Somehow this week has been a Balkan roller-coaster of fun, meeting some of the friendliest people of our journey so far. Arriving in Hungary from Slovakia was rapid and took us very little time before we arrived in the split cities of Buda and Pest. Right up to Thursday afternoon I had this whole post worked out, nailed down. We’d spent an excellent three days in Pest, the older, more interesting side of Budapest at a great hostel called Big Fish, with some of the friendliest and hospitable Hungarians in town. While we were in Budapest we visited the best spa, enjoying a full body massage and a choice of twenty pools and a dozen saunas. So far, so relaxing. We really did enjoy our time in Pest and I would recommend anyone who hasn’t been to go at the soonest opportunity.
To leave Pest on Wednesday morning after a fitful nights sleep, was tough, we’d fallen in love with the place but we had to press on and we made our way out of town towards our 13th country, Serbia, and the much anticipated Novi Sad, some 400 kilometres away. We make some good progress and are happy to be back on the bikes after what felt like a long break in Budapest. Thursday evening comes and we have just passed through a town to the south of Hungary and we are looking for a place to camp, we’ve seen a camp-site on the map, we’re looking for it, without success. As we stop to double check the map for the next move, reassurance of direction, a car pulls over, a man jumps out and begins to ask if we need help. We explain our predicament and before we know it we are being given directions to this guys house, about 30 minutes away by bike. The chaps name is Robert and the most we can decipher from his instructions to find his house are that we follow the path that we’re on and turn left at Jesus.
Our instinct tells us to do as he says, following the road for around half an hour and then just off to the side of the road comes Casper, Roberts 10 year old son, on his bike to collect us. We turn off following Casper round the corner and sure enough there are the 12 stations of the cross. We turn left and 200 metres later we are standing with Robert in his garden shaking hands and taking a glass of ice cold beer. We can’t believe our luck. Robert has a large garden with many fruit trees and a vegetable garden, we are shown where to pitch our tent and offered the choice of showers, indoors and out. We opt for the more refreshing outdoor showers, make a quick change into our casuals and take a short walk with Robert to the local bar. We drink and get Robert drunk, talking about the history of Hungary, cycling, life in all its wonderment and knowing yourself, a man on a bike has nowhere to hide from himself, he must confront his thoughts. We return home to a feast. meet the rest of the family and sit down to dinner with a bottle of local red and BB King. This is the best night of the trip so far. We share stories about cycling, compare photographs, Robert is a photography enthusiast and has a really keen eye for a shot, Adrian shows his best from our trip, Robert is suitably impressed. Later into the evening, as is customary in Hungary we share a toast with Palinca, the local brew of apricot brandy. We finish a bottle, stagger off to bed, sleep. When we wake the house is empty, Robert has gone to work, Sylvia has taken the kids to school. A note on the door instructs us to eat breakfast which has been laid out on the table for us. We eat, write a note of our own to thank the family for their generosity and we make tracks towards Serbia. Thanks again Robert and Sylvia for your kind hospitality.
Now we cross into Serbia later that morning at a somewhat unconventional border, more farm track than road, the photographs will explain and take lunch in a town called Sombor. A very beatiful place with Austrian looking architecture. We later learn that the north of Serbia is known as Vojvodina, Vojvodina is a Serbian word for Duchy, which is autonomous from the rest of Serbia which has a very Austrian history and that this region was for a short time a Serbian Duchy in the Austrian Empire, hence the style and similarity. After a hearty round of pastries and a very big coffee, Serbia is famous for its bakeries and its portions – perfect for hungry cyclists, we truck on to a place called Bac, pronounced Batch, where we take a beer and a hamburger. Camping isn’t really an option in this agricultural town, certainly not a campsite and difficult to go wild since there is so much farming and crops. We make the decision to pedal a further 15k out of town to meet the Donau and the EuroVelo 6, in an area of National Park, sure that there we will find a suitable spot. It gets dark, we put our lights on.
Eventually we roll into town and there is lots of farming still going on, everything is being harvested; corn, chillies, root vegetables, its all being pulled from the ground by a hive of busy workers. We find a patch by the river that will accommodate our tent for the night and decide on a cheeky beer before bed. Also to fix a puncture. Another one. I’ve had maybe a dozen so far, my patience at this point at 10o’clock on a Friday night was worn thin. I had a little grumble about tyre quality and the like and I settle down on the step of a very small village pub to fix three tubes all at once. Then we meet a Dragan. Rolling drunk from a day fishing on the river, our first Serbian friend appears from the dense woods close by to the pub, chain smoking and pushing his bike along. Dragan orders a beer, offers us help and joins our table.
Dragan is an art teacher in Novi Sad, a big communist and very opinionated. He’s great company and offers us to spend the night in his garden, which we accept. We again as is customary enjoy the local toast which in Serbia is Rakia, this particular rakia is made with plums and like the palinca of the previous night, is super strong. We head back to Dragans den intoxicated and tired, we’ve made nearly 100k in the burning sun and its telling. We pitch up and while we do Dragan shows us his ‘English birds’ and shows his appreciation for our Brooks saddles – they are his favourite. Next morning we take Turkish coffee in the already hot morning sun and Dragan offers us to spend the day with him, helping a friend to put on a new roof and spit roasting a pig, we decline the offer, but thank him for his kind offer. We cycle together out of town, say goodbye to our comrade and we part at the edge of town. Thanks Dragan for an entertaining and interesting history lesson. As I explained at the beginning of this post I had this whole thing mapped out ready to go, that was until we met the two most interesting characters of the journey so far, it really goes to show that you never know what’s around the corner and you can never second guess life on the road. For my own amusement there’s a simple acrostic message in this post, see if you can spot it, if you can, you’ll get a deeper insight into our evening with Robert. Next stop, Novi Sad.
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For the Route see MAP 6