Day 22 – The last outpost

The last few days have all been about covering the distance. As I am finding out, despite its name there are long stretches of the Danube Cycle Path on busy roads that are going in the general direction of the Danube, but not anywhere near it. But today I was back in touch with the river and cycling through a bit more varied landscape.

The river now is less tamed and has shallow flooded marsh and low woodland ideal for herons, egrets and other riparian life. I came across my first Europen Pond Turtle on the track. I disturbed it as I passed so it retreated into the safety of its shell. Ever curious, I lay down, face to face with the turtle to see how long it would take for it to come out of its shell and twaddle away. 23 minutes it took – a piece of trivia that might come in handy at a pub quiz sometime, and proof that I have way too much time on my hands. Livestock grazed the ‘long acre’ of the flood dyke; buffalo, cattle, sheep and goats, and as always, fishermen were perched at regular intervals all along the river.

Part of the route took me across open dune-like grassland; machair, without the sea. Looked like an interesting habitat so I stopped for a while to explore. It was alive with insects. Each step forward resulted in disturbing a cloud of blue butterflies. I made an attempt at their identification, but other than seeing there were at least two different species, what they were I’m none the wiser.

As I cycled I was joined by Bee-eaters, flying along like brightly coloured swallows. I saw where they nested too, just like sand martins, making borrows in sandbanks. A Little Owl was hunting in daylight as she had a noisy family to feed in the roof of a nearby shed.

My route was taking me towards mountainous country – I could see the start of the Carpathian Mountains in the distance. I was heading toward a corner of Serbia hemmed in by the Danube and the Romanian border to the north and the Carpathians to the east. The only way out is by boat, a ferry crossing of 25 minutes which I would take first thing in the morning.

My accommodation for the night was unlike any place I’ve been before, a sort of last outpost. The ferry leaves from here four times daily, but unless you get the morning ferry it is best to linger here, for there is little accommodation for some considerable distance on the other side. Every traveller ends up here, having a beer or two, eating, pouring over maps and generally just killing time. Photographs pinned to the wall showing a cross- section of the travellers that graced this place with their company. There is little need for the proprietor to worry about decor, cleanliness or personal hygiene, for he has a captive market, he has you in his web. A dry bed where things don’t bite and a hot shower is what you get. And a proprietor way too eager to help with everything, and to talk to you incessantly with his six words of English. I braved the food, not wishing to think of the hygiene standards operating behind the kitchen door, but it was surprisingly good. And a plate of pancakes with jam were pushed on me for dessert. And God, they were good! And, then there was little to do, but kill time.

I met the first fellow travellers for a number of days today. A Dutch couple were parked up in a small camper van along the way, so I joined them for a short spell. They were driving and cycling in the Balkans for three weeks They had visited Albania, Bulgaria and Romania and were now in Serbia. It was nice speaking in English again, and they were friendly and interesting. However, they were so judgemental about the countries they had been through, which annoyed me a bit. I don’t think travelling through somewhere entitles you to be judgemental. Also at the last outpost there were four Austrians, two couples in their 50s, entrapped. We exchanged pleasantries but they were only interested in themselves and had no curiosity about me. At one stage I couldn’t help overhearing (well in truth I was listening) one of my Austrian fellow traveller giving out to his wife for not being at the table when their fish soup arrived. Made me appreciate lone travel; having myself to give out to is more than I need.

The Austrians were travelling with electric bikes. Electric bikes, I ask you? Not that I’m being judgemental, you understand.