For cyclists it is good to know that campsites are thinly strewn in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. If you want to camp, it is advisable to adjust your route accordingly. Something we did not do. We searched every day for a campground for the next day on Google Maps and Maps.me. Every time it turned out to be quite a task to find a camping spot in the vicinity of our route, on a day trip. Wildcamping is not allowed in Slovenia and Croatia and we have not tried how strict the authorities are. Partly because of the daily thunderstorms, we have not slept four times in our tent in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, but in half a mobile home, a B&B and a hotel (2x).
We are pleased with lower prices after Austria. Traveling will become cheaper on our route through these countries. Our daily shopping costs drop significantly, but the cost of overnight stays do not. That is because we have not always camped, but also because the campsites are still relatively expensive and / or - in the absence of supply - they dare to ask high prices. We pay between € 15 and € 30. There are no special rates for travelers with a tent and two bicycles. We have not seen logical, camping cyclists. This means that we (too) often exceed our daily budget. After the busy cycling countries behind us we can now say goodbye to other holiday cyclists: in these countries we have not encountered any other cyclist "of this kind" anymore!
After Austria we now come to countries with a language that we understand almost nothing. Signs, texts, spoken word: we do not understand anything. That feels pretty strange. We are also briefly present in every country to really get to know the language, but "good day, thank you, goodbye" we try to get the hang of it straight away. Fortunately, those words in the Balkans are quite similar. Furthermore, we hope that we would come a long way with English and German. We will see.
Slovenia is a beautiful country for cycling: it is mountainous but not too steep. There are long distance cycling routes and neat bike paths with picnic spots including water taps. All this seems to have been laid out recently and we regularly see a sign that we owe this to the European Union. What we definitely want to do someday is to cycle the interconnected country-wide network of mountain bike routes (but then as real minimal bike packers).
The Slovenians are a beautiful people, open and Europe minded, generally speaking English well (prefer German) and relaxed / happy, but maybe it was because we cycle through this country on Fridays and Saturdays. On the busy roads they take good account of you as a cyclist.
We cross the Slovenian border under the Carinthian town of Bleiburg. Slovenia has been part of the EU for some time, so we do not see anyone at the border. After the peace and quiet of the villages of Austria, Slovenia seems busy and chaotic. There are many people in the street, in gardens and at the cafes and shops, despite the intense heat. There are, at least in the part where we cycled, hardly any tourists and certainly no holiday cyclists.
The number of supermarkets and terraces is huge. The first day in Slovenia we end up in the city of Velenje via a beautiful descent. It starts to rain when we arrive and in the rain we cycle to the campsite. Unfortunately, the rain continues all night and we choose to spend the night in half a mobile home. It has a shower and toilet. That costs € 30 (plus € 10 cleaning costs) while setting up a tent would cost us € 26. We are hungry and on the covered terrace we finally order three frozen pizzas.
The next day we cycle through the old and nice center of Celje (the second city of Slovenia) to the other campsite that we have found on our route through this country: Kamp Natura. It is not really equipped for tents, but actually only for campers. There are also many holiday homes and two large, fully fenced-in grounds for glamping where people have all the luxury (up to "room" service) and still have a camping feeling. We can not imagine anything. The high fence and gate, where you can only enter with a pass, also gives a strange sense of class distinction or a gated community.
The campsite borders directly on a busy water theme park. When we arrive it starts to rain heavily again. At our place we quickly put the tent on a piece of grass next to the concrete box meant for the camper. Our neighbors with a bungalow tent have the same idea, with the result that we can use just about each other herrings: that night we sleep with earplugs. Once the tent is standing, we cycle between showers to a nearby café and look dry and warm to the Tour de France.
At the border with Croatia we are allowed to show our passport for the first time to gain access. The river that forms the border has been deposited with a high fence with barbed wire. Strange, because Croatia is also part of the EU. It still has its own currency, the Kuna of which about 7.5 in a Euro fit. In Croatia we are also confronted for the first time with dogs descending from the yard. They want to bite us in the calves as long as we continue cycling; if we stop or sometimes only reduce speed, a hat is frightened and dripping, under barking protest. This is part of it and every world cyclist has experience with that. Nevertheless, the Nordic walking stick is placed within reach, because you never know if the dog is a real nasty one.
The hilly route that brought us through Slovenia, keeps going for a while after the border. Behind us emerge threatening storm clouds that motivate us to keep a strong pace in the direction of Zagreb. After 60 km we see the first signs of the approaching big city. At first it feels like the city of 1 million can actually have 2 million inhabitants. There are many empty buildings, much is dilapidated and gray. It does not look inviting. We cycle more than 10 km through the city before we reach the historic center. What a surprisingly different feel! Beautiful buildings, nice intimate small-scale, lots of color, cozy terraces and tourists. The first tourists we see today and there are a lot of them immediately! For a while we search in vain for a Tourist Information, but Maps.me and Google Maps get lost when we find ourselves in a nice jumble of streets, alleys and stairs after hundreds of meters of tunnel cut into a rock. In the tunnel there is a sign that you can not cycle. We can see it as real Dutch people, of course, we find that faint-hearted and cycling through. Behind the opened entrance gate, however, an official is hiding, who immediately stops us. Or we have not seen the sign! Which sign ...? Oww, that sign! Sorry ;-)
Unfortunately we can not stay in this nice center for a long time, because we booked a B&B outside the city and it is already late in the afternoon and the thunderclouds get bigger and bigger. Just before all the violence erupts, we reach the BenB, which is right next to the highway. It seems more like a pension or 2 star hotel and certainly has 8 rooms. The man who opens up to us seems in the first instance not happy with us and not to expect us. With a lot of sigh he points our room and with a lot of grumbling, rolling eyes and a shaking head he allows us to store our bikes inside. Later in the afternoon he also pulls in and becomes friendlier. We will have taken him out of an afternoon nap. In our room we enjoy a salad with Bulgur and a wine that we brought from the Lidl on the outskirts of Zagreb. We have a balcony, which is flogged by the thunderstorm.
The next morning we are served a great omelette, with bread, sweets and coffee. We are surprised because this hotel / pension / BenB costs us only € 38. The man is now very friendly and offers Roelie a croatian headscarf that has survived the World Cup final. Many cars still drive around with the red and white checkered flags, identical to the Brabantsian flag. We joke that it all happens in honor of those two cyclists from this Dutch province.
We cycle through a part of Croatia that is not beautiful, but perhaps shows the real Croatia: ugly houses that in most cases are not finished, empty abandoned houses that are completely dilapidated and overgrown. The young adults can be counted on one hand ...: Shrinkage and war have left behind significant traces and poverty is tangible. At the border with Bosnia we get the first stamps of our world trip in our passports and for the first time (the 10 km through Switzerland not counting) we cycle into a non-EU country: Bosnia-Herzegovina!
Bosnia and Herzegovina
We cross the border after midday at the town of Bosanska Gradiska and after half a day we already love this country! What a nice chaos reigns. In Bosnia much is not regulated, so in principle not prohibited, or allowed. This also applies to wild camping (but also for smoking in a restaurant, unfortunately). The traffic is chaotic and witness the innumerable memorial stones of often young people along the roads, also not harmless. Overtaking here is an art, a gambling game or a sport; we do not know. For the first time we are happy with our mirror on the steering wheel and decide to keep a close eye on them.
We see a lot of cars with EU number plates: especially from Germany, Austria and Sweden. However, they are not tourists but former labor migrants and / or refugees who come to visit their homeland and family every summer. We are regularly approached and helped by these people when language problems arise.
We first cycle east to a nature reserve, where we can set up our tent on the banks of a lake. It is very hot and we are pretty hot when we reach the reserve. There also appears to be an outdoor pool that is centered around a natural lake and a man-made swimming pool. It is fenced, has showers and toilets, sun beds and ... a bar! After we have drunk a cold beer we put on our naughty shoes and ask the waiter (in German) if we can stay here tonight and set up our tent on the grounds. "No problem, I'll close soon and see you tomorrow morning again". Wowww: we have a gigantic recreation area for us only tonight !!!
Our goal for the next day is a village called Kulasi. A river flows where we hope to camp on the shore. The village has a mini-market, where we can do our shopping for the evening and next morning. The route is beautiful! We cycle through a beautiful hilly landscape with continuous climbs and descents. They are "afterwards" roads and gravel paths, so hardly a car to be seen.
The hot pressing weather makes the route extra spicy and we are happy when we reach Kulasi after 65 kilometers. We do our shopping and, before we set up the tent, we first enjoy a refreshment in the river and then a can of beer on the shore. Above us the air becomes black and we decide to wait with the setting up of the tent. After half an hour the air becomes very friendly with large pieces of blue. There is still one dark cloud, but that may not have a name. We think ... It starts to drip, but we expect it to overrun quickly. Not so. In no time it starts to thunder, storm, lightning and thunder. We flee in our swimwear to a boarded-up house with a medium-sized roof on 4 sides. It haunts, rains and storms from all directions and whatever side we choose: we get soaked. It gets colder and we start to shiver. The bikes, with our towels and washed-out clothes standing helpless in this unexpected natural violence. There is no other option than to endure this and change each time from one side of the house when the wind comes from a completely different angle. Half an hour later the storm continues. Everything is wet, including ourselves. We decide to put on wet clothes and as two drowned cats we cycle to a café where we change clothes in the toilet. We then doubt what we will do: will we still set up our tent or will we go to a hotel at a health resort on the outskirts of Kulasi. The hotel seems cheap, but upon inquiry, the attractive rate we found on the internet appears to be a price per person. Okay, we just pitch our tent on the soaking wet bank and cook our own pot. What followed was a wonderful evening and a beautiful breakfast on the shore in the early sunlight with deer around us. All these experiences ensure that we are less likely to be discouraged by thunderstorms or weather forecasts that predict "hell and damnation". In these mountainous regions it is a matter of waiting, keeping an eye on the air and finding a good shelter in time. Then the sun will shine again!
Our second full day in Bosnia-Herzegovina brings us to Lukavac, where we should find a campsite that is not far from our route. The campsite is located on a lake near this ugly city with gray industry and poverty. After a visit to a supermarket we lay down the last kilometers against a slope with a percentage of 12-15%. What follows is an oasis of peace, greenery and a beautiful lake in the distance. And a barrier, which is closed. After waving for 5 minutes, we get the attention of a gentleman who is napping a hundred meters away in a kind of dwarf kiosk. He sees us and takes another five minutes to go to our side. After we answer his question of whether we only spend one night here with a hesitant yes, he opens the barrier and gives us the freedom to choose a beautiful spot among the trees on the edge of the lake. The lake has a kind of day recreation beach, which is completely empty on a noisy aggregate and about ten burly guys with cars, a bus and three boats after. Huh? It appears that three days ago a man drowned in this lake and that since then the police have been trying hard to find this man. As long as that is not the case, it is more prohibited territory. We look at the search all afternoon, which is discontinued at twilight.
In the evening a Belgian family arrives with a folding cart (trailer). The family comes from Mechelen, Belgium and is next to mom and dad, four beautiful sweet daughters rich. They are going to Serbia this year, to a national park called Tara (mountains). That would be very beautiful and untouched. We had also read about that and we decide that same evening to deviate directly from the route in Serbia and to visit the Tara Mountains.
The next morning we talk quite long with this sweet family from Belgium and leave pretty late towards Zvornik (or Drovnik as Harry keeps saying the whole day). Zvornik is 75 km away, but the elevation profile shows us some tough challenges. What follows is another beautiful stage through this beautiful country with beautiful people waving at us from their car or from their veranda. Around midday we are confronted with our daily portion of thunderstorms. As soon as it comes out of the sky, we flee a yard with a house on which a substantial new part is being built. There are three men on a porch and we ask if we can shelter under a shed of a barn. But of course! A minute later we are invited to the veranda for coffee and sweets. For two hours we tried to communicate with gestures, photos and baffling. They do not speak a word of English or German and we do not speak a word, well what do they speak: Bosnian, Serbian or is that the same? It is unforgettable, but it could have been even better if you can understand and understand each other more ...
After we have passed the last steep climb of several kilometers with a gradient of 10% and a few stranded trucks, our route leads us off the road for the descent. That descent will be remembered for a long time: in short, it was almost impossible and dangerous, full of rocks, boulders and channels. The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is nothing. Thanks Bikemap.net: we owe you a lot, but in this piece we have been detesting you. Fortunately our bikes (and we) have managed to survive this attack and we finally enter Zvornik.
We had hoped to set up our tent in this border town on the banks of the wide river Drina, but the city was, as it were, "crammed" in a narrow valley and the river banks do not offer any opportunities here. Eventually we decide not to cycle any further, but to look for a cheap hotel in the center. We are starving, so we first have a tasty pizza at one of the three pizzerias that the town is rich. At no pizzeria, however, we see someone eating, there are only people drinking. We enter the pizzeria with the least drinkers. There's a policeman talking to a man. To the waiter (and owner we think) we ask: "pizza?". The man nods yes and disappears backwards; we think to get the menu with dozens of pizza varieties for us. He does not return, however. The policeman sees our despair and tells us he in Bosnia has eaten a pizza capricciosa that is tastier than in the whole of Italy. He leaves soon. It remains unclear whether he has eaten that pizza in this pizzeria. After fifteen minutes the waiter / owner returns with two pizzas. There is ham under melted cheese, an olive and we get ketchup for the "tomato feeling". Most important is: it offers us calories! It turns out to be a pizzeria without choice stress and no capriciosa, haha.
Our new "change-of-plan", the visit to the Tara Mountains, led to an adjustment of our route to Serbia. We stay the next day (and last day in Bosnia-Herzegovina) the border river Drina on Bosnian side until we cross this river for 90 kilometers to Serbia and cycle a few kilometers further to the town of Bajina Basta. There is a tourist information center especially for the Tara National Park. During the beautiful quiet road along the river (5 kilometers south of Zvornik trucks and other heavy traffic are prohibited on this road) the questions we want to ask about this tourist info pile up: about camping possibilities (wild and regular), nice routes , the Tara Mountains, the rest of our route through Serbia, and not to forget about activating our own WiFi hotspot. A so-called MiFi where we can use the prepaid internet without having to speak to an expensive Vodafone data bundle. Outside the EU, Vodafone wants the bottom of your stock market for few MBs (not to mention GB's). So which provider has the most coverage and the best offer. We all hope to get answers to this.
Our next blog is about Serbia and of course the National Park Tara (mountains). We like it if you keep following us.