Balkan Trip 2015, 3/3 – “Four-Some”, how NOT to keep good intentions and another motorcycle outage…

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011__MG_1688_BLOG… Stunning Albania, Mostar´s relicts of war and the coast line of Croatia

We chose a nice little winding route leading direction Plav, Eastern Montenegro. As a group of four now, together with Stefan and Tobias; we had to find out how it will go. We thought maybe it is just a pain for them or too boring as Kerstin was still in a “training mood”. We promised each other that we will all agree immediately to split again if anybody has not fun anymore. So far it was working really well and we were all in good spirits. From time to time Kerstin waved them through so they could speed up and have some fun. Half of the way to Plav there was a gravel turnoff directing to a 2.641m peak where we wanted to meet. Kerstin wasn’t sure yet if she would like to go a gravel dead end just for a view and a “nice ride”. The sun was shining and the mood was good and all the others were encouraging her – and so she went and could finally enjoy the beautiful view when we reached the top.

Actually it became clear that we worked pretty well as a group and we had a great day driving together. Later this afternoon we came close to Plav. From this point we had the option to go back to where we came from, OR to continue crossing the border to Albania… Tobias and Stefan looked at us and were explaining that they had some “ground rules” before they left for the trip. One of them was “Not to drive to Albania”… another was “Not driving real off-road tracks” (OK they departed from that rule already in Bosnia Herzegovina). After a look on the map you may reckon that behind this little border crossing there is: No tarmac. Kerstin got a little Panic-Attack. Steep twisting gravel tracks in the Albanian Alps!!! But all three boys were promising immediately that she will make it and that they will be patient and supportive and that she should not worry… We looked and smiled at each other. Let´s go. Why not!

In Montenegro you can´t be sure to find the camp spot which you saw on the map or the GPS. Pretty often it does just not exist. So was our first try. Shortly before the border to Kosovo we turned back. There was one camping supposed to be directly in Plav at the riverside. What we found was a renovated Guesthouse with a Restaurant situated next to a big meadow. We stopped, asked for an ice cream and as well if we could maybe put our tent onto the meadow. We were welcomed friendly and they showed us the bathroom facilities of the restaurant we could use. Lovely! Sascha and Tobias left for shopping while Stefan and Kerstin pitched the tents next to an apple tree and arranged a table and benches. We all had a refreshing swim in the river nearby and afterwards we were cooking and having some drinks with the view to the Albanian Alps in the background. The place we want to go the next morning J

When we had coffee and a proper self-made breakfast we were all a bit excited and everybody was maybe a bit lost in his own thoughts. Kerstin worried if she will manage it and in private hoping this little mountain border will just be closed. She was never ever driving a road like that before. And it was in Albania; just three weeks ago there were two tourists in a jeep killed up in the mountains in this area (I think we did not mention that towards Tobi and Stefan at that time). Anyhow, you never know when something like this would happen. And as Sascha would say: “The lightening hits you while you are on the toilet if your time has come”. What were Stefan and Tobias thoughts? Not sure… they were acting against their rules. I have to ask them!!! And Sascha – Sascha was probably just excited. After all; this section was on his agenda from the beginning anyhow and now he was just happy that it will happen J

The narrow tarmac road was leading towards the valley and past little farms. The border was manned and after just showing our IDs, bike-documents and a short chat we crossed it without any problems. Maybe to mention that Kerstin asked if the next 40km will be really gravel and the custom official did confirm it to her regret. The landscape was amazing. Most of the time we were driving at the same pitch what was perfect for Kerstin to get used to it and gaining more confidence. When we had breaks everybody buoyed her up and she had more and more fun. She did not recognize much about the beauty of this area as she was concentrated on the road most of the time. Sascha was calming her down via the intercom most of the time. “You are doing well! – Good on you! – Gas, gas, gas if (it´s sandy!) – All good!” and so forth. The last 10 km were really challenging for her though. Steep hairpin bends were coming up. The first brought her down, the second and the third as well – fair sharing the scratches between her and the bike but luckily without real harm, she always hopped back on the bike after everybody were helping to lift it up again (There was no choice anyhow ;). Yet there was a point she was just too exhausted, sweated, frustrated and tired, she asked Sascha to bring the bike down the next two or three steep gravel hairpins. And finally we reached the tarmac! (Thank you my dear for your patience and all of you for your support!!!) Kerstin was totally exhausted but extremely happy and proud at the same time! (Probably not only Kerstin J)

We were still in the Albanian-Alp-Region where we suddenly recognized on the GPS that the upcoming road is full of hair needle bends going up again – we counted 1, 2, 3, … maybe ten?! And then? – WOW! And a brand new street! We let Stefan and Tobi go in front and their motto was: “full steam ahead”! J They had great fun!!! On the top we enjoyed the view. But now it was slowly time to head direction Shkodra Lake where we wanted to look for a camping. Surprisingly it was really where it was supposed to be. Next to the lake with a beautiful little beach equipped with hammocks, a family restaurant and the best and cleanest sanitary facilities we have ever seen. A recommendable place. We had a swim, and later we went to get some beers and real good local food!

Not far from here, about 40-50 km is the famous top plateau Theth, and we decided to stay another night to explore the region a bit more. Theth is a wonderful village in northern Albania’s Shkodra region. Set among the peaks of the Shala mountains, Theth is isolated, and in times of snow, practically inaccessible. You can make a full round trip with hard off-road parts or as we did just a gentle ride with gorgeous views up to the top with an Alpine Restaurant. Only the last 500m are off-road and Stefan and Kerstin had a Coke together and enjoyed the stunning view to all this peaks while Tobi and Sascha left for a little fun-off-road trip. We had a wonderful day!

Slowly we all had to think of going back – direction home. We had a real good time together so far so we decided to travel together a bit longer. We crossed Shkodra the next day and we were heading into Montenegro again. There were waiting lovey little winding roads, passing mountain villages, olive fields, wild horses and forests. For the night we had a camp in the mountains next to a restaurant just before the famous bends leading down to the Kotor-Bay (Tobi and Stefan had a quick fun right down and up again just before it got dark J).

The next day we wanted to go until Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina via Croatia and we chose again mainly side roads a very little border cross to enter Bosnia. The landscape was nice but we recognized more ruins, the war left more marks here. Nevertheless it was great. The small roads were in a pretty good condition and we all were enjoying riding here. The later afternoon it became cloudy and actually we were late. Shortly before Mostar we had a stop to check the location of a camp around Mostar and when we wanted to continue Kerstin´s bike said … NOTHING??? A second try … and it started – PUH! Now we should hurry up – it became dark already. The first camp we found was just a green field with a container on it, a not really nice woman with her daughter were sitting in front of it; they wanted far too much money from us. So we said “No thank you. We continue”. But now Kerstin’s bike was saying nothing at all anymore – silence. Oh shit. The camp-woman was smiling at us: ”Ok! Ha – now they have to stay! And I can even take more money!” But Sascha took quickly the bike and pushed it until it started again. “YES!!! Let’s get the ‘fuck out of here!!!”. Meanwhile it was completely dark and Kerstin was not allowed to switch of the bike anymore. The second camp we found was more a luxury resort and the third did not exist. We heard it rumbling and as well we saw lightning in the back. SHIIIIIITT! Finally we ended in Camp `Grotta`! A lovely little place next to a river and owned by a friendly guy and his little cat. We just made it to pitch our tents before the thunderstorm was above us and we came together in the outside bar to have a beer and eat what we could find in our bags. The next day was pouring rain and we had to check out what happened to Kerstin’s Motorbike. So we parked it under the bar-roof. Sascha contacted his mates from the AT Forum to check out what it could be. Fist suspect was a broken Battery; Sascha thought for ten seconds and said no can´t be. It´s new so it must be something else… After 1.5h he decided to just give it a check… And what to say, hmmm, it was the bloody battery! No fluid in it anymore, nothing completely dry! Upps, just listen to the guys from the forum! Sascha took it off and the owner of the place was offering to bring us to a friend with a garage not far away – and to a Supermarket as well if we want to shop some breakfast. How nice! Sascha and Kerstin jumped into his car. Within one hour we got distilled water, breakfast and left the battery in the garage to recharge it after the guy checked it. About two hours later we could pick it up again. But it was still raining, thundering, raining, lightening… Sascha fixed the bike and we spent the afternoon playing dice, drinking beer, chatting, getting Pizza… Not too bad but we were hoping to have better weather for the next day again.

Mostar is situated on the Neretva River and is the fifth-largest city in the country. Mostar was named after the bridge keepers (mostari) who in the medieval times guarded the Stari Most (Old Bridge) over the Neretva. The Old Bridge, built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most recognizable landmarks, and is considered one of the most exemplary pieces of Islamic architecture in the Balkans. During the Bosniak-Croat war, the city was divided into a western part, which was dominated by the Croat forces, and an eastern part, where the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina dominated. In May 1993, Croat forces began a 10-month siege on eastern Mostar while in the western part of the city forcibly expelling the Bosniak population from their homes and killing hundreds. After the war, the ICTY accused the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia leadership for the crimes against humanity and other war crimes during the war, including the destruction of the Stari Most. (Wiki) A visit to this town is really impressive and terrifying at the same time. The relicts of war are visible everywhere still.

The last days were running quickly and we crossed back into Croatia, following little roads until we came to the coastal road. Suddenly motor bikes were everywhere. The coastal road is nice but not comparable to the nice little roads you can find all over. We spent two more nights in Croatia while heading north and the really last two nights we spent together on a very nice little camp right at the top of Istria. Here we recalled what we experienced together, laughing, drinking, cooking and smelling the sea. We enjoyed a wonderful day on the rocks, snorkeling, drinking wine and watching a school of dolphins in the sunset! We really spent a lovely time together and now it was time to say Good-Bye. The next day Tobi and Stefan would go direction north and we direction Vienna. But we are pretty sure we meet again and maybe even driving together again. Hey you two! Thank you for these gorgeous days together, the great company, your patience with Kerstin and your positive vibes! J

Our next aim was to reach Vienna in the end of the day. One more reason why we chose to go back via Vienna and the motor-rail-train was to meet `BigTom´ in Vienna. Since many years we are in contact with him but so far we never met personally. It was time to meet `Big Tom´ who was on the road on his motorbike for years and settled (or trying to :) in his hometown Vienna now. We were really exited and when we arrived in front of his house in the evening he just arrived as well. Our train was going the next evening and the plan to make some sightseeing was not on the schedule anymore. The time was just enough to chat, exchange and enjoy the time which was given together. A big Kiss to you BigTom and we hope to meet you soon again (and your Lady as well of course!).

This time the train was leaving in time. But the atmosphere was completely different. Not only because this was the end of our little journey. While we have been on the road there was a twist in the flow of refugees and the train was packed. We shared the 6-bed cabin with some of them and there was a worriedness and anguish beside the tiredness and the joy about having a place in this train direction Germany. We were caught by surprise and took it as it was – shared our wine and cookies with them and tried to get at least a little sleep this night… But actually this is a different story.

We arrived next morning with one hour delay in Hamburg and were home in a second. A short trip – Many great days and people to remember – Pictures to view. It was a wonderful holiday time! We can definitely recommend Montenegro and we would like to see more of Albania and Bosnia Herzegovina!!! Maybe next year… Who knows!

And don´t forget: “GAS GAS GAS!!!”


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