Sleepless in Serbia

Tuesday, 22nd of November 2011

Through the fog we headed southeast. There were hardly any Eurovelo-6-signs left on the way so we orientated by the map.

The foggy way

The cold fog did not matter to us because of the nice people on the way: young kids shouted “Hello” and an old couple on a carriage waves. We even kept the good mood when Roberto’s back wheel was flat again. Though the inner tube was full of patches already we changed it with a new and bigger one. Trying to inflate we recognized that they sold us an inner tube without valve, not surprised, we took action and quickly found a place to get a new valve and went on.

Belgrade came closer and closer and I recognized that we did still not learn our lesson from Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest: do not enter any capital city by rush hour! Cars blew their horns passing and squeezed us down the street. A crazy bus driver blew the horn really long while he waited on a red traffic light behind us. When it turned green he floored the gas pedal and we fled on the crowded pedestrian way. The crossroads where crazy and we got caught in the middle of the lanes a couple of times. The bulky trailer did not make things easier. We made it to the main station where we met Jordan, our host. Together with four other couchsurfers we spent the following days in her cozy one-room-apartment.

Our roommates in Belgrade

Jordan knew perfectly what sweaty cyclists need when it is around 0°C outside: a big tea and then a hot shower.

Walking outside the rush-hour the city is more comfortable and I started liking the city that had to suffer so much during the war. The young habitants are very creative. We stumbled upon a short movie-exposition, a comic exposition and the BIGZ where hundreds of artists meet every day in their studios. We came along great with our new flatmates also.

Since Kelheim in Bavaria we have been following the danube now and it was time for a change, so we headed south. Leaving the city was easier than expected and it did not take long until we arrived to the Avala, a 506 meter’s mountain in the south of the city.

Uphill, uphill, uphill. I even cycled without my jacket that day

The view must have been great but we only saw fog. Finding a place to sleep was not easy, we could neither find a place for the tent nor a cheap room for the night, so we cycled arround in the dark following the passenger’s tips. After 15 extra kilometers and three visited places (a not so camping-friendly area, a rehab with free rooms for 44 € a night and a full hotel in the town, we cycled all the way back to the last motel on the way and spend the night there. Now we will prepare better.

It stayed hilly the next day and I got grumbly: “The map says it was all flat here!” I justified my bad mood. When there was nothing but conifers around us we finally made it and and went downhill. In a curve there stood a man on the street showing me his hand as if he wanted me to stop. Behind him there was a shaking tree. I stood on the brakes and barely made it to stop before the tree fell on the road just in front of me. The man looked at me, I looked at him, nobody said a word. We went on.

At 3.30 pm we found a place to camp in the suburb of a small town. We hurried up building the tent, putting the sleeping bags and luggage and locking the bikes and just when we were done the sun had set. Unsuccessfully we tried to find some sleep at 4 pm. We couldn’t. In the night either. We tried to sleep for fifteen long, cold and dark hours until the sun finally rose at 7 am.

Everything was white, camping season is over now.
Cold Serbia

I jumped out of the 0°C cold inside tent and was surprised: the water bottles where frozen, the bikes white and the tent was stiff because all the frozen condensed water inside the tent.

The speedometer shows -7.8°C and my shoes have stayed outside in the night. Hand and feet change into ice cubes. We shake to the closest café and indulged ourselves with a big hot tea for 0.30 €. For all the suffering we also invested 3 € for a second pair of gloves so we do not have to share one pair anymore.

It stays hilly the following days and again we do not know where to sleep. During the day we enjoyed temperatures up to 8°C, by sunset in Ražanj they fell down quickly to 3°C and then to zero. I really did not want to camp but the motel indicated in the map does not exist and I turned desperate. There was not even a cash machine and after buying food for 3 € we had only 4 € left. We asked a couple of people for private rented rooms when Toplica stopped his car next to us.

Toplica and Daniza

He invited us to sleep in the room with the boiler room because inside the house he did not have enough space for us, but first we come inside for a tea. Toplicas wife Daniza showed us pictures of their grandson and offered us a great Serbian dinner with bread, Ajvar (pepper-avocado-paste), sausage, sour coleslaw, Bob (refried beans with spiced oil) and Kajmak-Sir, a Serbian cheese. We enjoyed our dinner, talked a lot, and watched a Turkish soap opera and a Serbian quiz show in the TV and when Spongebob started Roberto fell asleep on the sofa before 8 pm; cycling with the trailer is exhausting. Daniza and Toplica offer us the sofa in the living room.

By the following morning the temperature went down to -10°C. We stayed inside the house until 9am when it got up to 0°C. Then we cycled fast towards Niš, the third biggest Serbian city. Here we met with the couchsurfer Miloš, one of the main organizers of the couchsurfing community of Niš. He organized a couchsurfing meeting for us where he invited online all the 140 couchsurfer of the city. The most active 10 came and we enjoyed making so many friends in such a short time. Everybody was curious to get to know more about the Mexican culture so we made Chilaquiles for them all the following morning.

In the following days we cooked and ate a lot, met new friends who wanted to practice their German and Spanish, got to know Niš, where Constantine the great was born and made plans for the future. It is definitely too cold to camp and there are hardly any couchsurfers and warmshowerers in the small towns south from Niš. Even during the day the temperature hardly rises above zero and our tent is still frozen after a couple of days. We cannot afford to spend 30 € or more for a hotel every night and we do not even know if there are enough hotels on the way so we will probably take a train from Niš to the Macedonian Skopje and from there down to the Greek Thessaloniki where it is a bit warmer.

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