I thought it’d been a while since I last posted and though I’d explain why, as you can see from the mileage in the title I haven’t travelled very far! At some point on the 100km ride from Novi Sad, Serbia, to Belgrade, Serbia, I have broken the rear wheel of my bicycle. Frustrating as I was planning to replace this wheel when I returned to England from Turkey as I wasn’t confident it would make it to China. In hindsight I should have made the upgrade before I left. I’ll get onto this later but will try to keep this post chronological from here on…
My day off in Novi Sad was good fun. I walked up to the cities famous fort where the Exit music festival is held each year and realised my cycling map is definitely way out of date when I spotted one of the bridges it marked no longer existed! The remaining stumps of the bridge can just be made out in this picture;
I got a recommendation from my hostel to check out the traditional Serbian food in a small cafe in the centre called Astal Saren. The main dish is a type of hamburger called Pljeskavica which is made up of a mixture of veal, bacon and onions. Really good I have to say. Veal is something I wouldn’t normally eat but I think it’s worth it to try the local food.
I tried out the wine I bought Ilok, Croatia, and have to say the famous Traminac (as bought by the British Royal family to celebrate the coronation) is the best white wine I have ever had, confirmed by some really friendly guys form Brazil I met who are studying in Novi Sad . The other wines I bought form the cellar were okay but the Traminac really stood out.
Up early the next day to cycle from Novi Sad to Belgrade and immediately after leaving the city I was met with a 300m climb at 8-11%. I’m getting fitter so the climb was no problem but I was frustrated by it having not been marked on my map at all as obviously it ate up some time.
I pulled off the main road at the top of the climb and took the small road towards the town of Cortanovci where I promptly got lost and went in a massive circle eventually finding the right road out of town. After a short climb again I reached a plateau which I’d be on for the rest of the day and was confronted by the worst headwinds of the trip so far. It felt like I was moving at 10km at times and I got so frustrated I was shouting obscenities at one point.
The only reason I can think the winds are so bad in the agricultural areas is that the land is so flat and there are no hedge rows or trees to act as windbreaks like we tend to have in Western Europe. I also hit the worst road I’ve been on so far, a single cars width of really poor tarmac with cars pulling to the dirt on side to let approaching traffic past. Obviously I was low on the consideration of these vehicles so was riding on the dirt for a lot of the time. It was around this time I noticed a weird creaking coming from the rear of the bike. It was in sync with my pedalling and then when I coasted it went in sync with the wheels, odd, all I could think was the rear rack was a bit loose. If it was a wheel problem then there should be some wobble as well.
I stopped to get some sugary drinks and food to perk myself up a bit and spotted some nice looking old houses in the town of Surduk.
The rest of the ride was fairly dull, more headwinds and then a ride on a busy road into Belgrade which I got diverted off at the last minute into Zemun on a really bumpy cobblestone road. I can’t believe this is the “cycle path”.
I checked into my hostel quite shattered from the wind and rested getting up early the next day to check out the town. I went to the fort but a big highlight was the Nikolai Tesla museum.
Nikolai Tesla, if you haven’t head of him, was a Serbian inventor/electrical-engineer who, whilst resident in the United States, pioneered a huge quantity of technologies that laid the foundations for the world we live in now. A major one being Alternating Current, which allows the transmission of power over long distance. Without this the only way we could have power would be everyone having their own little generators, large power stations and national electricity grids would not exist. In total he filed about 250 patents and much controversy surrounds Thomas Edison filing the US patents for many of Tesla’s concepts and taking the credit.
The museums is small and consists of a video of his life, several recreations of his major inventions, a collection of his personel affects as well as the rather unique spherical urn that contains his ashes.
The grand display is a huge Tesla Coil which when activated puts enough power into the air to illuminate fluorescent light bulbs in your hands without any wires. Unfortunately my photo blurred a lot and looks like a bunch of people wielding light sabres…
That evening I decided to cycle to an outdoor store I had found to try and buy some warmer clothes. Enroute the noise coming from the bicycle was much worse, despite no luggage being on it, and I stopped to investigate. To my horror I spotted the rim was cracked around one of my spokes almost pulling it through. To top this off there was no outdoor store at the address I’d found online!
I carefully cycled back to my hostel to try and figure out what to do. I proceeded to visit about 5 bike shops in Belgrade looking for a new rim but it seems bicycle touring is not popular here and the only rims I could find were Mountain Bike rims (too small) and Road Racing rims (correct size but too weak to take my luggage). In the end I decided I’d rather spend the money building the wheel I reckon will last to China than to build a compromise. This involved importing a rim and hub (the centre part of the wheel) from the UK (I need the hub aswell as the new wheel will have 36 instead of 32 spokes making the whole thing stronger).
This in itself wasn’t straight forward. Of the 3 big UK bicycle webshops only one was an option (Wiggle.co.uk won’t ship to Serbia, Evans wanted £200 for shipping!). Chain Reaction cycles had the parts and were willing to ship for free! Or a mere £20 for express shipping. I ordered straight away.
As the weekend was approaching, thus delaying delivery, I decided it was a waste to stay here for 7 days so decided to take a side trip to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, on a bus. I’ve wanted to visit for a while ever since a friend said it was his favourite city in Europe and I already had a big list of things I wanted to see in my head.
Firstly I must mention how incredibly scenic this bus ride was ascending the mountains up to 1100m where Sarajevo is. Hopefully this blurry photo, shot from a moving bus, gives this impression;
The bus dropped me off in the station on the Serbian side of Sarajevo right next to the Tunnel of Hope, an 800m tunnel underneath the airport runaway that allowed supplies to be brought into the city whilst it was under siege from Serbian forces. Here is a map showing the borders of the siege, the runway and tunnel and marked faintly to the right of the diagram.
After the museum I grabbed a taxi into town. I’d heard the taxi drivers here love to divulge their stories of the siege and mine was no exception. He talked about being on the front line here with the Bosnian forces until being shot and then reassigned to drive supply trucks from the Free Bosnian territory to the tunnel entrance, during these journeys he’d be under-fire and casually mentioned he found driving in Sarajevo these days more scary! For some reason the driver then went on a tangent about proper condom use which I won’t go into here.
I checked into my hostel and quickly found my email inbox contained a bunch of forms in Serbian that I needed to fill out to get my bicycle parts through customs. Fortunately Bosnian and Serbian language are similar and the hostel receptionist very kindly helped me through all the forms, as well as giving me a free glass of Grappa! (I feel it’s worth giving the hostel credit, it’s a new hostel called Franz Ferdinand, very central, modern, cheap and obviously incredibly service as I’ve mentioned).
The next morning I went to see the spot where Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, an act that was the straw the broke the camels back and triggered the First World War. I had one of those moments where history comes alive a bit as I’ve previously visited the prison cell when Princip was incarcerated in Terezin Fortess outside Prague, Czech Republic, a facility later used as a concentration camp. Due to being 19 Princip avoided the death penalty but was effectively neglected in prison until he died of Tuberculosis in lieu of the death penalty.
Walking around the city centre I can definitely see the appeal it had to my friend, it really is like nowhere else. It’s like someone ripped a square mile out of Istanbul and dropped it in the Alps. The city is surrounded by steep hills and the houses look very Austrian owing to their sloped roofs to fend of snow.
I’d arranged a taxi to take me up to take somewhere I was really looking forward to going. In 1984 Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics and due to the Siege (1992-1996) many of the facilities built fell into dis-repair. The bobsled track had caught my eye and through the hostel I’d found a taxi driver who knew how to get there (it’s not really a tourist attraction) and spoke English and could act like a bit of a guide.
On the way up to the Track I was greeted with some truly spectacular views over the city. The bobsled is on top of Trebevic mountain at an altitude of around 1700m and owing to the steep hills the view is dramatic.
My driver dropped me off in the middle of the track and was quite shocked when instead of snapping a couple of pictures I quickly climbed into the track and proceeded to head up it. This track had been used as a snipers nest during the conflict and gun ports had been carved out by the Serbian forces and I was interested to see if I could find any of this legacy.
Eventually after getting some nice photos I figured the driver might be getting fed up so I found him and we headed back off into town. On the way back we stopped at another viewpoint just as the call to prayer was kicking off in the city. This was incredible, the prayers from the mosques loudspeakers echoed through the valley and up to our vantage point.
I’d asked the driver to drop me off at the Holiday Inn in the city. Why on earth would you want to go to the Holiday Inn you might ask? Well during the siege this is where the journalists were held up and has led to a couple of films that feature the place quite heavily. The staff made a valiant effort to maintain the facade of service during the conflict dodging sniper fire to get to work and preparing food on an open fire in the kitchen due to a lack of gas and electricity. I can recommend two films on this;
First is “Welcome to Sarajevo”. A moving film shot mostly on location when the siege ended using the real ruined locations and a lot of real news footage as well;
Secondly is “The Hunting Party”. A slightly light hearted semi-fiction piece staring Richard Gere as a journalist who decides to seek revenge by hunting down one of the war criminals from the conflict. The film got very poor reviews but I quite like it, it flicks back and forth from almost comedy to being very dark and serious;
I grabbed a coffee in the hotels bar, awkwardly took some photos and left. On way back into town I spotted a mortar scar on the pavement, again bringing home a bit what happend here.
Back to Belgrade on the bus the next day, an uneventful 7 hour bus ride except for this interesting wheat storage method I got a poor photo of;
I’m now back in Belgrade playing the waiting game on bicycle parts whilst Serbian customs decide how much tax I need to pay. I’m being pessimistic about the amount as I’d rather be pleasantly surprised than the opposite. Due to this delay I won’t reach Trabzon, Turkey, in time to reach my scheduled flight home but thankfully I booked the Istanbul-London and Trabzon-Istanbul legs separately so will just proceed at a slower pace and catch the already booked Istanbul leg of the flight.
In the end I guess this delay has been a bit of blessing. I’ve gotten to visit the incredible city of Sarajevo and will have more time in Bulgaria. Also it seems tidier that I’ll be splitting my trip in half on the Europe/Asia border rather than in a random location in Turkey.
In the end if it was going to be an easy adventure than it wouldn’t be worth doing!
If you’ve enjoyed reading this the checkout my site 121degrees for more info and subscribe to this blog for more entries along the way!
I also want to divert the interest this trip generates towards helping out a charity that made a big differance to some friends of mine. Samuels Children Charity are a Lewes based charity providing support to families throughout the UK who are currently affected by childhood cancer. I hope to raise the sum of £5,000 from people who hear about this trip to help them continue their work, and to also keep me motivated throughout the challenges this trip will provide! If you’d like to see how the fundraising is going (or even better would like too donate!) then click here.