Every campsite I’ve stayed in on all of my treks have been unique in their own way. Last night’s was too, but for the wrong reasons. A nice setting, yes, and a warm welcome too by the warden, but there were stray dogs hanging about the site, and during the night they engaged in a lot of ‘doggy yodeling’ with their friends and enemies on the other side of the Danube…..I mean, some of them must have been 5 miles away. I was not a happy bunny last night.
Then this morning, I awoke at 4am, got up half an hour later, and was packed and ready to leave by 5.30. But I found the main gate locked, and there was no way out. I contemplated climbing over the fence, but with the bike it was out of the question. I had the prospect of waiting till 7am for the reception to open, and frankly, I was fuming. My plan was to ride the 20kms into Belgrade before the world was fully awake, and the roads were quiet.
However, 10 minutes later I spotted a chap in a crumpled suit and realised he was the night warden, and had fallen asleep on the job. So I gave him a big beaming smile and he let me out of the detention camp…….
I got into the centre of Belgrade by 6.30, grabbed my first breakfast at a bakery, and immediately headed up to the fortress
with it’s towering views over the confluence of the river Sava with the Danube.
Ten days ago, this must have been a vast flood plain because it was the Sava that caused all the destruction. The only evidence of flooding now are the sandbags lining the banks of the river.
Having seen the predominance of Eastern Orthodox Christianity in Serbia, and visited a few of their churches
I’ve come to the realisation, in the context of my journey following the route of the First Crusade of 1096, that this part of Europe was probably the westernmost outpost of the orthodox church….and with a later occupation by the Ottoman Turks, there is a decidedly eastern feel to the country.
Then when I discovered there was a special exhibition on at the National Gallery, I splashed out 70p on a ticket (and no, I didn’t have the courage to ask for a senior discount!) and found myself learning about this Dalmatian portrait artist in one room
Serbian impressionists in another
and Peter Paul Rubens in yet another
I thought it was a great investment of 70p.
I was impressed with Belgrade, especially since I expected to be disappointed by it. Maybe my thinking still hasn’t moved on beyond the Cold War years.
As I headed off on the 45kms to the next campsite, I stopped at a food store just 7kms from the site, and as I was leaving, Dragan and Miljan arrived on their bikes
and immediately invited me to join them in a beer. We chatted at length about cycling and football (they knew a great deal more about the English league than I did, and told me of the Serbians who played for Man City….I mean , how would a cyclist know that kind of trivia?) and I admired how they could combine cycling with drinking and smoking (I didn’t stay for a second beer….one was enough to make me feel a bit wobbly for the last 7kms!)
Then when I got to the campsite down by the Danube, Istuan was having a break from a painting job he was doing, and invited me to join him for another beer.
I’d like to think it was my sparkling personality that brought about these acts of kindness, but I think an opportunity to speak English may also have had something to do with it.
Serbian beer has a way of getting to those parts…….