Euro Tour 2017

Discussion in 'Global Trip Reports' started by Goran Phuket, Oct 12, 2017.

  1. #1 Goran Phuket, Oct 12, 2017
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2017
    Not sure if there is much interest here but admins advised me to post anyway. This is the report of my biennial Euro Tour.
    6 weeks mostly across Eastern and Southern Europe, just me and my wife, as usual.

    Ride commenced in Munich, Germany where I picked up BMW K1600GTL at Motorrad Zentrum Rentals.

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    Route:

    Munich Germany) - Vienna (Austria) - Bratislava (Slovakia) - Budapest (Hungary) - Sibiu - Transfagarasan - Craiova (Romania) - Vidin (Bulgaria) - Kopaonik National Park (Serbia) - Zabljak National Park (Montenegro) - Sarajevo - Mostar - Blagaj (Bosnia) - Dubrovnik (Croatia) - Boka Bay Unesco Nature Site - Sveti Stefan Unesco Site (Montenegro) - Tirana (Albania) - Ohrid (Macedonia) - Meteora - Athens - Piraeus - Santorini - Patras (Greece) - Brindisi - Sicily (Italy) - Valletta (Malta) - Catania - Palermo - Genoa (Italy) - Monte Carlo (Monaco) - Cannes - Col Del Iseran - Chamonix (France) - Montreux - Lauterbrunnen (Switzerland) and back to Munich.


    euro trip.

    Excellent weather throughout entire trip except 2 rainy days in Sarajevo, Bosnia and on the way out of Switzerland.
    Other than that we suffered a bit during summer European hit wave, especially in flat regions of eastern Austria, Hungary and Romania.

    No issues with bike, it was brand new with only 400km on the clock. All I had to do is to add some tire pressure at Santorini Island and that is it. During entire ride (just over 7,000 km) I haven't seen single road accident. So safe to ride here, even total rider newbie would feel comfortable on European highways.

    Then there were some challenging mountain roads such as Transfagarasan in Romania, Kopaonik mountains in Serbia, Durmitor Alpine hwy in Montenegro, incredibly steep Santorini Island road, Col Del Iseran in French Alps and of course Switzerland.

    Trip involved 7 ferry transfers with longest one being from Palermo to Genoa. We did south to north of Italy before so figured to go on ferry and relax during 20 hours long sail.

    I believe we snapped more than 1000 pics and recorded more than 200gb of video data.
    Obviously I am not going to post all of them, simply no time and topic would be too long.

    Video made prior to our trip, preview of things to come:





    Will have update soon.
     
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  2. I followed Your Trip on Facebook and it was an Epic even so I am sure this will be even better! A Dream Trip of a Lifetime for Most People!
     
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  3. Thanks Ian. It was, especially for my wife. She loved it.
     
  4. Amazing trip.
    Magnificent. Well done.
     
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  5. Hey Goran - did that BMW have a reverse gear? It's a monster! I could imagine turning into a narrow "no exit" street and being trapped for an hour trying to turn it around... :)
     
  6. Yes Ben, this one comes with reverse gear unlike my 2012 model.

    But I asked them to disable it anyway, I heard reverse gear causes number of problems.
    This bike is 350kg dry weight but much easier to handle than Gold Wing or other bikes in same category.
     
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  7. Single night in Munich and meeting up an old friend at our favorite beer garden joint before proceeding following day to Vienna.

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    It was really hot in Vienna, 37 degrees. Spent 2 nights here:
    We visited many historic buildings and museums, I should write separate report just on this.

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    Across the Danube into neighboring Slovakia and visit to its capital of Bratislava which is only 60km's away.

    Unlike Austria, Slovakia doesn't require vignette but had to stop to ask anyway.

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    Magnificent Bratislava castle nestled on the hill and visible from far away.
    Austro-Hungarian Queen Maria Theresa used to live here too.

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    After few hours we were on our way to neighboring Hungary and plan is to spend 2 nights in Budapest.
     
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  8. Never heard of anyone complaining about riding in ex-Jugoslavia. And you proved it. Thanks for the report.
    On my bucket list.
     
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  9. Looks like a fantastic trip and Yes, bet your missus absolutely loved it. Well done.
     
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  10. Wow, just watched the video... very impressive and professional..! Nice one.
     
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  11. Once you pass Salzburg in Austria it is flat terrain all the way to Carpathian mountains. Super-highways all the way with strict regulations on speed so gotta be careful. One might think it is uneventful ride, to some extent this is true especially in Hungary but picturesque villages, medieval towns and castles along the way make up for it.

    In Hungary, just as in Austria, motorcycles are required to purchase hwy vignette sticker. Would you believe, they run out of stickers and gave me some computer receipt printout as a proof I made a payment.

    The heat is unbearable, we are in the middle of European summertime heatwave. They say it hasn't been hot like this for decades.

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    In my opinion Budapest is much more beautiful than Vienna. We are in Eastern Europe now and sharp contrast in mentality is hard not to notice. And I mean that in positive way. Hungarians are very calm, kind and friendly people. The architecture in this city is mind-blowing. I was here before but went to see only couple of places. This time, thanks to my wife insistence, I believe we visited just about every single place worth seeing.

    I took about 150 photos here, it is very hard to narrow down to just a few but here is my attempt.
    Hungarian Parliament building is definitely my favorite; located on flat Pest side of the city, it is imposing structure and number 1 on every visitor's list.

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    But major attractions are across the Danube, at hilly Buda part of the city. Number of beautiful bridges connect Buda and Pest, some have been converted into pedestrian zone only.


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    The Jewish quarters and largest Synagogue in Europe


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    The rest really doesn't need any commentary otherwise it would be really long story describing what is what. There is so much history behind these buildings it would require separate report on each one of them.


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  12. Clean streets, beautiful parks, open air bars, restaurants and cafeterias, friendly folks. We spent 2 days walking around, even 42 degrees heat didn't dumpen our enthusiasm. We really enjoyed Budapest but it's time to move on, ride across 14 more countries awaits.

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  13. 560 km ride awaits across flat plateau what used to be Panonian Sea. Hungary is one huge farmland; Danmark of Eastern Europe.

    Food is so cheap here, neighboring Austrians and Croats cross in just for grocery shopping.

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    Our next stop is Romania, I set my sights on medieval Sibiu which is going to be our base to explore Transalpina and Transfagarasan Carpathian Mountain highway passes.

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    I am absolutely amazed by new highway to Bucharest! It is out of this world, brand new, even my GPS had no knowledge of it. It reminded me of best European roads I've ever driven on such as those in Spain. And the best part is, bikes are exempted from paying highway fees.

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    Reached Sibiu late afternoon, weather is fantastic. As we were approaching Carpathians, air temperature steadily drops to bearable 25-28 degrees.

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    Called my buddy whom I met back in 2007 in California. Haven't seen each other since 2009, we used to ride California coastal highways together decade ago. He used to work there as a bouncer, but one day crossed the line so badly, US authorities throw him out of the country for good.

    Now he runs security / bodyguard company and drives big ass Benz S500 as pictured bellow. What a hell, I gotta move to Romania 555....And that is his wife right there....her mother lives in Bucharest some 400km away and still has no idea her daughter got married. I asked how come and she said she is scared to tell mom she married the guy tattooed all the way from neck down to toes lol....just a little funny story.

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    Anyway, as I said plan is to drop anchor in Sibiu for couple of days: tomorrow ride to Transfagarasan and day after to Craiova via Transalpina highway.
     
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  14. It was not to be :( , morning rain screwed up everything. When rains in Sibiu, up there on Transfagarasan is worse than hell.

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    Just so you know, this route is usable barely 4 months a year due to extreme climate conditions; area is under snow for at least 6 months and authorities have no choice but to close the road. Since weather conditions are so bad we have to stay in town and decide which route to sacrifice tomorrow because we can't do both in one day: Transfagarasan or Transalpina? Well, only fool would give up on Transfagarasan so Transalpina went out of the window in a jiffy. Even Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear said this is the best road in the world.

    Interesting facts about Transfagarasan:

    It is one of the most spectacular roads in the world. The Transfagarasan rises to a height of 2134 meter and has sharp hairpin turns, a challenge for every driver. The maximum speed is 40km/h. The road is often closed from October till June due to the snow that is blocking the road. Sometimes the road can be open as late as November, but on the other hand it has been known to snow as late as August so it's always good to check ahead of time on the weather and road conditions. The road has more tunnels and viaducts then any other road in Romania. On the highest point of the Transfagarasan near Balea Lac (Balea-lake) is located the longest at 875 m, and highest tunnel of Romania. Transfagarasan was built between 1970 and 1974 by military forces. After the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviets, Nicolae Ceausescu had it built as a strategic military route to cross the mountains in the event the Soviets attempted a similar move into Romania. The builders used 6000 tons of dynamite to clear a path for the road on the northern side of the mountains and on the tunnels. 40 soldiers lost their lives during construction.

    So, instead of just sitting in the room and feeling sorry for ourselves we decide to do Old Town Sibiu tour, walking distance from our hotel.


    The most famous Sibiu landmark is "Bridge of Lies"


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    This is Romania’s oldest cast-iron bridge and it was built in 1859, taking the place of an older wooden bridge. The three legends that are connected to this construction piece are older than the cast-iron bridge and the stories date from long ago when there was only the wooden bridge.

    The elders are talking of a legend that says that this bridge could have been used in medieval times to tell if a person is telling the truth or not. It is said that when somebody says a lie on this bridge it starts moving and it starts making weird noises.

    Another local legend says that this bridge and its name had a really close connection to the market nearby and the merchants that used to earn their living in the area. The legend says that when one of those merchants was caught with cheating his customers, he was punished by being thrown off this bridge.

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    The third legend that can be heard being whispered in the quiet pubs of Sibiu is about young virgins that, in medieval times, came on this bridge to meet the boys and to plan the wedding and their future. However, the twist of tale is that if the girls were caught lying about their virginity, they would have been thrown off this bridge.


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  15. Sibiu is one of the most touristic cities of Romania and it is popular for its medieval past. But we never knew about the oldest restaurant in Romania!!! And I found out about it as we were dining there - by reading the actual story in restaurant menu!

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    Well, first thing I did was to google and verify this information and it is absolutely true!


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    The Golden Barrel restaurant was established back in 1542 and operates to this day.

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    And lamb and trout were delicious!


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  16. Few more photos of this truly well preserved medieval town

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  17. T-day .... Transfagarasan ride beckons.

    Few intro pics first, but stay tuned for video story. Coming up in a day or two.



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  18. And here it is, Transfagarasan, nothing short of spectacular, Romania’s and one of the world's most famous roads.️
    Video taken 8th of August 2017.

     
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  19. Looks like some nice dining here & through out the trip.
    Any idea what your average meal - dinner - bill was?
     
  20. I know you won't believe me but for 2 of us food and drinks were only Euro 28.00. I couldn't believe my eyes when waiter brought the bill....really cheap.
     
  21. After great day out at Transfagarasan we rode south towards University city of Craiova.
    Weather still great, relaxing at Ramada Hotel.

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    Following day riding south-west towards Bulgaria, corner of the country where Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria meet.
    We have been in capital Sofia back in 2010 so didn't go that way.

    Exit from Romania and across Danube River and New Europe or Kalafat Bridge into Bulgaria.

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    Just across the Danube lies ancient city of Vidin, the place of great historic importance.
    Vidin itself was a kingdom between 1356–1396, governed by Tsar (King) Ivan Stratsimir.

    First mention of Vidin dates back to 971 while under Macedonian governance. Throughout the history Vidin was also ruled by Hungarians and Ottoman Turks.

    Months before this trip I was looking for proper accommodation within or next to old fortified town.
    Hotel Anna-Kristina was the best choice. In fact this is historical building, formerly Turkish Bath / Spa built by ottomans couple of centuries ago.

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    Very nice and quiet hotel, big rooms with beautiful views of the local park and Danube river.

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    It is very hot so first thing we do is to look for mini bar with ice cold beer.


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    We actually arrived at noon local time, this was very short ride from Craiova in Romania and border crossing wasn't busy at all. I didn't even change local currency at all, they accept credit cards everywhere.

    Hotel features very nice pool, there were only few foreigners around, rest are all local tourists.

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    Vidin isn't really on tourist maps despite it's glorious history. Town population is only 40,000 people and in steady decline since early 90's. Locals say most of the young people either move to capital Sofia or western Europe now that Bulgaria is part of EU. The staff at hotel are very friendly, humble and eager to make us feel comfortable. It's been always like that in Balkans, I actually recall locals treating their own kind with less courtesy than the foreigners.

    BBQ by the pool

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    Vidin has a fertile hinterland renowned for its wines. Check this cellar out and it's dirt cheap here.


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  22. Vidin main landmark is the Baba Vida (Granma Vida) fortress, built sometime after 10th century.

    It served as Vidin's main defensive installation during middle ages and acted as the most important fortress of northwestern Bulgaria. The Baba Vida stronghold stood an eight-month-long siege by Byzantine forces, but was destroyed and once again erected during the rule of Ivan Stratsimir. Between 1365 and 1369, the fortress was in Hungarian hands. In 1369, Ivan Sratsimir managed to regain control of his capital, albeit having to remain under Hungarian overlordship.

    In 1388, the ottomans invaded Sratsimir's lands and forced him to become their vassal. In 1396, he joined an anti-Ottoman crusade led by the King of Hungary, placing his resources at the crusaders' disposal. The crusade ended in the disastrous defeat, with the Ottomans capturing most of Sratsimir's domains shortly thereafter in 1397.

    The fortress played a role during the ottoman times, serving as a weapon warehouse and a prison. It has been no longer used for defensive purposes since the end of the 18th century. Today Baba Vida castle functions as a museum. Being a popular tourist attraction, the fortress is being kept in repair.


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    Just beside the fortress, improvised beach where locals hang around. You can clearly see the New Europe (Kalafat) Bridge in background.

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    During communist times and even today, Bulgarians rarely tolerated ethnic Turks, that's a fact. Lots of Turkish minority exiled back to Turkey mid 80's when witch hunt was at it's heyday. Even though Ottomans left long ago, people still talk here (and in Serbia) about atrocities they (Turks) committed. According to latest census there are only 60 (yes, sixty) ethnic Turks right this moment in Vidin. Rest are about 3,000 gypsies and 35,000 ethnic Bulgarians.

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    This Jewish Synagogue received my attention. I just don't understand why can't they restore the building and make museum? I asked hotel manager about it and he said local government does not have a money to undertake restoration project. Even promenade next to Danube River was financed by British Embassy in Sofia.

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    The Orthodox Christian chapel

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    All these buildings are 5 minutes walk from our hotel: the fortress, Synagogue, Church, some other historic buildings, local mosque.... here some defaced monuments from recent history, communist times (David's ballpark lol)


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    Dovidjenja Bugarska, Serbia next!
     
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  23. Serbian border is only 30 minutes drive from here.
    I haven't been there since 1988, when I used to live and work in capital Belgrade for about 6 months.

    I know, Yugoslav civil war ended 22 years ago and Serbs took a big hit from Clinton administration, Bosnia and Croatia.
    All the territory they won during the war was lost under most extraordinary circumstances. I think they got only themselves to blame for it. Even now at internet you can see some of the most despicable Serbian nationalist and outright racist and fascist comments against Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Croatians as a whole. I had uneasy feeling....I carry Croatian (father) and Bosnian (mother) passports, worst possible combination. And entering into Serbia at almost unknown border crossing in the middle of nowhere with Thai wife. Don't get me wrong; 2 of my 3 best childhood friends were Serbs, I only cared to find out about their ethnicity when war actually started back in 1992. Serbs are cool people, very friendly and I like their easy going mentality. I was brought up as Yugoslav and if you ask me, we are the dumbest nation in the world. Instead of resolving our differences and staying strong and together, look at us now....laughing stock, 7 countries emerging from Yugoslavia breakup.

    Bulgarian exit checkpoint, middle of nowhere. We are the only folks at the border right now. It feels like somewhere in Nan, border with Laos haha...


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    No man's land.....Serbia ahead


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    And here is the Serbian side. Bunch of Italians going through immigration procedures. They are on the way to Visegrad in Bosnia. Told them to go via Tara Canyon and Durmitor mountain in Montenegro but they never heard of it. Scrambling for their maps and gps so I had to show them how to get there. At the end it appears they made hotel bookings in Bosnia and if they take detour across Montenegro they will lose their rooms. For some reason they didn't take my recommendation seriously....oh well, it's their loss. If they only knew....


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    And here starts the real circus. Serbian immigration guy says he is not sure my wife can enter with Schengen Visa.
    I kept explaining that according to website of Serbia foreign affairs office Thai citizens with Schengen visa are allowed entry. Listen this: he says they never had Thai entering Serbia at this checkpoint...lol!!! So my wife is first, isn't that exotic.

    So off he goes, picks the phone and makes a call. 3 minutes later he is back and says I was right, welcome to Serbia.
    Big relief, both for me and my wife otherwise we would have to go back to Bulgaria then Greece and via Albania into Montenegro and Bosnia just to avoid Serbia. That is a detour of almost 1500km!!!

    The guy wasn't rude or anything, just doing his job and actually joking all the time. He said in his life he only went to one country: Montenegro. I was laughing my ass off. Anyway, asked him if he minds taking pic with my wife and he was more than happy to do it. So here it is, history in making, first Thai ever at Vrska Cuka checkpoint


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    As far as my citizenship is concerned, no problem. He says, you are "ours", meaning Yugoslav. Despite all the bullshit from brutal war, people are still nice as ever.

    Our destination today are mountains of Western Serbia, almost 300km from here.
    On our way...

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  24. Kopaonik, our destination in western Serbia close to Kosovo and Montenegro border is the largest mountain range in the country. The highest mountain point is 2017 meters.

    Kopaonik is a major ski resort, the largest in Southeast Europe. There are 25 ski lifts with capacity of 32,000 skiers per hour. The central part of the Kopaonik plateau was declared a national park in 1981 and covers an area of 121.06 sq/km.

    Due to its rich silver deposits, Kopaonik was originally named Silver Mountain and that name was also used by the Romans, Venetians and Ottomans. First mines were started by Romans. The area remained an important mining center in the Middle Ages and by the 14th century it became the main mining area of Serbia. Kopaonik has a rich historical heritage. Oldest findings are from the Paleolithic and already show that local people used metals. Neolithic remains were discovered on number of locations within it's vicinity.

    Kopaonik is also home to Serbian Spruce or Picea Omorica. It was discovered in 1851 by famous Serbian botanist Milan Pancic. This tree grows nowhere else in the world but here.


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    In Pančić's honor, marking the 100th anniversary of his 1851 expedition, the highest mountain point was named after him (Pančić's Peak) in 1951. A mausoleum was built on the peak and the remains of Pančić and his wife were buried in the coffins made of Serbian Spruce which Pančić himself discovered.

    Unfortunately these days you can't go to mausoleum to pay your respects to Mr Pancic. Area is heavily into land mines, Serbian Army planted those to protect mausoleum from Albanian/Kosovo criminals whose intention was to destroy the monument.


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    You can clearly see these magnificent trees from our onboard camera


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    Winter here is brutal...so I've heard. But that doesn't stop thousands of tourists to come for ski-holidays.
    Just as in Switzerland, these red and white poles indicate edge of the road once entire area gets blanketed in deep snow.


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    The scenery is fantastic, sweeping curves and excellent tarmac quality.

    Arriving into the Kopaonik Town, it looks just like any ski resort in Alps, reminds me of Livigno in Sondrio, Italy.

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    But first lets get to our cabin which I booked months in advance. It is month of August, peak of the high season in entire Europe. Hotels, ferries, planes....all fully booked and price is double or triple than normal.

    Got ourselves entire villa for 2 nights, what a place!

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    That mountain peak up there is Kosovo border. Kosovo is where Serbia was born, but they lost that too because of ethnic cleansing policy against Kosovo Albanians. Such a shame, it is their land by every right, oldest and most famous Serbian Orthodox Church monasteries, some of them 900 years old are in Kosovo. It all started when Yugoslav government allowed politically oppressed Albanians to leave Stallinist State under former communist dictator Enver Hoxha and settle in Kosovo. They multiply like rabbits, average family is 6-7 people. Today Kosovo is 90% Albanian and they stole the country for themselves. And on top of all, they are the best organized crime entity in entire Europe, hence reason I didn't even plan to go there or my bike would be stolen while having coffee. I kid you not. Same goes for their brethren in Albania proper, worst criminals in Europe.

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  25. Kopaonik town is a beauty. There isn't single piece of litter anywhere to be seen, so clean and well maintained.
    And yes, this is a National Park and free entry just like anywhere else on Balkans. You won't come across rude park staff telling you "hey this is my country, pay or bugger off", or be asked to donate to see 20cm high waterfall as we have seen in certain country. Entries in historic buildings and parks are absolutely free, you are never patronized or spoken to in demeaning manner by some guy with 2 years of education. And God forbid you treat tourists with disrespect or try to cheat them: it is the locals who will deal with you before police even arrive. To locals it matters you have a great time and plan to come back and spoke nicely of their country. The mindset that exist only in Japan back here in Asia.


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    The customer service, politeness, friendliness....second to none.

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    Food is simply amazing and reasonably priced


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    But the best part are country side produce, sold by the roadside....milk, cheese, all sorts of smoked dry and fresh meat, honey and just about every type of brandy made out of alpine flora. This is the traditional staff for folks here, they drink these 47% alc types of schnaps every single day, perfect for detox. Not to mention sexy salad cum peanut cocktail for "me love you long time"


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    And on our way to Black Mountains of proud country of Montenegro.

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