Andreja was an excellent host and great company (as usual), but I’m afraid Belgrade didn’t win me over. Although I’m sure it is, it just doesn’t feel like a city with big plans or a city that opens itself up to the world. This is somewhat bizarre because ever since crossing the border into Serbia, I’ve had an endless stream of kindness, curiosity, warmness and genuine friendliness from the people I’ve met.
As if to prove this beyond doubt, today was an an almost constant barrage of kindness. Here are a few examples:
As we stopped for water on the edge of Belgrade a guy who appeared to be slightly autistic stopped outside his apartment building to talk. As he was asking about our lives and our journey a woman threw open the window next to us and, with a smile, said: “Hello, good morning. Do you need any help?”
We stopped for a cake at a small bakery in a small village and the woman serving, who didnt stop smiling from the minute we arrived, insisted we take a free cheese burek (pastry) which she cut up and gave us on a plate.
After puncturing her tyre, Ariel (A French-Canadian) asked a woman if she knew where we could find a bike shop? “I’m sorry” the woman replied in perfect French “I only speak French”. Five minutes later, I was drinking coffee, eating pizza and using the free village wifi as Ariel was taken first to a cafe and then by some random guy to a tyre-shop to fix the puncture.
As we left, a group of workers walked past.
“Hello, where are you from?” Said the guy at the front.
“England” I said.
“Real England? Not Wales of Scotland?”
“Yes, real England.”
“What do you think about Serbia?” he asked.
“It’s very nice” I replied honestly.
“Yes” he said “We are very gently”
Entering Kovin, I asked a local guy who was riding his bike if there was a bike shop in town. “Sure, follow me” he said before leading us across town and delivering us at the bike shop where, after fixing our bike, the technician got his own bike and led us to a take-away pizza place for food.
Finally as we left Kovin in search of a place to stay, a guy who was jogging stopped us to explain that he and his girlfrind had opened a new guest house for cyclists just 4km down the road. “Turn left and look for the blue house”. We did just that but we didn’t have enough money to stay. Some friendly negotiating took place and 10 minutes later I was enjoying my first swim in the Danude with Sarah, Ariel and the owner of the guest house.
This is Serbia and if/when Serbia joins the EU then the European Union will be more emotional and happier for it.
In terms of cycling, the rest of the day was a mixed-bag. After the storms that swept across Serbia on our rest day the paths were muddy and a bit wet which pretty much halved our speed to 11km an hour in the morning. Also, during the day Ariel had an amazing FIVE punctures. We managed to fix five of them and after the fifth we stuffed my spare 28 inch inner-tube into her 26 inch wheel and limped into Kovin.
As we did so, some weird flat legless Caterpillar wriggled past us. It was immediately named ‘Flatty’ and blamed for causing the flat tyre.
Over dinner that night Flatty (Flatticus) was the source of much intrigue but, with a little help from Google, we managed to identify him as a Soldier fly larvae
All-in-all it was a long but fun day and we were all very happy to be in Serbia and in our superb bike hotel.