When I crossed the border into Serbia I got really excited and I found myself grinning and saying aloud: I AM IN SERBIA!!!
It’s difficult to explain but I get an overwhelming physical sensation that comes with the realisation that I AM in a place that once belonged in books or in geography lessons at school; a place that I never thought I would actually get to see. The Danube, Vienna, the Carpathians, the Iron Curtain…
Spending time in Serbia and some of the other countries of the old Eastern Block has also made me aware of all the stereotypes I have acquired during my education in Franco’s Spain and also the pictures painted in the media. I am not sure what I thought they would be like but I am delighted to see my stereotypes crumble. Very liberating.
What I experienced in Serbia is a country full of kind, hospitable people. On day one I camped by a river close to the Hungarian border and was ‘visited’ by the Serbian River Police who must’ve been tipped I was there (I’m still not very good at this wild camping business). I was expecting having to move and being admonished, only to be told it was absolutely OK to stay there and asked whether I was warm enough. The Warmshowers hosts I’ve stayed with have been great and I learnt a great deal about the history of the country and in Novi Sad from Aleksandar who also helped me prepare a route all the way to Plovdiv where I’m meeting my friend Carol.
In Belgrade I stayed in one of the old neighbourhoods in one of a big cluster of concrete blocks built around 60 years ago. It’s really tricky to find the actual flat you are going to because the name of the street is the same for the whole cluster and the numbers of the blocks seem not to be in any particular sequence. I spent a really nice couple of days in Belgrade and had the first haircut of my trip, a big event by my book! I also cooked the first Spanish omelette of the trip to Zizi, my lovely host. On hers and previous advice, I have now joined Couchsurfing to increase my chances of finding accommodation along the way.
In Serbia I met the Danube again which is huge now and it was like meeting an old friend. I cycled past small villages, visited interesting archaeological sites and went deep into the Serbian countryside where I saw amazing coal works, visited wonderful small churches, beautiful wooded hills and I encountered again the big heart and generosity of the Serbian people in the form of gifts of hand picked pears and grapes.
In Serbia too, I met my first unpaved roads, quite hard going with a loaded bike with road tyres, faced whole days of headwind and had the joy of cycling in pouring rain .