Leaving Sarajevo we had plenty of time to reflect on film festivals, kittens and friendly people as we climbed the tiny quiet road out of town. While the climb was steep, Amin had promised us that it was a better option than the main road filled with traffic and tunnels, and that once the climb was over there was “pure downhill” ahead.
The sky was overcast perhaps reflecting our mood of sadness at leaving mixed with pain at being back on the bikes again after a week off. Stopping for a coffee we bumped into two French cyclists only a few weeks from home after ten months on the road from Mongolia to France. They displayed full beards, dusty bikes, eyes seemingly focused on distant horizons and good advice on our route out of Bosnia. They suggested heading due East on a road along a scenic gorge. As the day progressed we cycled into greener landscapes where the road signs switched to Cyrillic alphabet only making us aware of our lack of knowledge of the languages and alphabets ahead of us.
Our last night camping in Bosnia we found a free camp spot that felt miles from anywhere but we awoke next morning to the sounds of dogs and walkers quietly passing our tent no doubt muttering “what are people doing camping here of all places?”. Our downhill descent flew by and as we entered the first tunnel with no lighting, potholes and thundering traffic, the French guys mention of “lots of tunnels” rang in my ears. Twenty or so tunnels later my nerves were frayed and my knuckles were welded to my handlebars as yet another pitch black tunnel loomed ahead. The descent ended at the town of Visegrad where we lunched upon a UNESCO world heritage bridge, a spectacular finale to the set of bridges we would see in Bosnia. After a short ride to the border stopping only to gaze at a bright orange monastery and chat with a Serbian tourist who had never seen mountains before, we crossed the border to Serbia.
Little was visibly different across the border perhaps slightly less rubbish on the roadside and the countryside seemed more forested, although we were in a natural park area so this was to be expected. After a day of 90km and approaching a climb to a 900m pass we stopped to ask permission to camp from an elderly farm woman. Struggling with Serbian language we finally grasped it was not only OK to camp, but we could stay in our own private chalet next to the main house. We were soon invited into the house and fed homemade cheese, butter and bread. The evening passed in a confusing array of discussions about our map, journey, the couple’s (Mica & Sreten) children, shows on the corner TV and some very hot chillies we tried to contribute to a dinner of pasta mixed in your bowl with still warm cows milk and homemade butter. As we drifted off to sleep we were counting our blessings and already feeling very much welcomed to Serbia.
The next few days flew by with some wonderful cycling through a mixture of rolling countryside and high mountains. We visited the edge of an out of season ski field and camped next to train tracks at what turned out to be an impromptu train stop as we made our way towards Belgrade. We had arranged to stay with Aleksander and Millica through Warm Showers, and after a long push of 115km from a hilltop free camp at Krcmar across very poor roads we met Aleksander at Ciganlija lake in Belgrade and followed him to their apartment in Novi Belgrade. We were immediately made to feel at home with bananas, malt drinks, Rakia on offer immediately and conversation late into the evening.
Each of the four days we spent in Belgrade began with the ritual of domestic coffee, breakfast and a discussion of the day ahead that always flowed into politics, art, history or some similar topic and suddenly it was early afternoon and we would hurry out to do or see something usually ending up by the Danube.
One afternoon, while Aleksander gave us a bike tour around old Belgrade, Millica prepared a traditional Serbian dish of stuffed peppers which left us with just enough energy to watch the classic Yugoslavian movie Who Sings Over There before heading out to a music concert featuring a Macedonian guitarist playing some new and some traditional music.
Our last day in Belgrade we were treated to lunch in a restaurant by Aleksander and Millica before strolling alongside the Danube river one last time. Our final night we stayed up talking till 3am aware that we had to cycle on the next day but wanting to continue our exchange of ideas and tales.
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route map for this post
The map below shows the waypoints for this blog post. To view the details of our trip to date take a look at our complete route map.