/Trips

Going East 2016

In the summer of 2016 Ioana and Chris rode some 5000km through Eastern Europe. Starting with the Brutal Assault music festival in the Czech Republic, we rode through Slova- kia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria. Along the way both of us captured the gorgeous landscape and places we travelled through. This page is the result of that effort. May it remind us in a few years down the road of this trip, the people we met and the great countries we have been to.

Out first country on this trip was the Czech Republic - more specifi- cally a Metal festival which we visit an- nually. Occupying a Bohemian strong- hold built in 1850‘s, this place hosted us for four days with an ample supply of music and sunshine.

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After spending a few days surrounded by more than 12000 metal-heads we were in dire need of solitude. Heading south towards Wallachia, we set up camp just before the mountains and Slovakian border. Trees, rolling hills and motorcycles were everywhere.

The 70s built camp-site had not seen much remodelling in the meantime which made for an „authentic“ camp- ing experience. Fortunately the same can not be said about Roznov pod Rad- hostem, the picturesque city on who’s outskirts we had pitched our tent. Little did we know that this place is home to one of Europe‘s largest out- door museums. Filled to the brim with wooden houses, old churches and plenty of history to ponder in, this place promises days of entertainment and education.

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We didn‘t have any of it. Due to our entirely uninformed planning, our schedule and route took us south across the Slovakian mountains that day. Unfortunately we had to leave be- fore the museum would be in a posi- tion to welcome us for a visit. Shortly after coffee, packing up and the clock striking 10, we were back on the bikes. That day we learned a lesson: Pack early, leave early, arrive early.

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After leaving our north-most country behind us, we entered a place that would hold a lot of „firsts“ for us: first contact with the Car- pathian mountains, the first time the roads got really bad, the first time we were confronted with the ugly slashes deforestation leaves in other- wise densely green hills, and the first time we learned that being smart about choosing your camping spot is key to a good night’s sleep.

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In the following weeks we would meet the Carpathians many times, but this was our first contact. Crossing the border at 1000m above sea, we did not really see those majestic mountains coming. All of a sudden we were surrounded by their rolling beauty, lakes and their majestic posture dom- inating our view. The Northern Tatras are the northern most fringes of this mountain range, but are just as impressive as their southern cousins.

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In Slovakia these mountains have seen many years of industrial exploita- tion, resulting in two things: an almost criminal slashing of trees and an ample tarmac coverage to transport the green exploits. The former yields ugly slashes of devastation in an otherwise stunning landscape, while the latter results in semi-comfortable stress-test of our suspension (another first, but certainly not the last time). Shoddy roads and business practices aside, our first introduction to the mountains had us wanting more as we rode into the flat lands surrounding Poprad. Following up on this desire for rocky beauty we found our way to the Slovakian Paradise: Słowacki Raj.

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We arrived at this buzzing spot around three, for some odd reason decided not to camp next to the other bikers but close to three cars. Big mistake: when the owners of the cars came back they brought six kids with them, none of whom saw any need to sleep before midnight. Another lesson learned: choose your camping spot wisely.

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Flat land, storks and copious water-parks. If I had to summarise our Hungary experience in three words, that would be it. Completely ignorant of the rich history, cuisine and culture we blasted through this place in a day.

Still enchanted by our first glance of lush mountainside, and eager to make contact with it again, we rode with lit- tle regard of what Hungary might have to offer. And yet, we were treated to some pleasant surprises along the way.

Ioana and I both have a knack for big birds, with storks definitely in the top two. In many places we found their nests, sometimes even lining the road. It seemed as if the city council had de- cided that every single pole needed an occupant and consequently extended invitations in the shape of metal grids which would ease the nest building.

After our day of stoically pointing our handlebars in a straight line, we were surprised to find ourselves on a camp- site sporting a gigantic water-park: great way to end a day.

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Main-stage, half-time and best-covered country in this sum- er’s gang of eight was Romania. Home to the better part of the Carpathi- ans, the iconic Transfagarasan and Transalpina roads, and most impor- tantly Ioana’s mother we would spend a lot of quality time here.

Romania is a country of stark contrasts: roads of any size can be smooth sailing or rival a technical rally stage. Cities and landscape are equally breathtaking: the former due to their crazy traffic, the latter by its shear magnificence. Accommodation ranges from questionable to downright excellent (some camp-sites in particular). Food is either meat all the way or a vegetarian’s wet dream. People are either dodgy or very friendly and kind; we met the friendly variety in far greater numbers.

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Speaking of people: one of our highlights was meeting up with the great folks publishing the Carpathian Two Wheels Guide and going for a ride on smooth black tarmac cutting through the Apuseni mountains. Fine and entertaining people. Thank you for the company.

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The epitome of this stage was undoubtedly the days we spent at Ioana’s mum. We were served delicious food aplenty, made from vegetables grown just behind the house, rode the Transbucegi pass and hitch-hiked to Ploesti. Multumim, Doina.

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This trip’s biggest wildcard was Serbia as we knew least what to ex- pect. The day we uneventfully crossed the border, leaving the EU we were originally scheduled to set up camp in Timisoara. However, the campsite there only had spots right next to the main-road on offer; not a wise choice if one wants to sleep. So we decided to ride on and make our way to Novi Sad.

The sun was low and we were head- ed straight into it for about 200km - a gruelling exercise. The 40km detour made necessary by 500m of motorway closure did not help things. Upon our arrival in Serbia’s second biggest city, we made use of some free Wi-Fi and decided to forgo our camping plans - the local five star hotel looked far more appealing.

We loved this place. Everywhere things were beautiful, neat, clean, hardly any foreign tourists and yet no communi- cation issues. The food was good and the craft beer incredible. On top of it all, things were very affordable. We will come back here, that’s certain.

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we planned this trip, Croatia felt like a „pass-through“ stage. Most its beauty can be found along the coast or heading south. Along its eastern expanse one is hard-pressed to even find a place to pitch a tent. We spent the night in a driving school turned hotel located right next to the third (and last) stronghold we would see on this trip.

Contrary to our initial plans, we rode to Rijeka rath- er than Zagreb. The idea of a dip in the sea just proved too attractive. We found a rocky but pretty campsite right next to the Adriatic Coast and local refinery. Still, we got to swim in the sea this summer.

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Planning a route is always a trade-off between exploring a place and playing it safe. Heading for the mountains generally on the safer side of things if one is after great scen- ery. We know little about Slovenia, but the name Bled struck a chord somehow. Maybe that‘s because it is a very beautiful place.

During this trip we’ve learned that small border crossings are easier than big ones. Fewer peo- ple crossing means less time to wait. We found what must be one of the most remote Croa- tia/Slovenia border posts in existence. The two people working there even seemed surprised to see anyone.

Back to the mountains we quickly found our- selves in Bled just next to the Triglav national park (as did countless other bikers … so many bikes).

We camped in the middle of fairytale landscape (not counting the 500 other people doing the same). A castle build on top of a hill, preceded by a church built on top of an island, set in a clear and warm lake; all to the backdrop of majestic mountains. Gorgeous place indeed.

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Expectations were high and Austria did not disappoint. Along the way we had seen plenty of gorgeous landscape, but what this country confronted us with is im- pressive by shear grandeur. So much so, that after a while the “wow-effect” of never ending mountains wears off a little; but just a little.

This was our last country on our trip and it would be a worthy finale. We made it a point not to use any motorway, in part to avoid buying a “Pick- erl”, and in part because it would be a shame to just blast through this place. Never mind that we spent almost ten times the money for the vignette on toll to be allowed to cross the Alps.

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Our final act was the Grossglockner Pass. A legendary and fine high alpine roadpassing Austria’s tallest mountain and providing access to the Pasterze glacier. It is also home to some of the most challenging serpentines and hairpin bends we’ve come across so far (Transfagarasan was good training though).

Left with an impression of mighty land- scape, almost 5000km under our tyres and no rush to get home, we set off one last time.

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