The Balkans are haunted
On Tuesday morning, July 5, we are sitting outside having breakfast. The sun is already shining brightly and it is pleasant outside, it promises to be a hot day in Albania and northern Macedonia. We have found a hotel at about 350 km which has a swimming pool so we can cool down at the end of the day. This morning we first fill up the tank and check the oil. Both engines are just above the minimum so we divide the last half liter of oil over the engines. Immediately bought new oil at the gas station, tomorrow to check again and fill up to maximum.
It is another 100 km on small winding roads to the border with North Macedonia. The border crossing seems to go smoothly, until the customs officer sees that Martin's bike is not insured in North Macedonia. That means leaving the bike and arranging insurance in the next village. However, the green card Martin has with him is from the previous motorcycle (Ducati), but so far that had not caused any problems (none of the customs officers were paying attention). Since we still have roaming data in Bulgaria, Martin quickly looks up the right green card and shows on the phone that he is insured in North Macedonia. The customs officer strokes his heart and lets Martin through, indicating that he actually shouldn't. Nice man, then.
The roads in northern Macedonia are not as small and winding as in Bulgaria, so the pace is faster. The asphalt is fine and the roads meander through the hilly landscape. We had expected higher mountains, but they are passes to a maximum of 1000 meters. The ride is nice though and as long as we keep on driving the heat is fine. For lunch we buy some bread, sausage and cheese at a local supermarket and immediately enjoy it on a bench along the road. The heat is now very much felt and we decide to look for a café with wifi in about 50 km to book the hotel with swimming pool. After 50 km we stop at Cafe Guru, enjoy a coke zero and book the hotel. Next to the café is a tire store and we ask if they have motorcycle tires for us. Unfortunately they only have front tires, while we need the rear tires the most.
We set out the route to the hotel, which is another 50 km ride. These are a kind of baby carriages with a saw blade on the front that come to people's homes or to companies to cut the wood to size for the stove. Nice to see that this stimulates the entrepreneurial spirit.
Just before we arrive at the hotel we catch a tail end of a thunderstorm. In this heat, a little water is not bad and it is only 2 km to the Atva Residence Hotel. At the hotel it is a disappointment that there is no pool, the blue water on the picture appears to be a pond and not a pool. Otherwise it is a luxury 4-star hotel and looks clean and new. We send a message to a motorcycle tire store in Sarajevo to see if they can arrange tires for us for the next two days. The answer is that they don't have the right sizes. Martin has the green card printed at the reception, to avoid problems at the next border crossings.
Since we stopped a bit earlier because of the heat, we have time to make a new blog. Meanwhile it's raining hard and we are glad to be inside the hotel. Early in the evening we order a board with a bottle of white wine as a starter. The board turns out to be so big that we leave it at that, an extra course is not necessary anymore. It is pleasantly busy in the restaurant of the hotel and we stay for some more drinks.
North Macedonia seems to us to be more prosperous than Bulgaria, despite the fact that the GNP is almost half the amount. Tomorrow the journey continues to the border with Albania, curious how we are going to experience that country. On the way we will also keep our eyes open for tire stores, you never know where we will find new tires.
Wednesday morning, July 6, we enjoyed a fantastic breakfast, very well catered for by the hotel. The sun is shining brightly and we leave the hotel heading south, thinking that this road will eventually join the route again. When we have a closer look 30 km later at a gas station, it turns out to be wrong and we have to take the same road back. After that we drove beautiful roads to the city of Devar where we had lunch in a restaurant at the lake and left our last Macedonian pennies. Less than 10 km behind Devar is the border with Albania. Crossing the border takes less than 15 minutes, which is a relief from other border crossings in the countries further east.
After the border the road is very bad, lots of bumps and holes in the road. Hopefully that is only the first part and we get better tarmac on the roads through the mountains. Fortunately this turns out to be true, after we pass the first town and follow the bigger road through the mountains the tarmac is already better. The road itself has lots of bends and short bends with a narrow road. You have to keep your attention on the road and we have almost no time to look around us. The scenery however is beautiful. The mountains are not so high with passes of no more than 1000 meters, but the views are very beautiful and the landscape is very diverse. These winding roads go on and on and there is no end to the feast of curves.
Having found a hotel at Puka later in the day, we are tired from the concentrated driving. 200 kilometers here will be something like 3000 to 4000 curves.
The hotel Puka looks nice, but the rooms are somewhat dated. For € 20 per person including breakfast we each get our own room. We drink a beer on our arrival and then walk into the village to find a restaurant. In the village everyone walks in the middle of the street and a part of the street is blocked for this purpose. Inquiries reveal that this happens every day and that this is unique for Puka. It is a true parade of people from Puka that walk up and down the closed part of the street. Next to the hotel is a beautifully landscaped lake with lighting all around, several benches and water features. We walk around the lake and go to bed early.
Tomorrow the route goes via Montenegro to Bosnia & Herzegovina. We also want to see if we can score some tires along the way, because the rear tires are starting to get very bald.
Thursday morning, July 7, it looks bright blue outside again. Martin has gotten up a little earlier and checked the route for larger cities where we might be able to get tires. At first that doesn't seem to work out, but eventually we think we have a good chance in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro. About 150,000 people live there and there are several motorcycle stores. On the internet Magnus Moto looks good, and we plan a stop there for new rubber.
We can only pay with cash at the first gas station, so we use up our last Lev. We can only fill up with 5 liters, but the next station is only 500 meters away and there we can pay with our debit card. The bikes are refueled and we helped the man with the debit card payment, because he did not understand it himself. It seemed as if he had never done that before and when Martin paid with his watch he was completely flabbergasted.
The route starts again on beautiful back roads towards the coast, what a pleasure to drive these roads and enjoy the views of the beautiful valleys, streams and lakes. A little closer to the coast the road goes through some more built up terrain and the pace slows down as there is too much traffic for these small streets. Closer to the Montegro border, there is less traffic and we get along a little better again.
The border crossing again goes smoothly and a little bit after the border we arrive in Podgorica at Magnus Moto. According to the computer, they don't have rear tires in our size, but when we go through the tire pile, we find one in size 130/80-17. Eventually we decide to put a slightly wider tire (140/80-17) on Rob's bike, so that also can be provided with new rubber. There are plenty of front tires in size 90/90-21, so we have the choice. Because it's busy at the motorcycle store and they only work by appointment, we have to (dis)assemble the wheels ourselves. A small job for us, and in no time the rear wheels are ready for the mechanics. After that we go to the supermarket to get some lunch, which we eat outside on the sidewalk at Magnus Moto. After that we continued with putting in the rear wheels and disassembling the front wheels. Rob had a little problem with the rear brake, but with the help of the mechanic that was solved quickly. We arrived at Magnus Moto at noon and at 3 pm we could leave again with new rubber on both bikes, a great achievement!
We drive north on the main road for another stretch. This one is actually too big and we decide to check the rest of the route through this area tonight. At a restaurant we have a drink and reserve a room at Rafting RT just across the border in Bosnia & Herzegovina. When we drive on from the restaurant, the road soon changes to a beautiful winding and smaller road through and along a gorge with many tunnels. Some tunnels are longer, curvy and not lit, so it is a bit of searching for the road and driving carefully. The border crossing is again smooth, but it is a bit of a search where exactly our sleeping place is. We turn on the roaming internet and see that we have to drive another 2 km.
We arrive at a Rafting park with even a swimming pool. We sleep in a wooden cabin with all modern conveniences and go into the pool for a while. It is now 6:15 pm and the pool is only open until 7 pm. The water is lovely and warm so we can rinse off the lazy sweat of the hot day.
After swimming we go to the restaurant and on the way we meet a motorcycle couple from Poland/England (uncle and cousin) with whom we get to talk. At and after dinner we continue the conversation and give some more tips for navigation with OSMandMaps. They like a drink and with every beer they order a Raki, and of course we have to have one too.
Tomorrow the route continues to Croatia. Worse weather is predicted, but we'll see tomorrow morning.
When we wake up Friday morning, July 8, it looks gray outside. It has rained a little and the weather forecast for today is not good, rainfall radar indicates that quite a few showers will pass over this area. After breakfast we prepare ourselves by putting on the thicker pants and dress against the rain including winter gloves. It looks like we will ride 100 to 200 km through the rain and then it will be dry again. However, when we leave, Martin's engine soon starts to stutter and then stops completely. We do not know what is wrong, but decide to push the engine back to the sleeping camp to have a further look. At that moment a tow truck comes around the corner and we ask him if he can help us with jump leads to try to start again. He is willing to do that and fortunately with jumper cables the engine runs fine again. We continue the route, but after about 20 km through the rain, the engine starts to stutter again and stops. Just back was a gas station and garage, we push the bike there. At the gas station the owner drives a BMW GS1250 and he is quickly called for advice. He himself arrives and after some consultation with someone who speaks better English, a can of WD40 is grabbed and the ignition switch is sprayed well because that would be the problem. In the meantime, the bike has been standing still for a while and now starts again without any problems. So we don't know if the ignition switch is really the problem. We drink coffee and tea with the owner and then decide to give it a try. It is raining lightly, but the first 25 km go well, then the same problem and we are standing by the side of the road in the rain. Martin starts up quickly and Rob follows. This goes well until the top of the pass, then the engine stops again. Because it goes downhill, Martin lets it run in neutral until we see a hotel-restaurant in a small village, and parks it under a roof. The hotel-restaurant is closed, so we cannot ask for help or sit inside. We try to work on the car ourselves, but we can't find anything. Meanwhile, the police have arrived and want to give us a ticket for trespassing on private land because we do not have permission to be there. Since we can't do anything with that, we steadily continue tinkering with the cops waiting in the car on the street. Eventually we ask them for help to tow the bike to Sarajevo to a motorcycle store, to which we are told that a mechanic lives about 2 km away. Fortunately it goes downhill a bit, and with Martin on the bike and Rob pushing the bike with his foot, we soon reach this mechanic. He is at home and is willing to help us.
First, the spark plug is checked, but it sparks fine. Although the mechanic doesn't think so and doesn't like it. We decide to swap the spark plug with the one from Rob's bike, and Rob's bike still keeps running. So it is not the spark plug. The mechanic then suspects the voltage regulator to be the cause, but we are sure the engine is still charging the battery so we don't believe that. When we show that Rob's bike still starts without the voltage regulator being connected and Martin's doesn't, he is finally convinced and doesn't know anymore. We ask him if he has Wifi and via WhatsApp we call Robbert van de Ven. Robbert suspects that it is bad fuel, the fuel pump or something with the emergency switch or side stand switch. Meanwhile, the engine starts again, so further tests are not very useful. With our ear to the tank we hear that the fuel pump now does its job, so we can test that next time. We disassemble the emergency stop switch and clean it, although it seemed to be dry. We conclude that it cannot be the side stand switch, otherwise it would just start when the engine is in neutral. We decide to continue to Sarajevo, a distance of about 25 km. In the meantime it has become dry and the road is drying more and more. We arrive in Sarajevo without any problems and the engine is running fine again. We decide to continue and manage to cycle more than 250 km today. Martin's phone doesn't charge anymore but we don't know whether this is a consequence or a cause of the failure. That is a nice job to find out when it is warmer and the sun is shining.
In the evening we walk to the village and eat a nice hamburger with fries larded with a few beers. We have looked at the towns on the route and it seems to stay dry everywhere for the next few days (maybe a splash of rain in Austria) and just continue on the dry-weather bike.
Saturday morning, July 9, after devouring the fried eggs at breakfast, we packed up the bikes again. Martin changed the SP-connect block of the phone charger and then the phone was charged again nicely. It is dry and the sun is already shining nicely. The engines start again immediately and the route goes over winding and somewhat larger roads in Bosnia to the border with Croatia. After 70 km we reach the border which we cross smoothly. In Croatia we first have a nice through road along the border with Bosnia, before the road turns into the interior. Near Zagreb we have a part on the highway, because otherwise we would probably not make any progress. Above Zagreb we soon reach the border with Slovenia and also this border crossing goes smoothly and we cross it in a flash.
In Slovenia we drive a short stretch of freeway before we hit the inner roads. Nice steering roads where we can keep up a good pace. At 4:30 pm today we have already driven the planned route of 417 km and we decide to drive a little further in Austria and then look for a hotel. The first two times we miss the hotels, they are all full because of the Formula 1 weekend at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. Finally we found a hotel through Booking.com and drove there, it was only a 5 km drive.
The hotel looks fine and apart from us there are several Dutch people who are visiting F1 and have found a hotel 80 km from the circuit. Dinner consists of goulash soup and a plate with all kinds of sliced meat. We drank a nice white wine and in the evening, after a walk, we chatted with some Dutch people in the hotel.
The bikes didn't give a hoot today, keep it up for another 3 days and we'll be home. Tomorrow we have to wait and see how busy it will be around the F1 circuit, the route runs along there. If it is too busy, we will just find another route.