains and green forests and it is kind a cool to look down at the clouds.
We also stopped in the small city of Ohrid, located close to the border and right beside a big like it gave more vibes of an greek village close to the Mediterranean than anything else. But now its an small Macedonian village and after some food and walk around the city center it feels like they live on tourism and selling pearls. I’m not the kind of guy wearing pearls so no shopping for me and instead we headed up the mountains to cross the border.
Just outside Tirana the newly built highway ended up in just an ordinary tiny road and from two files (which means four cars driving beside each other) we all had to go over and drive in a line, it was a mess and because the pope were in town a lot of streets were closed which made it even worse. I saw the drops of sweat on Pers head before we finally found a hotel where we could park our car and finally exhale and relax over that we didn’t hit anything or anyone. Our trip may be a bit stressed but that we should arrive in Tirana at the same day as the pope, without knowing it. What are the odds for that? A quick shower later and while we are walking down the streets in central Tirana we suddenly see a crowd of people, curious as we are we walked over and guess what. The people were waiting on the pope and a few minutes later he drove by in his pope-mobile and I can check see the pope from my bucket list.
We finished the evening yesterday over an beer at the hotel, our discussions went from communism-socialism-capitalism and religion to which is the best the beer and how to get to Durres. Durres is a city which almost built together with Tirana and you could say that its here most of the people go during the summer to get a swim in the ocean or just relax on the beach. It was really easy to get here but the day started with a shopping spree in Tirana.
The number of clean clothes are getting close to zero so why not use the opportunity that we are in the cheapest country in Europe? However god seems to be pissed that the pope left the city and rain and thunderstorm was a fact. Well I need new underwear whatever weather it is so I bought myself an umbrella and of I went. After an hour it stopped raining and I bought myself some souvenirs and Per bought himself a toaster, yepp its correct, a toaster. It was cheap, pretty nice and I guess Per needed a toaster, besides the salesmen verified that it worked before the sale so I guess it must be a good choice. We found some clothes and it is cheap, the problem though is that most of the clothes are really ugly, I got some underwear at least and I bought myself a pair of new shoes, Van´s for like €10 which is cheap, however I don’t think anyone believes that they are the real deal.
After the shopping we left for Durres, 28 degrees in the air, 20 in the water and a big shining sun made us really excited over to just check in at the closest hotel and jump into the ocean. We found a decent hotel with a nice balcony with ocean view and somewhere around 30m to the ocean, price? around €25/night for a twin room. Well the weather is nice and the ocean is lovely so I will leave you for some beach time.
After an minimal breakfast and some thinking if I should jump into the ocean once more before we leave we left Albania and headed for Podgorica in Montenegro. All talk about bad roads and crazy traffic is just nonsense. The road were in perfect condition, so good that sometimes we drove three or four cars beside each other on the one file road or used the pavement or the ditch to overcome that slow car in front of you. It took some time to get used to it but as long as you keep en eye open whats happening around the car and clearly show your next move its not that hard to drive here, just drive it like you stole it! I am though a bit disappointed that I didn’t see that many bunkers from the Hoxha era but well, I got some pictures and hopefully I they got good!
On our way to Podgorica we stopped at a bird sanctuary, our hope was to catch some pelicans or if we were really lucky a black stork but for being a bird sanctuary where 50% of europes birds has been seen we found zero and nothing except a bird watching tower and a couple of signs was to be seen.
We gave up and continued to Podgorica instead and I confess, I had no real expectations on this city. I kind a didn’t know anything about the city but once we arrived we was greeted by a kind a small, very green cozy city with parks, some rivers through the town and the sun was shining so everything looked really nice. After an interview with an editor of the local news station we ended up at the orthodox church’s restaurant, Ive eaten better food but at least the money we paid went for something good. Besides, even if Montenegro aint a member of EU they use Euro as their currency and speak really good english, pretty darn awesome!
With sorrow in my heart we left Podgorica after enjoying an awesome breakfast, on the terrace, in the sun, listening to the sound from the river. I’ll guess sometimes its totally worth to stay at nice hotels and this hotel, it was one of the nicer. After an short interview with PR-manager or something like that from Montenegro’s football association and even if I wasn’t interested at all I could ask a question or give a statement or two we hit the road towards the border to Bosnia and Sarajevo.
According to the maps its only 23 miles from Podgorica to Sarajevo and while we drove through Montenegro we were stunned how beautiful it was up in the mountains but once we crossed the border to Bosnia the road changed drastic. It was still very beautiful but they were narrow, winding, high edges on the tarmac and on the sides, it was far far down to the bottom and of course no crash barriers at all. We even saw a couple of places where the tarmac had been washed off by all the rain. Kind a spooky and those 23 miles took way much longer than we thought it would and “finally” we found those bad roads everybody has been talking about.
In Sarajevo the next shock came, we got stuck in rush hour and it took like one hour to get from the outer suburbs to city center, then our GPS told us to turn right but to the right there was no street..well there was but it was so tiny that it must be for pedestrians and bicycle only. We drive around and search but find nothing so after a while we were once again back at the intersection where the GPS told us to turn right. Scratching our heads and not understanding anything I jump out of the car to see what kind of street it is and guess what, it is an street for cars and the GPS showed us the correct way all the time, bummer! However I’m happy that we drove a tiny Citroën because it was tight, very tight. I doubt that if we had a normal Volvo or BMW we could have used those streets in the old city of Sarajevo. Today however its not any nice hotel, instead its more of a hostel with 2 rooms, and the owner live upstairs so in other words are we living just like the balkan is, sometimes luxury and fine, sometimes a little bit more simple.
Yesterday evening we started on the museum about the Srebrenica massacre and that was that evening, what a party pooper. Why do I never learn that genocide is never fun?!?
So today we continued our war tourism and to be effective we walked downed to the tourist information to get a map over the city and it ended up that we hired a guide/driver instead. Well almost the same thing and even if I’m kind a skeptical towards this kind of guides, Jasmin which was our guide was really good and didn’t try to sell us a lot of crap. Instead he really showed us where he grewup during the war, gave us hes point of view how it fell, why it happen and whats the situation is right now. He also showed us the famous tourist spots like the jewish cemetery, OS-village, the bob sledge track, snipers alley. We visited ruins where the “serb” snipers were located and shoot into the city. I put serbs in quites mark because it wasn’t serbs who bombed the shit out of Sarajevo even if the whole western world think so. I also met an very old man with an very polite goat in the former olympic village. Even if we didn’t spoke the same language we spoke the universal language of cigarettes and after a while Jasmin came and could help us translate and here we got our first warning; watch your steps because there is still mines all over the forest. Both me and Per chilled with our exploration after that and we have still both our legs left.
Into the city again and visit the only little life line who existed during the siege, the tunnel under the airport. Its a really interesting museum and clearly shows what people can do when they have to. The tunnel was 800m long, was digged by hand under the airport which UN-troops kept and made it possible to import food, weapons and other necessaries during the whole siege. The tour ended into the hills again with a cup of great, strong bosniak coffee and a view over Sarajevos older part, wonderful.
We also had time to visit the older parts of Sarajevo, well actually we live in the older parts so we don’t have much choice. Its really cool to see how how the city started in the east and the more west you go the more modern the city gets. You can really see the difference between the time periods and Sarajevo is not an city who belong to the west or east, its a total mix of everything. Now its time to head out in the Sarajevo night, we have a date with Amira who hopefully will tell us more about how it is to live in a city like this.
Time for another day in the car and now we left the narrow streets of Sarajevo and went to Mostar and finally Split in Croatia. Mostar which a lot of people has spoken them selfs warm about Mostar but myself, I think it was one if the biggest tourist trap in the world. People were trying to sell souvenirs to you everywhere and you had to fight your way through the crowd of people to be able to the see the famous bridge (which is fake since the blew up the original one during the war). Once you see the bridge you get wow…yea..its a bridge, Ive seen it before. Anyway, we where there, we saw it and we went to a restaurant and order a kebab, which looked like ordinary beef stew, tasted like ordinary beef stew and the price…like a really really nice steak. From here we left to Split and after a short while we came up on newly built highway so new that they wasn’t exactly finished with the exits, gas stations or road toll booths.
On the highway everything went on in high speed and what a difference it is between Croatia along the coast and Croatia inland, its like two completly different countries and here along the cost you dont see any bombed house, ruins or rusty old yugo cars. Here everything is newly built, modern and fresh. Not much left of our trip and in one kind of way it already feels like its over. Croatia doesnt feel like the rest of the balkan, to be honest this could be like any other western european country.
On our way north it really felt like we left the Balkan peninsula. We drove along the coastline and its just like I said before completely different from how it look inland. The road is perfect, if you had a MC, it goes along the coast with a beautiful scenery, a bit winding and up and down over the hills. Not the same feeling with a car, especially not our car but it works fine and if you think of how many miles we been driving the car is really awesome, even if not has started to squeak every time we turn right. I really recommend the road from Split to Rijeka along the coast if you have plenty of time, I think our average speed was around 50km/h and one bike after another passed but who cares when you have the Adriatic sea to the left and high mountains to the right.
Our only goal for the day was to visit the national park Paklenica in a last attempt to see some wild animals. However its normally a good idea to do some research before except looking at the map and say, there is an nationalpark, lets go there and see some animals, we failed! Instead of founding animals we found Croatia and one of europes biggest climbing spots, in other words not a single bird, goat or any other animal but a mountain filled with people trying to climb it in all sorts of way. We may have seen a dolphin in the sea but more likely it was just an ordinary buoy. Even if the park wasn’t really what we looked for we took a small walk and I understand why people go here. While walking a small creek uphill you had plenty of different routes to take if you wanted to climb, from easy to diamond and it looked really neat!
We drove on an once the sun were about to set we decided to stop for the night. My idea that Croatia could be any western country were for sure found a big concrete building to hotel that couldn’t be more “eastern Europe”. This is true Tito spirit and I guess this is the exception that prove the rule, even here in Croatia we can find traces from the old Yugoslavian era. Its not really cheap either but compared to that newly built 5-star hotel next door, this one is cheaper!
Like by a coincidence Per thought it was my turn to drive once the border to Austria were getting close and just after we changed driver the asphalt was replaced with something that looked like swiss cheese with all the holes and the road went more an more narrow while the altitude increased for every meter I drove. I suspect that Per knew exactly what he was doing when he suggested to change driver but I have now proof. Using low gears and high rev we finally succeded to climb the Plöckenpass and very warm, smelly brakes later we were down on the other side, inside Austria and 40 miles in 7 hours, that say something about our average speed on this road. Its however quite fun that the road we expected to find and everybody warned us about where found here, in Austria.
Driving through Austria was an easy cake and now we are in southern Germany, in a small city called Rosenheim. We decided to take a stop here and once we found a little hotel for the night we found out that they are celebrating 150 years as a city, and they a Inca exhibition. Things could be worse for sure and german beer is always german beer, sweet!
After we walked around the city it was time to get back to the hotel and after spending two weeks on the Balkan that shouldn’t be any problem. I mean we are used to find our way even if we cant read the signs or understand the language but in the german city, we were lost. After a lot of walking, scratching our head and many laughs later we finally found the road we drove on to get into the city. Using this we could backtrack our steps and finally found the hotel, I do really need to learn to remember the business card from where I stay since this is not the first time I cant take a taxi since I cant remember the hotel name/address.
A beautiful morning was spent at the Inca exhibition (now I really need to make my plans of visiting south America real). After the exhibition we needed to go shopping since Per had promised to buy some sort of colorful bath salt. I think it helps if you know what you are looking for but after visited every pharmacy in the city we finally found it and decided to go to the local brewery instead. Of course it was off limits but a small white lie later and we were inside and could both see the brewery from the inside and buy some local beer to a very attractive price.
Our plan was to drive on small roads, avoiding the autobahn towards Berlin however after spent 1.5 hours to get 2 miles we kind a gave up and just went up on autobahn instead. Somewhere around here we also started to talk about skipping Berlin and just head for the night ferry back home to Sweden. The target was switched and we aimed for Rostock with plenty of time to go, well at least until we got to Potsdam. Here it literally stopped because of an traffic incident and while we were waiting, the clock ticked.
With 20 minutes to go we did roll on the ferry together with a lot of polish, Czechs and Romanians. A neat rip of 85 miles was finished during one day (our longest during this trip) and our trip is now officially over. Tomorrow I will get back to Stockholm and try to summarize the whole trip in some sort of way.