Balkan Trip 2015 2/3 – Gas! Gas! Gas! – Montenegro

Sequenz 01.Standbild005_DxOMontenegro – Cerna Gora – A real gem for nature lovers and motorcyclists

We were wondering what we would discover in Montenegro. Culturally, scenic and not at last the quality of the roads; Kerstin’s large playground/training facility was opened.

At the beginning of the famous Kotor Bay we turned north and we wanted to reach the Durmitor National Park before the evening. Pretty soon the streets turned to twisty loops; higher and higher into the mountains. The first impression was really good and there was very little traffic. The scenery was beautiful, the temperatures pleasant and Kerstin tried to adapt to the speed of Sascha more and more. And more and more often Sascha called on the Interphone: “You have to go faster! You are going to tilt over in the curve!” Here it was again “Gas!Gas!Gas!” In Niksic we stopped ​​for shopping and late afternoon we were close to Pluzine.

All day we were driving up-hill and suddenly Sascha became very slow and you could hear him swearing. “What’s the matter?” “I do not know! The bike is not taking gas anymore” We stopped, but actually this windy road was not really good for parking at all. Right hand side it dropped away and on the other side there were sheer rock walls. OK there wasn’t that much traffic but still cars and logging trucks were passing. We had a quick look at the bike and at each other – no idea what’s wrong! Sascha tried to start again and it was working. “Never mind, let’s go!” About one or two kilometers further the same thing… the ´Big Lady´ just stopped. “Shit shit shit! BULLSHIT!” A couple on a bike came along and disappeared behind the next turn… But they came back! Of course there was not much they could do, but at least they told us that about 700m further there is a little lay-by with a small wooden honey-sales-stall where we could safely stop. So we started one more time. The Sales-stall was run by a young boy who did not speak much English. There was a bench next to it and Kerstin had a seat for a cigarette and tried to make conversation whilst Sascha was thinking. There was an idea he had what could have happened when he took off the tank last time. Maybe the ventilation hose is pinched off? With all the gears on it would take at least 1 hour to check it. And meanwhile it was late. There was a sign at the sales-stall and it was saying ´apartment´.

In the end we found out the boy in the sales-stall was the son of the family who was renting the apartment and it was just 500m down the gravel road. It was a little valley with a church – a little bit onwards a farmyard with two houses surrounded by hives, plum and pear trees, blackberry bushes, chicken and cows. An idyllic place and the family were welcoming us with the question: “Homemade Slivovice or a beer?” Sascha said: “OK now we are talking (and to help the communication and the international friendship he said: “first a Slivovice and then two or three beers”. Before it turned dark Sascha could solve the problem as it was exactly what he thought. When he took off the tank the last time he pinched the air intake hose and there were no air coming in the tank. But why it just was not enough air in this specific moment: Karma. The AT thought it was a good place to stay, and guess what? She was right! We spent a lovely evening together and stayed in a luxury apartment with a big bed and a fridge filled with local goodies like homemade honey, milk, cheese, ham, eggs…

Maybe this little dispute between Sascha and the `Big Lady´ was just a sign?! A sign to calm down and to realize: `We are not on a run! We are on a journey!! Destiny?! Fortune?! Let’s enjoy and see what is coming along! We decided to stay one more day – why not?! The farm of Zeljko is full off fragrant flowers and embraced by aromatic meadows and orchards. Durmitor is around the corner and we can explore a part of it from here without the gear – and maybe it´s a chance for Kerstin to have the heart to try some ´different´ roads as well…

The next day we enjoyed driving along the Piva Lake. The tunnels here in Montenegro are most of the time just big holes in the rock without illumination at all, the serpentine inside were a particular challenge for Kerstin. Later on we entered the Durmitor National Park from the west taking very little roads. On our map we could see there is a steep way down to a canyon and the path was marked as unpaved, a thin dashed line only. We decided to see if Kerstin can make it. The landscape was really amazing and most of the time we were driving on an altitude of 1500m – 2000m. When we arrived at the point where the gravel should start we were facing a brand new 2m wide paved road. Not sure if it will become gravel suddenly we were going down the bends slowly in the beginning. We met a car half way and they were assuring the road was paved all the way. From now on Sascha was speeding up and Kerstin was challenged to follow – but as well she had more and more fun doing it. It is a gorgeous place to drive. You have nice little bending roads, beautiful views with steep valleys and wonderful plateaus and all this with a pleasant climate. Just before it turned dark we arrived back; perfectly happy and satisfied. What a day!

While we were having a beer with our Landlord Zeljko and his family he was telling us that there is celebration at the church next to the house, the Piva Monastery, the next day where we have to go; we were officially invited. The Monastery was built in 16th century at the spring of the Piva river and although it was a Christian religious center, its construction was approved by the Ottoman rulers, which is an unusual rarity. In 1982, when the Piva Hydro Electric Project created a vast water reservoir, only the Piva Monastery was saved, as it was moved to a new site stone by stone including 1,500 square meters of frescoes. That sounds interesting even though the Monterey do not look that impressive from outside – it is a pretty simple construction out of natural stones. Anyhow, we will stay one more day!

When we had breakfast on our terrace the next morning the last wafts of mist were disappearing and we could hear the choral exercising for the event. It was a magic atmosphere. Those who know the band ´Dead can Dance´ can maybe imagine what we were listening to… Everybody on the farm was preparing themselves and the place became busy very quickly. People were pouring in from all the surrounding mountain villages. We were really impressed from the insight of the Monastery and the frescoes when we entered; also from the ceremony itself and the fascinating singing. About two hours later the feast continued outside. Wine, beer, slivovice and a delicious food box with a trout out of the Piva lake, beans and pastries were offered to everybody and traditional groups started to perform. We really enjoyed this experience with this entire friendly cheerful people. In the early afternoon we left for another ride (this is why we withstand all drinks that morning) and we chose a little road which was actually starting shortly behind the border to Bosnia Herzegovina and leading back to Montenegro along the Tara River. And when we stated at the border control that we only want to enter this road and going back to Montenegro they just waved us through. Truly this is a place where you do not get tired driving around and you relish every second of driving.

The next morning it was time for us to continue, we could stay there for the next three weeks easily but…. We started packing and loading the bikes. Suddenly Zeljkow was calling us: “Come down! Breakfast is ready!” The table outside was loaded with big plates of lamb, salad, fresh local bread and of course his delicious homemade wine and slivovice. This time we had a little sip for the good-bye. We banqueted at least two hours with the family and their friends and of course we left later than planned. So what? These moments are what make it unique. Thank you Zeljkow and your whole family and friends!

We finally left and we were crossing the last time the Durmitor National Park direction Tara Canyon. From here we turned to the south along the Tara River. South of Mojkovac we kept an eye out for a camping spot. There was one supposed to be in the “National Park Biogradska Gora” next to a lake. When we arrived at the spot we recognized it was loaded with cars and people. Some wooden huts were scattered in between the trees up the hills. It was Sunday afternoon and it is a place of excursions for the weekends we found out later. We asked for the campground and the arm of the ranger in the wooden block house was showing around in a wide curve. Choose one. OK! We understood: we are the only ones with a tent. As well we noticed that more and more people were leaving the place. Probably we will be alone as soon as it gets dark. We found a spot for the tent and Kerstin had a quick jump into the lake as there were no bathroom facilities except one pit latrine (after a busy weekend). But they had a fountain with fresh cold spring water! And they left as well two little light spots on. At the time it was getting dark we were prepared, sitting at a wooden table and ready to start cooking with a delicious bottle of Zeljkov´s slivocice. Then suddenly two guys on their BMW’s arrived, Tobias and Stefan from Germany. Quickly we were looking for a place for their tent and later we had time to cook and to chat away. They came via Bosnia Herzegovina, Zagreb, and just explored Durmitor as well.

The next morning we had breakfast and a look at the map together. As we were going the same direction we decided to go together for the time being: direction Plav. A corner of Montenegro in the east and neighboring Kosovo and Albania. Needless to say we clarified that Kerstin is a “beginner” and she sometimes needs more patience. No problem for Stefan and Tobias! But nevertheless Kerstin was not feeling very comfortable in the beginning while trying to follow Sascha and having two bikers on her back…

BUT – more about driving, willful intents and if we continued as a group of four you can read in the next and last part.

Balkan Trip 2015 – Gas! Gas! Gas! Or how to learn to drive Baby, ……………………..fast!

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For those who do not like reading a lot ;) The Balkan-Tour was incredible nice and we really can recommend Montenegro, Bosnia Herzegovina and Albania! We adored every minute. Again we met incredible lovely people all over, we were lucky with finding the right spots for the nights and choosing nice tracks to drive. As well: Kerstin learned how to drive  and managed even 40km gravel road downhill in the Albanian Alps! Here is the tip of the day for all beginners: load your bike and just go… “(Kerstin;)” The motto of the journey became: “Gas!Gas!Gas!” And the first winding up- and downhill roads were waiting for her! Sascha was sure of Kerstin is driving so slow that she has to tumble down. And you may be sure that we had some serious discussions about driving…

For those who are interested in some more details… please read more and enjoy the first part:

We have been nearly 2 years on the road on our bike, the Big Lady, two-up. Being back in a ‘daily tread-mill’ we decided to spend our vacation on our motorbikes direction Balkan. (and … [dramatic pause]       Kerstin has her own bike now!). The first time for Kerstin on her own bike on a bigger tour, that being said… our first trouble: What to take and what not. We felt like before our “big” trip and tried to stick to our rule not to take more than really necessary. (But of cause we had 30% we didn´t use at all, and hey(!) who cares; we had 2 panniers more and one 40l Bag so what to do with all this? ;)

The plan was: taking the motor-rail-train from Hamburg to Vienna, driving through Slovenia, Croatia and exploring mainly Montenegro, maybe Albania (Sascha: “Of course Albania off-road was on the “Hidden Agenda” even b4 the trip ;) – 23 days limit were given for driving and that was the most challenging thing: being limited in time. Funny it was as well (my dear Jedi) to worry in the beginning about the same things like we did before the trip: where we are going to sleep? What if something breaks? What to eat? Who we are going to meet?… Even though we did it 2 years in a row every day, the same “fear” was there… maybe not that intense but still… ;)

Just one hour before we had to leave to catch the train and pack the bikes with our gear, out of any reason Sascha decided to “check” the screws of the underbody protection. Suddenly there was this “CLONCK” sound and immediately Sascha´s scream went though the parking lot “FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUKKKKKKCCCCCCCC that!” and “ Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo f…. WAY!!!!!!”. A furious swearing and angry faced Sascha was hopping around the bike. Easy does it! Or we say in German “Nach fest kommt los!” (After tightened there comes looooose). And he ripped of the holder of the ground guard; the whole thing broke off the frame, “Unfuc…g Believable!!) No time to weld it (don’t have to mention that we don’t have a welding unit anyhow). For luck we had Ziplocs and like usual they do a damn good job (after this there is only Duct Tape and Super Glue but as usual Ziplocs did the trick). We thought we might fix it on the road but they are still holding it now –  “Note to myself: get new zip ties”.

After the bikes were loaded (the first challenge for Kerstin: driving this low wagon) and saying goodbye to our friend and landlord, Petra, who accompanied us; we finally were leaving the train station. Yes! There we go!!! But after rolling until the next station the stop took longer than planned. The loco was broken and they had to exchange it. After three more hours – STILL IN HAMBURG (3km from our flat) – and a couple of beers later the train started rolling again – hurray!

When we arrived in Vienna the next day, noon instead morning, the sky was grey and it was raining… What the hey! For the first part we chose the highway and got wet of cause. But later on it cleared and when we crossed the Slovenian border the rain stopped. The last 100km´s of todays planned 450 we really started enjoying riding. We cruised along a river valley with nice turns and more and more beautiful landscapes around.

Our first night in Slovenia, we had a shelter via Couchsurfing in an idyllic little spot named Kostanjevica na Krki close at the Croatian border. Jana, Goran and their kids welcomed us hearty and we had a lovely dinner with local veggies all together. Goran is the curator in the Kostanjeviški monastery which most people call Kostanjevica Castle. The castle grounds are now used as exhibition space and we took the chance having a look at it the next day. We strolled around about 4 hours and explored the little old town. It was a great place to get into the travel mood and we want to thank Jana, Goran and their Kids for the great hospitality!

The next day we left for Croatia. The plan was to drive inland and getting south pretty fast as it was still main season and the coast line supposed to be super busy. Via Novo Mesto and Karlovac we drove the AutoRoute No1 and we didn’t decide if we maybe stop at Plitvička Jezera. But it was incredible crowded – caravans and cars were cuing along the road for kilometers and still some rain looking clouds were hanging around up there. We decided to continue and as more south we got as warmer it got. We ended up close to Šibenik at the border to the Nacionalni Park Krka on the Camp Krka. A nice little place shaded with pine trees and suddenly there was this Mediterranean smell… And the first time Kerstin had to listen to the words: gas!gas!gas! on this twisting mountain roads…

This time we chose the coast road to proceed driving south. The view was nice but the traffic was immediately ten times more and it became clear we won’t make it that far. We had another stop somewhere between Makarska and Dubrovnik as we preferred to have a closer look at the map and our opportunities. It was not that we did not like Croatia but it was simply packed, 99% of the camp grounds were huge, almost like cities and it was pretty expensive on top of that. So we decided not to drive too far the next day as it was Kerstin´s Birthday as well. We headed to the most southern point of Croatia, where we hoped to find a nice camp spot to enjoy the afternoon with swimming and visiting Dubrovnik the day after. When we stopped at a view point at Dubrovnik we talked to a German couple in a campervan and we discovered that we had the same idea with the camp ground. With the words: “maybe see you later” we all continued. And about two, three hours later we truly met again in Molunat, Adria Camp. After a refreshing swim in the sea we spent a great night talking and drinking together with Monika and Gerd.

A Sightseeing Day: Dubrovnik. We took the bus; 40 minutes from Molunat to get there. Dubrovnik is definitely worth to see. But with 35°C and thousands of people we easily got tired. After five hours we left the center and enjoyed walking around the side roads. We discovered great view points and finally we decided we deserve a pizza before we catch the bus back to Mulunat. We really like this little fishing village and we spontaneously agreed to stay one more day. We explored the village trails, the tracks around, went snorkeling and had nice chats and a couple of drinks in the evening with our camp neighbors.

Time for Montenegro! We were really curious and crossed the little border around the corner of our camping spot. The custom officials had nothing to do and examined us interested. Especially when they saw the GoPro which we completely forgot (running of course, this time…) – but they had different things in mind and waved us through.

Apropos GoPro! Our brand new toy we got. The problem was: This little nice damned thing seemed to have a life on its own. As soon as we were driving nice roads, beautiful places or gorgeous landscapes it stopped recording but rather boring parts it never stopped and was recording for hours. Anyhow we spend some stops, sweating and swearing minutes with this great new toy. We got some out of it but not what we wanted and expected… :( Maybe you will see a selection of what we got when it decided to start. Gosh…. Gave it back to the shop in the end…

More about us, Montenegro, Albania and Kerstin´s 1st time riding in the rain, off-road, narrow corners, narrow corners downhill, narrow corners downhill on gravel, narrow corners downhill on gravel in the rain… “C´mon guys don´t exaggerate!” …   coming soon. ;)

AND: We miss you all! Having this freedom of driving, even though it was pretty short, brought back to us many lovely memories!