Charlies blog: Serbia was a big wonderful surprise and currently tops my list of favourite countries to cycle in. There are just so many great things about this country, the scenery, the Eurovelo route signs, the weather, but mostly the people, the people are brilliant!
Getting into Serbia turned into an interesting day, we were following the Danube path which was really long and boring with no shade so we made a den with our bikes and sleeping bag liners to have lunch in, it worked a treat! Then, when we were tantalisingly close to the Croatian (only 5k away!), we were waved down by the police who explained with lots of pointing and gestures that we werent allowed to cross the boarder this way. Instead they showed us a different route to the Serbian boarder, unfortunately it was about 15km back the way we'd come, gah! They then proceeded to follow us in their car up the road to make sure we didnt double back, we obviously looked like a shifty pair! We entered Serbia that evening and got our first passport stamp of the trip:)
The best thing about Serbia by far is the people, throughout our two weeks there i was constantly cheered up by how lovely they were. Not even 10k into the country and waiter came over to say hi and give us directions, people in cars and on the pavement would point directions at us (how they knew where we were heading I dont know but they were always right!), one man even pulled over to chat and gave us high fives, lorrys would beep and wave, giving us lots of room as they went past and everyone woukd wave and say chiao as we cycled by. It really is a wonderful country.
During my two weeks there I think I drunk more coffee than I have in the past 10 years! Our very first night at Long Tour Cycling hostel our host offered us Turkish coffee (even though it was 10pm in the evening) and being British I couldnt refuse despite absolutely hating coffee! We had it again in the morning (still being unable to politely refuse). The next day a lady called Buba invited us into her home for coffee (which turned into icecream, apricots and beans from their garden!), and on our last day in Serbia a lovely couple let us sleep on their couch after having yet more coffee! Ive been getting through it with copious amounts of sugar. The last couple also insisted that we have a shot of homemade liqour before setting off in the morning claiming it would help our cycling, well, we did manage 58km before lunch that day so maybe they are on to something!
So my top tip is if you want to travel through Serbia I highly recommend that you learn to like coffee!
We headed down to Novi Sad and bumped into not 1 but 3 Irish people! Ronan, an Irish guy cycling from Vietnam to Ireland and Mairead and John, a couple touring europe in their camper van. They invited us in and gave us Barrys tea, aaahhhhh :)
Belgrade was a bit of aboring city so im going to breeze right over that and go to the Iron Gate section of the Danube. Which is section not an actual thing as i found out when we got to the end!
It was probably some of the most spectacular scenery we've had in this whole trip. The section is where the river goes into a gorge about 150meters across, we were cycling on the Serbian side with Romania just a stones throw away across the river. It was beautiful with a great road along the river, mostly flat but with the occasional hill thrown in there to keep us on our toes. At one point we rounded a corner to see a huge face carved into the rock on the Romanian side, apparently it is of the last king of Romania, it was very Lord of the Rings.
After the Iron Gate section we were taken in for the night by a lovely couple, we only asked if we could camp on their farm and instead they gave us coffee, a meal, sofa to sleep on and breakfast in the morning! As well as a shot of some home made liqour before we left in the morning, insisting that it would help our cycling haha! Well we did do 53km before lunch that day so maybe it worked!
I had high hopes for Bulgaria after the awsome time we had in Serbia, unfortunately itturned out to be very different. Heres a preview of the next blog, it involves, wild dogs, thunderstorms and a robbery!
Surprises are great. Fact. Personally I prefer to be the surpriser not the surprise-ee, I like planning things, knowing whats going on, like a surprise trip home for christmas...actually thats not true I also love being surprised, particularly with a room full of balloons and bunting. From the moment we crossed into Serbia we have been suprised by lovely experience after lovely experience. Who knew Serbia was such a great country to cycle through!!??
After a big 100+km day in 39 degrees and being turned back from the Croatian border we reached Serbia - our first police escourt, first proper border crossing and first stamp in our passports. Night was falling and we still had 20km to go before reaching Sombor. We hadn't called ahead so gave the owner of Long Tour Bike Camp quite a surprise when two tired British girls knocked on the door at 9.30pm. We loved this quaint camp and stayed a day longer than planned to rest and swim in the river (best cure for achy muscles). But we couldn't stay long because waiting in Belgrade was our next surprise, MARY! It turned out we would make it to Belgrade on her last day there so we hopped back on our bikes fuelled by the thought of seeing friends and legged it. (Side note: Serbia is on eurovelo 6 and the signposts are quite reliable, especially after the uncoordinated confusing random signs in Hungary. They also have a different inspirational quote on the bottom! But when cycling into Belgrade you're left to battle traffic alone).It was lovely catching up with Mary but before we knew it we were off again. Little did we know we were cycling headlong into mosquito hell! It started off so well, we bumped into an Irish guy cycling the other way and camped together where we met an Irish couple who invited us into their campervan for Barry's tea. The next day, completely unaware of what lay ahead we set off and decided to take a gravel track by the river rather than the main road up a hill. After 20 mins we noticed the first menacing mosquito, 10 minutes later and they were swarming around us! I must have swallowed at least ten by simply breathing! At first our tactic was to curse and waft them away but there were so many it became hard to see. We tried to escape up a road but angry dogs blocked our path. I quickly put on my waterproofs despite the sweaty heat to try to stop them biting through my clothes. Eventually, we looked at each other and agreed to retreat, to run away, to give up! So with more swearing we ran, literally ran, back out of the swampy nest of mosquito misery and back to the main road and the hill we'd been trying to avoid.
The next few days by the Danube passed by in a blur of beautiful scenery and kind people. Everyone is chatty and friendly, and the cars beep and wave when they pass. We wild camped by the banks of the Danube with two German girls and had our first swim in the mighty river. The flat rolling hills turned into a steep gorge as we entered the iron gate region. This was a nice change and I really enjoyed the uphills for the challenge and the incredible views. Within a 100km stratch the Danube goes from its widest point (7km across) to its narrowest (153meters) and it makes for some spectacular cycling. The road curves up the steep cliff faces and we plunged into some stomach dropping, pitch black tunnels. My favourite part was a huge face of Decabulus, the king of Dacia, carved into the rock on the Romanian side of the river. We tried to wild camp the next night but couldn't find anywhere suitable so I went to ask at a farmhouse if we could camp in their garden...they ended up taking us in to sleep on their sofa and giving us not only dinner and breakfast but also a packed lunch for the next day. Serbian hospitality and friendliness has been a definite highlight of the trip - from the lady who gave us coffee and ice cream to the people who pointed out the way, the guys who stopped to high five us or took us into their homes for the night. Its been a pleasure. The time came to leave and move onto country number, Bulgaria. In case you can't wait until our next update here's some of the highlights - new friends, corrupt police, a robbery, the attempted Turkish military coup, and mountains!