Friday, 20 July 2012


The 'Iron Gates' hydro-electric dam is the border crossing from Serbia. We reached Drobeta Turnu Severin, the first town in Romania with 3450k on the clock ... only 800k to go, and one more border crossing. In blistering heat just after midday, we booked into a small pension for two nights, and spent the rest of the day just collapsed in the shade. Next day we had a brave attempt at sightseeing and went down to the river to see the remains of Trajan's bridge (the biggest bridge in the ancient world in it's day); and the ruins of the Roman town; and the mediaeval water tower ... but the heat won yet again and we scuttled back to the pension. We set off the next day before dawn and briefly needed lights for the first time. It was a delightful day's cycling. We followed the river passing through village after village where we were greeted by smiles and waves from the kids who wanted to 'high-five' us as we rode by. I did have to brandish the 'dog bat' at a couple of strays who ran out with teeth bared, and we were pleased to see it acted as a very effective deterrent. For a short section we were on dirt track and then we rolled into a small village with a shop where we decided to hole up through the midday heat, then press on later in the afternoon. Needless to say we hadn't settled down for long before three kids rolled up. They were intrigued by the bikes, the ukulele, and these two strange foreigners who had appeared unexpectedly in their village. After a few hours we waved them goodbye and set off again. At Pristol we stopped and asked in the local shop if there was anywhere nearby we could camp for the night. Daniel, the shopkeeper insisted on giving us a room in his house. We accepted and spent a lovely evening with him and his family. I'm afraid to say that after such a promising start, the rest of the time in Romania was nothing like as pleasant ... Days without a glimpse of the river, hot, potholes, 38C in the shade, no shade, kids shouting 'ola', waves, more potholes, still no shade, endless sunflower fields staring at us, 40C, imaginary campsites, dogs, still no shade ... Finally we got back to the river and took the ferry across to Silistra, a divided city, half in Romania and half in Bulgaria ... we opted for Bulgaria, and a nice hotel with air-con. Next day we crossed back into Romania for the last leg. There was just 150k to go ... but according to the map, it would be the hilliest part of the whole trip ... there was no place offering accommodation, nor any campsites marked ... and the heat was showing no signs of abating. Steeling ourselves, we set off at 5.30 expecting the worst. It was a real surprise to find the hills, although plentiful, were not the brutes people had described. For most of the morning we were in view of the river and with fewer villages there was the excitement of the feeling of 'remoteness' as we wound our way up to Ion Corvin, the only 'town' marked. Anticipation grew ... and then ... lo and behold, the rumoured Service station which offered accommodation did actually exist !! We rather took the owner by surprise and he had to drive down to the village to buy food and drink, but the room was comfortable. In the evening a pair of Scots cycle tourists arrived and we spent the evening chatting with them. (I was very good and didn't say anything about Andy Murray getting beaten at Wimbledon ...). Now, with 89k and the biggest hills so far, between us and the sea, we were up even earlier for our last day at 4.00am we set off at 4.40am in the dark, again expecting the worst. Ahead in the blackness we could hear packs of stays howling and we both had our dog bats drawn. Word must have spread amongst the canine community though, of the 'cyclists that bite back' because none of them bothered us. The hills too succumbed to the adrenaline we could feel as the journey's end approached. The last 30k was a grind down a big, busy dual carriageway ... then the suburbs of Constanta ... and then ... finally ... The Black Sea! We've done it.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Through the Iron Gates

We left Novi Sad again in very hot weather and followed the cycle route to Novi Banoci where I went into a shop to buy provisions for lunch, leaving Di in the shade outside. When I emerged she was chatting to a lady who insisted on showing us the room she rented out and the restaurant she and her husband ran. The 'room' turned out to be a luxury apartment with balcony complete with sun-loungers, overlooking the river. Expecting the worst, we asked how much ... neither of us could believe the reply ... I've paid more in the UK for a campsite than she was charging! Needless to say we decided to stay.
Next day we followed a pleasant track through the fields to Zemun, a  suburb of Belgrade. The campsite marked on the Bikeline book had re-located, but we found it eventually - a lovely spot close to the river. The day after we set off early to traverse Belgrade. The city was just as I remembered it ... hot, sticky, bustling with people and impossible to find the way out. The weather continues to be very hot and it was a real grind up the hills out of town for 85k to Velico Gradiste. The last 10k though were marvelous as we rejoined the river and followed the dike. The banks were teeming with wildlife - storks herons, egrets and other water birds, fish jumping, dragonflies hovering over the shallows - idyllic!
Pity the campsite wasn't so tranquil. A band struck up just as we were settling down for the night (OK it was only 8.00pm !) - but they wailed away until the small hours. Dawn, and the customary early start came too soon, but all was soon forgotten as we approached Golubac and the entrance to the Iron Gates. The cycle route goes right through the ruins of Golubac castle, an Ottoman fortress commanding the entrance to the narrows. At Dobra we turned down a little dirt track, following a 'campsite' sign. It was a picture perfect spot and undoubtedly the best campsite of the whole trip so far. We cooked and in the evening enjoyed the company of the campsite owner and his very talkative mate. He got out a guitar with three intact strings and we attempted a duet which sounded really good ... did I mention we had a few beers too!! When we went to bed they carried on ... until they went off in a little boat for a spot of night fishing !!
For the next 60k the river has cut a spectacular gorge through the limestone of the Carpathian Mountains. At it's narrowest it is only 150m wide, and the whole place is truly awesome. The road clings to the bank and goes though a series of tunnels which are a bit daunting on a bike as they're unlit. In the dark, the echoes of approaching cars exaggerate their size so they sound like tanks ... and you can imagine the effect a truck coming up from behind has on the heart-rate.
Today we have come as far as Donji Milanovac, yet another beautiful spot looking out at the river. We've found another cheap apartment beacause there isn't a campsite. We've only got another 55k to the bridge at Sip and the border crossing into Romania. On the way we pass the massive statue of King Dacia carved into the rock - like the Argonath scene from Lord of the Rings ... but this is in real life! We'll both be sad to leave Serbia. It is a beautiful country and once again the people have been so friendly and welcoming.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Into Serbia

We got to Budapest only four days after leaving Bratislava, and it was great to get into Hungary. Almost immediately we crossed the border we noticed the difference. Once more people smiled and waved as we passed by, and there was an altogether more welcoming feel. In Budapest we relaxed and were far too busy sipping wine in the shade and watching the (other) "beautiful people" go by to hunt around for an internet cafe to write another blog entry!
Soon we were off on the bikes again and following the Donau dikes. The waves and smiles continued and in Dunafalva, we were invited into a house to watch the football (England 1 France 0) and entertained regally with vodkas, beers, wine and a HUGE slice of cake for Di. The next day we crossed the border into Croatia. We were both sad to leave Hungary.
By now the weather has really hotted up - high 30's and one day over 40 - clear blue skies and only a light S wind. We get up now at 5.00am, usually get off by 6.30am and cycle all morning with a short drinks break around 9.30. That way we can avoid the worst of the heat, but we are only managing 40 - 60k a day. Even so we crossed Croatia and we are now at Novi Sad in Serbia.
If Carlsberg did Hostels, they'd do the Sova Hostel in Novi Sad. We have our own apartment in a separate building in a courtyard, right in the centre of the old town. It is on two storeys - lounge, en-suite bathroom (shower AND bath), and kitchen on the first floor and a lovely wood paneled bedroom upstairs. It's fully air conditioned ... and it's cost us fourteen quid each. At the moment we are being entertained by the hostel owner, who is a really nice guy. He's letting me write this blog on his computer, given us a glass of wine and is chatting with Di about other good hostels he has recommended further along the way.
The next main city is Belgrade, about two day's ride away. We'll probably just stay the one night and then it's off on the road to The Iron Gates - where the Danube breaks through the Carpathians.
It's all looking good !!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Back on the Danube

Leaving Brno we used a couple of 1:50000 maps we had managed to pick up in town, to find a really quiet scenic route, first to a lovely lake about 50k to the south,
and then the next day, across the border into Austria. We followed an almost deserted road almost all the way to a small town just before the Slovakian border, with excitement provided by a particularly 'awkward' railway crossing!
We couldn't find a campsite so asked in a bar if there was anywhere nearby ... the local Mayor no less, was having a pint and gave us his official blessing to camp 50m away up a little track.
Crossing into Slovakia was a bit tricky because the bridge we arrived at across the Morava river was closed for repairs - not just closed, but barricaded off! Faced now with a 25k detour we decided that it looked safe enough for two (heaviliy laden) bikes. We passed the panniers and then the bikes over the barricades and brazened it out as we passed the workmen on the far side ... and there it was, our old friend the Danube. We had short break for a photo, something to eat at a little cafe. and a beer to celebrate, then made the last 15k into Bratislava and a hostel we had booked over t tinternet.
Bratislava is a beautiful old city and we enjoyed spending a couple of days there relaxing. Once we set off again, within a few hours we had crossed into Hungary, where we noticed a really marked difference in peoples response to our passing by. Whereas in the Czech Rep and Slovakia we had been met with turned away faces or dour blank expressions, all of a sudden people were waving at us and smiling - it was lovely. We'd stop to look at the map and someone would appear and offer help and directions (unfortunately our Hungarian is zero!) but nevertheless the thought was there.
We've stayed at a great little campsite in Gyor and another on the shore of the lake in Tata,
and tonight we are in Domos, just a few kilometers away from Budapest, which we hope to get to tomorrow by lunch time. We are both looking forward to spending another couple of days there ... and maybe I'll write another blog entry before we leave ...

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Just Czeching

Since we left Krakow we've spent the last week toiling against a merciless headwind, through some very hilly terrain. We were sad to leave Poland behind, but excited to find what the Czech Rep. has to offer. Did I mention the torrential rain and thunderstorms, by the way?
Anyway, we pedaled onwards, determined but moist. Gone too were the friendly villages, replaced with the bland, 'grey' you might imagine from a 'cold war spy thriller'.
We did find one campsite though. It was up in the hills and involved a steep climb at the end of a long day. Sadly it didn't have showers - not even a tap in a field - in fact that is just what it was - a field! There was a restaurant nearby who let us use their loo! The hills rolled on. In one small town we stopped for coffee 'n cakes and found the cafe owner was a Welsh ex professional guitarist - and ukulele player.
We spent a good hour chatting and playing (we were his only customers, and the first English ones he'd ever had). So, now we are in Brno. As compared to the other cities we have visited so far, Brno hasn't got too much going for it. (Prague sounds a whole lot nicer)We've booked into a cheap hotel for the night,
recovering and wondering - Apart from the hills, torrential rain and headwinds, what have the Czechs ever done for us? Oh yes, I forgot to mention the complete lack of cycle routes, so we've been forced to make some big detours or brave the trucks on the main roads. So, hills, rain, headwinds, drab villages, no campsites, no cycle lanes, pollen (forgot to mention that my hay-fever has started) - WHAT have the Czechs EVER done for us? - Don't forget Pilsner Urquel and Budvar Reg ... Oh shut up !!