Days 69 & 70: 24/10/03 & 25/10/03
Rest days: Sarajevo
Sightseeing. Fascinating place. Most interesting yet. Left bar on Friday night/sat morning to snow. Not again please!
Day 71: 26/10/03
Set off in to a cold but thankfully dry morning. Took the high main road out of the east of the city heading for Sokolac. Very nice views, at least from what I could see through the mist. A closed tunnel meant a welcome detour on a steeper, higher road. Picked up a passenger at the bottom of the climb, a very friendly dog who kept me company for the half hour slog upwards.
Friendly dogs are a rarity in these parts. During the course of today I had numerous encounters with semi-wild canines with a taste for cyclists blood. Included was one ferral creature that raced across a farm I was passing, jumped through the fence and out in to the road, leaping at my bike and sinking its teeth in to one of my rear panniers. The following high speed tug of war lasted for about 50 yards up the road before the crazed mut finally gave up.
Descent from detour back to main road gave a stunning view of a deep gorge below – was fog starting to lift a little? I was now in the Repubjka Srpska part of BiH, which meant that all of the road signs were in Cryllic. As my map wasn’t, this made navigation a bit challenging.
Locals helpful thankfully, though my cycling attire doesn’t seem to be going down to well. (admittedly, I am wearing thick womens tights under my lycra shorts, but very cold weather has this way of ridding you of any last bit of vanity you might have).
After another hour or so the weather cleared totally and I was riding under bright blue skies. Cant’ remember exactly where, but somewhere just before Sokolac I think, the land opened out before me to give a wide and spectacular view of the plain below. Huge descent and some flat at altitude still. All sweeping meadows, cowbells and piles of hay. Very different from previous terrain. Rode right by a large eagle sitting on a fencepost by the roadside – all of about 5 metres away. Only when I was level with it did it turn and swoop down in to the valley below.
Climbing again up past Han Pijesak. Then steeper over mountain pass. Other side of mountains hadn’t seen the sun, so had to sacrifice enjoying the magnificent scenery (incredible multicolured trees lining valleys – bright yellows, oranges, reds and greens) as full concentration was required for icy desent. Slowly down through Vlasenica. No accommodation at all here so had to press on another 50km to Zvornik on the border with Serbia.
Bit gutted to be leaving BiH. Its an incredible place. Given the dicey weather I have to though – a 2 week tour in the summer one year would be fantastic.
Day 72: 27/10/03
Weather: Rain, cold, headwind
First thing I tried to do this morning was buy some waterproof gloves. Nowhere in town sold any gloves of any kind. Crossed border point and my warm (but not waterproof gloves) were already soaked through and so ineffectual. Road to Loznica on this side of the Drina river terrible – broken tarmac, potholes everywhere. Rain heavier after half hour. Either wet or cold is fine but both together is ‘hard’. Thoughts drifting to waterproof socks and gloves sitting in my drawer in England! By Loznica my hands could not operate brakes or gears so after getting some money from a (nice warm) bank had to retreat to a cafe. Snowing now! Was greeted with a mixture of amusement and sympathy by locals. Ordered coffee and got a shot of the local firewater as well to “warm me up”. Stopped me shivering alright, though I think this was because it made my heart stop beating. Was no way I was going back out in snow now.
Day 73: 28/10/03
Weather: Cold, tailwind mainly
Yesterdays weather was the top news item on TV last night. Thankfully it’s not usual for this time of year. Forecast was for cold snap to blow over and take rain/snow with it and it proved correct. Belgrade within striking distance today. Road still crap and now including cobbled sections. After 50km got to Sabac and managed to get some gloves claiming to be waterproof, though as they were out of a 100 Dinar (quid) bargain bucket I’ll reserve judgment on them. They are warm though so hands were toastie all the way to Belgrade. Very boring ride today. Flat, monotonous scenery. Wind turned against me for the last hour or so. Staying awake was the biggest challenge. What I would have given for the excitement of being chased by a demented dog! Anyway, am pleased I’ve still done Sarajevo to Belgrade in 3 days.
Day 74: 29/10/03
Rest day: Belgrade Weather: Cold, tailwind mainly
Sightseeing and route planning. Looks like weather is going to be manageable for the next week, though I’ll have to play the mountains as I go along. Carpathians in Romania are looking unlikely as are some of the higher passes in Bulgaria.
Belgrade has a nice feel to it, despite being a big smelly capital city. This is probably due to the people. Serbia is the only place I’ve been to where the city dwellers are friendlier than the rural folk.
Day 75: 30/10/03
Dist: 53 km
Weather: Mild, strong headwind
The weather is going to get me one way or another here in Serbia. No rain or snow. Not particularly cold. Instead a ripping headwind that pegged me back all day. Took King Alexandria road out of the city, which wasn’t too bad (a bit like the Mile End road but with trams). Out of the city the road rose from river and then dropped to it again continually, though scenery uninspiring. Decided to have a half day today, stopping at the old medieval town of Smederevo.
Day 76: 31/10/03
Dist: 78 km
Weather: Bright, clear, headwind
Thankfully, yesterday’s gale had died down a bit. More dullness from Smederevo to Pozarevac. Turned off main road 12 km along road to V.Gradisk on smaller road climbing to Srednjevo. Landscape getting more interesting now. Up on to a ridge to see terrain ahead sweeping back down to the river. Birds of prey circling over fields left and right, then first views of the Carpathians. Dropped back down and then across to Golubac and so on to the river again. Spied a hotel here so decided to stop – only 7 quid with breakfast and with the Danube about 20 yards from back window.
Picture above: Beautiful BiH (to be revisited)
Day 77: 01/11/03
To: Dobreta – Turnu Severin
Dist: 153 km
Weather: Overcast, headwind
Left Golabac early as I really wanted to make it to Romania today. The headwind from hell had returned and the first 2 hours were spent grinding along at about ½ to ¾ normal speed. Road passes through an impressive medieval castle just after Gobulac and then proceeds up the valley right along the river’s edge. Hills on both sides, gradually getting bigger all day. Over 20 tunnels along here though thankfully none of BiH proportions.
Headwind slowly dying as the day progresses. First flat tyre of the trip just after D Milanovac. No complaints though – I’ll gladly take a rate of one every 5000km! Tempted to take short cut over hills just after here. Pleased I stuck to river as 20km on mountains drop sheer in to the Danube creating a magnificent gorge (camera batteries went!). 2 longer tunnels here – 250m and 370m.
Headed on to Dobreta, which is over the other side of the river. Didn’t take first crossing as another one was marked on map further on at town of Kladovo where I planned to spend my last Dinars. Crossing point phantom though! Back 10km up road to previous bridge – these cock ups are always harder to deal with when you have no one else to blame them on – and to rub salt in – my remaining Dinar turned out to be enough for a mars bar!
Got to Dobreta after dark as a result of unecessary extra 20km. Beautiful ride today. There is a parallel road on the Romanian side. Fewer tunnels I think, but it stays lower and bypasses the first bit of the gorge.
Day 78: 02/11/03
From: Dobreta – Turnu Severin
Dist: 122 km
Weather: Slight cloud, light headwind
Late start today as had to do some routine maintenance on bike. Set off on main road to Craiova. Turned off after about 15km on road signed to Bakles. Tarmac disappeared immediately – straight on to dirt track made tough going by recent rain. Road changed back to tarmac just before Plopi (nice name). Very rural here. No roadsigns, very crap map so asked locals for directions a lot. Time consuming as Romanians are so friendly – they’ll ask where you are from, where you’ve been, where you are going, draw maps for you, give you drinks, even pass on their address for you to write to them!
Was back off road for most of the day. No idea what route I ended taking to Craiova. It involved lots of very muddy tracks full of chickens, turkeys, geese, pigs, horse and carts, people and of course mad dogs.
Eventually back on tarmac about 45km out of town. Romanian hospitality and dire roads had slowed me down massively today. Hammered the last 2 hours, racing the sunset. Lost hopelessly (again) and cycled the last hour in the dark. Terrain was exhausting today. Rest tomorrow I think.
Day 79: 03/11/03
Rest day: Craiova
Did sod all today as was totally knackered.