Archive for the ‘Eastern Europe’ Category

10 Tips Passes 15,000 Views…

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

The video Lindsey and I made about our bike trip in Eastern Europe in 2012 just passed 15,000 views.

The video, “10 Tips for Biking Eastern Europe,” has nothing to do with climate change, but it has a lot to do with the joy of bike touring. Watch it below:

Thoughts from a First Bike Tour

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

As soon as we escaped the Krakow city limits, I found myself marveling at the fact that I’d ever traveled any other way. Pedaling deeper into the Polish countryside, I could hear snippets of unintelligible conversation mixed with cows mooing, smell grain ripening in the fields that lined the roads, and literally feel the terrain change as we headed towards the border with Slovakia. It was almost alarming how natural it all felt.

David had been easing me into bicycle touring (gently or not so gently – you be the judge) for the past year. One of our first dates was a 40-mile ride through wine country in Sonoma. That went well enough – even on the suboptimal bike I was riding at the time – and we took several overnight trips around the Bay Area over the subsequent months, with the longest being a 2-day, 140-mile trip from Davis to Berkeley.

With those journeys together under our belt, we began “planning” a 3-week bike tour through Eastern Europe. I use quotes because in retrospect, the planning was pretty loose: We would arrive in Krakow on July 5 and fly out of Dubrovnik on July 29, and we had a place to stay in Budapest around the 15th. That was pretty much it. We thought it would be about 800 miles of pedaling, and in addition to Budapest, we intended to visit the Tatras mountains, Sarajevo, and the beaches of Croatia (well, I intended to spend some time on the beach; David, as I discovered later, didn’t share that goal). We had ordered some maps and had conversations along the lines of “We could go this way around the mountains,” “Well, this road looks amazing,” and “There are land mines in Bosnia, so we’ll have to be careful about camping.” I don’t know if it was my faith in David’s experience with bike touring, or the fact that much of my travel has involved looking at a map or a guidebook, showing up at a bus station, andand heading into the unknown, but this all felt pretty normal. Later David revealed that he’d been nervous about our minimal level of planning, but he didn’t let it show.

As I discovered, bike touring is in a class of its own, with a unique mix of independence and reliance on strangers different from anything I’d experienced before. Our independence stemmed from our self-propelled mode of travel and the fact that we carried a tent and small stove. This meant that we could, in theory, spend the night anywhere. However, this degree of flexibility also meant we could end up just before sunset in a small town where we’d need help finding water, or, with no obvious public land, we’d need permission to camp in somebody’s yard. Sometimes we just needed help in the form of information about safety, especially in Bosnia where we worried about landmines.

This was hard for me at first. I’ve stayed in plenty of homestays – both formal and informal – and done research projects where I wandered around Mexican towns and the Jamaican countryside interviewing anybody who would take the time to talk to me. But without speaking the language, and being in these countries simply for our own enjoyment, I felt shy about approaching people. The first night, I stayed up on the road while David walked down to speak to a man outside of his house. He pointed at our water bladder and said “voda?” to which the man nodded and gestured towards a spigot outside his house. David then looked around and innocently said “tent, one night?” (our just-learned, and sole, Polish phrase), as if he was asking if there were any place nearby where we could camp. It had the desired effect: within seconds the man and his neighbor were competing with each other to have us camp in their yards. I was impressed with how well this worked and was emboldened to try myself.

The next time we needed water before setting up camp (it was a rare night when we actually had a destination, in a park several miles down the road), we found ourselves in a town where the only grocery store was closed. I approached a woman in the street and said “voda?” while holding up the water bladder, then pointing sadly at the closed shop. She gestured for me to follow her and led me down the street to her house where I filled the bladder at the sink. From then on, I was much less shy about asking for help, although David was still much better at initiating conversations and accepting help (and food!) from people we met along the way.

This style of travel also differed from my previous experiences in how all-consuming it was. Normally, I travel by myself and I’m either working on a project or taking a break from it. I always carry a journal and end up with a lot of quiet time to reflect and write. This time, not only did I have a travel companion (and had left my journal alone to cut precious ounces), but there was never a moment when I had (a) time to myself and (b) energy to write. About half of the time, we stayed with hosts we found through warm showers or couch surfing, and we spent our evenings with them, eating, drinking, and sharing stories of bike touring or learning about growing up under communism. On nights when we camped, despite a fairly efficient routine, as soon as sunset approached we were busy: finding a store to buy dinner and breakfast food, obtaining water, locating a site where we wouldn’t be seen or asking to camp in somebody’s yard, setting up the tent, and fixing and eating dinner. Sometimes we’d read for an hour or two, but given our usual aspirational departure time of 5 or 6, and what I later identified as fairly constant exhaustion, we usually turned in early.

Perhaps the main “down time” was on the bike itself. We’d pedal for hours, often side by side on the quiet roads that David found or that our hosts pointed out, and try to make sense of what we’d seen or read or heard from people we met. On the plane, we started reading Bloodlands, an excellent book about the land between Stalin and Hitler and what its people suffered at their hands, and at the beginning of our trip we visited Auschwitz. As we rode through modern Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary, we tried to wrap our minds around a continent so rich with histories that were still playing out – how the Polish people managed to exist as a unique culture while their territory was torn apart and absorbed into Germany, the USSR, and other neighboring countries. How Poland was “relatively tolerant” of Jews, but how that ultimately meant the mass destruction of a large and thriving Jewish community when Germany invaded during WWII.

We entered Slovakia in the mountains, and as we descended from them the landscape around us looked like any generic, bucolic European countryside. Then we went through a series of downtrodden industrial towns, with crumbling factories and grim, Soviet-style block apartments. In the rural areas in between, we were puzzled to see darker-skinned children walking down the street or popping in and out of rundown houses. Later, we learned that Slovakia has one of the largest gypsy populations in Europe ; the Slovaks we met weren’t too happy about this, and it was interesting to see our otherwise kind and open-minded Slovak hosts squirm as they explained their distaste for gypsies. David was fascinated and sought out a group of gypsy children in the town we stayed in – they were very friendly and taught me how to count to 10, which turned out to be quite useful later on. Our socializing was cut short, though, when some neighbors arrived home and yelled at the kids, scattering them. Perhaps the most interesting and unsettling part of our trip was Bosnia and Herzegovina. David has some interesting posts on that here and here. As we rode through new landscapes and cultures, trying to absorb the past and reconcile it with the present, we bounced reactions and ideas off of each other, and I found myself not really needing to write in order to process (of course now, months removed from the trip, I wish I’d brought my journal, forced myself to stay up a little later, and written it all down).

When we weren’t talking, I found myself slipping into an almost zen-like state. Sometimes when I’m traveling, I’ll daydream, especially on long, uncomfortable bus rides. I do this most when I’m homesick (I remember reconstructing in my mind my favorite meal at my parents’ house in painstaking detail and imagining eating each dish). When I’m engaged in a tough physical activity like running or riding, I often find myself doing calculations – how many miles have I gone, how many are left, what is my pace, how will I reward myself when I hit mile X. On this trip, David had the GPS and I didn’t wear a watch, and the miles just slipped by, largely without any real marking or observation. There were a few long days when, at the end, I’d start counting down the miles left to go (if we even had a destination) in terms of my daily commute to work (“Just ride to work and back 3 times and we’re done!”), but mostly I just spaced out – or, if I want to be generous with myself, I meditated. I fell into the rhythm of my legs rising and falling, of the added effort when we were climbing, the ease of a descent, the colors flying by, the temperature of the air.

I might say this is my favorite part of bike touring – turning myself into a physical entity, a machine with no purpose other than pedaling, pushing my wheels across miles of pavement (or dirt, or gravel, as the case may be), covering ground, being in the world, on the move, eyes open, taking it all in. But saying that is my favorite part would ignore all of the other elements I loved: the simultaneous ease and challenge of building our trip as we went along – selecting destinations and figuring out routes, finding hosts and making new friends, seeking out hidden corners of countryside to pitch our tent, spending the night in a town (Fil’okovo) where a man we encountered in the street, upon discovering we werere from the US, asked, incredulous, “Fil’okovo? Fil’okovo? But – why?!” It would fail to acknowledge the awesomeness of our descent into the Bay of Kotor down abandoned, car-free switchbacks, the spooky emptiness of the road through destroyed villages in Bosnia, the unexpected connection with the family roasting a goat on the side of the road who pushed shots of brandy on us in the middle of the day, the joy of getting to know your partner better by discovering something new together. Fortunately, though, I don’t have to pick a favorite part – instead, I’m picking a destination for our next trip.

Ten Tips for Biking Eastern Europe

Friday, January 25th, 2013

Drawing on about two hours of footage from our bike trip in Eastern Europe, we made this six minute video offering “Ten Tips” for biking in Eastern Europe. We made it to submit to the Filmed by Bike film festival.

This is the first bike trip where I took video footage throughout with the intent of making such a movie. Once I accumulated all the footage, I wasn’t sure what type of movie to put together. It wasn’t very easy to talk about climate with the videos we had, so I decided to do a non-climate movie. I tried an earlier version of the film where I shared more about the history of Bosnia, which Lindsey and I spent a long time trying to understand. Ultimately, though, we just decided to just go with a more general film about bike touring in the region.

A special thanks to Peter Mulvey and Sean Staples for letting us use their music!

Krakow, Poland to Dubrovnik Croatia

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

I recently combined all of the GPS files from our ~1000-mile 26-day bike trip this past summer and uploaded them into Google Earth. The result is a path that you can “fly over” and follow. Google Earth also allowed me to plot an elevation profile of the trip.

Unsurprisingly, our favorite parts are almost exactly correlated with the hilliest sections–the Tatras mountains of Slovakia at the beginning of our journey, and the many mountains of Bosnia at the end.

You can download the KML file from our trip here and plot it yourself on Google Earth. I took a screen capture video of the route, which you can see below.

What do Eastern Europeans Think About Climate Change? An Unofficial, Unscientific Survey (and a Scientific One)

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

The goal of our three and a half week bike trip across Eastern Europe was not the same as my previous “Ride for Climate” adventures. We weren’t trying to raise awareness of climate change, or investigate as thoroughly the impacts of climate change on the places we visited. (If anything, our tour was much more about the recent atrocities in human history, as we visited Auschwitz and also crossed Bosnia and Herzegovina.)

Nonetheless, I asked the people we met, as we traveled, what they thought of climate change. Of course, because we didn’t speak any of the local languages (this is the first tour where that is the case–it can make the tour much more challenging), I was only able to have meaningful, somewhat in-depth conversations with about 12 different people. Many of these people were the ones who were hosting hosting us.

What we found: About two of the 12 argued that scientists are still arguing amongst themselves, and that climate change is most likely a natural cycle, which few scientists actually believe. (One of our hosts argued that volcanos emit more carbon dioxide than humanity, which is not true either). The others were roughly split between saying “it’s a problem and people here are worried about it” or saying “it’s a problem, but no one here knows anything about it.” Nearly everyone, though immediately switched the topic to other environmental topics (such as recycling or clean water), and then moved on to say that people there are more worried about the economy. (Interestingly, more than one person complained of green policies that didn’t quite work, such as expensive solar planels (which were everywhere in Slovakia) or green rebates that didn’t quite work.)

This unprompted pivot — starting to talk about the economy when I had asked about climate change — shows that Eastern Europeans, like Americans, appear to be wired to believe that fighting climate change will require major economic pain, or at least more pain then they were willing to endure.

I also asked people if they knew what the impacts of climate change would be, or if they had heard other people talk about what the impacts would be. This was quite reveling. Only two people were able to give any example. One said that they would have to grow more southern crops, and farmers would have to adapt. The other gave a much frightening answer: Hungary would become like a desert.

Of course people aren’t going to be afraid of climate change if they don’t think it will affect them, or if they don’t have exmaples, and climate change remains just an abstract concept.

I think that is one reason that it has become so polarized politically — people don’t have concrete examples (that the believe) of how climate change will actually affect them, or how it has already affected them. So if it’s just theoretical, they respond with theories based on their values and ideology.

More in the next post on what climate change actually means for Eastern Europe.

Gallup has performed a survey in the entire world, asking what people think about climate change. You can see the results from this survey (which covers much, much more than just climate change) at (you might have to create a login). Here are some questions and the answers for these countries:

Question: “How much do you know about global warming or climate change?” Below shows the percent of people who have never heard of it. From the countries we visited (and the USA):

US: 4%
Poland: 8%
Slovakia: 9%
Hungary: 4%
Serbia: 9%
Croatia: 2%
Bosnia and Herzegovina: 11 %
Montenegro: 7%

Question: (asked of people who said that they had heard of climate change) “Temperature rise is a part of climate change or global warming. Do you think rising temperatures is a result of human activity?” Percent saying that it is a result of human activity:

US: 36%
Poland: 43%
Slovakia: 57%
Hungary: 51%
Serbia: 64%
Croatia: 66%
Bosnia and Herzegovina: 61%

Question: (asked only of people who said they knew something about climate change) “How serious of a threat is global warming to you and your family?” Percent saying “Very Serious”:

US: 18%
Poland: 21%
Slovakia: 13%
Hungary: 35%
Other countries we biked in: not asked / not enough respondents.

The Agony and Ecstasy: Flying with Bicycles on Croatian Airlines, Lufthansa, and United

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

It feels somewhat just that flying with bikes is such a major headache. It is as if the universe is trying to tell us that flying and bicycling are two forms of transportation that are not supposed to go together. Maybe the God of Flight and the God of Bikes never talk to each other. Or maybe it is because my website and cause is about climate change, and it is obvious that flying is one of the worst things you can do with regards to climate change (here’s a blog I wrote about buying offsets for this trip).

We bought our tickets through Kayak, and the flights were operated by German Lufthansa. We called the airline and asked how we should package our bikes for the flight. They said, don’t! — don’t package them, as the cargo bay in Lufthansa planes has a bike rack. OK, great. How about Croatian Airlines and United, our connecting flights on the way home? The woman told us that they would also take the bikes. We were skeptical, but we also wanted to avoid boxing our steeds. We called a second time, and got the same answers. In retrospect, we should have called United.

On the flights to Eastern Europe–SFO to Munich, and Munich to Krakow–the bikes traveled without problem. They charged us the bike fee, $150 per bike, as expected. We arrived at the Krakow Airport at 11:00pm with the bikes already assembled, and a new friend from warm showers met us and we biked to his house.

Three and a half weeks later, we pedaled to the Dubrovnik Airport, ending our trip. The Croatian Airlines baggage handlers grabbed the bikes without question, and even forgot to charge us the $150 per bike. We flew to Dusseldorf, and then boarded a Lufthansa flight to Chicago, where we would transfer to United.

At the Dubrovnik Airport

We retrieved our luggage, went through customs, and then re-checked our bikes and panniers. The attendant on duty took our bikes, which had the baggage claims attached to the top tube, and rolled them away without question. I was somewhat amazed that we didn’t have to box the bikes. I even took a picture of the attendant taking our bikes.

Baggage attendant takes our bikes in Chicago

Lindsey and I went through security again, ate some chinese food at the food court, and then made it to our gate 20 minutes before boarding. We then heard our names called to the desk. We walked over, and the woman looked up at us.

“Kroodsma and Fransen?” She asked.
“Yes,” we said.
“You left your bicycles at the baggage claim.”

The woman told us that we had to go back to Terminal 5 and box the bikes. “They will sell you a box. But you will have to go standby on a later flight, because you won’t be able to make this one.”

We tried to explain that we didn’t “leave” the bikes–they were re-checked and taken by the baggage handlers. We told her that we had called the airline (Lufthansa) twice to check, and that were told we didn’t have to box the bikes. We got nowhere. We were told that was not their problem.

We rushed to Terminal 5, but couldn’t figure out how to find the bikes. We walked in circles furiously. How would we catch a flight that night? We finally had to tell a security guard our problems, and they let us walk in through security to the customs area, where we found the two bikes.

The head luggage attendant had no sympathy. We explained that we were told repeatedly that the bikes did not have to be boxed. That is an issue we need to take up with Lufthansa, not United, he said. We told him the bikes had been taken from us without question, thus losing us two hours we could have spent boxing the bikes. He said that the people who had originally wheeled the bikes away from us were Bulgarians and Romanians who didn’t understand English or know the rules. I wanted to yell at him and say “we were just in Eastern Europe this morning, and they had no f’n problem with bicycles there.” (Not to mention the fact that the guy who took our bikes did not look Eastern European–or that they should have the people who work there know the luggage rules).

We took the bikes back to Terminal 1, where the man at the baggage desk looked at them disapprovingly and said “you need a box.” We told him our story and asked to buy boxes. He said “We haven’t sold bike boxes in years.” He explained that there was no way, due to liability, that he could take the bikes without boxes. “The best thing I can recommend is to go to the other airline desks and ask if they have boxes.”

We considered taking our case to Lufthansa, but Lufthansa had the longest line in the terminal. Also, even if we found a box, we’d need allen wrenches, and my bike tools were in the other luggage that had already been checked.

I figured we had only one option. We found a van taxi, told the driver our dilemma, and asked to go to Walmart, where I guessed we’d be able to both get cardboard boxes and allen wrenches. The taxi driver, who turned out to be Serbian (we could count to eight in his language and say “tent, one night”), convinced us that he could help us get boxes and tools for our bikes without going to Walmart (where, coincidentally, he was not allowed to pick up new passengers). He found a car mechanic who lent us the tools, and then we drove to a Walgreens Drugstore where we assembled boxes out of cardboard that had been used to ship toilet paper. These are probably the worst bike boxes ever made.

Our driver, who had helped us tape the boxes, drove us back the terminal where, miraculously, the disapproving luggage attendant accepted the boxes. We were put on standby for an 8:30 flight (by then, it was already 8:00). We ran to the gate, begging our way to the front of the security line, and were the last two people to get on the flight. Not too bad, we told ourselves, given that our original flight was just three hours earlier.

When we arrived in San Francisco, we looked at the screen to find the baggage carousel where our bags would arrive and saw that our original flight, which was supposed to leave at 5:15, was four hours delayed. That’s right — we got home earlier than we would have if we had followed airline polices. (Of course, it might have been more pleasant to sit in the gate and sleep than drive around suburban Chicago stressed out about whether we would make it home.)

Somehow, we came out ahead this time. Next time, though, we are going to call each airline individually.

Arrival in San Francisco

Montenegro and Croatia Photos

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Here are our photos from biking Montenegro and Croatia. A description of the route is in the previous post.

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Croatia (actually, our second album of Croatia):
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Sarajevo to Dubrovnik

Monday, July 30th, 2012

It is hard to end a bicycle journey well. The goal is to travel, and the destination is just an excuse to see everything that is in between. Nonetheless, Croatia’s Dubrovnik and Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor made perhaps the perfect ending to our three and a half week bike trip across Eastern Europe.

Much of this ride has been a haunting history lesson. We didn’t choose this route because we wanted to learn about massacres; we choose it because the biking looked good (it was). Yet we started near Auschwitz, where the Nazis committed genocide on an enormous scale, and we ended near Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Serbs and Croats engaged in ethnic cleansing less than two decades ago. We read history of places as we traveled, and spoke to local people about how this history has played out. It was a valuable lesson in the evil that humans are capable of.

After these stories, it was good to finish the trip on a beach, and be reminded how peaceful and fun life can be.

Below are the day by day accounts of the last few days our trip, as well as maps of our route, as recorded by Strava and my Garmin 500. Photos from this stretch are in the next post.

We spent a full day in Sarajevo, where I spoke with local bicycle advocates, and where Lindsey and I stayed in the apartment of a cyclist who will be biking across California next month. We also spent a lot of time with Mahir, a local who lived through the siege of Sarajevo (although he was only three years old when it began). He told us about how his family would hide in their basement for a few days at a time whenever the city was being shelled, and about how their house was so close to the line between the Serb army and the Bosnian forces that he could hear the soldiers taunt each other. He also explained how they tried to just keep on living.

The cyclist who put us up in Sarajevo, Saed, recommended us a route to Dubrovnik. As we wanted to have at least one day to relax on the beach, we hitchhiked about 40km (~25 miles) on one of the larger roads to save time. (This road, though, had far less traffic than the road we hitchhiked earlier, and it would be okay to bike.) Two different trucks gave us rides. As with my previous bike hitchhiking, we found it extremely easy to find trucks willing to give us a ride.

We then turned off the main road and followed a lonely paved road into a deep canyon, and then climbed a dirt road up the far side to a 1,200 meter (4,000 ft) pass. We camped that night hidden off the road in a large pasture after a local shepherd showed us a spring where we could fill our water bottles.

Below are three segments. The first is leaving Sarajevo, the second is between the first and second truck ride, and the third is after the second truck ride.

The next day was another long one–we biked 135 kilometers, crossing into Montenegro and arriving at Risan on the Bay of Kotor. Most of this day the roads were fantastic. Construction in Montenegro, though, had torn up 10 km of paved road, leaving a very challenging dirt road that may be paved in the near future. The next road, which lead to Risan, wasn’t busy, but it wasn’t wide, had tunnels, the traffic drove at 60 to 70 mph, and cars weren’t used to seeing bicycles on the road. We luckily found a secondary road into Risan for the last few kilometers, which, as the map shows below, involved more than a half dozen switchbacks and dropped about 2,000 feet. This road was amazing–zero cars, and views of the cliffs surrounding the turquoise bay of Kotor. We jumped in the water and got our third hotel room of the trip.

We moved slowly the next day, stopping to swim four times. The main road along the bay is busy. For about 15km we followed a one lane road along the beachfront occupied mostly by slow moving pedestrians in swimsuits. If we had been in a hurry, we would have take the main road. Instead, we rested on the beach and bought Magnum ice cream.

We then entered Croatia, followed another very low traffic road, and arrived at the home of Marko, a Croatian who fled Croatia (then Yugoslavia) in 1956 when he was 17, lived in Canada for a few decades, and has now moved back. He told us about rowing a boat with five others cross the Adriatic, and then stowing away on trains. Now he hosts backpackers and cyclists and grows delicious tomatoes.

Our last day we biked 20 km to Cavtat, went for a swim, got a hotel room, and took a boat to Dubrovnik. The photos show Dubrovnik’s old town and city walls.

Our last ride started at 4:30am the following day, when we biked 6km to the Dubrovnik airport.

Photos from Biking Bosnia

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

We spent a full week in Bosnia and Herzegovena. We were lucky to find local cyclists who showed us good, car-free routes across the small nation. This riding was amazing, though difficult. With due respect to the other six countries we biked in, Bosnia was our favorite of this trip.

The photos below show these mountain roads, as well as some of the destroyed villages from the war, images from Sarajevo, and many of the Bosnians who helped us on our journey (Thank you!). Cick “next” to see the rest:

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Banja Luka to Sarajevo by Bike

Friday, July 27th, 2012

At first we weren’t going to visit Banja Luka, which is the largest city in the Serbian part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. But we had four contacts in the city, a place to stay, and a cyclist who we were told we “had to meet.”

We had one of our best days yet in the city. Tihomir, one of the country’s leading cycling advocates, showed us a better route to Sarajevo (outlined below), our host Sasa served us watermelon and Nektar (local beer), and Namanja gave us a tour of the city. Everyone was open to talking about Bosnia’s history. That will require a longer entry. 

The route that Tihomir showed us would add a day or two of travel, meaning that we might have to hitchhike or take a bus to make our final destination (Dubrovnik) on time. We have opted for better biking over transportation purity. 

After a lazy morning, where Sasa cooked us eggs and onions fresh from his garden and his own chickens, we followed route 16 south out of Banja Luka. The road led us through a deep canyon–the first of many that we’d see. Traffic wasn’t bad, but the road was narrow. We swam in the river at lunchtime. 

A few thousand feet of climbing later, largely on secondary roads, we arrived at Boro’s place. Boro is an artist who lives in the woods, has cabins that he rents out, a bar, clean water from a stream that you can drink untreated, and soft grass for free camping. We wish we could have stayed another few nights. 

(Note that there should be a map here. If you see blank space, it is because we are having technical difficulties with Strava, our mapping tool.)

The next day, we started late and took our time. We were forced to stop by a family who was roasting a goat and drinking rakia, a homemade plum liquor very popular here. They made us each take three shots of the rakia, and cut some of the goat and wrapped it for us to eat later. I wish I knew what they were saying. Our Serbo-Croatian (the language here) is not so hot, and neither was their English. 

We then took a big detour. Tihomir had told us to leave the main road to see the source of the Pliva River. We mistakenly turned off the route too early, and instead of following a paved road five km on mostly flat terrain, we biked  eight km and climbed 400 meters on a dirt road. Lindsey wasn’t happy. At least the view at the top was good, and we found some shade by a lookout to eat our goat. 

We camped that night hidden off the road after making sure, through charades and a handful of Serbo-Croatian words, that there were no land mines in area. 

Our third day was one of the most haunting but also one of the most beautiful and fascinating. It had rained the night before, and it was overcast and cool all day. We biked across a high plateau most of the day, staying over 1,000 meters until the afternoon. We passed through numerous towns where the majority of the homes had been destroyed durning the war — evidence of the ethnic cleansing (technically religious cleansing, as everyone was the same “ethnicity”) that occurred here less than two decades ago. Some houses had “HVO,” the initials of the Croatian militia, written on their walls. In those towns, Croatian militias most likely forced Muslims (who spoke the same language and were the same ethnicity as them) from their homes. 

We descended and camped by a reservoir that night, where the people’s house we camped behind served us pita (not the pocket bread, but a delicious pastry filled with cheese, potato, or meat – we’ve become a bit addicted) and tried to get us drunk and married. We didn’t get an early start the next morning. 

The final day of our route to Sarajevo would require riding on a busy, narrow road, climbing over 500 meters, and biking through many long tunnels. Given that we are sadly getting short on time, we pulled over and stuck our thumbs out. After about 40 minutes, a man with a small mayonnaise company truck who spoke almost no English picked us up and drove us 40 km up the hill and through the tunnels. He pointed at the many mosques we passed and said “terrorists.” We guessed that he wasn’t Muslim. 

The following two maps are the riding before and after the hitchhiking. 

We are now in Sarajevo, staying in the apartment of a cyclist who will be biking across California in another month (it’s great to be hosted by someone who we can host so soon.) We have met a few people from the local youth Rotary Club (thanks to Namanja in Banja Luka), who have showed us some of the city, and shared their experiences from the war. Sarajevo endured the longest siege in modern history–almost four years–and bullet and shrapnel holes pocket sidewalks and many buildings. Although unlike the abandoned villages we rode through, though, Sarajevo appears to be thriving. The old town is bustling with tourists, and has mosques, churches, and even a synagogue. New buildings stand next to bombed out ones. We really like this city.