How many people read Dervla Murphy’s Full Tilt and wondered, “what is this woman thinking, biking through the Balkans in the middle of winter?” Well, an extra month in Romania, an extra week in Belgrade, and then we started with some lazy, meandering, distracted riding, heading vaguely southwest from Belgrade. The pace had to pick up, or people might begin to think that I’m crazy!
But first, our departure from Belgrade. We had quite the send-off crew from the Vuk Monument at one end of the park where I studied Serbian used internet during my stay in the city. The fog was thick that morning, messy conditions for people in cars. The airport was, apparently, closed. It might have seemed that we were sneaking away from the city except for the 30 well-wishers and even a local TV station to film the event.
Snežana’s friends and even people she barely knew gave her flowers, chocolate, a camping pillow, rakija, socks, a smaller keyboard. Could we still pedal these overloaded bicycles? Quite a few folks even contributed to her 1€/km fundraising effort. It was, after all, her birthday. The most exciting thing for me were the visit cards from Zoran Beogradac — a complete surprise. Check out this lousy photo replica:
A posse rode through the foggy city to Ada. Along the way we picked up Dragan who didn’t seem too disturbed that I hadn’t replaced my front tire with the better one that he gave me as I promised I would. I’m carrying it as a spare and will change tires at the first flat (another promise?). We said more goodbyes at Ada and pedaled into the fog as a group of three: Mališa, Snežana, and me. Before long, we were four. Zoran (different Zoran from Beogradac) found us a few kilometers outside of Obrenovac.
Mališa, Zoran, Snežana, and I had a fun three days together. We did things like eat pljeskavica, drink rakija, talk, laugh, smile, take photos, visit churches, and even a little pedaling now and then. We made it to Ub that first night where we met Vladate who greeted Snežana with an enthusiastic “srećan rođendan” and gave her 1.5kg of salami from the plant where he works. It was getting dark, and when Vladate couldn’t find a place for us to stay, he put up us at the nearby hotel. We were prepared for camping in the cold so this was sheer luxury. Thank you, Vladate.
We had another two days riding with Zoran and Mališa. I’m pretty sure all of us really enjoyed those days. Zoran is now thinking of a couple weeks in Greece in another month or two (join us?), and Mališa has dreams of pedaling to India. We said goodbyes in Osečina. Who knows when we’ll see friends again?
Zoran posted a bunch of photos from those three days. Here are a few of mine:
It’s one thing when the water in the bottles freezes overnight. After dinner one night, I went out of the tent to grab another water bottle, and it was already half-frozen. We heard later that it was -12°C that night. Around then we got serious — a beeline to the coast. We had heard it was 22°C in Budva, and people were swimming in the Adriatic in the middle of the day.
We crossed the Drina and entered Bosnia. Well, actually it’s called Bosnia and Hercegovina. No, wait, this part of BiH is actually Republik Srpska, and people don’t care for the name Bosna. Uh, confused? Yes, so am I.
Our non-stop sprint to the sea was thankfully put to a quick halt in Sarajevo where Wojtek hosted us for three nights. The offer to sleep inside (where it’s warm!) trumped any urge to see palm trees and grass skirts. I had fun wandering around the narrow streets of Baščaršija, the old Turkish quarter in Sarajevo, and I had fun hanging out with Wojtek, Juliet, and Kerri (whose professional background is groundwater modeling, GIS, and Python!). Thanks for the great hospitality, Wojtek. Good luck in the Budapest to Bamako Rally!
Snežana’s stay in Sarajevo was more difficult than mine. It brought back a mixed bag of emotions for her. During her last visit she was a young, hopeful Yugoslav, helping to prepare for the 1984 Olympics. On this visit she stayed near a cemetery full of Muslims killed by Serbian nationalists 15 years ago.