It's offial: Since I left my hometown in South Germany more than four months ago, I cycled over 6000km through 14 countries to reach my next continent. Never before have I left Europe without the aid of airial support (read: airplane) and I feel great that I managed to do so by bike.
Leaving the Balkan
After spending months cycling up and down the Balkan, I learned a lot about its history and people. This region is still one of the most interesting and beautiful regions of the "old" continent. I would have liked to experience Yugoslavia during it's glorious days before it got split up in the "recent" wars that devasted much it's riches (recent enough to still influence the way in which the locals talk about each other).
I would be lying if I were to deny that there are still many problems in the Balkan. You don't have to actually be in the Balkan to know about corrupt politicians and other government officials, but travelling through those countries and talking to the people one realizes that the common attitude seems to be: If they cheat you, it's ok to cheat them. Cheating is simply part of the life-style. When I saw locals with nice bikes from brands such as KTM (which is sold mostly in Germany and Austria) I asked them where they got their bikes from. The answer was always that they bought it from somewhone who stole it and sold it to them for a fifth of the original price. I never had to dig for that answer, they proudly shared the fact that they got a really good bike for a really low price.
Ryo, a fellow round-the-world cyclist from Japan (we met on a nice road in Bosnia and Herzegowina) got his bike stolen in Belgrade while I was in Croatia. He got it back after rasing a serious media shitstorm on the internet and on national radio and tv stations.
Be all that as it may, change is coming and many of the ex-Yugoslavian countries are interested in joining the European Union (Croatia is supposed to join in 2013). I felt very safe cycling through the Balkan and even the Republic of Kosovo with it's occasional shootings and Bosnia and Herzegowina with its thousand of landmines didn't change that fact. The people have been very friendly and open towards me, helping me in many ways and making my decision to ride through the Balkan instead of all the Nordic countries worthwhile. In my experience this is the only part of Europe where hospitality and kindness towards strangers/travellers is still a major part of the culture. I love the Balkan and to everyone who has never been (be it backpacking or hotel tourists) I can only say: go pack your bags and visit the Balkans!
Next up: More about my last few countries, touring with my brother and my upcoming plans …