27th Sep 2010 - 31st Oct 2010
The Former Yugoslavia
Here we are in Namur in Belgium; our first night on a trip to the former Yugoslavia. The only thing booked was this night in a Formule 1 and the Sea France ferry. The map has scarcely been looked at except for getting to this spot. I am on my BMW F650GS and Clive on his 1800cc Goldwing.
I think that I have not been to the former Yugoslavia since Sept 1977. Clive says that he has not been ( except for Slovenia)since he came through on his way to Dubai in 1975. 33 years/35 years! What changes will we see? Well we know that it has been split into several countries after civil war in the region .Apart from that not a lot.....that’s why we are going!!
Cold for the time of the year and drizzly, we walk out in the dark to have a meal in the local “friterie” and finally to have a look at the map and discover each others plans for the trip...We do agree that the next two days should be spent on motorway getting swiftly nearer to the area we are interested in. So far so good. To Landeck in Austria then...
Clive has come touring on his goldwing. It is very good at motorways but has nowhere to put a map, nor can it carry much more than your clothes. So fine for Europe if you don't camp (when you would need that trailer, or Nina on her own bike with all the kit. )
Bit damp, definitely cold, 10c, but could have been more rainy! Managed 350miles.How did we do more on the world trip?
Motorways are boring but I do like the Belgium and German more relaxed attitude to the verges. Both seem happier than Britain to let the weeds grow and flower and for the vegetation in the middle,and on the verge, to look more natural...some would say untidy. It is more interesting/prettier to me. Luxembourg was all very spick and span to the point of sterility as is Austria . Ourselves and France are somewhere in between. In this cost saving time it must save money to not cut, strim and tidy so often.
Clive cannot carry the milk carton so easily as he has integrated panniers and smart liners which would get ruined if milk spilt. But he did nobly manage today.
Weather improved a bit and we have seen the sun!! Hurrah. Stop by lunchtime at Landeck in order to call in at Hotel Enzian which becomes a bmw motorrad hotel for the summer months ( skiers hotel in the winter). Read about it so thought we should look in. Its full tonight with a car rally.
We stayed in an hotel across the way and admired all the Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porsches, Aston Martins etc. They made a noise in the morning!
Off we went to play on passes. Clive wants to do the Stelvia Pass which is in Italy and entails doing various loops to get there. Weather was okay but looked more ominous in the afternoon as we neared Bormio which is at the bottom of the Stelvio. Forecast was for showers that evening and cloud /rain for morning. Rain meant snow higher up. Oh well, not much we can do but hope its alright. Temperature was to be freezing at 1800m...the Stelvio is 2755m. Snow line was at about 1800m. Read that Stelvio is the 2nd highest pass in the Alps.
Bormio, old Italian town with cobbled narrow streets and really very pretty. We were seeing it in less than good light. Firstly it was early closing day( Thurs)! Secondly it was drizzling and thirdly it was the wrong time of the year. Lots of hotels shut but we did okay and had a good pizza.
Off we went, about 9.30am, up and up 39 hairpin bends. All was fine. It was snowing very gently but road was salted I guess. A few cross country skiers enjoying the first snows of the winter. Plenty other hardy bikers all enjoying the zero temperatures. Down the other side with even more hairpin bends heading for Cortina. Funny to be on a motorcycle going through ski resorts and looking at ski runs that I have done round the Sella Ronda.At one point we went along a lovely Italian valley where they were growing apples. All kinds of apples being intensively grown; some were a really dark purple colour. Harvesting was in progress and there were lots of little orchard tractors trundling along the rather busy main road.
Think we have done alpine passes now and need some warmer days. On towards Slovenia.
Forcola di Livigno
Colle di Villa
Night in Cortina before bobbing in and out of Italy and Austria , until we finally reach Slovenia and Kranjska Gora.
Never having travelled here at this time of the year..early Oct.. I have been surprised how many tourists there are around. The Alps, and here, are full of hikers, cyclists, runners, and motorcyclists. What must it be like in early September? We would have preferred to have come then because it would have been warmer but all these people...is this their ideal time to come?
We head towards Postojna, where Clive has been before on a tour in 2000. It has caves, biggest in Slovenia, and castle. We cruise along lovely roads in pretty valleys, doing yet another pass in our stride. The river beside us was so clean and clear and then turned the most wonderful turquoise colour. People were canoeing on it. Bet it was cold however!! Slovenians very helpful and friendly and seem to speak wonderful English so no problems there.
I can’t believe these Slovenians...its less than 17c outside and none of them are turning on their central heating systems, even for a short time in the evening. We have been in torrential rain to day and have wet things to dry, its cold in the bedroom and no hope of things drying. We look longingly at the nice radiators and fiddle with the controls but nothing happens! Saving money! Of course, the polite Brits that we are , we have not moaned or asked. ( Another day we did ask and were told that it got switched on when the outside temp reached 5c!)
Today began well with visit to a castle near Postojna. It was built under a rocky overhang and included caves within its make up. As we set off to the next sight, a major cave, it started to rain seriously. I map read us the wrong way , so we took a little longer to reach the cave; by then we had gone through some serious downpours. Once we had arrived it stopped and things improved! Unesco site cave. The river coming through the cave system had flooded 2 weeks ago, raising the height within the cave by 30 meters. This has not happened for a while. River was higher than normal as it rushed through its gorge within the cave system( the part that we saw).Good fun. Got some rooms nearby which was good . Another couple here, writers; who, skinny as they are, seem oblivious to the cold!! Unexciting pair.
It is raining! The skinny writers are late for breakfast. They are helping to translate poems ( from Slovenian ?), I don’t think we have much in common!
Lots of dressing up before we are off, heading south. We have one or two heavy showers and then things improve but the day remains very grey with outbreaks of drizzle, no sun. It has been 95% grey for over a week now. Warmer though ,especially as we get to the coast and head down it as far as Senj. It is my wish to go inland, Clive wants to cling to the coast. I want to see where I went as a teenager with my father. That was down through the middle.
We find ourselves in a rather bleak valley in Croatia where many houses are abandoned and have bullet holes in them. Bus stops have been abandoned and the countryside is neglected. It’s all a bit eerie. We get on well down the empty road. What went on here?
Day ends at Knin. Here Clive reiterates his keenness to stay with the coast. He also seems worried by the thought of going say to Sarajevo. He doesn’t fancy Kosovo but is happy to go to Albania. He is fed up with bends. Its that Goldwing that is upsetting his sense of adventure...he went through the middle in the 70’s too and yet his sense of adventure has gone. I am left with the dismal thought of going inland alone. I have not come here after all these years not to see some of it again.
The sun is shining! I am determined to go inland and try and imagine /see some of where I travelled 33 years ago. Clive finally chooses to come of which I am very glad.
Unfortunately the weather goes downhill as we go up, and much of the day is spent in wet low cloud as we go from 500m to 1000m several times on our way to Sarajevo. Reminiscing, I could picture one spot where our exhaust fell off the car all those years ago, and we cooled the section off in the river. Then it was a dirt road, now its tarmac. Pretty, loads of hard wood trees in various shades. Several small hamlets of abandoned and ruined houses. This from the recent war. We are now in Bosnia. Mosques dot the landscape; the only other competition coming from orthodox churches.
We make it to Sarajevo and encouraging Clive to keep going for the centre we make a lucky turn down a side street and find the old town. Landed just where we wanted and soon found an hotel opposite Lion bridge where Austrian arch duke was assassinated so starting WW1.
Wandered round the streets of the old town whilst Clive went off to a place that could mend his Blackberry phone. The little toggle ball was failing…a common fault apparently…but could be fixed. It was fixed, which was good for otherwise Clive would have been very unhappy not being able to play with his phone and get emails and texts etc…!! Note…it did not last long so Clive thinks the guy put in another second hand one
Off we go to Mostar with a booking at a sister hotel. Mostar was a must see according to the Sarajevians. It is the place where the bridge was bombed in the recent war, cutting the town in two. Nice ride there down beside the river in a fairly gorge like valley. Croatia and Bosnia are very pretty with lovely hard woods and wooded mountain sides etc. Mountains rise up to a good 1000m so there are plenty of ups and downs.
Mostar has a pretty old town. It was badly damaged in the war especially round the Sari Most…old bridge. It is an Ottoman town, founded in the days of the Ottoman empire ( it seems that was the beginning of Bosnia?) and our hotel is an ancient monument as in oldest ,best preserved ottoman house.
All the nicknacks in the old town for sale look Turkish…you could easily think you were in Turkey;several mosques with their minnerets on the sky line emphasise that. Not what you might have expected. The war has also wrought major destruction on many of the old big buildings in the town. They stand ruined without roofs but with their 4 walls and trees now growing out of parts of them. Presumably all set fire to as they are all without roofs. Fifteen years on….
The big story about the town being cut in two because of the loss of the old bridge we find a bit over the top, because there are at least another two bridges over the river within the town. The river runs deep and very fast in a gorge…quite dramatic. We watched a guy jump in from the bridge for the tourists…he had gathered up money for watching first!! Must have been cold!!
We found a local place to eat last night after quite a bit of hunting. We just did not want the tourist ones.
Our hotel was amazing really. Not hugely expensive, not overdone but a national monument as a perfect Ottoman house still being lived in by the original family's descendants. ..9th generation. We were all shown round after breakfast. We had stayed in the part used for business.
Off to the coast and Dubrovnik. I have never been to Dubrovnik before. Very grand old city. Lovely buildings and setting. Now far too many tourists seemingly all eating all the time in the small cafe restaurants stuffed in every tiny street and alleyway.
The coastal route is very different to inland. Tourism changes things. Scenically it is lovely but so are the inland mountains and towns. Clive says he is glad he has seen Mostar. ..it has been a very interesting eye opener. The war is creating its own kind of tourism. As you enter old Dubrovnik there is a board depicting which houses were burnt, bombed, shot at and bullet /bomb holes in the streets. They have done an amazing job of restoration. ...in the places where it matters most. ( Now having read a bit about Dubrovnic I am aware that it has been restored before and been through many a war!)
Biking wise the day has been sunny but strong cold wind. Temp reached 22c.
We don’t go far! Sun shines, wind is cold but sun strong enough to sit outside in and be warm.Visit Kotor, another old town centre but in a beautiful setting on the edge of the most southerly “fiord” deep into Montenegro. We have missed out Serbia and will not reach Macedonia because we are heading into Albania tomorrow. If you don’t hear from us again you know where we are!!
We spent the night in Budva on the coast of Montenegro. Not a place that would exactly spring to mind I am sure. It usually has 80% Russian tourists apparently. Nevertheless it had a perfect old town…a medium sized version of Dubrovnic with huge walls and all the shops eating places etc. Nice beach, lovely bay….
We left in sun and rode inland and then to Albania after skirting Podkorica. Road became very bumpy and narrow and we were full of trepidation. Absolutely no problems and very friendly border guard. Off we went down a very bumpy but tarmac main road. Wider road under construction beside us. Very bumpy till the first big town, Shkoder. Driving very much third world in old Mercedes…masses of them. Also really quite a few/lot of English number plated vehicles. Some quite new…are they all stolen? Also other European countries’ cars. Road improved after Shkoder and we then had a conversation with a biker on a NL reg bike who turned out to be Australian. Very lonely, perhaps, as he wanted to talk for ever. He pointed out that all the petrol stations were probably for money laundering purposes as there was one every 3 or 4 miles!! Messy, untidy, dirty looking country with obviously poor ( donkeys, horses and carts and hand tilling) and nouveau rich in smart/stolen cars and smoke windscreens etc with new houses etc etc. How does this reconcile with communism? I find it difficult. People nice and friendly and many spoke English, or tried. We went and sat in the middle of Tirane having a tea and coffee in what is their Hyde park. Thence to the ferry from Durres (to Bari). Road was fine where tourists go but apparently all secondary roads bad/rough.
Its raining in Bari, Italy and only 11c. I really thought this far south would be better. We went for 5 hours in the rain and cold. Missed out a peninsular( because of the weather) we were going to go round and headed for Rome .Had quite a few coffee stops to dry out a bit. Clothing failure for Clive was his “waterproof overtrousers” so he got wet leathers. For me it was my “waterproof overjacket” but I had lots of layers on so it did not get all the way through. My boots are leaking..just a bit. They will have to be reconditioned by Altburg. Thought we would do some autostrada but it was costing 1 euro per 10 miles on a motorbike so took to other roads. Rain did stop and we looked at ( from outside) the Abrusa di Montecassino…famous for soldiers holding out and a monestry , on top of a hill.
Clive gave his leathers to the hotel people to dry, but we think that they just hung them over a chair which we could have done. They were still damp in the morning. We had a curious apartment for the night with a bath but the water was not more than hand hot.
The sun shone today so in the end all wet things got dry. Had good day on a kind of mid road between sea and motorway. Many towns with old centres with magnificent walls…places one has not heard of. Ended the day in San Gimignano. Magnificent sky line on top of a hill with 8 solid square towers looking like a modern sky line of sky scrappers. These were built hundreds of years ago…two churches or more and two monasteries and more, all with ancient murals etc. Am I meant to have heard of this place? I have come away from Croatia etc knowing I must read a book about the recent war there and now I seem to lack here. Much to read. Should have had a Lonely planet guide of Italy…they are really good and would have filled us in.
Italian driving is fast and spontaneous, and Clive out in front had many moments of being “cut up”. Police seem active but speeding is endemic.We had to go with the flow!! Lovely moments when Clive, who is sort of leading with his Zumo GPS, was lead on shortcuts by the gadget. Tiny roads for short spells , one leading us through commercial Kiwi fruit farm on one side and hazel nut bushes on the other. Wished I had had the camera…..
We have been avoiding motorways and taking life more slowly. This morning decided to go up the leaning tower of Pisa. I have driven past it so many times, been near it a couple of times but never stopped to sight see proper. So hung around for the next “tour” and went up to the top. Lovely bells , lovely view. Perfect time of year, not too hot and fewer tourists ( still plenty).
Not needing to rush we continued to avoid motorway and because its not summer time got along quite well on the main road along the coast. Climbed a pass round La Spetsia and then found ourselves in Sestri Levante . Always by passed this place on the motorway. Very pretty and like the other night they don’t see many British .
Made our way via motorway in lovely weather to Juan les Pins to visit Toby and Rachel Campbell Gray. Very nice for all of us. Next day, headed onward to visit Gina and Greg and my little grandson Elyos who is now 9 months old. They have had a summer in a caravan on the edge of St Tropez. Difficult, as the now mobile Elyos likes to put all sorts of things in his mouth, and the sandy ground outside the caravan is full of worrying things!!
We learn that there is a fuel depot strike ( shortage of fuel ) and so top up our bikes ready for tomorrow along with other panic buyers with loads of jerry cans in the back of their cars. Our range is not that great however!!
Set off in sunshine and ended in snow! Did motorway for a bit and then Clive wanted to go over the Central Massif. We had been warned it was cold there but I suppose neither of us really thought we would find it snowing there mid October. We had this pass to do , up to 1150m before St Etienne and the rain became sleet at about 800m and was settling on the road. It became quite seriously snowy and we were riding along very slowly holding up the traffic. Thank goodness for the traffic for it kept some wheel tracks in touch with the tarmac!! Just before the top there had been a bad car accident(didn’t help my confidence!) and the police were standing there looking at us all. My eyes made contact briefly with one of them and he had a double take when he saw I was female! We crept onwards and slowly down. A snow plough overtook me which was a huge help. Bikes did not slip luckily so all was well and we found a lovely hotel in Montbard les bains. There the lady told us that the weather was not normal…normal would be a temperature of 11c, not 2c.
We wake up to a thin layer of snow…we are at 380m!! Very happily it disappears/melts and the day which began rather dismally with grey, cold, 4c, and snow, gradually improved as we went north into sunshine and 11c.
The fuel crisis is going on but though we have been topping up just in case ( and finding a few queues and shortages) it has not been difficult. So far okay and we need only one fill up to make it to Calais.
We have been wearing a great deal of clothing. We had not expected such cold weather but nevertheless were ready for anything. We had a waterproof layer, heated layer, jacket and warm layers. Felt very trussed up! Come to the conclusion that this time of the year is too late in Europe.
Arrived back in Norfolk about 7pm. Foul ride in England with lashing rain, strong wind, jammed M25 and cold. Dark by the time we neared Fakenham and found the main road shut so had to detour off into the countryside to finally get home.
The future plans are ambitious......London to Beijing on the bikes via "the Stans". Anyone want to come?