Since last we have travelled through four countries and into the fifth – Turkey, and we’re currently in Istanbul resting for eight nights. From our last stay in Austria we had a nice start with sunshine as we rolled away from Villach and towards Slovenia. We followed a cycle route along the jade green river Drava which was full of some really scenic views, rather easy terrain and sweet camping spots (after struggling quite a lot to find them) and it was nice to be back on the road again as our legs were itching to continue. This stretch is definitively one of our favourites.
With the terrible weather Europe was having at the time we rushed through Slovenia and only spent two nights here, trying to avoid the heavy rain that was coming. Unfortunately it caught up with us as before crossed the border to Croatia and it continued until ending in the evening, just in time for finding a camp spot next to a canal which was really beautiful. Though we learned that when camping right next to a canal there will be lot of condensation in the tent and we later woke up to a very foggy morning with water droplets hitting our faces from the inner tent.
The following day, and almost all our other days in Croatia, the roads were rather flat and we didn’t have any wind. So we tried getting some distance done along rather heavily trafficked main roads. In the evening, whilst resting at a bus stop near the planned camp spot for the night, we noticed the wind picking up as the gigantic dark grey clouds we’ve had behind us all day had caught up with us. We took a gamble and tried cycling our very fastest towards the forest. The thunderstorm was faster, though not by much, and we ended up having to wait out a gigantic shower under a tree in the forest before pitching the tent. Cheers for functional rain clothes!
The next day was actually very sunny and warm. We passed many vineyards and through small villages on the countryside. These villages usually consisted of small side streets that branched out from one really straight main street in the centre, making for very long villages which had all the shops on the main street, and houses on the smaller branching roads. It’s rather different from what youre used to back in Scandinavia. We also often noticed every other house is abandoned, or looks abandoned but isn’t.
In Croatia we felt there was a stark contrast between old and new, poor and rich. On the side of a road there could be a shack with bullet holes from war times and somebody was actually living there. Right next to that there could be a gigantic mansion with a three meter high fence with golden details and surveillance cameras watching over the property.
One time we stopped at a football field to have lunch, where some children were playing. Rather shyly they eventually came closer to us in order to practise their English skills or show off their rad dirt jumping skills with their bicycles. The girls English vocabulary consisted of hello, thank you, and .. let go of me? Makes one wonder what happens in this neighbourhood.
Later that night we’d found a cozy place to camp near the bordering river to Hungary. It was some kind of small shelter next to a farming field, complete with roof and a wooden table. A vast amount of beer bottle caps on the ground indicated that people often chilled out here, probably fishing in the river and grilling the fish later. Perfect for us!
Whilst unloading our panniers on to the table we noticed some strange holes in the sandy ground beneath us and it turned out we had neighbours – digging bees! They didn’t bother us though, and we made sure to not dance on top of their home. After falling asleep we were abruptly awakened by thunder around midnight. Thea woke up first and had been watching the lightning strikes dance in the horizon for some thirty minutes as Daniel had failed to wake up from the alarming sounds which were becoming louder and louder. This thunderstorm was headed straight in our direction.
The winds picked up to storm levels as the rain started pouring down. We looked at lightningmaps to find out the frequency of lightning strikes in real time and where they were headed. It wasn’t a pretty sight and it was the first time we were scared for our lives. The small red dots on the maps looked like bombs, and visually signalled when the sound waves would hit us. It was fairly accurate, when the rings reached our location we’d hear the thunder rumbling. We had two strikes only 300 meters from our tent spot and could do nothing but lie there in the tent and wait it out. The sound of the thunder was deafening. Within a radius of 5 km of our location there were over 700 strikes. That one long midnight hour will probably never be forgotten. So we thought – no way we’re gonna camp through this tomorrow.
So the very next thing we did the following morning was to book 3 nights at an AirBnB in Osijek, a randomly picked city bordering Serbia. This turned out to be a great decision and we avoided insane amounts of rainfall and thunder. We also got to rest a little again, after a few rather long days of cycling through Croatia. This city isn’t the most interesting but the restaurants here were really amazing and we had the best meals out we’ve ever had on our trip. There is so much to chose from and the portions are gigantic. The owner of the apartment was really friendly too, and to quote his own words – Osijek is like a shitty copy of any other European city, we laughed at that but its a rather accurate description we suppose. We still love the food here though!
Later said our goodbyes and headed towards Serbia. We pleasantly passed by a long queue of cargo trucks and had a non problematic border crossing where we got our first stamps in our passports. We were welcomed by gloomy weather, dead animals on almost every road, derelict grey concrete villages, vicious dogs chasing us and nowhere to camp because of the previous heavy rain that had flooded fields and turned all gravel roads to thick mud.
So the first day here turned to an uncomfortably long one. We did however meet another cyclist in the evening named Drorov – a 40 some-year-old self proclaimed expert of bicycle touring who had done multiple trips for the past 15 years. He was friendly, but a little difficult to have a conversation with as he kept on talking, telling us where and how to travel towards Bulgaria. Maybe we were just a tad bit too exhausted this day. At sunset we finally found one of the more stranger camp spots, an abandoned rehab centre next to a farming field. It would have to do for that night. Not all camp spots are magnificent when you cycle around the world!
The second day of Serbia was pretty much the same as the first one, but with tailwinds. We mainly stopped in tiny villages to shop snacks and food supplies. It’s always fun to try the snacks of a new country!
To celebrate the 17th of May, Norways national day, we decided to stop in Pancevo to have cake at a family owned bakery named Anči kolači. The prices were cheap for us, so we treated ourselves with two pieces each along with some long desired espresso. We had parked our bicycles right outside the window and later learned that a little snitch had seen them and sent a message to his friend – one of the owners of the bakery.
After some ten minutes Miko, the owner, turns up and starts talking to us super excited. It turns out that Mikos friend was into bicycle touring and had previously toured himself. So we had a long conversation and talked about how we lived our lives on bicycles. They thought our adventure was pretty rad and treated us with everything we had just eaten there. They even told us we could take anything we wanted to take with us. For us it was a bit strange to accept such generosity but it would be rude to decline. We also noticed that we had made a mess of their floor with mud from our boots – we’re really sorry for that!
After the third night we crossed over Donau and passed Smederevo. The people in the cars and in the villages started becoming more cheery and friendly, kids were playing on the street and in parks – something we yet hadn’t seen in the northwestern parts of Serbia. Almost every car honked at us (in a good way), giving us thumbs up and the alike. It was a completely different vibe closer to the bigger cities. Many times when grocery shopping in Serbia (and Bulgaria for that matter) we were approached by someone who recognised our flags – having some sort of connection to either of our countries. They either have some relative living there, or they have worked there at some point. So our flags are definitively a good conversation starter and so far our countries have been popular among the people we’ve met.
One morning, at one of the more scenic camps we had in Serbia, we backtracked to the main road past some farmers picking strawberries. A young man named Marko yelled to us – Hey, do you speak English?
We thought that was funny, because usually it’s the other way around. Yes, we replied. He the asked if we liked strawberries. Hell yeah we do! Turns out he had seen us cross the train tracks out into the farming fields the previous night, whilst we were looking for a camp spot, and he noticed our flags hanging on the back of our bikes. One minute later we stood there with a bag of 2 kg freshly picked gigantic strawberries in our hands. What a great way to start the day!
The remaining days we luckily avoided most thunderstorms which always loomed close by. Once, we had to stop early to camp at the playground of a school since there was a storm heading our direction. Here we met the sweetest dog ever and named her Olivia. She hung around us all night and slept outside our tent. Most dogs we met in Serbia were really aggressive and either wanted to chew on our butts or panniers when we cycled past them, but not Olivia. She was the sweetest stray dog!
During our time in Serbia we also got to see a lot of old soviet-esque cars with brands unheard of. Though, despite the age and the model of the cars many of them sounded like they were going to fall apart any moment. No wonder due to the way people drive here.
The last stretch from Nis towards the border of Bulgaria first consisted of a beautiful gorge on a rather narrow road without a shoulder. With a few tunnels and some cargo trucks and busses driving rather fast we eventually managed to come to the other side of the mountains alive. From there we had an entire highway for ourselves, as they’d built a newer one paralell to the old one. The nature here is also really beautiful so we really enjoyed this last bit, cruising on a completely empty road for an entire day.
The traffic and roads however are the worst we’ve experienced. There is no speed limit or sanity in regards to passing other vehicles. After a while you just accept the fact that almost nobody cares about any other vehicle in the traffic here, and lick the far shoulder of the road as hard as you can. We’re really glad we had our handlebar mirrors here! Traffic in combination with being constantly chased by thunderstorms and not finding any suitable camping spots made our visit here not the most pleasant, despite meeting many friendly people.
Ever since the end of Croatia, we’ve every now and then struggled with a lack of motivation to continue the trip. Luckily we haven’t both felt it at the same time. We’ve had bad weather, dangerous traffic, thunderstorms, crazy dogs, hard time finding camp spots. We’ve also focused a little too much on getting the daily mileage done – often because we were trying to avoid thunderstorms. We suppose we Scandinavians typically like to complain about the weather, so we probably should stop looking at weather forecasts so often and just suck it up.
Luckily we met some really kind people and other cycle tourers in Bulgaria and Turkey who inspired us to continue and perhaps change our priorities and habits a bit, but we will save that for the next post.
Until next time!