October 20th, 2007 by James

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

October 14th, 2007 by Sarah

(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

October 11th, 2007 by Sarah

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

October 7th, 2007 by James

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

October 3rd, 2007 by James

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.

Momma I’m Coming Home!

September 28th, 2007 by James

Exciting news – we purchased our airline tickets home! On November 21st, after 368 days on the road, we will fly from Istanbul, Turkey to Wilmington, North Carolina, USA. It’s hard to believe we have less than 60 days of bicycle touring left. Our rough plan is to cycle through Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Bulgaria on our way to Turkey. If we arrive in Turkey ahead of schedule, we’ll cycle down the Aegean coast before heading back to Istanbul to fly home.

We also said goodbye to Sean today. After spending two days hanging out in Split, Sean headed north towards Zagreb and we headed east, away from the Adriatic and towards the mountainous interior. It was a little strange to be back on the bikes after close to two weeks of taking it easy. I found myself worrying about all the same things I agonized over at the beginning of the trip: flat tires, mechanical failures, getting hit by a car, and the like.


The beautiful scenery helped to ease my mind though. After about 10 kilometers on the busy coastal road, we turned inland and headed through some gorgeous mountain scenery towards Bosnia and Herzegovina.


We’ll cross the border tomorrow and check out Mostar and Sarajevo. The weather today was great: sunny but with nice crisp fall air to keep us from overheating on the climbs. We are hoping the weather holds out until we get across the mountains.

Island Hopping

September 25th, 2007 by Sarah

We left Dubrovnik via ferry, headed towards the island of Korcula where we planned to begin traveling north through some of Croatia’s most beautiful islands. We were really surprised to find that the cost to bring our two bicycles on the ferry was almost the same as one car – $45!


The ferry ride was beautiful. At one of the ports along the way some of the crew fished off the side of the boat. They used only a piece of fishing line (no pole) which they’d rigged to end in two small hooks, side by side, baited with pieces of bread or old mussels. They’d throw a slice of bread into the water to whip the fish into a feeding frenzy, then toss their line into the fray. They’d almost immediately hook at least one fish, sometimes two!


We’d originally planned to ride from the east end of Korcula to the western-most port, then catch a ferry north to the next island. Upon arrival we found that this wasn’t possible – the ferry that carried cars and bicycles only departed from the eastern city. After a quick brainstorm we decided to spend one day riding west across the island, spend the night on the west end, and then ride back the next morning in time to catch the ferry to the next island.

The ride was breathtakingly beautiful – Croatia is definitely one of the most beautiful spots of our trip so far. The island of Korcula was only 46km long but very hilly – we climbed a total of 800 meters to get across the island!



We took a detour off the main road to avoid traffic but were surprised to find our chosen road was in the process of being rebuilt. It was 11km of loose gravel along the steep coastal cliffs, which made for some hair descents!



Along the way we passed pomegranate trees, sampled fresh figs from trees growing beside the road, and passed many olive groves and vineyards.





We spent the night in the sleepy town of Vela Luka. It was a pretty town with, as our guidebook put it “an embryonic tourist industry.” They weren’t kidding around – we had a tough time finding a place to eat dinner! It was fun to hang out for a day in a pretty little town that wasn’t full of tourists.

The next morning we rode the 46km and climbed the 800 meters back east to catch our next ferry to the island of Hvar. We arrived on the island at 4:30 in the afternoon but quickly realized that we hadn’t been dropped off in the island’s main city of Hvar, but instead a small port city called Stari Grad. Hvar city was 15km away so Jamie and I had to get back on our bikes and started pedaling again. The 15km ride was stunningly beautiful – we rode up and down along a cliff that soared straight out of the ocean.


We reached Hvar city one hour later and after checking our altimeter found that we’d broken our record for vertical meters climbed in one day since we started tracking this stat in Germany – 1,100m!

Hvar is almost as beautiful as Dubrovnik, but less busy and crowded. The harbor is chock full of multi million dollar yachts and the city is brimming with cute cafes, bars, and restaurants. We’ve been hanging out here for the past few days and tomorrow plan to take one last ferry ride to the town of Split where we’ll stay for a day or two and then part ways with our friend Sean.




I can’t forget to mention that in a Dubrovnik bookstore I picked up a copy of the 2008 Guinness Book of World Records and found the entry for my dad and brother’s record setting “largest free floating soap bubble”!


Paradise on Earth

September 21st, 2007 by Sarah

Dubrovnik, Croatia truly has it all. Sparkling, clear waters. An ancient walled city. Beautiful people. And of course exorbitant prices.


We arrived here on the 17th after three days of transit by train and bus. Never fun, but we made the best of it. We spent four hours on an outdoor train platform near Vienna in the wee hours of the morning, but with our camping gear at hand we passed the time by making coffee and chatting with our new Swiss friend Stephanie.


After the 10 hour train ride we rested for one day in a campsite in Zagreb, Croatia before taking an 11 hour overnight bus to reach Dubrovnik. We pulled into the Dubrovnik station at 6am, loaded our bikes, brushed past the aggressive hotel touts and taxi drivers, and rode off into the sunrise toward the city’s campground. We set up our tent and slept for a few hours before cleaning ourselves up and riding into town to meet our friend Sean. Finding each other in the city at an undetermined time and in an unspecific place seemed daunting, but just as we locked up our bikes and began walking into the old walled town we walked right into Sean! We spent the next couple of days exploring the city, sampling the fresh seafood, and relaxing on the beaches.




The old town of Dubrovnik is eye-poppingly beautiful. Gorgeous ancient buildings and streets that are actually made of marble. It really is one of the most magical places we have seen in Europe.




Tiny cafes are perched on the walls of the city overlooking the Adriatic Sea.


Sean rented a car so one day we made a day trip down the coast to another ancient walled city: Kotor, Montenegro. Kotor sits at the end of a massive fjord.


A crumbling fortress overlooks the city and of course we had to climb to the top.


Before leaving Montenegro we took advantage of the more reasonable prices and went on a shopping spree to stock up on important things like 2-liter bottles of beer and the famous local cherry brandy

The next day we made another day trip, this time to the tip of a peninsula north of Dubrovnik that’s known for its beaches. The roads were narrow and windy and the drive took longer than expected. I felt sick during the whole drive and just 10 km shy of our goal city lost my battle with motion sickness and demanded Sean pull over at the closest possible opportunity. He did, I barfed, and then we carried on to the beautiful city of Orebic where we lounged on the beach reading for a few hours.

On the way home we stopped for dinner at a popular looking restaurant where we all ordered the house specialty: veal fillets. They were delicious! Sean ordered the herbal brandy which tasted like rubbing alcohol and herbal perfume. We each took a sip and then abandoned the rest. For dessert we were intrigued by the local specialty called “Macaroni Cake”. We couldn’t imagine what this was going to be like – a cake actually made from pasta seemed far fetched. Turns out the dessert was very faithful to its name – it was pie crust filled with cooked macaroni noodles that had been tossed in a chocolate sauce, then compressed into a pie shape and chilled. Sean said it reminded him of a million little fish mouths gaping up at him. As soon as he said that I realized he was exactly right and I lost my appetite for the strange dessert. It was definitely a very entertaining meal.

Now for the sticker shock. A campsite in Dubrovnik runs about 140 kuna (~$US28). A 0.25L beer at a seaside cafe is 28 kuna (~$US5.60) and internet access is 25 kuna (~$US5) per hour! A dramatic step up from the rest of Eastern Europe. The crowds here are also amazing. The city feels at least as crowded as Prague. If it really is busier here in July and August, I think it would be unbearable.

Tomorrow we head north along the coastal islands via a combination of ferry and bicycle.

A Bike Ride through Slovakia

September 14th, 2007 by James

We finally escaped the cold, wet weather of Zakopane! On the morning of the 8th we woke up in our tent and it wasn’t raining. That was quite a shock as we had just endured five straight days of nearly incessant rain. I can’t lie, all that weather caused a lot of “Why am I doing this?” moments. Things weren’t helped by the fact that our campground had been taken over by a large group of partying Polish youths. They had tents, but also had the brilliant idea of turning the communal TV room into the location for a multi-day slumber party. We spent most of our time at the campground resenting them.

Right after we woke up, we quickly ran over to the information center to see if it was supposed to be dry all day. The woman working told us that it was and that we better leave today because it was supposed to rain every other day until the 15th! She also told us that we should head west instead of east to avoid the most climbing and descending. Back at the campsite we quickly packed up everything. Our tent was soaking wet; I think the water must have added at least 5 pounds to the weight of the tent.


We only had to ride about 20 kilometers and we were at the Poland-Slovakia border. The guards at the border checked our passports and seeing we were American brought them back into the office for some additional examination. That’s the first time the European border guards have done more than glance at us and wave us through.

I think Sarah underwent some sort of mental change from all the rain. Even the blue skies couldn’t convince her that she was going to be dry, so she suffered in her hot, sweaty raincoat.


If there is one word to describe Slovakia it is mountainous. And for us it has also been very wet. After the nice weather on the 8th, it started raining and we’ve had at least some rain every day since. We were originally planning to ride directly south to Budapest, but our first campsite in Slovakia had a 3D map of the country and we realized our route would take us directly over some high mountains. So we decided to change plans and head southeast to Bratislava instead.

Over the next couple of days we were pretty successful in avoiding any major climbs, but the riding was hilly and we were constantly surrounded by mountains. Except for the gray weather, the scenery was very nice. I think we are here just a couple of weeks too early. If the leaves were changing color it would be spectacular.




Drying out our gear as much as possible in the early afternoon became a common theme.


I think we saw maybe one or two stumbling-drunk old guys in all of the Czech Republic and Poland, but we saw two really weird ones on the same day in Slovakia. The first guy was at the cafe inside a giant Tesco supermarket. He was sitting at a table with a lot of money strewn all over and he was yelling occasionally. Everyone was ignoring him, so we did too. Then all of the sudden he stood up quickly and then keeled over backwards and was sprawled out on the middle of the cafe floor. The more surprising thing was that everyone just continued to ignore him. People acted like it was business as usual; maybe it was. Eventually a bunch of construction workers came and picked him up and put him in a chair again. Someone else gathered up his wads of cash and put it all back into his wallet for him. Afterwards, he kept getting up and harassing the construction workers. Maybe that is why everyone was ignoring him in the first place. We took off and then only about 10 kilometers down the road we passed a hectic bus stop were people were coming and going. Totally normal except there was a guy who was lying on the pavement next to his bike right in the middle of the bus lane. He looked like he had fallen off his bike and had just never gotten up. Everyone was ignoring him too.

On our third day of riding, Sarah started to feel like she was getting a cold. She got worse throughout the day and by the afternoon she was feeling pretty miserable. We asked at a small grocery store if there was any camping nearby and were told there was a site about 15 kilometers away, so we headed in the direction he pointed us. When we arrived at the village where the campsite was supposed to be, we didn’t see any signs so we asked a teenage boy if there was any camping around. He said yes and pointed down the road. When we asked how far, he said 2 kilometers. Now that we had been told by two people that there was a campsite, we were feeling pretty confident that there was one, but we couldn’t find it. We rode about four kilometers without seeing anything but thick forest and it was getting dark so we decided to look for a pension to spend the night. Sarah was convinced the teenage boy was actually afraid of us and didn’t speak English, but was just trying to tell us what we wanted to hear. I’m not sure what happened. In any case, after a little searching in the village we found a nice pension run by a friendly German-speaking family. We’ve been pleasantly surprised at how useful our German has been all over Eastern Europe. The pension came with a private bathroom, fridge, satellite TV, and full kitchen for 600 Slovak crowns (~US$25).


Sarah was still feeling poorly the next morning so we decided to rest one more day in comfort in the pension. We spent the day watching music videos on the European channels and I attempted to do all our laundry in our dry bag. I don’t think it was worth it because it took forever and didn’t work as well as a washing machine. Afterwards, my thick wool socks still smelled like the inside of a barn.

After Sarah was feeling sufficiently recovered, we pushed on. About 200 kilometers from Bratislava things really flattened out. We had an extremely gradual descent from 500m down to 50m and then it was pancake flat from then on.



The flat farmland was a nice change, but unfortunately some nasty winds came along with it. At times we were struggling to cycle 10km/h. Here is Sarah explaining to me that we’re doomed and should seriously consider hitchhiking. (Once again, despite the blue skies she can’t seem to part from that raincoat!)


The last 100 kilometers or so into Bratislava were uneventful except for two things. One, they bake gargantuan loaves of bread around here.


And two, Sarah hit 8000 kilometers on her odometer right as we road into Bratislava.


Now that we’ve arrived in Bratislava, we are attempting to figure out how we are going to get to Dubrovnik, Croatia to meet our friend Sean. By land it will entail a train ride to Zagreb and a bus down the coast to Dubrovnik. We are also considering leaving our bikes in Bratislava and just flying to Croatia and then returning to Bratislava October 1st and picking up the cycling where we left off.

Trapped in a Winter Wonderland

September 5th, 2007 by Sarah

The alpine weather in Zakopane is not working in our favor. The day after our hiking expedition it started to rain and has now been raining non-stop for 48 hours. The mountain trails we were just hiking on are now buried in snow! I still have a lingering dread of wet slippery roads – especially hilly roads – after the Laos accident, which means we are essentially stuck here until the weather clears up.

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There was a new development at our campsite when we woke up this morning. Sleet! The temperature is hovering right around freezing and a thin layer of ice is forming on everything. Now we really don’t want to ride out of here on icy mountain roads!

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We’ve been killing time at warm cafes, sipping cappuccino while researching modern tent design and pondering when we will be able to leave. We’ve been reading up on tents because we’ve realized ours has a serious condensation problem. We dry it out before we go to sleep and when we wake up the floor of the tent is soaking wet. Not a good combination with our down sleeping bags! Luckily, the women’s bathroom at our campsite has some warm radiators so we’ve been able to dry out our mats and sleeping bags during the day.

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I have also been testing my skills at drawing Jamie’s portrait using the materials of ballpoint pen and notebook paper. So far I have titled my creations “Cro-Magnon Man”, “Skeletor”, and “Droopy Forehead”. There are lots of portrait artists on the street here and I have a growing desire to set up shop among them and draw people’s portraits while muttering to myself “Oops!” and “Oh…sorry!” I imagine this would be hugely entertaining.



Wandering around the city center, we are infinitely jealous of all the tourists who we imagine have warm snug rooms to go back to in the evening. We keep telling ourselves it wouldn’t be so bad if we were dry. I guess we’ll find out soon enough; it looks like winter might be arriving early this year!