Tips for cycling the Trans Dinarica: language, currency, alcohol, wild camping …

Traveling through the Balkans, especially off-the-beaten-path areas like the Trans Dinarica cycling route, offers a wild and unparalleled bike tour experience.

While these Balkan countries might seem daunting for solo travelers, the locals, in our experience, are incredibly welcoming and always ready to assist. Even if they don’t speak your language.

To give you a glimpse of what awaits, we’ve prepared some essential tips for those eager to ride this beautiful journey.

 

A cyclist meeting a local shepherd on the Trans Dinarica cycle route.

 

1. Languages

In most of the Trans Dinarica countries, the language comes from Slavic roots (the exceptions are Albania and Kosovo). Knowing Croatian allows you to communicate in Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Macedonia. However, it is important to note that Macedonian is slightly different from the other ex-Yugoslavian languages.

 

Some useful words:

Hvala = Thank you
Dobar dan = Hello / Good day
Doviđenja = Goodbye
Molim = Please
Oprostite = Sorry / Excuse me
Voda = Water
Pivo = Beer
Vino = Wine
Hrana = Food

 

The good thing about traveling the Western Balkans is that almost all young people speak English, especially in the cities. In more remote villages, gestures might be your best friend, but modern tools like Google Translate can bridge any communication gaps.

 

2. Currencies

Money is quite varied in the area. Slovenia and Croatia use euros because they are in the European Union (EU). Montenegro and Kosovo are not members of EU, but you can still use euros there. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, you will need to provide convertible marks (many times it is also possible to pay with euros (1 EUR is 1.95 KM), in Serbia Serbian dinars, in Macedonia Macedonian denar, and in Albania Albanian lek.

 

Don’t count on being able to pay with credit cards everywhere (especially not in bars, restaurants, small hotels/accommodations). When withdrawing cash, stick to ATMs of verified banks and avoid ‘tourist ATMs’ like Euronet (bad exchange rates, high fees, high pre-set withdrawal amounts.)

 

In general, it is recommended that you choose to charge in local currency at ATMs, which means that the conversion will be done by the bank that issued your card.

 

3. Meeting farmers, shepherds

If you come across a shepherd with a herd of sheep or cows, stop and if necessary, get off your bike and, at least with a facial expression, ask if you can continue. Bicycles are not as big as cars, and not as loud as motorcycles, but still: let the locals know that you respect their animals, their work, and their way of life.

 

In the end, this kindness may lead you to an interesting conversation, coffee, rakija, or maybe even an unplanned overnight stay. If shepherd dogs are guarding the herd, do not try to pet them – these are not pets, but guardians (also from wolves and bears).

 

This rule applies when traveling in any part of the world, but such interactions will be slightly more common in the Western Balkans.

 

The cyclist got off his bike to wait for the flock of sheep to cross the road.

 

4. Bicycle services, parts

Except in larger cities (Sarajevo, Podgorica, Split, …) do not expect specialized shops for bicycles and sports equipment. That’s why it’s important to always have the essentials – basic tools, air pump, set for patching tires, spare tubes, and at least one tire – with you on your bike.

People in the Western Balkans are masters of improvisation, but your gravel bike probably won’t fit a tractor tube.

 

5. Theft

The advice to take care of your belongings is the same as anywhere else in the world. The good thing about bicycles is that you can always put them in a garage, stairwell or woodshed overnight. Lock the bikes and take the bags with you to the room.

You know the saying: Opportunity makes a thief.

 

6. Alcohol

In some Muslim-majority regions, you won’t get alcohol in restaurants. Don’t be surprised if you must drink yogurt or Coca-Cola with your burek (by the way, the ‘Yugoslav Coca-Cola’ is called Cockta – it’s caffeine-free but tastes great).

 

 

7. Wild camping

The Trans Dinarica cycling route spans diverse territories, each with its own camping regulations, so we won’t speculate on what is right and what is not.

But we will note two things:

 

#1

The prices for overnight stays/camps are moderate, sometimes even ridiculously cheap on most of the Trans Dinarica.

 

#2

If you are already thinking of spreading the sleeping bag somewhere in the bush, first try to find the owner and ask him. Maybe he will allow you (or maybe he won’t), maybe he will even invite you to his house to stay warm.

 

Local accomodation on the Trans Dinarica.

 

8. Garbage

Certainly, the blackest stain along the Trans Dinarica is litter. Some people simply have not yet accepted that this is not right and that it is ugly and inappropriate to Mother Nature.

This should not surprise a traveler, and even less should it be the reason that we litter ourselves! If we see you throw away a piece of chocolate paper into nature, we’ll puncture your tires with our own hands.

 

For now, that wraps up our tips for navigating the Trans Dinarica bike tour. We will be happy if you contact us with additional questions so that we can complete this article.

Food on Trans Dinarica: strong, meaty, but also fresh and local (tips for hungry cyclists)

A very important component of traveling (anywhere in the world) is tasting local specialties. This is especially true for the Balkans, where Eastern, Central European, and Mediterranean cuisine are mixed. It depends on where you are on this colorful peninsula.

A breakfast in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Are you counting the callories?

On the mainland, there is a lot of meat and freshwater fish, with various stews on the menu, while closer to the coast of the Adriatic Sea, of course, there will be more seafood next to the meat. The good thing about the food offering is that it’s very authentic – the locals just don’t accept Western fast food (because they have their own, although, of course, you’ll find a ‘happy clown’ in the bigger cities). Downside… Well, there isn’t a downside really, except … for vegans. Honestly: vegetarians will be fine, although the lost calories will have to be replaced mainly with cheese, spinach, or potato ‘burek’ (pie), while vegans, will have to be creative. Well, you can always order a ‘shopska salad’ without grated cheese, a ‘lepinja’ bread (which it shouldn’t be heated up on a plate next to the roast meat) and fresh vegetables and fruit. Don’t even try, they probably don’t know tofu and seitan. Although we were also positively surprised in Sarajevo, more precisely in the Bosnian restaurant Žara iz Duvara, where the owner tries to get the guests to try something other than cevapcici and burek.

Another good thing is that the ingredients for the food are often fresh, even so fresh that you may see from the terrace of the restaurant how the chef went to the tank to catch fresh trout, or that the owner of a family stay will gather most of the ingredients for dinner right in her garden.

When we explore the terrain, we usually have a hearty breakfast (it’s usually classic eggs, salami, cheese, bread, and some other fries, maybe peppers and tomatoes), then we spend the day with some yogurt, burek, preferably baked under the bell, and fresh fruit. For dinner we treat ourselves to something stronger; grilled meat, trout, and various soups are excellent, for example ‘pasulj’ (bean soup) or ‘begova corba’ (chicken soup).

  • Hint no. 1: Take time and don’t complicate too much.
  • Hint no. 2: Don’t let them get you full to their standards. If there are four at the table, there will probably be enough soup for a starter and then a mixed meat plate for two. You can still make up for it with dessert.
  • Hint no. 3: when the house offers it, eat something other than grilled meat, otherwise you may return from the Balkans, even after a cycling tour, with a few kilos more.

Dobar tek! (Bon Appetit)