Osijek, Croatia (June 6, 2015)
We had an early jump this morning waking up at 5:30 again to beat the heat. We were packed up, had breakfast in the backyard of the pension, and left the place by 7AM. Our route out-of-town didn’t follow the Euro Velo 6 as our map had a on-road detour while the official route would have had us on a dike.
The 10KM out got us through Kölked, which was a sad-looking town. Most of the buildings were dilapidated and people looked a bit ragged than all the other towns. We got on the main highway and headed south towards the border town of Udvar. At the border, they were actually checking our passports. This was our first encounter since we started this trip where the border patrol was there and gave us stamps for both Hungary and Croatia. We were pretty excited about that.
After some quick photos with the “Welcome to Croatia” sign, we continued through multiple towns. Eventually we had to climb up after the town of Draz which lead us into Croatia’s wine country. The climb wasn’t so bad and the descent would have been better if it wasn’t for the brick road which was a total buzz-kill.
We then made it over to the town of Suza for our first Croatian meal. It wasn’t something to write about as it was pretty much fried chicken with fries and a Coke Light. Afterwards, we followed the map through Knezevi Vinogradi where our French friends from the day before finally caught up with us. They apparently had mechanical issues as they suffered a flat from a recently changed tube.
We leap frogged each other for another 20KM until we reached the town of Osijek where we finally joined forces to find the tourist information office in town. Unfortunately, it was closed because of the weekend so we resorted to asking a waitress at a nearby restaurant who directed us to a pension around the corner. The cost was €57 for the night. It was pretty expensive but they threw in 1 round of beer and free breakfast. I suppose not too bad for the money.
We got settled in our respective rooms and scheduled to meet at 6:30PM for dinner. The 4 of us walked to the river front in Osijek along the Drava River. There was a boat restaurant named “El Paso” serving Italian food. It was a pretty nice looking place and surprisingly cheap. Actually food is very cheap here so that balances out for the high cost of pensions. We even had some ice cream before we retired back in our room for the night.
Vukovar (June 7, 2015)
We got up at 6AM this morning since breakfast wasn’t served until 7AM. This delayed our normal departure by an hour. The breakfast was delicious as they offered scrambled eggs, cold cuts of meat, fresh bread, orange juice, coffee, and tea for Giselle. It was a pretty good breakfast with equally great service.
We left immediately after breakfast to get a jump-start on the hot weather. It really didn’t help much as the heat was intense in the morning. We headed east out-of-town only to face headwinds for the entire time that we were riding. We passed through towns named Nemetin, Sarvas, Bijelo Brdo, Dalj, and Borovo. We finally made it to our destination of Vukovar. The idea was have a short mileage day as we have been riding for 5 days straight and our bodies was feeling tired and beat up from the weather. We also needed to be at Belgrade by June 10th and thought we can be less aggressive with our schedule as it was less than 200KM away (with hills).
Given the fact that it was a Sunday, the tourist information office was closed. In fact, a lot of places was closed. The first guesthouse we asked was remodeling their rooms and would be ready by 6PM at night. We then went to get some drinks at a local “caffe bar” to take advantage of their WiFi connection to find other options. There was one pension located 1KM away but it was too far for us to walk to the center of the city, not to mention, there was an uphill climb. So we checked out at a pretty nice hotel called “Hotel Lav”. The rate was much better than we thought so we decided to call it a night.
We showered up and had our laundry done by the maid service (because that’s how we roll). We then grabbed lunch at a local restaurant in town. We then went back to the room to nap for a bit. After the nap we went downstairs in the hotel lobby to have a small dinner of a sandwich and fresh-squeezed lemonade. We also asked some of the workers about the civil war that happened in this town back in 1991. Our waiter was actually here during the turmoil. Apparently Croatia and several other countries use to be part of the former Yugoslavia. During the fall of Yugoslavia, Croatia and Serbia did not get along and war broke out. The city of Vukovar was ground zero for heavy combat where Serbian forces waged an attack that pretty much wiped out the entire town. 30,000 Croatians were displaced or killed. Serbian forces expended a lot of effort in that battle and soon stopped their siege. In 1998, this town was handed back to Croatia as part of the peace talk.
There is a water tower in this town that has been left in disrepair to remind people of the pointless war. Not to mention, several bombed out buildings with bullet holes remained scattered throughout this and neighboring town. The town is trying to revive its once thriving economy but is having trouble doing so. The town center was pretty much voided of people during the afternoon and early evenings.
Harry and I have been wanting to watch an American summer movie for a long time since we were in France but either they don’t offer the movie in English or they played it too late so we didn’t get to do that until tonight. The movie “San Andreas” was playing at 7:40PM so we went to check that out in 3D. It was a great treat as we both had our popcorn and drinks while we were mindlessly entertained. It reminded me of home in Los Angeles.
The movie ended around 9 and we got back to our hotel to call it a night. The next morning is going to be a tough one as we are expecting to climb several hills into Serbia.
Belgrade (June 8 – 9, 2015)
The next morning, Harry and I got up early to pack up. Harry was feeling exhausted. He was not looking forward to our ride this day as it required us to ride over several hills into the town Backa Palancka, Serbia. We talked it over and decided to ask the hotel reception if there was a train option to go straight to Belgrade which will bypass about 2 days worth of riding.
Lucky for us, there was a train that took us straight to Belgrade from the town of Vinkovci, 20KM away. 20KM was much more appealing to the both of us so we went to see the water tour first before we left and directed our bikes to the West for the next 20KM. The ride had some hills but nothing too bad. We had tailwind so it made things easier. We got into Vinkovci by 10:30 with plenty time to spare as our train left at 2:55PM. We both rode into town to hang out and enjoyed some beers. We went back to the train station and had lunch at the local restaurant there.
Even with all the time spent binging, we still had time to kill so we both sat at the train station reading our latest book on our respective iPad. At the 2:30 mark, we got our bikes ready for our train ride. We were fortunate to have the platform closest to the train station door so we didn’t have to go up or down to the other platforms like the other times when we took the train.
As the train arrived, we tried to figure out which car to get on as none of them have a bicycle car. A conductor told us that the first 2 cars were the only ones going to Belgrade so we made our way to the last car. Like our Paris ride, our bikes had to be placed in the area where passengers got on and off. We unloaded our panniers and put it on the train’s luggage shelves while we rest the bikes together and maneuvered them so that it didn’t get in the way as much.
We were then joined by 3 police officers from Croatia who came to check everybody’s passport. They stamped our passport indicating that we are leaving the country. The train finally left until we got near the town of Sid, Serbia. That was when police from the Serbia side boarded the train to check our passport once again. The train ride took 3 hours to get into Belgrade as many of the train tracks was being worked on so the train slowly traveled through these parts slowly.
When we finally got to the Belgrade station, we unloaded our bikes and bags off the train. We were the last ones off and out of the station. Every passenger had dispersed into the busy traffic of the city. Our destination was to our hotel that Harry had booked a week ago. As it turns out the place was about 6KM south of the center of town. It required us to navigate some of the worse road conditions we’ve had on this trip. Combine that with an incredible amount of cars and buses that was on the road, it overwhelmed us. We even stopped at the police station for directions. They just told us to take the road and continue on. I had to call it quits when the road made us ride up this overpass bridge with speeding vehicles. We both decided to just find a closer hotel near the center of the city.
We navigated back to the area close to the train station by asking a cab driver what hotel was near there. We then took to the sidewalks and found our hotel slowly there until we were forced to be back on the street. Lucky for us, the taxi / bus lane was our salvation as fewer cars were in that lane but the smoke spitting buses and their constant stopping made things harder for us to leapfrog over as we were constantly caught in stop-and-go traffic.
It was a huge relief to finally make it to our hotel. Harry checked us in and we unloaded our bikes to our room. We were pretty much frazzled from the riding that we didn’t even want to explore the city. We just ate at the restaurant downstairs in the hotel and called it a night.
The next morning, our goal was to get the last guidebook of our trip from Belgrade to the Black Sea which was supposedly shipped to the hotel that Harry had made reservations for. We asked the reception to call that hotel for us and Harry spoke to them and got a confirmation that the book was there for us.
Harry also thought it would be a good idea to hire a cab driver to take us around the city to show us highlights. We asked the hotel reception once again to help us with this. For about €30 we had a driver for 2 hours to show us around. It took him 15 minutes to get to the hotel to pick us up.
He was this older gentleman who looked a little like Robert De Niro. He took us first to the Kalemegdan National Park where remaining fortress was located but has been transformed into a park for people to enjoy. We walked around the park for about 30 minutes and saw great views of the Sava and Donau river converge in front of New Belgrade and the Great War Island. There was a military museum which showed many different armored vehicles and high-powered guns used during wars.
Our guide then drove us around the center of town before he took us to see Josip Broz Tito Mausoleum. Tito was the communist leader after WWII who had led Yugoslavia in Belgrade and had passed away in the early 80s. This place had his tomb and lots of artifact commemorating him. Upon leaving, Harry had asked me what I thought about the tomb and I told him that I didn’t even know where it was. I thought it was at another building. It was not so extravagant as many of the other tombs of communist leaders like Stalin or Mao.
Our tour continued in the car as we rolled by the US embassy and several bombed out buildings from the 90s civil war. We then got to our last stop at the Temple of Saint Sava, the biggest church in the area located next to the National Library of Serbia. The inside was very plain and it looked like they were doing some work as a scaffold was erected next to one of the walls. Lots of the area in the church was fenced off and covered by plastic.
We asked our driver to take us to pick up our guidebook as a last stop. He happily obliged. We got the book and asked him to get us back to our hotel. He did so really quick and was very gracious when we left. He hugged the both of us and blew kisses. He was so grateful to spend the time with us. I think it may have something to do with the tip we gave him.
We both went to grab lunch down the street. After lunch, Harry spent the rest of the day in the room resting up. I went out and walked around the town to run some quick errands. I retreated back to the room in an hour. We spent the remainder of the day in the room napping and having dinner again at the same restaurant downstairs. The weight of the ride out of Belgrade was on both our minds as I continued to map our escape route out of the city. On top of that there is a chance of a thunder shower as well. Challenge accepted!
Kovin (June 10, 2015)
We got up by 5:30 the next morning to be ready for the 6AM breakfast. We had all our bags in the lobby before we finished our breakfast. We made it out of the hotel by 6:30 and was back on the busy road.
The ride out wasn’t bad as the route I picked was lightly traveled by cars. We avoided most of the busy streets and manage to find the Euro Velo 6 route once again. We pretty much rode on the sidewalk all the way out-of-town until we were forced to get off the bridge. The Euro Velo 6 had us on unpaved roads and back on to a dike with overgrown grass surrounding us again. In other words, miserable conditions. We ended up riding about 9KM before we decided to hop on the main highway into Pancevo. From there, our route turned south where the wind carried us through small towns like Starcevo and Omoljica. Keep in mind that this was the first time we ever rode in Serbian countryside.
At Omoljica, the Euro Velo 6 directed us to more dike riding next to the Donau but we opted for the alternative route, which had us sharing the road with other vehicles through the towns of Banatski Brestovac and Skorenovac until we made it to our target town of Kovin. The alternative route converged back with the Euro Velo 6 route again. We were suppose to stay at this cyclist guest house 6KM east of Kovin so we saw signs directing us to this cyclist haven.
It was a long 6KM but we finally found an unpaved turn off that took us into this neighborhood next to the Donau. Harry rode ahead and actually past the place when I met Alessandro who just happened to be outside cooling off after some paint work.
The owner, Dragana, was not there but her boyfriend (Alessandro) and uncle was there holding down the fort. Her parents also came over to hang out and do some work around the house. The place was cozy with plenty of places to sit and relax. There was free WiFi and beautiful views of the Donau. They also offered a wash and clothes line for us to hang our clothes to dry. They even have beers (to buy) and offered a dinner for €5 each. The breakfast was part of the accommodations.
After our shower, we both retreated to our room for a nap. Suddenly we hear the familiar sounds of the rain outside. Then the wind and thunder started up. A full-on thunderstorm rolled over the area. Harry went to check on our bikes and clothes only to find that they have helped us moved everything away from the rain. Very cool of them. We avoided another summer storm.
Alessandro prepared our dinner and it was delicious. We enjoyed it very much. After dinner I spent some time writing and chatting with Alessandro about growing up in Europe and his travel adventures. I retreated back into my room at 10:30 and was wiped out real quick. Such a great contrast to the hotel in Belgrade.
Bela Crkva (June 11, 2015)
Next morning we got up at 6:30 to pack up and have breakfast that Alessandro had prepared for us. We got back out on the road into the cool weather before 7AM. We had to go back to Kovin to get some cash and provisions. Instead of taking the dike, we took the paved road and when we got close to the center of town, that was when it happened.
2 white dogs started to pursue us from the left side barking away. I upped my speed and was yelling back at them. Harry did the same. Some other dogs started to join in but right when they joined, the 2 white dogs stopped their chase and we slowly rode away. Luckily that didn’t last for long but that wasn’t the end of it.
After we ran our errands, we continued our journey north and then east towards the town of Gaj. We continued on to the next town of Sumarak which included a few climbs. That was when dog incident #2 happened. I was about to crest the hill and heard dogs barking to my right and saw 2 big dogs. 1 of them started charging down the hill after me. That was when I kicked it into high-gear and sped away. I know that was the wrong way to deal with it but I had a good head start so I took advantage of it. He stopped his pursuit about 100 meters away. When I met up with Harry to chat about the dogs, he told me he snuck by without them chasing him. Instead they just barked at him as he cruised by. What am I doing wrong?
For the rest of the day, I was super nervous and jumpy about every noise on the road. We got through some forest areas past Dubovac. We finally rolled into Bela Crkva and spotted a guest house called, “Villa Marija”. Great looking rooms with air conditioning that don’t work very well. We actually rode into the center of town to grab lunch and money. We rode back to the room and hung out for the rest of the day.
Tomorrow we will be crossing the border into Romania. This is going to take quite an effort as I was told that there will be a tough hill and many rollers. I have to admit, we are nervous again for that reason as well as dog issues. Gulp!
Divici (June 12, 2015)
The previous night was rough. I woke up in the middle of the night to hear dogs howling and barking. Those damn dogs! It was hot and muggy in our room so we didn’t sleep too comfortably. Both our alarms went off at 6AM and we began to gather everything once again and load them back on the bikes again.
When we were done, the guest host made us coffee and we waited a few minutes for the breakfast to be finished. It consisted of scrambled eggs, feta cheese, slices of tomato, and bread with a yogurt milk drink. I devoured everything except the yogurt drink. It was a good way to start our day. We paid for the stay and left our home for the night close to 7:30.
Harry and I retraced our way back into town like the day before. Instead of stopping, we cruised right by the restaurant where we had lunch to find the main strip of road that lead us out of Bela Crkva. The road gradually started to point up as we continued the 10KM ride towards the last Serbian town of Kaluderovo. We passed the 12% sign with our heads down and our backs wet from the profuse sweating. The climb was not hard at all. Harry and I agreed that it was definitely not a 12% incline. Maybe 8 at some parts but was an easy spin up for 2 miles.
At the top, we were awarded with a slight descent into town which pretty much took us all the way to the border. We got our passports stamped by both countries. Harry even got to take a selfie with the Romanian border guards. They were very curious about our bikes. We waved good bye and stepped into Romanian soil for the first time ever.
The route now had us going south until the road splits. We took the path to the right which was less hilly but longer. We were in Romanian country side. The surrounding was green and vibrant. The roads were narrow as we followed a few streams in. We passed through farming communities that was in bad shape. Towns like Zlatita, Parneaura, Campia, and Socol were their names where people, livestock, and dogs without owners are wandering around the street seemingly without purpose. We did give high-fives to some kids who were fetching water as we rode by.
The road went up and down and eventually made its way around to the Donau once again. The riding condition evened out and we stopped ascending or descending. The disturbing thing we did notice was the amount of trash on the side of the road or washed up from the river. Lots of plastic and glass bottles. Debris and trash everywhere as we carved our way along the Donau. We passed the town of Bazias which the guidebook indicated food options but was disappointed when the locals said there wasn’t anything. The place look just as depressing as the other towns so we continued riding south and then east towards Divici where the next possible place to stay and eat.
We were hungry and tired from the hills so when we came up to this newly painted house in pink that looked like they have a patio area, we knew this would be home for the night. 2 dogs greeted us and the owner of the place eventually came out to negotiate prices with us. It costed us €30 for the night and included breakfast. It was a fisherman’s resort and had a pool out front which Harry was all over when we got our bags into the room.
We enjoyed some lunch outside and spent the rest of our day in a nicely air-conditioned room. I got to nap and research our route for the next day. I can really get use to this leaving early, arriving early, and spending some time relaxing. Just in case if you’re wondering, no dog incidents today.