Saturday, 16 December 2017

Serbia and Bulgaria 2017 part 3

As soon as we entered the lodge we knew immediatelly there was something unique about this place. Sculptured wood carvings decorate the flower garden, smal handmade kiosks and teraces blending with wooden benches, all placed in the best spots overlooking the Danube. A small folk art museum is also used as a dining room, while next door was a cellar for the wine collection of the bare footed mr. Bos, the hospitable owner. 

We received a whole wooden house as a room upgrade . Mr. Bos is a man of his own class, he has literally cut, curved and bended kilometres of wood in his life and the lodge itself reflects his joyful and laid back character. The most brilliant about this place however, is the jaw dropping views to the majestic river running below. 
Unlike Mr. Bos, the Danube is bending, cutting, and curving the earth for millions of years, presenting the most spectacular natural beauty found in Central Europe. The snaky roads along the banks are not only scenic but also well maintained and inviting for games.  We drove from Donji Milanovats on the Serbian side, crossed the borders at the "Iron Gates" power dam, and reached the town of Orsova on the Romanian side.  

A 92,5 km route of well paved narrow roads filled with pure motorcycling happines. Being relieved from the travel load thrown back at the lodge, the KTM resurected another sports character. With the low fender to provide an excellent stability at the front it behaves as a motard and releases its skills on the tarmac. Even with my 50/50 tyres i feel that i can always bend it a little more closer to the ground, it is asking for it.  Christos with the ZZR was also throwing a party at every corner. I could see the thrill in his face everytime we stopped to photograph the amazing scenery. He said he would happily drive this road twice every day. "No matter what job you go to" I added. 

We took a tourist boat ride on the Romanian side in order to enter the heart of the Danube and learn some of its secrets. We crossed the narrowest point and the deepest point located not too far apart, entered caves created by erosion and marveled monasteries built on the steep walls of the gorge. 

The best highlight however was the granite royal bust of king Decebalus curved on the gorge's rock. It stood impossive at 50m above the watermark as a reminder of his glory. This river divides and the same time unites the regions where it passes, the people that afloat it and fauna and flaura that inhibits its banks at plenty. It was definately the epicenter of out tour and we took a great joy to be there for 2 consecutive days and ride through the trails of history and man. At dusk and upon returning to the lodge, we promised we will definately come back one day. I know it is a cliche phrase emerging at the peak of enthousiasm in every travel, but it felt as this was the best ride so far. We will see what the next day had to  bring on the road to Serbia's capital, the city of Beograd.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Serbia and Bulgaria 2017 part 2

We saluted this half sleeping trail veteran waiting patiently outside the flea market and we got back on the road. Unlike this guy, we got easily lost at a juction just a few km further. The directions on google maps were confusing for me because of nearby road reconstruction but the truth is I should have kept my eyes at least half open and notice the road signs. 
My travel mate Christos, was not too pissed about that so my confidence as a navigator was not severely damaged. Once outside the urban environment, the joy of motorcycling is instantly doubling. I felt as if the Serbian countryside was trying to seduce the newcomers by displaying its most fancy Autumn outfit under the glorious sunshine. The deciduous canopy spread a pallete of green, brown, red, yellow, orange and all intermediate shades, merging together in an orgy of interacting colors. It is definately the best time of the year to visit Serbia on a motorcycle. 
The road from Nis to Zajecar was well paved and divinely curved by several hills of low altitude while the warm and dry asphalt felt quite safe for game. Soon, my growing romantic mood gave way to my thirst for adrenaline and before I knew it I was diving into the bends like a maniac. My instict was telling me I should not give in to temptetion completely, considering my accident exactly a year ago. I still have nightmares about this old Fiat Punto coming out of the blue and smashing my left side after ignoring a stop sign, resulting into the almost total destruction of my late BMW F800 GS and my left knee which still suffers minor annoyance and pain. But you simply can't turn a blind eye at the "Monica Bellucci" of country roads lying at your feet and winking at you. 

Passing outside Zajecar, which was located half the way to our destination (Donji Milanovats), the scenery gradually changes. We met more and longer straits so we switched back to cruise mode. My 690 Enduro R was performing very well so far. I have to admit that I had a few concerns besides the seat comfort, coming from reviews and reported issues online. I used the low carbon front fender for better stability and it worked just fine until the max speed of 160 km per hour. Vibrations on the grips were evident from the beggining of the trip when reaching speeds above 100 kph but somehow passed unoticed after the 2nd day on the road. I probably got used to them and didn't feel bothered anymore. The Mitas E07 on the rear wheel is brand new and provides excellent traction, copes very well with the load on the bends while the front Karoo 3 still had a lot of km's on it's life span and was quite credible when braking hard. Every 1000 km's or so I had to add a little engine oil. Besides that, the bike is light and playful and a real joy to ride both on tarmac and offroad but especially on trails it shines like a superstar. 

It is early afternoon now and we pass through the woods of Djerdap National Park . The scenic road leads to the first sight of the Danube river, its calm  waters revealed in absolute glory as we descent from the last hill. The most varied ecosystem in Europe has many charms to offer to visitors. For our taste, cruising along the bank is topping the list. It is Saturday afternoon and the hordes of local bikers stream in from the North. It  We took a short break by the river bank and headed to our overnight shelter, the magnificent Etno Kompleks Kapetan Mišin Breg .
My controversial relationship with google maps had yet another episode of confusion. What seemed like a swift shortcut on the phone screen ended up a steep trail through the woods. My KTM couldn't be more happy about that but my friend Christos  struggled hard trying to avoid deep holes on the ground and large stones in various spots. His ZZR came out of the trail like a boss without a single scratch on the lower fairing to my relief. Once we entered the lodge we agreed to add another overnight and rectified our tour plan. The breathtaking scenery and hospitality we found there left no margin for doubt.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Serbia and Bulgaria 2017 part 1

Hi everyone,

This is my first attempt in blogging and sharing my travels and experiences with anyone interested. I' ll try to be as coherent as possible to avoid becoming tedious or dull. I hope that some people will find useful information for their future travels in the region.

The tour took a whole week, starting on the 19th of October and concluded on the 26th of October upon returning to the Greek borders again. Prior to that I had to cross about 600 km from Piraeus which was my port of call, all spent on a highway with tolls, and another 600 km at the same on return, entering the Greek border and riding back to Piraeus.

There are 2 reasons to mention this. First, the cost of tolls was nearly 30 euro each way which I find very expensive, second a true test for my bike's seat comfort which is a real issue on such roads. As many have already complaint in various forums, the factory seat of my KTM 690 Enduro R is quite narrow and not adequate for traveling many hours on motorways. However, being already suspicious I brought along a silicon stuffed neck pillow, similar to those used on long distance plane travels, which at times I placed under my butt to add a little extra comfort and the trick worked partially.

However, my tour mate Christos who was traveling on a Kawasaki ZZR 600 utilizing a much wider and comfortable seat, was complaining as much as I did and I am sure many of you recognize this is a middleweight sport tourer famous for its comfort. So I quit the whining right here. In the end, there is more comfort at the living room's couch where everyone has a choice over an adventure tour on bikes.

The tour started from the capital city of Polygyros in Chalkidiki perfecture, hometown of my mate Christos. After a night with dining on homemade pizza and tsipouro (Greek spirit) by the fireplace accompanied with endless discussions and excitement about the forthcoming trip, we woke up at the most Idylic morning with countryside views, birds chirping at the garden and sunshine with temperatures nearing 20C'. At 10:00am we were on our way and enjoyed a relaxed route of little or no traffic at all, except for the ring road outside Thesaloniki which was almost jammed at one point.

We headed from Polygyros to Doirani lake (pic above) and the synonymous border crossing to FYROM. We crossed the country non-stop except for fuelling up, as we wanted to get to the Serbian city of Nis before the sundown and enjoy as much of the riverside culture there, as possible. The roads in FYROM are in very good condition and tolls where applicable costed 1 euro per bike, making me wonder why the Greek highway tolls are so expensive.

After 7 hours on the seat and a succesful use of the silicon pillow under my butt we arrived in Nis - Serbia finding similar weather conditions and a vibrant city center full of youth and relaxed citizens enjoying a coffe or a local beer (👍) at one of the many river bank cafes and bars.
We made friends immediately with the stuff of a bar (good beer surely helped a lot) and after we enjoyed another local delicacy, sausage with potatoes at side, we extracted as many info as possible about the area, the birthplace of Constantine the Great, founder and first monarch of the Byzantine Empire.

Serbian people seemed more than welcoming, especially those who discovered our Greek nationality, since there is a certain brotherhood asocciation between the 2 peoples, deriving from the support of the Greeks to the Serbians during the Nato bombardments back in 1999. At this point I would like to make it clear that I respect equally the people of all nationalities, skin colour, religion, tribe and sex and I do not intent to be more favorable to anyone in particular in my descriptions. I simply describe the feeling I received during my fellowship based on their actions and words.

The first overnight was no less satisfactory than the day before, the new and well furbished one bedroom apartment of 60sq.m. with all modern conforts and right next to the river bank, costed 23 euros. We found the prices of everything almost ridiculous in Serbia. A cellphone sim card  priced at a little less than 5 euro outlasted the Serbian part of the tour, mainly used for data and only a few phone calls. Furthermore you do not need to register with ID upon purschasing the sim card.

The next morning the sunshine and warm temperatures continued, time to explore the city and the magnificent castle, a landmark standing well preserved at the north bank of the river. The monuments in Nis, inform the visitor of it's multiple civilisations that flourished through the ages, mainly the Serbian origins but also the Byzantine and Ottoman empires had a strong presence and decorate the city with architectural masterpieces.
 After a brief visit to the bustling fleet market, right next to the castle entrance (pic at the left), we loaded on fruits to feast upon and head back to the bikes, looking forward to the next part of our travel. Through the Serbian countryside, strictly on small motorways snaking all the way around small villages and fertile hills covered in melancholic Autumn colours, until our next destination, the Danube river.