Romania & Serbia: Following the Danube (07/04/15-15/05/15)

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’.

Szeged
Szeged

The cycle ride to Timisoara in Romania was long and tiring. The landscape was still flat, but very little visual stimulation.

Szeged
Szeged

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Sheep flock outside Timisoara

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Timisoara

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Leaving Timisoara

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The mountains are coming

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.

View over Vrsac at dusk
View over Vrsac at dusk

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!

Between Vrsac and Bela Crkva
Between Vrsac and Bela Crkva

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.

View over Bela Crkva
View over Bela Crkva

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.

Easter lunch
Easter lunch

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Blue lake

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Me and Rihanna

The Danube was beautiful to cycle along. Without a doubt the most stunning road I’ve ever traveled.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
View from our camp

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Campsite

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Landslide

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Landslide

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….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Car crash into Danube

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Highest cliff statue in Europe

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!

Sunset near Kladovo
Sunset near Kladovo

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.

Campsite near Kladovo
Campsite near Kladovo

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’.

Not the best road conditions
Not the best road conditions

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.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s