Turkey to Croatia

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Turkey to Croatia – 3 months

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This trip manifested due to my interest in a number of ancient sites in Turkey and my desire to join a volunteer program to excavate some potential pyramids in Bosnia, so I planned a trip around Turkey which would pass through Bulgaria and the Balkans.

 

10. Turkey Splits

My Route for the trip, mostly bike but some car

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Turkey – 6 weeks

Turkey became one of my favourite countries due to its extremely friendly people, its unique geological areas and its layered history with civilisations such as the Romans, Greeks, Lycians, Thracians, Hittites and there are Islamic and Christian influences from more recent times. There are some amazing parts of the countryside; from the Turquoise coast to Cappadocia and there are unique sites like the chimaera (flames coming out of the ground) and Pamukkale (terraces of carbonate left by the water flowing from a mineral rich spring) Quite frankly for someone who likes variety Turkey cannot fail to impress.

I flew to Istanbul in May 2012 and spent 3 weeks cycling from Istanbul to Antalya (covering 996 miles in 17 cycling days), then I met Steph and we hired a car for 2 weeks, using it to cover just over 5000km. Steph then flew home and I took a bus to Edirne to continue cycling into Bulgaria.

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Week 1

I arrived in the cheap-mans airport about 30km from Istanbul (Easyjet) so due to the time of arrival I took a ferry to Yalova, camped up a hill and then took another ferry in the morning to the centre. I stayed a night in Istanbul to check out some of the sights, the best of which I thought were the blue mosque and the Basilica Cistern – the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city. On the third day I cycled out of the city and had the worst cycling day I have ever had, through endless miles of industrial estates, shopping malls and generally ugly development and then a pretty shitty day ended with torrential rain causing me set up camp in a mosque that was being built. The countryside was pretty boring, except for a nice section of coastline on day 5, but the week ended with a visit to the very interesting WW1 battlefields where the Allies tried to invade Turkey but we were slaughtered, the Aussies and Kiwis being affected particularly badly.

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The Blue Mosque

10. Marmaraa

My route around the Istanbul area

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Approaching Istanbul on the ferry

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The Underground Basilica

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Leaving Istanbul

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Sleeping in the mosque/building site

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The WW1 graves

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At the entrance to Troy

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Hiding from the rain

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Week 2

Week 2 began with a visit to the ruins of Troy which were ok but not amazing, more of a “got the T-shirt” sort of place, then more storms and heavy rain caused me to get a hotel room for a night before continuing on to the Pergamon acropolis, some really cool Greek ruins on top of a hill with great views over Bergamon and the surrounding valley. The North Aegean coastline was quite nice with cute little fishing villages but I was short on time so whizzed through most of them. The week ended with a visit to the amazing Roman ruins of Ephesus the most complete Roman city after Pompeii.

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The Pergamon acropolis ruins

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A nice view to wake up to

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Week 3

Week 3 was really tough; the heat got hotter and I was drinking 6+ litres of water a day, just before I arrived in Fethiye a bolt (holding one of my front pannier racks to the bike) snapped and in such a way that a piece was lodged in the hole, plus one of my tent poles snapped.

The week started by me doing a couple of 70 mile days to make up some time and I ended up cycling through some nice countryside (in particular the rock formations south of Aydin). I kept meeting really nice people who gave me water and chocolate bars and then in Fethiye I needed the help of a man with a drill to remove the snapped bolt from my bike and he refused to take my money. There were plenty of sights to visit, starting with Kaya Koyu – a town abandoned during the 1923 population exchange (when the Turks made all the orthodox christians move to Greece and the Greeks made all their Muslims move the opposite way), it was an intersting open-air museum if not a bit eerie. After Kaya Koyu I spent 3 days visiting Lycian rock-cut tombs at Xanthos and Myra and Roman ruins at Xanthos and Patara, the site at Myra was particularly impressive as it was a rock-cut city. To end of the week I visited the chimaera – natural gas flames exiting the ground near Cirali.

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Ephesus – the library

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Ephesus – One of the roads

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A gift

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My repair to a snapped pole

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Flames coming from the ground

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The lycian ruins of myra

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The abandoned village of Kaya Koyu

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The beautiful coast and its islands

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Corn Flakes at Pamukkale

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The spring at pamukkale

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Traditional dancing

 

 

Weeks 4 and 5

These 2 weeks were an amazing part of the trip, packed full of highlights. On the first day we drove to Pamukkale, an area with chalk like rock made from a spring full of minerals then on the 2nd day we drove across the country to Cappadocia, stopping to visit Catalhoyuk, a significant neolithic site. Then we arrived in the simply magical Cappadocia, checked into a hotel in Goreme and watched a traditional dance competition being held in the centre, with people dancing in typical costume. We spent 4 days exploring the area and it became one of my favourite highlights, with beautiful scenery, amazing rock formations formed from the erosion of volcanic rock, thousands of rock cut villages, temples and churches and underground cities. We saw Kaymaklı one of 40 underground cities in the area which are built like rabbit warrens, Kaymaklı was believed to have housed 30,000 people and made up of 8 floors.We stayed in a town in the Ilhara Valley where they had restaurants with tables in the middle of the river, then we drove from there to the top of Mount Nemrut, to the site of some massive stone heads. We arrived about 10:30pm having used a lot of fuel and slept in the car under a really clear starry night, so clear that the Milky Way looked like a cloud. We woke up early at the top of Mount Nemrut so that we could enjoy the sunrise and see the huge sculpted heads.

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After seeing the massive heads we almost ran out of petrol, having to use gravity to help us reach a petrol station but then from there we continued on to Sanlıurfa, a city close to the Syrian border. We based ourselves in Sanlıurfa for 4 days and from here visited Gobekli tepe – a site where they are uncovering some stone circles which may change our understanding of history and when civilisation began. It is believed to be 12000 years old but has some unexplainable stone work and also is believed to be a religious site. We visited Harran with its famous beehive houses and Bazda cave which is far less known but was a massive cave that seemed to have been carved by machines or very big people. We went on a little road trip from Sanlıurfa towards Iraq stopping in Mardin for great views over the Syrian plain We slept a night in Hasankeyf in a restaurant under the stars, we passed a town called Batman and Diyabakir with its big castle walls. Hasnakeyf was a little town set on the banks of the river Tigris that has been there for 11000 years and you could really sense the history – there were the ruins of a Roman bridge and other older buildings. We were really sad to hear from the local family we stayed with that the powers that be are building a dam that will flood the town in about 3 years. The week ended with us driving 950km back to Antalya where we intended to chill for a week before Steph flew home.

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watching the sunrise on mt nemrut

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some of The heads

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kaymakli underground city

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Rock formations cappadocia

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The restaurants in the river

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gobekli tepe

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found at gobekli tepe

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the mosque in sanliurfa

 

 

Week 6

Relaxing in Antalya – eating, using the pool and a few drinky poos

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Chilling with Steph

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Antalya

 

Back on the Bike

I took the bike on a bus to Edirne in North Turkey, close to the border with Bulgaria. I crossed into Bulgaria and spent 2 ½ weeks cycling around but it didn’t have that much to offer, especially not for someone cycling through on a limited budget in 40°C heat.

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Taken just before an 18 hour bus ride up to Edirne

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Edirne Mosque

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A dolmen I visited on the way to Bulgaria

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Bulgaria – 16 Days

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I was looking forward to Bulgaria but it turned out to be a little disappointing, I often spent time cycling to an alleged “highlight” on the tourist map and came away saying “Is that it” (although I can’t deny it may have suffered from following Turkey, which was a fantastic country). There were still has some nice places and on these cycle trips interesting things can happen, and did happen in random places.

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One of the resorts on the black sea

I crossed the border at Malko Turnovo then cycled through Strandzha National Park until I reached the Black Sea coast and spent 3 days cycling from one Benidorm-esq town to another. The Black Sea coast was really touristy, conveyer belt tourism like Benidorm and other cheap resorts around Europe. Nesebar was a cute town, a unesco world heritage site with some nice churches, cobbled streets and it was set on a kind of peninsular/island, or at least soon to be island.

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From Varna I headed West until Koprivshtitsa zigzagging over mountains and through valleys and stopping at the Stone Forest (Rock formations that look like trees), Stara Zagora (to visit some Neolithic remains with some interesting figurines), Kazanlak (with its famous Thracian tomb, shaped like an igloo) and then onto Kalofer and Karlovo both full of statues and other memorials to the revolutionaries that fought the Turkish/Ottoman rule. Koprivshtitsa was a cute mountain town that had colourful buildings, as did the Unesco historic centre of Plovdiv which also had roman ruins. In fact Koprivshtitsa  was so nice I got a hotel room for the night so that I could enjoy the scenery and atmosphere.

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The Valley of the roses

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Flakes in the Stone forest

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A Thracian Tomb

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The Valley of the Roses area was full of towns which produced revolutionary heroes that fought the Turkish/Ottoman rule, there were statues and memorials everywhere .

 

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A statue of a revolutionary

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Colourful houses in Plovdiv

 

Just before I reached Plovdiv I got food poisoning so my progress lessened a little but I still managed to cycle up and over hills to reach the The Bachkovo Monastery (with its famous paintings) and the amazing ruins at Perperikon.

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The ruins of Perperikon

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Perperikon was the best place I visited in Bulgaria, a large megalithic site (largest in the Balkans) situated on a 470m high rocky hill, thought to have been a sacred place dating back to 5000BC. There were some amazing rock cuttings/carvings which looked like some sort of metal works or processing plant, something where they needed liquid to flow between chambers with holes and channels joining many chambers, very interesting and requires further investigation.

(Click for more info)

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My food poisoning was either from mouldy bread or some dodgy salami, both of which I had to eat as I was in the mountains before Plovdiv, but I learned from my Greece Lightning trip and got antibiotics straight away so was only feeling dodgy for 4 or 5 days.

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It then took me 3 days to cross the mountains to the area of Melnik which was amazingly hot and dry but had another cute town, another monastery and some spikey rock formations they call the “pyramids”. From Melnik I cycled to Macedonia, my journey a little longer than it should have been as I went around a road block and discovered that it was there because a bridge had collapsed and you couldn’t cross the river.

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So in summary not a bad country but nothing special and bloody hilly, I’ve had very few flat moments the hole trip but I struggled a bit more on this part of the trip due to the heat.

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Crossing the Pirin Mountains

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Macedonia – 1 week

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Macedonia is a small but very mountainous country with pleasant people and nice scenery. Famous for Alexander the Great and poppies apparently but personally I would say that Macedonia is like a massive farm and should be famous for vegetables or tractors.

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There were churches and mosques with more mosques closer to the border with Albania, it was nice to see two religions co-existing. Orhid was a nice touristy destination located on a scenic lake and I decided to get a hotel room partly due to my desire to shower, have a beer and also because I couldn’t resist a room for 8 Euros.

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Cycling up hill in mountainous macedonia

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A mosque close to the Albanian border

Skopje was a massive city but quite pleasant as far as capitals go, with quite a lot of greenery and not too much traffic or too many big buildings. They had red double decker buses and a main square full of statues. Before crossing in to Serbia I spent half a day cycling uphill, in 40 degree heat, to see a megalithic observatory called Kokino which had some great views and some interesting shaped rocks, but to be honest it was no Stone Henge.

I had my Corn Flakes in a tractor, a dedication to the large number I saw in Macedonia and the very nice owner who let me sit in it.

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“Macedonia – a nice country, with nice people and plenty of veg.”

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Tractors were everywhere

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The ancient observatory of Kokino

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Tractors going home in the evening

 

Serbia – 18 hours

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I cycled in to Serbia at 7pm, camped in the woods and then crossed in to Kosovo at lunch time the day after. What I saw was some mediocre countryside and some miserable people but I was only there for 18 hours so this could just have been bad luck, but the mood of the people was very obvious once I had crossed the border into Kosovo.


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Kosovo – 2 days

 

The Kosavan People were really warm people, with people stopping their cars to get out and talk to me, kids racing me and I was always coming across people who were chatty, friendly and curious.

On the day I cycled into Kosovo I saw many convoys of cars decorated in ribbons, waving flags, beeping their horns or shouting while standing up out of the sun roof. Most of the flags were Albanian as I later found out 96% of Kosovans are of Albanian dissent and they seemed very proud of this fact.

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He won the race

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A stretched Limo, one of the processions

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The statue of Skanderberg the Albanian national hero

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I went through Pristina the Kosovan capital but there really wasn’t much to see, the mosque and the government building was dilapidated and apart from a prominent statue of Skanderbeg (the Albanian hero) it was just another city.

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After Pristina I cycled towards Peje and saw loads of memorials and statues paying tribute to people that died fighting for their country, most of them had died recently.

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A memorial to those that fought not too long ago

That evening I set up my tent in a field and an hour later a thunderstorm made me move, it was quite strange because there was virtually no wind and then over a couple of minutes it was strong enough to make me move.

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Signs specifically for tanks

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The family that insisted I stop and take their photo

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There were some interesting things I noticed while cycling through the country, there were signs on the bridges that not only had the maximum weight for trucks that could cross but also the maximum weight for tanks. There were also lots of British and American flags, which I later found out from a friendly guy that pulled over his car and introduced me to some of his friends, that the Kosovans are grateful because the UK and USA bombed the Serbs. I was also stopped by a family who wanted me to take a photo of them, they tried to get money from me but failed.

I had some corn flakes just before the mountain range that crossed into Montenegro, and shortly after was offered a ride on a tractor pulling a trailer. I jumped at the chance and loved sitting on a tractor as the driver drank beer from cans as we climbed 30km to the top. We crossed the border and I laughed as when we had passed he told me he was a policeman, obviously no breathalyzers in Kosovo.

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One of my corn flake shots

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My 30km ride on a tractor

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My policeman friends breakfast

Kosovo – Nothing special, as there rarely is in these small countries, but well worth a visit due to the nature of the people.

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I entered Montenegro full of beans having avoided the 30km climb to reach the border with the tractor ride. I arrived thinking I was ahead of time but that was soon to change. I had been in the country for a couple of hours and was eating some mackerel sandwiches when the heavens opened, I waited and waited as it was torrential rain and ended up having a couple of beers to pass the time. After about 4 hours the rain calmed down so I jumped at the chance to continue on but it soon intensified again and I was completely soaked by the time I arrived in Berane. I looked at getting a hotel but the cheapest I could find was 20 Euros, luckily for me the rain was stopping so I carried on and camped in a field where I was dinner for millions of mossies.

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Montenegro – 2 days

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waiting for the torrential rain to pass

The next day I had breakfast at a viewpoint overlooking a nice river before I started the first of my big climbs. It took me about 3 and a half hours to climb 10 miles but the views from the top were well worth the pain of climbing, there was a beautifully shaped mountain hiding in the clouds and the forest was lush and green. I descended down to Kolasin for lunch before I had another smaller climb followed by a nice descent in to a beautiful valley that led into my second big climb. I came to a bar with some drunk locals and they very easily persuaded me to stop climbing and camp in a field opposite the bar. They then bought me a few beers and it was really nice sat drinking some cold beer with amazing mountain scenery listening to the locals laugh hysterically.

My second big climb started the next morning and it took me 4 hours to climb 8 or 9 miles including time to stop and take some Corn Flake shots. I was expecting a nice descent but instead had 10 miles of up and down which took me ages and I lost my temper with the universe while descending down into Savnik for a late lunch. After Savnik I had my third big climb before a well-deserved lengthy descent into a valley that led towards to Pluzine, I camped in this valley, cream-crackered from the climbing.

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camping in the mountains

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The fellas who bought me some beers

 

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The beautiful pluzine area

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the lake became a river

 

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Next day I had more ups and downs before arriving in Pluzine for a late breakfast. From here there was a beautiful turquoise lake, which was actually a river with a big dam at the end of it. The road followed the river as it twisted through a canyon and went through loads of tunnels before reaching the dam. From the dam the river became thinner, quicker and more vigorous as it weaved through a beautiful canyon, it was a really nice 20-30 miles of cycling which continued after the border with Bosnia. The whole area was full of rafting companies and the rivers were perfect for it.

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Pluzine

This time my experience of Montenegro was completely different – during my previous visit I found the people to be moody and didn’t think that much about the scenery, thinking it was ok. This time I found the people much more pleasant and thought the scenery was fantastic, very mountainous which caused some suffering but beautiful and worth the effort.

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Bosnia – 3 weeks

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It took me a couple of days to get from the Montenegrin border to Visoko, where I stayed for 2 weeks excavating some potential uncovered pyramids. I crossed a bridge to cross into the country and followed rivers flowing both up and down all the way until I arrived in Visoko. The cycling was really nice as roads that follow rivers tend to have gentle gradients plus these went through canyons and lush green forests.

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the bridge across into bosnia

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entering the valley of the pyramids

I arrived a day early and went to the hotel where the volunteers were offered cheap beds and food but decided not to stay as it was 15 Euros, a bit of a dump and I didn’t like the miserable hotel owner. Instead I dried off my stuff, fixed my tent and camped up a really steep hill overlooking the Pyramid of the Sun and Visoko. The next day I had my corn flakes in the morning then went for a cycle to try and work out which pyramid was which, before checking in, cleaning myself and my stuff and then having some beers with my fellow volunteers.

On the Monday we met Dr. Sam Semir Osmanagich and he took us on a tour of the tunnels and the Pyramid of the Sun, explaining how he found the pyramids and what they have discovered since.I worked 3 days in the tunnels removing the rubble in tatty old wheel barrows then 4 days working on a couple of different excavation sites on the Pyramid of the Sun. I thought the experience was fantastic, meeting like-minded people and investigating what’s going on in this little town just North of Sarajevo.

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The first pyramid I saw

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The pyramid of the sun

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Corn flakes and the shadow of the pyramid in the background

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Removing concrete from a crack

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We found a warm stone on top of the pyramid

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Excavating at the ravne tunnels

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My cycle around the another valley

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A concrete coating ??

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Click to view or download a full report of my experience during those 2 weeks or you can check out the Modern Explorers Website page

The trip was over after 5 pretty uneventful days in which I cycled about 200 miles to Split and flew back to the UK on Thursday 16th August with my bike.

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The Adriatic coastline

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Camping on my last night of the trip

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Split cathedral

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For More Details

My Travel Blog Link

For A country by country look at this trip with bigger photos.

Turkey    Bulgaria   Macedonia    Kosovo      Montenegro     Bosnia     Croatia

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My Book Link

diary extracts from this trip and all the other trips I went on in my 1st 10 years

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i also wrote articles for the United Networker Magazine about different parts of this trip

Spain Pages 1 + 2

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