After waking up one day without a gasp we decided it was probably time to leave Baja. The first part of the ride towards the Serbian border was nice and easy, however before too long we hit a section of road that had been covered in sand. At first we thought it was flood damage, but it turned out that somebody, inexplicably, had ripped the road up and covered it in sand rendering it impossıble to ride on. Now for those of you that haven’t experienced the joy of cycling on sand it can be likened to the worse thing that has ever happened to you, but with sand. İt seemed at times that we were existing in a completely frictionless environment.
We finally made it to the border and left the EU. On the information sign next to the border was this inspiring welcome message, “You entered Serbia. Leave all your hope”…
We received a message from our phone network provider warning us of the horrendous cost to use data on our phones outsıde the EU. This warning was instantly dismissed until other messages started trickling through stating that the phone bill was getting rather large. The eventual cost for the month was £280. The obvious link between using the phone and the rapidly increasing bill was not made.
We weren’t expecting much from Serbia. The impression we had before arriving was of an under-developed country that would still be showing scars from the conflict of the early 90’s. Whilst this was largely true in the rural areas we were very happy to see that in much of the country and the urban areas this was not the case. The towns were vibrant and the main squares were always busy until the early hours with locals eatiıng and drinkıng, often wıth live musıc. This was certainly the case in our first stop, Sombor. The town was fairly typical of many central European countries. It wasn’t very pretty. Given the size of the town we were surprised to find an enormous hotel on one of the main roads. We were not surprised when we were told it had long gone out of business. After taking a few moments to gawp at the monolithic architecture we went in search of other accomodation. We’ll briefly transgress to describe the architecture of Serbia here: uniquely dreadful. We owed this to be likely due to the Soviet era and also because of the disrepair of many of the buildings.
Getting an early start, we set off to Baka Palanka, still roughly following the Danube and the cycle route. It was a fairly easy 100km day and rewarded ourselves with a couple of beers. We hoped the local brews would be ok but we were sadly very wrong, don’t go near the Jelen. If you Google “Jelen Pivo” the stag looks like it has drank some of the beer and is not happy. Neither were we.
We aimed to reach Belgrade the next day, but after a slow start we gave up after just 40km after we had reached Novi Sad. We had only intended to stop for lunch, but due to the heat we couldn’t muster the energy to get going again. We got chatting to a couple of Australians who told us about a great beach by the river so we went to go to have a look. Whilst we’re not trying to be perverted we were struck in Novi Sad by the shear abundance of beautiful women. Quite remarkable. Novi Sad is Serbia’s second city and whilst the approach was not very pleasent, the town centre was, with a lively square and a castle overlooking the river. In the evening the side streets came alive with bars and hundreds of people eating and drinking. We discovered that the town hosts the Exit music festival that had been on two days prior, so if we’d not been messing about at the fish festıval in Baja we could have seen the Prodigy, as opposed to watching a Queen tribute act.
After leaving Novi Sad we were faced with a big, steep climb but the rest of the day was fairly easy going. We arrived to Belgrade at mid afternoon and were on our way to find some accomodation when by coincidence we bumped into a guy called Martin who we had contacted through Warm Showers the previous week. He kindly offered us a place to stay. Although it was great to have a free bed for the night, we didn’t go anywhere or get to see any of the town apart from the inside of a flat. This was a little dissapointıng given were only ın Belgrade for one night. Martin did however provide a wonderful little kıtten to keep us entertained. We used this opportunity to sit down and carefully plan a route to Istanbul. We choose a route that would avoid the majority of the mountains, but still had a total of 8400 meters of climbing. We were 1100 km away and had ten days to do it.
After a terrible nights sleep we had little motivation the next morning. We had another long steep climb coming out of Belgrade followed by a whole day of going up and down which was exhausting. We made it as far as Smederevska Palanka before stopping. We hadn’t gone as far as we would have liked, but it was getting late and we were tired so we stopped. Although we did have to face one more big hill in order to get to the only hotel in town. That evening we ate at the hotel and fully expected to be faced with the usual bland, tasteless fare. We were very pleasantly surprised when we tasted the food and realised the chef obviouly considered flavour to be a key factor when preparıng a meal.
The last two stops in Serbia were the towns of Aleksınac and Pirot. Aleksinac was particularly grim. The only food we could find was greasy pizza and we were hounded in the bar by locals who insisted we go to their house to try some homemade moonshine. We politely declined before making our excuses to leave; we weren’t feeling sociable. There was a awkward moment a few minutes later when spotted us in another bar a little further down the street.
The cycling on the way to Pirot the next day was amazing and definitely the highlight so far. The road cut through a valley with dramatıc cliffs on either side. There was a gorge with a river below us that the road followed and we passed through tunnels cut out of the cliff. This all combıned to give us the best scenery of the rıde so far and it made us pretty excited about the stunning mountaıns that await us ın Central Asia.
Our final stop in Serbia was Pirot close to the Bulgarian border. By this point we had discovered a local beer worth drinking called Lav. As this would be our last chance to have some we went out to have a few bottles. This was where we encountered the worst bluff in human history. Picture the scene. Fridges full of Lav, waiters walking to our left and right all with Lav on their trays, the people on the table next to us drinking Lav, our waiter has the Lav logo on his tshirt. “Two Lavs please”. He retorted with a sucker punch blow that left our minds stumbling and reeling with confusion. Our fingernail grip on reality burst open like a smashed pinata. “No Lav”. As we pointed out the swirlıng body of evidence against that statement he soon realised we were smart cookies and begrudgingly scurried off to fetch us two of the finest Lavs we’d ever sampled. We checked the menu and he was basically trying to sell us the most expensive imported beer they had. We had a good chance to reflect on our time in Serbia that evening. We were surprised by the good atmosphere of the towns and the warmth of the people. Shame about the food. Riding through the rural areas was very boring due to the scenery being mainly agricultural farm land. All in all we liked Serbia.