Archive for the 'Serbia' Category


Saturday, October 20th, 2007

The Djerdap National Park has definitely been the scenic highlight of Serbia.

You’ve got beautiful views of the Danube and surrounding gorge.


And great cycling too. The road is called the “Danube Highway” but there is barely any traffic on it at all. The asphalt is like, totally fresh.


The only negative is that there are 21 tunnels on the road. Most are short but the longest is over 300 meters; they are all unlit. That would have scared us away if traffic was even moderate but we usually have the tunnels completely to ourselves.


We started this trip with front lights for our bicycles, but we couldn’t find a good way to attach them to our racks, so we gave up on them. We haven’t really missed them except when riding through dark tunnels, but then Sarah came up with the brilliant idea of wrapping our trusty headlamps around our handlebar bags. It may not look like much in this photo, but it works like a charm in a pitch-black tunnel!


We are still on the Danube bicycle route, but there are no bicycle signs at this point. You can purchase German maps but we’ve just been ridin’ freestyle since there is basically only one road to follow and the Danube is pretty hard to lose. The views have really been fantastic.


There are two hydroelectric dams here. I can’t imagine how beautiful this place must have been before the river was dammed.


Not many people live in this area of Serbia. The locals we’ve met have told us that most of the towns and villages around here are actually shrinking as the young people move to Belgrade or out of the country looking for work. We did meet one young guy, who was a bit of a nefarious character, but he was friendly and spoke English well so we spent an afternoon with him as the “face of Serbia” as he put it. That meant putting away about 6 liters of beer among us and trying some traditional Serbian food. We had a bland, white-bean soup with a delicious sausage in it and a salad consisting of tomatoes, cucumbers, and copious amounts of shredded cheese on top.


We were amazed when he managed to ride and balance Sarah’s fully loaded bicycle while she perched sideways on the top tube. Sarah says this is the second scariest things she’s done on the trip so far.


We’ve been staying in a mix of campsites, private pensions, and hotels. The pensions are our favorite because we get to meet the local people and sometimes try traditional food. We usually cook ourselves on a deck or in the park to keep costs down and because Sarah is practicing for her new Food Network show, Gas Stove Gourmet.


When we do eat with the hosting family at a pension, breakfast and dinner are usually accompanied with what the Serbians call “schnapps”, but it tastes the same as the herbal brandy we tried in Croatia. It is always homemade, but neither of us has gone blind yet. Excellent sausage is also part of every meal.


Everyone also heats their homes with woodstoves around here. Walking through the villages, it is amazing how much wood is stacked up all over the place. We were wondering how there were any trees left in the forest at all. Most pension owners start the fire for us in a matter of minutes, but it was a bit more difficult for a couple of city slickers like us. We briefly considered using some of the gasoline from our fuel bottles as an accelerant before we finally got a nice blaze going. Toasty!

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We’re out of the gorge now and on the border between Serbia and Bulgaria. Now we’ll follow the Danube east to the Black Sea.

The Blue Danube

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

(Ed. Note – Public internet connections are extremely hard to find and extremely slow in Serbia. Thus, the pictures in this post are not links.)

It was a 115 kilometer ride from Novi Sad to Belgrade. It’s the last section of the Danube bicycle route that is signed, so we took backroads for much of the way. We (of course) got lost a few times and in general had a really long day. We arrived in Belgrade as it was starting to get dark. In Novi Sad we’d gotten in touch with Catherine, a woman from Seattle that was currently working as a teacher in Belgrade and had found out about our website from a mutual friend at Microsoft. We were looking forward to staying with a fellow American and were riding along searching for her house when we met a 15 year old Serbian kid named Phillip. He spoke excellent English and was really interested to hear about our trip, so we chatted with him as we rode along the bicycle bath in Belgrade. After a few kilometers we asked him where Catherine’s street was and were amazed that he volunteered to escort us to her front door. Along the way he asked a bunch of people how to get there (he didn’t know, but was helping us anyway), and then whipped out his cellphone when we got close to her house to call her and let her know we’d arrived. We were so impressed and it was such a huge help to have him with us. Thanks Phillip!


It was great to meet Catherine and find out that she was exactly our age and we had a lot in common. She even ran a marathon with her brother, just like me! We went out for pizza with Catherine and another American teacher named Melissa and then took a bus downtown to have drinks at the Canadian embassy’s happy hour. Who knew embassies had happy hours?! It was so much fun to hang out with Catherine and Melissa that we decided to stay for an extra day to attend a birthday pig-roast party at another teacher’s house in the countryside near Belgrade.

We went for a one hour bus ride to get to the birthday party house. I almost puked on the way there and also on the way home (so Sean, don’t worry, it is not your driving’s fault that I puked in Croatia!) The house belonged to a pair of American teachers that had been living and teaching in Belgrade for three years or so. The party was so much fun – roasted pig, home baked Serbian pastries from a neighbor, beer and wine, and birthday cake. We also had baked potatoes and roasted garlic cooked over the campfire. It was a teacher party and Jamie and I both had a lot of fun asking questions about what it was like to be a teacher and hearing all the crazy stories.


Jamie, Melissa, Sarah, and Catherine.


The next day we left Belgrade to ride along the Danube towards the Black Sea. After 20km of busy city roads we got onto a small dirt road that snaked along the top of the Danube’s bank. It was peaceful and beautiful, but slow going. To be honest, I did not believe Jamie that this was the “road” we were supposed to be on. I kept stopping and demanding that we turn back. It got better after a few kilometers, but at first it was muddy grassy ruts.


We’ve been lucky with weather. It has been feeling really chilly during the days (around 10C – 15C), so we’ve both switched to our long pants, gloves, and we wear our coats all the time now. At night it gets down to almost freezing; our thermometer is usually around 3C in the mornings. These temperatures would be miserable with rain, but so far we’ve avoided it. Here’s Jamie in his cold weather outfit.


The scenery has been river on one side and flat farmland on the other. Farmers are out all day long every day working in their fields. So much so that it is sometimes tough to find a private place to pee!


The small towns have been a lot of fun. In one town, all the old women were selling brooms at the market.


We also found a place along the Danube to balance our camera and take a few rare self-timer shots of both of us riding!


Camping is not very popular in Serbia, especially this late in the year, and we’ve had a really hard time finding campsites. In Novi Sad we went online and looked up all the official sites we could find in Serbia and marked them on our map. We found a grand total of two that were open in the country – luckily they were both on our route along the Danube

The first campsite was more of a trailer community near the Danube. They didn’t have hot water so we couldn’t take showers, but they did let campers stay for the first seven days free, which made up for the lack of amenities. The other good thing about this campsite was meeting a little dog that took a great liking to us. He hung around us all evening (even though we never fed him) then tried to get into our tent at bedtime using a great variety of tricks. He tried to dig through the side, took a running leap and hurled himself into the side of the tent, burrowed under a vestibule and peeked in the window, and then he tried to dig underneath the tent floor to find an underground entrance. The next morning as we rode out of the campsite he met us on the road and started trotting alongside us. It was fun to have a companion for the first few kilometers but after he’d been following us for 30 minutes we started to get nervous that he’d never leave. A full hour later he was still with us and Jamie was starting to talk about what we’d have to do to take him home with us, whether we could plan a route away from busy roads so he could trot along with us every day, how much dog food we’d have to carry, and how he was going to get along with our cats at home. Around this time the dog got distracted by a flock of goats which allowed us to pull ahead. He must have turned around and headed for home after harassing the goats because we didn’t see him again.


Look closely and you can see my little pet trotting alongside me!


The next day we ferried across the Danube in order to stay on the best roads for cycling. The ferry left at 11:30am or 3pm each day and when we started off in the morning we thought we’d have plenty of time to ride the 40 kilometers to the ferry location to make the 11:30 ferry. However, somehow we managed to travel so slowly that with one hour left we still had way too much distance to make at a comfortable speed. We did an almost-full-out sprint from 11 to 11:30 and miraculously rode right onto the ferry just as it was about to set off across the river. Whew! The ferry wasn’t a boat – it was more of a wooden platform that was hitched to a little tugboat to get across the river.


That night we found our second campsite in Serbia next to the Danube in the small town of Silver Lake. We were excited about this one because it looked larger than the other one, and was open year round so we expected them to have hot water and showers. No such luck. This one was basically a creepy lot near the river completely crammed full of small camper trailers that you could rent out. The campground was completely deserted except for us. There was no hot water. No toilet paper. I felt lucky that the toilet flushed at all. We were charged $14 for this delightful spot. I wanted to argue about the price after we found out how crappy everything was, but the caretaker spoke no English, no German, and was an ornery old guy. For example when we checked in he asked if we needed electricity; we said no. Later when we were cooking our dinner with our gas stove he ran over to see if we had an electric stove we’d plugged in and were using to steal his precious electricity! So in the morning we just paid our $14, were annoyed, and left.

One highlight was the sunset on the Danube.


The towns along the Danube have nice little promenades that are perfect for eating lunch. The views are great.


We are heading towards the most beautiful spot on the Danube – a deep gorge on the eastern edge of Serbia that’s actually a National Park.

Lucky 13

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

We’ve just entered our thirteenth country – Serbia! We spent the night in the Bosnia-Herzegovina border town of Zvornik. The town itself was fine, but the only two hotels in the city were ridiculously expensive. We ended up paying $70 for a tiny hotel room. There was just enough room to open the door, take two steps into the room, then jump directly into one of the two twin beds the room contained. An added treat was that the room was on the ground floor, the window by my bed had apparently been left open all day, and there were a few little millipede looking worm things cuddled up under my blanket. I was incredibly grossed out and had a hard time sleeping after listening to Jamie repeatedly ponder whether they’d be looking for a warm place to curl up and sleep at night.

We rode over a bridge into Serbia first thing in the morning. We didn’t have any Serbian dinar and were on the lookout for an ATM so we could get money out for lunch. Usually this isn’t a problem and we find an ATM within an hour or so of entering a new country. Unfortunately for us there were no ATMs in any of the small towns along our first day’s route. 85km down the road was a larger city that we thought would have an ATM but until then we were completely broke! We had some Croatian Kuna that we tried to exchange at a few banks when we started to get desperate for lunch money, but no one would accept them. We also had 2 Euro that I tried to spend at a supermarket, but of course no one wanted them. I was dejectedly walking out of the supermarket wondering what we were going to eat for lunch when I happened to spy a 200 Dinar bill ($4) laying on the ground. Yippee!! We used it to buy some food at the bakery and made it the rest of the way to our first stop in Serbia – the city of Šabac. The Serbian countryside we rode through during the day was pretty farmland. The poor road quality, small towns, and vendors selling produce along the roadsides made us feel like we were back in Asia.


It is harvest time here, and all day we see farmers driving tractors down the road and working in their cornfields.


Once again we had trouble finding an affordable place to stay in Šabac. There was no camping and only two hotels in town. They both cost approx $100 for a room. With no other options, we stayed in the $100 room and groaned about how this was absolutely destroying our budget. To rub salt in the wound, the room was not even nice. The shower didn’t drain, the bathroom smelled like sewage, and the cable going into the TV looked like it had been chewed apart by a mouse, which made the reception horrible. It was like the hotel quality in Cambodia at Western European prices! We ate bread, cheese, and apples for dinner while watching CNN and Animal Planet. The exorbitant price did include a buffet breakfast which was tasty. I enjoyed a nice selection of pastries and Jamie had some strange meats and pickled things.

It was another 85km to the large city of Novi Sad. Novi Sad is on the Danube and we were expecting the entire ride to be pancake flat. So we were both pretty shocked when we climbed a 300m pass followed by a 500m pass, including multiple 12% grades!


Near the top of the pass we stopped for a snack. While we were sitting there eating our bread, cheese, and apples two dogs came over to check us out. One of the dogs was smallish with black wavy fur – it looked exactly like a little lamb. I loved it. It lied down on the ground about two feet away from our feet and literally slithered over to us on its belly. It wanted to be petted and fed, which of course we did! Every time we see a stray animal we always wish we could take it with us.

Due to road construction we were forced to rejoin a major road for the final 20km into Novi Sad. Half of this 20km included winding steep descents towards the river basin. The drivers in Serbia have been some of the most aggressive, macho, and basically insane drivers we’ve seen anywhere in the world. They have a mania for passing each other, even if it is completely obvious that there is nothing to be gained by passing (i.e. slow moving traffic due to upcoming road blockades for road construction). This insatiable urge to pass every moving vehicle on the road persists even on blind corners, mountain roads with no shoulder, alongside slow moving cyclists, or the combination of all three of these things. To top this all off we have been seeing roadside gravestones every kilometer or so – I can only assume these are victims of traffic accidents. It is really unbelievable and has convinced us to stick to small roads whenever possible!

Novi Sad was a much bigger city that we’d expected. It is also really beautiful, especially around the main square.

The Catholic Cathedral’s spire is rainbow colored!

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Painted cows are scattered throughout the city.





We originally planned to stay in Novi Sad for one day to rest before heading to Belgrade. Last night we checked the weather though, and found out that there would be one more day of cold and rainy weather before things start to clear up, so we decided to hang out here for one more day before riding along the Danube to Belgrade.