Archive for the 'Europe' Category

The End of the Road

Saturday, November 17th, 2007

We’ve reached our final destination: Istanbul, Turkey!


The 14th was our last day of bicycle touring. We considered taking a bus from Burgas, Bulgaria to Istanbul, but decided we wanted one more good day of riding to end our trip. The Black Sea coast of Bulgaria is too developed for pleasant bicycle touring. Traffic is heavy on the coastal road and you rarely see the sea at all. The weather forecast showed two days of sun before more rain started, so we left the coast to head inland to the border with Turkey. It was a nice ride up in the mountains and we enjoyed the fall scenery while contemplating where the year went.


After 90 kilometers and 1000 meters of climbing, we arrived in the small border town of Malko Tarnovo in Bulgaria where we spent the night. The most memorable thing about the town was that the hospital doubled as the hotel. The hospital looked like your stereotypical giant communist building and had no signs, so we had quite a time finding it. The room was clean though and we left with all our organs. The next morning we woke up expecting sun, but were instead greeted by heavy rain, so we decided to cycle 10 kilometers to the border-post and try to catch a bus into Istanbul from there. Finding a bus wasn’t as easy as we’d hoped though and we ended up waiting around for four hours only to have the first three buses refuse to take us. We were up at 800 meters and the rain had become intense, so Sarah began to panic and started to formulate an elaborate plan on how she was going to convince the next driver to take us. She was going to look as desperate as possible, tug at his shirt sleeve, and even considered shedding a tear. Luckily, that wasn’t necessary because the fourth bus agreed to take us immediately and we were able to avoid riding in the downpour.


Since we arrived in Istanbul, we’ve been enjoying the sights, getting ready to leave, and getting ripped off. A minibus from the bus station to the center cost us 40 lira (~US$33) and a 15 minute taxi ride to the DHL office to pick up our airline tickets was 40 lira as well. Transportation has really proved to be the mother of all rip-offs on this trip. It’s not like we aren’t trying either, check out all the negotiation I attempted with the taxi driver below. When we first settled on the price for the taxi, the driver flashed three fingers which I interpreted as 3 lira, but he later claimed he meant 30 lira. When I was trying to get him down to something more reasonable, he kept insisting his patron would actually kill him if he accepted anything less than 40 lira.


Other than the conniving transport vendors, Istanbul is a great city. Maybe the best city of the trip. This is actually our second visit here, but Istanbul still impresses. The city is filled with beautiful mosques and other exotic architecture. It’s great to just walk around the city and marvel at the spectacular ancient buildings.


The food is awesome too. We’ve been feasting on various types of kebabs and other Turkish specialties. Our favorite so far is Adana Kebap which is a little spicy. We’ve also been drinking a lot of Ayran, which is a salty yogurt drink that you usually consume with a meal. It sounds gross but it’s actually really tasty! The city is a little more expensive than we remembered though; a meal for two at a Turkish restaurant costs around 15 lira (~US$12.5).


Sweets are also plentiful. Every block has a few shops dedicated solely to desserts and candy. They sell so many different types of baklava, Turkish delights, and other unidentified sweets that it would take us weeks to try it all!


There are also lots of fresh juice stands. We couldn’t resist trying the pomegranate. It had a different taste than the bottled stuff, a little more earthy.


The most popular beverage by far, though, is tea. It is served in small glasses with two sugar cubes on the side.


People drink tea everywhere, not just in cafes. There are tea vendors running all over the city carrying silver trays full of tiny glasses of tea which they serve to people hanging out on the street. Along the Bosphorus Strait, we saw many men fishing while sipping their freshly delivered glasses of tea. Looks like fun!


We’ll be here until the 21st when we fly back to the US. We have been packing up the bikes, figuring out how we are going to get our excess baggage home, and how we are going to get to the airport. Bicycles are great when you are on the road, but they are a huge drag when you are trying to get on an airplane. We almost suffered another rip off when one bicycle shop owner wanted to charge us 20 lira (~US$17) for a single bicycle box. Luckily, we found another shop where we got two boxes for 15 lira.


Next stop Wilmington, North Carolina, USA!

Sea and Snow

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

We had a great four rest days in the coastal city of Varna. We managed to get a great deal on a hotel apartment unit that included a tiny kitchen, cable TV, and free wireless internet. The one downside to staying in Varna was the city’s water situation. We’re not sure what exactly was going on, but the entire city was without running water for almost two full days. We couldn’t take showers or flush our toilet, and had to wash our dishes out with bottled water. But having free internet, TV, and a few days in one place more than made up for the water problems.

We left Varna on Friday and rode 70 km south down the Black Sea coast. We expected the road to follow the actual coastline, but it is actually a few kilometers west of the sea. Instead, we rode through rolling hills and forested countryside for the whole day. The trees here are all yellow and looked like they were glowing in the afternoon sun.


Beginning about 10km outside the city of Varna we started noticing single girls standing alone on the side of the road. They were spaced out almost exactly every kilometer, in the middle of nowhere, and they were wearing crazy outfits. Stuff like micro-mini denim shorts with pantyhose, mini-skirts that were 3-4″ long, shiny white boots with stiletto heels, sequined tank tops, etc. They looked bored and lonely, so we said hi to them as we rolled past. I wonder what they were doing out there…? Just kidding.

We finally got to see the actual Black Sea as we rolled into the resort town of Obzor at the end of the day.


The number of hotels in these Black Sea resort towns in amazing. They are everywhere and more and more are being built. This place must really be a madhouse in the summer. Right now almost everything is shut down for the season though, and rightfully so because today we departed Obzor for Burgas and ran into a snowstorm!


The day actually started out sunny, but it turned nasty after about 25 kilometers of climbing. We were up at 500 meters, huffing and puffing along and admiring the snowdrifts on the side of the road, when all of the sudden the sky clouded over and it started to snow. It was funny at first but quickly lost its humor as the wind picked up and things started to get really bad. We had cycled into a blizzard. The Bulgarian drivers thought we were nuts; more than one raised his hands to us to say “What the heck are you thinking?” Luckily the storm disappeared just as quickly as it arrived, but the damage was done. We were now wet and the temperature had dipped to around 3 degrees Celsius. Not exactly ideal cycling weather.

So, instead of continuing on to Burgas we stopped for the day in Slancev brjag, another town of massive hotels. The good news is we still have 10 days to reach Istanbul, so we aren’t really in a hurry. We’ll continue to slowly make our way down the coast until we reach the Turkish border.

November Rain

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

There she is, the famous Black Sea.


We reached the Black Sea in Varna, Bulgaria after a two day ride from the Romania-Bulgaria border marked by the cold November rain that is quickly becoming a constant in our lives. Oh well, nothing lasts forever…

We also hit another important milestone on our way here. At 12:48pm EET on November 3rd, while cycling on a cold, windy ridge about 9 kilometers north of Varna, Sarah hit 10,000 kilometers on her odometer. She has now officially entered the realm of cycling goddess!


Since we arrived in Varna, we’ve been victory posing on the beach and wandering around the city. Varna is the most touristy city we’ve been in for quite a while. There is a huge pedestrian zone with upscale shopping and restaurants and a giant seaside park. The city is pretty quiet right now though; most of the discos along the beach are already closed for the season.


Despite her impressive quads, Sarah is feeling a bit worn out from the five-figure odometer reading, so we are going to rest here for a couple of days before heading down the coast to Turkey.

Goodbye Romania

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

It was hard to say goodbye to Romania. We had one of our worst days ever followed by two of our best and in the end we didn’t want to leave the country.

The day after Jamie’s golden birthday brought us 80km and 5 hours of cycling in pouring rain and 10°C weather. Matters were made worse by a fierce headwind that not only made it hard to cycle but also chilled us to the bone. Not too fun. We resorted to saying desperate things to each other pretty early in the day. Stuff like “Only 50km left!” (FYI that’s over three hours of cycling), and “Can you go farther without eating? If we stop we will probably freeze to death!”

At the halfway point we gobbled our lunch of bread and cheese as quickly as possible while standing on the side of the road. Jamie said the rain made our bread taste like a baby had been sucking on it for awhile.

We got sprayed by passing cars and trucks all day as they tore through the standing water on the roads. As a result, we were completely covered in road dirt by the end of the day. By my estimate, approximately 90% of the “dirt” on the country roads in Romania is horse and cow manure. Gross.

I also developed what is known as an “ice claw” during the course of our ride. My gloves were so wet that after lunch I decided it was gross to put them back on. That was a stupid idea. Within 15 minutes my hands were frozen into claws molded around my bicycle handlebars. These ice claws lacked opposable thumbs and I believe best way to imagine them is to picture the hands on Lego Men.

We now know that close to 100% of our waterproof gear has failed at this point, after 10 months of cycling. Only one piece of gear is still keeping things dry – our Ortlieb panniers. Our jackets, drybags, waterproof gloves, and waterproof hiking boots are all leaking. We have given up on trying to stay dry during a day of cycling. It is better to focus on wearing enough clothes to keep warm and then finding food that you can eat without stopping so you can stay warm.

When we reached our stopping point of Oltenita we began to search for the one hotel the town was supposed to have. Wanting to find it as quickly as possible, I asked the first person that walked past us where the hotel was. Unfortunately I have quite a knack for asking crazy people for directions. Not kidding. So of course, this guy wasn’t able to help us find the hotel and instead he followed us around for the remainder of our search mumbling about French and English and sometimes offering his phone to me. In the end we found the hotel though and settled in to dry our gear and warm back up.

The next day was beautiful, with a blue sky and sunny warm weather. The ride was great with the only event of the day being a flat tire on my bike. This is only our second flat in Europe – not bad! After 70km we reached the town of Calarasi. We stopped at one hotel but the price was 150 lei (~US$65.00) and the receptionist wouldn’t negotiate so we decided to look around some more. After a little more searching we found another hotel on the other end of town and met Daniel the owner. He was a really nice 27 year old Romanian guy who spoke excellent English. After we got settled in our room, Daniel invited us to have dinner with him in the hotel’s restaurant where we tried some delicious turkey soup, pork stuffed peppers, and deer with polenta. He told us about his business, which organizes and leads hunting parties. His family has a gigantic ranch right on the Danube where they can hunt for pheasant, quail, wild boar, and much more. After dinner he brought us on a quick sunset tour of his beautiful ranch where we saw sheep, ducks, geese, and about 15 hunting dogs. We absolutely loved it and were blown away by his hospitality.

The next morning Daniel knocked on our door and invited us down to breakfast. It was fun to skip our usual muesli and yogurt and enjoy another meal with Daniel. During breakfast we were joined by his cousin, Aristotle, who also worked in the family hunting business. We’d originally been planning to continue on our way after breakfast, but when Daniel and Aristotle invited us to have coffee with them in their favorite cafe, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

After sipping some espresso and discussing life in Romania, we decided to pay another visit to Daniel’s ranch to see some of the hunting dogs in action. These are two little four month old puppies going nuts for some fresh chicken!


The dogs were all so excited when they realized a few were about to get to go on a hunting expedition. We felt sorry for the ones that didn’t get selected for the outing.


Daniel and Aristotle picked four adult dogs and the two puppies for a walk through the woods to look for birds. We all loaded into a truck to drive to our scouting location.


It was so much fun to walk through fields and forests on such a beautiful fall day. The dogs went crazy running all over the place sniffing for birds, the puppies followed the adults and tried to copy everything they did, and we walked along with them spotting the birds they scared up. In addition to birds we found a place a wild boar had wallowed in the river mud and another place he’d scratched himself and his nasty mud on a tree trunk.


As we were driving back to town from the ranch, Daniel turned to James and said, “Hey, do you want to get a haircut?” James was way overdue for a trim so we happily trotted over to the barbershop where James got a European-chic haircut. Daniel wouldn’t let us pay at the barbershop and then turned to me and said “Now it is your turn!” He brought me to his friend’s beauty parlor where I was treated to a trim and a manicure. I was shocked (and delighted) to say the least. Talk about hospitality!

James’s first mullet! Eurostyle baby!



We then went back to Daniel’s hotel and ate more delicious Romanian soup and about 10lbs of grilled chicken and pork each. But the day wasn’t over yet! Daniel and Aristotle were driving the 115km to Bucharest that evening and invited us to come along. We were originally planning on skipping the city because it would be a several day ordeal for us, but a short car ride made it much more appealing, so we decided to join them. We left Calarasi at 5pm and arrived in Bucharest only one hour later. Here we are posing outside of The Home of the Nation.

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After taking a few tourist-style photographs we went to dinner at a nice restaurant owned by Daniel’s friend, called Palladium. It was delicious and so much fun to be hanging out in a fancy restaurant with our new haircuts and my new manicure! After dinner it was off to the giant shopping mall for the 3rd espresso of the day and then we returned to Calarasi and headed off to bed.

Aristotle, Jamie, and Daniel.

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The next day we woke up to gray skies and more rain, but we really felt like we should get on the road to Istanbul, so we decided to leave. We had so much fun with Daniel and Aristotle we seriously considered staying a couple of more days, but in the end we hit the road. The border was only about 10 kilometers from Daniel’s hotel but before we made it there another hotel owner pulled up in his car and asked us if we wanted to have some coffee and food at his hotel. Romanian hospitality is amazing!

Eventually we did make it across the border though. Now we will head southeast across Bulgaria until we hit the Black Sea where we will turn south.

Gettin’ Medieval

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

Romania is one of those countries where as soon as you cross the border it becomes apparent you’ve entered a whole new world. The first thing we noticed was the multitude of wells. They are all over the countryside and the villages.


Most are the traditional pulley type, but every so often we would see one that involved a giant lever.


Check out Sarah proving she is a true humanzee as she tries to figure out how to work this thing.

Along with the wells came an increase in the number of giant nests on the telephone poles. Every village seems to have at least three or four nests. Too bad we haven’t seen any of the giant birds yet!


We also immediately noticed a big change in the people and villages in Romania. Everyone is dressed very traditionally and horse-carts and bicycles have replaced cars as the dominant form of transportation.


We see dozens of horse-carts a day and they vary just like cars. You’ve got the antiques.


The old guys crawling down the street.


And even young guys hot roddin’ it up.


In most villages, the geese and turkeys outnumber the humans and all the locals are either herding their birds or sitting on benches lining the street and watching the action. It’s not uncommon to see a bench of three old women knitting followed a few meters down the road by one of three old men smoking.


There has also been a marked increase in the friendliness of the people here in Romania. Everyone yells and waves “hola”, “ciao”, “salud”, or “buna” as we pass. It’s a definite change from the severe stares we garnered throughout most of Eastern Europe.


We will continue to cycle east in the Wallachia region for a couple of more days before we cross the border into Bulgaria and then head southeast to the Black Sea.


Saturday, October 20th, 2007

The Djerdap National Park has definitely been the scenic highlight of Serbia.

You’ve got beautiful views of the Danube and surrounding gorge.


And great cycling too. The road is called the “Danube Highway” but there is barely any traffic on it at all. The asphalt is like, totally fresh.


The only negative is that there are 21 tunnels on the road. Most are short but the longest is over 300 meters; they are all unlit. That would have scared us away if traffic was even moderate but we usually have the tunnels completely to ourselves.


We started this trip with front lights for our bicycles, but we couldn’t find a good way to attach them to our racks, so we gave up on them. We haven’t really missed them except when riding through dark tunnels, but then Sarah came up with the brilliant idea of wrapping our trusty headlamps around our handlebar bags. It may not look like much in this photo, but it works like a charm in a pitch-black tunnel!


We are still on the Danube bicycle route, but there are no bicycle signs at this point. You can purchase German maps but we’ve just been ridin’ freestyle since there is basically only one road to follow and the Danube is pretty hard to lose. The views have really been fantastic.


There are two hydroelectric dams here. I can’t imagine how beautiful this place must have been before the river was dammed.


Not many people live in this area of Serbia. The locals we’ve met have told us that most of the towns and villages around here are actually shrinking as the young people move to Belgrade or out of the country looking for work. We did meet one young guy, who was a bit of a nefarious character, but he was friendly and spoke English well so we spent an afternoon with him as the “face of Serbia” as he put it. That meant putting away about 6 liters of beer among us and trying some traditional Serbian food. We had a bland, white-bean soup with a delicious sausage in it and a salad consisting of tomatoes, cucumbers, and copious amounts of shredded cheese on top.


We were amazed when he managed to ride and balance Sarah’s fully loaded bicycle while she perched sideways on the top tube. Sarah says this is the second scariest things she’s done on the trip so far.


We’ve been staying in a mix of campsites, private pensions, and hotels. The pensions are our favorite because we get to meet the local people and sometimes try traditional food. We usually cook ourselves on a deck or in the park to keep costs down and because Sarah is practicing for her new Food Network show, Gas Stove Gourmet.


When we do eat with the hosting family at a pension, breakfast and dinner are usually accompanied with what the Serbians call “schnapps”, but it tastes the same as the herbal brandy we tried in Croatia. It is always homemade, but neither of us has gone blind yet. Excellent sausage is also part of every meal.


Everyone also heats their homes with woodstoves around here. Walking through the villages, it is amazing how much wood is stacked up all over the place. We were wondering how there were any trees left in the forest at all. Most pension owners start the fire for us in a matter of minutes, but it was a bit more difficult for a couple of city slickers like us. We briefly considered using some of the gasoline from our fuel bottles as an accelerant before we finally got a nice blaze going. Toasty!

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We’re out of the gorge now and on the border between Serbia and Bulgaria. Now we’ll follow the Danube east to the Black Sea.

The Blue Danube

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

(Ed. Note – Public internet connections are extremely hard to find and extremely slow in Serbia. Thus, the pictures in this post are not links.)

It was a 115 kilometer ride from Novi Sad to Belgrade. It’s the last section of the Danube bicycle route that is signed, so we took backroads for much of the way. We (of course) got lost a few times and in general had a really long day. We arrived in Belgrade as it was starting to get dark. In Novi Sad we’d gotten in touch with Catherine, a woman from Seattle that was currently working as a teacher in Belgrade and had found out about our website from a mutual friend at Microsoft. We were looking forward to staying with a fellow American and were riding along searching for her house when we met a 15 year old Serbian kid named Phillip. He spoke excellent English and was really interested to hear about our trip, so we chatted with him as we rode along the bicycle bath in Belgrade. After a few kilometers we asked him where Catherine’s street was and were amazed that he volunteered to escort us to her front door. Along the way he asked a bunch of people how to get there (he didn’t know, but was helping us anyway), and then whipped out his cellphone when we got close to her house to call her and let her know we’d arrived. We were so impressed and it was such a huge help to have him with us. Thanks Phillip!


It was great to meet Catherine and find out that she was exactly our age and we had a lot in common. She even ran a marathon with her brother, just like me! We went out for pizza with Catherine and another American teacher named Melissa and then took a bus downtown to have drinks at the Canadian embassy’s happy hour. Who knew embassies had happy hours?! It was so much fun to hang out with Catherine and Melissa that we decided to stay for an extra day to attend a birthday pig-roast party at another teacher’s house in the countryside near Belgrade.

We went for a one hour bus ride to get to the birthday party house. I almost puked on the way there and also on the way home (so Sean, don’t worry, it is not your driving’s fault that I puked in Croatia!) The house belonged to a pair of American teachers that had been living and teaching in Belgrade for three years or so. The party was so much fun – roasted pig, home baked Serbian pastries from a neighbor, beer and wine, and birthday cake. We also had baked potatoes and roasted garlic cooked over the campfire. It was a teacher party and Jamie and I both had a lot of fun asking questions about what it was like to be a teacher and hearing all the crazy stories.


Jamie, Melissa, Sarah, and Catherine.


The next day we left Belgrade to ride along the Danube towards the Black Sea. After 20km of busy city roads we got onto a small dirt road that snaked along the top of the Danube’s bank. It was peaceful and beautiful, but slow going. To be honest, I did not believe Jamie that this was the “road” we were supposed to be on. I kept stopping and demanding that we turn back. It got better after a few kilometers, but at first it was muddy grassy ruts.


We’ve been lucky with weather. It has been feeling really chilly during the days (around 10C – 15C), so we’ve both switched to our long pants, gloves, and we wear our coats all the time now. At night it gets down to almost freezing; our thermometer is usually around 3C in the mornings. These temperatures would be miserable with rain, but so far we’ve avoided it. Here’s Jamie in his cold weather outfit.


The scenery has been river on one side and flat farmland on the other. Farmers are out all day long every day working in their fields. So much so that it is sometimes tough to find a private place to pee!


The small towns have been a lot of fun. In one town, all the old women were selling brooms at the market.


We also found a place along the Danube to balance our camera and take a few rare self-timer shots of both of us riding!


Camping is not very popular in Serbia, especially this late in the year, and we’ve had a really hard time finding campsites. In Novi Sad we went online and looked up all the official sites we could find in Serbia and marked them on our map. We found a grand total of two that were open in the country – luckily they were both on our route along the Danube

The first campsite was more of a trailer community near the Danube. They didn’t have hot water so we couldn’t take showers, but they did let campers stay for the first seven days free, which made up for the lack of amenities. The other good thing about this campsite was meeting a little dog that took a great liking to us. He hung around us all evening (even though we never fed him) then tried to get into our tent at bedtime using a great variety of tricks. He tried to dig through the side, took a running leap and hurled himself into the side of the tent, burrowed under a vestibule and peeked in the window, and then he tried to dig underneath the tent floor to find an underground entrance. The next morning as we rode out of the campsite he met us on the road and started trotting alongside us. It was fun to have a companion for the first few kilometers but after he’d been following us for 30 minutes we started to get nervous that he’d never leave. A full hour later he was still with us and Jamie was starting to talk about what we’d have to do to take him home with us, whether we could plan a route away from busy roads so he could trot along with us every day, how much dog food we’d have to carry, and how he was going to get along with our cats at home. Around this time the dog got distracted by a flock of goats which allowed us to pull ahead. He must have turned around and headed for home after harassing the goats because we didn’t see him again.


Look closely and you can see my little pet trotting alongside me!


The next day we ferried across the Danube in order to stay on the best roads for cycling. The ferry left at 11:30am or 3pm each day and when we started off in the morning we thought we’d have plenty of time to ride the 40 kilometers to the ferry location to make the 11:30 ferry. However, somehow we managed to travel so slowly that with one hour left we still had way too much distance to make at a comfortable speed. We did an almost-full-out sprint from 11 to 11:30 and miraculously rode right onto the ferry just as it was about to set off across the river. Whew! The ferry wasn’t a boat – it was more of a wooden platform that was hitched to a little tugboat to get across the river.


That night we found our second campsite in Serbia next to the Danube in the small town of Silver Lake. We were excited about this one because it looked larger than the other one, and was open year round so we expected them to have hot water and showers. No such luck. This one was basically a creepy lot near the river completely crammed full of small camper trailers that you could rent out. The campground was completely deserted except for us. There was no hot water. No toilet paper. I felt lucky that the toilet flushed at all. We were charged $14 for this delightful spot. I wanted to argue about the price after we found out how crappy everything was, but the caretaker spoke no English, no German, and was an ornery old guy. For example when we checked in he asked if we needed electricity; we said no. Later when we were cooking our dinner with our gas stove he ran over to see if we had an electric stove we’d plugged in and were using to steal his precious electricity! So in the morning we just paid our $14, were annoyed, and left.

One highlight was the sunset on the Danube.


The towns along the Danube have nice little promenades that are perfect for eating lunch. The views are great.


We are heading towards the most beautiful spot on the Danube – a deep gorge on the eastern edge of Serbia that’s actually a National Park.

Lucky 13

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

We’ve just entered our thirteenth country – Serbia! We spent the night in the Bosnia-Herzegovina border town of Zvornik. The town itself was fine, but the only two hotels in the city were ridiculously expensive. We ended up paying $70 for a tiny hotel room. There was just enough room to open the door, take two steps into the room, then jump directly into one of the two twin beds the room contained. An added treat was that the room was on the ground floor, the window by my bed had apparently been left open all day, and there were a few little millipede looking worm things cuddled up under my blanket. I was incredibly grossed out and had a hard time sleeping after listening to Jamie repeatedly ponder whether they’d be looking for a warm place to curl up and sleep at night.

We rode over a bridge into Serbia first thing in the morning. We didn’t have any Serbian dinar and were on the lookout for an ATM so we could get money out for lunch. Usually this isn’t a problem and we find an ATM within an hour or so of entering a new country. Unfortunately for us there were no ATMs in any of the small towns along our first day’s route. 85km down the road was a larger city that we thought would have an ATM but until then we were completely broke! We had some Croatian Kuna that we tried to exchange at a few banks when we started to get desperate for lunch money, but no one would accept them. We also had 2 Euro that I tried to spend at a supermarket, but of course no one wanted them. I was dejectedly walking out of the supermarket wondering what we were going to eat for lunch when I happened to spy a 200 Dinar bill ($4) laying on the ground. Yippee!! We used it to buy some food at the bakery and made it the rest of the way to our first stop in Serbia – the city of Šabac. The Serbian countryside we rode through during the day was pretty farmland. The poor road quality, small towns, and vendors selling produce along the roadsides made us feel like we were back in Asia.


It is harvest time here, and all day we see farmers driving tractors down the road and working in their cornfields.


Once again we had trouble finding an affordable place to stay in Šabac. There was no camping and only two hotels in town. They both cost approx $100 for a room. With no other options, we stayed in the $100 room and groaned about how this was absolutely destroying our budget. To rub salt in the wound, the room was not even nice. The shower didn’t drain, the bathroom smelled like sewage, and the cable going into the TV looked like it had been chewed apart by a mouse, which made the reception horrible. It was like the hotel quality in Cambodia at Western European prices! We ate bread, cheese, and apples for dinner while watching CNN and Animal Planet. The exorbitant price did include a buffet breakfast which was tasty. I enjoyed a nice selection of pastries and Jamie had some strange meats and pickled things.

It was another 85km to the large city of Novi Sad. Novi Sad is on the Danube and we were expecting the entire ride to be pancake flat. So we were both pretty shocked when we climbed a 300m pass followed by a 500m pass, including multiple 12% grades!


Near the top of the pass we stopped for a snack. While we were sitting there eating our bread, cheese, and apples two dogs came over to check us out. One of the dogs was smallish with black wavy fur – it looked exactly like a little lamb. I loved it. It lied down on the ground about two feet away from our feet and literally slithered over to us on its belly. It wanted to be petted and fed, which of course we did! Every time we see a stray animal we always wish we could take it with us.

Due to road construction we were forced to rejoin a major road for the final 20km into Novi Sad. Half of this 20km included winding steep descents towards the river basin. The drivers in Serbia have been some of the most aggressive, macho, and basically insane drivers we’ve seen anywhere in the world. They have a mania for passing each other, even if it is completely obvious that there is nothing to be gained by passing (i.e. slow moving traffic due to upcoming road blockades for road construction). This insatiable urge to pass every moving vehicle on the road persists even on blind corners, mountain roads with no shoulder, alongside slow moving cyclists, or the combination of all three of these things. To top this all off we have been seeing roadside gravestones every kilometer or so – I can only assume these are victims of traffic accidents. It is really unbelievable and has convinced us to stick to small roads whenever possible!

Novi Sad was a much bigger city that we’d expected. It is also really beautiful, especially around the main square.

The Catholic Cathedral’s spire is rainbow colored!

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Painted cows are scattered throughout the city.





We originally planned to stay in Novi Sad for one day to rest before heading to Belgrade. Last night we checked the weather though, and found out that there would be one more day of cold and rainy weather before things start to clear up, so we decided to hang out here for one more day before riding along the Danube to Belgrade.

The Balkans

Sunday, October 7th, 2007

Getting out of Sarajevo was one of the worst experiences we have had on the bike so far. The only way out of the city is on very busy roads and we had to battle the heavy traffic and crazy Bosnian drivers for over an hour. The scenery was industrial wasteland and the smells were also quite disgusting. Garbage was everywhere and whiffs of soot and pollution were only interrupted by the stench of raw sewage. It really was the worst area we have ever cycled through. Finally, after what seemed like an endless 20 kilometers, we reached a quiet secondary road where we could cycle in peace and enjoy the fall colors that are starting to appear.


Our peace didn’t last too long though because we soon rolled through the town of Vareš. Wow. Vareš seemed to consist solely of destroyed buildings and giant Soviet-style apartment blocks. It was shocking and sad to see how much destruction the war had caused in this small town. It also seemed like every single person in the town stopped what they were doing to stare at us as we passed. Riding through the street with the destroyed industrial buildings towering over us really made it feel like we were on some sort of horrible movie set. It was pretty unreal and we began to get nervous about what we were riding into.


We were originally planning to stop for the night in Vareš, but after getting such a weird vibe and not seeing any accommodation, we decided to push on. The road continued to get smaller and smaller and soon we were on a barely one-lane road climbing high into the forested mountains. When the road finally turned to gravel, we knew we were lost and we began to ask every local we saw for directions. Everyone kept saying “kugel” and pointing us back in the direction we came. We backtracked until we realized that “kugel” meant tunnel and that we needed to go through a 600-meter, unlit, unpaved tunnel to continue on. Every cyclist’s worst nightmare!


We put on our rear flashing lights and were searching for our headlamps when a car pulled up. We flagged them down and were able to mime that we wanted to follow behind them to utilize the light from their headlights. We started out behind them, but our plan didn’t work very well because their lights lit up the road about 15 feet ahead of us but the area directly in front of us was pitch black. We couldn’t see the road surface at all, so we had to just ride blindly and hope that there weren’t any large ruts or potholes to take us down. There were about 30 seconds of complete panic when the car ahead started going too fast for us to keep up. I was pedaling furiously and screaming at Sarah, “Get up here!”, but it was hopeless because she just couldn’t go that fast. Luckily, just as I was losing all hope of surviving, the end of the tunnel became visible and we were able to cycle safely out. Ah, sweet daylight!

The area we were cycling in was extremely remote. The road was surrounded by thick forest and the villages we passed through were comprised of one or two houses and no shops. We were carrying no food and had run out of water too, so we were debating what to do when we rode past a house with a sign with a bed on it. We went up to the front door and met Jozo and Erika who welcomed us and told us they could feed us and give us a place to sleep for the night. Jozo spoke a little English and little German, so we were able to communicate fairly well and we learned that he was trying to develop tourism in the area. He had produced all kinds of brochures and maps with information and he and Erika had turned their small farm into a bed-and-breakfast type place for tourists to stay.


We had a great time staying with Jozo and Erika. We got to try some traditional Bosnian food that was produced by Erika with ingredients almost solely from the farm. Practically the only thing they purchased was flour and they were even thinking of starting to make that too. We ate three different types of homemade cheese that ranged from creamy to salty and tried fried pickles with homemade mustard and pepper spreads.


After dinner we got to help feed the chickens, ducks, and pigs and watch Jozo milk the cow. Jozo’s favorite saying was “slowly, slowly” which he applied to almost every situation and it seemed like he and Erika had a really relaxed, peaceful life up in the mountains.


In the morning, we tried traditional Bosnian coffee which was surprisingly good. Our Lonely Planet guidebook claims you will see Bosnians drinking their traditional coffee in cafes, but we have only seen tourists trying it. All the locals are drinking espresso. I expected it to be really thick and bitter, but it was nice and smooth.


After breakfast, we said goodbye and set off through some beautiful forest roads.


Jozo had told us we should check out the water-powered factory along the way where they have been using the river to power a metal-works for hundreds of years. We were afraid we were going to miss it, but it was easy to spot because the sound was deafening. The rushing water was used to power a giant wooden hammer that pounded the red-hot metal as one of the workers shaped it. We both agreed, it was one of the coolest things we have seen in Bosnia and Herzegovina.


We spent the next couple of days heading northeast and the rain finally caught us again. Luckily, the steep descents were behind us before it got really wet, so it wasn’t too bad. The locals have seemed to get friendlier and friendlier each day. We are almost as much of an amusement here as we were in Southeast Asia. Shopowners have been giving us coffee and tea to warm us up and we met a group of young guys at a cafe who invited us to sit down and have a drink with them. Our impression of the people has done a complete 180 from how we felt in Vareš.


Next stop Serbia!

Mostar to Sarajevo

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

Location: Ten kilometers north of Mostar.
Conditions: Nasty headwind. Narrow road. Frightening traffic.
Realization: This is not fun, this is stupid.

Our original plan was to cycle from Mostar to Sarajevo but we ended up taking the train instead. The road from Mostar to Sarajevo is just not suitable for cycling. It’s a narrow, winding road with no shoulder and very heavy traffic. To top things off, there are multiple tunnels on the road with no bypass routes. We got about 10 kilometers out of Mostar before we decided to turn around and hop on the train instead. It’s too bad, because it would be a beautiful road for cycling but the view from the train was nice too.


The city of Mostar was great. After cycling through Europe for two months, it was a dramatic change to descend into Mostar and see the minarets dotting the skyline and to ride through the city streets while the call to prayer played over the loudspeakers.


Actually, the entire country of Bosnia and Herzegovina felt different from the rest of Europe right from the start. It seems like the entire country is under construction. Concrete and rough brick buildings are going up everywhere and it feels a little more like Southeast Asia in that way. In the first hour after we crossed the border, I saw more G-class and S-class Mercedes than I’ve seen in the rest of Europe combined. I have no idea why that is. The drivers are also a little crazy. I think the citizens haven’t decided on the national honking protocol because we’ve heard the “I’m passing you.” honk, the “Way to go!” honk, and the “Get the f**k off the road!” honk quite a bit. About half the drivers don’t honk at all. Drivers are pretty good when passing from behind, but way too many people ignore our bikes and pass in the oncoming direction while we are in the opposite lane here. I hate it when drivers do that more than anything else because I usually don’t realize it is happening until the car is right on top of me.

Mostar is famous for it’s bridge: originally built in 1556 and destroyed during the war in 1993.


The bridge was rebuilt in 2004 and there is a tradition of local guys jumping and diving off it (for money now). Here is a video we took of one guy taking the plunge. After he jumped, we looked out over the edge of the bridge and both decided we could do it too.

The old city is nice but the most fascinating thing about Mostar is the ruins of buildings destroyed during the war. You can walk down almost any street and right next to a functioning shop or office will be a bullet-riddled ruin. We spent most of our days there wandering around the city staring at the locals and wondering what they were doing during the war.


One other difference about Bosnia and Herzegovina is that it is pretty cheap. Groceries and restaurants are the most noticeably different, while camping and pensions are about the same as elsewhere (US$20-30). We haven’t free-camped due to the multitude of landmines that are still left in the country. Cheap food really makes a huge difference for us because we love to try all the local delicacies. The first thing we tried was Burek. It’s a buttery, flaky pastry sort of like a croissant filled with all different types of hearty food you would associate with Eastern Europe. We’ve tried potato, cheese, spinach and cheese, and meat and potato. The meat and potato was the best by far: nice and juicy and a little spicy. You buy Burek by the kilogram and one kilo runs about 7KM (~US$5).


Now we are in Sarajevo, visiting the museums and wandering around the city. It’s amazing how busy this city is. Walking down the pedestrian thoroughfare on a Wednesday afternoon, you wonder whether or not it is actually Saturday due to all the people out and about. The other amazing thing is how tall the young people are. We’ve noticed that all over Europe that there are a decent number of young women who are taller than me and the men are absolutely gigantic! We thought we were tall but we are beginning to feel like shrimps. We’re going to hang out here for a couple of days and then head northeast towards Serbia and Bulgaria.