We use cookies. By using our website, you express your consent concerning the usage of cookies. For more information as well as all details regarding the usage of your data, you will find our data privacy statement on our website: Link
Recommend this pageContact us

Exploring the Balkans

Monday, August 27, 2018 | Paul Kustermann | Europe

Here's the Plan - roughly 5000 KM along the Carpaten mountains: leaving Germany, through the Czech Republic, Slovaka and the High Tatras, Romania, Serbien, Montenegro, Bosnien, Croatia, Austria and back to Germany. Four weeks without a care in the world.
After weeks of dreaming and preparation, it's finally time to hit the road. Two bikes. Two riders, and plenty of time! First destination: Berlin to Görlitz.
The Park Hotel in Görlitz. Top location for a discount price.
The famous Oder-Neiße border between Germany and Poland. This trip will make a lot of European history more tangible for us.
Beautiful Görlitz...

Day 2: We finally made it to the Chech Republic. A bit of drizzel and some drops, but beautiful riding none the less. Forests and rivers and lakes in the highlands along the Polish border. 

Our first of many picnics. In the middle of the UNESCO protected area Krkonošský Národni Park we found a special "dark area" which has so little ambient light that one can see thousands of stars on a clear night. And as you can see... my wife ;0)
This convent at Henice is one of the most renowned pilgrimage sites in Böhmen.
First night in the Czech Republic. NACHOD
... and some of that famous Czech pivo! Even the Germans, who are arguably the champions of great beer, acknowledge the legendary quality of Czech Pivo.
Great meal. The böhmische cuisine is famous for its hearty savory dishes and being an inspiration to Austrian cooking.
Good night Nachod...

Continue by clicking here...

Days 3 to 5 - Getting to Romania

The day started off with rain, so not a lot of pictures, but most notable was a near collision because I was looking for a stopping place to get our off the rain -- which might have been the hospital if I hadn't had my guardian angel looking out for me. Golden rule: keep your eyes on the road. And you always get a warning. That may have been the stellar moment of the trip as far as our safety goes. Thank God for Angels.
Lunch break at a local brewery. They had a no-alcohol draft which blew our socks off!
How do you comment on a picture like this? The whole side of a grain silo celebrating the glories of sausage.
Down for the night in the town of OLOUMOUC. An historically rich and important trade center. Still vibrant today, the impressive monuments of past glory are still visible: cathedral, court house, beer cellar!

Day 4 had more rain in store for us. Actually a deluge. But as luck would have it, we got to a shelter just in time!!!

Sad sight... the bikes hunckered down under a barely adequate cover till the rain passes by. But then...! We were rewarded by a stunning castle perched high on a peak just as we begin to enter the western Tayras.
Like a crazy stoney piece of coral it seems to have grown right out of the stone, when actually it is the product of a 1000 years of decay.
Actually this would be the ultimate Slowakia tour... castles castles castles... A bikers heaven it is not! Too many regulations, too much micro-management of the traffic flow... a posted speed reduction at every curve. But for a leisurely stroll from one castle to another - perfect.
A scenic little bit of elegent 18th century charm in the pedestrian zone of RUZOMBEROIO
The beginning of the Carpathian mountains in the distance.
Rain again! This time at the first drops hit we were just at an exit ramp to a gas station where motorcycles were already lining up for the bit of shelter the was.
A quaint and lovely end to an eventful day. PAPRAD at the foot of the High Tatra mountain range Europe's smallest "Hochgebirge" with over 20 peaks above 2000 meters.

Day 5 begins with a loop of the Tatra mountains, then on top the famous city of KOSIČE which will be our last stop before entering UKRANIA. Here a glance at our happy bikes which were allowed to spend the night on the porch. 

Nice little place run by a former Slovakian national mogul skier. He made us the best scrambled eggs we have ever eaten... !
Then it's off to the High Tatras... SLOWAKIA'S claim to alpine fame...
Not just mountains, also here the rich have staked their claim. St. MORITZ in mini-format.

Being the smallest high alpine region of Europe was not an overstatement. Hardly were we in,  we were out again, and further on our way to KOŠICE.

Along the way a cozy little hamlet with a unique church and a lovely garden.

From the road we spotted another interesting looking little settlement and went to have a look. From a distance it could have been the Tuscany... a cluster of red tiled roofs with church spires and towers from the city hall rising above the skyline. It turned out LEVOĆA is one of the many starting points of the vast European network of pilgramage trails leading to Santiago de Compostello. Accordingly there is a very significant Cathedral here containing the world's largest all wood carved barock alter. Very impressive!

Map of the European network of pilgrimage trailers to Santiago de Compostello
Approaching our intended highlight of the day (and probable picnic site) SPIŠSKÉ POD HARDIE. The castle run on the hill has a haunting ominance.

Spending a relaxing hour in the cool shade of a little waterside shack,  gazing upon the ruins of this impressive fortress, will definitely remain as one of our most pleasurable moments of the trip...

Here's the lodging that wasn't in my Garmin...
Here's the one that booking.com found for us.
Believe it or not, in KOŠICE we actually were allowed too park our bikes IN the hotel ;0) First time That Ever happened to me.
Little stroll on the town...
A water fountain that is synchronized to music.

To cap the night a wonderfull dinner of goulash, crèpes, roasted duck with red cabbage and salad. Tomorrow should be the day we reach the UKRAINE. The first time I will have set foot or bike into a (former) soviet country. We don't know what to expect. 

Day 6 and 7 Ukrania

First getting oriented...
Then first impressions
Then managing the challenging pavement....
Our first lodging. After hours of torturous roads, impoverished settlements, incredulous contrasts between meegre nearly third world living conditions and opulent dedication to religious edifacacy, we literally stumbled upon an oasis of civilization. Out of nowhere a flourishing health spa center with some 20 luxury hotels. Cost factor: -Star two person suite with breakfast and bike parking in the wood shed... $30
Day 7 started out with a bang. The remaining bits of pavement actually more of a hindrance than a help. Or first two hours of riding reminded me of skiing moguls in Teluride in the springtime... dodging rocks and divits, trying to find the smoothest path.
Some lovely scenery and typical slices of daily life...
Some wild contrasts, like this massive modern luxury hotel were the are no tourists or guests to fill it....
Churches old and new and large and small...
A special challenge: 5 km of unpaved road ending in a short stretch of knuckle-deep gravel which Susanne managed miraculously well with her street cruiser, while I with my enduro bike nearly bailed out.
A monument to the soldiers who died in Afghanistan...
And to end the day with an appropriate symbol of our very own personal heroism, this statue of a valiant local hero.
All's well that ends well.

The Ukraine was a challenge to our bodies and minds. We met wonderfully friendly people, many however living in conditions that seemed hundreds of years behind the times, juxtaposed to building projects that were hedging on a prosperous future which seemed iconoclastic to the surroundings. One explanation is also a sad reminder of the ignominious nature of man to be a moraless opportunist; just minutes before the border we were boonwaggled twice by police on bogus driving violations (which we settled in cash of course) to the tune of €220! More than double of what we spent on food and lodging and gas for the two days. We would have gladly donated that to a laudable cause that would boost the infrastructure here, but unfortunately it only went into the pockets of corrupt officials. Unfortunately a scenario you see being played out everywhere there is such pitious poverty.

Here the drawing from the second police trap, warning me of the third trap awaiting us. An ominous intersection where if you follow your navigation device and instinct and turn left before the little island, you will be entering an unmarked one way 20 meter section of road the wrong way. Big fine. Insidious tap. But we were spared the trouble with this little sketch.

Week 2 (uploaded Sept 14)

Week 2 - Romania

A very friendly border crossing bodes well for the week to come. Day 8 starts off with a good omen and good weather.
...and very different feeling: fresh, clean, prosperous. It's as if this European town is trying to make a statement to its "east block" neighbor that joining the union pays off.
If that's not a sign of luck, then I don't know what is...
Still the most common and efficient service vehicle in the region! Horses will go where a truck can't and you don't have to buy fuel for them.
Down for the night in BORSA, smack dab in the Carpathian Mountains.

Day 9 will take us from BORSA to PEATRA NEAMT (also known as Kreuzburg an der Bistriz). The following day we will continue through a famous gorge to another of the German named Romanian cities -SCHÄSSBURG - which is actually Sighisoara to the locals.

From outward appearances an utterly funky arrangement for our lodging tonight! In booking.com it was highly recommended. The elevator seemed like a chamber of horrors, but when we got in the room, everything was lovely...
And the food that night was exceptional! I had wild boar in a delicious mushroom sauce and Susanne's goulash was also stupendous - not to mention the exceptional local beer. Looks like we will be eating well in Romania.

Day 10 from PIATRA NEAMT to SIGHISOARA will take us through the famous Bicaz Gorge (a chance to be "inside the mountain" as opposed to driving around and past it) then on to the region TRANSYLVANIA - literally "beyond the forest". Known in German speaking regions as SIEBENBÜRGEN, this remote region became internationally renouned as the fictional home of Count Dracula and the land of the vampires. It's remoteness, being snuggled in among the Carpathian mountains makes it a handy target for myths and legends, just as another region of Romania further south, WALACHEI, is synonimous in German with "the end of the world".

450 years Transylvania, land of religious freedom

Day 11 will take us through BRASOV - one of Romania's biggest cities with a beautiful old center - then on to the infamous castle in Bran which is purported to have been the model for Bram Stokers monumental tale of dracula We will sleep at the foot of the legendary mountain road TRANSFAGARASAN.

Along the way a fitting symbol for this anachronistic mix of old and new. Here an advert for an auto body shop with the old burg ruin in the background.
The fortress in RUPEA (exemplary relic of 14 century defense and military architecture)
Approaching BRAŞOV
What tourists do here... selfie themselves with the Hollywood like sign in the hills above Brasov in the background.
Approaching the BRAN CASTLE. Highly marketed but for the wrong purposes. Perhaps less spectacular than the fortress in Rupia, but much closer to our romantic image of medieval castle living. Late 14th century, It is apparently the only structure of its kind resembling the description of dracula's burg in Bram Stoker's novel. Whether he ever even saw it is questionable. And yes there really was a Count named Dracula, but he didn't reside in Bram.

An eventful day that ended peacefully at the foot of the TRANSFAGARASA which we will conqure tomorrow.

Day 12 TRANSFAGARASAN

There are names of places in the world of motorcycling that conjure up wild emotions. These places are legendary. They are must dos in one's life and a reason in and of itself to drive carefully enough to live to do the next one. And since we started planning this trip, everyone we mentioned Romania to uttered immediately this magical word: the TRANSFAGARASAN. Well today's the day we do it...

Top of page

Blog search


Add a comment Rate this post
Susanne Berg
Wednesday, September 12, 2018 at 08:36

Lovely pictures again! Blut keep your eyes on the road, Paul!!!
Wim
Tuesday, August 28, 2018 at 11:09

Hey Paul!

Got to love it how the route simply says "Berlin to Berlin". Easy enough! Just, you know, the long way round

Is that scouting for a future tour?

Safe travels!
Wim

Newsletter

Sign up now to stay in the loop and receive great travel inspirations.

Edelweiss Bike Travel