Another fine day dawned as the 3 of us awoke in Kosovo – Jon and Marcin in one room, and me in another. We had worked out a deal where we got 2 rooms for 40 EUR. As breakfast hadn’t been included in the price and we had a hell of a lot of miles to try and do due to the Serbian intransigence, we packed up the bikes and prepared to head south again to Skopje, the Macedonian capital, from where we could head west into Bulgaria, and then north again to Romania. The detour would add at least 250 km to the route and delay progress by 2/3 of a day or more.
As we were about to leave, the staff of the Hotel, disappointed that they would not get a chance to say goodbye over breakfast, insisted we come in or a coffee, on the house. We accepted and rewarded them with a sticker
And so back south we went – past the Swedish and Italian forces clogging up Kosovo’s roads. I had entered a electronic black hole. My compact camera and small video camera were both not working. Frustratingly I missed a great conversation between Marcin and some Polish troops just before the Macedonian border. On the positive side, the weather was fantastic. It had been pretty much perfect since that first morning in Croatia, many days ago.
An hour or so later, just before crossing the Montenegro – Bulgaria border and re-entering the EU, Marcin had to stop for a 45 minute business conference call. By co-incidence, I blew two fuses, continuing my electrical black hole of a day, and stopped to sort that out. With Marcin on the phone for a while, i took the chance to superficially strip the bike down to try and find why I was blowing so many fuses. I still don’t know the answer, but I did find some original wiring under the seat that had been rubbed bare. I taped them up as best I could and kept my fingers crossed that I had solved the problem.
Bulgaria was a blessing and a shock. As a new EU member, the border crossing would be easy (as we all had EU passports) and things like petrol stations would be more likely to have machines that accepted credit / debit cards. To our surprise, while the roads were still very “Balkan” – lots of up passes and down valleys, twists and turns, the surfacing of the roads was the worst we had experience on the trip so far. By sundown we had reached the Bulgarian border town of Vidin, on the banks of the Danube river, just across from Romania. The last hours ride, from a town called Montana, was really impressive. The road was in top condition and the scenery as the sun set was like riding through somewhere in the US midwest or outback Australia. It didnt seem like we were in Eastern Europe at all. We pulled into a truckers motel, 500 yards from the ferry boat across the Danube to Romania. A 3 person room was just under 10 EUR a night and we wondered if there would be any knocks on the door during the evening. Being a border town in Eastern Europe where truckers pass through it wouldnt have surprised me. We had seen a number of girls by the highway soon after entering Bulgaria from Macedonia.
Thursday we woke after an uneventful, undisturbed evening and did a little bike maintenance. I had stayed up past 2 am while the otheers slept to cull my baggage. I had known a few days into the trip that my fears re taking too much baggage were indeed true. Jon was going to be heading back to visit his girlfriend in Austria today and in needed to give him whatever I no longer wanted to take, so that I could lighten my load.
We packed up after breakfast and minor bike maintenance to headed to the ferry. We waited, and waited and waited. Over and hour we waited for the ferry. It only runs when its full and the roads were eerily quiet. At midday a ferry finally pulled in and we paid out 6 EUR each crossing fees. The crossing itself was over half and hour and I took the opportunity to cut thee wires to my side stannd. I had been told the best bet is to short them so the occasionally troublesome switch is bypassed. I did that on my back on the ferry across the Danube only to reach the other side, start the engine and have it cut on me when I put it in gear. I had shorted the wrong wires (there were 3 wires, and two of them had to be shorted.) So after pushing the bike uphill to the customs shed, I shorted a different two wires and this time it seemed to work. We powered on into Romania, our 20th country of the trip so far and headed for a petrol station to fill up.
So far on the trip, I had been getting about 25 km / litre which translates to 70mpg UK language, or 60mpg in US gallons, or 4 l / 100km for those who use that system. Jon was typically filling up with 7-8 % more fuel than me at each stop and Marcin 15% -20% more on his carburettored KTM. Jon carried a 5 litre tank with him strapped to the back of his bike and so had a total capacity of 21 litres and a range of about 430 km (270 miles). That was the smallest range of the 3 of us, and we based our fuel stops around that. We had done pretty much that range when we had pulled into Vidin the previous night so we knew we had to top up with fuel on entereing Romania. Jon topped up with 20.65 litres … he had at best 0.35 litres (about 6 km) left in his tank. Throughout Eastern Europe fuel was universally just under 1 EUR a litre.
15 km into Romania and we had to say farewell to Jon. He had to get back to Austria for easter evening tomorrow night, and there was a quick road back from this point. Jon christened his own experiences in Eastern Europe as “Balkan Extreme” and certainly after surviving the likes of Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia, Croatia, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, I hope he sticks with that title. There is a lot more to see and write about this part of the world re motorcycling than I have time for right now and I am sure Jon, who took a lot of pics, will document this all over the next few week once he has returned to sunny England.
With Jon heading off North West, Marcin and I headed North East. We had almost 300 km to cover to get to the start of the amazing Trans-Fagarasan highway through the Carpathian mountains. We took some interesting dirt back roads through hills and villages before being halted for an hour by rain. Fortunately, just as rain fell, we came across a series of covered roadside bar-b-q stalls as we crossed a highway. We paused and ate for an hour before resuming our journey. We reached the Trans-Fagarasan just as darkness was falling and decided to overnight before the highway, saving the highways glory for tomorrows sunlight.