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Thread: Planning an Eastern Europe trip

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    Default Planning an Eastern Europe trip

    Before I end my two-year stint here in Europe, I was thinking about doing one last hoorah cycling trip next month. I was eyeing Eastern Europe, starting and ending in Split or Makarska, Croatia. A 5-6 day trip could be good, plus/minus 100 miles per day, and I'd be interested in hitting Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania. Anybody know of any routes (ideally sticking to road, but I don't mind a dirt road here or there) or have any tips about riding in those countries? Will there be any issues crossing borders? Will the weather cooperate in mid-February? I don't know much of anything about this region of the world but would love to explore it by bike.
     

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    Default Re: Planning an Eastern Europe trip

    A handful of observations, mostly about Croatia:

    Split has some lovely parts, but also a fair amount of sprawl - it really depends what you want to do when you arrive there. If the answer is Ďrelax in a hotel and look aroundí then you should be fine. Schedules (and sea conditions) depending you can also get the ferries from there out to the surrounding islands.

    Makarska by contrast is scenic around the harbour but then fades away very quickly - itís not a big place so I think youíd get bored within a day. My personal preference just a little way up the road is Brela, a holiday home / fishing village reached by a series of hairpin bends down from the main coastal road.

    February itís pretty cold and itíll rain quite frequently (if youíve not done so yet, use something like Weather Averages to check a few locations) - rideable, but not guarantee that youíll get the sort of conditions which mean youíll enjoy yourself on the bike. Things tend to improve after Easter, getting dryer and warmer.

    I only have experience in Croatia and a little in Bosnia - Croatia is busy but scenic along the coastal road, and quieter once you get away from it (all the traffic either uses the free coastal road, or the toll motorway). In particular the Krka Nationals Park is lovely, and every time Iíve headed inland from the coast Iíve found something interesting.

    Be aware that much of Croatiaís economy is derived from tourism, so it can be difficult to find somewhere to eat out of season. There are always Konzum or similar mini-marts and larger supermarkets but as you get off the main routes they become few and far between so best to stock up as you pass. Restaurants are less likely to be open - there often seems to be only enough local demand to keep the bars open off-season.

    Border crossings - documents will probably be examined carefully, they seem to be more stringent each time I go.
    You will need to look up the visa situation for each country you intend to visit, to ensure you will be covered.

    Iím off to Montenegro in April, so will come back and add some views then. My understanding is itís less developed than Croatia.
     

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    Default Re: Planning an Eastern Europe trip

    I've spent time in Montenegro, specifically Tivat and Kotor. I did some cycling while there and while there are some decent back roads, the major routes along the coast aren't bike friendly. Montenegro overall is very pro-Murica with English spoken by many. Most of the municipalities have great public works with safe drinking water because the US built them.
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    Default Re: Planning an Eastern Europe trip

    Wow, thanks for the suggestions. Lots to consider. I've talked to some co-workers who know the region well, and they all say similar things, that it will be cold and rainy, that it can be really remote with limited food/rest stops, that the roads aren't all in the best shape, that it can be dangerous if you're a foreigner and a spandex-clad cyclist and out there alone. I'll definitely need to reconsider some details of the trip, but I still think I want to do this. My Croatian friend told me a good itinerary would be: Split-Makarska-Mostar, Mostar-Dubrovnik, Dubrovnik-Montenegro, and back to Split. Albania might also be doable, and if you go to Albania there's no point in going to Kosovo, they're basically the same (his words, not mine). From what I've heard, Kosovo is also pro-Murica like Montenegro. Bill Clinton is a hero to them. Maybe they'd welcome me warmly there.
     

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    Default Re: Planning an Eastern Europe trip

    Quote Originally Posted by brc View Post
    Wow, thanks for the suggestions. Lots to consider. I've talked to some co-workers who know the region well, and they all say similar things, that it will be cold and rainy, that it can be really remote with limited food/rest stops, that the roads aren't all in the best shape, that it can be dangerous if you're a foreigner and a spandex-clad cyclist and out there alone. I'll definitely need to reconsider some details of the trip, but I still think I want to do this. My Croatian friend told me a good itinerary would be: Split-Makarska-Mostar, Mostar-Dubrovnik, Dubrovnik-Montenegro, and back to Split. Albania might also be doable, and if you go to Albania there's no point in going to Kosovo, they're basically the same (his words, not mine). From what I've heard, Kosovo is also pro-Murica like Montenegro. Bill Clinton is a hero to them. Maybe they'd welcome me warmly there.
    Clinton is a hero in Montenegro because in 97 they didn't support Serbia and had their public works funding cut off. The US Government stepped in and paid all the salaries of fire, police, postal, etc plus built water and sewer treatment plants. It's one of the few countries in the world where as an American, if you're in some kind of trouble you go to the police. The riding was good except on the main highways and there really isn't much of workaround. We rode through the countryside and there were bomb craters near the roads and some of the roads have significant "dips" that had newer pavement where a crater had been filled in. On the hill above Tivat is a WW1 fortress looking over the harbor. There are also quite a few geocaching opportunities, many with my name in the log book. Great food, local wines, and wonderful people. I spent a few weeks there in 2007 doing community relations projects as a Navy repair officer working under the State Department. We built swingsets out of leftover 308 stainless, painted their soccer stadium, and cleaned up some graves at the local cemetery. There is an American buried there who received the Medal of Honor in WW1.
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    Default Re: Planning an Eastern Europe trip

    Quote Originally Posted by SimonC View Post
    I’m off to Montenegro in April, so will come back and add some views then. My understanding is it’s less developed than Croatia.
    Just back, so some observations as promised:

    - I saw very few cyclists; although was surprised when I passed a small amateur peleton on the road across Skadar lake one weekday afternoon

    - The driving is noticeably poorer than in Croatia; a lot of very late / sketchy overtaking. This would make cycling on the major roads (which are the best paved) pretty hazardous; I'm not sure how drivers would react to cyclists if encountered on the smaller roads (I saw very, very little traffic on those roads this early in the season)

    - The major roads are well maintained, but not really something I'd want to cycle on

    - Smaller roads have amazing routes; astounding scenery on a road which connects two dots in seemingly the most winding way possible. Road quality is highly variable - lots of potholes of varying sizes and the usual frost heaves and minor rockfalls etc. I did see a fair number of people trimming back vegetation on even the slimmest mountain roads.

    - As noted above, it can get very isolated. This may not hold if you are there in high summer, but I would expect on most of the smallest roads if you have an accident or a significant mechanical it could be a long time before anyone passes

    - The people seemed lovely. Not really 'touristy' even in the most touristy spots, and plenty of places where people went out of their way to help or were just genuinely curious to have visitors
     

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