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.

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