Funny to be in a Place so synonymous with war (for our generation) when the horrors of Israel and Palestine start up again. We have all been quite taken by the evidence of war across the whole of Bosnia – but no more so than in Sarajevo. There was so many destroyed and abandoned buildings and bullet holes in the landscape. There really wasn’t anywhere in town where there wasn’t bullet ridden building facades with life bustling along regardless. We met a young taxi driver who was somewhat scathing about the “war tourism” and I can understand it must be frustrating to see tourists approach your home town with such one-dimensionality – but I have to say, it was really striking feature of the town. Of course, Sarajevo is so much more – great food and hospitality cevapi [rectangular-shaped, spicy sausages), flatbreads, baklava, halva, Bosnian coffee (similar to Turkish), apples stuffed with walnuts and poached in syrup (Tufahija) and so many good borek, including my favourite, potato burek). We also drank fabulous beer in the old Sarajevo brewery and ate fried bread with dried beef (similar to Bresola) and kajamk (a soft cheese revelation). Luckily, we are using a lot of calories bike-riding – there is so much great food to eat!
Whilst the Bosnians have been very warm and welcoming, when it comes to busy roads, their tolerance of bicycles on roads was limited in Sarajevo, so we taxied up out of Sarajevo and into a day of sensational bike-riding. The idea was to ride the old road towards Foca. It was supposed to be spectacular but had reports of being unpassable due to a bridge collapse. The Gods were with us as the river was quite passable with our bikes and we delightful day along a the delightful Praca River, enjoying the lush forests, complete absence of people and tunnels (so many tunnels!). It was a universal tour highlight for all.
A few days later our next day of tour wonder waited for us in Montenegro - crossing the Durmitor National Park. We are talking serious mountains, serious views and serious elevation. On our big riding days there is a real sense of tension and excitement. You are never quite sure whether it will be a day of biking ecstasy or biking agony (or what Steffen calls type 1 or type 2 adventure). Luckily for us it was a type 1 day – aka bloody sensational. Once we made it out of the steep ride from Pluzine and crested the low clouds, the landscape opened up into windswept plains and stunning rocky peaks. We were all impressed by the farmlands on the plains, extracting a livelihood out of this place was impressive – honey, rakija and sheep. The day was glorious – sunny, little traffic – climbing along stunning and stark landscapes- all up 1600m of climbing. Along the road we came across a rough little shack where a gentleman was serving Bosnian coffee and selling honey and goats cheese. Never has a coffee been so welcome! Nectar of the Gods! Once across the plains we headed down into the tourist town of Zabljak. The downhill ride was an exhilarating mix of speed and forests in the most astonishing Autumn colours. Another tour highlight.
Not all days can be brilliant and our ride from Zabljak to Niksic was one of those that falls into the type 3 fun category. I’m pretty sure this has been covered in a previous blog post, but for recap – type 1 is a heavenly day, where it’s hard to wipe the smile off your face and it’s just good fun. Type 2 may not at the time be fun but becomes more fun in hindsight – there will be a moment/s of anguish, but in retrospect it was an excellent day. Then there is type 3 – where it is just shit and no amount of time is going to make it any sweeter. The omens were there – Steffen was sick, so caught a cab to Niksic. The forecast sun turned to horrible headwind and rain. What could have been another spectacular day of climbing in the mountains became a day of labour – our views were grey mist, the rain was relentless and we had a series of sad and traumatic interactions with local cats and dogs. The culmination being a dog (one of many) adopting us and trying to join our tour (despite our best efforts to dissuade it) and coming across a flock of sheep. The sheep were being guarded by terrifying sheep dogs who initially threatened us (which was absolutely terrifying as these dogs are bred to keep away wolves and wild dogs) - but then set upon the little dog that had been following us. It was horrible and heart-breaking and nothing we could do. Max has vowed never to ride anywhere near a mountain again and today I agree with him. I’m hoping a day of rest will soften the memory.