No Place as Hospitable as the Balkans

A day off and it’s a bit of a motivational challenge to get back on the road again. As soon as I leave this small Sea touching slice of Bosnia Herzegovina and head towards the heart of the country, my spirits are higher again; the Husky growling up the hills. I’ve decided to go through the middle of the Balkans. Going through Hutovo Blato National Park I miss a turn and move off the beaten track; only Google Earth confirms that there should be some kind of path ahead.

On the way back to paved roads in BiH

Once back on the road and heading North/East it turns dark, stormy and starts raining quite heavily. In many towns I pass through, the traces of the war are still very visible, even almost 25 years later. The combination of the horrible weather and towns covered in bullet holes dampens the mood and I have to push through past Sarajevo to Olovo. It has stopped raining and I decide to go to Guest House Sadravane in Ravne. It turns out this is a very remote village in the hills; I spend about another hour on rocky roads through the woods to get there. On both sides of the path there are several signs warning of landmines off the paths. It’s incredible how long the after effects of such a war are.

Family Kapetanovic gives me the warmest welcome with Bosnian coffee and sweets. Mirsat, the son, manages the bookings and the parents run the place. The father lights a fire in a little log cabin, in which I will stay, and the mother cooks a nice warm dinner and serves me a great breakfast in the morning. They are so genuinely caring, hospitable and friendly; I’m touched. Wonderful people.

I head off on back roads. Bosnia Herzegovina is beautiful and the Husky and I are one; every shift is perfect and every corner is smooth; simply having a good ride today.

Crossing a bridge in BiH
Short break going through the mountains in BiH

Shortly before the border to Serbia at Uvac, a smaller crossing in the delta BiH/Serbia/Montenegro, Border Police stops me and checks my papers. I move on w/o an issue and pass the BiH/Montenegro border to get to the BiH/Serbia border. I’ve fueled up the Husky with my last Bosnian Konvertible Marks (KM) and have used all my Euros, planning on getting some Serbian Dinars as soon as I cross the border.

At the border, actually a bunch of containers, the gate is open, no cars and only a queue in the opposite direction. I roll past the BiH exit post. Looking in the rear view mirror, I see a man waving; I stop. On the other side of the bridge, the Serbian customs officer shouts and signals that I have to turn around. I turn around and enter the queue back. An officer steps out of the “main container” with a very stern expression, points at me and signals that I shall skip the queue and park the bike in front of the container. No English, no German, no French; the only thing he says repeatedly is “big, big problem!”. I shall be fined. The fact that I don’t have any cash on me only makes things worse; he is clearly very unhappy or an incredibly good actor.

After never ending discussions among the officers, I am asked to step outside of the container; a car with Serbian license plates has stopped; Amor, the friendly Serbian-Swiss, asking if he can help. We agree that they keep my passport while Amor shows me the way to the next ATM to get some cash, 25km away back in Rudo. We go back to Rudo and I learn that it is always necessary to keep a few Euros in your sleeve in the Balkans… Now the Euros I wanted to hand the Slovenian customs officer would have come in handy.

On the way back to the border post, the Husky suddenly stops running and I have to unload some luggage to de-air the gas tanks. Murphy’s law. Once back I wish to pay and move on, but there is still extensive paper work to be done.

I end up paying half the fine (special price) and am while leaving ensured by another customs officer that I got the easy treatment. Fair enough; it was my mistake.

Around Nova Varos, after missing the entry to Guest House Etno Domacinstvo, I am waved in by a man wearing a Serbian Army shirt; the father. Again the same scheme, son manages the bookings and the parents run the place. This time the fathers main duty is, however, to ensure that guests drink enough of his homemade Rakija. And it’s good Rakija.

The only other guests are a very pleasant Swiss couple planning on traveling to Mongolia with a Land Rover Defender. Its nice to exchange experiences and we are treated with a delicious, completely oversized, authentic Serbian meal. In the morning the father gives me a bottle of his Rakija and the mother some bread for the trip. A hug goodbye and I’m off, stunned by how warmhearted these people are.

Arrived at Etno Domacinstvo Guest House in Serbia
Visiting Uvac river Serbia

Not a too long ride today; I had initially planned on making it to Macedonia, but somehow progress is slow today. I take the route north of Kosovo, as it has been recommended to me to drive around Kosovo. Around Prokuplije I start looking around for a Hotel and w/o further research book Joksim Motel in Kursumlija for the night.

Boban the Hotel manager greets me, a very openhearted, friendly guy. He joins me for my after-ride beer and we discuss geography, politics and sports. I get a nice, spotlessly clean room, a gigantic and delicious dinner (although I had ordered a snack), plenty of Slibowitz and he later shows me around town, while delivering some late-night food. It being Orthodox Easter, tomorrow is a day off. Boban asks me if I’d like to join a family get-together with some good Serbian fish up in the hills the next day. It’s his 4 years old sons birthday and his parents, siblings, cousins and the family from his wife’s side are meeting up for some lunch. I am very honored and immediately decide to grasp the opportunity and postpone my departure by a day!

A small Serbian snack for 1 person

The Husky has done over 2’500km now and it’s time to give her some special attention. I wash her down at the neighbors place and do some basic maintenance work in the morning. In the afternoon we head off 70km up the hills in a family convoy for lunch. A memorable experience with a delightful family and excellent food. On the way back we stop at the Uncles ranch to enjoy the sunset, have some coffee and spritzer (CH-DE = Gschprützte). An exceptional day with exceptional company. I am very thankful to Boban for his hospitality; what a great guy.

It’s an early morning start; energized with some Serbian Plazma (a kind of porridge) and strong coffee, I tackle the days journey, planing on going through Kosovo, North Macedonia to Greece. I need to catch up some miles. It’s the Saturday on Easter weekend; no traffic so far and I cruise along. Shortly after a corner, a few km from the border, I overtake a car. 200m further the police flags me down. I have exceeded the speed limit in a 60km/h zone. The pictures are actually quite extraordinary; the man in the car eating a sandwich and the Husky and I darting past the car. Again, no Euros, no Serbian Dinars. People seem to like saying my name around here, one of the police officers repeatedly saying “Rico, Rico, Rico…”. This time I get a police escort back to the ATM in Kursumlija. It seems now the tempo limits are totally irrelevant as we exceed them massively. Again payment and paperwork. Again the fine is half of what it initially was. They wish me a good trip, they move on and I have collected another expensive piece of paper.

Djavolja Varos in Serbia on the way to the Kosovo border

The queue at the border is long; very long. It’s not moving. After 30min of waiting w/o moving a step forward, I discover a side-road on the GPS to a next border and decide to give it a try. It turns out this is not actually a road and more of a mud track, overgrown with bushes and trees. It gets worse and worse and I have the feeling I am getting dangerously close to the Kosovo border. I’ve had my fair share of border issues and decide to turn around.

Side road to become worse

2 hours later I re-enter the queue at the border, covered in mud; now even further back and it’s rainy. What a failure. An elderly gentleman smoking a cigarette walks from further up of the queue towards me and says something in Serbian. I don’t understand. He translates “one person; kein problem” and points towards the front of the queue. I hesitate, as I don’t want to provoke any further border issues, but he convinces me. I jump half the queue and re-enter. He comes again “one person; kein problem” and I jump the rest of the queue. No one cares.

This place is a mess. I pass several containers and move towards the Kosovo border booth. “Hoi Zürcher, s erscht mal im Kosovo?” a customs officer asks while stopping me. He had lived in Zurich for 2 years and speaks impeccable Swiss German; I am impressed. Special insurance is required for Kosovo and must be paid in Euro, the currency used in Kosovo. I had missed the container. I approach a car with Austrian license plates heading towards Serbia and two Kosovo-Austrians immediately ask if they can help. We swap some Swiss Franks for some Euros and they wish me a great trip in their home country. In the meantime the friendly customs officer has prepared everything and I enter Kosovo. It turns out the traffic in the other direction is 10x worse. I’ve made it to Kosovo.

It really is something different here in Kosovo. I target the next Shell station to fuel up the Husky and prevent two guys, that remind me of Laurel & Hardy, from feeding the Husky diesel. I’m confused; do motorcycles run on diesel in Kosovo? They ask where I’m from and we have a short chat. Before leaving, one of the lads runs up to me and hands me a cold can of coke, saying “present for you; enjoy Kosovo”. What a nice gesture; we shake hands and I leave. This young man has made my day.

I go through Kosovo and North Macedonia, close to the Greek border, on the same day. In the evening I end up at Popova Kula Wine Good in Demir Kapija and think back. What a day.

Balcony view on the wine good in Demir Kapija North Macedonia

I have to keep Greece on the bucket list, together with Albania and Montenegro, and take the highway 600km down Greece. The Husky doesn’t like it; not her piece of cake and she’s still muddy; she reacts with some fuel / air pressure issues on the highway. I get it solved and tidy her up in the evening. Now in Lavrio, I get everything prepared for shipping to Israel. It has been more than 3’500km by now, although I have stopped counting the daily mileage.

Road along the Sea at Charakas close to Lavrio Greece

The paper work at the port is surprisingly easy. Some walking, getting some stamps and confirmations and some waiting. At least good four-legged company joins me for the waiting. It’s a strange feeling leaving the Husky back at the port incl. keys, papers and luggage. I hope to see her soon in Israel.

Husky ready for shipping in Lavrio Greece
Some good company while waiting in Lavrio port Greece
RoRo ship Alexo to Israel at Lavrio Port Greece

I have a day off and decide to tidy up myself as well, do some laundry and lean back a bit. Tomorrow I will fly to Tel Aviv and hope to pick up the Husky towards the end of the week in Haifa. It has been quite a ride. Now my unpaid leave is about to start. Now the adventure is about to start.

A day off in Charakas Greece


10 thoughts on “No Place as Hospitable as the Balkans

  1. Great writing and pictures, Nico.
    You must be a real gentleman – not once on the way from Denmark to Cape Town did I have the patience to wait in a queue – always moved to the front, which seems to be acceptable to all.
    Although you have done a great job of seeking out challenging roads in Europe, the real trip is about to start. Something to embrace with open arms, which I know you will do.
    Keep safe, and I will certainly follow you with great anticipation.
    Cheers – Johs/your Danish connection!

    Like

    1. Many thanks Johs! Also very much appreciate the e-mail with additional input on the entry to Egypt; will get back to you asap with a few questions… Great to have a Danish advisor!;) Take care & cheers from Haifa

      Like

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