Sleeping over a bar during an open mic night is a bad idea. I knew it but I did it anyway. Would I do it again. Probably not.
So I decided to take it easy the next day. My plan was to cycle towards Ilok the last village in Croatia before I would enter Serbia. I finally was in a area about which I had almost no knowledge. I was soon to learn a lot though. Cycling down the Euro 6 cycling path which is actually the main road of the area I suddenly came across buildings perforated with bullet holes. It was a strange sight since most buildings in the area where in perfect condition. And then on top a small hill I saw a destroyed water tower.
I had to stop and google it. This town called Vukovar was stage to a battle and massacre during the Croatian War of Independence. The water tower and some destroyed buildings were left untouched to commemorate these tragic events. I got the feeling that nobody wants to forget about the happenings. Signs next to the sight speak about war heroes and how these buildings should never ever be demolished but shall be visible for everybody. The wounds still seem to be deep.
With fresh dark thoughts on mind I rode on to Ilok the last border town before Serbia to get a good rest and found the local Hostel closed: Out of season. The other option was to just cross the border and find a place to stay just beyond it. But I felt strong enough and decided to go to Novi Sad in Serbia.
To go from Croatia to Serbia you have to go over a bridge. You show your papers on the Croatian side and then cross the bridge for which nobody seems really responsible. On the northern shore the Serbian guards are already awaiting you. I find it strange to cycle in no-mans-land.
Cycling the first meters in Serbia wasn’t anything exciting - traffic as usual. What did I see there? A fuel station with a surprising sign. Every type of fuel has it’s own price but there was also a bicycle sign. Nothing I’d ever seen at a fuel station before and it was marked with a zero. I had to stop and ask.
It turned out that fuel, the air pump and water are free if you come with a bicycle. I do use a gasoline cooker. So I could fill it up. I also checked my tire pressure and got some water for the next stage. When I asked the filling station attendant who instead of me was going to pay for the fuel and services. He just pointed at a Mercedes that pulled in to the filling station.
In Novi Sad I found a hostel in the center with a good atmosphere. I was sitting down with the receptionist and had a good time. He told me his point of view about ex-Yugoslavia. But he obviously wanted to look forward and leave history behind by starting to build a functioning state. It was refreshing to hear about a generation that lets the past be the past and thinks about a future worth living for.
The next day I cycled over the old main road to Belgrad. The road went over hills and was in bad condition. But this helped me! Up the hill cars weren’t that fast so they had more time to react. And down hill I was faster then them and could overtake them. A very good feeling :)
Back on good roads I realized my position on the road again. I value a nothing here. Cars tend to be small enough so we can fit both on one lane if they desire to overtake. Busses are already too big but they tend to be more patient as they have a good power to weight ratio or in other words can overtake better. Lorries are a totally different story though. Normally fully packed and being dependent on the road as part of there income and livelihood are a major threat. If a lorry honks behind me it’s normally a sign that he does not have the intention to brake since another vehicle is coming our way. The first few times I stood my ground but after the first time the lorry grazed me I started to give way and leave the road. It’s safer that way.
So what did I learn? Respect - Respect for the one with more power. I mean it may sound trivial but till now I only cycled in places where people respect you as a cyclist on the road. Even if I annoyed people they would never threaten my life intentionally with their behavior.
But there is also a good thing to learn from truckers. Namely where to eat! There are so many bad food places out there. Believe me, I’ve been there. But I was never disappointed at a place where truckers stop for lunch. Portions are big and cheap. Exactly what I need!
Cycling in to a bigger city is always stressful. Traffic gets more intensive and aggressive. Entering the bigger area of Belgrad I had my first minor collision. A car door swung open. The driver didn't check the rear view mirror before opening it. And there I was next to him stopped by his door. Luckily nothing happened. The door closed as good or as bad as before and my bicycle and I were still intact. Only the bottle holder for my fuel bottle was broken, nothing that couldn’t be fixed.
Riding further into town I found this small bike shop. I stopped to get a new bottle holder. The owner Alex was so pleased to help me that he refused to take any money from me. No persistence could change his mind. I left Alex and his workshop with a wonderful feeling of affection for this part of the world.