Crossing Eastern Europe

Crossing Eastern Europe

November 16, 2012  |  Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro

The past few days were a blast. In Dubrovnik, Croatia I’d set my Garmin to Thessaloniki, Greece. Knowing next to nothing about the countries in between I thought I would just race through them to Greece because there isn’t anything to see there anyways or so I thought. But boy was I wrong. I predicted it would take me 2 days. It took me four.

Rather fast I got to the border with Bosnia Herzegovina. The border police asked me where I was going. ‘Singapore!’ I answered with a big grin on my face. He gave me the ‘Are you serious?’ look and said: ‘Well, good luck then.’

I stopped for gas and in the cafeteria I had a coffee and the song Maybe tomorrow by Stereophonics started playing. For those who don’t know. This is the theme song from Long way Round. A motorcycle series about Ewan Mcgregor (from Trainspotting) and Charlie Boorman who ride their bikes from London to New York. The series was a big success and inspired lot’s of people to travel by motorcycle. One side note … They drove with two support trucks filled with spare parts, a producer, director, doctor, a fixer (someone who does all the paperwork and translating) for difficult countries, a cameraman and a second cameraman also on a motorcycle … Pussies

The song instantly put my two feet back on the ground and made me realize what a wonderful trip I’m making. I shared my enthusiasm with the girl from the cafeteria. She’s very cool and we talk some about the liberal country where I’m from and the conservative Bosnia Herzegovina. I gave her my namecard and continue my trip in a great mood because of this little encounter.

The ride in Bosnia was not very long. Soon I crossed the border with Montenegro. The borders are all the same. Checkout in one country. Show passport and motorcycle registration papers and sometimes greencard (insurance). Checkin 100 meters further in the other country and show all the paperwork again.

Montenegro is beautiful. It easily won over Switzerland as most beautiful country in this trip. My Garmin leads me on a very small mountain road with a big cliff next to it. Theres no guardrail or whatsoever. I stopped and sat over the cliff to watch over Risan. The scenery is perfect. I could hear a small truck nearing in the distance. I got up to see if the road is big enough for it to pass my parked motorcycle. The truck stops, in it are two dudes, mid twenties who were very interested in my story and my trip. Their English is not that good but we talk for like 15 minutes and they give me some of their water. They continue their work while I enjoy he scenery some more.

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As I rode along the lake to Kotor I’m waved over by a police officer. Just a regular check or so I thought. He asked for my driving license and registration papers. ‘Rocco’ he says with a big pause as he looks at my license ‘This road is fifteen, you were doing seventeen.’ for a small moment I thought ‘Do they use the imperial system here?’ but that could not be right either. ‘Oh you mean fifty?’ I ask. ‘Yes fifteen!’ ‘So you were speeding by twenty’ I was surprised he did not say twenteen but I knew I was in trouble so I putted up my sad face. ‘In Montenegro when you’re speeding over twenty you have to go to court. So I keep your papers you go to court tribunale in Kotor and pay. Then come back and you get your papers back. It will be about 100 Euro’. I let him repeat this about three times as I did not wanted to make any mistakes and lose my license or registration papers. I grabbed my Garmin and asked for the directions but he said it was not that hard to find. ‘Tourists …’ he sighed ‘What to do… What to do’ He was clearly waiting for something. ‘Is this the point where I should bribe him? I thought ‘Does that even happen here?’. But I wasn’t carrying much cash anyways so that was not an option. ‘Maybe I can say you were speeding only ten. You don’t have to go to court. You go to the post office and pay about thirteen (thirty) Euro. Then comeback to get your papers’. I grabbed my Garmin again and this time I asked for the address of the post office. ‘You know what Rocco … Be careful and drive safe.’ he let’s me go without a ticket. I thank him profusely and knowing that I got very lucky I continued my route. This time a bit slower.

After Kotor there was another mountain road again. Maybe this one was even better than the Stelvio pass. After twenty minutes of hairpins I was riding above the clouds. It was amazing.

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A little later the road got very bad and I accidentally steer of the road in loose gravel. As always when you get off the road there’s a big boulder. I nearly missed it. After what seems like an eternity my bike finally got to a halt (ABS is not working at all in sand or gravel) and I nearly dropped my bike.

At an intersection a bit further there’s a car standing still with a lovely couple from Germany. They don’t know which route to take to Cetinje. I’m heading there too but my Garmin freezes so I don’t know it either. We use everything we have, maps, iPad, phone and together we find the right road.

I started looking for some food and I ride into a small village called Rijeka Crnojevica. I stopped at a restaurant and the restaurant owner and three of his friends waved at me ‘Come and drink with us!’ in this great eastern-Europe accent. The owner of the restaurant is called Dusko and he is quite the appearance with his hair in a tail and his Adidas training-suit and a manpurse. I have diner with them and lot’s of wine. Later we go inside to drink more and he tells me about the history of the place, what he calls Black River City and the restaurant. His friends leave and some younger guys walk in. One of them speaks pretty good English and his friends call him Borat. He looks a bit like him and he talks the same too. Dusko says I can sleep in the apartment he rents for his waiter. Borat lives there too. We go there and have a small party. Some more guys walk in. I go to the toilet and cannot find out how to flush. ‘it’s an old house’ says Borat ‘take the basket, fill it with water from the bad and use that to flush’. Bizarre. Later on we listen to each others music and suddenly the whole house is shaking. Earthquake! We all ran to the doors and stand there a bit shocked. Five seconds later we were all jumping around the room laughing and full of adrenaline because how cool it was. ‘I wanted it too last just a little bit longer!’ screams Borat. They all go to bed and I sleep on the couch.

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In the morning we have some coffee at the restaurant and I say goodbye to my new friends. I ride along Skadar lake which is really nice. I ran into the German couple again. They spotted a pelican. This is the only lake with Pelicans in the world they say. Pretty cool. I made a picture of it but it’s very hard to see.

After some very romantic roads with goats, mules and cows I enter Albania. When I told the guys yesterday that I was going to Albania they laughed. When I asked why they were laughing they said ‘You’ll see’

The first village I enter I see people washing their clothes in a river that is filled with garbage! There are people walking on the street and scooters crammed with more luggage than they could carry. People riding horses and walking cows along the road. Mules packed with even more luggage than the little scooters. ‘Is this Europe?’ I thought. It looked more like India.

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A sign said that there’s a camping twenty kilometers away. I follow the sign to a small village where there suddenly is no direction to the camping anymore. I asked some people and they gave me some directions to an unpaved road. Cramped again with mules, scooters and horses. People are staring at me, children waving. I ask for directions one more time. A guy on a scooter says he will show me the way. He races through the village on the unpaved roads. Avoiding puddles, people, wild dogs and cows. I try my best to keep up with him. Finally there is the camping. I go to the reception to find out that the camping is owned by Dutch people. Nice! I’m full with questions. What are they doing here and why? What’s it like to live here. Where do the children go to school? Do they get a lot of Dutch tourists here? And I’m also glad I can finally talk Dutch again. They do not share my enthusiasm and are very, very closed. I get short answers to my questions and they show absolutely no sign of interest in me. I set up my tent on the empty field behind there house while being watched by a Albanian guy with a gun on his back. He smiles a bit and says hi. I go back to the reception to find a place to eat. I can eat in the village. You will find it they say. I don’t know what to think of it. Are they being Dutch or Albanian? Or am I just spoiled by the generosity of the people yesterday in Montenegro?

I walk to the village to find something to eat. It’s dark and all the bars all cramped with men. I see no girls. I walk into one bar with about thirty people in it. Complete silence. They all stopped their conversation and are staring at me. Nobody talks English. They come up to my face. I can tell that they’re trying to help me but the way they do it is intimidating nonetheless. After a long time with gestures and everything we finally find a word we all know. Pizza! They gesture I can get that at the restaurant at the camping. But that one is closed I already saw. Finally I walk back to my tent and make some instant coffee and eat some bread that I still had from the day before. The guy with the gun comes to check on me periodically. Well at least I’m guarded.

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The next morning I wake up at 07:00. I want to get out of here as fast as I can. I find out it was raining at night. Everything is wet. I drag all my stuff to the toilet building to dry it up and pack it away. It takes me two hours to pack everything up. I put on my helmet which has been hanging upside down on my steering wheel at night. It’s soaking wet. My gloves where in it. Soaking wet too. It starts raining again as I’m riding out of the village. I’m cold and wet and I really had it with this country. I calculated that I can be in Greece before I run out of gas. I don’t want to fill my bike up here because you can only pay with cash in a lot of places.

I ride into a small city. The road is blocked. I ask someone what is happening. There is a protest because people don’t have electricity. I see children throwing rocks at cars and dragging wood and big boulders on the road to block traffic. A lot of whistling and screaming. I ask two businessmen in a 4×4 how to get to Tirana. They’re heading there too so I follow them in a detour on unpaved roads again. A few times they get lost and we have to find another road. After half an hour we’re back on the main road again.

Tirana seems nice. A bit more western than the rest of Albania that I saw. I stop to drink some water from my bag. An old lady comes up to me and looks at me like she has never seen a tourist before. I say I’m from Amsterdam. She shakes my hand and laughs. This is the only positive experience I have in my one and a half day in Albania. I’m cranky, still wet and cold and want to get out of this country. I don’t see anything of Tirana because I’m concentrating on the road. Which I can barely see through all the raindrops on my visor. Traffic is crazy. People drive like shit and cut me off. The road is very bad with big holes in it which I keep running into because I ride to close to the car in front of me. I try to take some distance but then other cars pass me and fill the gap. I’m riding into the mountains again. It’s still raining. The car in front of me spins 180 degrees in a hairpin because the road is so slippery. I check if the driver is ok and continue the mountain road.

Finally I am at the border but it’s not the border to Greece but to Macedonia. Did not really expected that. I’m almost out of gas and I find a gas station. The electricity fell out so nothing is working. I keep on riding and find another gas station. I fill my up my bike and go inside for a coffee to get a bit warmer. They don’t have coffee there. Only ice coffee from a vending machine. I’ve totally had it at this point. I don’t care about my budget anymore and start searching for a hotel. I just want to get warm again and have a bad or at least a hot shower. I ride into Bitola. The city seems extremely poor and sad. No color, garbage everywhere, beggars and homeless people. The hotel I find is in a really bad condition. I go inside, the receptionist speaks a bit English. They charge only 14 euro a night. That’s a big plus. I ask where I can park my bike because I don’t trust this place. I can park it in some kind of conference room underneath the lobby. The door is very small and after a lot of struggle we finally get my bike in and then the receptionist says: ‘I forgot to tell you. There’s no hot water today’. Well fuck. Second cold shower in two days because there was no hot water at the camping in Albania too. I change clothes and still a bit shivering I go to find some food.

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I find a little restaurant with very loud and drunk people in it and it’s not even 18:00. I let the waiter choose my food because I cannot read the menu. Some guys, typical eastern-european truckers asks me where I’m from. ‘Amsterdam’ I say. ‘Ah Ajax!’ they reply. I pretend to know sports which seems to work because they buy me a beer and ask me to come sit at their table. They’re not my kind of people but at least they’re nice. They making a lot of gay jokes and think that they’re very funny. The food is just a plate with different kinds of meat. It’s ok. One guy who knows a bit of English keeps falling asleep on the table but he’s trying to tell me something. It’s only a few words at first but after every attempt he remembers some more English words that he can add to his sentence. Finally it is something like: ‘Greece is nothing. Macedonia is better. Thessaloniki was our capital and it is called Saloon’ or something. I go back to the hotel and exhausted I fall asleep at 20:30.

4 comments on “Crossing Eastern Europe

  1. Annie Nijenhuis on said:

    Hoi Rocco wat een belevenissen heb je al mee gemaakt, ik moet net wel edn aantal keren doorlezen maar het engels gaat steeds beter. Geniet van je ongelovelijk mooie reis, ik zit als het een enigzins mogelijk is op de computer om te kijken waar je bent. Kijk weer uit naar je volgende avontuur
    Toy toy toy XXX ma

  2. Awesome!!

    Nothing more, nothing less!

  3. Awesome indeed!!
    I thought nothing could possibly beat that horrible hostel in London :P

  4. Hey Rocco,
    Heb je verhaal gelezen, prachtig, wat maak je leuke dingen mee. We blijven je volgen!! Geniet er van!!!
    xHenny.

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