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The Balkans diary. I will start this diary not in the Balkans but on the way there; Bucharest.

July 4th and 5th near Bucharest. Bucharest finished up Romania for me. What a mix Romania was; it seemed so forlorn at times and impoverished, with dilapidated buildings and infrastructure. Then the museum in Bucharest was so well organised and presented. It becomes difficult to see causes when trying to analyze these effects. Is it due to communism? Some areas are recently coming out of the Balkan war. Is it the combination? Very hard to say. I stayed at a house near Bucharest in a small village. The owner was away but he arranged a key for me. I got a nice little slice of village life there. People walking by, talking to neighbors. The cows coming one way in the morning and the other in the evening. I enjoyed it very much. July 6th and 7th Sofia. Following Bucharest I rode to Sofia in Bulgaria in one day. Bulgaria struck me as one step down from Romania. The roads were a bit worse and the dilapidation was definitely worse. Sofia was very pleasant. They have a free English language tour, every day twice a day and it is very good. The city has some real heritage on display and old buildings are well kept or being renovated. July 8th Macedonia and Skopje. Next stop; Macedonia and Skopje. Not much to recommend here. Dilapidated infrastructure and not the interesting historical architecture. Skopje has a Roman aqueduct; try as I might and in my timeframe I could not visit it. I saw it once from the bike but traffic was all round and I could not find the way in. Too bad, I would have loved to visit it. July 9th Kosovo and Pristina. Pristina is a city on the rise and is showing growing pains. When cities have this kind of growth they usually appear chock a block. So many businesses and new buildings and in midst of it the streets are crumbling. The downtown area is being reinvigorated. I met the head of the tourist information center which is preparing to open. A hugely optimistic and realistic man. The office is located in the central pedestrian mall and offers some really good help and the only map I could find. I recommend visiting it. July 10th Today I tried to enter Serbia. I was turned back at the border. The reason was an entry stamp to Kosovo a few days earlier. The war has left some serious hard

feelings in this region not that I have a great understanding of the situation. But I have come to understand this one a bit better. Post Balkans war Kosovo won independence from Serbia and Serbia does not recognize this. So when you have a stamp in your passport that shows entry into the Republic of Kosovo then they take it to be serious. The border guard expressed his embarrassment at having to turn me back. He gave directions to get around and continue to Sarajevo. Confusion. Let me tell a story that is a side bar to the border story above. When I set out on the morning of the 10th to ride to Sarajevo I entered the destination into the GPS and set off. My vision of the geography of this area is a bit fuzzy at best. So the path provided by the GPS led me north into Serbia and across to Bosnia / Herzegovina (BiH) and Sarajevo. At the time I was at the border and being turned away I was confused as which country Sarajevo was in and which country I was trying to enter. Sounds pretty stupid, right? I will try to explain. My focus sometimes falls on certain things and others I leave to be dealt with as I need to. Destination is important and time to destination and the condition of the road. Now when riding the bike I get very focused on survival. And these roads and drivers make you think about survival. The roads are bad by our standards. There can be serious damage at the next curve without warning. And drivers here have developed ways to deal with bad roads and a few other situations such as slow moving vehicles and horse drawn carts. I wont try to cover all the contingencies here. So I am focused on the driving and staying alive. And then suddenly I am at the border. Unlabeled as to which country I am entering I have a problem with the exit station for Kosovo. But there is an American guy there on contract for KFOR. So that gets worked out. Then the entry station. Then the rejection. Then the advice for the route. And it is getting late in the day so off I go. I had two town names and started heading in the direction of the first. When I got to it I entered the second into the GPS and set off. I usually check the route that it chooses to see if it looks reasonable but this time I didnt. It took me up to a very minor road, beautiful, but dead ended into a washed out section. So back down to the first town and up and over the road I should have taken. That night at the hotel in Montenegro I realized that I didnt have to enter Serbia to go to Sarajevo. Confusion, it happens more and more as you get older. July 11th. Today I set off for Sarajevo yet again. Leaving from the eastern part of Montenegro and heading up to the north I again depended on the GPS to decide the route. This time it was really quite pretty all day long. As I got near the BiH border in the north I got a bit lost because of a new road that was not on the GPS and wasted some time there. But when I got back on track the path the GPS chose was amazing. It took me over terrain similar to Trail Ridge road in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Not as high elevation but very similar in ecology and scenery. It was wonderful. Thank you GPS.

The map data for eastern Europe and the Balkans is seriously out of date even tho the map is dated 2012. Sometimes the road I am on is not on the map. Sometimes you cant find the turn you need to make because you are not on a road recognized by the GPS nor is there an intersection. I hate you GPS. July 12th. Today I arrived in Sarajevo. It was raining shortly after I left the hotel and with 70 km to go I thought that it would not be too bad. But there are very windy roads and many tunnels in this part of BiH and Montenegro. So it was a bit tedious but no problems. I found a pension for 30 euro per night. I will stay two nights. I visited the Balkan war memorial museum (You are my witness is the name of the exhibit) and was pretty impressed with what they are doing there. They have a very moving set of photographs and a video. And there are a couple of computers with timelines of the events of the mid 90s. There are English tours all day long. One thing that was really annoying is that the video is playing in the same room as the photos (there is really only one big room for the presentation) and the tour is very hard to hear over the video soundtrack. Very unfortunate. July 13th. Today I visited a CS host up the hill from Sarajevo. I had been communicating with him for several days and wanted to meet him. Oli is his name and he has a B&B and also hosts couchsurfers. So I went to meet him and have a cup of coffee. He has built the house himself and it is very nicely done with exposed beams and very nice stairs. Later I went on the tunnel tour from town. It goes out to the airport where this tunnel was built during the war to provision the city during the siege of Sarajevo. Like the museum for the You are my witness exhibit, this is a very well done, guided tour. The tunnel in a very short remaining section; the rest is collapsed. But the real experience is the explanation by the Bosnian guide and the museum. Excellent experience. July 14th. Left Sarajevo early and got to Mostar by 10am. Mostar is known for its old bridge. The bridge was destroyed during the Balkans war in the early 90s. It has been rebuilt. Really a nice space there. Then it was on to Dubrovnic. Man it is hot down on the coast of the Adriatic! I visited the old town and I have had enough. It is a nice place, very much like Italian towns. But it is crowded, way beyond most of the places I have been in eastern Europe. I will leave tomorrow for Split or I will split for Leave...... Loneliness: Another sideline here.

Traveling alone can definitely be lonely at times. And you know, boredom is very similar as experiences go. A host asked me about this once. My explanation was this: I can handle boredom. I can handle loneliness. These events only last so long then something happens to make things interesting. But if I am traveling with someone I dont like it is miserable all the time. Maybe being alone isnt such a bad thing in light of the alternatives. And sometimes on the bike I bring someone along. I will have conversations with people I know and maybe even have an imaginary friend. My mind just takes off on these diversions sometimes and I have to be careful not to get distracted. Its dangerous. Sometimes I imagine someone is on back and when I get too close to a pothole they will complain that I am not paying proper attention. Quite funny actually. July 15th thru 19th. Some catching up. I had been sick for two days and felt exhausted. It was difficult for a while. After leaving Dubrovnic and heading to Split I discovered it to be very much the vacation spot for Europe. I stayed for a few hours, then headed back towards the Mostar where the best road leads to Belgrade. Spent the night near Mostar then on to the north and east and another night in Zenica in BiH. Not very long distances either day but I needed the rest. On the 17th I arrived in Belgrade and hooked up with Misa whom I met on the road in Montenegro. I am staying at his vacant rental apartment. He offered to get my clutch cable repaired. I removed and he left with it to take to the shop. In the meantime he left for a trip to Montenegro with friends. Another friend of his brought the cable to me and it is too short. Now I am trying to find out the address of the shop to visit it myself. The hardest part is not knowing. Where the shop is, when they open, nothing. Belgrade is a very big city. It doesnt have a real old town. They do have the largest orthodox church in the world, at least one under construction, since 1935. It is a bit ostentatious and the it must cost in the millions of dollars ( not millions in their currency ). The most interesting thing I have seen so far is the Tesla museum. They have an English language tour and they show some of his inventions. One is this huge high voltage coil. Tour participants are given fluorescent light tubes to hold. When the coil is energized the bulbs light up. Pretty amazing! However, I experienced this saume demonstration in high school, well, a long time ago. So I wasnt so surprised or amazed but it makes for nice photos. Jedi knights in training! ;-) July 20th.

Friday night, last night, Misa emailed the address of the shop. I called the phone this morning but the man who answered did not speak English. I was encouraged that there was someone there to answer so off I went to visit the shop. I think the man was answering his own cell phone because when I got to the shop it was closed. So, today is Saturday. Means it will be Monday at the earliest that I can get the cable to the shop and hopefully get it fixed the same day. July 21st thru 23rd. Monday I had the cable in hand, caught a taxi to the shop and was back by 9am. No charge and the people there were very nice. A great way to do business. I left at 11am after waiting for Misa to come to the apartment. I think I will meet this guy again. Made my way out of Belgrade with very little help from the GPS; and here I have to blame the bad map data. Both BiH and Serbia have some shitty info on the maps. Well, OK, the maps were free. ;-) The joke is on me then. Then found the EthnoPark in northeast BiH. Kind of disappointed in this park. It was very pretty but had much less in authentic structures than the one in Lviv. And the shitty GPS data .... ( I suppose youve heard enough about that!). Stayed just inside BiH and crossed the border in the morning to proceed to Zagreb. I had some BiH money, some Serbia money and Croatian money. I wasnt real sure how much of any of these currencies I had in terms of value. When I got a bit north of the border in Croatia I got on the toll road to Zagreb and it dawned on me; will I have enough cash for petrol and toll. I have 10 Kuna left at the hotel in Zagreb; about $1.50. The dogs are watching out for me! Im off this afternoon to see the sights in town; a church (big surprise), a square and an art museum. Maybe something more if I stumble on it. July 24th. Rode from Zagreb to Mojstrana in the north of Slovenia. Stopped in Ljubjliana and had a walk around. The triple bridge is an attraction. Difficult to photograph. The best photos are on the web, from the air. Then on north to where I stopped this afternoon at a pension. I will ride over the mountains and into Italy tomorrow. I entered the euro-zone today. Should be just one currency till I get back to Amsterdam. This is it for the Balkans. I am about 3 weeks from my departure date. The border with Italy is the boundary. Tomorrow, western Europe.