We crossed the border from Hungary to Serbia without much trouble to speak of. The border guard took [all three] passports, opened Cisco’s that we had went through so much trouble to get while in Hungary, looked at Cisco and said “dog” and handed the passport back to us. The money exchange office at the border would not change our Hungarian Forints to Serbian Dinars which I thought was odd seeing as how we were crossing from Hungary into Serbia, so we had to look for an ATM soon.
Barry and Cisco right before crossing over the border to Serbia
The first day in Serbia took us through some rural areas and small towns and finally into the city of Sombor where we planned to stay for two nights. We had booked a private apartment which was owned and managed by a very nice local couple who used it as an investment property (which turns out to be pretty common in Serbia). It took a little effort to get a hold of the owner and get into the apartment, but it turned out to be very nice place to stay for a rest day. Sombor – like pretty much all other Serbian towns of any size – has a pedestrian area filled with outdoor cafes as well as some nice parks and green spaces. Serbians seem to love sitting at cafes, drinking coffee and eating ice cream. Who can argue with any of that? We arrived in Serbia on a Sunday and we were extremely happy to find out that Serbia does not have the “everything is closed on Sunday” rule and so we were able to get what we needed at the grocery store with no problems and Sombor turned out to be a nice relaxing place to chill out for a couple of days.
Evening sun on the cathedral in Sombor near the main square
The next place we stayed in Serbia was a little different experience. It was a guest house listed on booking.com and it was the only option in a 100 mile stretch so we didn’t really have any other choice but to stay there. Reading the booking.com listing you might think it’s a great place with lots of amenities, but I decided that they probably just checked every box on the listing application so their property indicates that they have a pool, a private beach, dry cleaning services, a night club, a pool table, a gift shop and numerous other amenities that it clearly didn’t have. What it did have was numerous fish, cats, dogs, goats, hens, turtles, ducks and roosters. The guest house was attached but separate from the main house, but those rooms were all occupied (despite our reservation) so we were offered a room in the main house. We had to wait while she made the bed for us and I guess she didn’t have time to run a vacuum or wipe away the cobwebs or clean the bathroom. At some point I got a glimpse of the kitchen which looked like cleaning or washing dishes was not a common practice in the household, so when she asked me if we wanted breakfast the next morning I said “No!” After a less-than-restful night with all of the animal noises going on outside, we left early and stopped at the grocery store on the way out of town for a little breakfast. Luckily, this experience was not at all representative of Serbia as a whole which we have found to be quite enjoyable with very comfortable accommodations.
Market in Novi Sad
Before arriving, I was a little worried about communicating in Serbia. The language is intimidating to the uninitiated. Both the Latin and Cyrillic alphabet are used for the written language just to add an extra bit of complexity, so Хвала вам is the same as Hvala vam – they both mean “Thank you.” Both alphabets are used regularly, so sometimes signs are written in one or the other and sometimes even both. Barry recently pointed out that I only know three words in Serbian - croissant, wine, and thank you. I guess that's kind of pathetic, but then again what else do you need? As it turns out, many Serbians speak at least some English so communicating really hasn’t been too much of an issue at all.
Our favorite restaurant in Belgrade - located around the corner from our apartment
We stopped in several other towns and cities in Serbia on our way to Belgrade. Novi Sad was one of the largest cities we stayed in and we were close to the charming historical center with – you guessed it – lots of outdoor cafes filled with people drinking coffee and eating ice cream. Leaving Novi Sad the next day, we elected to take an alternate route through a national park rather than following the steep busy road out of town. Initially, this seemed like a good idea as the road was pleasant and well maintained. But eventually the well maintained road turned into a muddy swampy mosquito breeding ground with some hills that were so steep, so muddy and so rocky that we could barely push our bikes up them. This was well past the point where it made any sense to turn around, so we pushed on and eventually emerged several hours later begging to ride on the busy road with no shoulders. We would eventually come across a car wash on our way into Belgrade where we stopped and unloaded everything from the bikes in order to give them a good bath.
Panoramic view from the fortress in Belgrade overlooking the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers.
In Belgrade, we had planned to rent an apartment for an extended 9-day rest in order to give ourselves some time to recover a bit and plan out the rest of our trip. We were lucky to find a great 1-bedroom apartment near the city center with a huge balcony and a great city view. Also, the apartment had laundry facilities so we did laundry almost every day of our stay there.
Cisco enjoying the view from our apartment.
We also took some time to do some sightseeing as well, taking a tour which focused on the Communist past of Yugoslavia and the changes that have occurred since that country was split into the current countries of Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia.
Army headquarters building in Belgrade that was bombed by NATO in 1999 – now it’s become somewhat of a tourist attraction.
We took another private driving tour with two locals guides from Belgrade to the Djerdap National Park which is in an area also known as the “Iron Gates.” On this tour, we visited an archeological dig site where they discovered a village from 8000 years ago complete with over 100 intact skeletons and numerous carvings and artifacts. We also visited a property located in the National Park with a fantastic view high above the Danube where you can take a seat on one of any number of picnic tables or benches around the property and have lunch or just have a glass of their locally made wine or juice made from Elderberry flowers. The property has a small organic farm and also hosts artists from time to time. It was a beautiful and relaxing place to enjoy.
Enjoying a glass of local wine in the shade with one of our guides.
Once we had settled in a bit, we began the route planning process for the remaining 650 miles to the Black Sea. We have always known that this next section would be the most challenging in many ways because there would be far less tourist infrastructure. For us, this means more riding on busy and/or deteriorating roads and fewer places to stay overnight. As we laid out the route ahead of us, there were two gaps where there were no dog-friendly options to stay within a 90-100 mile stretch and there was definitely quite a bit of riding on high traffic roads with no shoulders.
One of the 21 unlit tunnels with no shoulders located along the cycle route. We weren’t really looking forward to these.
We thought about this for a couple of days and did some furious research on the computer to see what our options might be. Originally, we had planned to head south to Turkey for the winter but given recent and current events there, we decided not to go. So getting to the Black Sea is not necessarily critical to our plans. We finally decided to change things up and head for the Adriatic Sea instead. From Belgrade we will make our way to the Croatian coast to do some cycling and island hopping there. I have to admit, I’m a little sad to miss Romania and the Black Sea, but I’m pretty excited about Croatia. We’ll have missed the big tourist season there, so things should be quieter but the weather should still be good.