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Roadtripping the Balkans

After working in Făgăraș, a new part of my journey began: Accompanied by Jana, we continued our road trip on the mountain pass Transfăgărășan, visited Sibiu (Hermannstadt) and Hunedoara (Eisenmarkt) in Romania, crossed Đerdap National Park and Novi Pazar in Serbia and went all the way to Montenegro.

roadtripping-romania-serbia-and-montenegroInfo: Sibiu is also called Hermannstadt and Hunedoara is called Eisenmarkt because historically, there has been a strong influence in Romania from the German population. In fact, the influence still is pretty big nowadays. The two largest groups of so-called Romanian Germans were the Transylvanian Saxons and Banat Swabians, who were widely spread across the country until the end of the Soviet Union.

Eventually, Romania seemed like it wanted to give us lasting impressions before leaving:

"A full blown thunderstorm is coming up. When I get the 'extreme warning' as a phone notification, I'm already sitting in a café looking out into the rain, while I wonder if Fred is a Faraday cage even with the roof setup. Above this city, there is lightning and thunder with an intensity I have never experienced before." (Diary, 27.06.23)

The drive through Serbia was not always ideal either. The common romantic idea of road trips in a van with lots of music and endless good vibes, is not always correct, I guess:

"We are on the Serbian side of Đerdap National Park. With the third plastic bottle drifting by in the river, I notice that this place has become significantly dirtier in the last two years, but apart from that, the landscape has hardly lost any of its charm. Before continuing our journey into the Serbian mountains, I used the Romanian network at the border to work and I noticed how much tension I had built up on myself previously. Besides my regular tasks, my to-dos are currently piling up and I don't know exactly when I'm supposed to get them done, because a 10-hour-drive was coming up the next day, during which I couldn't make myself believe that I've done anything worthwhile, even with the most intelligent and in-depth podcasts. Although we drove through beautiful landscapes in Serbia's south and treated ourselves to cevapi with Kaymak on the way, by the time we arrive in Novi Pazar I just didn't feel like driving anymore. It was dark by then, I stepped into a dog pile in front of the Lidl and on top of all that, the access to our chosen parking space was closed, which is why we chose a parking spot in front of it. In the morning light of the next day, this turned out to be an unofficial rubbish dump. Also, there was a dead sheep on the hill nearby. Thus, I was surprisingly happy when the engine started running again." (Diary, 27.06.23)

However, Serbia was also surprising us in a positive way, because when a road was blocked on the way to Montenegro, many helpful people with a good knowledge of German helped us along, so that we ended up driving the bypass through the mountains in a motorcade. They even made a detour from their route for us, offered us an overnight stay at their place and finally wished us a good journey. Once again, I was impressed by the people in these areas, who maintain an unbelievable degree of cordiality between potholes and open waste burning sites.

Arriving in Montenegro, Plav was our first stop: we parked by the lake, swam in the ice-cold water and dried in the sun. Our quick stopover turned into a two-night-stay. And Albania, too, eventually made me forget about the hardships of driving:

"It took me one day to re-understand, why I was so in love with Albania the last time I travelled here. The route behind the border is like a road trip fairy tale: 50 km of pass streets right through the mountains, decent street conditions, dreamlike views and dizzy heights. On the way we saw cows, pigs, sheep, goats, donkeys and even a turtle on the road before finally taking the entrance to the valley towards Theth. From there it went uphill again, but with significantly narrower roads and oncoming traffic. For almost an hour and a half we drove up and enjoyed the view. I got into an absolute flow state with Fred as I drove, became one with the car and knew exactly how to make my way between the crash barriers, trees and other cars. Just before Theth we helped a group of Albanians who stranded because of a broken tube in the car. Never have I been more happy to give away an old piece of tube and cable ties from my car." (Diary, 28.06.23)

On my trip to the Balkans in 2021, Fred himself had an accident in Albania, where the left side in front with the fender, side mirror and headlight was pretty battered. What sounds unpleasant at first became one of my favourite travel memories. At the next repair shop, three guys fixed the car so that I made it to Germany without any problems afterwards. They used a crowbar for the metal, two-component glue made from glue and cigarette ashes, a lot of cable ties and an hour's time. Back then, they gave me the feeling that, after all, there was no problem. A nice feeling, I think: learning that the world is sometimes much simpler than one may think it is.


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