Previously, if someone had told me to imagine the sounds of the Danube, I’d probably have imagined a roaring river.
Instead, after leaving Negotin on the eastern edge of Serbia and joining and skirting the Danube for a period, I now associate it with a carcophany of horny frogs absolutely making a meal out of a lil bit of mating!!
I’ve never been involved in an amphibian orgy before and I’m not too keen for round two if I’m honest. I hardly slept a wink the next night when we camped by the river!
The next day, we pedalled off bright and early, leaving the stink of the cold-blooded mistakes and regrets behind us. The weather was a bit shaky, so we booked a wooden shed in Trajan Hostel in an upcoming town, as camping in a thunderstorm isn’t ideal.
Before we got there, we cycled through the Iron Gates – a gorge on the Danube that separates Serbia from Romania. As the name suggests, it was pretty bloody epic cycling, making the hills and inclines we’d had to power up to get there a distant memory.
We were on the EuroVelo 13, a 7,000km cycle route which spans the length of the Iron Curtain – the boundary dividing Europe from the end of WWII to the end of the Cold War in 1991.
It stretches from Finland down to the Black Sea. To the east are the member countries of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance and the Warsaw Pact, lead by the Soviet Union. To the west; the European Community and NATO members, led by the United States.
One of the EuroVelo’s signs noted that the Berlin Wall was the micro division that reflected the Iron Curtain’s macro one (but in slightly less clinical English). The cycle route itself is a fantastic undertaking that Micheal Cramer – one of the route’s head honchos – noted ‘must be made visible!’, ie, lest we forget.
However, without getting too political, it seems we are forgetting the problems we face when we’re a divided Europe… But hey ho! It will be interesting to have a navy passport.
Booking the shed turned out to be a pretty good move, as no sooner had we reached the town of Donji Milanovac than a humongous thunderstorm started. It was probably the first time thunder sounded like it was directly on top of me, rather than 10km away and muffled through some double glazing. As with the toad orgies, I am not up for round two of this!
Thunderstorms aside, we slept well and the the next day was a cracker, as the EuroVelo wound through gorges and forests and we continued along the Danube.
We stayed in a really nice guest house on the edges of Golubac after our cycling, and when we woke up the next day to yet more chronic rain, we probably didn’t set off as early as we should of.
And that was the start of the day of the shit shows… Unfortunately I have to write that in plural, as yet again it was a maelstrom of shit shows in quick succession – just as I like ’em!
It was whilst we were waiting for the rain to let up that we had the idea of going off the EuroVelo 13 to “save time” – as the suggested route included a ferry across the Danube before heading west to Belgrade.
We decided we’d go for our “shortcut” (I think it’s probably clear why I’m using quotation marks here), and get to Belgrade a day earlier than planned, and it was all going swimmingly – until we discovered that around 10km of the route was gravel roads, at around 10% incline, which had been obliterated in the storm.
As we’d already come so far, we thought we’d plod along with it. After all, how long can a road be that’s so full of mud and grit it’s like pushing your bike through treacle.. quite long it seems, as we were doing it for roughly four hours.
In the end, we had to unpack our bikes and lift everything separately up the hill in batches. It was rough going!
There was also a brief interlude of massive swarms of mosquitos. At one point I looked down and I had four of the buggers feasting on my left arm. We soaked ourselves in repellent and kept going. It deterred about 10% of them.
When we eventually got to the top, we were ecstatic. We’d done it! That was until I tried to change my gear and my bike ground to a halt.
Somehow I’d managed to knock my rear derailleur (ie the thing that changes the bike’s gears) not only back, but back, to the left, and straight into the spokes of my back wheel. I’m no mechanic, but when I got off my bike to inspect the problem, I thought my cycling days were over – at least until Belgrade (which did create a small fissure of happiness I’m afraid to say).
But credit where credit is due – Sean has a ‘can do’ attitude which contrasts nicely with my ‘it’s broken forever’ or ‘it’s going to cost millions to fix this’ internal monologuing. When we fiddled about a bit he remembered that it’s possible to turn a bike with gears into a single speed jobbie, and after about 45 minutes and a couple of YouTube videos, that’s exactly what we did. Well done Sean!
It was slightly stressful continuing the 38km cycle to the hotel we’d already booked, with only one gear and quite a lot of hills, but we did it. Well I did it. Whilst Sean kept pedalling off with his full range of gears. We arrived at our guest house-cum-pizzeria around 9pm and were sat eating a slightly woozy interpretation of a calzone pizza by 9.10pm.
The next day I was fully prepared to empty my bank account to fix the bugger, but the bike mechanic charged a total of £18 for parts and labour. It seems I couldn’t have picked a better country to completely rupture my bike! It still took time though, and coupled with another rousing bout of afternoon raining, it meant we only cycled 25km in the afternoon that day, and straight into the smoky embrace of a trucker’s motel in Smederevo. (Which scored 6.1 on booking.com.. something I didn’t even think was possible with their inflated algorithms. It wasn’t that bad though!)
Refreshed the next day, we furiously pedalled the 73km to Belgrade in order to catch Serbia’s World Cup match at 2pm. We needn’t have bothered though as it appears practically no Serbians gave a shit! At around the fifth bar we tried, we sat down next to two filled tables. When Serbia scored, one of the men stood up. That was about the extent of it.
The rest of the afternoon was spent getting slowly blottoed and eventually weaving our way to The Nikola Tesla Museum to “meet the man on the 100 Dinar note” as Lonely Planet puts it. It was fascinating, but I was too squiff to really work any of it out.
The day after we visited the Museum of Contemporary Art which we both enjoyed before heading over to a free walking tour.
I won’t recite all the facts we learned like I did with some other tours – I was really hungover – but one note was that Serbia’s mafia (which rose up in response to the stresses of living under the sanctions imposed after the Yugoslav Wars) all apparently wore Diesel jeans to show off their wealth. Seems very prescriptive!
It was around this time we worked out we needed to get a pedal on to meet some of our deadlines – and with that in mind the next day we aimed to cycle around 94km to Novi Sad, and pop into Stremski Karlovci on the way. And I’m glad we did, cause that little town is an absolute hit parade of fantastic buildings.
I didn’t get to go in any of these buildings because (a) some required an appointment and (b) I was wearing such ass-clenchingly-tight cycling shorts it just wouldn’t have been appropriate. But we both appreciated from outside, before getting into Novi Sad.
And that’s where I’ll leave you! As tomorrow we will leave Serbia as we pedal along the EuroVelo 6 (which pretty much just follows the Danube) into Croatia. xx
One thought on “Cycling Serbia – the Iron Curtain Trail, multiple shit shows and getting blotto in Belgrade”
Amazing story telling! What an ordeal and it finishes with a smile on your face😃. 🙌 for Sean on his mechanical efforts🤭🤗😘