Saturday, 4 June 2011

Serbia: the dog's bollox

The pollution leaving Belgrade hung as heavy as the balls of the rottweiler which was now swaggering away from me, intermittently turning to snarl in disgust as I continued to zap it with my Dog Dazer. Having left David in his Lord Munsterland campervan and memories of a fabulous four days with him and Scott in Belgrade I followed the cycle path as the river arched around Belgrade's fortress. Walking towards me a middle aged couple wearing their holiday best started waving and shouting hello! I racked my brains.. they knew me and even looked delighted to see me. "Slovakia" they said as I came to a standstill and put the Dog Dazer back in my pocket. aha! My saviours. This poor couple had helped me when, panicked after being stalked by a man in a car and unable to find a safer route and despairing at my vulnerability, I had seen them pass from the tree I was hiding behind and I leapt up and pedalled frantically after them. We'd cycled together for a few kilometres until I reached the safety of the road and we'd said our farewells. Their journey was now complete, they'd cycled to Belgrade from Passau and it was lovely to see them again.

14 km later I was out of Belgrade and into an industrial area and run down towns

yet soon as I was back following the trail of the Danube as it worked its way eastwards and the beauty and biodiversity wetlands continued to absorb me

80 km of unpathed cycle route later I decided to set up camp and catch up on some much needed sleep: avoiding this side of the cycle path

Camp was once again in long grass and the next morning I put away yet again a damp tent. An early start ended up in vain as I faced a 3 hour wait in a small hamlet for a boat to take me across the Danube where I would continue my journey towards the Iron Gates. A few thick Serbian coffees later I'd browsed the Sunday newspapers plastered with the news of Mladic's arrest and of course Djokovich's continuing success in the tennis and a young couple showed me to where the boat would arrive. Bizarrely another chance encounter this time with Frank and Franka the 2 Germans I'd crossed the Croati/Serbian border with. Their party of 2 had multiplied to include a couple from Switzerland cycling to the Black Sea and an Austrian travelling to Iran. Sabrina the Swiss girl said "oh you are the girl cycling alone!"  She had also met my Swiss saviours mentioned earlier and they'd told her about me.

I left the group as they were stopping for lunch and set off at a furious pace to catch up on lost time. Before long I'd reached the beginning of, what has to be, the best stretch of the Danube at Golubac. This medieval fortress town begged me to have a beer to recharge both my batteries and my iPhone's.

Leaving the town I passed through the arches of this magnificent fortress in search of a bed for the night and before long and feeling a bit carefree (beer!) I scrambled down to the water's edge and set up camp on the rocky river bank and watched another Danube sunset with Romania this time as its back drop. I lay there snug and smug that all this was free.

I learnt the next morning that rivers are tidal. The soporific sound of waves lapping the shore as I lay there in my tent not wanting to get up just yet... but hold on that sound of water is worringly right next to my ear!
My beach had disappeared!

As my feet were already wet I thought it was time to have a bit of a clean up so I stripped off and had a quick bath! Despite the damp start I was rewarded with a fantastic ride towards the Iron Gates: towering cliffs, hill climbs, green lizards darting across the road, rockfall and 21 tunnels! All unlit and long!

I stopped in a small town and met Dragan and Dragan 2 gentlemen from Belgrade on a week's holiday and cycling to the Bulgarian border then back through the forests and hills. They shared their food with me and offered me a beer yet I wanted to get close to the crossing with Romania so another farewell and I was off.
The scenery was stunning and the heat oppressive with the temperature now at 35*C. I was almost beginning to enjoy the dankness of the tunnels..almost.

At the top of my last steep climb of the day I looked across at Romania and saw the strange face carved into the rock. Then the storm came and I watched my thermometer plunge by 20*C!

A few more dog attacks as I cycled back down through the villages in search of a spot to camp. I was at the slightly panicked stage as no small beaches for me to camp on only a sheer drop down to my left and a rockface to my right. Eventually a rest spot was found and I clambered down to a ledge which had become a dumping ground and I nestled down for the night surrounded by plastic bottles, empty beer cans and other unsavoury items. Yet I watched the sunset over Romania and wondered what this country would bring...

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