I leave Bulgaria for Serbia, rapidly crossing the border and reaching Nis on a road that switches from normal to highway and back (it hasn’t been finished yet). I meet with Stefania who shows the cathedral and a little of downtown, but we give up for the stifling heat and seek refuge in her house. In front of a good cup of coffee, we talk about motorbikes, trips and of our recent experience in South America.
The following day we visit what is left of the square tower, the 8-meter high, very unsual Skull Tower, built by the Ottomans back during the Balkans conquest: rebels skulls (up to 952!) were embedded in this tower to elicit terror among the Ottomans’ opponents. A concentration camp is next: Nazis used it to imprison Serbians, Jews, Slavs and partisans. The walls still bear the tally marks made by the prisoners. To visit these places and thinking of what happened gives me a sense of oppression. Human wickedness has no boundaries (even today).
The morning after, I say goodbye to Stefania, exquisite host and guide, and head towards the Danube. Through woods and hills, I get to Negotin, from which I take the road that flanks the Danube that marks the border between Serbia and Romania up to Ram. In Sip a hydroelectric dam restricts the flow of the Danube and acts as a bridge between the two borders. The road along the river is good and climbs the slops pf the mountains surrounding the river, curves and galleries alternating. And then, the Iron Gates. I’ve been curious about this place ever since my geography teacher back in school talked about this place along the Danube, and finally, after many years, I can satisfy my curiosity. It is a 3 km long channel, its width varying from 60 to 250 meters, a suggestive view. I pass through Veliki Gradiske and reach Belgrade the day after.
I enter Belgrade easily, but the buildings that welcome me are so ugly they can’t be looked at, cuboids with no sense, tall architectonical monsters. Saint Sava, one of the largest orthodox churches in the world (something like the St. Peter’s Basilica to us) is my first object. It sticks out from the trees surrounding it and has a nice pool with water features (there are many in the city) in front. It doesn’t have the impact of Sofia’s cathedral but it’s size is still considerable. After admiring it outside I go inside but I’m in for disappointment: since it’s being restored, it’s cordoned off. It’s a shame I can’t see the ceiling which has a diameter of 30 meters with an effigy of Christ. Desolated I am almost outside when I notice people coming and going from a door marked with “crypt” so I descend the stairs. Wow, call it “Crypt”. Since I’m used to ours that are rather dark and smallish, I’m taken aback: with all the gold and white marble it is so bright I need sunglasses. Even the chandelier is wonderful! Downtown there are historic buildings and wide open-spaces. Along the river there is the statue of Victory. I cross the recent Ada bridge and leave the city heading towards the Serbian/Bosnian border. Just for a change, once again a bridge marks the limit. Here too border crossing is swift. The road becomes less monotonous, the plain morphs into up to 800 meters high hills, and the air finally cools off a bit. I notice that there is a mosque in every town while there aren’t as many churches with the cross. This is a Muslim-majority territory. I reach Sarajevo descending a hill and realize that it is in a valley. After walking along the river for a bit, I plunge into the pedestrian street downtown. One immediately realizes the Islamization of Sarajevo, it’s like walking in an Arabic country. Yes, there are tourists, but the inhabitants strike me, especially the women with the chador or niqab, the burka is the only garment I didn’t see. I am stunned, young and old women are alike. I smile when I see women wearing the niqab and glasses because only the eyes are not covered, and glasses don’t fit very well. I try to discreetly take a few pictures, but they do not convey the situation. After the last wars and massacres, Islam rules. I admit that I’m not very comfortable. The day after leaving Sarajevo, I notice cemeteries with tiny white tombstones and I’m not near any towns or villages. I think they may be memorials to mass graves of the recent war. The road flanking a manmade lake is pleasant with high-mountain views because of its reflections. In Mostar I find a multitude of tourists. I walk to the bridge between two rows of souvenir stands and stores; as I get to it I stop, silently observing and thinking of when it was destroyed. This made the news worldwide, but few did something about it. We always talk about Hitler and his concentration camps but what about all these mass grave? Nobody is interested if there is nothing to gain (i.e. oil), not even the Vatican! Back on the road I head for the Bosnian/Croatian border, towards the sea. There is a long queue, but I avoid it and meet a Slovenian girl returning home on her Harley. Cool! In Bosnia the documents are ok, the Croatian customs is closed so I enter without being checked. I reach Ploce on the Adriatic coast and find a fantastic blue and crystal-clear sea. I came here 34 years ago (when it was still called Yugoslavia) but I didn’t remember it being so beautiful, with its climbs and descents that make you enjoy the little coves as well as the hugeness of the sea. Near noon I look for some shade since it is very hot. I find it and 2 meters away people are in the water. I wish I could dive in with my bike, even because my Red Ride is so hot I could cook a T-bone on its boxer! While I’m resting I meet another biker, Pippo from Lausanne, he too at the end of his tether. He rides a Harley 1460. We have lunch and chat about bikes and journeys. We exchange our numbers, maybe we’ll meet again, who knows. On my bike I arrive at Postrana.
The following day, due to the heat, I decide to return home all in one go. In Split I take the highway to Rijeka and cross the border with Slovenia, then Trieste and finally, at 07 pm and after 990 km, I’m back home just in time for dinner, surprising my Cristina who wasn’t expecting me! Big party.