Travel on two wheels

Next: The Balkans

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It’s official: In February, I’ll hit the road again. Together with my bike, a tent and a little curiosity. Here’s where I’m headed.

WHEN I MOVED to Graz last October, I had a feeling that it was a great place for biking. Not only is it a very bicycle-friendly city, but also it’s situated just at South-Eastern Europe’s doorstep, eighty kilometers away from the Slovenian border and not even 300 from the Adriatic Sea. Right away I had this slight notion that some day soon I will get on the bike to explore a region yet unknown to me – the Balkans. I did a little 150 kilometers “excursion” in October (Graz – Mureck at the Slovenian border – Graz) and was actually very sad I had to turn around eventually in order to get home in time for next day’s lecture. (I returned in the middle of the night, after losing orientation 15 km before Graz.) As I’ve never been to any of the countries I’m about to explore, it’s high time to do so.

For starters, here are the hard facts: 

  • Start: Graz, beginning of February
  • Durance: 3-4 weeks
  • Distance: depends; 1200 – 2000 km
  • Who: me
  • Why: why not

I don’t have an exact route yet, but I’m working on it. Naviki has proven to give good—or at least OK—customized cycling directions. In combination with an app called MotionX-GPS, it has worked for 5000 kilometers through Western Europe, so I hope it will not be any different on the Balkans.

Generally, my policy on bike touring hitherto has been: Follow rivers, avoid mountains. I am foolish enough to announce that I will not necessarily follow these tactics on the Balkan, because

  1. there will be no way to avoid mountains up to 1500+m and
  2. if you can’t deal with gradients, how can you be a cyclist after all?

(I’m so gonna regret this last sentence. I already know it.)

Although I can’t offer you a specific route (the one in the Maps engine above is just a vague layout), I can tell you which countries I’ll pass through:

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Austria (obviously)

Following the Mur cycle path, I’ll leave the country within a day. Next stop:

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Slovenia

This 2-million republic is a hidden gem squeezed in between Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. Seriously, Slovenia’s got all you could ask for: mountains, wine hills, flat parts and the sea. I’ll definitely pass through Maribor and am looking to crash at an Instagram acquaintance of mine. He does not know of his luck yet.

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Croatia

Finally! Croatia has been on my list for ages, nearly everybody I know has been there already. It’s a very popular holiday destination for Austrians and Germans, but as I’m gonna be there off-season it should be okay. I’ll probably choose a route in the “back country” for two reasons:

  1. The coastline is normally rather touristic and there could be gnarly winds from the sea.
  2. People in the heart of the country are normally not used to tourists, hence friendlier, plus I’ve always wanted to visit the locations of those Karl May flicks which I hope to pass through.

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Bosnia and Herzegowina 

Probably the shortest shoreline of all those countries. I know many people who originally come from Bosnia and I’m looking forward to seeing that beautiful country.

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Montenegro

Ok I’ll be honest with you: Everything I know about this country stems from Wikipedia. 625.000 habitants, rather small in terms of area, independent since 2006 (only!) and I’m stoked to go there!

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Albania

You should know that the word “Albania” kind of represents this whole tour to me. Albania has been my first vague destination when I came to think of this trip last fall. It would certainly make for a good return point of my trip – from Durrës there’s a ferry back to Trieste, Italy, – but if I have enough time, I’ll definitely go on to, say,

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Greece (optional)

Again, this really depends on my pace (which will not be super fast; I want to see things, enjoy views, talk to people, take photos etc.). Given I got some good ten or eleven days left when I get to Southern Albania, I could picture myself going on to Greece. Athens would be an amazing destination for sure, but let’s keep it low. I don’t wanna jinx it by calling out fancy city names now; Greece is optional, and again it all depends on my remaining time, as I might instead go to 

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Italy (on the return)

by ferry from Durrës; the Adria ferry serves a couple nice destination on the Boot, such as Bari (quite very South, probably too South for me), Ancona (pretty much in the middle of the peninsula) or the aforementioned Trieste. From Trieste it would be another four days home by bike; in case of time lack I could also take a train.

Now, let me emphasize again on how unsure things are at this point. I have no clue how it’s all gonna turn out, but I know one thing: I’m ready for the amazing journey that is ahead of me and I couldn’t be more excited and grateful that I’ve actually got the opportunity to do this bike trip.

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