In parts 1-6 of our World Traveling Series, motorcycle world traveler Pat Harris explained everything you need to know about planning a world trip on a bike. In the final four parts, he’ll take us on some of the most amazing, unusual, and beautiful parts of his journey!
Planning a route for a long term motorcycle trip can be a bit of a daunting task, with a very simple solution: Don’t plan a route. But, as spontaneous and wonderful as this sounds, you still will need to put a little time and effort into planning an overview of your route. And beyond that, there may be areas you’ll be traveling where you have very specific destinations that you can’t miss, which will require some more detailed plans. On my trip, the area of the world that required this level of planning was the Balkans, and the “can’t miss” destinations that created this demand were a handful of obscure monuments that have long since been removed from your typical travel guides.
Before I’d even decided on any of the specifics this motorcycle trip, a friend sent me an article by a photographer who’d travelled throughout the Balkans, documenting these erie, (mostly) abandoned, and all but forgotten monuments, which were commissioned by the former Yugoslavian president, Tito. The article had me immediately intrigued, as only 20-30 years ago, these were frequented by tourists, much like the Washington Monument, Statue of Liberty, or Mount Rushmore are in the United States. I was also struck by the way they looked, and the feeling they invoked…they were unlike anything I’d ever come across before.
Fast forward a few months and I’m sitting in my parents basement, my house and car sold, and shipment for my motorcycle to Scotland arranged. I’m spending my last few days obsessing over paper maps, online maps, ride reports, and travel blogs, looking for both destinations and sections of road that look nice, then playing connect the dots (in the end, I probably only stuck to about half of the plans I’d made at this stage). The majority of this time was spent on the Balkans (specifically Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Macedonia, which along with Slovenia made up Yugoslavia until 1992) as the monuments I wanted to visit were a bit off the beaten path. When doing online research, I oftentimes would only find information about the town that a particular site was in or near, but no directions other than that. This would lead to studying Google Earth satellite images, looking for any sign of my desired destination, then navigating to it via Google Maps.
I still can’t get over how difficult it was to find any info about some of these monuments…I guess I either have strange taste in landmarks, or these places are still fairly under the radar.
So with this portion of my route planned fairly in depth, I hit the road. But as you’d expect, some of my specific plans changed before I got there. The crew at the BMW dealership in Bratislava, Slovakia recommended a route a couple of them had travelled less than a year prior through Montenegro and Albania. A fellow traveller recommended a beautiful and quiet little spot to stay in Macedonia, on Lake Ohrid. And weather limited my time on the Adriatic coast. While these all made for great adjustments to my route, the one thing that remained constant was my desire to find as many of these monuments as possible.
I wasn’t far across the border into Serbia before coming across my first of these monuments, built as a memorial to the victims of fascism.
There was no sign giving any indication as to what it was, the grounds were unkempt, and this pedestal, which I’m guessing once held a plaque of some sort was bare.
My first stop in Croatia was at what ended up being my favorite of all the monuments.
This one was built in 1967, dedicated to the people from the Moslavina region of Croatia who fought in WWII.
The juxtaposition of this massive, futuristic looking sculpture, placed on a hill and surrounded by grazing sheep, along with the complete silence made me feel like I had taken a brief step away from reality.
That same evening, I stopped just outside the town of Jasenovac, at the Stone Flower, built to memorialize the victims of a nearby concentration camp.
It was the only concentration camp not run by the Nazis, and it’s estimated that 80,000-100,000 people (mainly Serbs) were killed there.
My last stop in Croatia was at the post-apocalyptic looking monument built in 1981 on top of Petrovac, the highest peak in the area.
From miles away, I could see it sitting on top of the mountain, but there wasn’t a clear path up. I saw two police officers on the side of the road, so I stopped to get directions. As I followed their directions, I noticed that there were a few signs pointing out routes to certain sites or towns. On all these signs, this destination had been painted over, making it seem as though people in the area didn’t want to have any reminder of it’s existence during daily life.
Like most of these monuments, this was built in honor of those who lost their lives fighting against fascism during WWII. Originally, it housed a museum with information and displays showing the fight against fascism.
Since 1991, the site has been abandoned and much of the stainless steel siding has been stolen to be used as building material.
The spookiness of this particular site was exaggerated when the silence was broken by the occasional squeaks and bangs of pieces of siding swaying in the light breeze.
This memorial in Bosnia was a little bit different than the others, in that it wasn’t just abandoned, but destroyed. I had a hard time finding much information on it, but the little bit I found was that it was built in 1978 to honor the Yugoslav Partisans in WWII, and during the night of November 12/13, 2000, people in the nearby town of Prozor heard an explosion. This is what they woke up to, and case remains unsolved.
I also managed to find this picture of the sculpture prior to its destruction.
The next site I wanted to visit ended up being the only one I never got to. As I made my way down a continually deteriorating road, which I was pretty sure was in the right direction, I was stopped by two police officers. They seemed a bit confused with why I’d be heading in the direction that I was, and when I showed them a picture of the monument I was searching for, they assured me that I wasn’t going to find it up that way. My extensive searching on Google Earth had me convinced I was headed in the right direction, so I pressed on, making my way up a windy and muddy logging road.
When I happened upon an unexpected fork, instinct told me to go left. After continuing on, farther than my original directions said I’d need to, darkness was setting in, and I decided I’d better head back towards town. That night, I got back online, and immediately realized that I should’ve gone right at the fork. I decided that I’d head up that direction again in the morning before leaving town…until I woke up at 2:30 that morning showing all the lovely signs of food poisoning…
At this point I was on a bit of a schedule, and decided I didn’t have the strength to ride a sloppy offroad track, so I pressed on towards Sarajevo, trading in the opportunity to see that monument in the woods for the opportunity to throw up in a Bosnian gas station restroom, which unfortunately was a little lower on my to do list for the day.
In Sarajevo, I made a quick visit to Vraca Park. This park was built in 1981 and dedicated to the WWII victims in Sarajevo. Rather than being abandoned like many of these sites, this one was destroyed by the Serbian Army when they withdrew from the city in 1996. And like much of the damage from all of the conflict in the Balkans, it is still very visible.
My one stop in Macedonia was at Makedonium.
It was built in 1974 to honor the Kruševo Republic, and inside is the tomb of Nikola Karev, president of the Republic, which was formed on August 3rd, 1903 and then overrun by the Ottomans just ten days later.
During all of my research into these monuments in former Yugoslavia, I also found a couple in Bulgaria that I knew I’d need to check out.
The first was Beklemeto, a dual purpose monument.
One side of it honors the Russian army of 1878, which at this site, liberated Bulgaria from the Ottomans. The other side honors the Soviets in 1944, and their antifascist resistance.
And last, but most definitely not least…Buzludzha.
In 1891, the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party (which later turned into the Bulgarian Communist Party) was formed at this site. So in 1981, this monument was built to commemorate that event. As the Communist Party is no longer in power, Buzludzha has fallen into disrepair and the entrance is locked. But luckily, there is this makeshift entrance on the backside of it, which made some more in depth exploration possible.
So when you’re planning a route for your trip, make sure that you have some “must see” destinations, but also don’t forget to allow some flexibility in your plans…here are just a few examples of places that I saw in between these fascinating monuments, after making some last minute route changes.