Today is probably our last day in Serbia. We are sad to say goodbye to this country full of lovely people and calorie-dense food. Today is also exactly one month since we left Amsterdam and we have decided we’ll do another month since this is just way too much fun.
After leaving the kayak club camping spot we made our way to Belgrade where we spent two nights with friends of my friend Zoran. We felt as if we had been taking it relatively easy but we crashed and burned. A planned 10 minute afternoon nap turned into a deep three hour sleep. We were very grateful for our new friends Ana and Beli and their little princess dog Kiki who were looking after us. Well fed, well rested and with freshly washed everything we left, with a promise to come back. We only had a little taste of the city but Belgrade has a great vibe, tree lined streets with little cafes. Domineering plattenbau Brutalist housing blocks greeted us before we entered the old city around the citadel. The biggest attraction of Belgrade however was feeling truly at home for a day, with our new friends.
Big city cycling: no thank you!
We are no longer very keen about heading into big cities. It is difficult and dangerous on a bicycle, and somehow we don’t feel like doing the things we have always enjoyed on city trips such as going to museums. We feel a little bit restless when we are not outside on the bicycle and want to keep going. For the first time I notice how dirty the air in cities is, and how people live so close together without making any kind of contact. How I am constantly enticed to spend money. Right now the biggest attractions of the city are meeting up with people and doing practical things like laundry, writing and organising our (visum) administration. We much prefer traveling in the country side. A friendly greeting, fresh air, a laid-backness, quiet, and nothing to spend our money on but food.
Leaving Belgrade was a lot easier than going in. When we entered we had to endure a long stretch of choking two-lane busy road with little space for us, plus we were being chased by a thunderstorm. On the way out it was bright and sunny and a local cyclist guided us across the bridge. Within 15 minutes we were on a 15km stretch of off-road Duna dyke.
Camping by the Serbian Danube
We only did a modest 50km day before finding a little well-kept caravan park where Belgradi’s enjoy their weekends. The owner let us stay for free, indicated with a shrug when we enquired about the price. The other residents however seemed a little bit miffed by the cycling hippy invasion of their little dacha paradise. It didn’t help that we accidentally put up our tent in the middle of the path to the well which the whole campsite used to get their fresh water. A few residents ‘accidentally’ almost stumbled over the tent. If I had been walking back and forth for the last 20 years I would be annoyed too if someone put a tent and a pile of Ortliebs in my way. The next campsite was a caravan park in a little resort town. A small Costa Del Sol on the Danube, lined with ice cream sellers, cafes and restaurants. We were obviously not their target audience but again we were very impressed with the incredible hospitality and fun spirit of the Serbs. A relaxed evening, sunset with the deafening roar of croaking frogs.
At Golubac the Duna landscape changes dramatically. We cruised into a huge gorge of steep cliff faces. The first serious climbs! We had to go through 23 tunnels but luckily most of them were very short. The cycling route took us from quite hight up on the cliff face down into a smaller gorge, which we also had to climb out of again. It was well worth it, with the added excitement of having to cross a small river with our bikes.
Reflections on Serbia’s recent past
Serbia has been our best experience yet, and it’s hard to believe these lovely people were at war with their neighbours not long ago. People we meet are eager to talk about the war and how it’s affected them and their families. The prevailing sense seems to be bafflement. How could this happen? Before it started there was no tension between the different nationalities and religions in former Yugoslavia. Then, all of a sudden, divisions appeared and violence erupted. People talk about mixed families, friend groups and marriages. Now people can no longer talk to eachother because of the horror of what happened between Bosnians, Serbs, Croats. The people here are not very optimistic about the future. There is no work, educated people leave if they can. There is a sense of nostalgia for Tito’s days, when everybody could have a good education, a job and a house.
We are about to set off for our last day of cycling between the high cliffs of the Duna Derdap National Park. Then tomorrow we’ll head into Bulgaria, to follow the Duna for another couple of days before we will start climbing.
(sorry, no pics. Internet is also very laid back here. Uploading goes with the speed of a horse drawn cart on a hot afternoon 🙂