We never stopped in these villages and we never took any photographs of the houses, it just didn't feel comfortable. The roadside camps were all a bit too exposed for our liking and so we decided we would grab accommodation if we could find it. There were very slim pickings and we had rode into the night before we eventually found a hotel that would accommodate us. The hotel was not exactly advertising the fact that it was open and we had to walk around the grounds and knock on windows before we finally found somebody on site, just short of us pitching our tent in the empty pooI! We were fairly sure we were the only guests in the building. Breakfast the following morning was certainly a very strange affair sitting in the centre of a huge dining room (it was now confirmed there were no other guests), a Serbian soap opera playing on the TV in the corner and the waiter smoking his cigarette at the bar, disgruntled every time we asked for anything. We eventually had our omelette and bread and jumped on the road in good time.
Soon, main roads converged and traffic developed. Our nice hard shoulder had now turned into a bus lane and there were traffic lights every few hundred yards, of which we caught every red! As we pulled up at the lights, the traffic would pile up behind and the pressure was on. Only cyclists will understand this, but drivers take note, even with right of way, the impatience of the pursuing drivers is all on the cyclists shoulders at this point, we will get across the junction as quick as we can!! That was it, with buses coming around us and then pulling over to collect passengers immediately ahead, as soon as I saw an opportunity to jump on a pedestrian path, I took it. David continued on the main road, furious that I had lost my nerve and now there was a guard rail between us and my path was going in the wrong direction. Even if I had managed to lift my bike over the rail, it was too dangerous to be messing around and so David had to take the first available exit and work out how to get onto the same road as me.
There were bridges, flyovers and under passes and it was difficult to work out from our map which was which. Eventually, we found a path towards the bridge that would take us across to the Capital, only problem, we were on the wrong side of the road! This would not have mattered as at this point we had no intention of joining the heavy traffic but the bridge was in terrible condition and the pavement even worse. Through the cracks and the holes, we could see the mighty Danube below. We dismounted our bikes and pushed them over the broken surface. The bridge rumbled as a train soared up the central track, this bridge seemed to be defying the odds. Ahead of us, completely blocking the pavement, an abandoned car that looked like a permanent fixture on the bridge it had been there so long, prohibited our passing. The only way around would be to lift the bikes off the foot high gutters and face the oncoming high speed traffic, if we didn't, it was a long way back. After a long time contemplating, we eventually made it around the car, across the bridge and took a moment to appreciate the vastness of the river. After a little research, I have since confirmed that this bridge is the only crossing over the Danube in order to access Belgrade. As a result, there are between 150,000 to 200,000 vehicles crossing the bridge daily, plus the rail track up the middle. The last time the 1526m long bridge received any major maintenance was in 1965 and you could tell!
Under the south side of the bridge, there was a small community of make-shift houses that were utilising some fallen down buildings and large materials like corrugated iron that looked to have been pulled from the large amount of rubbish, fly-tipped on the banks of the river . I looked down with angst, but soon smiled when a man waved a friendly gesture back at me.
The Kafana's adapted to cultural changes and began offering basic snacks like ćevapčići and some became bistro's with extensive menu's. Elsewhere, Kafana's were receiving a somewhat dark portrayal in the media of the atmosphere and clientele that they attracted and so it soon became preferable to refer to the upper class establishments as 'inns, bistros or cafes, as they are today. In the early 1900s Skadarlija became a reputable and chic area to be, popular for music, dancing and arts. You can now find antiques, souvenirs, listen to live folk music and eat the best ćevapčići in town! Only warning, do not get on the wrong side of your waiter, this was not the only occasion we experienced a more than unfriendly waiter in Serbia!
We are not being paid to say this BUT....
I think Katarina and Andjrija must have picked up on David's obsession with ice-cream, milk and chocolate as they rounded up our super city tour with a visit to Belgrade's finest ice-cream parlour Moritz Eis. This ice-cream is AMAZING!! 100% natural artisan ice-cream and sorbets hand-made on site using organic fruits and dairy, purchased from small producers. The interior is contemporary and sleek, the service is warm and friendly. Without asking, the girls will encourage you to try as many flavours as you can, even if you have already made your pick! The innovative combinations get your taste buds jumping and will surprise you what works! I noticed on their Facebook page that they are opening shop in South America and it made me think that these guys could be serious contenders for our future coffee shop, where ever that may be in the world one day ;-) Situated on Vuka karadzica 9, we promise you, do not miss it!
The moment when we realised...
Although our our memories are still as fresh as the day they happened, we were so excited to be able to edit our first video of our top moments so far and we had captured some awesome footage. From the moments that our wheels rolled off the ferry and embraced the epic challenge ahead, to a miserable day sabotaged by tyre punctures, cancelled ferries, lightning and flooding in Germany. We had some awesome under water shots as we pulled our fishing nets at sunrise from the glassy blue waters of Stockholm's archipelago, not to mention gunning it in the Volvo V8 speedboat! David had captured me emerging from the plume of dust as a car screeched around a bend heading towards me on Latvia's dreadful roads and likewise couldn't help himself to film me every time I skidded and fell of my bike on the same sandy tracks. Then there were the European bison in Białowieża national park, Poland and Holly's guide to foraging in Finland, picking handfuls of wild strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. David's step by step instructions on how to make a camp stove from a tin can and diving into icy cold lakes at midnight..
So the mood was a little less than upbeat as the four of us cycled towards the lake. Dear of Katarina and Andrija, they felt so bad for us and for some reason were convinced that this would be the memory that we would hold of our time in Belgrade. Firstly, it was a lesson well learnt and it could have happened anywhere. We still have the world to inspire lots more film-making and it's a bloody great excuse to retrace our steps and come and see everyone again!! Belgrade puts a smile on our face guys, because that's what the people there do to you :-)
It was awesome to finally meet Jelena, though a shame we could not have a few more days to hang out together. However, Jelena's mother and sister had invited us to their home in the town of Valjevo, a couple of hours south west of Belgrade and we were told that not only was this area one of the treasures of Serbia with its beautiful countryside but also, if we made it to stay with the family, there would be no doubt that we would get to experience the wholesome spirit of Serbian hospitality.
We waved until we could no longer see Katarina and Andrija and then put our heads down and gallivanted onto to our next destination. We made a few quick stops, one to indulge in left-over ćevapčići with awesome Serbian bread to stuff them into and then to look at this eye-catching, brightly-coloured church...
Over the weekend, Nena showed us around the local area, taking us to Petnica Cave which opens as a restaurant in the summer months, a beautiful lake that the locals swim and picnic at and the traditional flour mills located along the crystal clear waters of Gradac river. We were also very privileged to be escorted in Nena's awesome vintage Renault!!
As I post this blog, Nena and her fiancé are just one week away from their wedding and we have no doubt that the celebrations are already in full swing! We would like to wish you all the very best, not just for next weekend but also throughout your future together. Thank you so much to Nena, Rada, Jelena and their family for showing us such a wonderful side to Serbian culture. xxx
From Valjevo we were heading for Bosnia and the sudden change in terrain gave us a taste of what would be coming next. The climb began quite modestly from Valjevo, but soon became persistent and more aggressive, it was what we had been waiting for however and we were looking forward to spectacular mountain scenery. We were elated when we thought we had reached the top of the first climb but disheartened when the road dropped back down only to go back up even higher this time. After several days of total relaxation, my legs in particular were absolutely shot and as night fell, I totally gave up and insisted we camped. We are not sure of the altitude, but we were nestled well into the mountains now. There was a small wooden shed that seemed to be unoccupied with a flattish area of grass suitable to pitch our tent. It was dark, but from the spread of lights that disappeared into a valley and more that glowed above us, we guessed that not only were we going to awaken to an impressive view but we would also be starting our day climbing the rest of this hill!
It was indeed spectacular and there were indeed more uphills, but for every metre of altitude gained, an awesome downhill followed!! We cycled from the village of Pecka and through Gornja Ljubovida, descending into a remote valley that would take us to the town of Ljubovija on Bosnia's border. The town was not very nice, road works blocked most of the main street and the shops were mostly closed. Eventually we settled on a cafe that looked a little less sleazy than the others and I used our picture book to order a tea and coffee. The cafe was next to the bus station and a group of the drivers were taking a break before they went on duty, they were intrigued by our bicycles and most likely our fetching cycle shorts. One of the men could speak a little English and eventually they cottoned onto our madness, they loved it! The other coffee drinkers were soon filled in on the gossip and the owner of the cafe seemed honoured to have us there, in fact, this gentleman would not take any money for the drinks, it was on the house! Judge a book by its cover and you may not ever learn much, take the time to speak with people and you'll find beauty and kindness everywhere.