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Old 09-27-2010, 11:08 AM   #5
Asianrider OP
Gnarly Adventurer
 
Joined: Apr 2010
Oddometer: 116
The Balkans

Gosh, time to catch up with the thread, I have to make do with the crappy Iranian connection.

So off I went direction the Balkans, where I had some hopes to find interesting roads and friendly people. I did in fact find both. It started with along leg across southern France and northern Italy (18 euros for a night in a camping, you know why I didn't stay). I quickly crossed Slovenia, giving the motorway a miss to avoid the mandatory vignette, and a quick stop at a biker's place in Croatia, to catch up with him. But Croatia is too touristy for me, so I headed inland for Bosnia, where I could stay at a another friend's place.



The problem with Bosnia is the heavy police presence, with many speed traps and speed limits that are difficult to follow (hmm.. where did the town end, is it still limited to 40 km/h?). Otherwise, the people are very friendly, and eager to go out and buy you a beer - or more. I didn't do any offroading though, mosty because the weather was yucky, but also because there are still landmines left in some places.

I left Bosnia for Montenegro by a small border post to avoid the coastal road and Dubrovnik - again, too crowded. I ended up above the Kotor fjord, with the storm looming over it. This fjord has a very small road running around it that is very enjoyable.



This area is pretty touristy, though, and so a bit expensive (note that Montenegro is using the Euro, so that's convenient but doesn't make it cheaper).

After a night in a campground and a quick visit of Kotor, I took the very scenic roads above Kotor, beautiful scenery with nice hairpins.



I was then heading toward the mountainous inland, on small but very nice roads. The scenery is alpine, beautiful and people are very welcoming, even offering me the village's main hall for sleeping and parking the bike. Highly recommended. Sorry, no offroading either.



Time to move to the "piece de resistance", Albania. I meant to go to Kosovo, but the border post I had picked was in fact closed. After a very nice night at a farmer's in an alpine meadow, I chose a hidden border post that is not sign posted, so I had to ask the locals for the "granitsa". I think I woke up the border guard in his siesta, as I was probably the only "customer" for the day. The border formalities were quick and easy, and the tar just vanished once I stepped into Albania. In fact, they were grading the road on the Albanian side, so no car could get through, and I just barely managed.



This thing is, on the Montenegro side, the roads are pretty good, it could be Austria or Switzerland. But once you cross the border, you end up in a high valley (Vermosh) where little or nothing had been done to make the roads usable by a vehicle - as opposed to horse carts. The people are very hospitable - although communication is difficult, some Italian may help.

The descent to the coast was very tricky, the roads are really steep with big rocks all over the place. I crossed a group of Polish ATVs who should have had much fun, but on a big, heavy bike this was much work. Witness the first fall off of the trip, all right.



But I wasn't content with it, so I went back straight up to Tethi valley. Again, the mountains are pretty steep, and they made almost no engineering effort to make it passable for vehicles, so it makes for a very bumpy ride - but beautiful nevertheless.



At Thethi, I decided to keep going and do the full loop -looking back I think it was too much work, if I had to redo it I would trace my way back on the same road. I took me the best part of the day in mostly 1st gear, sometimes 2nd, to make it through without breaking the bike or the baggage.



Back on the coast, there is a "normal" road, mostly tarred (lots of road building), but also a lot of traffic and many radar-wielding cops. I just followed the locals and slowed down where they did.

There was one very enjoyable stretch of gravel, though, leading to Barja Curri. Not very long, but nicely graded so lots of fun. A bit later, my stomach started to complain about the local food, and I had to stop to get it out - and I'm not making this up - just a few kilometers before this village:


On the last day, I took a very small and winding road (called "scenic" on my map) which led me to Ohrid lake and the border with Macedonia. When I say "winding", that's in a very annoying way: they just put tar on the existing horse cart tracks and made no effort to straighten it up even slightly. So it's got very sharp bend with uneven tar, usually blind so you don't know if you will face a truck, a drunk driver or a bunch of goats getting out. Not very enjoyable unfortunately.

But the Albanians are really nice people, although not really into biking at all, except for a few antiques.



Macedonia: I won't say much about it, I crossed it pretty quickly. More of the former Yugoslavia kind of organization, roads, language, food and beer.

In summary, the Balkans are a very nice place to go on a motorbike. The "adv" from ADVrider isn't quite there, but there is nice roads and scenery, friendly people, little border and police hassle and quite cheap beer (1 euro) and petrol (1.1 euros) so highly recommended.

Next post: Turkey. Yeah, I crossed Greece in 1 day, not so friendly and too expensive. I was done with Europe.

PS: the photos are geotagged in the picasa albums, and the route I followed is there.
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