25 to 27 September 2015 – Belgrade, Somber into Hungary

Routes and stats for the last few days below:

A few more big cycling days, and now I’m in Hungary; country number 22 of the tour!

–> 25 September – to Belgrade (144km)
My tent got battered by squalls overnight. The wind really shook my tent, and the rain was quite heavy at points, however no leaks to report. I’m not sure how the stray dog faired however he was still there in the morning, and wagging his tail enthusiastically. The campsite cat wasn’t so enthusiastic about his presence, however they seemed to reach a détente of sorts; the dog soon learnt that sticking his nose at the cat wasn’t a good plan!

After a breakfast of bread, honey and cheese, I pedalled off towards Belgrade after tucking some money under the campsite office door, to keep my karma all balanced. The stray dog attempted to follow me for a couple of kilometres, obviously having decided to join my ‘pack’, however he had to give up after a bit – very good effort though. I think he was quite a young dog, and pretty lonely. I do feel sorry for all the strays around, and something needs to be done about it in several of the countries I’ve passed through; it’s nice when they’re friendly, however more often than not they’re aggressive and alarming.

I rode out of the last bit of the Iron Gates gorge, and then through the fortress guarding the entrance to the gorge near Golubac. The fortress is pretty imposing, and the road runs straight through its lower level. I think it’s been the site of the many battles over the course several centuries, for example between the Ottoman and Hungarian Empires.

Over the course of the day I passed a lot of activity in the countryside, with people out collecting  walnuts or harvesting fruit, or using scythes to cut back vegetation and grass; had to be careful not to lose something vital on the back-swings. I followed the Eurovelo 6 route for a bit, to Veliko Gradiste, then somehow missed a signpost, which worked out alright as I continued on the more direct main road; this probably saved me about 20km on my way to Belgrade.

Today’s ride wasn’t as exciting as yesterday’s, but at least it was fairly flat until the last 30km. The latter 30km proved to be fairly hilly and tiring, however i made it to Belgrade and to Hostel Hedonist without any trouble. The hostel gave me a warm welcome (thanks Philip), and was quite busy despite it being late in the year; I don’t think big city hostels are ever that quiet. With some campsites starting to close for the year I might need to start using hostels or hotels more, especially as there aren’t that many campsites in this part of the world. I could wild camp more, but that depends on suitable sites that aren’t going to be too obvious.

The hostel directed me to a local burger joint for dinner, which proved just what I was after; cheap, tasty, and with lots of calories. The Serbians seem to like their burgers, and produce some excellent quality meat patties. After dinner and a bit of a wander (forgot to take photos), I picked up a few supplies, then chilled out at the hostel with other guests, over a few beers and some honey rakia courtesy of the hosts. Despite there being a few drinking games going on I managed to get some writing done, and plan the next few days, before retreating to bed before things got too messy; good to meet and chat with more travellers again though, and amazing just how many Australian and New Zealanders I’m encountering.

As I retired for the night it started to rain very hard; hope it clears up for the morning!

–> 26 September – to Sombor (170km)
Staying in a hostel in a big city can be fun, but it can also be noisy, and thus I didn’t get the best night’s sleep. Several people were up drinking and chatting until very late, or very early depending on your perspective; 4 were still going when I got up at 06.30. Still, I’d had a fun night, and had avoided a hangover, so I set off towards Novi Sad and Sombor. I wasn’t sure exactly how far I’d get, and what the weather was going to be like, however it turned out to be a long ride and pretty wet for some of it.

It was chilly and damp as I pedalled to Novi Sad, and the road was slippery in places, encouraging stunt possibilities. My back wheel slid sideways when I had to brake hard on the outskirts of Belgrade, to avoid a car performing unexpected manoeuvres, however I managed to not fall off. There was only one big hill to deal with, just before Novi Sad, and the rest of the route was fairly flat. The road before Novi Sad was also very bumpy, reminding me a bit of parts of Belgium, with regular wrist jarring cracks, and some pretty serious pot holes to avoid.

Before reaching Novi Sad I rounded a corner and spotted not a bird, or a plane, but Super Cycling Man. I’d been wondering if I’d bump into Will Hodson, aka Super Cycling Man.  Will is on his way around the world by bike, aiming to pedal 100,000km across all 7 continents, over the course of 5 years, dressed as a superhero. You can check out his story on his website, as well as keep up-to-date on his progress: http://supercyclingman.com

It was great to chat for a bit, and compare mascots, although Travelling Lobster was slightly intimidated by Will’s mascot, Dave the Worm. Will’s an amazing bloke, and best of luck to him on his 5 year adventure; I find it hard to contemplate being on the road 5 years, however as I’ve said before you have to chunk it up into smaller sections, and not think about the whole thing; just live in the moment and enjoy all the varied experiences and people you meet.

Novi Sad was bigger than I expected, and very busy; I discovered latterly that it’s the 2nd largest city in Serbia. I crossed over the Danube as a big coal barge passed under the bridge.

Crossing the Danube in Novi Sad - huge coal barge

Crossing the Danube in Novi Sad – huge coal barge

Novi Sad was heavily bombed in 1999 by Nato, during the Kosovo war, and all the bridges over the river destroyed; not that long ago really. Today it’s hard to imagine all the fighting that went on over Kosovo, especially as all the people are so friendly.

There followed a very long ride through flat farmland, into a slight headwind, to Sombor near the Hungarian border. The ride reminded me of cycling from Cambridge to Norwich, through fenland and fields of crops. I was fairly bored by the end of the day, and quite frustrated due to the headwind making it feel like I was constantly pedalling uphill, despite it being flat.

If I get annoyed by a headwind at the moment, I remind myself that at least I’m not being blown backwards, unlike Sarah Outen who is rowing across the Atlantic at the moment, on the last leg of her expedition around the world. Sarah is having quite a hard time of it, with the wind being against her; must be incredibly difficult to keep motivated. You can check out her progress here:  http://www.sarahouten.com/the-mission/journey-tracker/

One thing that Sarah doesn’t have to put up with though is dogs, although I imagine there are quite a few other animal hazards to contend with. I was chased 4 times by dogs today; once by 3 Jack Russell sized canines that I could have easily kicked into touch. I didn’t incidentally, however it was tempting.

Although I didn’t pass any other cycle tourers after Novi Sad, I did get plenty of waves and shouts of hello from locals as I rode along, and friendly beeps from passing cars, all of which helped me reach Sombor after 170km. I found the Long Tour Bike Camp, not far from the town centre, and checked in for the night. The Long Tour Bike Camp is a relatively new set up, catering specifically for cycle tourers. I received a very warm welcome from the hosts, and elected to stay in their guest apartment rather than pitch my tent for the night. Whilst still a work in progress it’s a brilliant set up, with a workshop where you can conduct any repairs you might need to perform, and the hosts able to offer route advice, including future accommodation options. As with all these places it’s the hosts that make it, and in this case they are both exceptionally welcoming, friendly and helpful.

After a long ride I was ready for some food, so I headed into town to forage for a few supplies and pizza; the latter was delicious. I guess now it’s getting colder, and I’m pedalling longer distances each day on my way back to the UK, I’m going to have to try and eat even more; could be tricky – I’ll buy more Haribo and chocolate!

 

A bit later on in the evening I met Jovan Erakovic, the architect of the Eurovelo 6 route in Serbia, and an accomplished cycle tourer himself; he’s friends with the hosts. It was good to swap tales and ideas for future tours. It was also very good to retire to a comfy bed, and needless to say it didn’t take me long to fall asleep.

–> 27 September – to Solt, Hungary (136km)
I felt refreshed and ready for another day’s riding in the morning, and would thoroughly recommend Long Tour Bike Camp if your passing that way by bike. They supplied me with an excellent breakfast; the first time I’ve had bacon in a long time, which made me very happy.

After signing their memory wall, alongside Super Cycling Man’s note who also stayed here, I set off for the border and Hungary, only 27km away. It didn’t take long to get there, and there were no issues crossing, and no sign of any migrants/refugees. There is a big razor wire fence that I believe has only been put up recently.

The border guards were checking cars pretty thoroughly, and asked me if I had any drugs or weapons; I wondered if I needed to declare Lobster, as he’s probably a health risk due badly needing a wash!

Once over the border it was a long flat cycle North to Solt, through Baja and a few other towns, as well as a lot more farmland. The ride was very similar to yesterday’s; flat, damp, crops and an irritating headwind which knocked a few kilometres per hour off my speed. At least the road wasn’t very busy, and there were a few cycle path sections, including a long one a the end of the day on top of a dyke. In one town I passed nets full of what I assume is Paprika, hung up to dry; loads of it.

Only got chased by dogs once today, so Hungary looking up on that front!

Once in Solt I found an ATM to withdraw some cash, getting a bit confused about the exchange rate, then found my planned accommodation for the night; Eurovelo 6 Stop. Eurovelo 6 Stop is another place catering for cycle tourers, and again I received a warm welcome. They have a nice little annex down at the bottom of their garden, with a few beds, kitchen and bathroom; suited me fine. They were in the process of celebrating their mother’s 85th birthday, with family visiting from Budapest; the grandchildren were busy helping harvest pears, as well as walnuts I think, from trees in the garden.

The shops are all closed in Hungary on Sundays, at least they are away from the big cities, so I elected for takeaway from a local restaurant which the hostess helped me order; pizza and a large Greek salad.

I finished the evening with glass of some kind of plum schnapps from the hosts, which did a great job of relaxing my muscles, and made me very sleepy. Everyone seems to brew their own spirits in this part of the world, and here was no exception; excellent stuff but pretty powerful.

Tomorrow it’s on to Budapest where I may have a rest day, before continuing on towards Vienna. I think I’m about 2 weeks away from the UK now, which feels a bit surreal, however I’ve still got some exciting bits of Europe to pedal through. Got a few plans for when I get back to the UK, but still fleshing them out; want to have some fun on home soil before going back to work. Back to work, now there’s a sobering thought!

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