Novi Sad to Belgrade, Serbia

Trip Start Sep 14, 2006
Trip End Dec 17, 2006

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Flag of Serbia and Montenegro  ,
Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Bit of a rough night thanks to the Serbs. I came round at about 10am feeling a little worse for wear. I packed and managed to get on the road for midday after drinking about two litres of water. Igor showed me to the Petrovaradin Bridge and I was on my way. The road was heavy with traffic as I made hard work of a 10km climb. The driver's are a little more aggressive here. I heard a car accelerate behind, uphill and on a bend, followed by a crunch and crash close behind. I turned to see the car's headlight spilled over the opposite lane. A oncoming bus had rounded the bend at speed and taken the overtaking driver by surprise. Traffic quickly backed up and the inevitable horns were blaring within seconds. This would be a common theme for Serbia.

After the climb I had mostly flat road to Belgrade. I was 10km from Belgrade when the rear tyre slowly started to deflate. I cycled for as long as I could before the bike started wobbling. I topped up the tyre and continued. Only 4km from the centre I had to do the same again. This time the valve snapped off in the pump. All day I'd been considering the alternative transport to Istanbul. I am tiring of this lifestyle. I love the people I've met and places I've seen but my arse is sore and the days are getting shorter and colder. Above all I knew I could not make it to Egypt for Christmas by bike alone and was weighing up alternatives in my head. My weakened state due to little sleep was also having an effect. I'd had a great night in Novi Sad fuelled by copious amounts of Jelen Pivo and Bojan's grandfather's legendary Rakia. Igor, Rade, Bojan, Vladimir and Mikitsa had taken me on a whirlwind tour of the city's bars after a good session at Vladimir's flat. The boys even had a live band play a song for me in one of the bar's. I think it was Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton but that may be wishful thinking and my memories are a little hazy. Clara was evidently not impressed by my change of mood and heart and had decided to make her feelings known. A forlorn Freddy, my amiable accomplice, was still securely attached to the basket but it now hung limply from it's bracket on the front of the bike. I decided to push the bike and called my friend Pavle to let him know. As I made my way to Branka Most, a bridge connecting Novi Belgrade to the city's centre, I met Nemanja. He was interested in my trip and would be a great help later with routes and onward contacts.

It was great to see my good friend Pavle. We'd had a chance meeting at the hostel in Linz and had kept in touch. It was great to see a friendly face after a torrid day. He introduced me to his girlfriend, Nada and their friend, Tanya and they showed me a good time as we toured the city's nightlife.

After another late night I couldn't sleep past 10am. The decision about where to go from here was weighing heavy on my mind. The weather was annoyingly perfect for cycling, bright and dry, but I needed rest, emotionally as well as physically. I spent the day thinking about my onward journey. Pavle and Tanya took me to the train station. A ticket to Istanbul is a painfully cheap 40 Euros and the trip takes only 24 hours. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. We enquired about the bike and after an hour walking around the station we discovered it would be possible for a little extra money in the right pocket. We had arranged to go out again that night but after an all too brief nap that evening I fell into a deep sleep. I finally came round the next morning - 11 hours later.

I met Nemanja the following day and he introduced me to his friends Milan and Tikana. We went for drinks, more Rakia, in a bar known by the symbol ?. Nemanja advised me of a route to Sofia he had cycled with a French couple, who are also clearly barking mad; they are now in Tibet, one year into a two year cycling trip. From Sofia I can continue to Istanbul. The route is more direct than the one I had planned and should get me to Istanbul before the 18th December. Unfortunately, it means I will miss meeting up with Lubo, a Bulgarian I met in Linz earlier in the trip (apologies, Lubo). Of course, this means I will be taking alternative transport from Istanbul to Egypt in order to spend Christmas with my cousin, Charley. It also gives Clara and Freddy a rest from the road and most importantly, from me.

Things were going well on the Monday. I spoke to my family and a contact in Istanbul. Having someone to meet and a place to stay at a destination really makes a difference. Later, Nemanja and I were driving to his place. We passed through some traffics lights on green. A car shot out of a road to our right straight into the traffic. He collided with the front passenger side of the car and we both came to a shudering halt. Luckily no-one was hurt but as we checked the car's we noticed the guy fıddlıng wıth something in his boot. Thinking nothing of it we continued to look around. And spotted a yellow sign on his window and the sıgn for nuclear materials. We walked to the back of the guy's car again and found him passing a Geiger counter over some metallic cases. Yikes. Had a look for cuts and scratches and had visions of arms and legs sprouting from my eyes. Luckily no leaks. Well he would say that wouldn't he.

Police arrived on the scene impressively quickly and then stood around doing absolutely nothing. Unconcerned about the traffic they watched on as cars and lorries of all shapes and sizes did their best to manouver around the crash site which was slap, bang in the middle of a busy crossroads. Next the fire brigade arrived and assumed control. They started to take statements from all concerned. In mine I mentioned that my neck was a little sore from the whiplash but nothing to worry about. Five minutes later I'm the only English speaker in a serbian ambulance in heavy traffic. The ambulance pulled up at the hospital about an hour later. I made my way to a desk of sorts and tried to explain my presence. I didn't get far before somebody took pity and helped out. I was told I needed to pay 75 euros before I could even be examined. My neck wasn't 100% but I wasn't in 75 euros of pain either so I skipped the check-up and prescribed myself a few bottles of Jelen Pivo to be taken orally. One bottle per hour for the rest of the evening. Firstly however, Milan and Nemanja collected me from the hospital and we had some traditional food that Nemanja's mother had kindly prepared for us.

After the excitement of the previous day and under strict instruction from doctor's Nemanja and Milan I was told to rest another day in Belgrade. Pavle agreed. It suited me fine as I was in no great rush to get back on the bike although I did feel it was time to move on... Or at least time to do something different. I toyed with the idea of looking for teaching work in Belgrade but I feel like I need to close this chapter first. I realise that I won't be satisfied until I reach Istanbul and the far reaches of Europe.

My last day in Belgrade began with a cold morning. The mist of the prevıous day had failed to clear and the temperature had dropped by about 10oC. I don't feel thrilled about the cycling, less the prospect of camping in the cold. But I do want to get to Istanbul and I want to get there by bike. Fortunately, a friend in Istanbul has found a short-term home for Clara and Freddy so I've decided to rest them once I arrive and take a flight to Cairo followed by a bus to Dahab.

I give more thought to teaching. It would be good to find work soon so I don't forget completely the new skills I learned in Leeds and so that I can get some much needed experience. Afterall this is supposed to keep me going for a long time into the future. I would also like to return, for a while at least, to a life of rhythm and dare I say, routine. It's amazing what you miss when it's gone.

Pavle and I visited his mother in New Belgrade. We ate her delicious apple pie and I picked up another bottle of rocket fuel, I mean, Rakia. Same difference. Nemanja has planned a great route for me from Belgrade to Sofia and Tikana has written me a letter of introduction for the nun's at the monastery where I'll camp on my first night out of Belgrade.

I've had an interesting and eventful time in Belgrade spent with some wonderful people and I'm sorry to leave. After coming so close to taking the train I've been lifted by a great deal of kindness and support. However, the clock continues to tick as the mercury drops. Winter is hard on my heels. It should take me two and a half weeks to cycle to Istanbul. I hope to spend few of those nights in the tent.
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