It took us such along time to get out of Sarajevo! It was abundantly clear that we were getting way to confortable there. There was the thought floating around that we were going to have to find a real apartment to rent and maybe settle down for a bit? There were already a few friends made and were just understanding how to orientate ourselves around the city.
Nah…. it was time to be moving on. As much as we enjoyed the Sarajevo both of us were getting itchy feet, or maybe it was that our butts got feeling back in them but either way I was ready to get back in the saddle
Our back in the saddle moment turned into an 8 day marathon to ride out of Bosnia, through Montenegro, Serbia, then finally coming to rest in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Things really didn’t start out as gung-ho as they sound. By the end of our 7th straight day of riding it was just an endurance contest to see if we would actually make it to the Bulgarian border or not.
As much as we enjoyed our time in Bosnia it was time to leave. But we could have had some better timing, maybe? Leaving in the rain, riding in the rain, crossing the border in the rain, rain, rain, and more rain. The worst part being we couldn’t escape it even for a moment! There was no veering off the road to set up the tent in order to keep dry. We were entering the border region with Montenegro which was former Yugoslavia territory and the some of front lines during the war in the 1990’s. All the signs told us there were still active mine fields all around. That meant, like much of Bosnia the area was unsuitable for wandering off the beaten path, even to hide from the rain. The only thing to do was to keep riding forward and get sopping wet in the process. There was no other choice. It only got really terrible right before the border with Montenegro, as we gained elevation it got much colder. So much colder that right before the crossing point both Brian and I had to disrobe on the side of the highway during a downpour and change into drier clothing just so that we could stay warm. Not a fun moment, it was the only time on this trip where I really was wondering “What am I doing here?” The only somewhat good time we had during those 2 days of constant climbing was with the border guards in Montenegro,who were flabbergasted to see us coming. So much so, that they offered up some room in their guard shack with the heat on high and even made some coffee to help keep us warm up. They said they would have offered beer or whiskey but they weren’t allowed to have any on hand. I don’t normally drink during cycling but if it was available, I would have partaken. Live savers, a little dramatic, but at the very least sanity savers!
We made it down the hill past the border to the first town with a hotel. It was still 35 km from that point, we left during a break in the storm so we only got mildly wet and most of the cycling was down hill from there. (Not all though.)
There wasn’t much time spent in Montenegro, it was just sort of an over night spot so that we could enter into Serbia. We had already done a little road tripping with our friends that came to visit earlier that week, so there wasn’t a need to cycle the same roads we had previously passed in a car.
After spending as much time as we did in Sarajevo unfortunately we didn’t come away with a glowing opinion of Serbia. The expatiations were pretty low, but wow, did the Serbian people change our minds! I’ll go away from this trip to the Balkans with a more even view of it’s people and a better understanding of their ethnic and national diversity. But by far the people I enjoyed interacting with the most where the Serbians. I am still in a bit of shock over how nice and friendly they all were. Never once did I feel uncomfortable in Serbia or felt like I might be taken advantage of because I was a tourist. There were road side conversations with old men that can remember the communist era like it was yesterday, a café owner bought us a cup of Nescafe (normally wouldn’t drink that even if it was free), loads of people waving from their farm fields or honking the car horns at us but only in the nicest way. People that took time out of their busy schedules to show us around town and even take in some famous sights. (the skull tower in Nis) We even managed to camp in a cherry orchard after the owners (at least I think it was the owners) offered up their property and any tent space available to us. Everyone we met was welcoming and glad that we were taking the time to visit their country. The only exception was that some of the children like to throw rocks, good thing they aren’t baseball players in Serbia. Lucky for us the kids have terrible aim!
Serbia was also the point at which we officially moved beyond the Balkan mountain range. This was a huge deal for us, it mean a month’s worth of the hardest cycling for this entire trip was over! I was never so happy as the day we reached the foothills and realized that it wasn’t going to get any worse from here on out.
Bulgaria on the other hand I am trying to reserve judgment about till I have been here a little longer then just 24 hours.
We entered the country and had to pitch out tent on the side of the old highway right next to the train tracks. Needless to say we didn’t sleep well. Upon reaching Sofia (the capital) I unsuccessfully tried to get my chain measured on my bicycle twice so that I could see if it needed to be replaced. The first time the kid at the store didn’t know what he was talking about, tried to tell me I needed a new cassette, and then didn’t even have the proper tool to measure my chain. The second place (same store name) tried to sell me a chain measuring tool and when I told them I wanted to measure not buy the tool. The sales person just threw the tool on the ground and acted like I just insulted him. I basically told the guy to get eff’ed and walked out. I hope Sofia has a better bike shop somewhere else because it might be Istanbul before I can get a new chain. We also had a package sent from the US to a contact here in Bulgaria with our new stove in it (our old one crapped out on us and we need a replacement) but it seems to be stuck in customs or not able to be delivered because they can’t find the address. We can’t get an answer as to which one at the moment and no one is picking up the phone. Oh yes and now Brian’s camera is broken, not sure what’s with that but it seems we might have to replace it as well. Like I said trying to reserve judgment….
*Update on that last bit.
We are still in Sofia at the moment and trying to get most of our chores done. It’s going slowly but we are making progress. The new stove has cleared customs, and is now in our possession. It was not an easy effort, thank goodness for our landlords here in Sofia. They helped us get everything figured out. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have our package, because of course like any governmental office all over the world there are tons of paper work and fees to be paid. And unlike home, none of this isn’t translated into a language people can understand. Woe is the foreigner… who needs to declare anything in Bulgaria! (And next time, we aren’t allowed to import gas stoves. It’s not a gas stove, but we got a stern warning anyway.)
The bicycle chain issue has also been resolved, there is a good shop with in walking distance from our apartment. With good guys that actually ride bikes and not just sell them!
We even managed to meet up with our friends (who came to visit us in Sarajevo) again here in Sofia. They leave to go back home soon but it was nice to be able to hangout again before they return to Minneapolis. We all got together at the big park here is Sofia with some locals and a few other travelers for dinner, drinks, and then later on that night to a Bulgarian Punk Rock Club.
I think I’ll like it here in Bulgaria!