Szeged (in the south of Hungary) was a cute town. I enjoyed having a day off there, but mostly because I was so happy to be having a break after a busy week cycling. The town had a natural charm and I spent a nice afternoon exploring the centre and buying some ‘essentials’.
The cycle ride to Timisoara in Romania was long and tiring. The landscape was still flat, but very little visual stimulation.
Everything on the Romanian side of the border felt a little more barren. The fields were endless and I cycled past very little civilisation. The villages seem a lot poorer here – the roads end abruptly as though someone finished their job halfway through and the houses look a little more dishevelled. The people seem excited to see me though, which is nice and I’m frequently greeted with waves.
Cycling through Timisoara’s suburbs wasn’t enjoyable (as it often is entering cities). There was rubbish all over the place, stray dogs running around and the traffic was awful. I finally felt as though I’d reached a country very different to Western Europe.
The centre itself was pleasantly nice. The weather was gorgeous which probably helped, but the town was really charming. I stayed in a hostel and relished the day off.
The road from Timisoara back into Serbia was horrible. I’d decided to take the main road south as all the smaller roads here seem to be really poor dirt tracks and I really don’t fancy doing too many km’s on them. The road was super busy, and the drivers here don’t give too much of a shit about driving crazy close to a lone cyclist.
On the Serbian side of the border the mountains were slowly starting to grow to the east. I stopped in a small town called Vrsac, and the family I was Couchsurfing with showed me the view over town from the neighbouring hill.
The next day I had an easy 50km ride to Bela Crkva. I rejoined the Iron Curtain bicycle trail and was rewarded with tranquil scenery and glorious sunshine. For the very first time I was cycling in just a t-shirt!
I’d only intended on staying in Bela Crkva for a night, but the family I stayed with were so much fun that I ended up staying for three. A German called Pia was also staying there – she’d spent the last three weeks cycling along the Danube from Budapest.
We spent Easter all together. The family weren’t big practisers, but we were treated to a wonderful lunch – the best meal I’ve had in ages. The Serbs have a tradition of knocking painted Easter eggs together and the winner is the person who’s is the last to crack, so we broke a big basket of eggs in the process.
The following day we headed into Romania (by car), to visit some waterfalls in the mountains. We spent the afternoon hiking up stream in the sunshine, stopping to take a million photos of the beautiful waterfalls.
In the morning me and Pia left – we were both planning on cycling along the Danube into Bulgaria so it made sense to do some distance together. I think we were both happy to have some company. I didn’t start cycling solo because I wanted this to be a ‘solo’ trip – I just did so because no one else wanted to come. I’ve spent over a year of my life travelling on my own now (and I’m not that old), and as much as I enjoy my own company I am always grateful to share moments with others. Being a pair makes things much easier in loads of regards – you feel less vulnerable wild camping, it’s easier to cook better, cheaper to stay in paid accommodation etc.
We first joined the river Nera towards the Danube. In all the Romanian villages we were greeted by smiles and waves and in one we were flagged down by an old woman on the side of the road. She didn’t speak a word of English, but within seconds had ushered us into her house and sat us down at the table in the kitchen. She laid out a spread of food before we could stop her and insisted on us eating while she sat and watched. She (I think her name was Rihanna) was the sweetest lady. She clearly lived a very simple life – the house was run down (as they all are around here) and the food was minimal, but her generosity was incredibly touching.
The Danube was beautiful to cycle along. Without a doubt the most stunning road I’ve ever traveled.
Some of the villages were pretty and inviting, but others seemed incredibly poor and uninspiring. Within a day of the nicest encounter I’d had with a stranger, we had the worst. After stocking up on some food in a supermarket a few teenage boys came over to us asking for money. This was not begging – they looked me in the eyes asking me to cough up, rubbing fingers together just to make sure there could be no misunderstanding. We didn’t give them anything, instead pretending not to understand them and trying to leave as quickly as possible whilst they cycled around us. They weren’t the most intimidating gang and we were in a pretty public space, but we cycle slowly and there was only one road along the river. They could easily have followed or caught up with us outside of town where no one else is around, and that’s one of the few things I don’t like being on bike.
We didn’t see any more of them, unsurprisingly, and a couple of hours later we’d set up camp in idyllic spot by the river. I haven’t wild camped much in the past (and the last time was a good while ago), and it takes a while getting used to. Of course, you’re probably more safe sleeping away from any civilisation than in most other cities, but I was glad not to be camping solo.
The next day we continued along the river and the cliffs grew more dramatic alongside the Danube. At one point the leftovers of a big landslide blocked off most of the road. Fortunately our bikes could squeeze past but I didn’t like the idea of any more rocks falling down!
In one section about 50 cars were gathered by the river, and police were dotted around a large crowd. We stopped to ask someone what had happened and he told us that a car had crashed into the Danube! A little further down we saw a police boat with scuba divers getting into gear to search the water….
In another village we were invited into a guys home so that we could get online and work out where to stop that day. He was very nice, treating us to a beer and homemade sausages and cake. He was a funny character though – clearly well educated and spoke perfect English, but also subtly racist about his neighboring countries. This is something strangely common in this part of Europe – it’s really weird. Of course there is a lot of uncomfortable history among many of these countries, but the prejudice they impose on each other is bizarre. Romania (along with Albania) gets the worst reputation in Europe. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been warned not to travel in those countries, and yet I’ve had a great time travelling in them.
In Serbia (a few nights prior), a man had told me that it was really dangerous for me to camp in Romania and that it would be a far better idea for me to stay on the Serbian side of the river. When I told this Romanian guy that I was planning on crossing back into Serbia to camp that evening he told me exactly the opposite – that Serbia was a dangerous country to camp in and that I should stay in Romania which is much safer!
We did head back into Serbia in the end, once we’d finally reached the large Iron Gate dam. We cycled past the town Kladovo and found a spot to camp overlooking the Romanian town Dobreta Turnu-Severin.
The following day was boiling. So hot – near 30 degrees and I struggled a lot in the heat. At one point another landslide had blocked the river road and so we had to take an awful detour – climbing steeply back up the mountain side on the worst possible ‘roads’.
Eventually we said goodbye to the Danube and headed for the Bulgarian border. A double celebration – 3 months ‘on the road’ and entry into the 15th country of my tour.