Some of the riders that we interviewed previously said something very interesting about adventures on motorcycles. Mihai Tica from Motorcycling.to, eventhough he went all the way to Mongolia and back, said you can have an adventure even stepping out from you home to buy a bread or a bottle of wine, it depends totally on you. The guys from Motoskeeters said that you don’t need to go to Siberia or South Africa to have a great adventure and althought they rode near 50.000km, one of the wildest rides was near Romania in the Balkans.So we looked for somebody that really enjoys riding in the Balkans and we found Marko from Maribor, Slovenia. Even better, last year, he made a trip in Romania, so besides the Balkans we got to ask him also how was the whole romanian experience.
1.First of all , tell us a little bit about you. When did you start riding motorcycles and how did you get stuck with this passion :)? What was your first motorcycle ?
My background is Slovenian countryside, where mopeds, lawnmowers and traktors are a part of everyday life, so all the boys start operating motorized machinery before primary school. As a little boy, I already rode a Slovenian brand moped, a Tomos, that belonged to my older sister. From there, I progressed to a Piaggio Scooter, and as a high school student, I saved up the money from student work at the local post office and contributions from my grandmother and I bougth myself a Daelim Daystar. It’s a 125cc Harley-look-alike, that took me all over my country and even to Austria a couple of times. It stayed with me for 10 years. At the age of 16, I did my first 2-day trip with motorcycle. When I started working as an engineer, I rented an RV with my friends, and we went to Romania and Ukraine. The day we returned, me and my friend decided – Let’s get proper bikes and travel Europe! And we did, he got the Honda Transalp, I got the a pretty beaten-up Honda CBF600, but it has proved to be reliable and comfortable. I count that as my first proper bike.
2.I saw you currently ride a Triumph Tiger 800XC , why did you choose this bike, what you like best about it ?
After I had sold the CBF600, I bougth a CBF1000 ABS, it’s a really nice bike to ride, but still, the trips got longer and longer and I sometimes wish to go on a bumby back road. When I first saw the Tiger, I was smitten. The styling is fantastic, aswell as the ride comfort. I think the greatest advantage of the Triumph Tiger in comparsion to the competition is the 3-cylinder inline engine. It’s super smooth, revs up high and is still quite torqey in the low revs. And I must admit, the legacy of the brand is also a factor, Triumph is supposed to be the inventor of the motorcycles as we know them today.
3.I went a little bit through your pictures and saw that you did a lot of riding in Europe. What was the first long trip that you took and what was the feeling of starting on a new adventure for the first time?
Well, my motorcycle took me to 12 foreign countries so far, and I still have a lot of stuff on my wish list. But my first trip was a very standard destination for Slovenian riders, it’s the Adriatic Highway. It’s really a perfect coastal road from port of Rijeka in Croatia all the way to Montenegro. I’ve learned some lessons there, for instance, early summer riding doesn’t mean no rain. So I bougth a rain suit in Podgorica at the KTM Dealership. Ofcourse, it rained before that, after that it didn’t. 🙂 The excitement was second to none and it still is. I like to travel, but for me, only travelling on a motorcycle gives a sence of a true adventure. Expectation of the unknown. I prefer rural destinations, cities don’t interest me. I never book a room in advance, so I never know, where I will sleep or where I will end up at night. Most people travell to places that are known to be nice to visit. I leave my house for the road, landscape, hidden gems that every country has to offer. It all adds up to this addiction that we all share.
4.I guess you really like the Balkans as I watched your videos I saw that in 2014 you went in Croatia and Bosnia, in 2015 you had a trip through Greece,Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro and Croatia, in 2016 you went back in Croatia and Bosnia along way the Adriatic Highway and last year you toured around Romania. What would be the best roads that you rode on the last years and you would recommend to other riders?
The Balkans is an obvious choice for motorcycle touring, it has all the features you need to have a great time riding a motorcycle. Especially when considering my starting point, Slovenia. Austria and Italy are beautiful, but they have two major faults. First of all, they are crowded with tourists, cars, campers, motorcycles, cyclists. You really can’t catch a nice road and not ride it in traffic. They are both too urban. Traffic lights, traffic cameras, houses, towns, villages. Everything is so steril. For me, the best comparsion is to the beach. If you walk out a 5 star hotel, down the stairs that lead directly into the water, with a nice new fence, it is nice. But it can’t compare to a beach, that has a natural pine forest behind you, no concrete, no ice cream stands, no beach chair rentals etc. The other terrible thing for me are the prices. A day of motorcycle touring is approximately twice as expensive in Central Europe. In Balkans, you never get pulled over by police, unless you did something really bad. And then you buy the police a beer and you can go on. The roads have pot holes, but the traffic is almost non existant on back roads. You can still find buildings that suffered in war, you can see cars from the Former republic of Yugoslavia driving around, there is no McDonald’s, Burger King, shopping centers (only in large cities). The people come to speak to you, they are happy someone visited their country, their little village. You rent a room by talking to a guy by the road, no need for credit card and smartphone. You can find abandoned old army airports, tanks, parked and left by the road, clear signs of old political regimes, horses with carriages, mules that are actually being used for agriculture…Baclan can really offer a sence of adventure.
All the countries in the Balkans are a true wonder, you can’t go wrong. But there are a few roads that you’ll never forget. To concentrate on roads outside of Romania first, what comes to mind is the road from Kotor, Montenegro, to a place called Lovčen and on to Cetinje. The views of Kotor Bay are spectacular, endless curves to enjoy riding and on the top, there is a mausoleum of a famous poet, Njegoš. From that mausoleum, you have a spectacular view of the mountains. One really hidden perfection of a road is in Greece, the road from Melates to Pindos and over Koziakas national park. High in the mountains, no traffic, you can enjoy curves, solitude, beautiful nature and simply enjoy riding. The above mentioned Adriatic highway has hours and hours of great sea views, perfect road surface and warm climate early in the spring and late in the fall. In Romania, there is a road, that made Romania famous around the world – and with a good reason. The Transfagarasan pass is a completly other dimension. Riding over cliffs, millions of curves, spectacular back drops, admiring tiny lakes, waterfalls, touching snow by the road even mid summer – and not having to pay for riding it? Hell yeah! Often overlooked, because Top Gear didn’t drive on it, is the Transalpina. The road surface is new, the landscape is beautiful and as a riding road, it actually gives you more pleasure, since it’s all sorted out and new. Thank you, Romania.
5.And since it isn’t all about roads, sometimes touring on a motorcycle is about discovering remote places, or historical tourist attractions, what would be you favorite places that you visited so far on two wheels ?
I like to take my motorcycle to places other people simply don’t visit, not in large numbers anyway. A couple of years ago, we visited Željava Airport in Croatia, right on the Bosnian border. It was presented on Discovery Channel now, but I think people still haven’t found it and it remains hidden from tourists to this day. It was an underground airport for military aircrafts. It was bombed by the Serbian army in the 90s, and is now a partly torn down runway, partly minefield (don’t go in the forest there), there are old abandoned planes, plane parts, barracks, hangars. A ghost town, a real treat to go there. Romanian Vulcanoes, Vulcanii Noroiosi (mud volcanoes) is something really amazing to see. It would be a real shame to skip that if you’re in Romania. The lunar landscape, misterious sounds and smells, the narrow road up there and large piles of active mud, burping from the underground really make you feel like you’re somewhere comletely different, not in Europe. The top of Transfagarasan pass, when you look down and see the monstrosity someone had set out to build, gives you chills. We also visited the Salina Turda, old salt mine, now an amusement park below the ground surface. It’s more of a family destination, but adults are just as happy in there as children 🙂 . In Greece, near the road described above, there is a group of monasteries, called Meteora. They were featured in a James Bond film, and they are a world famous tourist attraction and pilgrimage destination. Despite the popularity, the monasteries, built on cliffs, almost unimaginable, how, are a real treat to see. And the Koziakas national park is near, which is a spectacular alpine road, high in the hills.
6.During this trips did you had any issues , like mechanical failures or have you been in any danger situations ?
I’ve read somewhere: »Adventure is dangerous. But have you tried routine, it’s lethal!« 🙂 My neighbour died from falling into his glass living room doors one Sunday night. Being on the road brings certain risks, no matter where you ride. I feel safer in less populated areas, I try to avoid traffic, cities and so on. Statistics show, that riding local, known roads, generates more dangerous situations, because we are less alert on known territory. Also, when you visit new places, you ride slower, so that you can see more. My motorcycles are always perfectly maintained, and of good brands. And I had luck, I never had anyone brake down. In Greece, I had a flat tyre. My insurance covers road assistance and a lorry took my bike to a repair shop, where a »homegrown« village mechanic glued my tyre back together. It held perfectly. I’ve never had that feeling: »What the hell am I doing here? I wanna go home!«. The only nerve wrecking situation was in Albania, where we haven’t seen any people, houses, hotels, restaurants for 4 hours, it started raining, it was getting dark, and both of our petrol lights went on. We also didn’t have any Albanian money. With last fumes of petrol, we’ve reached a little village, it was already a foggy night, and we stopped at a petrol station. The guy didn’t understand anything but Albanian, which we ofcourse don’t know. We gave him our last 50 EUR bill and he sat on a small moped and drove away. We were confused, wet, hungry…after about 15minutes he came back, and he had those 50 EUR exchanged in 5 different currencies. We bougth some petrol, and with hand gestures, we even managed to communicate for him to recommed us a hotel. In Ploiesti, Romania, late at night, we found a little girl, pehaps 5 years old, sitting outside in the rain at 11pm on a Sunday night. I didn’t understand what she was saying, so I went to find a young couple, that spoke English and I asked them to come and help. Her mother had put her there to beg. It was a very sad moment, I felt helpless. But it’s a sad reality of every larger city, perhaps here it was just put more on a public display. Ploiesti was also the only city, place, ever, where the hotel had a 3meters tall fence around the parking spot with spikes on the top and a couple of cameras. I had a really good experience in Romania, I forgot my camera on a gimbal in a restaurant. The waiter ran a couple of hundred meters behind me, so he could return it to me. I also lost my motorcycle keys, they fell out of my pocket. I came back to my motorcycle and someone was walking around with my keys in his hands, hoping the owner would recognize them. The danger and excitement was a ferry ride in Braila, Romania. There is no bridge, so you have to cross the Danube river on a small ferry. The guy driving the ferry probably took a short nap and we crashed into the ponton ramp on the other side, totally destroying it, so we had to build the ramp ourselves to get off the ferry. It was quite funny, but the guys running the boat were useless, so the passengers did it ourselves. I think it is important you travell with someone you trust. Two people, that can depend on each other, can resolve just about any problem that comes along. I always ride abroad with the same friend, if one of us has a problem, we both share that same problem.
7.I believe a very important part of this traveling experience is meeting different types of people. I guess you met other travelers on the way. Do you remember any funny story or interesting encounter that you had on the way ?
There are actually two stories, that are really special and they come to my mind. On one of the first rides to Bosnia, near Bihać, we were approaching a small car from behind, with the letter L on the back. It was full of girls, and they started waveing at us from far away. I had my GoPro on my helemet and it was filming, and as I approached the car, one of the girls flashed her breasts to me. I was so shocked that I almost crashed into the bushes. It really made my rainy riding day a lot more sunny. I filmed her generous move, but on the video, you can’t really see everything, but enough to know it’s a true story. One does not forget an event like that.
The other event was a short encounter with a middle aged couple on the border between Bosnia and Montenegro, Kristina and Knut from Italy. We started talking in the traffic jam on the border, it was my first ever ride for one whole week, and I was really excited about it. They had a map on a pannier of their R1200GS Adventure showing their ride to Mongolia and back across Russia. Real adventurers. Anyway, that was in 2012. And last year, I went on a tour of the Alps and in front of a tiny mountain cabin, I noticed that same BMW with the map on the pannier, so me and my friend went inside and we talked again after 5 years. It was a really funny moment, and an unbelievable coincidence. I believe there will be a third encounter some day.
A true inspiration was a guy from Oxford, UK. I met him in Slovenia, he was on his way back after spending 5 months on the road. He went down accross Italy, to Sicily, and took a ferry to Greece, and returned up the Balcan. A lot of people does that, I guess. But he did it on a 110cc Honda’s Pizza delivery moped at the age of 70.
8.Coming back to last year trip, since we are a website that promotes motorcycling tourism in Romania, how did you like Romania? What was your experience with our country, in terms of interaction with people, nature, landscapes, roads?
First of all, Romania is a large country, and it is impossible to sum it up in one sentance. It has all that it takes to be high up on your list of countries to visit on a motorcycle and is growing in popularity. I had quite a lot of people asking me about it. I met an older guy on a motorcycle near Vulcanii Noroiosi from northern Germany, he was on the trip alone. He said that his friends were teasing him that he is crazy to go there alone and that in Romania he can be eaten by cannibals. A lot of that perception has to do with Romanian expats, who are often involved in crime and terrible driving habits in Central European countries. But what most people don’t realize, every nation has it’s problematic 5% of people and they tend to go and cause problems abroad, where they can stay under the radar easier. It is really unfair, because I’ve been to Romania three times already, and what I’ve experienced is great driving culture, better than at home, great culinarics, friendly people, prepared to talk and give directions, advice, whether in Englih or by hands, willing to talk to me in general. I’ve never had that unpleasant feeling, that someone might have a bad intention. The only exception perhaps would be the Gipsy settlement on the Southern Side of Transfagarasan , we’ve been warned about it by some students from Bucharest, they said just don’t stop. But to be honest, all European countries have those kind of settlements. Perhaps it’s more of a prejudice from fellow Romanians to their Gipsies, since they didn’t pay any attention to us while we were passing. Where I feel Romania should do a lot of work is the way they treat nature. You can sadly find illegal garbage disposal sites and it’s a shame, since the nature here is really beautiful. What I liked the most? Karpaty mountains as a whole. It’s just an endless green paradise, with high peaks, old buildings, stands with fresh forrest fruits and homemade honey and food by the road, waterfalls, rivers and pretty well maintained roads and plenty of offroading options. It gives the feeling of wilderness, time travel to the past even. If you don’t have enough time to explore Romania as a whole, just stick to Karpaty. However, it would be a shame not to explore the rest. The Bicaz Gorge is a natural wonder that leaves you speechless, and the landspace in that area in general is amazing. Hours of great views, hills, forrests, lakes. Motorcycling perfection. You rarely get a chance to ride in souch remote areas, without crashing into a city, highway, street lamps, sidewalks…It is really a vast rural area and that’s what makes it worth the long trip there for me.
9.You covered pretty much every thing that is to be seen in Romania,all the major tourist attractions, maybe you still have to come to checkout the Nord-Western part with Maramures, but besides that, you rode from the entering point of the Danube, through Transylvania, all the way to the sea-side, back up north to Bucovina and again through Transylvania out to Hungary. How did you prepare this trip, I see in the videos some places that are not very popular not even with the locals, where did you get the info?
I strongly disagree with the statement, that I’ve covered pretty much everything. I left Romania happy with my trip, with a desire for more, because you can’t help but wonder what else is there hiding from me to see. Just a quick glance at your website shows things still left to be desired. The entry point to Romania was predetermined, because we made a small business trip along the way, we visited the Đerdap Hydropowerplant, that is partly Romanian, partly Serbian. Me and my friend we both work in hydro energy, so it was our personal interest to do that stop, so we arranged a meeting at the powerplant. The Maramures County was in our plan, but unfortunatelly the weather made it impossible, since it was raining hard and it made no sence. The preparations lasted for a couple of years, actually. I sometimes take some time on google maps, street view, and mark locations on google maps and so I build a private archive of the things I want to see. I’ve seen Transfagarasan on TV, I’ve read about Transalpina on a local motorcycle forum, the rest was research, from TripAdvisor, Wikipedia and so on. But zooming in and seeing curvy roads is the main rule. Quite some stuff are found by coincidence, and we tend to stay flexible, we ask locals, we see a road that looks promising, or just simply like a name of a place on the road sign and make a detour. Often looking in the sky and seeing clouds gathering alters the destination. I enjoy the preparation, even more I love detours and last minute plan changes. They give the best results. That is the reason I never travel in groups, because then the reservations and sticking to a plan is a must. There were some stuff we just had to see. Besides the obvious (Transfagarasan and Transalpina), the vulcanoes and the Bicaz Gorge. Next time in Romania, Danube river delta and the above mentioned Maramures will be explored.
10.I saw that you rode on the Transfagarasan twice, you also rode on Transalpina, and other roads that are well known amongst the romanian bikers. The inevitable question that any foreigner receives is : Transfagarasan or Transalpina, what do you prefer ? 🙂 Are there other roads that you enjoyed very much and you would recommend them to other riders ?
The view that top of Transfagarasan offers is only challenged by two more roads in Europe I believe. One is the Großglockner Alpine road in Austria, the other would be the world famous Stelvio Pass in Italy. I’ve been to Großglockner, I haven’t been to Stelvio yet. You really feel a special joy up there, and it was obvious everyone else felt the same. I’ve never seen so many people stopping and staring at a road. It is just phenomenal. And when you start to descend down the south, wonders don’t stop, there’s a huge hydro accumulation with beautiful mountains surrounding it. Transalpina is superior as for the pure riding pleasure goes, the road is perfect, there are no trees, so you can see around the corners, you can reall push there, but you find great driving roads elsewhere also. You just don’t find the mad engineering behind the Transfagarasan elsewhere – and it’s free of charge! It stole my heart. I also really liked the first section, road number DN67D, from Baila Herculane to Targu Jiu. It runs over hills, it’s completely isolated, no fraffic, beuatiful landscape. First part is not appropriate for sports bikes though, it’s quite bumpy. Piatra Craiului National park offers great offroading, riding in nature. A really neat and tidy farming area. The only tiresome riding for me was between Ploiesti and Mamaia. It’s a flatland, and it was very windy and raining, the bikes were leaned against the wind, despite riding in a straigth line.
11.After this trip to Romania, would you recommend other foreigners to plan a moto-trip here ? What would you recommend them to see and to do ?
I invite everyone to take a look at my videos, a lot of what I count worth the attention is covered in there. I wouldn’t go home without visiting Bicaz Gorge, Salina Turda, Vulcanii Noroiosi, Transalpina and Transfagarasan . If you’re into history or not, Bran Castle and Peles Castle are almost a must. In summer time, Mamaia is a good place to take a day or two off on the beach, it’s a really nice resort, if that’s what rocks your boat. Definately plan an overnight in Brasov, it’s a beautiful historical city, with lots to do in the evening. If you like riding motorcycles, if you like nature, hills and vallies, a strong sence of history and tradition, if you find horses and carriages on the road amusing, with occasional shepperds with their flocks blocking the road, good, homegrown food at a reasonable price – you can’t go wrong with Romania. It has a lot to offer.
12.Probably there are people watching your videos and thinking to replicate your trips, but they just remain at the status of project. They think they don’t have the time or don’t have the money or both . Could you make a rough estimate on the money you spent during this trips, so that they could estimate a budget for a future dream trip ?
Overall standard in Romania is rising rapidly, which is good for Romanians, and not so good for tourist. However, it still is a very budget friendly destination, where you can easily find a decent bed and breakfast for 10-15 EUR, or 20 EUR for 2 persons, buy 1 liter of petrol for about 1 EUR, eat a rich dinner at a nice restaurant for 10 EUR, or a modest one for 5 EUR. Without restraining myself any »luxury«, I’ve completed the trip spending about 600 EUR in 12 days. The price includes all hotels/rooms, entry fees, petrol, food, snacks, drinks, even gondola to a mountain above Brasov. I’ve made about 4300km alltogether from my house, average fuel consumption was about 4,8 l/100km, which means, roughly 1/3 of the expense was petrol. Oh and I later got a 100 EUR ticket in my mailbox for speeding from Hungary, I’ve used 50% of my brand new tyres and 45% of my regular service interval. If you count that into expense of your trip, that is up to you. The most expensive place on this trip was Mamaia, and quite frankly, that was the only destination I could miss. All in all, I’ve spent a lot more for a lot less in other countries.
13.What are your plans for 2018 ? Did you already decided where are you going to ride this year ? 🙂
My plan is to ride as much as possible, if the weather, work and other factors allow me. I wish to visit the French Alps this year, Vercors Massif, Col de la Bonette and other famous alpine roads, some of which are also a part of Tour de France. We plan to travel there across Italy and back across Switzerland. We have quite long holidays on 1st of May, but my fear is that after this long winter in Europe, people will be skiingin the Alps instead of riding motorcycles during those holidays.
More videos from Marko’s trips can be seen on his youtube channel, here.