Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Sarajevo - You are my witness

That title is the title to the haunting, disturbing and worryingly real exhibition called 11/07/95. The gallery bears witness to the massacre at Srebenica 20 years ago. Welcome to Sarajevo!

Actually I hadn't been sure what to expect of Sarajevo and next time someone asks me ' Why do you travel?' I will say 'Sarajevo'. I have leant so much and discovered a lot about a place I knew very little of, which is why I travel. Sometimes it results in me thinking, 'Hum, I'm glad I don't live here', but in this case I've been impressed.

I guess I first heard of Sarajevo in 1984 - the Winter Olympics. And yet only 8 years later e Olympic City was in the middle of a four year siege where the Bosnian Serb forces surrounded and tried to starve out the 100,000 people who lived there. I won't go into details here but today I went on an excellent tour of the city which took in the 1,000 meter tunnel built under the (UN controlled) airport, which brought in vital supplies during the siege. 

Sarajevo, a long thin city tradically surrounded by hills. 

it took four months to dig out a 1,000 metre long tunnel. 

Plus, of course, Sarajevo saw the assassination which sparked WWI. It was weird to actually stand on the corner wher Princip killed the Arch Duke Franze Ferdinand. And no Tracy, there wasn't a Hungary Ostrich in sight.

This was the place wher Princip, very fortunately, came across the arch Duke and his wife, Sophie. He fired two shots and killed them both.
Apparently one of these was the gun used to 'spark' WWI.

The Arch Duke was returning from the town hall. Built in the 1880s it survived WWI I and WWII. Then it housed the National Papers and Library of the Bosnian Government. Bosnian Serb forces fire bombed it in 1993. 

The other thing I learned was that Bosnia is sort of divided and the northern part is called the Republic of Srpska, practically a self autonomously Seb controlled area, with its capital Banja Luka. I enter Bosnia here and was, at the time,  a little surprised to see no ' Welcome to Bosnia' signs at the border. I guess that's because the don't really want to be associated with Bosnia so I was welcomed into the Republic of Srpska, not Bosnia. In many ways it seems like an uneasy truce.

My first night in Bosnia was camping (£3, including showers and wifi !) in Jajce. Near these amazing watermills.

Anyway, Bosnia and Sarajevo have been interesting, illuminating, thought provoking. ( Every time my guide today spoke about the Sarajevo siege of the 90s I couldn't help hearing 'Damascus today' and wondering what we should be doing to stop it.)

But there are many positives to take from Sarajevo. It is only 20 years and things are getting better. Yes, mankind does seem to spiral into the hell that is a Civil War far to easily, but we also come out the other side quite quickly as well. As I walked around Sarajevo I looked at people my age and thought, to misquote the famous UK WWI Propaganda poser ' What did you do in the war?' And I looked at those under 20 and wandered what they made of it all. Bosnia seems a very secular ( although I didn't think that at 6 am today with the call to prayer,) country with a great mix of people. With good guidance there is hope.

So here's a photo of the Sarajevo tram system

And one of Heidi and the campsite.

I 'm going to have another beer, then bed and then Montenegro tomorrow. Probably down to the coast because 30 degrees just isn't warm enough!!

Ha Ha. I was just about post this and a Brit has turned up on a Czech registered bike he's 'rented' for a week in Croatia. He tried to put his tent up, which he bought in a hurry at a supermarket, and it's a child's beech tent, just two sided and no floor! See, I'm not  the only muppet on the road. 

So, one more beer and I'll sing myself to sleep with The Cranberries 'Sarejevoo oo oo'. 

Saturday, 25 July 2015


Nervous, apprehensive, excited, worried, confused. I had all these thoughts swimming around my head as I set off on my trip. In fact they lasted for the first few days. You'd think that after all the travelling I'd done I would have got used to it, but not so. This trip will probably last 40 days but the feeling I get at the start will slowly dissipate and I may well forget it eventually so it needs to be said now. I still question why I'm doing this and worry about all the things that could possibly go wrong. On my first night, camping in Kent, I looked out at the sea, France was just visible on the horizon, and I tied to imagine myself riding a bike all the way down to the Balklans and back. It's a bloody long way! 

A reasonably uneventful ferry crossing was followed by a reasonably uneventful 200 across Belgium to a lovely little campsite on the Luxemburg border. Wifi let me communicate with Tracy as I had already created a problem for myself. At the campsite in Kent my smart phone had stopped working as when I took the back off ( I thought taking the battery out might help) the screen cracked. Now it won't work at all - totally unresponsive to my touch. Not so bloody smart after all.

So I have no phone. And therefore no easy way to take photos to put online. I have a small camera but can't upload the pictures and I have iPad but haven't used it to take any photos yet. Sorry, I'll remedy that asap.

I also carry a lot of my money with a preloaded Caxton MasterCard. But it appears to not work, a PIN number problem, even though Tracy used it in the USA a few months ago. So I have to email them and get that sorted out.

I don't know, I manage to ride half way around the world and when I want to go on a shortish easyish trip to the Balkans technology lets me down. 

Day three saw me ride across Luxemburg ( I knew  I had enter Luxemburg as I saw a sign that said so, and I knew I was in Luxemburg because I filled up on reasonably cheap petrol, but I didn't see where/ when I left Luxemburg so perhaps, in a way, I'm still there) 300 miles later I was in Augsburg, Bavaria - Heidi had come home - the B in BMW stands for Bavaria for those of you who know less than me :)

I have been to Augsburg once before, 29 years ago looking for work on my doomed GAP year. Then I was camping in van with two other people. It didn't end well. This time I'm on a perfectly performing Bavarian motorcycle and spent the night in a cheap IBIS Budget hotel (cheap in Europe means £30) 

The 18 year old me, in 1986, couldn't have dreamed of things like WiFi and IPads and the Internet. I wonder if the next 29 years will bring as many amazing changes. I doubt it. I think those of us old enough to remember life before the Internet but young enough to appreciate it now, really have lived through something special. I tell my teenage students this. And in a way I feel sorry for them. They can't, just can't, appreciate all we now have in the same way that we do. 

Or maybe it's just an age thing. 29 years is a bloody long time. I wish I could back to 1986 and tell myself to go to Berlin. But be quick about it, the wall won't be there for ever! I would have laughed. Oh and while you're at it buy a house, you won't believe what will happen to house prices!

I think I'm getting a little obsessed with the weather. Bloody Internet, tells you everything. And today it told me that a huge storm was coming through central Europe. Anyone out on the road, or camping would surely die after being hit by lightning. If you've read my book, or know me a little then you'll know that I've got a ( I would say perfectly legitimate and sensible) fear of lightning. So a slight change of plans for Saturday. Just 100 miles today to a small Bavarian village with a nice hotel, after an unexpected detour to visit Dachau Concentration camp.

You can take the History teacher out the classroom.....

I've been to a couple of Nazi concentration camps so I wasn't expecting to be overly moved by Dachau ( In the right way if you know what I mean) -  I was wrong. I took an audio tour and spent a couple of hours wandering around the vast complex, just north of Munich. I found myself at the crematorium  and was quick overcome by it all. I remember visiting the crematorium in Auchwitz and thinking that I never want to do that again, and then I find myself in Dachau's crematorium. 

Sometimes, as a History teacher, I wonder if I've become a little blasé about this sort of thing. And then I come to a place like this and while I'm wandering around, wondering why I spend a little time watching my fellow tourists. Although we're not really tourists or at least we're not supposed to be tourists. Dachau isn't, or at least to my mind shouldn't be, somewhere you go as a tourist. I didn't actually see any 'selfie sticks' but people where taking photos with themselves, smiling, in the shot. Chatting, loudly, about all sorts of things as they walked around and just generally oblivious to the quiet, reflective, somber ambience they were cutting through. 

As I sat, near the crematorium, contemplating man's ( and it is, usually man's ) inhumanity to man, and how we still haven't overcome this yet- I'm well aware that I'm on my way to the Balkans! - two British students passed me. Fully kitted out in rugger shirts, shorts, flip flops and carry loaded backpacks, one was even carrying a rugby ball with him. They were openly discussing the methods of the SS. 

'Travel broadens the mind' but sometimes it can be hard to see. 

*Less introspection and more (ie some)  photos next time, I promise. But at least I've remembered why I write a blog. It helps me process my thoughts and ideas as I'm on the road.

Four countries in one day tomorrow as I head to Croatia. 29 years ago an 18 year old me would have been astonished by that sentence. 

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

And I’m off. Heading to Kent today full of apprehension and excitement.(About the whole trip - not Kent)

 You’d think, with the amount of traveling I’ve done I’d have got used to it but the start of a trip is always a little exciting and worrying. I woke up this morning knowing that I won’t be sleeping in my bed again for 6 weeks. That’s exciting. I packed my bike up – that’s exciting and I looked at the weather forecast – always exciting!

I had planned my route out through Europe to Bosnia but got an email yesterday from Trent. Trent’s an American friend who lives in Alaska (I met him in Argentina in 1996) and he’s currently cycling in Europe with his family. I think he’ll be in northern Austria on Saturday so I might change my plans and ride across to see him for a day.

Other than that I’m ready to go. As Tracy isn’t coming I seem to have a lot of space on the bike but I’m trying to fight the urge to ‘take more stuff’ I know I don’t need it. I’ve had a big debate with myself over which tent to take. I have a small one and a large one. I know that if I’m camping and it’s raining I’d like to be in the larger one but can I really justify taking a 3 person tent which is quite big and heavy?? No, so I’m taking my small, light two person tent. I hope I don’t regret it.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

A day of packing, unpacking, re-packing. You'd think I had the hang of this packing thing by now!

Off to Kent tomorrow and then an early ferry ride to France. Spending the night camping in Belgium and then heading down through Germany to Austria.

Quick trip through Slovenia (I was in Slovenia last summer and it was an amazing country to bike in) and through Croatia and I should be in Bosnia by Monday.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Looking forward to talking to the Coventry and Warwick Advanced Motorcyclists Wednesday night.

And then preparing for my summer trip next week.