Saturday, June 10, 2006

Bijeljina, Bosnia

Friends: Pizza Bosnia-style comes with a knife and fork and a ladle of ketchup, but it tastes like any pizza you'd find down the block. The biggest surprise was the one dollar slice I thought I ordered turned out to be a whole pizza--easily the best bargain of this trip. That was no problem for this ever fuel-greedy cyclist.

The pizza was in lieu of a burek, a doughy sausage concoction of three long, tight swirls that at first glance looks like a pretzel. The cafe adjoining the Bingo supermarket offered nothing but pizza. I'd prefer sticking to local fare, but it was nice to have my curiosity satisfied as to what a Bosnian pizza might be. Many of the small cafes and fast food joints advertise hamburgers and hot dogs and pizza along with the local fare of bureks and such. The burek for a dollar is a meal for most. Two bureks is usually more than I can manage, leaving me a few bites for further down the road.

Bosnia has not only provided the best eating of this journey, but the best cycling as well. The three hundred miles I have cycled across its northern tier have been along one river after another through rich agricultural valleys with minimal traffic and no amenities catering to tourists, not even decipherable road signs. I was fortunate to meet someone early on who decoded the main cities of my route for me so I could stay on track.

The grades have been minimal except a climb of ten miles or so that gained a couple thousand feet to cross from one valley to another to pick up another river. The camping hasn't been as easy as I'd prefer, as the countryside is one succession of small farmsteads, each with a giant three-story house with floors designed for NBA-players. Another of the difficulties has been how soggy the ground is from all the rain. And with the highs barely 60 degrees and only occasional peeks of the sun, the fields haven't had a chance to do much drying. It gets down into the 40s at night, making early starts not so easy.

My route has included a couple of frighteningly decrepit nuclear plants that I was happy I didn't have to camp anywhere near. The one in Tuzla had four smoldering smokestacks surrounding by a vast network of rusting infrastructure. Tuzla was a warren of decaying Soviet-style apartment complexes. The light towers on the stadium were horribly rusted. The city was like the set for a post-apocalyptic movie. It was just another of the many sites along the way that let me know I was journeying through a land unlike any other I've encountered.

Serbia is just a few miles away. With twenty days to cover about 1500 miles to get back to France before The Tour starts I won't risk continuing further east for a quick swing into Romania. Instead, I'll be heading north to Hungary and the Czech Republic. It's tempting, however, just to keep going east to Greece and Turkey and beyond, but that will have to await another time.

Later, George

No comments: