A Wild Ride Through Serbia (Part 1)

As I have said before, the further we have traveled into Eastern Europe the more foreign the experience has become. This was definitely the case for Serbia. We were no longer your typical cycle tourers there, but instead interesting foreigners important enough to hear more from. We regularly got waves hello and goodbye and if we stopped for a water break members of the public would come up to us and ask about our journey. In fact, we were actually waved down along a bridge crossing one morning because an older man and his friend wanted us to join them for a beer while they were fishing at 10.00am. I have to admit we did politely decline this offer.

Serbia has been full of surprises and not at all like I originally expected it to be. From our first day passing through Backa Planka, which was a vibrant little border town, with the best Greek salad I have had since the trip began, to our hair raising entrance into Novi Sad. As I stated in a previous post the Eurovelo 6 pretty much disappears as a cycle route after Hungary and it becomes a series of suggested roads to take through the country. We would later realise that it is no longer worth taking those suggestions in Serbia and avoiding the dyke to go on main roads is really your only option if you want to get anywhere.

The roads were a problem from the very start in Serbia. Unfortunately even the main roads are in pretty poor condition and you spend a lot of time avoiding broken tarmac and pot holes. Also the drivers have been the worst that we have experienced in all the countries that we have visited thus far. There seemed to be no acknowledgement of cyclists in Serbia and cars will overtake you even with another car coming in the other direction on narrow potholed roads and without slowing down in the slightest.

My partner approaches our journey in a very different way than I do, he has a lot of anxiety about the route and the journey and I have more of ‘I’m sure it will be fine’ we will deal with it as it comes mentality. It turned out that his approach was a lot more useful on our journey through Serbia, however it did also mean that we spent a lot more time in the country than we had initially planned for.

It started with our journey to Novi Sad, when we were forced to ride the main road into the city and for the first time, not the last time, we were actually forced off the road by a passing truck. The general torment of the ride encouraged us to stay an extra couple of days in Novi Sad so that we could relax and enter Belgrade, another rumoured horrible road ride, on a Sunday morning. The idea being that traffic would be a lot easier to manage.

Novi Sad is a small fortressed city that played an important part in the Yugoslavian war. My partner had read a lot about the city and also knew of its status as a tourist destination because of its large summer music festival. Like Budapest, Novi Sad had a series of outside bars and ruin bars that were hidden away in the alleys between the main streets. We entertained ourselves by watching the Serbia World Cup game in one of these bars with the locals on our first evening. Following the match, in another bar, we were approached by a young man who asked us if we were cycle tourers. Obviously surprised that we were so easily given away by our dress, we answered ‘YES!’ He then proceeded to ask us if we needed a place to stay for the night and explained that he worked for a cycle company in the city that took part in Warmshowers and put people up in their offices. Delighted and amazed that we were meeting this network of people all over the world we stayed and enjoyed the evening with him discussing Serbian culture and, of course, football. Our time in Novi Sad eased us into Serbian life and we immediately realised that we really enjoyed the friendly, zest for life we were finding in the people from this country.

On Sunday we left extra early to make our journey towards Belgrade, cautious of the 10%, 10km climb on a main road that we would need to get over. Whether it was that it was a weekend or that we would soon find there was no longer any road at the top of the climb, we weren’t sure, but the traffic wound up not being our problem that day. Once again this proved that you can never fully be prepared for what is going to happen to you on the day on a bike tour. 1km to the crest of this hill that we had climbed relatively easily until then, we saw there was no longer a road but instead what looked like an avalanche of broken tarmac. Not wanting to take whatever diversion Serbia had in store for us we decided we were better off dragging the bikes through the grass on the side of the road. In hindsight this may have not been the best thing to do since we would up carrying the bikes in the end.

We finally did make it to Belgrade, in one piece, and actually enjoyed the end of the ride which takes you through a long park beside the river in what is known as New Belgrade. We were excited to have some time off to experience the city since it was our last big one before Istanbul. We spent our first day meandering up and down the cobblestone streets Skadarilija and visiting the fortress that overlooks the city.

I originally thought that Belgrade would be a dirty, less modern city, mainly because of how cheap it is there. We rented a large two bedroom apartment in a great location for only 27 euros a night. But it is a really modern, cosmopolitan city, with fancy bars and restaurants all around and large shopping areas. I actually found it to be more modern than Budapest and much cheaper to enjoy. My only negative note for future tourists is I was very excited to visit the large orthodox church in the city, the church of Saint Saga, but that really was a let down as inside all of the interior was covered in scaffolding.

We left Belgrade with heavy hearts wishing we had given ourselves more time to enjoy the city but by this point we were starting to have Istanbul in our sites and were looking anxiously forward to the end of this part of our journey.

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