Text : Stelios Ikonomakis, Natasa Spiliopoulou
Photos: Stelios Ikonomakis, Natasa Spiliopoulou, Athina Vernardou,
Stavros Alexakis, Dimitris Anastasakis
Video: Dimitris Anastasakis
Video Editing: Stelios Ikonomakis
Translated by: John Agriafiotis, Stelios Ikonomakis
European luxuries or Balkan fields? Why do we have to choose? Let’s first enjoy the European luxuries and then wander around “our” territory, the Balkans. This year the plan was to drive through 13 countries (including Greece) and cover about 5700 km in 16 days. Almost every day, we would wake up at a different country! Our journey included a little bit of everything: modern capitals, picturesque towns, forgotten villages, national parks, bombed landscapes, mountain passes and unknown paths, famous landmarks and well hidden secrets… So many controversial images that it’s hard to put them in an order and tell the story. But let’s give it a try!…
Friday August 9, And so the story goes…
Every year it’s the same story. Things that need to be arranged the last minute, packing our stuff and loading our motorcycles, meeting at the local motorcycle shop along with some friends who came to wish us to have a nice trip and finally boarding on the ship from Chania (Crete Island) to Piraeus.
Our fellowship is, more or less, the same like last year. Two groups that depart on different dates and will meet in Austria. Today, 3 people are departing on two motorcycles. Me and Natasa on the Yamaha TDM 900 and Dimitris on his brand new KTM Adventure 1190. A few days later, we will pick up Gianna from Bratislava, who will arrive by airplane due to a problem at her work, and in Austria -as I said- we will meet Stratos (Tiger 1050), Pelopidas (Speed Triple 675) and Stavros with Athina (Multistrada 1200). The unlucky one was Stavros (Stelvio 1200), that Murphy and his laws paid him a visit, since 15 days before the departure his bike was like this:
He managed to complete repairing the engine and just about the time the bike was ready, few days before the trip, the guy that would replace him at work had a serious health problem, something that made him cancel the trip. So, I wish that by writing this story I will manage to make him travel with us, mentally.
Saturday August 10, Long way up… (906 kms)
View larger map
The boat arrives early in the morning and just a few minutes after 6:00 we hit the road. There is not much traffic and the boring kilometers are passing by fast. The speedometer is always over 150 km/h and at the first refueling stop, the trip computer shows 7,24 lt/100 km! A number that my TDM has never seen before. The same applies for the KTM with the only difference that Dimitris has no passenger yet.
We are finally approaching the borders, having only some short stops just to refuel and stretch our legs. As soon as I pass a fuel station -thinking that I will refuel at the next one- the fuel light on my motorcycle starts flashing… I reduce speed but it isn’t enough… After 71 km I run out of fuel, just 2 km before the fuel station. Fortunately, the KTM is still running so Dimitris goes to the fuel station and returns with some fuel in a can.
Αfter receiving the expected teasing from Natasa and Dimitris, I see for the first time the fuel pump writing 21 liters (KTM 19,5 lt). Then we buy some isotonic drinks, eat some peaches, a treat from a kind farmer at the gas station and continue towards the borders with FYROM (Evzonoi).
At our (Greek) side, we didn’t even stop for a check. A border guard nodded to us to pass through. At FYROM’s side, there was some traffic but nothing special.
As soon as we finish with the border check, we head to our neighbor country. No highway for the first kilometers, just a scenic -one lane per direction- road running beside Vardar river (or Axios in Greek) which is not possible to enjoy due to the heavy traffic.
After a few kilometers we enter their highway and soon we arrive at the first toll booth. I have passed this road a lot of times in the past, so I know what to do (or I think I know). Normally you pay one euro per bike (losing some cents due the currency conversion) and pass… So, we give two Euros for both bikes to the man at the booth and he starts shouting something in his language (that of course we didn’t understand), moving his head negatively. Then he picks a five euro banknote and shows it to us. No way, we are thinking, you are not going to take 5 euro even if we have to wait here forever… We are trying again to give him coins and he now crosses his hands like he is wearing handcuffs… Then I notice a small visa sticker at the window and shout “visa”. He starts saying something that we couldn’t understand again and he waves us to go… And that’s what we did
The same thing happened and at the next toll station. I start to assume (correctly as I was informed later) that they have stopped collecting euro coins; you have to pay them in banknotes and you get the change in their currency. So we give him a five euro bill and with the change we may pay at the 3rd toll station. As I said before, I have crossed this road a lot of times in the past, so I know that there are only three toll stations.
We keep riding but soon we realize that something is going wrong… A car in front of us starts reversing … on the highway… with separate lanes per direction! And right after, another car does a U turn !!! Ooops, what is this huge queue in front of us? Where all these cars coming from?
Heavy traffic jam… We pass between the cars carefully, for about 2 km until we meet the cause of the jam… the f%^%* tolls. The following photo was taken as soon as we passed the tolls and you may see what is happening at the opposite direction:
Soon after, we reach the Serbian borders where there is also heavy traffic. Plus, it starts to rain. We pass everyone again… A policeman sees us and he makes us a note that what we do is not proper. I nod back to him that it’s raining and he lets us pass.
Finally, we reach the booth, show our passports and in few minutes we wear our raincoats and head to the north. The combination of heavy traffic and high temperature (even worse with the raincoats) makes the rest of our journey to seem endless.
About 17:00 we arrive at Elegance hotel in Nis. Check in, shower and out for a walk at the city.
We walked beside the river, visited the castle and walked again at their huge pedestrian street, just across the castle entrance.
For dinner we choose the pizzeria La Spezia. Three big pizzas and some beers cost us only 22€ in total. With our stomachs full we return to the hotel to get some rest. Tomorrow, it will be another difficult day with lots of highway kilometers.
Sunday August 11, Long way up, again… (816 kms)
At the breakfast room we meet another Greek guy.
Efthimis, with a GS800, is getting ready for a Balkan Tour. We share some information (last year I did the same route that he wants to follow), then we attack the breakfast buffet, load our bikes and we are ready for Bratislava.
Today the route includes hundreds of completely boring kilometers on an endless highway. Two things get my attention in Serbia… On Sunday the roads in Belgrade are empty …
The highway from Belgrade to Hungary borders is now completed by 98%. Only the bridge over Danube river has not finished yet.
The road is very boring but we are moving fast covering lots of kilometers. Soon we arrive at the borders with Hungary. There isn’t much traffic and as we are waiting at the line, we notice some custom bikes with Slovak license plates. I guess that the following one will not pass the border control…
Surprisingly, after a superficial search they let him pass. Ok, I thought, there is no way that he will pass the Hungarian control. I remember, that in the past they were even checking the motorcycle side cases!
Surprisingly again, although with a delay, due to the search, they let him pass too. Him and his “machine gun”…
As soon as we pass the borders, we buy the toll vignette (8€) and continue through an endless straight highway to Budapest. Near the capital, Dimitris, nods to me to make a stop at the first parking place. Ι thought it’s strange, since he never getts tired, so something must be going wrong. We pull over at the first gas station and he tells me that the KTM oil lamp is on. We check his oil and the level is quite low. After the engine had cooled down we added some oil and continued.
Our thought is to reach our destination and tomorrow,Monday, we will try to contact the official dealer in Greece. Soon we are above the city of Budapest οn a new (Ι think) highway, avoiding the capital’s traffic. The highway, strangely, didn’t have any signs (only some coded markings as M1, M2 etc).
Just before Slovakia, we finally exit the highway and we continue through secondary roads towards Bratislava, finally crossing the impressive bridge Apollo.
The 854 meter long bridge was opened to the public on September 5, 2005. It is named by the “Apollo” oil refinery which was situated on the left river bank in this area before World War II. Its curved lines, inclined arches and virtual absence of right angles make the geometric shape of the bridge very sophisticated. The Apollo Bridge was the only European project named as one of the five finalists for the 2006 Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
We cross the empty city and park in front of our hotel Apollo. Outside the hotel looks old, but inside it’s great. Check in and we are ready for sightseeing.
The truth is that we are a bit tired, due to the ~1800 km of highway that we covered in two days. So we decide to just take a look at the commercial pedestrian street Obchodna, located north of the historical center and leave the main attractions for tomorrow.
The pedestrian street is empty, since the shops are closed, but the restaurant-brewery Mestiansky Pivovar is open and absolutely great. Delicious food and tasty beer produced by them.
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Monday August 12, Bratislava
The fourth member of our fellowship, Gianna, is arriving this morning by plane, first to Vienna and then by bus to Bratislava (about 1 hour). The bus station is just two blocks away, so we pick our “package” and start exploring the city.
The first thing we see, is a statue of the comedian Julius Satinsky riding a bicycle and showing a big ear on a wall over him. From what Ι read on the internet, the building was the base of the former Czechoslovakia secret police. Not 100% sure, because the reports I have found for this statue are just a few.
Few blocks away, we enter the old town and we come across the Archbishop Palace. It was built between 1788-1781 and it is now the Mayor’s residence.
Right next to the palace lies the Hlavne Namestie, ie the central city square.
The main attractions are the Old Town Hall and the Roland Fountain. The fountain was constructed in 1572 by the King of the Hungarian Empire, Maximilian the 2nd, and it is considered as one of the most important monuments of the city.
We continue walking until we meet Cumil, a statue symbol of the city.
After the statue had lost its head twice due to inattentive drivers, it was decided to place a unique road sign next to it.
Cumil, is not the only “strange” statue in Bratislava. Just a bit further north of it lies the statue of “beautiful Ignaz” (Schoener Naci). He was a well known figure in the early 20th century.
The poor and mentally ill man, paraded the streets of Bratislava in old, but elegant attire (a velvet frock), greeting passers by with his top-hat and bowing courteously to the ladies.
There are two more statues in the surrounding areas. Paparazzi, who photographs the people passing outside Paparazzi restaurant and the French soldier (who looks like Napoleon) resting at a bench at the main square. Unfortunately the restaurant was closed on April 30, 2013 (if we understood correctly the handwritten sign on the door) and the statue was removed from its position and we didn’t see the soldier anywhere… Just for the record, two Images “borrowed” from the internet :
At the foot of the hill where the castle stands, there is the church of St. Martin. It was officially opened in 1452 but the constructions continued for two more centuries. Since 1563 the church has been used for the coronation of 11 kings of Hungary and has also housed the premiere of Beethoven, Missa Solemnis. The tower of the cathedral is 85 meters high and was originally part of the medieval fortifications. At the top, there is a great golden crown, weighing 300 kg, placed in 1847 to commemorate the significance of the temple.
Next stop at the castle, which is located on the hill above the town. It was originally constructed in the 10th century and over the years it received lots of modifications until the late 18th century where it was turned into a ruin. In 1953 it was rebuilt following the Baroque architecture style.
Unfortunately the castle is closed on Mondays. But there were several free places worth a visit to see.
We continue north of the castle and we make a stop at the Grassalkovich palace. It was built in the 18th century as a summer residence of Count Antal Grassalkovich. Nowadays it is used as the residence of the President of Slovakia.
We head back to the old town, passing through Michael’s Gate, which is the only gate that has survived from the medieval fortification.
It marks the city center and at the base of the gate, there is a tray showing the distances to other capitals.
We stop for a coffee at the main square and then continue exploring the narrow streets of the old city.
The image of the well preserved city ends just a few blocks away from the city center.
We continue to Hviezdoslav square where the new Renaissance Slovak National Theatre lies. It was built in 1886 under the Austro-Hungarian empire.
In front of the theater there is the fountain of Ganymede of Troy, designed by the local sculptor Victor Tilgner in 1888.
A beautiful walkway along Danube takes us to the most famous bridge in the city, the New Bridge (Novy Most).
It is an asymmetrical cable-stayed bridge with a total length of 430.8m and 21m wide. A special attraction is the flying saucer-shaped structure, located at the east pillar and can be visited by using an elevator (the ticket costs 6.64€). The amazing view makes it worth paying …
The flying saucer-shaped structure houses an overpriced restaurant. We take a sit in order to enjoy the sunset, choosing whatever is cheap on the menu (which also includes a water costing 85€!). After a short google search, I found that this water comes from Hollywood from some spring of Tennessee and the bottle is decorated with Swarovski crystals… Vanity of vanities… At least the sunset was really great.
Back to the city center for dinner. We choose to eat at the restaurant Verdict. Good but expensive.
Afterwards we take a last night walk at the city.
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Tuesday August 13, From Slovakia to Czech (404 km)
We wake up and it is raining. Fortunately, until we finish our breakfast, it has stopped. We are heading west and looking at the sky, where we don’t see many clouds at this direction.
We cross the empty -because it is still early in the morning- city, and head through a beautiful road to the Devin Castle. It is strategically located on a hill, at the confluence of the rivers Danube and Morava.
Its story begins back at the Bronze Age, but the first major castle was built by the Slavs in the 8th century and played an important role during the wars between Moravia and the Franks. During the 13th century, a stone castle was built to protect the western frontier of the Kingdom of Hungary. The fortification was strengthened during the wars with the Ottoman Empire and the castle never fell, until 1809, where it was finally destroyed by the forces of Napoleon.
Also, from this castle, saints Cyril and Methodius started their mission in 863. They developed the first alphabet to be used for Slavonic manuscripts, translated the Bible and wrote the first Slavic Civil Code, which was used in Great Moravia.
Back to the road heading north to Czech Republic. A few km further we meet the Volkswagen factory. It’s a really huge factory. Imagine our surprise when we saw that cars were transported between buildings with a lift!
Entering Czech we hit the highway in order to cover some km fast. We decide to make a stop at the city of Brno and we park somewhere near the center. We continue by foot to the Zelnytrh square, which hosts an outdoor vegetable market.
On one side of the square is the church of Mary Magdalene and on the other is the palace of Dietrichstein, one of the greatest Baroque buildings in the city. In the center of the square is the Parnas fountain, which was built between 1690 and 1695. Large rocks form a cave, decorated with statues symbolizing the ancient empires : Babylonia, Persia and Greece.
The next stop is at the magnificent square of Freedom, which is the center of the city.
It has a triangular shape, and many interesting buildings like the House of Lords Lipa, Palace Klein, Kounitz Palace and the Home of the Four Giants are there.
In the square there is also a headstone dedicated to the victims of the plague, built according to the plans of Jan Křtitel Erna in cooperation with various city sculptors. The most beautiful sculpture is the one of Virgin Mary in the central column.
We continue our walk to the alleys and we find ourselves in front of the building of the old City Hall (Stara Radnice). It was constructed in the 13th century but it was badly damaged during the siege by the Swedes in 1945. For the record, the city resisted for four whole months and finally won the battle.
After wandering around for a long time, we return to our motorcycles and decide to pay a visit to the Circuit of Brno. The GPS takes us through small villages, side streets, forests…
And when we start to worry that we have probably taken the wrong way, the circuit appears right in front of us…
Preparations for the Moto GP which will take place in 2 weeks have already begun.
We hang out on a hillside admiring the drivers training on the track.
The next stop is Kutna Hora and more specifically the Ossuary of Sedlec, or the church with the bones, as it is widely known. I have seen so many pictures and so many documentaries for this site, that I am initially disappointed from the size of the church. It is very small but still impressive.
At the entrance they gave us a printed A4 (in Greek!) with the story of the church:
In 1278, King Otakar II of Bohemia sent Henry, the abbot of the Sedlec Monastery, to the Holy Land. When Henry returned, he brought with him soil from Calvary (Golgotha), which he scattered in the cemetery of the monastery. The news of this pious act soon spread and the cemetery in Sedlec became one of the most desired burial sites throughout Central Europe.
In the mid-14th century, during the epidemic of plague, and in the early 15th century, after Hussite wars, several thousand people were buried in the cemetery of the monastery, so an expansion was necessary. About 1400, a Gothic church was built in the center of the cemetery with a vaulted ceiling and a chapel at the bottom, which was used as an ossuary to guard the bones found in the space available created by the church. It also served as an extra space for new burials.
After 1511, a half blinded monk excavated and stacked the bones in the ossuary. During the period 1703-1710, the church was extended again and new premises in Baroque style were build.
The final form of the church was given from František Rint, a Czech carpenter, who was employed by the Schwarzenberg family to organize the piles of the stacked bones inside the church. Rint, used the bones as a material for making furniture and decorative objects, giving to the church a ghoulish appearance. It is estimated that the bones in the church, are from 40 to 70 thousand people.
It’s a bit late already and the Czech capital awaits us. We cover the short distance that separates us from the city and after some searching we find the apartment that we have booked (Anyday appartments).
After the check in, we call Jan, a friend of Natasa from Erasmus, who will show us the city. It is one of the few times in my travels that I know so little about something that we will visit. I avoided the three Prague guides in my library, in order -finally- to have something to impress me.
First lunch (at Mlsnej Kocour, some blocks away) and then we walk to the old town which is at a relatively short distance from our apartment.
Our tour starts from Wenceslas square, opposite the National Museum and continues following the Vaclavske road, until we reach the old town. The first stop, of course, is in front of the famous astrological clock. The time was about 12:00 and lots of people waited with a camera in hand to capture the show. So we did…
More details about the city sights tomorrow. For now just a few night shots to keep you interested :
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Wednesday August 14, Prague Tour part I
Our personal “tour guide”, is waiting for us early in the morning outside the hotel door, with an all-day ticket valid for all the means of public transport (value for money).
Our first stop is at the Jewish cemetery, located at the Jewish Quarter. The region is also called Josefov, named after the Emperor Joseph the Second, whose reforms improved the living conditions for the Jews.
The cemetery was one of the few places in the city where Jews were allowed to be buried. So, when it was full, the new tombs were constructed on the top of the existing ones! It is estimated that about 200,000 people have been buried here, with the first gravestone dated back to 1439 and the last burial took place in 1787.
There are many myths and legends in Prague. One of them, is that a Golem is said to be hiding in the attic of the Old-New Jewish Synagogue. It is a powerful being made of clay, which according to the legend, was created by Rabbi Lev to protect the Jewish Quarter. The Golem inspired Tolkien in the namesake character of his book.
Next stop is a not so well known church according to our guide. The one of St. James with the legend of stuffed hand.
The legend says that once a robber had tried to steal money from the church. The statue of the Virgin Mary raised its hand, grabbed him and held him until the authorities came and arrested him. The robber was amputated and his arm is hanging over the door.
Inside the church there are amazing frescoes and statues, all made by the top Czech painters and sculptors of the 17th century.
A few yards away is the central square of the old city (Starometske Namesti). Whichever building you look at, is simply amazing and each one has its own history.
First things first. The famous astrological clock (source: wikipedia).
The Orloj is mounted on the southern wall of Old Town City Hall in the Old Town Square. The clock mechanism itself is composed of three main components: the astronomical dial, representing the position of the Sun and Moon in the sky and displaying various astronomical details; “The Walk of the Apostles”, a clockwork hourly show of figures of the Apostles and other moving sculptures-notably a figure of Death (represented by a skeleton) striking the time; and a calendar dial with medallions representing the months.
The oldest part of the Orloj, the mechanical clock and astronomical dial, dates back to 1410 when it was made by clockmaker Mikuláš of Kadaň and Jan Šindel, the latter a professor of mathematics and astronomy at Charles University.
Later, presumably around 1490, the calendar dial was added and clock facade decorated with gothic sculptures.
In 1552 it was repaired by Jan Taborský, clock-master of Orloj, who also wrote a report on the clock where he mentioned Hanuš as maker of the clock. The clock stopped working many times in the centuries after 1552, and was repaired many times. In the 17th century moving statues were added, and figures of the Apostles were added after major repair in 1865-1866.
The Orloj suffered heavy damage on May 7 and especially May 8, 1945, during the Prague Uprising, when Germans directed incendiary fire from several armored vehicles and an anti-aircraft gun to the south-west side of the Old Town Square in an effort to silence the provocative broadcasting initiated by the National Committee on May 5. The hall and nearby buildings burned along with the wooden sculptures on the Orloj and the calendar dial face made by Josef Mánes. The machinery was repaired, the wooden Apostles restored by Vojtěch Sucharda, and the Orloj started working again in 1948, but only after significant effort.
Formerly, it was believed that the Orloj was constructed in 1490 by clockmaster Jan Růže (also called Hanuš); this is now known to be a historical mistake. A legend, recounted by Alois Jirásek, has it that the clockmaker Hanuš was blinded on the order of the Prague Councillors so that he could not repeat his work; in turn, he broke down the clock, and no one was able to repair it for the next hundred years.
According to local legend the city will suffer if the clock is neglected and its good operation is placed in jeopardy.
At the square you can also admire the church of Our Lady of Tyn, with two beautiful twin bell towers distinguished from almost anywhere in the city. It was built in the 14th century and was the main place of worship of foreign traders who visited the city.
In the center of the square stands the statue of Jan Hus, which was raised on July 6, 1915 to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of the reformer. The growing stream of supporters of Hus’ ideas during the 14th and 15th century led eventually to Hussite wars. Despite the initial disapproval for the modern style of sculpture, the statue stands as a symbol of Czech identity.
Less important but still beautiful are the old Town Hall, the church of St. Nicholas, the Tiny House, the Stone Bell House and the Statue of Mary.
After we had finished with the square attractions, we headed towards another famous sight of the city: the Charles Bridge over the Vltava River.
Just before the bridge, there is the statue of King Charles. I raise my camera and Jan pulls my arm saying: “Come, there is a better angle.” You got the point …
The construction of the bridge began in 1357 under the aegis of King Charles IV and ended in the early 15th century. It was the most important connection between the Old Town and the surrounding areas until 1841 and made Prague an important hub for the trade route between Eastern and Western Europe.
The bridge is 516 meters long and nearly 10 meters wide. It is arched with 16 arches supported by 15 pedestals. In its entire length, it’s decorated with 30 statues and sculptures, most of them dated from 1700. Some of them can be seen at the photos below:
After we crossed the bridge really slow, photographing every corner of it, we moved on to another city landmark, the castle. It is one of the largest, oldest, inhabited castles in the world.
Its story begins in the 9th century and as usual, every king or conqueror made his modifications to the castle. A big fire destroyed a large part of it in 1541 but it was rebuilt in its present form first under the reign of the Habsburgs and then by Empress Maria Theresa of Austria in the second half of the 18th century.
In 1918, the castle became the seat of the President of Czechoslovakia. During the Second World War and the German occupation, Prague Castle became the headquarter of Reinhard Heydrich. It is said that he placed on his head the Crown of Bohemia, believing that he was a great king, and according to old legends, the one who would wear the crown on his head was doomed to die within a year. In less than a year after, Reinhard Heydrich was assassinated.
After the liberation of Czechoslovakia, the castle housed the offices of the communist government, and later on became the seat of the Presidents of the Czech Republic.
Our “guide” knows what is worth seeing so he saves us from unnecessary costs by buying only tickets for the highlights. Before we get in, we make a stop at the entrance to see the changing of the guards.
At the point where the changing of the guards takes place, some gorgeous giant statues representing a titanic battle are located.
First attraction, inside the castle, is the Cathedral of St. Vitus.
Prince Wenceslas originally built here a small rotunda on the ruins of a pagan temple, which he dedicated to St. Vitus. Τhe construction of the great cathedral began in 1344, headed by the French architect Eye d’ Ara. Ηowever, the architect died and Charles IV commissioned Peter Parler to finish the project. The construction was once again stopped due to the Houssite Wars and was finally completed in 1929.
After we had finished with the church, we headed to the old Royal Palace. It was originally a wooden fort built by Prince Borivoj, but the later commanders with their interventions brought it to its present form. The Knight’s Stairway is impressive , with low steps and arched dome, which gives a triumphant tone to the entrance of knights on horseback in the Vladislav Hall, for jousts.
A door in the hall’s southwestern corner leads to the former offices of the Bohemian Chancellery (České kanceláře). On 23 May 1618, in the second room, Protestant nobles rebelling against the Bohemian estates and the Habsburg emperor threw two of his councilors and their secretary out of the window. They survived, as their fall was interrupted by the dung-filled moat, but this Second Defenestration of Prague sparked off the Thirty Years War.
Next stop is the White Tower, which hosts a torture chamber and a huge collection of armor and weapons.
And then we continue to the Golden Lane, with the tiny houses, which were the residences of the 19th century goldsmiths.
Last thing we visited in the castle, was the Tower Dalibor. The Dalibor was the Czech version of Robin Hood and was the first to be arrested and imprisoned in this castle.
Late in the afternoon we return to the old city. Jan asks us if we are hungry. We answer negatively, but he continues: Nearby, there is a restaurant-pub that makes the strongest beer in the world…
I think he already knows us well… As we are beer lovers, we could not resist the temptation. So we enter the huge U Medvídku. It has 5 different rooms for beer and food. But because we wanted the specific one, they led us to the second floor in a room with some tables around the brewery. We tried the local delicacies and left the beer for dessert, as they advised us to do.
The taste was sweet and strong. Each sip was like falling in the stomach. The percentage of alcohol was 11.8%. The website of the brewery confirms Jan’s words , mentioning that they produce the strongest beer in the world. But according to ratebeer.com, the beer is not included in the 50 strongest, with the most strongest touching the unbelievable number of 65% alcohol…
When we had finished our beers, Jan wanted to show us “his” sport, Archery. The practice site is near, on an island in the Vltava river alongside Charles Bridge. Of course we wouldn’t miss the opportunity to give it a try …
After some shots, we continued sightseeing at the west side of the river. We crossed a small small park and ended up in front of John Lennon’s wall.
The graffiti on the wall began in 1980 after the assassination of John. Originally, there was his portrait and lyrics of his songs, but it was expanded with messages of peace and various other unrelated graffiti. During our visit a young girl was painting a huge heart accompanied by initial letters, destroying much more essential things that were already on the wall.
The wall is cleaned every now and then by the authorities, but soon enough it is refilled with slogans like… All I can say, just give peace a chance… or even better:
A little further we come across the “Venice” of Prague or as the locals call it, the channel of the devil. Small bridges with forgotten locked locks (loves) lead from one island to another.
Beside them, there are some old watermills and a green statue of a water spirit (Vodník in Czech). The legend says that there are good and bad Vodníks and they always appear next to the water. The good ones try to protect people from drowning, while evils are the collectors of souls of the drowned.
Further down we meet the narrowest street in Prague and one of the narrowest in the world. So narrow that it needs traffic lights for pedestrians…
A bit more further lies a quirky attraction, located in the courtyard of a restaurant. I don’t think a description is necessary…
And this ends our first day tour at the city. We saw so many things today thanks to our guide, Jan. If we didn’t have Jan, I think we would need at least two days in order to see the same things. But let’s go to celebrate it with a beer along with another friend, Chonza.
Late at night (or early in the morning) we return really tired at our hotel. I think that I slept in a sec…
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Thursday August 15, Prague tour part II
Thanks to Jan, we managed to see almost all the main attractions of the city yesterday. Today, he told us, to let him know what else we want to see. So we opened Triposo (a great free application for smart phones) and made a list of interesting attractions.
First stop is the castle Vysehrad (Grand Castle) which is built on a hill next to the river Vltava. The site includes the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul and the namesake cemetery in which great historical personalities of Czech are resting.
The castle was originally built in the 10th century. According to the legend, Princess Libuse, ancestor of the dynasty of Premyslids lived there. Vysehrad was the location of the first settlement which later became Prague, though up to now this claim remains unsubstantiated.
Later, the dynasty of Premyslids used the castle of Prague as their seat and Vysehrad passed into the background. At the beginning of the Hussite Wars, the castle was occupied by the Hussites. In the 17th century it was renovated as a training center for the Austrian army, when the Habsburgs took under their rule the Czech lands by the end of the Thirty Years War.
We head back to the city and make a quick stop outside the dancing building…
The National Theatre of Prague is next to it, which has become a symbol of national revival period. The financial resources for the construction were gathered through a nationwide public fundraiser. Constructions began in 1868 according to the plans of architect Joseph Zitek. However, in 1881, as construction was near to its end, the theater was destroyed by a fire. The reconstruction was funded again by the people and was completed on 18 November 1883. As Jan said, the best seats of the theater are not for the royals, as expected, but for the people and are available in very low prices that even the poorest can attend the shows. Above the scene there is an inscription writing “Narod Sobe”, which means “the Nation for itself”.
Two photo clicks later we continue towards the Petrin hill, where there is a replica of the Eiffel tower in a smaller scale, since it is only 63.5 meters tall.
It was constructed in 1891 for the international exhibition with designs influenced by the original tower in France, which the tourist board of the Czech Republic had visited in 1889. It was built in just four months!
299 steps separate the entrance from the top, which gives you a magnificent view of the city. There is also an elevator leading up, with extra charge of course. We used the stairs because we are athletes (or tightfisted if you like).
Since we have plenty of time, we head to visit the technology and transport museum. Four levels dealing with the history of Czech industry (and not only), but we focus only on the one dedicated to motorcycles.
At the time of Czechoslovakia there were over 100 different motorcycle factories in the country. The oldest collection of motorcycles comes from the factory Mlada Boleslav Laurin & Klement and it is considered among the best motorcycles of the 20th century with great success in racing.
The majority of the motorcycles of course, come from the famous factories of Jawa and CZ. Some of the exhibits:
Back on the hill below the castle in order to walk at the alleys of the old city and particular the Royal Street. The beautiful road was named after the Czech writer Jan Neruda in the 19th century. The restored buildings have been converted into quaint hotels, restaurants and small shops.
Characteristic of the buildings are the blazons above their entrance instead of numbers. The most famous blazons are the “Three Violins”, a building that belonged to a family of violin manufacturers in 1700, and the “Two Suns”, a building that was the home of Neruda.
Next stop is the Palace of Wallenstein, a Baroque monument of the ambition of General Albrecht von Wallenstein (1581-1634). His successive victories in the war with the Protestants made him indispensable to the emperor Ferdinand II. Having acquired inexperienced securities, Wallenstein began to covet the throne of Bohemia. In 1630 he was stripped of the administration, but resumed his position next year. Then he started negotiating with the enemy. In 1634, he was assassinated by mercenaries, at the behest of the emperor. Wallenstein’s intention was to overshadow even Prague Castle with his Palace (built in 1624-1630). To obtain a suitable venue, he bought 23 houses, three gardens and the municipal brick kiln production. The main hall has two floors. In fresco on the ceiling, Wallenstein himself appears as god Mars on a triumphal chariot. The architect, Andrea Spezia, and almost all the artists who worked on the decoration of the palace, were Italians. Today, the palace is used by the state.
The gardens are impressive, which have remained as they were at the time when Wallenstein dined here in the huge hall Terrace, which overlooks a fountain and a series of bronze statues. The statues are copies of works of Adrian de Vries, originally stolen by the Swedes in 1648.
On a stand with beautiful frescoes you can admire the myth of the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece, and the supreme battalion of Knights of the Holy Roman Empire.
The wall with its stalactites is also impressive, which at first glance looks like it’s made of hundreds skulls. In reality, however, is a wall with artificial stalactites.
A pond with lot of big fish inside, housed a fountain with Hercules to duel with a dragon, work also of Adriaen de Vries.
In the gardens there was freely two peacocks, a colorful male and a rare white, which gave me some amazing poses.
We head back to the old city center, passing outside the impressive renaissance opera Rudolfinum, home of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.
Last walk in the old town in order to buy some souvenirs and then we head for Pizza. Our “guide” drives us to a Pizzeria (Lucky Luciano) far away from the center, with delicious pizzas in really low prices.
We thanked Jan for his excellent hospitality and return early to our hotel in order to pack our stuff for tomorrow’s departure. The real journey on motorcycle starts tomorrow
The rest of our group was departing today from Piraeus to Nis, doing exactly the same route as we did a few days ago, with the only difference that they have not encountered any traffic at all. Stavros with take on:
Early in the afternoon we arrive at Nis. Unlike last year, this year we did not waste time in unnecessarily stops, tolls etc, so we manage to get in the rooms around 18:30. After I had managed to lose and regain my cell phone (don’t ask how) we returned to the rooms to get a rest. Tomorrow another 635 km to the Croatian capital Zagreb are waiting for us.
The rooms that we had booked (The Only One Suites) was at the center of the city, just 5 minutes walk from the castle. New, clean, with private parking but without breakfast. Although in the room you had the opportunity to make a tea or a coffee in the morning.
After a quick shower, we head to the city center. We followed the owner’s instructions and we went to Nislijska Mehana for lunch. The food was delicious and the price for four persons was only 32€ (welcome to the Balkans, (Greece is not included)).
Early in the afternoon we arrive at Nis. Unlike last year, this year we did not waste time in unnecessarily stops, tolls etc, so we manage to get in the rooms around 18:30.
After I had managed to lose and regain my cell phone (don’t ask how) we returned to the rooms to get a rest. Tomorrow another 635 km to the Croatian capital Zagreb are waiting for us.
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Friday August 16, The Czech countryside (186 kms)
Today we don’t have lots of kms to cover. We wanted to take a look at the Czech countryside and visit some beautiful cities on the way to Cesky Krumlov. Early in the morning, we load our bikes under the gaze of some Germans with Goldwings, who arrived at the hotel the night before. They inspect the new Adventure and talk to each other. Any attempt for conversation is useless. They ignored us, as if we weren’t there.
Soon we leave behind us the capital of Czech and follow an endless straight road, crossing green meadows and small forests.
In a short time we park at the main square of Ceske Budejovice, which is the largest square in the country, surrounded by beautiful Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance buildings.
At the center of the square, stands the fountain of Samson, which is the tallest fountain in the country.
Next to the square, lies a smaller one, which houses a small but interesting motorcycle museum. The museum exposes mainly Czech motorcycles and various other things such as old cans, road signs, weapons!, motorcycling clothes, radios, plows!, gasoline saws! etc. Unfortunately, all the information was in Czech and whatever is written in the following captions, is translated by google:
Then we climb 225 steep steps, to find ourselves at the top of the tower of the Black Church, next to the Cathedral of St. Nicholas.
The climbing is not recommended for claustrophobic, but those who will dare it, will enjoy a breathtaking panorama of the city.
Last but not least, we visited the Budweiser brewery, which is located at the north entrance of the city.
The history of the brewery is interesting, so here is some info from Wikipedia: Beer brewing in Budweis dates back to the 13th century. A few hundred years later, two breweries were founded in the city that made beer which they called “Budweiser,” both being beers from the city of Budweis, which was then a part of the Kingdom of Bohemia. In 1876, the American brewer Anheuser-Busch began making a beer which it also called “Budweiser”. This led in 1907 to the “Budweiser trademark dispute” between beer companies claiming trademark rights to the name “Budweiser”.
Anheuser-Busch cites prior registration of the trademark in the United States and battles for the right to use it worldwide in many legal disputes against the Europe-based companies in several countries. The Europeans wish to maintain or regain their right to market their beer under their traditional trademark. Bürgerbräu has marketed its beer as Budweiser Bier since 1876, while Budvar has marketed its product this way since 1895. The two companies in Budweis point out that Budweiser is not a generic name, but refers to a beer actually made in the city.
The existence of several beers with similar names has caused problems in some markets. In 1907, American and Bohemian brewers made an agreement that Anheuser-Busch could market its beer as Budweiser only in North America, while the Bohemian brewers had the rights to the European markets. Anheuser-Busch markets its product as “Bud” (in France and elsewhere) and “Anheuser-Busch B” (in Germany, Austria and Switzerland), where the beer brewed in the original city retains the rights to the name. The United Kingdom and Ireland are some of the few places where both Anheuser-Busch and Budvar beer are sold under the name “Budweiser”.
In 2007 Anheuser-Busch signed a deal with Budějovický Budvar, the maker of the Czech Budweiser, to import Budvar Budweiser into the United States and sell it under the name Czechvar. The partnership with AB InBev was terminated in January 2012, and in July of that year, United States Beverage began responsibility for the sales and marketing of Czechvar in the United States.
In 2009 the European Court of First Instance upheld a ruling that refuses AB InBev, owners of the American Budweiser brand, permission to register the Budweiser brand as a community trademark. After the ruling, AB InBev decided to keep the Budweiser or Bud name in 23 of 27 European countries. In Germany, Budvar has exclusive control over the Budweiser brand name since May 2009. In the U.K., courts have ruled that neither company has exclusive rights to the name Budweiser. According to the verdict of Court of Justice of the European Union in July 2010, Budweiser Budvar has exclusive control over the Budweiser brand name in the whole European Union.
According to the British Budweiser Budvar website, “Currently (in 2012) there are about 40 trademark dispute cases pending in different jurisdictions and some 70 procedural issues up for consideration around the world”.
Until January 2013, the Czech Budweiser Budvar won 89 of the 124 dealt cases with the American Budweiser (eight ended in a draw or conciliation).
We followed the tour that goes through all the stages of beer production in the factory. All starts of course from barley, which is mixed in large tanks with water from local wells.
After 2-3 days, a distinction is done, removing all the grains that are floating and collecting the soaked beans in the desired moisture content, which are transported in containers for vegetation. There at constant and controlled temperature moisture, the grain grows to create the green malt, a process that lasts 7-10 days.
Then the green malt dries, it is polished and boiled before entering the process of mashing. After that the product is transferred to fermentation tanks where the yeast is added and fermentation starts. Last is the maturation process where the beer stays in tanks with low temperature. The tour also included a treat straight from those tanks…
The tour ends with a visit to the modern automated filling and packaging factory.
Back on the road heading even further south to Cesky Krumlov. The distance is only a few km, but the traffic is terrible. After 25 km we enter the city and head into the guesthouse Maja. The second floor of the friendly lady’s house was turned into a separate apartment for four people. Check in, as usual and head to visit one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, according to several travel guides.
The medieval city, an Unesco world heritage site, is encircled by the river Vltava. The old town is full of perfectly preserved baroque buildings, paved walkways with small picturesque shops and dozens of small bridges over the river.
The main attraction of the city is the Krumlov castle, which rises above the old city and was once the seat of the strong family of the House of Rosenberg. It is the second largest castle in the country after the one in Prague.
Unfortunately, because it’s late in the afternoon, the castle is closed, but fortunately, there are plenty open places to explore for free. Up to the castle then, to enjoy the magnificent view of the city.
Inside the ditch, before the main entrance of the castle, there was a bear. They had a slot machine and if you wanted you can make a donation to feed the poor bear…
We head back to the city center through beautiful, lovely narrow streets.
At the city center we have spotted a nice restaurant, named Satlava. It’s traditional with wooden benches, spits and beautiful decoration. Unfortunately everything is booked but luckily a bench empties just in time. Minutes later we enjoy local delicacies…
After lunch, we walk again the city under the night lights before we return tired like dogs to our pansion.
The second group headed -as I said- from Nis to Zagreb through an incredibly boring straight route, full with tolls. But I will let Stavros to tell their story…
The route both within Serbia and Croatia was essentially indifferent. The only difference was that the Croatian motorway was at the same level with the ones of Western-Europe, while the Serbian was like the Greek ones at the 80s.
We arrived at Zagreb late in the afternoon, tired from the monotonous trip and having paid for 3 motorcycles 43€ in tolls! We headed to the Trsje district and the apartment that we had booked (Apartments Trsje). The district is a suburb on a hill on the outskirts of the city and the apartment was very comfortable, with a beautiful terrace.
We grab a taxi, head to the city center and following the recommendations of the hotel owner we end up in a restaurant Boban. Boban, the owner of the restaurant, was the best Croatian football player ever in my opinion. However, the Italian food was not so good and it was really expensive (52€ for 4 persons). After lunch we head to visit the city with no mood to read-follow our guide. Luckily outside the city’s Cathedral, Athina found a Croatian girl (sorry, can’t remember her name) and together with two Polish couples, they showed us around the city.
Top highlight was the church of St. Mark’s and quite interesting was the broken relationships museum, which unfortunately was closed!
The general impression from Zagreb, however, is very good. It’s a clean, lively and generally joyful city, with young people on the streets, worth spending a few more days to explore it. But we have to move on. Next time maybe…
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Saturday August 17, Austria rendezvous (311 kms)
Today the two groups will become one. Our appointment was at Hallstatt, Austria, at late afternoon hours. The second group’s route was again boring and again full with tolls (even if they avoided the highway in Slovenia):
Our route was interesting though. We followed the Vltava river in a scenic route through towering trees and with no traffic at all.
We passed near the castle Rozmberk, which is considered one of the oldest castles in Bohemia.
Just before the open borders with Austria, the scenery changes. Instead of forests, we drive now over small hills and endless grasslands. Secondary roads are really narrow, but with no traffic at all.
Only a few farming machines make their appearance, reminding us that we are not alone at this place.
The Bad Leonfelden is the first major city that we cross. It’s beautiful but the magic landscape, in which we were previously moving, made us to open the throttle and head away from the city. Soon enough we found ourselves driving again on beautiful country roads…
Our route continues in the same scenery until Linz. Small hills, narrow roads, without traffic and the Alps in the background.
We cross the city and continue towards to Lake Traunsee. As we get closer the traffic increases. The Central European do not have the luxury of sea (as Greeks and other Mediterranean nations do), but they have lakes (lots of them). So wherever is a lake, there are too many people enjoying their summer vacations.
We pass lake Traunsee and head to another lake, the Attersee. Bumby beautiful road with great view to the lake.
Heavy traffic awaits us at the lake, which is full of sunbathers and deck chairs…
We pass again the lake heading east towards Bad Ischl through another bumpy but not so impressive road.
We continue even further south, to Bad Goisern where we have booked the hotel for our stay. In general, Hallstatt is very expensive and finding accommodation in a reasonable price proved to be really difficult. Firstly, we ruled out staying in the village and so we searched in the surrounding areas. We couldn’t find anything for a long time, until we accidentally found the website of Luise Wehrenfennig Haus, in Bad Goisern, 11 km away from Hallstatt. The view of our room was really great…
The hotel probably belongs to the nearby church. There were rooms with private bathrooms, but the rooms were like dorms, with 3-4 single or bunk beds. It was however clean and cheap according to the Hallstatt standards.
Check in and back to the road in order to cycle the lake. Initially we had a great view of the lake (at the northern side) but soon the road narrows and the lake disappears behind the huge trees.
We reach Hallstatt and park our bikes just outside, because vehicles are not allowed in the city. The picturesque village is built on the steep bank of the namesake lake and it’s included in the list of the Unesco World Cultural Heritage sites.
The combination of the beautiful listed buildings, the picturesque lake and the towering mountains that encircle it, have made it one of the most popular tourist destinations.
In a short time the rest of the company shows up…
And all together we start exploring Hallstatt…
Just before the sunset, we choose a restaurant Gruner Baum for our dinner. Beside the lake with great view, delicious food, but in Hallstatt prices…
As usual, we make a night walk around the city, with the company of an orchestra, playing from a specially designed boat in the lake.
Some night shots…
We return early in our hotel, because tomorrow we are going to have a really full day. We are trying to view the forecast for tomorrow weather -as we aim to cross the famous Grossglockner- but the hotel has really bad Wi-Fi signal… Finally we manage to check three different sites and get three different forecasts… WTH, we will decide tomorrow on our way…
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Sunday August 18, Top of Austria (360 km)
We get up early in the morning and after a good breakfast we load our bikes and get ready to depart.
We head back to Hallstatt to fill up our tanks (forgot to do it yesterday) and then head up to passo Gossau. The Alpine peaks at the background look like a drawing, with us moving in it…
After the pass we hit the A10, south of Salzburg, until we reach our first today’s attraction: the Eisriesenwelt (translation: World of the Ice Giants). It is the largest ice cave in the world with a length of approximately 42 km!
The tour in the cave lasts about an hour, but you need about 40 minutes to reach the cave entrance (lots of walking and a funicular). Temperatures inside are VERY low. While we wait to get in, we see some people running out the cave freezing. Unfortunately photos are prohibited and what you see below is captured illegally, so it lacks in quality…
Inside therefore, we have to walk up and down 1400 steps!, while learning the history of the cave. It was formed by the underground river Salzach, which found a way out through the mountain. The ice formations are created by the snow, which melts in the cave and freeze due the colds winds of winter.
As the cave is open to the wind, in winter, the cold streams freeze the snow. Unlike in the summer, cold air from inside is leaving preventing the melting of ice.
The tour was completed and we headed back to motorcycles to find Stratos. He has seen the ice cave in past, so he stayed back avoiding the expensive ticket (20€). Meanwhile he managed to get some information from a taxi driver about Grossglockner and it seems that we are lucky and a sunny weather is waiting for us.
The traffic is really heavy until we get to the mountain pass. Fortunately, because it’s late afternoon, the pass is almost empty. We pay the expensive tolls (23€) and begin enjoying the magic route.
We reach the peak, at 2405m, and continue to the highest point of the pass, the Edelweissspitze, at 2571m, to enjoy a panoramic view. The atmosphere is so clean that we can see the famous lake Zell am See in the background.
It’s my 3rd time visiting this place and I really do not regret it at all. Tolls are expensive, but the combination of the landscape, the perfect tarmac and the continuous curves, makes it worth every penny.
At the top, we meet two Austrians with two KTM Adventure 1190. Dimitris asks them about the oil problem and they confirm that this happens to lots of new KTM motorcycles. The Greek importer said that this will stop after the motorcycle reaches 5000 km and that was the case…
Back on the road again, heading south to the glacier Pasterze…
It is the largest in Austria with a length of about 8 km. The measurement may not be accurate because the length of the glacier is reduced about 10 meters per year! In 1851, when it was measured for the first time, it was twice as long!
And while we are enjoying the spectacular scenery and slowly approaching the souvenir shop, we suddenly see the door rolls closing. Sorry! It is 17:30 and the store closes. Not even a minute more…
There are more than 50 visitors outside who apparently will not have the opportunity again to visit this place… And they just lock the door leaving everyone outside… Behind the window we are watching shop owners measuring a huge pack of bills, which was their profit of the day…
About 6:00 in the afternoon, we get back on the road again. Our final destination for the day is a bit far away . For sure we will be there at nighttime, but we don’t care. It was a magnificent route and it isn’t over yet…
First Gailberg pass (981m), with the Dolomite Alps in the background. Great tarmac, no traffic and with the sun heading to hide behind the mountains…
A few km later we approach the Nassfeld pass (1552m), just over the borders of Austria and Italy. The passage in Italian is called Passo di Pramollo. The landscape is great, but the tarmac is crap (oh yes, there are bad roads at the Alps).
We make a stop at the top beside the lake, saying goodbye to the sun and welcoming the almost full moon.
We stay in Italian territory for about 50 night km…
Before we head to Slovenia and more specifically to the village Podkoren which is very close to the borders, a few km west of the well known Kranjska Gora. Finally we reach to our hotel (Vitranic) at about 10 o’clock at night.
In the restaurant on the ground floor of the hotel -which is the only one in the village- the tables are almost full. The friendly waiter, Marco, prepares a table for us and asks if we are hungry in order to prepare the food until we get settled. Needless to say what we answered…
Our room is a traditional and beautiful apartment for ten persons. Two double bedrooms, one single, one loft with 5 twin beds and an area serving as kitchen, living room and dining room. We will take a better look in the morning, because now we are hungry like horses. Some inappropriate scenes follow of the attack in the dining area during which a bunch of bikers, mangled a variety of animals…
To celebrate our victory we collapsed in our beds.
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Monday August 19, Crossing Slovenia (409 kms)
Another tough day awaits us today and because of yesterday’s fatigue we depart a bit late. Our first attraction today is just a few km from our hotel and it is the unique Vrsic pass (1611m).
It is known as “Russian road” in honor of the Russian prisoners who built it during the World War I. The specificity is that almost all the hairpins of the northern side, are stone paved!
On the way down to the pass, we find the monument in honor of the author and explorer Julius Kugy, who was among the first who experienced the magic of the Julian Alps and praised them in his books.
We continue till we meet the beautiful crystal water river Soca and follow it until we reach the namesake lake.
From there, we follow the river Idrijca in a spectacular route that goes up and down on small hills and without any straight road at all.
In the same pattern, but with no river to accompany us, and through continuous forests we reach, after some time, the borders with Croatia.
The check is only typical and in short time we are in Croatian territory. We head towards the national park Plitvice through a rather forgotten road. Sometimes, I wonder what the hell I see on the maps when I draw our routes. The road is really narrow, with bad tarmac and winds through a dense forest…
Speed Triple needs gasoline but in this road there is no chance to find a gas station. The navi says that there’s a gas station in front of us in about 20 km… but it’s wrong… Meanwhile, we are already moving on the main road but, in which -again- there is no sign of a gas station. Finally, we manage to find one in a small village (outside of the main road) just before the engine of Speed Triple stops running…
We fill up and continue in a lush green landscape through the national park on a really narrow road again. If we came across something bigger than a Yugo, we could only cross our fingers…
Finally we reach at the apartment that we have booked (Katica Bicanic) which is on the 2nd floor of the nice house owned by a couple.
We settled and ask the friendly owners where we can go for dinner. They recommend us a nearby restaurant in which there was a huge line outside waiting for a table! WTH… We continue searching and in the following two there were also big queues waiting outside. Finally I open the GPS which leads me to a side street, at a restaurant Sedra. Luckily it had a free table…
The pizzas turned out to be huge, tasty and cheap, but later we learned from the owners of the guesthouse that the specific restaurant is not so good. But as they also said, pizzas are always good
After the dinner, we return back to our apartment to rest, because we are really tired from the last two difficult days. And tomorrow lots of walking in the park is waiting for us.
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Tuesday August 20, Heaven on earth (26 kms)
We have for breakfast the pizza leftovers from yesterday, as we had ordered the “Greek way”, and we depart to visit the national park.
I ask the guesthouse owners if there is a good place with a panoramic view of the park and they tell us to follow a road just across the house . I had seen many vehicles going towards that direction and I had already suspected it .
The panoramic view was good, but not too good. If you are planning to visit the park, you will get better views in there, so don’t bother looking for better places.
Minutes later we park our bikes in the park parking (free for motorcycles) and soon we start our walk in the park. The weather is hazy, ready to rain. Thankfully only some rain drops “visit” us the whole day.
Plitvice is the largest national park in the country with an area of 296.85 square kilometers and is aν Unesco cultural heritage site since 1979. Each year it receives more than 1,200,000 visitors!
The park consists of a complex of 16 lakes at different levels, which are joined to each other by dozens of small and large waterfalls. The biggest waterfall is 75 meters tall.
There are several different routes through the park. Four of them are marked. We initially chose the second one (B in table below) but we finally did the third one (C), which kept us “busy” for 5:30 hours.
No more words… Enjoy the Plitvice National Park…
The following documentary is big but worth every second of reading it. If you have the time, enjoy it:
The walk made us hungry, so we head back to the restaurant that was recommended by the guesthouse owners yesterday. It’s really early in the afternoon but still there is a line waiting outside. So we move on to the next one (Winner), which turned to be awful. I am still wondering how you can cook a pasta that cannot be eaten…
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Wednesday August 21, Tarantino’s touch (384 kms)
Our departure is early in the morning, passing once again outside the national park, towards the borders with Bosnia. Just before the borders we make a detour, trying to find Zeljava airbase.
I had once read it at advrider.com and I had added it to my long “I want to go” list. In addition to this info, all the other information gathered from the internet was disheartening. Still mined area, in which a visit is prohibited and with a wrong move you could easily be arrested for illegal entry into Bosnia. But I had to see it…
The base has a great history, but first let me tell you our adventure that really reminds a scene from Tarantino’s movies. We leave the main road to find ourselves in an area with obvious remnants of war. Typical for areas close to the borders. I have seen pictures like this before, in my previous visits to ex Yugoslav countries. Pictures of bombed uninhabited buildings and walls with signs of bullets, multiply as we move deeper.
The first signs alerting for mines make me hit the brakes for a while. Two parallel roads lead to the same destination. I follow the most used -in my opinion- and we find ourselves in front of some abandoned war planes.
We approach slowly, until we see that on the planes there are engraved various crap. So probably there are no mines here and if they are, someone else has stepped on them first
Stratos and Pelopidas are racing their motorcycles in the airway…
But this is not what we are looking for… We are looking for an underground air base. There are some roads around but the scenery is scary and we are afraid of mines. We are searching carefully but we cannot find anything and we are a bit disappointed. Thankfully, an old lady, dressed in black, appears far away at the road. She approaches slowly supported by her stick.
Natasa, who speaks some Czech -closely relative to the Yugoslavian- is trying to get information. She is asking about the airport and the old lady starts telling a story about her childhood. We start the pantomime and at some point, all of us, are with open arms simulating airplanes with the old lady laughing out loud…
The old lady leaves slowly towards the airway… butttt what is that… a police car! We wave our hands… they see us and it’s coming closer… We are not sure if we are legal here, so there is an option that they will bust us… or they will give us the info we need.
The crew of the police car are two young Croatian girls, which of course do not speak English. With a mix of Czech English-Greek and a little pantomime (safe solution) they understand what we’re looking for and show us the right direction. They also warn us, however, not to go after the gate because the entrance to the abandoned base is prohibited. We agree (lie) and they say goodbye to us heading back to the airway.
We start following the path that they had shown to us. The road is getting too narrow. A dog hunts us and a free horse is bothered by our presence and kicks his legs in the air. We continue in dense vegetation until suddenly we find in front of us an open field. But we are not alone…
A police car, a shiny Skoda Octavia and also an Audi A6 are parked on the runway, right in front of the entrance of the airbase. Two policemen, 5-6 men in suits and a well-dressed woman are standing beside the vehicles. What’s going on here guys?
We come closer and park our motorcycles around the cars. I noticed the signs on the police uniforms and see that they are Bosnian! But this territory belongs to Croatia! First they smile and starting to take pictures of us with their mobile phones (we didn’t have the guts to do so).
Things, however, got serious and the police officer, with the help of the well-dressed woman (which was the only one speaking English), informed us that the entrance to the base is not permitted and asked us to depart immediately. As we know that we are in Croatian territory, we mention that we just met the Croatian authorities and that they allowed us to visit the base (lie again).
They looked embarrassed, and they admitted that it is not their jurisdiction and if the Croatian authorities allowed us, we can remain. Within a few seconds, they got in their cars and disappeared on the airway towards Bosnian. Which confirms what I had read, that you can enter illegally in Bosnia, and vice versa if you follow the airway.
Unfortunately, we do not have any photo… but then again, we have the following video:
Everyone had a different opinion for what happened there. Some of us believed that we had witnessed some illegal transaction… but I have a different view. If it was an illegal transaction we wouldn’t be alive to tell the story. Most likely the well dressed men were Bosnian diplomats who accompanied by police, entered illegally to Croatia to visit the airbase. And stumbled upon some visitors from far away… A scenario only shown in Tarantino film…
Historically now, the airbase Zeljava was the largest underground base of the former Yugoslavia during the civil war and one of the largest in Europe. The construction started in 1948 and was completed 20 years later. During those two decades, Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia spent approximately $6 billion on its construction, three times the combined current annual military budgets of Serbia and Croatia.
The underground tunnels run a total length of 3.5 kilometers, and the bunker had four entrances protected by 100-ton pressurized doors, three of which were customized for use by fixed-wing aircrafts. Eventually, it was hoped that the base would be re-equipped with the indigenously developed Yu Supersonik aircraft.
The underground facility was lined with semicircular concrete shields, arranged every ten meters, to cushion the impact of incoming munitions. The complex included an underground water source, power generators, crew quarters, and other strategic military facilities. It also housed a mess hall that could feed 1,000 people simultaneously, along with enough food, fuel, and arms to last 30 days without resupply. Fuel was supplied by a 20-kilometer underground pipe network that ran from a military warehouse on Pokoj Hill near Bihać.
The airbase was used intensively in 1991, during the Yugoslav Wars. During its withdrawal, the Yugoslav People’s Army destroyed the runway by filling pre-built spaces (explicitly designed for the purpose) with explosives and detonating them. To prevent any possible further use of the complex by opposing forces, the Military of Serbian Krajina completed the destruction in 1992 by setting off an additional 56 tons of explosives there. The ensuing explosion was so powerful that it shook the nearby city of Bihac. Villagers claimed that smoke continued to rise from the tunnels for six months after the explosion.
End of the film and we move on to the Croatian – Bosnian borders. There is no traffic and the check is typical, so in a short time we are driving through the “lonely” Bosnian countryside. It’s cloudy and quite cold, as our route crosses the Dinaric Alps and we are mostly moving at an altitude of ~1000 meters.
Our route is enjoyable, with long open bends without traps and traffic-free. But the endless cemeteries and the dozens of disabled people that we meet in the villages catch our eye as we pass by. War signs that hardly fade…
We arrive at Jajce and make a stop to admire the impressive waterfalls with the city on top of them. However, within minutes, several beggars, kids and adults approached us asking for money or a little snack…
I tried to visit a place in the base of the waterfall (for better photos) but it was impossible because of the power of the falls, it was like continuously raining.
Back on the road through a beautiful canyon before we arrive at Mostar.
At Mostar we check in at the Villa Monera and head out to explore the city. The signs of the civil war are still fresh on the streets. Wherever you look you can see that most of the buildings have signs from shots and also there are several buildings with their roofs bombed. Unavoidable, this creates a feeling of melancholy.
We move towards to the photographed bridge “Stari Most”, which is responsible for the city’s name. Stari Most means old bridge. Mostar is also known as the “pearl” of Bosnia.
The impressive bridge was built under the Ottoman sovereignty based on designs by Turkish architect Mimar Chairountin. Destroyed, however, during the civil war by Croats and rebuilt based on the original plans in 2004, presumably using pieces from the original bridge that had fallen into the river. Since 2005, the bridge is a World Heritage Site of Unesco.
The one tower hosts a museum of the history of the bridge (closed during our visit because it was late in the afternoon) and at the other side there is an old piece of the bridge that survived, on which it is written: “Do not forget ’93” as a reminder of all those terrible events that happened in the early 90s.
Some crazy folks (worse than us) dare for a fee from the tourists, to dive from the bridge which has a height of 20 meters. Although we have our video, we chose to show you one from the youtube which is much better:
The old town is a pedestrian zone, with dozens of quaint shops and lots-lots of tourists.
One particular element -generally in Bosnia- is the harmonious coexistence of Muslims and Christians, giving visitors amazing photographic frames.
Time passes and finding something for lunch in a touristic town is kind of difficult. All the restaurants proposed by the trip advisor were full. We manage to squeeze ourselves around a table at the Sadrvan. The food was great but kind of expensive for the country standards.
As usual, we make our last night walk for some photos and then return to the hotel to get a rest.
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Thursday August 22, The endless beauty of Montenegro (351 km)
Today’s route came out literally the last minute. Originally the plan was to go south to the coast and see the Sveti Stefan. But plans are to be changed… My latest information was that Sveti Stefan cannot be visited because of works and my good friends Iakovos and Antonis who, not long ago, had visited the same areas were emphatic: Avoid the beach and go to the National Parks of Montenegro…
Our first stop is just a few kilometers out of Mostar, in the village Blagaj, to admire the source of the river Buna which spurts through a mountain canyon.
We take some photos in a hurry because the locals don’t let us park our bikes outside the closed shops. They want to sent us to the parking area in order of course to pay…
The village is located just outside our current route and according to the map we should return to Mostar in order to take the right path. The GPS however, has another opinion. It directs us through some narrow streets, almost within courtyards, roads with cement and lead us finally on the right track just in front of the city’s historic castle which is located on a hill above the city.
We do not have time for a visit, so we continue our bumpy mountain route. Truly enjoyable…
At the entrance of the village Gacko we come across an awful construction. A thermoelectric plant which destroys the beautiful landscape. Signs inform us that taking pictures is prohibited… Probably they are trying to hide it from the outside world…
A little further we pass by the lake Klinje and then through a fresh uncharted road we enter the stunning National Park Sutjeska.
In the center of the park we stop at a monument which is dedicated to the homonymous battle which lasted from 15 May until 16 June 1943 during World War II.
For the record, the Partisans under the guidance of Tito, defeated the German army, despite their great losses. Rumors say that Tito was killed in this battle and the Soviets put in his place an impostor (a ruined Polish aristocrat) who acted as a spy. It is said that the fellow villagers didn’t recognize him after the war, as the real Tito had lost three fingers, while his replacement could play the piano.
After the short break, we get back to our motorcycles and continue following the river Drina.
In the village of Brod we change river bank and continue through a very bad road towards the borders with Montenegro. In my travels I do not ever remember elsewhere a sign defining a speed limit of 10 km/h!
Border crossing was easy and after a few minutes we continue our route beside the Piva river.
Words sometimes are unnecessary…
The beauty of the landscape continues as we reach Piva lake…
We grab some photos and continue our route through a narrow and full of scary tunnels road towards the National Park Durmitor. It’s the first time I meet a tunnel that contains a 180-degree turn, and of course without lights! Nevertheless, the driving remains fun with a nice view to the huge lake.
The beauty of the landscape is absolutely amazing. We make a stop to enjoy it at a café -tavern-rent bungalows at a plateau, somewhere in the park. The catalogue had frappe (Greek cold coffee), so I gave it a try…
The scenery that followed was even better. The altitude was between 1000 and 1500 meters and the landscape was alpine. A lonely narrow road “tears” the green fields under huge rocky and impressive mountains. Our camera was on fire as we enjoyed the scenery moving slowly to the highest peak of the park, at 1907m.
We continue going down from the top, still inside the National Park until we reach the canyon of the river Tara. We make a stop over the impressive towering bridge (172m).
Along and parallel to the bridge there are cables and pulleys, which are used for aerial crossing of the river at the cost of 5 €. We thought about it but we didn’t do it… So take photo of the guy who runs the sport, making a demonstration…
The length of the canyon is 82 km, it’s the deepest in Europe. The deepest point is 1,300 meters and it is included in the World Heritage sites of Unesco.
Half an hour later, we continue our route beside the amazing river Tara.
Late in the afternoon we approach our destination for the day, the village of Kolasin. We have booked a chalet ( Log House Tara ) just outside the city, which we found easily. It is a brand new -prefabricated I think- wooden house, with three double bedrooms upstairs and a large living room – kitchen with 2 sofa beds downstairs. The only disadvantage was the one and only bathroom, that wasn’t enough for 8 people. Even worse for us, the toilets pipes were blocked leading water to flood on the toilet floor.
But our mood was too good to be destroyed from details. We were laughing with it and even more when Pelopidas called the house owner to inform her about the pipes and we heard him say: “pee outside, no problem”…
We were too tired to search for food, so we went to the nearest super market grabbed some pasta and the girls prepared our dinner.
Seconds later we were asleep…
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Friday August 23, How to cover 450km in 10 hours (452 kms)
After the breakfast in our yard, we loaded our motorcycles and headed towards the capital. There are two roads leading there, the old and the new one. Both seem bumpy and scenic on the map.
We chose the new one in order to move faster. It had a lot of traffic but the canyon of river Moroka (Tara) was amazing.
As soon as we entered Podgorica, we turned left and headed towards the nearby borders with Albania.
What I have lately read about this country, made me a bit scary, even if I have prior experience, back from 2008. The first images however are European. New roads passing outside villages and with many signs. We couldn’t believe our eyes…
But everything nice comes to an end… And for us the end came as we entered the town of Shkoder, were two kids greeted us by throwing water to us. In the town absolute chaos prevails. Potholes, do not allow you to move in a straight path, cars, motorbikes and bicycles come out from everywhere claiming priority, a lot of people, who do not fit the sidewalks, share the road with other vehicles, street vendors with their merchandise hanging not only on the pavement but in the road too, and too much noise.
There are no signs but thankfully the GPS managed to get us out of this chaos.
The rest of the story is not suitable for any kind of motorcycle. About 100 painfully kilometers, crossing a small mountain range, with narrow streets, countless potholes and many trucks that left a little bit of their load at every turn.
Eventually we found a little better tarmac. And just when we’re ready to celebrate it, a zigzag furrow appears… Probably the contractor who had to pass the optical fiber (or something like that anyway) was in a hurry to finish his work and decided instead of following the direction of the road, to cut it across, passing from one lane to the other. To prove what I’m saying :
The endurance test of our suspension ends when we reach near Kukes. According to my information (thanks John from motoraid.eu), it’s the starting point of a fresh paved road leading to Peshkopi. There are no signs, so we ask some locals who show us the right way.
The route is beautiful, the scenery is pure alpine, but we are so tired that we cannot enjoy it. it’s already 5pm and we have a long way ahead.
Crazy bumpy road… but with dirt on some blind turns, herds of animals and some kids that throw us stones…
We make a stop to rest next to a gas station, where Stratos feeling tired -as usual- dumps his motorcycle in the middle of a sloping side street. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a really old Mercedes makes its appearance and tries to climb the relatively steep uphill road. The car struggles as it has five young passengers and just before reaching the top of the hill, smoke starts coming out from the hood. As Stratos had not the time to move his motorcycle, the Mercedes didn’t make it and rolled backwards. The scene is like from a Kusturica film and it is so ridiculous that we cannot restrain our laughs. Second attempt for the Mercedes, with more speed and more smoke, and finally the car manages to reach the nearby gas station – pub – restaurant – strip club.
We reach to Peshkopi, a town that I want to erase from my memory, but I cannot. Roads without asphalt, dust, potholes and camouflaged speed bumps. In the first two, I took off…
Although Peshkopi looks like a big town, we can’t find a gas station that accepts card or euro, because we do not have exchange cause as we are just crossing the country. As we exit the city towards the borders with FYROM, we stop at a new gas station and ask the kid at the pump:
He looks at me like he has seen an alien…
His look remains the same… I am starting to believe that I am green, but I continue…
To get the answer in Greek :
- Do you speak Greek?
A funny scene follows where the gas station owner, the kid and four local customers, all speaking Greek fluently, since all of them they have worked in Greece in the past, ask us what we think about their country and none of us answers… We didn’t want to be rude, but we were so tired, that no one could find a nice word to say…
We fill up our tanks and cross the borders. Thinks are really better… at last…
It’s getting dark and we still have a lot of km ahead of us. The road beside lake Debar is amazing and recently paved (actually the tarmac is so fresh that probably the road works ended yesterday). I really want to drive again on this road in daytime… someday in the future…
At about 9:00 we arrive at Ohrid and head to the apartments Marina.
Check in and we move fast towards the city center, where we come across some celebrations with dances from various countries of the world.
We hang out for a while and then head to the pizzeria of Leonardo, in which with 6€ per head, we had one pizza each, two salads (all together) and quite a few beers…
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Saturday August 24, Welcome back to Greece (226 km)
Although we didn’t have many kilometers to drive today, everyone wanted to leave early in order to reach as quickly as possible at the thermal springs of Pozar in order to relax. But when man makes plans, God laughs…
So we head south from Ohrid and soon we are in the Galicica National Park.
We make a stop to see lake Ohrid from above.
And head down towards the big Prespa Lake, in order to move in Albania for a few km and then into Greece.
We enjoy the twisty route inside the park, until Stratos passes above a piece of wood that makes a hole at his back tyre. We stop immediately to check and looking at his tyre we see a hole so big, that I could easily put three fingers inside… We have no other option but to remove his back wheel and search for a tyre repair shop. My GPS says the nearest one is at Bitola, 50 km ahead or at Ohrid, 50 km back…
A local guy who was passing by with his family, sees us removing the wheel and stops. He didn’t speak any English, but his son did and with his help we explained the problem. He informed us that at Resen, a city nearby, there is also a tyre repair shop.
He make a phone call in order to be sure that the store is open and he insists to carry the wheel in his car. We kindly refused because we didn’t want to spoil his family vacations and it was easy for us to tie the tyre with straps on another motorcycle. And so we did…
Soon we arrived at the shop and the technician started the ..magic. First he took a big piece of plastic and put it in the hole with glue and then heated it up. Then he took a long stretch of elastic and stuck it -again by heating it- to the inner side of the tyre, above and around the hole. When he had finished he said to us “no guarantee”, grabbed a 20€ bill for his work and disappeared on an Aprilia SR 50 in the colours of Max Biaggi…
Back to the motorcycle, we put the tyre back with the precious help of some members of Greek V-Strom Club of Ioannina, who where passing by and stopped when they saw us. We must be careful from now on, because the tyre had a big bump at the point where the hole was. We are out of schedule and we cannot lose any more time, so we decide to move on towards Bitola from the north side of the big Prespa lake.
Last stop to fill up our bikes at a gas station just outside Bitola (because it’s a lot cheaper than Greece), where we meet lots of bikers. As we learned, they had their annual meeting.
We cross Bitola and approach the Greek borders. The signs in the shops are also in Greek. Hairdressing, laundry, groceries, etc… It’s a cheaper country with easy border crossing, that’s why…
Typical check and soon we find ourselves in homeland.
A beautiful mountain road leads us to our destination for the day, the village of Loutraki.
The sky is black above us, ready to rain. Just 2 km before the city a heavy rain starts. We are wearing summer equipment and until we reach our hotel we are wet to the bone.
The luxury hotel Melies however, makes us quickly forget the current trouble. We leave our stuff and by taxi (because of the really heavy rain) we move to the thermal springs of Pozar. A perfect relaxation after 15 days on the road.
The hot springs of Loutraki or Pozar gush from an altitude of 360-390 meters and the water temperature reaches 37o C. The thermal waters are the result of a natural process in which rainwater penetrates deep into the ground where its temperature raises. Then it climbs up higher, rich in minerals and beneficial ingredients. The word Pozar is interpreted as “under fire” and it is clear that is related with the above procedure.
After several hours in the internal and external pools, we head back to town for Greek food (we have missed it). We choose tavern Karatzovitisa within walking distance from the hotel, and our order made our table look like a meat market…
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Saturday August 25, Lonely way down (669 km)
After the rich and delicious breakfast, we discuss with the guys about the today’s plan. Stavros and Dimitris must go to Thessaloniki airport because Athina and Gianna are flying with Ryanair back to Chania. The airfare was cheaper than the ferry…
Stratos was afraid about his tyre so accompanied by Pelopidas, he will drive back carefully to Athens. Me and Natasa decided to do some more exploration in the surrounding area and head slowly south from secondary roads avoiding the highway tolls. Stavros and Dimitris maybe will catch up with us later…
Yesterday, on the way to Loutraki, I saw some signs that got my attention. One was writing Kaimaktsalan and the other one Edessa. Let’s go…
First we ride uphill to the ski resort of Kaimaktsalan. Nice bumpy road, escorted by the beautiful smells of the fruit trees, but bad tarmac, full of potholes…
The GPS shows 2026m at the top. The weather is so clean that you can see as far as your eye can reach.
Next stop Edessa to see the famous waterfalls. We stop in the parking lot and the deafening sound of water covers even the engine noise. We walk in the beautifully landscaped park and we find ourselves squeezed among dozens of tourists in order to admire the splendid nature.
The waterfalls of Edessa were not always as they are today. By the late 14th century, the main volume of water was held in a small basin in the west of the city. Then the waters, because of a geological phenomenon, transited through the city to pour from the spectacular cliff, thus creating many small rivers. Many travelers of the 17th and 18th century describe the image of the city with a rock, from which many waterfalls started.
Elders remember the days when the waterfalls were concealed inside the pad and behind the dense foliage of the trees. In 1942, the Germans attempted to highlight waterfalls. With the compulsory labor of the locals they constructed ponds and flower beds. The renovation was completed in the 60s by the municipality.
Of the seven waterfalls that exist today, four are visitable. The greater one is Karanos, with its water falling vertically from a height of 70m. Behind it, there is the opening of an impressive cave with high vaulted ceiling, embellished with impressive stalactites. The grand entrance is mostly covered by the waters of the waterfall. Well worth seen is the stunning double waterfall Lambda, who was named from its forked shape.
We continue our route to lake Vegoritida and then towards Ptolemaida. The big electricity factory destroys the peaceful landscape…
Then we enter the city of Kozani and after a little mess up, we manage to find the exit to lake Polifitou.
The bridge of lake Polifitou is one of the longest in Greece with a length of 1,372 meters.
We continue south towards Meteora, which you can never have enough of them…
Time has passed and we have lots of km ahead. So we follow the road to Trikala – Lamia – Karditsa and from there the highway to Piraeus port.
Before we get on board, we meet our good friend Manolis from Moto Riders Club who was seeking info for Balkans, cause he will visit them soon. Open maps and stories where the reason that we almost missed the ferry…
So what’s it gonna be? European luxuries or Balkan fields? In my opinion, the European saloons are great, but the Balkans are magical! This virgin -still- scenery combined with minimal tourism that makes you feel like Christopher Columbus who just discovered America, the smell of the unknown -and perhaps a little danger- and the so different, yet so similar folks, is what make the difference. Small touches but able to excite even the most demanding traveler. Tourist or traveler? It’s up to you to decide…
Maps, routes and POI’s
In the following files you can find the routes as originally designed, the track logs showing exactly the path that we covered and the points of interest (POI’s) from the places we visited. Also through the archives you will find some extra POI’s which we didn’t have the time to visit.
The above files are zipped. To unzip them use winrar.
The navigator which was attached on the TDM, recorded the following:
General Average Speed: 58
Average Speed: 78
Driving Hours: 93:20
Moving time: 68:40
Stopped time: 24:39
The second GPS was attached on Multistrada and recorded the following (stats are up to Thessaloniki):
General Average Speed: 69
Average Speed: 78
Driving Hours: 58:15
Moving time: 51:45
Stopped time: 6:29
Every year we kept stats about the fuel consumption according to the real kilometers of each motorcycle:
|Yamaha TDM 900||5513||293,9||5,34|
|Triumph Speed Triple 675||4484||236,66||5,51|
|Triumph Tiger 1050||4456||250,64||5,87|
|KTM Adventure 1190||5550||311,4||5,81|
|Ducati Multistrada 1200||4536||322||7.4|
Note: TDM had a passenger in the whole journey, Adventure did 2226 km only with the rider and 3324 with a passenger and Multistrada did 537 km only with the rider and 3999 with passenger. Both Triumphs didn’t have passengers.
The following are mine and Natasa’s expenses:
Ferry tickets (Crete to Piraeus and back): 175,00€
Per person: 1032,42€
Below you can find our opinion about the hotels we stayed:
Accomodation Elegance, Nis, Serbia
Rooms: Very good (the triple room was spacious)
Location: Near the city center
Wi-Fi: Free but with bad signal
Apollo, Bratislava, Slovakia
Rooms: Very very good. The first night we stayed in a triple room, which was too narrow but good and the second night in an amazing 4 bed suite.
Location: About 20 minutes walk from the city center
Breakfast: Buffet with really big variety
Parking: Secure parking just in front of the hotel
Notes: You have to pay extra for the parking.
Anyday Appartments, Prague, Chezh
Location: 5 min from the metro station and about 40 minutes away from the center
Breakfast: Extra charge but all rooms have small kitchens and a supermarket is just a block away.
Pension Maja, Cesky Krumlov, Chezh
Rooms: Good, the four bed apartment was a bit strange organized but it was ok
Location: 10 minutes walk, from center
Breakfast: Average and with extra charge
Luise-Wehrenfennig-Haus, Bad Goisern, Austria
Rooms: Room was like dorms, but it was clean and cheap for Austria standards
Location: 11 km from Hallstatt
Breakfast: Very good
Parking: Yes, but not secured
Wi-Fi: Only in reception area and with really bad signal
Notes: Hotel probably belongs to the church nearby. Some rooms have view to the cemetery and some others have a shared bathroom. All rooms have single and/or bunk beds.
Vitranc, Podkoren, Slovenia
Rooms: We stayed in a 10 person nicely renovated apartment.
Location: 5 km from Kranjska Gora
Breakfast: Very good
Parking: Yes, but not secured
Notes: Hotel restaurant is really good but a bit expensive
House Katica Bicanic, Poljanak, Croatia
Rooms: We stayed in an 8 person apartment with 2 bathrooms, 2 triple rooms and a double sofa in the kitchen.
Location: 8 km from National Park Plitvice
Parking: Yes, in the owner garage
Villa Monera, Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Rooms: Small but good
Location: 500 meters from the old town
Breakfast: Very good
Wi-Fi: Free but with bad signal in some areas
Lodge House Tara, Kolasin, Montenegro
Location: 3 km outside the city center
Parking: Yes, in the yard in front of the house
Notes: The only disadvantage is that there was only one bathroom for 8 people…
Marina Appartments, Ohrid, FYROM
Rooms: Really good
Location: 2 km away from the city center
Notes: Brand new apartments
Melies, Loutraki, Greece
Location: 3 km from thermal springs of Pozar