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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.