14 Jul 2010
New on the HUBB
Join Date: Jun 2010
Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Beyond usual motorcycle tour
As the plane was approaching Belgrade International Airport I was laughing remembering my wife’s reaction to my new touring destination. “That’s Ok honey but please leave your life insurance policy with me.”
Serbia, a country that we’ve heard a lot about in the past 15 years, looks like any other from the skies. What I will encounter in the next week remains to be discovered.
Apart from some bombing scars from 1999 Belgrade is a beautiful European city with a mix of western, eastern and communist influences. No wonder, as this part of the world is so rich in history. On the first night I was impressed with night life here. A great place for outgoing people, amazingly beautiful women, tasty food and that took away all my fears built by media over the years and created a bad picture of Serbia. However, traffic here is hectic and I have to face it tomorrow.
In the past few years Serbia had a motorcycling boom and you won’t always see motorcyclists wearing helmets or any protective gear not to mention respecting road rules. I’m told that this will be history very soon as new rigorous traffic laws will be empowered. The sooner the better as some riders are playing TT on Belgrade´s streets.
The motorcycles are ready and we are doing last check ups before departing Belgrade for the first day exploring Serbia. I bet that North American readers don’t have a clue what a Suzuki XF650 Freewind bike is. Basically it’s a DR650 upgraded and with more bodywork made for the European market as a direct competitor to BMW F650. Eight years in production, proven a great bike, suited for on road more than off road but able to satisfy the average rider in both worlds. Our rental bikes are not equipped with GPS for the simple reason of enjoyment and I absolutely agree with that as being lost sometimes puts the A in adventure. Watching a small screen telling you where to go is not my cup of tea.
Single cylinder 650 thumps as nice as sunshine support us on the way towards old ruins once an important roman town/fortress (oh yeah lots of history here and it is great to see a 1.5 million years old mammoth there too) after that we followed the Danube river canyon (a sunny day like we had today the Danube is blue indeed). The road is curvy with large sweepers with no potholes or heavy traffic.
The Suzuki with hard panniers and a top box fits me like a glove and I had no problems adapting to it. After only 20 Km or so I wasn´t feeling like I was on an unfamiliar bike and was able to relax. Singing in my helmet is definitely a sign of enjoying both the bike and the scenery.
The icing on the cake that night was sleeping in a rural winery called Rajacke Pimnice. It was a great experience and it´s not fancy like wineries are but completely authentic. The wine doesn’t have French names here but a lot of character and our 80 year old host was generous pouring it.
Another beautiful day is in front of us and again we will do approx 300km of Serbian B roads. Today I’m paying more attention on the Freewind’s design and I must admit that except for the DR650 engine you can´t see any other similarities with its older brother. The DR650 is a proper off road bike but with the XF650 you wouldn’t be embarrassed on the streets of Milano or Paris. Loaded with panniers (in my case Hepco Becker) you wouldn’t be embarrassed at the overlanders meeting either. We encounter some less used roads and idiot drivers too, sometimes they takeover at some places no one sane would. Being extra careful helps us to stay alive like everywhere else in the world. It is great to visit Resavska cave and Eastern Serbia has a lot of caves to show. History class again with visit to Gamzigrad another Roman fortress followed by a cultural lesson in a beautiful Serbian monastery called Studenica. We finished day and stayed for the night in hunters house in Bukulja. Guess what was for dinner?
Suzuki has enough power in mid range and was a great performer while we rode some mountain passes in central Serbia moving from Arandjelovac towards the west. Roads aren´t as good as they would be in western countries but are enjoyable on enduro bikes. I was wondering about tankslappers that people on sports bikes would get from numerous patches on tarmac. The scenery is great and I got some ideas about what rural Serbia is like, passing trough many villages. The national park Tara is breathtaking, there we met many motorcyclists, a very friendly bunch of people. Accommodation at the ethno village Mecavnik is amazing and after a long riding day I quickly fell asleep with the Suzuki at my doorstep.
The weather in June in Serbia is stable so it was hot everyday and after 50km riding we reached the border with Bosnia. The border guards were more interested in our bikes´ performances than in our passports and were slightly disappointed that Freewinds can’t go 250km/h. The scenery stays the same but Bosnian history is more connected with the Turkish empire and there are mosques everywhere. Sightseeing in Visegrad brought us to a beautiful bridge build by Ottoman empire. A Novel about building it and the lives of people from both sides of the bridge brought a Nobel prize to its writer.
Riding south we followed great scenery provided by the river Drina after another mountain pass this time with no road (washed away by recent heavy rain) brought us to Bilecko, a lake with a short ride to Trebinje. This city has a lot positive energy and our lunch, coffee and drinks were on the house for the simple reason that restaurant owner likes motorcycle travellers.
After one day in Bosnia we crossed the border to Montenegro and slept at Herceg Novi, a beautiful town on the Adriatic coast. A vibrant town full of tourists, clubs and bars with live music playing throughout the night. A morning swim in the Adriatic sea brought us the much needed refreshment (also riding a bike in shorts and a T-shirt as it was too hot if you are not on an open road). Kotor is a must see, also on the Adriatic coast with narrow streets between city walls and a great place to become lost as it is art wherever you look.
As we rode up from the narrow coastline, we became increasingly aware of the extent to which this tiny country lives up to its original name, deriving from Italian translation of the most breathtaking feature of Montenegro’s landscape - its breathtaking mountains (Monte Negro).
The road took us further up, from the historical capital of Cetinje to country’s best ski resort on the Durmitor mountain range - Zabljak.
Mount Durmitor itself is an ultimate heaven for adventure-motorcyclists. Beside the ride through intact nature, one gets to enjoy the UNESCO-protected Tara river canyon. Tara’s colour was, in my view, most definitely as close as river can possibly get to the “turquoise blue.” As tempting as it was to enjoy the so called “tear of Europe” firsthand, from a raft, we chose to spend that day on our bikes, simply enjoying the curves of a tempting road across Mount Durmitor.
After spending two fascinating days in Montenegro and some more exciting rides across various mountains names of which I can hardly remember, our journey took us back to Serbia. The next destination was Mount Zlatibor, with its health spa which provided us with a fresh mixture of great rides and flavours, scents and sights of local tradition and culture.
As we rode back to our original destination on the seventh and final day of our journey, I attempted to ‘rewind’ pictures my mind recorded during our one-week trip across these countries. With only 200 km left to Belgrade, I felt sorry that our trip was coming to an end. Never before have I seen so many places fit to be placed on a postcard. The tour had elements of danger (traffic and road condition) but my guide was more than capable in pinpointing the issues and making the whole experience fun.
The Suzuki XF650 Freewind never missed a beat for more than 2500km that we spent together. We rode canyons, hills, mountains, around lakes to seaside, seen cities and villages too, tried new food and made some friends along the way.
One thing is sure, I will be back to the Balkans again as it is a barely discovered jewel of the European crown.