From Belgrade to Sofia

Sofia (Bulgaria), 20.04.2013

It was the first time I visited Serbia and Belgrade, Helena already knew the city although from 20 years ago. After a healthy breakfast on the terrace of our Hotel we went for a tour of the city.On saturday morning there was already a lot of action on the streets, including a biker meeting in the city center that later ended with hundreds of bikes driving through the city. We found the Ivo Andric Museum on our way to the Cathedral of Saint Sava, a huge building that is currently being renovated. Walking through the smaller streets I had to think about Athens very often, mixed with post-communist charme I found in East-Berlin. The bohéme district of Skadarlija was the perfect spot for a drink before heading back to the hotel and take off. While Helena met an aunt and cousin, I packed the car. Before leaving the city, we went to see the Tito Museum, or Museum of Yugoslav History. It was not easy to find, but a Police jeep finally escorted us to the place. Set on a hill in a district full of embassies, villas and parks, there are three buildings. We saw one of them, the pavilion with Tito’s tombstone. Unfortunately shortly after us an entire busload of senior tourists flooded the museum and we had to leave.

DSC_0025 DSC_0024 DSC_0015 DSC_0013DSC_0042On our way to Sofia (Bulgaria), we wanted to see the Studenica monastery, but it was already late and it would have taken a 250km detour on small roads. So we skipped it. Tito won over the monastery in the fight for our attention. Until Nis the road was very good, a true motorway. After that it converted into a smaller one-lane road, and we had to slow down. As it became dark we approached the Bulgarian frontier, and found out that we had forgotten our IDs in the hotel in Belgrade. Not good.

We finally reached Sofia at night. Driving through the city (and getting lost a couple of times) we saw many impressive buildings. This time we found a restaurant not too far away from the hotel for a very late night dinner (even for spanish timing), with great food, local beer, and a fantastic dessert that we’re not sure what it was (a mix of cream, nuts, italian style white “torrone” on a soft biscuit). A nice way to close this day.

Trip data (Day/Total)

– Km driven: 473 /3.713

– Hrs driving: 6/-

– Diesel l/100km: 10,6/10,7

From Sarajevo to Belgrade

Belgrade (Serbia), 19.04.2013

After a day of rest it was time to get back on the road. We left Sarajevo on the road into the mountains on the east, driving into a breathtaking alpine landscape. After 2 hours we arrived at Visegrad, to see the famous bridge from Ivo Andric’s novel. The bridge is nice, on a turquoise river. Probably carried away by literary romanticism, we expected a turkish or old village near the bridge. But no, on one side there is the road, and on the other side a cement, socialist village, quite boring actually. The best part was driving down the drina valley, admiring the intense color of the river and the mountains on both sides. Since we didn’t want to cross 3 borders (into Serbia, back to Bosnia, and into Serbia again), we drove back for approx 80km, loosing quite some time.

DSC_0004 DSC_0023DSC_0047DSC_0063DSC_0066After Visegrad the direction was Zvornik, the border town with Serbia. I got the GoPro camera to work and took first videos.We took a detour to see a village that got sadly famous for the biggest ethnic cleansing, or genocide since WWII: Srebrenica. There were no road signs to lead to the town, and it took us 45 mins through bad roads, partially unpaved, passing several valleys. There was a strange atmosphere in the air, we didn’t speak for most of the trip. We finally descended into the town, that looked like a normal Bosnian countryside village. But the destroyed houses on the roadside left us speechless. The next village was Potocari, where we visited the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial. Graveyards are sad places, but in this case the wall of names of the more then 8300 dead adds even more sadness. You can find fathers’ and sons’ names one beside the other, entire families and communities. We have been asking ourselves quite a lot while driving through this beautiful, semi deserted land: how can people, that seem so friendly when you stop on the road to ask for a coffee or directions, commit these atrocities, start this war, make their country deteriorate this way. We have no answer to this question.

DSC_0072DSC_0075 DSC_0077Silently we drove on towards Zvornik, where we met one of Helena’s aunts and cousins. Then we crossed the border to Serbia with no issues, as the night fell. The Bosnian policeman wasn’t really up for any controls. The Serbian one was in good mood, made some jokes and let us through, and the Serbian customs lady was distracted by our Maneki Neko on our car’s dashboard (thanks to the Hamann family!) that she also just let us through. Then came quite a ride on serbian country roads at night, including a 30 minute search for a “autoput” that didn’t want to appear. But finally we made it to Belgrade. We arrived late, tired, with a lot of things to digest from this day. Tomorrow we will discover this city that from the first impressions promises to be quite interesting.

Trip data (Day/Total)

– Km driven: 540/3.240

– Hrs driving: 9/-

– Diesel l/100km: 7,8/10,7

We Love Sarajevo

Sarajevo (Bosna i Hercegovina), 18.04.2013

The first day of rest on our tour gave us back some needed time to take care of many little things and communicate with friends and family. Since yesterday we are out of “Europe” as Vodafone considers it, and had to turn off roaming to avoid a horrendous bill at the end of the month. From one moment to the other emails stop and you’re offline…

I also was also able to find out how my new GoPro camera works and can now film great road movies, so stay tuned! Thanks again to our friends at the farewell dinner who told me about this great invention. 😉

In the morning we took a walk through the city, the great weather made everything look a lot nicer (sunshine always does, right?). People were in the streets and in cafés. There were several moments where I had the feeling to be in East Berlin in 1996, with these vintage, bohéme cafés and art galleries. I spent some time writing and working in a stylish place full of young people, that could have been in any Western European city. And they had great WiFi to upload photos to Flickr. I say “stylish” and “young” as opposed to on one hand the countryside “grobianskis” as we call them, and on the other side the old people that did not make the jump into present day reality. There are many here in the city of both groups.

At lunchtime we drove up to mounts Igman and Bjelasnica, to check the stunning landscape. We also had some great views on the Jahorina and Treskavica mountains. On the way up we passed a de-mining crew cleaning up remaining mine fields on some mountain parts. The Igman pass is littered with remains of the 1984 Olympic Games and 2 wars (WWII and the last one). But nature doesn’t care about the messes we humans create and slowly regains control of everything.

CIMG1349 CIMG1348 CIMG1343Lunch came in form of a kg of tasty rostil (lamb and pork meat grilled), kupus salata (cole salad), and somun (pita-like bread). We ate too much, and drank too much, and had to go home for a siesta. This didn’t prevent us from taking a “walk” through the city, where we came across several monuments for those who died during the siege of the city (also here). Very impressive was the one dedicated to the children. Walking down Marshall Tito street, we then arrived to Bascarsija, where you can find a lot of artisan stores mixed with the tourist shops. And (how could this happen?) we ended up eating Cevapi again! With Kajmak. And as a dessert we had boza. This is where the day comes to an end, because my stomach can’t fit more food and drinks. I tried to loose kg before the trip, with limited success. I guess that after not even a week on the road the kgs are going in the wrong direction.

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Trip data (Day/Total)

– Km driven: 58 /2.698

– Hrs driving: 2/-

– Diesel l/100km: 7,4/11,3

From Zagreb to Sarajevo

Sarajevo (Bosnia i Herzegovina), 17.04.2013

Dobro jutro Zagreb! In bright sunshine we left the hotel to discover the city during daytime. We drove through the beautiful, Austrian-style center of town, dropped the car and walked up to the cathedral and through the old town. In one of the many internet cafés we uploaded fresh fotos to our Flickr stream, and then off we went on our ride towards Sarajevo. Eating fresh Burek we enjoyed the good weather and drove quite fast on an impeccable and empty motorway towards Slavonski Brod.

Here we left the motorway and crossed the border into – well, that was actually not that clear. Tecnically into Bosnia and Herzegovina (the country), but right after the frontier a “Welcome to Republika Srpska” sign welcomed us. No mention of Bosnia, and really the biggest “country” sign I’ve ever seen on any frontier. By the way, the border crossing went smooth, but we had to open the car to get the luggage checked. We learned to cover valuable things. And we found a very practical anti-hassle pitch: “We drive to Russia” seemed to explain everything, made the police smile and let us through without any further question. I don’t know what they think of Russia around here, but it solved all frontier problems with Bosnia.

Once we started driving through the countryside, the road signs mentioned Belgrade but not Sarajevo. We noticed an immediate decline in standards once we crossed the Save river, and the roadsides are full of destroyed houses. Many by war, others by abandonment, but all of them creating a very depressing scenery. Having seen Slovenia (already in the EU) and Croatia (joining the EU this summer), it was sad to see how Bosnia seems to be left behind regarding reconstruction after a war that ended over 17 years ago, modernisation or building of modern infrastructure, improvement of living standards.

DSC_0009In all this surreal environment, we found a charming Etno Village, with traditional peasant houses and a bar and restaurant. And the more we drove towards Sarajevo, the more the situation normalised. We finally entered Sarajevo at sundown. You notice the many cemeteries when entering the city, many of them in the middle of parks and surrounded by very simple fences. I’ll not comment more on this, since the last time I wrote about my impressions in the city they were not well received.

DSC_0051To end the day properly we went to eat some Cevapi in the old town of Sarajevo. It has been many years since I had the chance to do so, and I’ve dreamed about this moment since them. VERY DELICIOUS!!! The beer to the food we had to buy in a supermarket and drink at home, since in the Stari Grad (old town) we couldn’t get any alcohol…

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Trip data (Day/Total)

– Km driven: 414/2.625

– Hrs driving: 5,5/-

– Diesel l/100km: 10,3/11,4 (9,20 HKM/1,23€ in HR; 2,40BAM/1,22€ in BiH)

Bonjour, Ciao and Dobro Vece!

Zagreb (Croatia), 16.04.2013

The day started with a walk through a park dotted with pines, cypresses, broom, rosemary, lavender and more Mediterranean plants whose names I don’t know. The air smelling of fire wood, the grass still covered with dew, we took a delicious breakfast looking over the Grasse valley. What a view, and what a marvelous landscape. We can only recommend Le Mas Candille!

It was in fact so beautiful that we left late. The last km of Côte d’Azur were spectacular. With 25 degrees and sunshine, the arid, Mediterranean mountains dipped into the blue sea, forming one bay after the other. As soon as we crossed into Italy, the road got worse, the towns grey, and the crazy drivers started appearing quite frequently. Then followed several hours of northern Italian motorway, through the Pianura Padana, not my favored spot. No clear view, flat land, too many trucks. It took until the end of the day when the landscape started to become more hilly in Veneto, and then with Dalmatian style rocks as we crossed into Slovenia. The Franco-Italian border was non-existent, here we found some Carabinieri staring at us but too lazy to stop us.

The Slovenian motorways are the best we had so far. New, clean, big – the Switzerland of all European Autobahn 😉 Unfortunately that was as much as we saw, since the night fell pitch black very quickly. 2h later we crossed into Croatia. Finally a real border! With passport control and customs! Our German IDs got us through in no time. Very practical travel documents.

30 mins later we left the motorway and entered a suburb of Zagreb, until arriving at the central Trg Bana Jelacica where we had booked a hotel. And here, surprise! “We have no rooms, we are full.” “But we booked through booking.com.” “Oh really? Then I guess my colleague did not turn off the online booking.” “Too bad. What solution do you offer to your problem now?” “???” “!!!”

We then got a room in another hotel nearby, and took off for very late night dinner. The center of Zagreb at night gave a glance of what we will see tomorrow morning.

Changes done to the blog: as suggested by Alex Wit, we inserted a Google Map with our stops. You can find it in the blogroll. I’m still trying to figure out how to connect the dots to show the route we travel. Any help is welcome, email is best.

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Trip data (Day/Total)

– Km driven: 977/2.225

– Hrs driving: 10/-

– Diesel l/100km: 11.5/11.6 (1,83€ in IT; 1,34€ in SLO)

First Day on the Road

Mougins (France), 15.04.2013

This morning at 11:30 CET our new adventure started. We closed the door to our apartment and opened the one of our car. One chapter of our lives closed and another one opened up. It all went so fast we didn’t realize what had happened. 12 hours later we are 1250 km from home, in a hotel close to Cannes, and will close our first day on the road with a glass of champagne.

Today we drove through Spain with great weather and appreciated the wonderful, arid landscape, with it’s varying color schemes in the mountains and vast plains in between. We passed the Greenwich Meridian and are as of this moment travelling in the eastern hemisphere. We crossed our first border, into France, although there is no real border between Spain and France (great achievement of the European Union). When we entered France it was getting dark, so only tomorrow we will be able to admire its beauty. But as I learned in my previous company: no forward looking statements. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow.

Today has also been the maiden voyage of our Evoque. It is fully loaded until under the roof, plus a safari rack and tyre on top. This slows us down (max speed is just 176 km/h) and increases diesel consumption significantly (see below). But it is very, very comfortable. We are happy to have chosen this car. We also found out that it does not stop even if the board computer says that the autonomy left with the remaining diesel is 1 km – very reassuring.

DSC_0338 DSC_0335 DSC_0333 DSC_0301Time to go to bed, tomorrow we have another long day on the motorway ahead of us.

I wanted to tell all friends we didn’t manage to meet as we wanted during these last weeks (Timo, Oli, Vieri, Luca and many more) that we’ll repeat when we come back. We had not only to organize this trip, a ask that revealed itself much bigger then expected. But we also did a full “mudanza” and tons of paperwork in record speed to not loose valuable travel time during good weather.

Trip data (only today “day” and “total” will be the same)

– Km driven: 1.250

– Driving time: 12:40h

– Average consumption (l/100km): 11,7 (diesel in ES & FR costed €1,35-€1,40)

Go!

Madrid (Spain), 15.04.2013

As of today, 11:30 CET, we are on the road. Eurasia 2013 has started! There’s barely any content here so far, but this will change soon. Stay tuned.

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