Category Archives: Serbia

Vienna to the Black Sea

Cycling a variant of the Danube Cycle Route

Train from Geneva, Switzerland to Vienna, Austria

Cycling from Vienna

15th Sept Sopron, Hungary 98.7 km
16th Sept Celldömölk, Hungary 95.0 km
17th Sept Balatonberény, Hungary 87.o km (camp)
18th Sept Kaposvár, Hungary 83.0 km
19th Sept Harkány, Hungary 110.2 km
20th Sept Osijek, Croatia 77.9 km
21st Sept Futog, Serbia 120.6 km
22nd Sept Belgrade, Serbia 26.5 km plus bus from Novi Sad
23rd Sept Belgrade, Serbia 0.0 km sightseeing
24th Sept Stara Palanka, Serbia 102.8 km
25th Sept Lepenski Vir, Serbia 87.9 km (camp)
26th Sept Kladovo, Serbia 84.0 km
27th Sept Calafat, Romania 109.1 km via Bulgaria
28th Sept Bechet, Romania 105.4 km
29th Sept Galati, Romania 52.7 km plus train from Carabia
30th Sept Galati, Romania 0.0 km Margo not well
1st Oct Crisan, Romania 91.2 km (camp)
2nd Oct Crisan, Romania 0.0 km birdwatching (camp)
3rd Oct Jurilovca, Romania 75.1 km
4th Oct Constanta, Romania 104.1 km
5th Oct On the train 0.0 km
6th Oct Geneva, Switzerland 11.8 km to CERN

Train from Constanta, Romania, to Geneva, Switzerland

Final Odometer Reading: 1524 km

For comparison, the direct Vienna-Constanta route by car –that we did not take– is 1356 km, including 651 km on motorways.


Beyond Language

Knowing the local language is useful for a traveller, but it’s impossible to learn them all. On this trip, there are five we could have used: German, Hungarian (good luck!), Serbo-Croat, Bulgarian, and Romanian. All we had was a phrase book. By the time I has learned to say please, thank-you, and goodbye, we’d be across the next border and on to a new language.

Nonetheless, there is a lot that can be communicated with face, hands, tone of voice, and a few key words. We have a special memory of meeting a Serbian man –who must have been in his late seventies– and feeling we had understood each other well, despite the shortage of words in common. Although dealing with language difficulties while travelling independently is hard work, this kind of encounter is the payback.

As we approached the Iron Gate, we pedalled into a Serbian village which must have had a population of about 300 souls. The weather was warm, and it was time for some cool liquid refreshment. Chris likes a beer for his roadside stops, and my choice is usually Coca-Cola –for the sugar and caffeine. We kept a look-out for a terrace with tables, but all we could see was a tiny shop with the usual curtain of plastic ribbons hanging at the doorway to keep flies out. There were crates of beer outside, and two older men sat on the bench, libations in hand. When we first paused, they gestured towards the main road out of town. They weren’t trying to chase us off; they simply thought that no foreigner would have a reason to stop there.

Pivo? I inquired, making motions of opening bottle and taking a swig. Beer? Now, there’s a useful word. Soon after they understood what we were after, we were sitting beside them on the bench with our own libations. I recognized the names of countries as the gentleman chatted to me in an inquiring tone. He was asking where we were from. Ca-NA-da! he cried in astonishment, his face alight. Stress patterns are different in other languages, and it is harder for a Serbian to decipher CA-nuh-da, so I say it their way. The next ten minutes were taken up me showing him a page of images I’d brought along: a map of Canada, a Vancouver skyline, family photos, activities we do in our country. I pointed to the photo of my great niece. Dva. She is two years old. No, not my granddaughter –my brother’s grandaughter, but she lives near us. I pointed to images and maps. He chattered on to me in rapid-fire Serbian. I didn’t undertstand the words, yet I understood much. He was telling me how many children and grandchildren he had, how proud he was of them, that family was important, that people were the same everywhere, and that countries should not fight.

As we prepared to leave, I pinned one of those small Canadian flags to his lapel. He grinned from ear to ear, and chattered on. He asked Chris chivalrously whether he might kiss me. His question was polite, though it wasn’t the words that told us so. Chris and I nodded, and he kissed me on both cheeks before we rode away.

Dovidenja, Serbia. And thank you —Hvala.


Slivovitz and the Iron Gate

We arrived in Romania this evening, after pedalling across a corner of Bulgaria for half a day.

Dovijena Syrbia. See you later, Serbia. We met so many kind and thoughtful people during our week in Serbia, although I do not count the upper-class twit from Belfast among them. He was using his economic upperhand to chase women in Belgrade, the only way he had a chance of success in view of his lack of social skills. He reminded us of middle-aged Canadian and European men that we saw operating in Cuba –but he was only twenty!

From Belgrade, we pedalled along the North side of the Danube to tiny Banatska Planka, just before the Romanian border. We stayed in a small room rented by a jolly Serbian hostess with whom we communicated in a pidgin mishmash of English and German. I accidentally left my wallet in the restaurant because I was playing with a cat (who enjoyed some bits from my fish soup), and the waiter came to our house to return the wallet with everything still there. Note: important cards and Euros were kept elsewhere.

Our hostess had a jolly significant other whom she carefully described to me as nicht mien husband, mien lieben — not my husband , but my lover. They were older than we are. Mien Lieben and Chris repaired Chris’s slow leak in the morning, and removed the offending sliver of glass from Chris’s outer tire with tweezers. Then he poured Chris a shot of Slivovitz for the road. Note: This is our third flat in less than 1000 km, whereas we did 10,000 km with NO flats on the other bikes with their Schwalbe tires. We love these new bikes, but will buy Schwalbes before the next trip.

We took the first ferry, a tiny barge with two vehicles and us, across the Danube to pedal through the Iron Gate on the Serbian side. The Serbian road has less traffic and better views than the Romanian side. A Serbian TV crew was on the ferry, making a documentary on The Secrets of the Danube. We may actually be on Serbian TV. The Iron Gate has been two days of spectacular riding, with a ruined castle guarding the narrowest part on our side, and 21 tunnels. These are up to 300 m long and are unlit. Luckily, we have helmet-mounted headlights and various red blinkies, but things are still pretty exciting as you pedal through wondering when the next truck will come.

We found ourselves without accommodation as it started to get dark, probably due to the difficulties of inquiring and especially of understanding the replies. We were allowed to camp unofficially at a small museum’s picnic area, and by the time we’d eaten sausage on bread for supper we found we had four canine friends. It was a peaceful evening as the dogs settled beside our tent, and we could hear gentle snuffles and flea-scratching during the night.

We spent last night at another Soviet-style hotel in a Southern Serbian town, then today we crossed two more borders: first into Bulgaria, and then another more major ferry crossing to Romania. The hotel here is another Soviet-era special that makes the others look pretty classy. This one seems downright derelict and almost deserted, but staff are friendly and helpful. Welcome to Romania! We’ve just had an excellent supper.

Accommodation possibilities are further apart here, so we may camp more. So far, we have been unable to find a gas cannister that fits the so-called universal stove from MEC. We may just buy a new stove.

La revedere.


On to Belgrade

It was a peaceful morning with mist over the Danube when we woke up in our cabin in tiny Futog, a village west of Novi Sad. Our hostess served us eggs and coffee on the floating terrace. Things were far less hectic in the restaurant than they’d been the night before, and a fisherman had time to show me all the mounted fish heads and animal skins: sturgeon, eel, otters, and more. If I understood him, the dams on the Danube in the Iron Gate have affected migration patterns. So much for fresh caviar! In the shed where we’d put our bikes when we’d first arrived, there was a large cauldron of paprika fish soup cooking over a fire, bread was baking a brick oven, and a wild pig was ready to roast on a spit. All this was for the restaurant`s midday and evening customers.

Our hosts were Serbians who had come from what was now Croatia as refugees, having been forced to sell their property there for a pittance. If our host were to go back to Croatia, his wife told me, he could be spuriously arrested as a war criminal, and it would require extensive legal help and much time to get him out. They won’t go back. Not ever. They were proud of their new business of a floating restuarant and cosy cabins, and were building more cabins as they could afford to expand without borrowing.

We tied the loaf of fresh bread we were given to Chris’s front rack, and slowly pedalled the 20 km along a rough dyke path to Novi Sad, dodging a few cows. In Novi Sad, we took the German cyclist’s advice and got a bus to Belgrade so as to avoid a busy and not-so-scenic section. Molim, dva kartu Beograd –Please, two tickets Belgrade. Once in Belgrade, we took some time to navigate to the “Green Garden Hostel” as recommended by the Aussies. Free Internet, hence the prolific posts!

Today Chris and I took a several buses, visited the Ethnographic Museum, walked around the Citadel, and went for a boat tour on the Sava and Danube Rivers. It was time for a day off the bikes. Nemi, the young hostel host, has been great. He coached us on the practicalities of buses. I managed to ask for Molim, shaste kartu –six tickets, please. Now, if only I could read the signs.

Tomorow we plan to pedal out of town at 6:00 a.m. , and see how far we get along the north side of the river. We’ll cross back to the south side by boat the next day, before starting through the Iron Gate and tunnels along the south (Serbian) side. The German cyclist had no lights, so he flagged down a car to lead him through each tunnel.

Bedtime, if Chris will only stop arguing about globalization with a loud young guy from Belfast. The next post might be from Bulgaria or Romania.

Serbia and a Very Long Day

Just beyond the Serbian customs post, we met a young Australian couple who’d set out from England in March and who’d cycled to Turkey and back. We talked for a while. Each of these encounters inspires us to bigger dreams.

The spoken languages of Serbian and Croatian are similar enough to be considered dialects rather than separate languages (according to my learned reference: Lonely Planet Phrasebook Eastern Europe). However, the written form is in the cyrillic alphabet here in Serbia, adding a new layer of difficulty to navigating and finding shops. Book in hand, I managed to ask for a bank machine in Backa Palanka, the first Serbian town, and we took out some dinars.

Accommodation choices were few as we pedalled on into the evening. Ad hoc camping is frowned upon by Serbian authorities, we’d been told, and you are meant to have every night documented with payment that shows your passport number. After various failed attempts to find a room, we pulled onto a tiny side road to the river, where accommodation was shown on our Danube route map. We had done 120 km, and it was our seventh day’s cycling–670 km. The floating terrace restaurant was delightful, and we tucked into grilled fish as swans glided by. As far as accommodation, we were first told there was no room, but that we could camp. Later we were told to wait while a small bungalow was prepared for us. The men-in-black –who we’d thought were Novi Sad businessmen– were musicians who began to play traditional music. Once the room was ready, we collapsed into bed, with our bikes stowed under our riverside cabin.