(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.