Serbia

A very celebratory piece of cake

Cycling into Serbia is having me think: these small European countries differ so tremendously from each other that it needs a lot of historical knowledge and information about the past. I haven’t got that all, so I better just let Serbia enter!

Our first night and camp took some effortSometimes a failed selfie is much nicerThree thirsty shepards dogsThis village was great to be, simple and alive

Before you ride into Serbia: get your EuroVelo route map in Germany. No one knows where the map is for sale, not even the supposed presser of the map in Beograd. And adjust your sense of logic if it comes to follow the route arrows, it doesn’t make sense anymore here. Route 6 often goes via the normal road where cars are not used to cyclists. Where cars even do not know how to ride careful!

That sets the tone for this country, a tiny colorful churchCatching some air to cool down, it's sgetting hot

No more former-communist expressions

As an introvert person I like it when people are friendly and waving. And boy, do they wave here in Serbia!? Even dogs come running towards us and claim a loving gesture. Dogs are a special case on its own: throughout the European countries a whole array of styles and upbringing is used. In Germany dogs are supposed to observe the strict commands of their owner, even look away when a cyclist is passing. In Czech dogs wear muzzles, even the naturally innocent real small dogs. In Hungary dogs are to alarm the owner on the same side of the wall when someone pass. In Serbia however, dogs roam free, whether they have an owner or not. And so seem the people of this country, they enjoy life.

Of course, this is a very superficial perception. But as a cyclist it is a very welcome change. The only people who do not tend to greet are fellow cyclist from Europe.

Our camp finally at the river, mosquito infested and allNot too exciting landscape, yet pleasant

Greeting. Acknowledging. Smiling. Waving. What is it about greeting a stranger?

I have found Americans sometimes overly friendly but is being friendly not nicer than arrogant? When a human is between dozens of other humans it is quite normal not to greet each and every pair of eyes but why does an European human feel the need to deny so many other people? It is a very European thing. It doesn’t happen in else where.

Anyway, we are happy to be in Serbia! Away with the stern, wary and sighing attitude. People enjoy their day, sitting on benches outside. People actually seem to live and be happy with it.

A turn in the routeAfter numerous photographs Tom finds out its a dead snake

It is obviously not all that perfect, Serbia is a country with a low-income too. The villages are simple and deprived from sometimes such a naturally fact as running water. We need to start buying containers of 6 liters water (for a euro). We are most surprised when we cycle into a village, straying from the EuroVelo route 6. Having past wooden carts pulled by horses and seeing a rare view in Hungary now being continued, that of old-fashioned shepherds with a flock of sheep, we witness lively villages.

There's even a turtle crossing the roadSunflower fields start to rule the landscape

Churches in Serbia are neglected, slowly falling into a heap of dusty stones. Storks sit on about every wooden electricity pole in every village, their young patiently waiting to fly out but less diligent if it comes to their mom bringing them food. Villages still have little specialized shops, which are actually open, adding an immediate bout of life to the village. People now need to go out and get things, which elderly men do on bicycles too small or with a saddle way too low. Boys greet Tom in respect and girls giggle to me. Elderly women wear a style accepted 30 years ago in other parts of Europe and about everyone waves at us in such a village. We think life is lived at a low pace. And I think we are right in that, little cars with narrow tires snorts on a bumpy, broken road. Such cars are Serbian made and often come in faded red or billiard-cloth green. Farmers rather choose a new state of the art agricultural monster of a machine instead of a new car. So the Yugo and Tam little tiny cars are still going strong out in the country side.

A toilet out in the nature

Serbia doesn’t feels boring, lifeless or depressing but comfortable relaxed. Except when I need to go to the natural toilet. We still need to spray with mosquito stuff. Even worse now, our bottoms need to be covered with DEET before we squat down for toilet. At least we are freed from sooth all over our bodies now we found good old ethanol to cook with.

Oh sure, there’s still an enormous amount of agriculture, way more than strictly necessary, but at least there’s some variety. We don’t know it yet and we will get fed up with it too, but for now it’s a welcome change: sunflowers and, what we think, soya beans, although that’s a very boring crop.

Skremski Karlovci stopFriendly ladyStill many men fishing alone in a wooden boat

Our new tent is waterproof!

Although we are both independent cyclists, to such an extend we almost look down on following a mapped cycle route, we do like following arrows pointing us down the EuroVelo route 6. But finding camp spots along it is not always easy. Sometimes we end up between active beehives. Sometimes we need to cross big fields reaching to the grown edge for hiding. Now we end up on a narrow track overgrown with blackberries, passing through a pool with frogs and ending at an incredible small patch of wet, sandy riverbed. Tom is elated, so I try to be too.

We really prefer this mode of travel over the one underneathAn old fashioned passerby on the cycle route

Ever since we came into immediate contact with the Danube in Hungary we wanted to camp right at it. Despite the clouds of mosquitoes. Now we are right at it. To be more accurate, we are IN it. I make sure the water level doesn’t have tides and with that I sleep a peaceful night. That is only possible because I am taken care for, and Tom is woken up by those giant luxury ships carrying tourists over the nightly Danube and produce waves according it’s size. Fishermen walk right behind our camp but can’t see us through the dense forest with a wild understorey of blackberries.

That's right, Talus stands IN the Danube river!Small patches done by handSlowly opening for the days to come

Is cycling boring in monoculture Europe?

Nothing has changed from Hungary if it comes to cycling along the Danube. We still do so, but all the rest seem to have changed. Nature around is buzzing with action. We can’t believe the words we heard from a fellow cyclist, one who shared the camaraderie of fellow global cyclist: ‘Cycling along the Danube is so boring, I love the mountains’, it sure is flat but what about a wild boar mom crossing the rough track called cycle route, with 4 lingering young behind her! Or a deer who sticks her head out of a wheat field and upon seeing us hops away with her young eagerly showing off his skills. What about a male deer, overlord and proud of his antlers? Or a snake on the path, left behind as a piece of decoration by a fisherman who loves nature (by taking the automobile to his river spot). What about a tiny owl perched at a water bore? It is utterly romantic. We see beavers at work, producing such loud flapping on the water surface that I call it a beautiful noise nuisance! Or what about the nutria curious funny adorable kind of rat animals? It makes me wonder whether I can hang on to them like people do with a dolphin? What about storks feeding their babies a snake? I only seen such a combat over food in my temporarily family in Pakistan. What about me peeing on a heap of leeches not knowing what kind of curious worms this are?

Nests of storks everywhereAreta's owner Boban is where we had Tom's bicycle repaired

Cycling in Iran, Iraq, Oman or India are never boring, not for a single moment. Sure, we have little to no challenges: food and water is always available, no visa are needed to enter a country and we need not depend on our intuition whether someone is a threat. No one will rip us off and everyone is honest. And since I am with Tom, I am not even bothered by rutting men. One of my few best friends comes from Serbia and for me this is reason alone to cycle through this country.

A word about the signage on EuroVelo route 6

Our route goes from Sombor, Backa Palanka, Novi Sad, Beograd, Kovin right into the Iron Gate. We leave the country somewhere near Ivanova. Cycling through the little villages is idyllic, quiet and peaceful. And funnily enough, there is an abundance of signings, sometimes every other 20 meter. On long straight stretches of road we seem to be supposed to feel the intentions of the road-worker who’d put up the signage. Long stretches of straight road are not sign-boarded. You just need to feel that. On one such expanse we suddenly ride into a signboard. Startled about the route, we are lured by a standard view out of a holiday brochure: a huge building with wooden balconies and an abundance of geraniums. One look into each others eyes and we are off to sleep the night there instead of a mosquito infested inferno.

Tom cruising peacefullyTwo curious rat-like animals in the water

Here we learn something about people, waiters and sales people in particular. It is not so much about selling and serving but more about being on the spot. Being beautiful and friendly but not commercial. Sitting on a terrace, a very common thing to do in Serbia, we only manage to have one drink and then we are neglected, the waitress chatting with other customers who seem to be her/his deep connected friends. Maybe it is our mistake; we are too shy to raise our voice and hands.

The EuroVelo cycling route number 6 in Serbia is only half on designated tracks, often we ride on the road. Inevitable, there is someone correcting us when we take a wrong turn. Automobile people in this country are suffering from machismo and the roads are dotted with potholes and open sewer puts. You need to keep your eyes open for signboards which are not there and you got quite a nice concoction for exciting cycling.

Time for lunch and a supermarket visitTom is peeing, I focus on a flower

The color of skin keeps being an issue

Entering Belgrade is dusty and hot. I find the atmosphere similar to Damascus’ old city, shabby, old and neglected yet having let you have its very own impression. Although there is a lot of intercultural community all throughout Europe, we often don’t see an obvious difference. There are hardly any Africans in East Europe (understandable, why would you seek an economically better future in East Europe? Or why would you seek asylum in East Europe when there are no harbors connecting you, perhaps no refuge programs like other parts of Europe?) Seeing darker skinned people often means lower in social order, just like in India. Those darker people seem to be looked down upon, since they are doing the ‘dirty’ work. From now on we’ll see darker skinned people washing car-windows in a very quick pace. Not far away from him shows a huge banner how !ncredible India is. We see more people searching for food in containers and like the homeless, their skin is often darker too.

And I start to question again why the color of someone’s skin is such an issue? Black/white: Is it because the Europeans who overruled, try to convert, taught their ways, mishandled African traditions, succeeded to interfere, with their inferiority and greediness, seeing only inadequacy, felt progressive and were arrogant, were white? In general, is being white equal to all this? But what about the rulers of many African countries? What about the ‘whiter’ people from Arab countries, making a fortune in Africa! What about being a victim, or acting like one? What about suppression and better not to try to stand up for your rights? Inequality… Oh damn, here I go again!

Our camp literally between the sunflowersA long gradial downhill to the border with RomaniaFinal village before entering Romania

Traveling is not just seeing the new, it is also leaving behind Jan Myrdal

Serbia, or the route we are on, is still quite authentic. Around 5 o’clock elderly people in their outfits dating back to the 80′ are lounging and napping. Here we see simple structures made from wood in a very airy construction where corn is kept to dry. Sometimes they add mud to build barns, and dried grass to give it structure and strength. In the city Belgrade we sample kebab while sunflower-seeds are available in every shop. The river stores heaps of trash along the edges and the route happily joins in with collecting plastic. Me trying to order black tea always turns out to be earl grey or peach, or some other synthetic fruity mismatch of tea. The silk route obviously did not go through Serbia.

The last day of our European cycling trip in Serbia is getting more connected to Romania. Tom and I are cooing how genuine it is, and it all seem to come together after Kovin, where I surprisingly marvel at the great taste of a hamburger. The elderly women are still dressed in black with a synthetic apron covering their front, a pajama style trouser underneath it. Their equal aged husbands ride on bicycles, often old and rusty, remarkable often a collapsible one. Horses are pulling carts. We peddle past wetlands and slough, quiet waters with bobbing boats. Birds, egrets and storks all flap their wings when they hear us coming.

Who's there in the far background?A bee making sunflower honey perhapsAlthough nothing is spectacular, it is so beautiful

A bridge between the east and West

Houses are built from hollow bricks, their angle slanting, the outlook not important. And that is a great achievement, or is it not? To build your dwelling in such a way that it is functional. Cement is bubbling between the big gray blocks of stones. Paint, flowers in the windowsill, or a windowsill itself, a window frame or alignment are sometimes too much of an addition to a newly built house. Is that important when the roads are in a bad condition? When bread is mostly white? When sausages are big and plenty? When people love to smoke? When men sexually jeer at me when Tom is far ahead?

I think I agree with the statement that Serbia is a bridge between the East and the West. We start to enjoy kind of baklava, plenty of poppy seeds and kebab. We see many more money changers, a bit hidden in a tiny office. Restaurants are sometimes so small you can only take out. Coffee is weak, black tea non-existent. Small shops sell a meager assortment. Homeless people are given some coins or food without them having to ask or beg for it. And above all, Serbia start to give way to the countries of wooden benches.

We don’t know yet but in the next country this is going to be a beautiful blaze… Serbia turns out to be a warming up for Romania.

12 responses to “Serbia

    • Felix, you mean the locals say Bonjour, or the cyclists? That would be weird: cyclists from abroad who are so friendly in France? But it could be… maybe the cyclists are happy to be among French cheese and baguette’s ; )

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      • I don’t know how locally the oncomimg cyclists are, but with panniers, chariots? Families on cycle holidays, Singles, couples, how ever, mostly I was suprised and not fast enough to react.

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      • That’s right… you can not know whether a cyclist is local or not. It could be very well a Frenchman, but a tourist as well. Although, when they greet you in French I assume it is a local. That is another funny thing tough… without wanting to be negative or prejudiced, French people tend not to be overly friendly (neither are the Dutch!). It might be the sunshine, the holiday feeling and the fact they are happy! Maybe that region has plenty of happy people?

        I notice in summer the Dutch people tend to be much more friendly too. However, they will not greet first quickly. If we greet first, they will greet back, in Dutch usual, but only in summer when the sun shines : ) Isn’t that typical!

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      • The strange in this context is, that the permant “Bon Jour” happend only in the Loire Valley, but not in the Normandie nor in the Rhone. In other european countries I found that to get greeted is a custom in more rural regions, where everybody knows everybody. Now here in Canada I get wavings from all the people who admire whaat I do, motorbikers, and in case of honking car drivers I’m seldom sure what they want to express….

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      • Felix, we experienced the exact same. In Turkey the motor drivers honk while racing on the other side of the road. Probably because they admire what we do, moving without a motor driver vehicle. Cars often honk to say ‘Hello’ and sometimes to say ‘You stupid ass, go off the road with your toy,’ but never in Turkey or further on ; ) You can hear a difference in sound by a honk: an angry one or a friendly one. Or, of course, it can be a sexy honk (which I hate!), an admirable, a supportive one… We noticed many different greetings in Romania though.

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  1. Is grappig, ik had die opmerking ook over de Camargue. Iedereen die je tegenkwam zei ‘Bonjour’, En ‘s avonds ‘ Bonsoir’..

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      • Hallo Cinderella, ik was weer vergeten te zeggen dat je foto’s weeral super mooi zijn! Jij staat er ook altijd zo mooi op!
        Wat betreft dat groeten, ja de Fransen zelf groeten voortdurend.

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      • Hoi Monique,

        Ik sta vooral goed op foto’s omdat er tientallen maak en dan de beste uitzoek ; )

        Wat typisch dat de Fransen zo groeten, ze staan toch niet bekend om hun vriendelijkheid hé ; )

        Liefs Cin

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  2. Lieve Cin, Neen dat klopt wat hun vriendelijkheid betreft, ze zijn toch eerder arrogant te noemen. Dat groeten bij hen is eerder als je samen iets gemeenschappelijk hebt en op bepaalde plaatsen; zoals die fietsers of bij ons was dat dan op een vakantiedomein. Als je in de supermarkt rondloopt is het dan weer niet. Stel je voor!
    De foto met de honden en de kerk met Mariabeeld zijn super!
    Liefs Monique xxxxx

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    • Dank je Monique,

      Ik vind zelf de fiets met de kerk door de wielen gezien heel mooi. De kerk met Maria beeld ook ja, dat was de eerste foto in Servië. De honden waren er vier, hoorden bij een schaapsherder en het was zo heet dat die honden telkens naar beneden liepen vanaf de dijk om water te drinken in de Donau.

      Liefs Cin

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