Bulgaria to Berlin and the Beautiful Balkans.

Bulgaria to Berlin

Moto Camp in Bulgaria is the kind of place you can stay for a long time if you are not careful, it has a never ending stream of Overland Travellers coming through the gates.   Shortly after I arrived Nick turned up from the UK riding a Royal Enfield, he is riding it to India through Iran and Pakistan to go to a Royal Enfield Festival in Goa, what a fantastic trip.   Jeff and Sally from Australia arrived later that day on their way to the UK after a year long ride through South America and Europe so what should we all do….let’s go for a ride then?


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We managed to find the House-Monument of the Bulgarian Communist Party in Buzludzha high up in the nearby mountains which is another weird place popular with Motorcycle Travellers.   Construction began in 1974 and it was formally opened in 1981 but in the late 1980’s the fall of communism saw it become a derelict building, slowly since then it has decayed and become very unsafe so internal access has now been cut off.

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I enjoyed Moto camp a little too much, the first time I tried to leave I left my phone behind so ended up staying another day.   The next day it rained so I decided to stay another day, its just that kind of place.   So after 5 days there I left with Nick, Jeff and Sally and we all went our separate ways a few kilometres down the road.

Ivo at Moto camp had organised a new rear Tyre for me so I rode into Sofia to pick it up, when I got there the guys fitted it straight away and it was a lot less expensive than at home.   I put the old tyre on when I arrived in Mongolia so this one has lasted over 14,000 kilometres and it could have done 2,000 more so that is excellent for a rear tyre on a bike like this.


Then it was south towards Greece.   When I reached the border I expected the usual delays and uncertainty but now I realised I was really in Europe.   I handed my Passport to The Bulgarian Officer who stamped it and handed it to the Greek Officer who stamped it and it was over in less than 10 minutes.   As the sun went down I found this peaceful Lake in Northern Greece and set up camp.
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The following day I headed south west towards the small town of Kalambaka in Northern Greece.   I have my GPS set to avoid Toll Roads and the added benefit of this is it takes you through some of the most scenic and peaceful Roads and Villages.   This part of Northern Greece was full of high Mountain passes and the Toll Roads cut through numerous Tunnels below but I was happy meandering through these small roads and old villages.

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The town of Kalambaka which is a maze of crazy streets and laneways sits right below some amazing rock formations.

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Not far from the town is the area known as Meteora where there are Monasteries built high up on these rock formations.   I had read about these when I was planning the trip and they did not disappoint.   There are 6 different sized Monasteries all built on the rock formations and are all UNESCO Heritage listed.    They all have small suspension stairways to gain access and all still rely on a ropes and pullies to lift larger objects up from below.

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After spending a few hours here I headed west towards the coast looking for a camp site hopefully on the beach.   When I arrived at the coast it was either full of people and houses or not accessible from the road so I eventually found this place in a small valley far from any towns.   During the night I could hear animals of some sort running around in the dry river bed, they weren’t small but I’m pretty used to this now and slept through most of it.   At 5.00 a.m. I woke to the sound of a pack of wild dogs barking, growling and howling all around my tent.   It was still dark but I could hear at least 6 dogs and they were all surrounding my tent  so I tried putting on the torch and making noise but that just made them angrier.   I thought OK I have camped in some of what people think are the most dangerous areas and never been worried but now I’m about to become breakfast to a bunch of Wild Dogs in Greece.   My next tactic was to just remain silent in the hope they would get bored and go away, this worked and after around 30 minutes they were gone.   I slowly climbed out of the tent at around 8 o’clock and packed up.   As I did I noticed animal bones and carcasses of Sheep and Goats lying in the rocks of the River Bed, it looks like I accidently camped in there feeding ground, maybe they thought I was going to steal their leftovers.

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After a short ride and a quick Greek Breakfast I arrived at the Albanian Border which was also an easy crossing.   The Green Card Insurance I have for Europe is not recognised in Albania so I had to pay 13 Euros for Insurance for 2 weeks even though I would only be in the country for a few days.   I rode along the stunning coast of Albania towards the Capital Tirane.

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The road hugs the coast line and climbs steeply in some parts to provide a fantastic Panoramic view and a place for Para Gliders to leap off in the hope that they land safely somewhere below.

Lunch at a nice little Restaurant on the coast.

Towards the north of Albania I left the Coast and headed inland to the town of Fier where I stayed in a nice and cheap Hotel for a couple of days to rest, catch up on admin and wash my clothes, this is no holiday, there is always something to do.

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After a couple of nights in Fier I rode north towards the Montenegro Border.

A short rest stop before crossing the Albania/Montenegro Border, the bike is still running like a dream and doing everything right to get me safely through all of these countries.

The Border crossing was another easy one, this time 10 Euros for Insurance and I rode the bike through the pedestrian access because they told me too, things are still a little adventurous here.

I rode north to the small town of Kotor nestled at the bottom of a clear blue water inlet near the coast.   Kotor was still very busy with tourists and traffic so I continued around the waters edge to a small Village of Risan.
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After a great early dinner I explored some tracks behind the Village to find a place to camp.   The road started to climb.

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And climb.

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This looks like a great place, and it has a view.

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So now time to relax and watch the sun go down over the Adriatic coast.

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In the morning I was relieved to find I was still perched up on the cliff top and had not rolled off in my sleep.

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After packing up it was time to ride back down again.

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My next stop in Montenegro was Tara Canyon in the North of the Country.   It is an Alpine area and has snow in the Winter but all the Chair Lifts and most of the Resorts were closed now.

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It was a fantastic Place for a ride and to camp with virtually no one else around, perfect.

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A nice breakfast and coffee at this small Café and all for a few dollars, Montenegro is not only beautiful but it’s also not an expensive place to Travel, I would love to come back here and spend more time exploring.

After a few hours riding through the rest of Tara Canyon it was time to leave Montenegro and enter Bosnia.

Once through yet another very easy border I rode to the southern city of Mostar to see the iconic Mostar Bridge.
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Mostar is an old Medieval Town and for centuries men have shown their courage (or Stupidity) by jumping from the highest point of the Mostar Bridge.

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I only spent a few hours in Mostar as it is very touristy,  particularly around the Bridge and it cost me 5 Euros just to park the bike in the street.   I headed North East and within a few hours I was in the Capital of Bosnia Herzegovina, Sarajevo.   This city has had its fair share of historic moments, in 1914 it was on a street here that the Austrian Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated which lead to the outbreak of WW1 and in the early 1990’s the city was besieged for 1425 days during the Bosnian War.

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After Sarajevo it was a long ride through Serbia including the capital Belgrade during peak hour thanks to my GPS with a sense of Humour until I arrived in Sibiu, Transylvania (Romania).   After finding a great Guesthouse it was time to explore this part of Romania with the first stop Bran Castle.   The Castle was originally built in around 1377 and has had numerous occupants over the years including one of the Queen Victoria’s but it has become famous because of one that never even came here, Count Dracula.   The story of Dracula is mostly fiction based around a real character known as Vlad the Impaler but there is no evidence that he ever came to this Castle, which hasn’t stopped thousands of people coming here and the nearby Village of Bran every year, including me.

Village of Bran.

Bran Castle, its a lot smaller than I thought.
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On the way back to Sibiu I took the opportunity to ride up and down the Transfagarasan, or better know locally as Ceausescu’s Folly.   It was built in the early 70’s by the Romanian Military to provide easy access to the south of the country if the Russians Invaded from the North but it is said to have cost the lives of hundreds of Military personnel who had little experience with Road construction.   It is now one of the most popular roads in the world for tourists and gets extremely busy particularly on weekends, which happens to be when I got there but it wasn’t too bad.

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Then it was back to Sibiu for the night.

A random new Apartment building in Sibiu.

The Trasilvania Pension (Guesthouse) where I stayed was fantastic and not that expensive.
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The next day I headed north towards Hungary and eventually Poland.   Romania was not what I was expecting, it was relatively modern, the roads and Freeways were good, the people were friendly, although a bit reserved at first and it was not that expensive, its another place I would like to revisit one day.

The Romanian/Hungarian Border was my last real Border Crossing as I knew them, once I was into Hungary it was truly part of the EU not a little each way like most of the Balkans.   Both Hungary and Slovakia would be countries I would only travel through to get to Poland but both I would like to see more of one day.   Hungary is another one of those places which has its own currency but is in the EU which can make it confusing if you don’t have their currency, although some places will take Euros if they have to.

After searching for a while for somewhere to camp I found this abandoned Hostel at the end of a dead end road which was perfect, although during the night I could hear what I think were bears in the nearby forest but I lived so it wasn’t all that bad.

The next day I found a nice café for breakfast and continued on through Slovakia and into Southern Poland.   I arrived in the small Polish town of Oswiecim late in the afternoon and not long after I settled into a Guesthouse the rain started and continued all through the night and the next morning.   The weather was noticeably cooler this far north and I was glad I travelled here now rather than any closer to winter.

Again Poland is another country which is part of the EU but has its own currency and most places won’t take the Euro so I went to the ATM and withdrew enough Zloty to get me through about a week in Poland.

A rainy cold night in Oswiecim, Poland.

The next afternoon the rain stopped so I took the opportunity to walk through the Town Square to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp Museum around 3 kilometres away.
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The Museum was busy with lots of bus loads of Tourists but it worked pretty well.   You can only enter with a guided tour which was much better because there is so much information you would miss if you walked around alone.   One thing I hadn’t realised was the Concentration Camp was divided into two parts, Auschwitz closer to town and Auschwitz II Birkenau around another 5 Kilometres away, luckily they ran free buses between the two.

The Infamous Main Gate with the ironic “work will set you free” written above it.   I had only seen video and photographs of this gate but it was a lot smaller in real life and near the centre of the camp not at the main entrance as I thought.

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This area was used by the SS for regular Firing Squads, there was a Courthouse on the right where no doubt they had a fair trial…..

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Before being lined up against this wall and shot dead.

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This was the only Gas Chamber in Auschwitz, the remaining and larger ones were at Auschwitz-Birkenau.   The tour takes you through the inside and you can clearly see the holes in the roof where the Gas canisters were dropped through and the furnaces where the bodies were burnt straight away.

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Then the tour moved to Auschwitz-Birkenau further out of the town where the mass killings were part of the daily routine.

The trains loaded with people were driven straight through this front gate.

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Once inside there were a number of Railway Platforms where the people were unloaded, quite a few had already died on the way and had to be removed from the carriages and burnt.

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The remains of 3 massive Gas Chambers at the end of the Railway Line.   They were destroyed by the SS to try and hide what had occurred here before they evacuated the camps to escape the Russians.

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The Interior of one of the sleeping areas, they would have around 400 people in these areas packed in without any access to washing facilities or toilets during the night so they quickly became infested with rats and lice and either very hot in the summer or very cold in the winter.   A large number of people simply died in there beds during the night and the bodies not removed until the following day.

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Coming here was near the top of my list when planning this trip and as disturbing as it is it was well worth while.   I knew some of the history of this camp but what I didn’t know was that more than 70 % of the people arriving on the trains, particularly at Auschwitz-Birkenua were simply led straight to the Gas Chambers and executed then their bodies burnt the same day as arriving   If someone was sick or not capable of working the SS Doctors directed they be lead straight to the Gas Chambers.   Many of the victims were Women and Children, the SS had also decided that if the mothers were executed the children would lose the will to work so they just executed them all.

1,100,000 Jews alone were rounded up and brought to these two camps and after 4 years around 1 million of them were either executed or died from disease or poor health, it was truly a massive slaughter yard set up the same way we do with animals.   Apparently there are some people that don’t believe that this ever took place, coming here would change their minds in an instant.

The following morning I left Oswiecim and rode west towards the small village of Klodzko where I stayed the night.   This was a pretty little Village in the Lower Silesia area of Poland which was once part of Germany and prior to that part of Prussia and has had its fair share of unwanted Invaders including Napoleon and his French Army at one stage.

Just behind the Village is the Klodzko Bastion which is an old fortress high up on the hill overlooking the Village.   Built in the 17th Century most of it still stands intact and somehow survived intensive bombing during WWII, the Fortress is quiet big in size and was well worth the visit.

View of Klodzko from the top of the Fortress.

One of the many tunnels inside the Fortress.

The Old Town in Klodzko has many narrow streets and laneways to get lost in.

The next stop on my list in Poland was Poznan to catch up with a few new friends who I’d never met…..

On the way out of Klodzko the rain paid me a visit and when it cleared I ran into Jamie from Western Australia on his own bike tour of Europe.   So we stopped at a small town for a coffee.

No sooner than I left Jamie on the highway I ran into Mac from Poland who invited my into Wroclaw for another Coffee and some lunch, who said this Adventure Travelling was hard?

After a nice lunch and chat with Mac I moved on and eventually made my way through some more rain and peak hour traffic to find Sheldon and Ewa in Poznan.

Sheldon is originally from Australia and started on his own Motorcycle trip nearly 7 years ago.   He met Ewa who is from Poland and now they have decided to settle down here and get married, well Sheldon is still trying to get used to this idea.   He has travelled all over the world and his Blog is a great read:

http://advrider.com/index.php?threads/rideforsmiles-solo-australian-to-africa-europe-and-beyond-starting-june-26th-2011.699326/

Sheldon and Ewa kindly offered me their couch for a couple of days and were fantastic hosts, they did everything for me…… I took a day off from riding and went along with Sheldon in the car to Poland’s capital Warsaw, which worked out well as I hadn’t planned on going there but now I’m glad that I did.

The next day as good as it was staying in Poznan with Sheldon and Ewa I had to move onto Germany, in particular Berlin.   I had booked a Hostel close to the City as I planned on being there for 3 or 4 days.   What worked out even better was that Till, who I had met first in OSH, Kyrgyzstan and again in Kazakhstan was there visiting his sister, so I got a very informative walking tour of Berlin.

The Victory Column which offers a great view over the City.

These Beer Carts go around the Column with people peddling them while they drink Beer, I would love to see them get off after going in circles for a while with a few beers under their belts.

View from the Victory Column.

My Tour Guides Till and Karin outside the Reichstag,

The Reichstag which is once again used by Germany’s Parliament was virtually destroyed by bombing during WWII and was made famous when the Russian Soldiers planted their flag on the roof after the invasion of Berlin.   Today it has been rebuilt and has a fantastic glass dome which you can walk to the top of, unfortunately you need to book in advance so I didn’t get a chance to go inside.

The historic Brandenburg Gate which ended up in No Mans Land when the Berlin Wall was built and no one could visit it from either side of the City.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

These are the only ‘tall’ buildings in Berlin, I had expected a much larger city with plenty of Sky Scrapers but Berlin has less population than my home town of Melbourne and is planned out very well with wide streets and plenty of large parks in and around the City, so far it has been one of my favourite cities during this trip, I will come back in the future.

A Section of the old Berlin Wall and Museum.

The famous Checkpoint Charlie which was one of the main access points between East and West Berlin during the 28 years the wall was up and where a tense standoff occurred between the Russians and Americans in October, 1961 that threatened to start WWIII.   Now its just a typical American tourist attraction with Actors dressed up as Soldiers, a MacDonald’s close by and Selfie Central for all the tourists.

The Wallyard Hostel where I stayed, great Hostel, relatively cheap for Berlin and has more Australian than…..Australia.

 

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