Crossing the Balkans (about two weeks on the road)

Crossing the Balkans (about two weeks on the road)

Where the Sava meets the DanubeIt’s hard to find a starting point to write: days have been so full since the very beginning that is seems longer than it has really been. We’ve been traveling for just two weeks, we’ve cycled about 600 kms (or a little bit more) and crossed three borders (if we count the Croatian one, after we got out of the ferry from Italy).

We were walking the streets of Belgrade in the last two days and we were talking about the perception of the time when you are on the road: the time of the day, how many hours do you need from when you wake up to when you are ready to go (guess what? Too many!), going to sleep so early when you are camping… but also the time of the week or the year, like realizing that it’s sunday just because you checked your phone (and you were wondering why so many kids were around) or feeling warm enough in the sun to think it’s still summer. And the time for planning (the routes, the search for host on the way…).

And time it takes to adjust to this new rhythm, the attentions you need to have, the reflexes you (have to) develop: from taking any chance to charge your devices to finding a good spot for the tent for the night. Our minds are still working on adapting to this new nomad status.

Days have been full, I’ve written. Cycling, of course, fills up almost every day for a few hours. The people we meet fill our time and heart: Silvjia and her friends in Split; Tomi, Kanji and Mathias with whom we shared a night of cooking and camping near Mostar (in the space that Zemljani offers freely to cyclists); Orhan, Sabrina and Florian in Konjic, on the way to Sarajevo; Ricardo (who’s been traveling for more than two years on his bamboo bike), Tristan (on the road for more than one year) and the others we met at the Doctor’s House in Sarajevo and the Fair+Square in Belgrade; Milos, his mother Milena and his friends who welcomed us so warmly and made us feel like family. Cheers to you! And for those passing by Valjevo, stop for a beer at Latcho Drom, say hello to Milos and enjoy that cool place.

And it’s impossible to cross the Balkans without thinking about their history: too often too painful and complicated. Last time I traveled through this area (especially Bosnia) I’ve found myself looking for the signs of the recent wars, maybe because the war to me – teenager at that time – was “just” images on tv but also because I volunteered in Bosnian refugee camps in the 90s, leading activities with kids and that experience created an emotional attachment to the people and their suffering. This time I wanted to ask to the people I met “how do you get out of all the awful things that you lived?” and the answer came (without even asking) from Merima, our guide for two walking tours (highly recommended, if you spend time in Sarajevo): she said “we do not talk about the war, we know what we lived, we keep the memory of the victims and we look at the future, we want to go on”. I do not even know how it feels to live a war (and furthermore, to live in a besieged city) but what she said was strong and important. I didn’t look for signs of war, this time, but to all the life that you can feel in the city (despite the critical political situation in the area).

The beauty of the landscapes, the words we exchange in a somehow hybrid language with the people we meet while on the bikes, the physical effort on the climbs, the history of the people and of the places we ride through, the tiny everyday details like the quest for a small size shaving foam in Belgrade, impossible (we tried three supermarkets!)… there is so much that for now it’s not finding its way in the stories we write or the picture we take, but it’s fine, I guess it’s part of this adventure.

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