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The Balkans seems to have become a very popular destination for the adventure riding crowd in Europe. And with good reason, it is a great region for riding and the people are most welcoming. We definitely love it there and will be going back in 2014, but first we'll share a report of our visit to some of ex-Yu last year.
"We" are my girlfriend laouen and myself, for this ride still (don't ask) riding a Yamaha FZ6 and a Tenere. The original plan to spend our 2,5 weeks of summer holiday was to ride form our flat in the centre of Belgium across the Alps to Slovenia. At least that's what we thought of doing until I noticed a post on the HUBB advertising the HUBB meeting in Montenegro, which would fall smack in the middle of our holidays. Montenegro isn't that much of a detour from Slovenia, is it?
Day 1+2 - Leuven (BE) to Kissing (DE) to Zell am Ziller (A)
We start off in Belgium on June 19th early in the morning as we have a long day ahead of us. We'll be doing mostly long boring German motorways today so there's not much interesting to say. 800km of mind numbing mile munching through the summer heat from Leuven in central Belgium to Kissing, near München in Germany. We hardly take any pictures and none are really interesting.
We're staying with a Belgian friend that moved to Germany a couple years back to marry a German bloke. We haven't seen them since their wedding 1 year ago, so it is great to meet again. It turns into a very pleasant and late evening.
That inevitably leads to a late morning. It is 11AM when we are ready to get going again, but that's ok, we're taking it easy. There should be some more interesting roads ahead of us getting out of Germany and into Austria. In any case, the views are better than yesterday.
We grab a sandwich at a gas station after filling up and look for a cool spot in the shade to have our pick nick. After that the road takes us past the Walchensee where we choose a small pass across a low ridge. The road is tight and twisty and pretty deserted. That might have something to do with the toll that has to be paid. After that we ride along the Deutsche Alpenstrasse into Austria's Zillertal where we find a camp site. We only managed 220km today. but we had fun. And the best parts are still to come, this is all just a prelude.
Camping quickly gets you into a "natural" rhythm, crawling into the tent at sunset and rising with the sun in the morning. We're back on the road before 9AM. The plan for today is to ride the Grossglockner Hochalpstrasse and then cut across via Lienz to Villach and into Slovenia.
Weather has been very hot the past 2 days, but today starts of rather drab and gloomy, even quite chilly. The thermal shock causes me to start taking really crappy pictures while we're riding up the Gerlos pass.
On the descent towards Zell am See the weather changes drastically and we are quickly back to the heat of the past days. We duck into a shop for some provisions and then it's straight to the Grossglockner. The toll is pretty steep, so we better enjoy the ride. After about 20km we spot a nice place to have our lunch. At least the money pays for great views.
It's another 30km down to the valley floor. The price by mile isn't cheap but you get the views and 47 hair pin bends thrown in for good measure. After Lienz, Villach and then it is only a short burst to the Slovenian border.
This may be a good time to introduce the bikes we are riding. Laouen is riding a Yamaha FZ6 with just under 88000km on the clock when this picture was taken. Some wide handlebars, hand guards, a soft luggage rack and a set of Magadan bags turns it into a true FZ6 Adventure. I'm on the XT66Z Tenere, a bit bland in comparison.
The landscape this side of the border is at least as impressive. Only 15 minutes into the country all I can think is "Slovenia, douze points". We stop to soak up the view and have a coke.
We continue our ride over the Vrsic pass, which is an amazing ride. Many of the 50 hair pins are paved in cobblestones and the view of the mountains is simply gorgeous.
And we are not alone to enjoy it.
We took our time to enjoy the landscape on all of our stops today, so it is already getting close to 5:30. Time to start looking for a spot to put up our tent. The first camp site we come across looks pretty nice. Small, cosy and on the banks of a mountain stream. Well take it!
The FZ6 decides to have an anniversary there and then.
We get up early again, but we take our time breaking camp and have a nice chill breakfast at the camp site bar. By 9:20 were ready to get going again.
There's some sightseeing on the menu today. We're passing through Tolmin and it would be a shame not to miss out on the gorge. We follow the Soca valley to Bovec and then it's on to Tolmin where we start looking for signs to point us to this natural wonder. Except we don't find any, or at least not any that that we understand.
Fortunately the friendly lady at the gas station where we fill up informs us we need to look for "korita" and explains us how to get there. It is only about 5km out of town, along a small snaking road.
When we get there it's pretty quiet, the park site is almost deserted. It is getting pretty warm already, so we leave our stuff with the bikes and start walking.
For 4 EUR per person you get access, a little map and the advice to walk the route in the reverse direction with this weather. Meaning starting off with the long slow and warm descent while temps are still agreeable. Once we hit the riverbed it should be a lot cooler there.
It's pretty deep.
So deep some stuff falling down doesn't even make it all the way down.
The river water is as clear as any fancy expensive swimming pool's. A tad colder maybe.
The entire walk supposedly takes about 1 hour, but we take a lot of pictures and try to soak it all up. A nice Slovenian girl offers to take our picture on one of the hang bridges.
By the time we get back to our bikes it's noon. Time for a little snack at the bar, a pretty good ham and cheese sandwich.
After lunch our ride continues via Cerkno to Ziri through some nice valleys.
A bit further along our route we pass through the tail of a juicy summer thunderstorm. We don't get wet ourselves, but the road is still damp from the rain that passed here only minutes ago. We're gaining ground on the weather, as passed Ziri the roads are now really wet.
In a descent on one of the many hills, despite a rather sedate pace, I get this uncomfortable sensation. I can't really pinpoint the reason, but something feels off. Instinctively I tap the rear brake slightly before going into the next corner. In a split second my rear wheel is all over the place. The Tenere does note have ABS, but reflexes from many hours of advanced riding courses kick in and I let go of the brake to softly start applying pressure again as soon as the sliding stops. The result is the same. By this time I'm slipping and sliding straight for the ditch on the other side of the road. It's pretty clear I won't be stopped before the roads runs out, so I go for broke, let go of the brake and turn in. With my heart racing at 200bpm I somehow make it through the corner unscathed. Luckily there wasn't any oncoming traffic.
However, laouen is still behind me. We had our intercoms on at this time and while I'm still wondering how I'm still upright I hear a lot of swearing and then the sound of scraping metal. Immediately I get off the bike and run back. By the time I reach her laouen is already back on her feet and the FZ has parked itself nicely straight up against the wall of the ditch.
We quickly determine that both rider and bike are ok. And we also pretty quickly find out what caused all this mayhem. Even just walking around it is hard to stay upright. The road is as slick as ice.
A young women in a car has also stopped to check if everything is ok. She warns us -a bit redundant, after the fact- that this road is very dangerous and slippery when wet. As if that was not clear enough yet, every other car that tries to stop after that slides 1-2m before coming to a full stop.
We push the FZ out of the ditch and take stock. At first glance there's not much (additional) damage. The hand guards, crash bungs and Magadan bags offered pretty good protection. The handle bars are slightly bent, but nothing major. Also the luggage rack is bent and the bike is full of mud. Laouen's goretex suit doesn't even have scratches. only a few teeth on the leg ventilation zipper have broken off.
After the adrenaline levels have settled we decide to ride on to Vrhnika and find a place to wash the bike. It's easier to do a more thorough check for damage on a clean bike. We arrive around 4PM and quickly spot a car wash. The ride through isn't really suited for bikes, but the attendant offers to hose the bike down on the parking lot. The luggage comes off and the FZ gets a nice little bath. We notice that the rear fender is loose on one side, but it will hold until we get home.
After a coke and a look around to find a camp site we finally decide to take a room in a hotel we passed earlier in the centre of town. After the events from today, a nice comfy bed and shower are most welcome.
With everything that happened we didn't even remember to take any pictures after Ziri. But here's our route from today:
A night in a proper bed sees us well-rested and up early. Fully ready to continue our trip, which today should take us past Ljubljana and into Croatia, near the Plitvice lakes.
The first part we make good progress along nice snaking back roads with some pretty amazing views thrown in.
By 10:30 we're up for a break and this road side hut seems to be as good a place as any.
It seems we were not the only ones to pick this spot for some R&R. This little fella is either totally hypnotized by the flash or has ambitions to get on the cover of National Geographic. He didn't move from this spot for over a minute. Didn't even flinch when the camera was pushed right in his face to get a closer shot.
Afterwards we ride on to Crnomlj where we decide to look for some shelter for what looks like a brooding thunderstorm. At an ice cream parlor we get a cup of coffee and a huge chunk of chocolate cake. Waiting for the rain to pass while the horizon is lit up by lightning.
The rain passes, but the dark clouds linger. We take no chances and dig out the rain gear. It's around 2PM when we arrive at the Croatian border. The roads are still wet, but we more or less keep it dry. The border crossing is fast and easy.
At this time Croatia was not part of the EU yet, but they would be soon. And they were well prepared, the yellow stars sign was already in place for the big day to arrive. I'm not convinced they know what they're signing up for though.
We're entering Croatia away from the coast, and away for the usual tourist areas. The villages here look poorer than what you tend to see at the coast. There's more remnants of the war in the 90ies still everywhere around.
In one of the small villages along the route we come across an older man that is clearly well intoxicated, but he's friendly enough. He starts talking to us, probably telling his whole life story, but we don't understand a word. After a while we figure out he wants to know here were going. We give him the name of the next village on our map and he gives us a big smile while pointing us in the right direction. While we ride away, he keeps yelling stuff and I see him waving in my mirrors until we go around the corner.
Meanwhile a light drizzle has turned into a more steady rain. Our pace is pretty slow on the wet roads. We take it easy after the incident in Slovenia yesterday, but we don't stop anymore so we still get some mileage under the wheels.
After a while it becomes apparent there aren't many houses in this region. And most of the ones that are here look rather new but unfinished. We pass many ruins of older houses and you can't miss the bullet holes which are everywhere. Outside the villages, spread out along the road are clusters of crosses and tombstones. Usually 3 to 4 at a time. And also a few signs marking possible mine locations.
We pass through Slunj, which looks like a ghost town with about 70% of the houses not fully (re)built yet.
Were nearing the Plitvice lakes and start looking for a camp site not too far from Entrance 1. Eventually we end up where most of the tourists around here seem to end up: Autokamp Korana. This is a huge camping resort, with room for over 500 guests, a shop, big restaurant en ATM machine. Not the place we'd usually look for, but it is well located for a visit to the lakes, offers a free bus service to get there and at this time of the year there's a lot of free space to put up the tent.
Today is going to be pretty relaxed. No riding, just some chilling and a walk around the Plitvice lakes.
The alarm clock wakes us early enough to have a nice breakfast and some coffee before getting on the bus that takes tourists from the camp site to the Entrance of the NP. It's a free service. The bus leaves at 9AM and picks you back up at 5PM.
Upon arriving at the NP entrance we are greeted with a short but brisk rain shower. Together with some other tourists we seek shelter in the cabin at the bus stop. The rain seems to pass and between the last few drops we make for the ticket office. For such a big "tourist trap" the price is not too extreme: 110KN, about 15EUR pp. There are a couple of options, depending on how far you like to walk. We opt for the medium length tour that includes a ferry crossing and a bus ride back to the entrance.
Weather isn't great so the big crowds have stayed away today. The first part of the walk we keep it dry and are able to enjoy the hundreds of water falls coming from the mountains and between the different lakes.
Supposedly, at peak season 20000 tourists a day pass over the footpaths and many wooden bridges over the lakes. But today it's agreeably calm.
The lakes are naturally formed reservoirs that continuously grown and shrink and change with the deposits from the calcium-rich water.
On our walk we pass a guided tour group where the guide is just explaining why the waters are so clear and blue. Apparently the trees and plants that grow so densely on the shores of the lakes firmly keep the soil locked between their roots, preventing sand and dirt from flowing into the lake.
Traffic on the foot paths is one way and in many places the path takes you over wooden constructions as there's no alternative on the shore.
And the views are more than spectacular.
Around 11 we've finished the first part of the walk. Not a second too soon as it starts poring down again. We decide to wait it out with a hot chocolate and then hop on the ferry across and of the larger lakes.
But when we get off the boat the downpoor hits us again in full force. As there's nowhere to take shelter we decide to just walk on. Drenched and cold the pace is picked up dramatically from before and we don't stop often (enough) to enjoy the surroundings. But then again, after a few 100 the waterfalls all start to look alike a bit.
Wet to our underwear we arrive at the next restaurant. After a cheeseburger and a big cappuccino we feel reinvigorated. But we decide to call it a day and hop on the bus that will take us back to the NP entrance.
On our way out we pass the spot were the "signature pics" from the magazines are usually taken. Judging by the number of colourful rain coats and umbrellas down there traffic has picked up since this morning and there are some jams to be expected.
Our free bus back to the camp site leaves at 5, but we don't really feel like hanging around for another 2 hours so we try our luck at the bus stop. The first taxi bus that stops only wants to take long distance passengers to Zagreb so we strike out. But the next bus agrees to drop us off at the camp site entrance.
By the time we get there the sun is piercing through the clouds again and we can hang up our clothes to dry while we hit the showers.
We end the day with a delicious beef stroganoff and a litre bottle of Croatian wine and some Slivovitz in the restaurant. I feel we deserved that after today.
Great post, good pictures and perfect timing. We are just planning March to June trip in that direction on the latest purchase. Looking forward to the next few posts especially Montenegro.
Thanks and keep them coming.
Up until now we hadn't really been sure we would make it to Montenegro in time for the HUBB meeting near Kolasin. Looking at the maps while planning this trip it seemed like it would be doable to fit it in our time frame and the others things we wanted to do, but we weren't quite sure. The last thing we want to do while on the road is stress out, so we tend to be flexible with our plans. You know, the hang loose, everything goes attitude. Now that we're this close to the border with Bosnia i Herzegovina it dawns on us that we shouldn't have any problems getting to the meeting, even at a relaxed pace and some sight-seeing detours. Happy campers!
While I walk to the camp site store for some provisions, laouen packs up our sleeping gear. We're ready to roll by 9:30. It takes less than 30 minutes to get to the border. This will be the first border crossing where there's a proper check of the bike's paperwork, but everything seems in order. And apparently we're not yet known as enemies of the state, spies or terrorists. It al goes pretty smooth.
Speed limits are a bit of a let down though. 80kph? Are these guys kidding?
Less than 5 minutes in it is already pretty clear that you're in a different country. A bit weird considering This was all just one country under Tito. But we hadn't spotted any mosques in Croatia and at least in this part of BIH they are a pretty common sight.
Some rather nice ones to boot, by the way.
We ride into Bihac to pull some Bosnian Marks from an ATM and fill up on fuel. Bihac seems to be a commercial hub for car wash shops. The city is filled with them in all sizes. Smaller villages around clearly focus more on tyre shops and vulcanizers. In every little hamlet, no matter how small, there seem to be at least 3 of them. I guess it says something about the general state of the roads.
For lunch we stop in a small bar on the side of the road in some non-descript village. While we're parking the bikes a group of young kids across the street are waving and gesturing that we should twist the throttle a little. The Tenere's single with stock pipes does not seem to impress them too much though. But 14000RPM on the FZ6 gets some properly excited.
English, German or French don't get us very far with placing an order, but some sign language and the few words of Russian we know get the job done. Although the waiter is still looking at us like we just stepped out of a UFO.
While we're waiting for the food we watch life pass by on the main road through the village. Volkswagen Golfs appear to be all the rage, as about one in three cars that pass are of that persuasion. Most of them a couple of generations old though. We'll be having a lot of fun "Golf-spotting" for teh rest of our trip through the country.
People seem to be a bit more reserved here than in Croatia. But when we get up to leave after a very tasty lunch the owner of the place comes over gesturing we should wait. He's dragging what looks to be his grand daughter behind him. Apparently she's the only one around that knows a few words in English. He wants her to wish us a good trip through Bosnia and dragged her over from god knows where just to tell us that. I could not imagine any bar owner doing such a thing back home. So the reserved attitude of the people should definitely not be confused with unfriendliness.
While we continue our trip we're in for another little surprise. On the map the road between Bosanska Krupa and Bosanska Petrovac looked like a pretty major road. On the ground it looks a little different.
We were expecting to come across some gravel roads, but not really on this stretch. The poor FZ isn't really made for this kind of terrain. Laouen tries to pretend it is her DRZ, but the suspension doesn't cope that well with all the potholes so she's glad when we hit tarmac again after about 30km.
Closing in on Kljuc we're intriged by the landscape. It doesn't really dawn on us at first.
But this does not quite look natural.
We roll into Jajce a little after 4PM. According to the map there should be a camp site around so we decide to look for it. It's not that hard, it's signposted.
The camp site is basic but the pitches are nice, it's clean, the price is pretty reasonable and there's a restaurant.
Dinner is a 20m walk away, and there's Wifi! We couldn't ask for more. Except for the nice piece of meat with an absolutely divine smoked paprika sauce. Afterwards we hit the sack pretty early.
Went to Plitvice a couple of years ago, your photo's bring back some happy memories.
I'm off to Jajce this September, and it looks a pretty place. One thing I saw in the news recently is there seems to have been some unrest in BiH. One factor may be the unemployment rate, which was reported as being 40%, and that could help explain why they're trying to get the maximum life out of their tyres.
BIH is indeed pretty poor. There's a lot more poverty than in Slovenia, Croatia or Montenegro. A lot of deserted houses everywhere and still a lot of segregation due to people being scared of returning to their house in a region that has another ethnic majority. The wars may be over for more than 10 years but there's still a lot of mistrust. Nobody really likes to talk about it and they all seem to be ashamed. One thing most of them have in common is they are pretty proud and eager to talk about the time under Tito.
The unrest of late has been mostly in Sarajevo and as usual the press has probably put in a lot of effort to make it seem a lot more extreme than it actually was.
Jajce is pretty nice and the lake also attracts a lot of locals.
We're returning to the region this summer and will be spending some more time in BIH and tour around Serbia, Kosovo and Albania, which we didn't get the chance to do last year.
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