I left Belgrade with Laura, spending the day fighting through busy traffic, oppressive heat and increasingly undulating terrain. The Danube cycle path, which I had been following since its source in the Black Forest in southern Germany, had become more a series of directions along busy roads, rather than any discernable or pleasurable cycle path. But it was with a heavy heart that I left the Danube valley behind in the Serbian town of Smedavero, heading southwards towards Bulgaria. I caught one final glimpse of the great river shimmering a deep shade of blue in the afternoon sunshine. I will not see the same body of water again until I reach the Black Sea, where it will flow through the Bospherous towards the Mediterrainian.
I have been so incredibly touched by the incredible generosity of the Serbians I’ve met. Every time we stopped, it seemed, someone would come and talk to us, with varying proficiency in English (though usually much better than my Serbian!), smile, and laugh. We were often given gifts of melons, coffee, cold water, beer and rakai (a spirit made from fruit, often plums). While snoozing in a park one afternoon, hiding from the powerful heat of the day, I was awoken by a man with grey, stringy hair, smiling and offering us cold apple juice, fruit amd, slightly bizzarely, reams of paper to lie on. ‘In Serbia’, he told us, ‘money is problem. Paper, no problem!’ . A few minutes later he insisted that we followed him into his office, where he said he was ‘master of the building’, and cooked us a lunch on a small hob and we drank beer with him until the sun sank low in the sky.
It’s the kind of generosity I may have expected much later in my journey, but something I hadn’t anticipated so apparently close to home, still in Europe.
After passing through the southern city of Nis, the terrain became wilder and more mountainous. A narrow road lead us through a steep, rocky gorge, through 13 dark tunnels and increasing lengthy tunnels, taking us all the way to the Bulgarian border.
We’ve been enjoying a couple of much needed rest days in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, before we head eastwards towards Turkey tomorrow. The weather has cooled in the last few days; a trend which I hope will continue across Turkey!