Brussels to Kefalonia Part 2

Day 10: Szeged (Hungary) to Šabac (Serbia)

3 Leaving HungaryToday I would leave the EU and head into territories that, to me, would be new. However, first I had to enter Serbia, which wasn’t a foregone conclusion because I hadn’t been able to get a definite answer about whether I, as a non-Hungarian or Serbian citizen, could use the border crossing between Tiszasziget and Đala. The early morning ride down to Tiszasziget passed through some pretty villages, and perhaps because I was leaving Hungary I was granted a quiet road with a good surface. Signs were appearing for the border crossing.

In the end the border crossing wasn’t an issue, and as it is only a small road leading to this border post I crossed really quickly. The only thing that did raise an eyebrow was my response to the friendly question “Where go?” from the Serbian border guard. She clearly didn’t expect the answer to be “Greece”! I sent a few messages using the last of the Hungarian 3g phone signal and then set off into this new land, where the roadsigns had funny letters and goats were tied up outside houses.

However, the first part of Serbia contains a lot of Hungarians, so signs are in Serbian, Hungarian and English. In the bakery everyone was speaking Hungarian, which meant I was able to use the few words of Hungarian I know. Just to make things feel even more Hungarian I re-crossed the River Tisza, which I had left behind in Szeged.

From Đala I had about 100 km to cover across the Serbian flatlands to reach Novi Sad, and to be honest I don’t remember too much about this part of the trip. The roads were better surfaced than in Hungary, there wasn’t too much traffic, I got plenty of space from the traffic and the road were of the long, straight, variety. I don’t even have any photographs. Anyway, I reached Novi Sad and again crossed the Danube River, although this would be my final sighting of this great waterway.

After Novi Sad I knew I had a bit of a climb across the Fruška Gora mountains, which I was looking forward to as a change from the flatlands I had been cycling through. I knew the climb went up to 420 m, so at the bottom of the climb I switched the Garmin to display my elevation and set off up the hill. It was a beautiful climb, initially past some fancy houses and then through beautiful woodland. There were steep sections, (>10 %), but also switchbacks in parts so it was difficult to find a rhythm, but still very enjoyable. At the summit I took a break, and then set off down to Šabac, passing through more flatlands.

The final 30 km into Šabac were along a pretty busy, and not very pleasant, main road. Perhaps riding it at around 4 pm didn’t help, but still I just put my head down and got on with the job. A WarmShowers host had offered my accommodation in Šabac, but hadn’t confirmed where and how I would find him, so I headed into the city centre to think about my options. I timed my arrival perfectly because as I rolled into Šabac I looked down a street to see a wall of rain heading towards me and people diving for cover. I hid under the unbrellas of the first cafe I saw and helped the waiters grab cushions etc. so they didn’t get soaked.

I knew my WarmShowers host ran a bike shop, and his profile gave an address, but it wasn’t clear if that was the shop or his house. Plus I didn’t have a map so couldn’t easily find the shop. However, after trying to look at the map on my Garmin I discovered the Etrex 20 could navigate to an address, so I plugged in the details from the WarmShowers website and 800 m later I was sat in a bike shop drinking beer. Result! I then got taken out for some food, which I wasn’t allowed to pay for, meet his family, and was then driven up to my host’s deceased mother’s house. This is also used as storage for bikes that aren’t in his shop, so I had to be careful walking around the place. After a shower and cleaning my clothes I hit the hay, trying not to think too much about the provenance of all the bikes in the house.

Day 11: Šabac to Užice

I returned to the bike shop, meet one of the mechanics from the shop, had breakfast and food for the road bought for me and after a few photos I was off to Užice. I was very grateful for all the hospitality I had received in Šabac.

A few kilometres out of Šabac it started to rain and I had to stop to put on my waterproof and ensure my luggage wouldn’t get wet. Somehow having to do this right at the start of the day is particular depressing, which is probably because it suggests the rest of the day will be spent riding through the ride. In the end that wasn’t to be the case, but I didn’t know that at the time. I set off again along some pretty some roads as I wanted to avoid the main road for as long as possible. The views were good, but would have been better without the cloud. The roads weren’t great, but I could manage.

I was apprehensive when I picked up the main road again as this was the same road that I hadn’t enjoyed yesterday, but this section was much better as the volume of traffic was far lower. In Hungary I would see the occasion Trabant, but in Serbia I was noticing a lot of old cars still in use, which I assume is a reflection of Hungary being a richer country than Serbia.

After Valjevo I knew I had three big climbs, so set off into the hills. The first climb followed the main road, so was well graded, on a good surface and very pleasant. Annoyingly the surface on the downhill sections wasn’t anywhere near as good. Boo! However, to was good to be in the hills. About 30 km from Užice I left the main road to follow a shorter, but hillier, route. There was another climb up to 770 m, which was stunning. I seemed to be following the old main road that no one seems to know use apart from a few motorbike tourists. The views of the hills were fantastic & it was a lovely gradient to ride with many switch backs. However the surface was destroyed with large parts of gravel, but as I was climbing it wasn’t an issue and the views were stunning.

The descent was better surfaced, but crazy. One section that sticks in my memory was steep, with switchback followed a few meters letter by another switchback (as you can clearly see on Google maps!). I was getting worried as I was constantly on the brakes, so the rims were just getting hotter and hotter. However, just as I was about to stop to allow the wheels to cool down that section ended. In Užice I received more wonderful Serbian hospitality via WarmShowers. My hosts rent out a little studio apartment and as the guy who rents the place was away I got the place to myself. The views were good.

I had a very enjoyable evening with my hosts, who took me out for dinner and beers. Again I couldn’t pay for a thing. Incredible. Thanks!

Day 12: Užice to Mojkovac (Montenegro)

Despite only having been in Serbia for two days it was time to leave. I’d had a good time and would be happy to cycle here again in the future, but I still had over 100 km before I would enter Montenegro. The first part of the day was uphill, initally with fabuolus views of Užice, which is set in a bowl surrounded by hills. It was very pretty, but the road was very busy for about the first 10 km. Once up to about 1000 m the road bounced along, with lots climbs and descents of around 100 – 150 meters, which meant it was very difficult to get into a rhythm. However, the scenery was stunning and not dissimilar in parts to the Scottish highlands with open land, streams, pine trees and Zlatar Lake.

After that section I had a massive downhill (weeeee) to drop down to the Lim River, which I then followed upstream to the Montenegro border.  Surrounding the river were big hills. The road was busy with lots of Serbians heading to the beach, but the drivers were very friendly, waving or beeping their horns in encouragement as they overtook. One family slowed down and asked me where I was going and we travelled along chatting through their open window. Before the border the valley become narrowed into a gorge, with overhanging rocks and sheer mountains.

The border was reached and I got more stamps in my passport. It is a strange place because there is about 5 km difference between Serbian check point and Montenegro check point and I was wondering if I had somehow missed the Montenegro checkpoint.

42 Approaching the Montenegro borderThe final climb of the day was very hot and I had to stop at roadside stall to cool down. I set off again and saw my first cycle tourists since Lake Balaton, in Hungary. They were stopped at the side of the road, so I pulled over to chat. They were a Swiss couple and were heading in the same direction, so we rode together. It was really good to ride with someone else for a change. We dropped into Mojkovac where we hoped to find campsite, but couldn’t find anything, despite asking various people and being sent on various wild goose chases. Eventually we asked someone and she told us just to camp in her garden, so that is what we did. The view of the surrounding hills in the evening glow was lovely. We made up our tuna salad & Greek salads for dinner, ate, chatted & were then given coffee & schnapps by out hosts. An excellent day, capped by the sociable finish.

Day 13: Mojkovac to Barbullush (Albania)

I woke up to cloud at 1000 m and it was cold. My plan for the day was to follow the Tara River, which is meant to be stunning, but that seemed pointless as I wouldn’t see anything and I also didn’t want to climb up to 1,500 m as that would just mean more climb, so instead I rode out of the hills and down to Podgorica. The first hour of riding was cold, so I had to wear my warm & knee warmers, which did at least mean they got used on my trip and weren’t carried for no reason. It would have been miserable at 1500 m. After crossing a col the sun appeared and the road down into Podgorica was very impressive as it dropped through narrow valleys, tunnels, bridges, past step cliffs and high above the river to lose 1,000 m in elevation. I kept stopping to take pictures. The tunnels were scary, especially if you forget to remove sunglasses or the batteries in your light die. Both of those things happened only once! I’m sure the way I’d planned to travel would have been better, but not if you can’t see anything, but leaving Montenegro after only one night means I will have to return at some point.

After Podgorica I headed towards the Albanian border via a minor road that paralleled the main road as I wanted to avoid the traffic. In the end that main road wasn’t very busy, but my route had one car and views to die for. The road was paved, but bumpy and therefore descending was slow, but I wasn’t in a rush. My only concern was the heat; it was roasting.

There was a massive queue at the Montenegro checkpoint, so I cheekily rode to the front. I felt better when a Swiss couple on a motorbike did the same thing. The Swiss guy was impressed by my lack of luggage, but he did point that was to be expected without a tent etc. He was even more impressed when he realised I was camping, and had ridden from Belgium with that little stuff.

The road in Albania was wide, well surfaced and with a large hard shoulder to ride in, so I had no issues with traffic, especially as some was of the horse and cart variety. The only issue was the heat, but lots of water helped, and it wasn’t so bad that I felt like I needed to stop. The views of the mountains from the road were impressive.

After Shkodër the road become busy and I was relieved when I reached Camping Albania, which is campsite run by a Dutch family who moved out here years ago and have done a lot of charity work in the area. The site was like an oasis, with WiFi, a bar, restaurant, swimming pool, and shade from the sun. It seemed like a good place for a restday, so I chose to stay two nights.

Day 14: Barbullush to Barbullush

Today was spent relaxing. I finished reading my book, used the swimming pool, enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, used the WiFi to look for campsites in Greece and did a 15 km ride around the local area.

The GPX tracklogs from each day are below:

 

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