Day 21- Slogging it out in Serbia

I awoke early to the calls of nature; house sparrows on the roof, a golden oriel and whitethroat in the garden and a pheasant off in the fields. Mirko insisted that he drive ahead of me to show me how to escape the maze of roadworks, which was very nice of him. Before we left, he handed me a big bag of fruit for the journey.

I don’t know if Mirko was a fan of cycling in the 1980s, and thought that all Irishmen with bikes had the same ability as Kelly, Roche and Early, for off he shot.

Now an old fellow on a bike, a tired and stiff old fellow, needs fifteen or twenty minutes in the morning to spin the legs, just to warm up. Well with Mirko at the helm, there was no neutralized section, it was off from the go, and with half an orchard as a handicap. A 5km time trial over the back hills of Serbia to wake me up. But, thanks to Mirko I was headed in the right direction; I’m not sure how I would have managed without his help.

It was like a normal Irish summer’s day; about 18 degrees, raining with a breeze. I put the head down and covered the miles as best I could. As I cycled, off to my left a lone Black-headed Gull was flying into the wind. Made me feel like I was on one of my usual training spins into Paulstown.

The route was entirely along roads and they became busier the closer I came to Belgrade. The last 40km or so through the outlying towns and suburbs was a long, long slog; a very busy road being sprayed by traffic. When I arrived in Belgrade early afternoon having covered 90km, I looked like I had just completed the Tour of Flanders on a wet day, and was very self-conscious about going into a restaurant to eat. But, feck it, I was paying good money and I needed some food. Judging from the look of the waiter, I don’t think I was the most welcomed guest!

One of the drawbacks with cycling is that in urban areas, the bike becomes a hindrance. You can’t just abandon it with paniers, and hauling it around is a pain. I had wanted to spend a bit of time looking around Belgrade, at least see the city centre. My impression was of a grey city, mind you anywhere would look grey in weather like this. You could see that there were parts, particularly along the docks where an old warehouse has been converted into bars and restaurants that there were trendy areas.

As it happened I lingered longer than I wished in Belgrade, so wanted to get out of the city for the evening. Navigating the huge bridge over the Danube during rush hour was an experiece, but I survived that.

The last stretch of about 14km was back on the flood dyke along the Danube, but this was really difficult going. Unsurfaced and deeply rutted, and beginning to churn up a bit after the day’s rain. Was glad to stop for the night, having covered 130km. Stayed in a rather grim hostel, but I wasn’t complaining.

Serbia were playing their last match of the World Cup so I went to a pub to watch it. Conclusion, Serbia don’t have a great football team, and their supporters are a joyless shower. The beer isn’t bad though.