Thursday, May 26, 2011

Seems Everything Real Becomes Instantly Attractive_

Completely out of order as always... this post covers the period 13/5/11 - 25/5/11

I was having a little difficulty thinking of the words for this one... somehow, the usual adjectives didn't cut the mustard... beautiful, fun, relaxing, edgy.. meh... none of them really work. I mean sure, this place is all of those things... but I thought I'd make a wee little anagram as in the title of this post to try and explain on a different level.

Those were the first and only six words that came to me...


When I was on my way here from Hungary I was admittedly a little nervous. Unfortunately, all I ever really knew of Serbia was what I had seen on the news when I was younger, and heard of in the years since but not taken a whole lot of notice of. I figured it was just a place full of wars and bombings and crazy Serbians... I remember reading an article in a magazine when I was a kid in the early 90's called "Balkans: The Badlands" or something similar and whilst I knew nothing about the content, the imagery of bloodied bodies on the streets never left me. I was smart enough (believe it or not thank you audience) to know that all of that had since passed but I was still uncertain as to exactly what it would be like, and what to expect.

The trip in was pretty uneventful, and with a quick and easy border crossing then entry into the non-EU country (yet - they've applied) things were looking good. I had a hostel booked also, and using my new GPS (I finally cracked) I knew I'd get straight to my destination without hassle or interruption... or so I thought!

On the ride in I was pulled over by a couple of proper biker dudes... beards, long hair, leather jackets and patch covered vests were just the beginning!! Knowing the reputation bikers have in Australia, and commonly around the world it seems, and coupled with my uncertainty about Serbia in general, I was needless to say a little nervous as I slowly removed my gloves and helmet and gave my toughest fellow biker glare... They came up and said hello in pretty good english, and all was friendly and amicable enough... all good I thought, and was about to continue on my way when they invited me for a beer back at their clubhouse... welllll... a few things crossed my mind:

  1. OK, this is it... when I arrive, they'll kill me, sell my organs and take my bike!
  2. Hmmm, if I say no, this is it. Right here in the street they'll kill me, sell my organs and take my bike!
  3. I'm thirsty after a long ride, so why not!?

So I donned my helmet, and one glove (they rode off already) and followed them off down the road, out into the bush, around a few bends, down a dirt track and into their clubhouse compound... when we pulled up, a few more pleasantries were exchanged, and the beers started! Turned out they were just my first encounter with some of the loveliest people in a country overall, that I have met in my whole trip! Had I not have had plans to meet with my Serbian friend Visnja who I met on the Amalfi coast as well as had a hostel booked, I would have stayed with these guys for the night, drank and ate for free and had a place to sleep the night too!! Too cool, and such an awesome way to have my mind changed about a new country!!

Novi Sad, Serbia - 01

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Novi Sad, Serbia - 16


After our beers, they delivered me back to my hostel via a gorgeous lookout over Novi Sad where we stopped for a couple of photos of the view, as well as of the local TV station building that was bombed during one of the four times they were bombed during a ten year period... crazy stuff to see a bombed building like that in the flesh...

Novi Sad, Serbia - 19

Novi Sad, Serbia - 20

Novi Sad, Serbia - 21


My time from that night on has been pretty much spent mostly with Visnja and usually her sidekick Arjana bouncing around town, eating, drinking, chilling in the park or at the beach (on the Danube no less!), as well as visiting and partying in Belgrade and some towns in between. I even have had the luxury of experiencing Serbia's wonderful train system on two occasions!! An experience I won't spoil with words or images.. just.... try it!

Belgrade, Serbia - 030

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Serbia - 016

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Serbia - 030

Serbia - 133


This place is just so easy and wonderful to be, and whilst the landscape and city is nice, really it's the people that make it so good here. So much so that what was originally planned as 3 days in Novi Sad, has now turned into 13 days on this visit, then I will be coming back for my birthday in a week or so, and then returning again for the EXIT Festival for a week or so in July!! Can't wait for that - I haven't been to a proper music festival since Homebake '98! Visnja and Arjana work for the festival, so it's even more exciting cos they're part of it!!

Belgrade, Serbia - 094


Oh, and to celebrate the pending end of the world on May 21st, Visnja and I got tattoos!! She got cherries (her name means Sour Cherry in Serbian) and I got... something... you will have to wait til I get home!

Serbia - 144


I can't recommend Serbia enough for anyone who's thinking about visiting Eastern Europe, or anywhere in Europe for that matter! Make sure you get to Novi Sad, whatever you do!

Belgrade, Serbia - 133

Serbia - 019

I finally cracked..._

...and bought a GPS.

Best thing I've done - cost me a small fortune with almost all European maps included, but I will EASILY make up for the cost in time, fuel and most importantly, avoided tolls! PLUS... I can upload Australian maps onto it when I come home!

I have used it a bunch of times already, and it's gotten me out of many a pickle... I wish I had done it earlier!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


OK, sorry I haven't posted for a while, been SO busy and having lots and lots of fun!! Don't really have time now either, but want to give a quick run down of where I have been, and my plans!

Arrived in London in late March... then:

  • Malmo - Sweden
  • Copenhagen - Denmark
  • Oslo, Bergen and Flam - Norway
  • Gdansk and Krakow - Poland
  • Milan, Bologna (to collect my bike!), Cinque Terre - Italy
  • Innsbruck and Vienna - Austria
  • Wonneberg - Germany
  • Budapest - Hungary
  • Novia Sad and Belgrade - Serbia

I will be in Serbia for the next few days and then next on the list is:

  • Sofia and somewhere in the mountains for horse riding - Bulgaria
  • Istanbul for my 30th birthday - Turkey
  • Greece for some sunshine and relaxing mostly in Crete
  • Fly to Sweden for Midsummer festivities in Malmo, and a couple of days in Stockholm
  • Fly back to Greece then back on the bike to Macedonia
  • Back to Novi Sad for Exit Festival 2011

The key plan after this point is to get to France to see some of the Tour de France 2011 as well as simply tour the countryside for a couple of weeks before I have to head back to the UK, find a new owner for my bike, then head back to Australia in late August...

SO crazy busy, but loving every last bit of it!!

Will post pics and more ASAP..

    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    Italy Part IV - Florence, La Spezia & bye bye bike_

    So I had planned to stop in Siena on the way to Florence but um, missed the turn off! Oops... no need to turn back, must not have been worth it anyway I guess - I love that I can chop and change as I like with this trip, and when things like that happen I just take it as a sign, and move on accordingly!

    Florence is gorgeous though. A pain to ride in, as with all Italian cities (!) but absolutely stunning when you finally get to settle and see it. The first night I arrived was freezing (mental note: buy scarf, gloves and beanie to prepare for the cold that will be Holland!), but I was starving and it was getting late so went for a walk to try and find some food... the only place I found was an awesome little restaurant right on the Duomo which stayed open a little later for me than normal so I could enjoy a massive bowl of pasta and half litre of vino rossi! The locals in Florence are much much nicer than I experienced in Italy so far - I can't help but think the beautiful surroundings and being forever under the Tuscan sun have something to do with their moods...

    Florence, Italy - 001

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    The Tuscans really do seem to do it right... their attention to detail in everything they do is very obvious, not more so than the brass doorbell panels on each building... I found them so beautiful and made me just want to press them all! The south side of the water across Ponte Vecchio ("Old Bridge") is an absolutely beautiful area filled with dark and moody restaurants and wine bars and shops and galleries and more... I spent a load of time just bouncing between each of them, staying in some (*ahem* wine bar *ahem*) for longer than others... This side of the bridge to me feels like the "real" Florence (or "Firenze" in Italian) where the locals come to play. It reminded me a lot of the great places I love at home.

    Florence, Italy - 090

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    Florence, Italy - 101


    I'd have to say, and it's a tough call, but I think Florence is my favourite Italian city. The food, the landscape, the people... it really is for me - I could totally see myself living here!

    Florence, Italy - 049

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    I loved it so much actually, that after a horribly rained out attempted visit to the Cinque Terre, I decided to go back. Not before spending a good few days in La Spezia (the main town near Cinque Terre) just relaxing, cooking, eating, drinking red, and reading! A good way to recharge the batteries in preparation for my next leg of travel off the bike, as well as make some more plans...

    La Spezia, Italy - 2

    La Spezia, Italy - 5

    Florence (2nd visit), Italy - 11


    I had already decided I wanted to head home for Christmas and surprise the family, but had to make all the arrangements with the airline etc. So after a bunch of phone calls with British Airways - who were very very helpful by the way - it worked out that it was cheapest and most convenient to fly home on and arrive on Christmas day!! So for just 70 Euros, I changed my flight and planned exactly that! It was incredibly comforting to discover later as I was writing in my journal that the day I confirmed by return to Australia, was exactly one year on from the day I decided to take this trip in the first place!!

    Next stop, Pieve di Cento... "where?" I hear you say.... allow me to explain..

    I knew all along that the bike would be tough to travel on in winter, and when I realised I wouldn't actually be able to stay anywhere even close to warm in Europe, I knew I had to do something. Plus, knowing I would be going home, I needed to find somewhere to store my bike for a few months whilst I travelled in the cold, and before I finally headed to Sydney summer in late December! That somewhere came in the form of Eugenio, a 50-ish year old biker who I found online via Couchsurfing ("a worldwide network for making connections between travelers and the local communities they visit"). A few broken English/Italian messages back and forth and it had been arranged that I would arrive in his tiny town of Pieve di Cento about 40kms out of Bologna, stay with him, and when it was time to leave, put my bike in his elderly parents garage for "as long as I like"!!



    Aside from the fact that I didn't have much time to stay with him, it couldn't have worked out better and he was so so so helpful!! We took my bike to his parents and prepared it for storing, then after introducing me to his very Italian parents (think Italian Mumma in the kitchen wearing an apron, with beautiful weathered skin and a beautiful smile, pinching your cheeks... you might get an idea of it!), Eugenio took me out with two of his three kids, Martina and Luca for awesome pizza - and paid for it! On top of all of this, then allowing me to leave all my biking gear in his unit, he got up with me at 4am and drove me to Bologna airport (40 minutes away!!) for my flight to Morocco...

    I was really bummed to not be able to spend more time with Eugenio and his family, especially given how good he was to me in such a short period of time - not to mention the fact he didn't know me from a bar of soap! - but took solace in knowing I would be returning eventually to get my bike... plus, I was kind of excited to be off to Morocco!! I had been in Italy for more than 3 weeks, until November 8th, so it was time to move on...

    Italy Part III - Rome_

    I arrived in Rome pretty quickly - the motorways in Italy are really good and easy to navigate - and met with Marine around midday. From that time til pretty much the time I left, my journal is empty... always a good sign of having fun!

    Rome was awesome, and we had so much fun just wandering and eating and visiting some of the most amazing man-made things I have seen on my trip. All these things I had heard and read about really were incredible! The scale of things here really just blew me away - everything is either so old, or so big, or just plain impressive!

    My favourite was having a picnic out the front of the Colosseum, but most things are beyond words... so let's just tell the story in photos!

    Roma, Italy - 13

    Roma, Italy - 16

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    Roma, Italy - 79


    Next stop, Florence!!