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24/11 – 28/11 – Belgrade → Gavril Genovo (Bulgaria) – Serbian hospitality and some rather old rocks

December 20, 2010

24/11 –

60kms travelled

Alarm goes off at 6am, a nice idea but probably a little optimistic, 9am is a more realistic time to arise and so we do.  We aim to get out of Belgrade today, we’ve hit it hard here and had a blast meeting people and partying till the early hours but its time for us to get back into the cycling life.

Am i going to feel ill after eating this?

Leaving the city our eyes meet with another cyclist at some traffic lights.  He offers us some tea and leads the way to the nearest cake shop where he purchases 2 huge slice of cream and fruit cake for our journey.  Never in my life have i ever experienced such levels of generosity.  He warns us that the cold weather is coming soon and retorts a sentiment we’ve heard throughout this journey ” Your crazy, why are you travelling at this time?”  We’ve had a fair portion of cold weather along the way but we have to admit we’ve enjoyed decent temperatures most days, bar -7 in Slovakia.

The mad rush of traffic fades away rapidly after about 20kms of cycling and we’re left out in the open again, rurality has returned! And returned it has – We’re confronted with some rather large hills which we weren’t expecting and a week of partying shows its downside.  Atop the hill we stop for lunch as a cold chill settles upon us, don the hat and gloves hoping it won’t drop too much more.

The RIBA have downsized and moved to Serbia

We stop just outside of  Smerdervo, a decent sized industrial town dominated by raw material transportation and a huge blue gas flame, to collect some water.  The restaurant is only too willing to help and kindly offers a couple shots of herb liquor to help us on way, on the house.  Under the darkness we try to seek a place to set up, a light on in a farm leads us to the doors of a barn and a few minutes of explaining leads to the farmer to direct us back into town to a campsite.  The next spot is an abandoned building which could be good but is a bit too close to the main road and is a bit creepy with some stairs leading to a basement, plus theres a massive hole in the roof.

Well if you're going to kill it do it properly

Further on we find a place between two fields to rest our heads.


100kms travelled

Early start and a couple of dogs are making the most of their morning together before heading off for a day of foraging.  Been noticing some houses have silver ribbons attached to their front gates, a few days later we discover this decoration is a commemoration of a wedding in the family.  At a petrol station we find a cheap map of Bulgaria and chat with the attendee called Milan, a student in the next town working to fund his studies.  In V.Gradiste we hit the market and buy some local goats cheese and homemade passata and see some huge Russian fish rammed into a tank awaiting their demise at the hands of a fishmonger brandishing a rounders bat.


Here fishy fishy


Buying some bread in a local shop im told by a cheery counter lady that ‘i love you’ is more important in Serbian than thankyou and goodbye.  We hook up the Eurovelo and head alongside the Danube ducking in and out small villages – great riding and scenery as we come to the entrance to the Iron gate.  This is where the enormous Danube is condensed into a small ravine roughly 57m deep.  It’s called the iron gate because it prevented large ships from passing until they dammed it.  Huge rocks loom over the road as we make our way through a fortress built by Turks in 1420 the road winds its way through the decaying carcass.  Out along the river we stop off at a restaurant after passing 3000kms but only to use the facilities not for a celebratory meal.  I want to have an amazing meal overlooking the Danube, the smells from the restaurant are amazing!

Danube near the iron gate




Onto Dobra (OK in Polish), our goal for the day.  The small villages which line the Danube are very pretty and seem to be heavily orientated around fishing.  After 100km day we’re both knackered and fall asleep before dinner which includes some of our market purchases from earlier.

26/11 –

72kms travelled

Rain on the tent sounds a bit like being in a bowl of rice crispies – snap, crackle and pop.  Mist covers the tops of the hills as the Danube becomes alot wider again.  We pass through tunnels, some of which are pitch black.  In the distance i can see 6 tunnel openings in a row.  The Danube seems very underused and only see one commercial boat and one lone man travelling in a small motorboat, probably fishing.

Inside one of the tunnels alongside the Danube

Tunnel again

Tunnel, different type this time though

Boats on the Danners


Thought another tunnel shot couldn't hurt

Stop off in Donja Milanovac perched out into the river to get supplies on our last remaining 600 dinar .  The market is in full swing and we’re instantly drawn towards the sweet smell of bbq meat.  A quick re-jigging of the kitty allocation affords us a meat treat and we munch it whilst absorbing the market with enough funds for a supermarket mission for some more staple items of food.

Meat snack

Market sold sofas as well and i reckon they'd deliver

We turn off the main road after Mosna and past some large brick cauldrons spewing thick black smoke, making charcoal i reckon.  Also spot some more bell shaped creations in the fields which look like oversized witches brooms –


Witches brooms

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and caldron bubble….

The witches have brewed us a nice big 5km ascent with some thick fog at the top. Feeling cold and hungry we seek refuge in a local bar frequented by 3 other customers – 2 older men and a young boy, who seems to be being taught the ways of the world.  The atmosphere is smokey and the table cloth is littered with fag burns.  The bar man kindly obliges and we get making some sandwiches, clear up and clear off.

Nice one you witch

Down a track just off the road we find ourselves trekking through some back country.  We try to take the small local (white on the map) roads as much as possible on the trip but we’ve never traversed an entire country using these sometimes dirt tracks and it makes me wonder what a different experience you might have doing so and keeping away from main and secondary roads.

Look like fiat 500 but theyre YUGO's

Great smells come from the house i stop off for water at and a young guy and an older lady fill up my bottles.  The guy speaks good English and is interested in the trip so invites us in for coffee, Rakija and some biscuits.  Deer skulls hang on the wall alongside a shotgun and an old rifle.  Darko chats with us about his experiences as a body guard, Serbian utilities ( Water is organised by a village – they dig a well and then pipe it off, rubbish is not collected, ppl have to take it to a specially designated area, perhaps this is why we’ve seen lots of rubbish dumped throughout Serbia.  He talks about hunting and his less than kind step mother who dobbed him and his father falsely for illegal hunting so all of their trophies have been removed.  On a lighter note he plays in a traditional Serbian band and invites us to play ping pong in the town so we put aside our worries about where we’re going to sleep and head off into town as the weather pisses down.

Darko and Milos

His friends are a good bunch a we enjoy a few games of ping pong before drinking some beers in a shop next door.  During which we meet the strongest man in the village and Darko’s friend Milos agrees to put us up so we head back to his following his car feeling quite pissed.  This nights been pretty amazing so far but what happens later cements this as one of the most special experiences of this trip.

We meet Milos’s father Dragisa in a warm house and we offer to cook for everyone but the offer is kindly refused and homemade goulash, pork scratchings fresh from their own animals is brought to the table alongside some super dense homemade bread.  All washed down with the most lethal home made Rakija which makes you wince and is bearly drinkable, once you’ve managed to drink another shot the glass is refilled in true Serbian style.  We joke and drink through the evening, chatting about the trip as best we can and trying to get our points across with Rakija fuelled hand gestures.  Music is important to these guys and they bring out their instruments and play some of their tracks just for us-  Truly amazing!

We drink some more and then head to sleep in a bed feeling exhausted but very merry.


92kms travelled

Milos and Dragisa\s dog

OUtside Milos and Dragisas house

With a slight Rakija hang over we share a coffee with Milos and his father, the weather is forecast looks dry and warmer.  We head off, full of great memories and get a bit lost of the roads to Salas – snow capped mountains in the distance and the mist sitting on the landscape beneath us as we’ve climbed quite a bit.  On to Zajecar we meet Zoran and Goran, two Serbian Mountain Bikers who cycle with us to the border – theyre serisouly into cycling and we chat about the physical and mental health benefits of cycling.  Close to the BOrder of Bulgaria we see the borderline cut through the tree’s up a mountain which straddles the two countries.  The mountain is called ‘Old Man’

Accidental Purchase no.1

Accidental purchase no.2

roadside breakfast preparation

Shaved border line

Bye Serbia!

Through the border check with no problems other than the possible charge which can be incurred if you dont register with a hotel in the country,  they wave us through with no charge power fuelled and stupid as always.

Zoran and Goran

Into Bulgaria and the first thing we notice is a horse-drawn cart, a staple image pretty much every time we enter into a new country.  The road is amazing and we pass people gleaning the last remaining corn, sparse open landscapes – some torched black and yellow other parts rich with life and green.  Soft black hills sit alongside rugged mountains with bare rocks jutting out.  Stop for lunch and sit on one of the many benches outside the front of peoples houses.  The sun has come out and its pleasantly warm.  Head off along the road to Belochradchik – some of the lansdcapes remind me of pictures i have seen of Arizona.  We make our way up and hills with the sun setting behind the trees there are many camp spots on land that looks like its owned by no one.  With plenty of choice theres time to enjoy the still air and silence intermittently broken by a dog barking in the distance.

Road to Belochradchik

BUlgarian sky


Bulgarian sky

Slightly wary of Bulgarian bandits we find a place just out of sight from the road, lots of thorny plants to try to avoid when setting up the tent.  We can see Belochradchik in the distance lit up with the sound of animals in the distance howling like an excited hen party in Dagenham.


75Km travelled

Heavy mist surrounds our campsite and prevents us from seeing further than 100m, felt like we we’re on Dartmoor.  Road to Belochradchik is wet and cold, it’s Sunday but there are very few people out and again makes us question who lives in Bulgaria.


Arrive in Belochradchik the rock formations just apparent behind the mist enacsed town.  The crap weather probably makes this place look worse but it feels run down.

New country means new currency so we draw out 2o levs of Bulgarias finest and then ask in the hotel how much its worth before making our way to the kebab shop for a pick me up.  Complete let down so we endeavour to only get a treat if we can see or smell the final product when making the decision to buy one of whatever it may be.

We made it!

The entrance to the rocks

Encased in mist

Head up to the rocks which you have to pay to enter, i try to wangle a deal with the lady but shes having none of it and means i have to make a trip to the cash point down the hill on a wobbly unloaded bike.  Into the park the rocks are almost entirely covered by mist but im really glad to be here and it adds an eery quality which makes it feel like being under the sea (where the rocks were created 120m years ago)>  The rocks are all named but i can’t really see why, the name bears little relation to the way the rocks look but i can see alot of faces (similar to my own drawings and Paul noble )

LEave Belochradchik in the cold after soaking up as much heat from the hotel lobby as possible and being reminded of sunday lunch at home by the london clock on the hotel wall.

The decent through the rock park is amazing and stretched for quite a few kms.  Again the landscape feels like somewhere is Arizona.  We puch on as we’re far from where we wanted to be.  Bulgaria is really a very quiet place and the lackof sound is made more apparent when we pass a group of goats each with their own bell creating a great sound.

The rocks

Belochradchik rocks

Interesting choice of railings

More rocks

We start to climb up the landscape and again it reminds me of Devon, bare rocks protrude from the hills and the colours feel very familiar.  Getting dark and we want to be as close to MOntana as possible for the huge climb which awaits us, we pummel along in the dark until we reach our destination.  Feeling like a beer we find a corner shop/barwith an interesting chimney coming from a wood burner which stretches across the ceiling and lots of cigarette smoke.

Communist statue

Bulgarian landscape

We smell some sausages being cooked and treat ourselves 4 times over plus some beers.  Then we sit in the proper local part of the bar, locals enjoying jiving at the pop singers on the television.  We try to communicate and are brought a beer and given cigarettes for our efforts.  With no camp spot sasha tries to explain our situation to the shop owner with pictures. After a few phone calls another person arrives called Aleksander and offers us a room in his guesthouse down the road free of charge.  When we arrive at the completely empty guesthouse he seems a bit more pissed off but leeaves us in a large room.  We drink the rest of the beer and prepare some rice on the camp stove.  GO to bed in a centrally heated room.

Making some munch

Our place for the evening

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 21, 2010 3:01 am

    nice post

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