Gaby becomes a 10 speed, Jabukovaca and homemade marmelade

Local Village vehicle

 Serbia Village vehicle

Before leaving Belgrade I stopped at the local bike shop to get a new chain and maybe find a new left crank arm. When my homedog mechanic, Marco, looked at the bike he was shocked at the condition of the drive chain. My chain, a cheap kmc chain, installed in CA, had stretched over 2 inches and had completely wore out the middle chain ring on the crank, and all the sprockets on the cassette. A new chain and cassette are easy replacements in Serbia but my Sugino, 5 bolt middle chain ring, is impossible to find. Rather then deal with mail order parts from the UK I abandoned the idea of changing the middle chain ring and now have to double shift when climbing. I also installed a left crank arm but the size is a few mm shorter than the right one, pedaling was a bit awkward at first but all in all gaby runs smoothly, and when I arrive in Istanbul I hope to find better parts.

Cotton wood trees grow along the Danube River

Cotton wood trees grow along the Danube River

The Serbian diet is very similar to that of Hispanics. In the villages the locals eat beans, with le pinna (a thin bread similar to a tortilla), crushed tomatoes with bell peppers and onions. Many Serbs also have an appearance very similar to Mexicans and celebrate their own version of “day of the dead”.

Euro-Rail 6, country road to Romania

Euro-Rail 6, country road to Romania

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

I am heading east on the Danube river to see the largest canyon in Europe, second in the world only to the Grand Canyon. Leaving Belgrade I cycled through the most polluted city in the country, Pancevo. Factory after factory spewing smoke into the blue sky, (the city also makes its own yogurt which is quite good). The roads are relatively quiet and small villages line the banks of the Danube.

While looking for a place to camp, the village of Ivanovo, I befriended some locals drinking beer outside a grocery store. An older man named Zoran spoke English and after a few beers, 2L size, invited me to stay at his country home. We talked mostly about traveling, and he told me that his only regret in life was that he waited until he was 50 to start. A Belgrade native, Zoran had traveled all over the world and used to be a chauffeur for the Serbian Embassy. I invited him to dinner and we ate Cata Georjva (fried beef wrapped around pork), and Oustipsy (mixed fried meat with cheese) at a local restaurant. I slept on his floor, and breathed heavily in his smoky house.

Zoran's country house

Zoran’s country house

Fresh peppered fish, cooked in a wood fired oven

Fresh peppered fish, cooked in a wood fired oven

Zoran starts his day with beer, so being a good guest we toasted off the morning with a “Ziveli”(Serbian Cheers)! He made me fresh caught, roasted fish and then we headed to a friends house on the river. Ivanovo, is a very small community of mixed races, Serbians, Muslims, and Hungarians make up the majority although there are few Croatian and Bosnia households. Constantine, Bosnian a retired, electrical engineer, has a house right on the Danube river. He spends his time distilling his own plum brandy, and makes very tasty apple marmalade.

Homemade apple marmalade

Homemade apple marmalade, apples are diced then cooked over an open fire

Cooking the marmelade

Cooking the marmelade

Upon arrival Constantine (Kole) pulled out a large glass gallon container of “Jabukovaca” (His very own plum brandy), and we toasted off the afternoon listening to Serbian folk songs. After a few hours, of partying I made an attempt to leave but notice that I could no longer stand up,  I also could feel the familiar salvia lubrication in my throat. I unsteadily paced to the river and spent about an hour puking and enjoying the grass by the river. Kole found me passed out on the grass and walked with me back to his house. He offered me his room and I slept for rest of the evening.

Jabukovaca, local distilled plum brandy

Jabukovaca, local distilled plum brandy

Tastes great but can also be used as motor fuel

Tastes great but can also be used as motor fuel

 

About 15 minutes before the world started spinning

About 15 minutes before the world started spinning

I woke up hangover free, and drank homemade tomato juice in the garden. My Ipod is now full of Serbian folk music, and Kole is now a big fan of African folk. International music exchange! Kole cooked me a breakfast of eggs and homemade jam and wished me luck on the journey.

Breakfast of champions eggs fried in bacon fat

Breakfast of champions eggs fried in bacon fat

I am now in a small village about 30 km away called “Kovin”. The countryside is full of sheep and most of the villagers are either fishing or managing sheep. The weather is fantastic! During the day it is very close to 30 C, and other than a constant head wind conditions are ideal for sandals. I find the Serbia/Yugoslavian culture very interesting and I am finally getting the feeling that I am far away from home. With a huge Turkish influence on food, music and religion I thoroughly look forward to seeing the rest of Yugoslavia; Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro and Macedonia.

The road to the Mediterranian and a Hindu Ashram

A cartload of Cabbage en-route to Belgrade

A cartload of Cabbage en-route to Belgrade

With a small spell of loneliness, I befriended a grape farmer in the southern Hungarian village of Szabadszallas. I had only cycled about 80 km, but was ready to stop for the day. Cycling near the center a nice man offered me grapes. We talked for a few minutes in broken English and Hungarian, and he offered me a camping space in his backyard. I set up my tent and cycled into the village to eat some local food. Wandering about on side roads in the dark I entered the community center, and walked in on a jazzercise class. More interested in me than the students the teacher informed me where I could find the only restaurant in the village, a small hotel converted into a pizzeria. Somehow my sausage pizza order was misunderstood for a breakfast pizza, and after a brief wait I was eating a pizza covered in runny scrambled eggs, and ketchup. Too hungry to complain I ate and felt comfortable in the warm evening.

Cotton in the country

Cotton in the country

Hungarian grapes

Hungarian grapes

After 8 pm the village become a ghost town and I pedaled slowly passed the wild dogs back to my hosts house. Almost all night the bell in the clock tower would sound on the half and full hour. To my surprise I was camped within 20-30 yards of the tower, and found it a bit hard to sleep. When the bell finally stopped ringing the local dogs started barking and suddenly my stomach started to feel funny. Hmm, runny scrambled eggs cheese, dough and for desert a bit of yogurt, did my host tell me where the bathroom was? Not wanting to turn my fellow grape farmers backyard into a toilet I ran across the street into a cow Pasteur and joined my fellow mammals for a squat. Do the stomach problems ever stop?

Tons of corn waiting the mouths of live stock

Tons of corn waiting the mouths of live stock

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA
After a few hours of sleep constantly interrupted by doggie chorus or an uneasy stomach, I opened my eyes to a rainy morning. I said goodbye to my host, packed my panniers full of grapes and cycled south. A rainy but beautiful morning! My thoughts drifted past the wet, cold countryside, and found a peaceful rhythm in my pedaling pattern. I had spent the earlier part of the following evening listening to dharma talks and today I started working on my new meditative cycling practice (to be explained later). Grapes, muesli, and dry bread kept me going till the earlier part of the afternoon.

Sarva Shakti a great host at the Hindu Ashram

Sarva Shakti a great host at the Hindu Ashram

Pedaling into the small village of Forraskut, the left crank arm on Gaby fell off. Shit, somehow I managed to unscrew the crankarm bolt and now I could only pedal with one leg. A few km down the road brought be to a guitar repair shop, where I played them my favorite Nirvana song in drop D, “On a plain”. Afterwards they found the right tools to put everything back together. Upon inspection I noticed the arm was bent, creating tension on the bolt in the bottom bracket, eventually leading to the crank arm falling off. Have you ever heard of a bent crank arm? Just after leaving the guitar workshop I saw sign advertising a Hindu Temple,here in the Hungarian countryside? The Marpa stupa in Northern Hungary was also a surprise but I have learned that Hungary is a very spiritual place, and anything is possible. 5 km on a side road brought me to the Nadaflava temple, situated on about 50 hectares of wheat, corn and pine trees. With a guest house and all the open space there was only one person living at the ashram. Sarva Shakti, a very nice lady from Luxembourg, welcomed me and let me stay for a few nights. The first day I woke up before dawn, and walked to the temple for the morning meditation, the temple was warm and I fell into a nice comfortable state of concentration. It rained all day, and I enjoyed the peaceful ashram till the following day. I departed the Ashram before dawn and pedaled the last 40 km of Hungary to the Serbian border.

My Serbian friends from the Village of Zabalj

My Serbian friends from the Village of Zabalj

Cycling the main highway I found a line of cars, and waited for more than an hour, inching my way toward the border check. After a few stamps on my passport and a quick look inside my panniers I was free to cycle into Serbia. Compared to the Hungarians and Poles, the Serbians are extremely friendly. Constantly cars would pass, honk and wave. Farmers from the fields would wave and employees in the stores and gas stations would enquire about my heritage and journey. (It is often to hard to say no to requests and I often find myself drinking beers at every café)

The bridge connecting the New to the Old city

The bridge connecting the New to the Old city, Belgrade

I met some new friends in the village of Zabalj and spent the night drinking beers and eating barbeque pork. (At times it is so nice being a foreigner, everyone is happy to meet you and eager to learn about the land you call home). Hung-over and sleep deprived I said goodbye and I pedaled the last 80 km to Belgrade. A very busy and extremely bike unfriendly city Belgrade has a very eastern feel. Departing from the American pop music constantly played in Northern Europe, Belgrade has lots of live middle eastern influenced music.

Old city building

Old city building

The city center, a very Santa Monica like Promenade, is packed all day with tourists and locals shopping in strip malls and department stores. The smell of roasted pork and spiced meats permeate the narrow alleys and pedestrians fight for space on the small sidewalks packed with parked cars. The city is broken into two districts the old city, located on the eastern side of the Sava river, and the new city on the western side. Several early 20th century buildings located in the new city were bombed during the Kosovo war, and they remnants remain as a symbol and a reminder of the war. I stayed in a full apartment with two other cyclists, Fanny and Bolaj, a European couple from France and Hungary and the residents Alex and Milica.

Serbian Gibanica, Filo dough, butter and cheese

Serbian Gibanica, Filo dough, butter and cheese

City Center, Belgrade

City Center, Belgrade

Although extremely hospitable I spent the two days on the sidelines, not quite feeling like the piece that fits. I cycled around the old city and viewed the Danube river from the top of ancient castle walls. I wandered through the small alleys and ate roasted pork with the locals. Bolaj and Fanny have been great travel companions in the city and in a way I envy their companionship.

Bolaj and Fanny

Bolaj and Fanny

One can become rather selfish spending so much time alone, and these qualities become more apparent when spending time with others, or maybe its just hard being the third wheel, either way we spent the weekend together in the city.  From Belgrade, I am headed to the Romanian border where I will cycle the euro-rail 6, a fantastic bike route along the Danube river, to the Djerdap national park. From Romania I will circle back north through Serbia and follow the Bosnia/Serbian border to the Tara national park and on to Sarajevo the capital of Bosnia. Still unsure about where to spend the winter, I now have all the pieces to my stove and a beautiful new tent thanks to the Klinefelters. I will write again shortly.  – Julian