Keep calm and follow the Danube (and eat peanut butter!)

Linz (AT) – Belgrade (SRB) / 2275 km / 1.10 Million Turns / March 21st – April 8th, 2019

As the taxi driver sweeps swiftly through the heavy traffic, I (Sabine) try to give him a hand by using the map on maps.me. No need however, this man knows his town of Novi Sad, Serbia, by heart. This man is taking me back to the “Eco Kurir”, a bike messenger community house, where we slept last night and where we left a little more than an hour ago this morning. Yes, today marks the day that we – I, Sabine – for the first time of our trip forgot something: my helmet. You might be as surprised as we were that for more than a month we had not forgotten or lost anything, especially after our training weekend in the Ardennes (!).

On our one month cycling anniversary we passed the 2000 km milestone, somewhere on the Great Plains of Southern Hungary. Ever since entering Hungary we have felt we are really moving away from known territory, and this feeling is only more pronounced in Serbia, where we currently are. Germany and Austria were quite well suited for cyclists; road signs were easily understood and cycling infrastructure was abundant. In Hungary we already had trouble deciphering/pronouncing the Hungarian name for Hungary: “Magyarország”. Now, in Serbia, the alphabet is Cyrillic (deciphering this is Tom’s new on-the-go learning project) and communicating with people we meet in villages becomes ever more a combination of hand gestures, German and English. Cycle lanes, if any, have become significantly worse, to the point where where we prefer the normal car roads (and subsequent traffic) more than the cycling paths right next to it. Traffic has become more of a scene too, with many Serbs enthusiastically honking and waving at us when they pass. Also, in Eastern Europe rules on wild camping are less strict. So, by now, the feeling of freedom has started to kick in. The only minor bummer is that our go-to lunch fuel (peanut butter) is a lot harder to find nowadays; even in Budapest, it took us three supermarkets to find it.

   

Spring arrived here a few weeks ago, we have passed many beautiful blossoming trees. Rain has almost become rare, and tan lines have started to form. Also, we got an extra hour of light due to daylight saving time (“zomertijd”) which has made camping much more relaxed, as we can enjoy the views outside the tent longer. Our routine on the bike has started to form too, and with warmer weather our morning packing time (when wild camping) reduced with half an hour – no more numb hands! We clearly notice our legs have grown stronger over the last month. The latter has been quite useful this last week, when for the first time in our trip we faced real head winds!

Both in Vienna and Budapest we had a few days off the bike to explore the city, do some maintenance on our bikes and relax. When arriving in Austria, we could see the snow-capped peaks of the Alps on the horizon. We simply couldn’t resist to head out to the snow, so from Vienna we took a train to the nearest skiing area of Stüleck. As we of course did not bring any skiing clothes, we just went in our biking outfit. We figured a bicycle helmet could function perfectly well as a ski helmet, although it did make some of the employers in the ski area laugh at us. We looked somewhat out of place, but it was a wonderful day off!  After Vienna, The Danube led us further through a tiny part of Slovakia, and on towards Budapest.

  

From Budapest we chose to ride pretty much straight south towards Novi Sad and Belgrade and said goodbye to our big friend the Danube for a few days, as most people told us this part of the river is not that interesting. We got a small taste of the Great Hungarian Plain, crossing the stunning Kiskunság National Park, where lonely farms with cattle and endless fields made us feel tiny as ants. It could have been Mongolia for all intents and purposes.

As I enter the yard of Eko Kurir, I am relieved to find my helmet in a corner. The taxi driver brings me back to the cafe where I left Tom, Mari, Eva and Wiebe. Mari and Eva are cycling to China (named 12remblokjes on Instagram). They left Amsterdam two days before we did, and we have teamed up in both Hungary and now again in Serbia. Their friend Wiebe joined them for a few days, and has already been named “Iron legs” for his strong pace when facing 25 knots of headwind. Sabine forgetting her helmet will prove not to be our only challenge today: a few kilometers further a spoke in Mari’s back wheel breaks! No panic though: we can now finally use what we learned on our “how-to-fix-your-bike-when-in-the-middle-of-nowhere course” by de Vakantiefietser, Amsterdam! With the booklet of “Fietspech” from Eric Schuijt, which is our Bible when it comes to problems with our bikes, we manage to temporarily fix the wheel using a Fiberfix emergency spoke. Moods are up though, today! With the five of us we cycle into Belgrade at sundown. Another great city to take a rest day.
   

After cycling for over a month on almost flat terrain, we are now eager to head into the more mountainous of Eastern Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria, following the Danube a little bit more through what is known as ‘The Iron Gates’. After that we will say goodbye to the European continent and cycle on towards Istanbul.

Talk to you soon!
Tom & Sabine

 

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