balkan, experience, roadtrip, travel, Travelblog, Uncategorized

Balkan road trip – part 1: Beware of the bear

1. OUT OF CONTROL

Being Croatian and living in Italy means going to Croatia to see the family and call it a vacation. Since it is not really fair, a hardcore traveler in me decided to spice it up.

Traveler in Luca went out of control while making plans. Totally worth it!

We had to make the best out of upcoming August and we did. I wanted to spend some time at home because I have not been there for 5 months. Another side of me did not like the fact I had to spend my free time only at home. The question was: When should I travel if the free time is meant for home?

The primary idea was to go to Sarajevo. Once we figured out it is only 300 km from Belgrade, we thought we could go there as well. Once we reach Belgrade, we could go to Sofia. From Sofia to Skopje. Skopje to Tirana… All of the sudden, everything seemed so close. I tried to put some reasoning in Luca. I succeeded partly.

The idea of doing the Balkan trip appeared. After a bit of researching and thinking, we decided to go to Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia. Two weeks, 5000 km, with a car. I guess all of our mental issues came out when we agreed on this.

After the plan was set, we posted everything on BlaBlaCar. It is a great way to partly cover expenses and have a nice company. The first reason proved to be more efficient.

If you have never heard of BlaBlaCar – it is a platform where you can offer a seat in your car. Absolutely safe, supervised and cheaper than any sort of public transportation. You can either earn some money or spend less.

1.1. SUMMERTIME LACK OF SHOWER

Starting day was the 1st of August. The adventure started right from the morning. We put our stuff in the car and went to pick up two Russian kids to whom we gave a ride to Florence. What I highly appreciate is when people take shower daily, especially during summer when temperature, here in Rome, reaches 45 Celsius. I can understand the excitement of crossing Europe and visiting one of the world`s historical capitals which can cause a lack of time for essential things such as eating or sleeping. But personal hygiene… According to me, not really acceptable.

Now imagine turning off air condition at 35+, opening windows on the highway and trying not to vomit. The cost of not being rude was too high.

It lasted for 3 hours. Once we reached Florence, I took out my wet wipes that smell like something flowerish and wiped the whole car from the inside to neutralize the smell. Mostly because we had to pick up 2 other people from Florence to Ljubljana and I did not want to make them think that Luca and I skipped a shower. Also, we needed air condition and a possibility to breathe.

Praying to all the Gods, we hoped new people smell nice. They did. A cute couple from New Zealand.

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1.2. WHAT TRAFFIC AT THE BORDER?

Traffic at the border, between Slovenia and Croatia, during summer, is an absolute mess. You can end up waiting to cross for up to 5 hours. Therefore, we wanted to find a way to avoid hours of waiting. The decision we made was to get off the highway, go through villages and cross at some small border. The best decision we have made during the trip. Slovenia has amazing scenery, cute countryside houses and farms. The most importantly – no traffic. We arrived at the border near Metlika, there was one car in front of us. The policeman said „hi” without checking our passports and we proceeded to Plitvice lakes.

Following the road, we reached a small place called Turanj. There, you can find 1991. Balkan war monument. We stopped for half an hour. It is a well-made reminder of sad times that gives you chills. If you find yourself on the road from Karlovac to Plitvice lakes, make a short break there. It is in the open and free to visit.

1.3. HORROR MOVIES SCENARIO

About an hour away from the final destination, we came across a policeman who was sending all the cars to follow some road around the main one due to the bad car accident. Not knowing what we are getting ourselves into, we took the turn and proceeded. I have seen way too many horror movies but none of it was scary as the road we had to take. It was passing through some partly abandoned villages along the Bosnian border with houses still damaged from the Croatian-Serbian war. There are also many rumors about refugees crossing the border in that area and police chasing after them which was not really safe, according to the local people. There was also a case of a bear eating one person not so long ago. The road was very narrow. At some points, two cars were not able to pass each other. Oh, there were also big trucks and busses. We got stuck way too many times.

After two hours of shivering with eyes wide open, we found ourselves back to the civilization.

The whole trip, the first day, took approximately 14 hours. It was not hard. Probably because we were excited to do this.

1.4. THE PRICE OF FOOD

The next day we decided to stay home to rest and spend some time with family.

The day after we went to visit my sister Tajana who lives in Rijeka. Concerning the fact she loves carbonara, we went there so Luca can cook it for her Italian way. She was working until 19:00 and we drove for almost 3 hours just to prepare a dinner, eat it and head back home. The funny part was preparing it in a dormitory kitchen which was big enough to have a stove, a sink, a fridge and a maximum one person in. Not to mention lack of dishes and art of cooking for 4 people with one small pot, even smaller pan and nothing else.

It was worth it. I have not seen her in 5 months and carbonara was great.

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1.5. THE BIGGEST ZIP LINE IN EUROPE

The following day was one of the best days ever! We took a ride on the longest zip line in Europe. It happens to be near my house. Lucky me. It is located in Vrhovine, a small place in the middle of the beautiful countryside. You need a car to get there.

Let`s start with some information:

-The name of it is „Beware of the bear” (Croatian: Pazi medo).

-You have to announce your arrival which can be done online. Payment upon arrival, both cash and card.

-1700 m long (almost 2km!!!), speed goes up to 120 km/h, ride lasts from 90 to 120 seconds.

-The whole complex includes a zip line, climbing, cycling, disc golf.

-Prices are different, you can check it out on their website: Beware of the bear.

You get all the equipment and instructions. They give you a ride to the hill and you slide down having a look at the amazing scenery. Feels like flying.

Now the fun stuff. You can choose to have a GoPro video of your ride. The camera is attached to your helmet and records you on the way down. Mine worked perfectly, the video is amazing. But Luca`s camera shut down right at the beginning which we realized when he finished the ride. We were a bit sad and thinking to leave because it was nobody`s fault but the nice staff just said: „It does not matter, you will go again.”.

Excuse me, what?!

There are no words to describe happiness we felt at that moment. They even offered us to go together but we were heavier than 150 kg which is a maximum allowed. Such a great motivation to hit the gym and get in proper shape! What we actually did. Thank you, Pazi medo.

1.6. NIKOLA TESLA IS MY NEIGHBOUR

One more surprise is that house of Nikola Tesla is also near my house. The greatest mind that ever existed and gave humanity the biggest gift in the most humble way. So we decided to visit it as well. It is turned into a memorial center full of details about his life, his inventions, thoughts and ideas for the future. Even a practical presentation of wireless electricity transmission. A great off-road must see.

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1.7. SHAME ON ME

In one and a half year of a relationship, I did not manage to show Luca all the lakes. Shame on me. Plitvice Lakes is the place where I lived for 22 years. I could write the whole article just about it, but not this time. I will probably make Luca do it because writing about your home referring to it as a touristic destination is quite hard. Meanwhile, check it out on The Plitvice Times.

In the afternoon, we decided to explore one more amazing spot – Barać caves. Legend says that a dragon lived in the cave. Reality is that parents had to keep kids away from the unsafe area. Caves are pretty old and local people were visiting it but it became popular as a touristic destination in recent years and has more and more visitors every season.

Tours are divided into guided groups and it lasts for approximately one hour. Our amazing guide, Ivana, did a great job with a big group including a few kids. It was not so easy. We were instructed not to touch the walls of the cave because human hands have bacteria that can stop natural processes that are happening in the cave, such as the formation of stalagmites. You could see a few people reaching for the walls a second later. Kids were loud because they were not entertained. That was quite annoying. Ivana was strict and determined.

We were impressed by her presentation skills and the way she handled the group which made the tour even better. The cave has a surprise inside. Visit it and discover what kind of surprise.

Second part read here.

 

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