The trip that change you: Giovanni Carone tells us his journey

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Viaggio in bici


There is a very special kind of trip that in addition to knowledge of places leads to self-knowledge. That ‘s what I want to tell, and that led me to bike through the roads of Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and Macedonia. A journey tackled without the stress that afflicts man and that comes from the dissatisfaction in not being able to express own feelings. A trip-challenge, only in the company of my inseparable companion Bianchi Camaleonte, that I also lived a journey of soul searching and that from the beginning I wanted to share with friends and acquaintances on my Facebook profile. This sharing of the most significant moments of my journey, which began to entertain myself pleasantly, then appealed to many, and many have followed my adventures and my, few, mishaps.

I left from the port of Bari to Dubrovnik on the evening of September 22 and, driven by great enthusiasm, the day after I had crossed four borders at the rate of 70-80 km a day. This is Yugoslavia today… – I found myself thinking. Then I had to deal with the weather, meteorologically speaking. There is a “pizzica” (typical song of Salento) dedicated to the sailors that reads: “underwater and downwind we sail”. Well the first day for me was the same thing: just replace sail with cycle. But traveling with the bicycle you must put these things into account and I left equipped. Every morning, breakfast at 8 with local coffee, lunch at 13 and reaching the daily destination within 18. This roadmap. But turning a bike you do not miss anything, both the good things that the bad things. And one of these is that you see many dogs in cages or tied to chain inmates to life without having committed any crime. It is even more sad to see those people that put them there, running with impunity on the loose.
It’s gruesome, you’ll take an anger, poor creatures! They are so unaware of what happens to them, and you find yourself – in a strenuous climb under water – almost without realizing it, to cry for them!

Among the “misadventures” I want to tell what happened to me in Mektovic in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I went to a pizzeria of the old town and had a great weariness of the sleepless night on the ship, the 112 km with several climbs and 16 kg of luggage in a very hot day. So soon to bed with the other faithful companions that I brought with me, the books “In alto a sinistra” by Erri De Luca and “La ferocia” by Nicola Lagioia. After reading a few pages, I took a look at the map to the stage of the day and I collapsed in sleep, but after a while I suddenly woke up! I felt annoyed by something, a kind of itching all over the body, but it was not a real itch, more than anything else was a tingling, and in fact not resisting more I turned on the light. And I found the bed invaded by tiny ants! It was 11,30 p.m. and from the room I called the front desk: immediately came a boy half asleep and we found that the ants lurked behind a wood handrails. I thought, it can happen! The boy immediately, apologizing and with much embarrassment, gave me another room. The next morning, I go down to breakfast, then I’m going to say goodbye and leave the room key, and here’s the surprise: a thirty year’s old guy, plump and bald (owner Mark), comes and hands me what I had paid the day before asking again sorry. I told him that it was not fair to give me the money back, and he asked me, with roles reversed what would you have done?! Then I took half of the money and gave it to tip the guys on reception! And so there was a nice smile from everyone. So resuming the march, I reflected on the incident: in these parts are not rich but they have dignity to spare!

And at this point we start to talk about the trip. After four wonderful hours pedaling mountain under a heavy rain, here it tick, between a curve and the other appears Mostar: the city of the bridge! But first I’ll tell you something that has to do with the gastronomy of these places: in Konijc, a pretty village in the center of the Bosnian state, one of the specialties is the sheep roasted whole. This is the menu: a big platter of roasted sheep for eight hours, a salad, a dish of baked potatoes, two beers and a coffee, all for just 8.50 euros. The next day I’m more than ready to face up to the beautiful descent of about ten kilometers leading to Sarajevo. Here the first thing that struck me were the trains that still retain the air of that Yugoslavia very very Soviet. The second is, by contrast, the modern bike path that runs along the river Mijljaka. But the most beautiful thing that I’ve seen in Sarajevo was neither the landscape, nor one of those museums (all sad). The real museums of the city are the squares, the people, the smells, the sounds. But among all this what will bring in the heart is the small hand that a wonderful “gypsy girl” named Valentina, who was in the street with the young mother and her two little brothers, has given me for a charity. Valentina with her eyes blacks and his sweet voice made up for all the hard work of my rides and annihilated all those treasures deposited in museums in Sarajevo…

I start driving again in a sort of infinite Aspromonte in which it seems is always night. After 16 hours of buses and three hours by train, I come back to the bike to the trials that will lead me to Belgrade first in the open bush, then to 100 km in the plains and even the last 56 km on the highway. I arrived in Belgrade at 13.00: there was a complex adjacent to the station with tons of tents to house the refugees who are migrating to Northern Europe, that of well-being. Then I took the bus to Sofia. When I pedal, between the effort and the fatigue I have little time to think, but in the train I really sad and I begin to feel the lack of Dartagnan, my Golden Retriever waiting for my return home. The weather does not include improvements then I take the train to Varna on the Black Sea, a beautiful city, a sort of Genoa compared to Constance, who instead could be assimilated in Naples.

I lived the day stop like if I lost a year in school, so I had to recover: there were to do 160 km that I thought flat, instead of over a half was like Gargano with ups and downs, but the hardest part was the middle of the course where I had to fight against a strong and cold wind called Burian. But the idea of crossing the border Bulgarian/Romanian in the company of my “Bianchi Camaleonte 5” has created such an adrenaline rush that I could put even a bag of cement on the roof rack and I would have made the same! Last frontiers: Macedonia and Albania. I arrived in Skopje, a very nice city, very Southern Europe/east. A small Sarajevo, other than metropolis Bucharest and Sofia, and very welcoming. The only one not welcoming me in the best way was Zatlan, a dog that has seen fit to bite me in the leg. I had to go into hospital, a step not provided but it’s all part of the journey, as I said at the beginning of the story when you travel you can make it to learn and to know, not only for fun but you must always take into account the unexpected, that then (at the end) are the things that you remember. Along with all the frames that will remain indelibly fixed in my memory: Rom along the Danube, the markets, the old women, veiled women, the bombed houses, the roads, the bridges, the impressive nature, children and dogs, which in many of those areas are not considered stray but are microchipped, groomed and fed by locals type neighborhood dogs. Last stops: Tirana, then, the ferry from Durazzo and, after two weeks, returning home.

(Text and photos by Giovanni Carone)