About Koran Schools, Power Outages and the Local Police Station

About Koran Schools, Power Outages and the Local Police Station

Monday morning, the morning after one of the most important nights in modern Turkish history: After washing my dirty clothes I went for a bit of sightseeing and some local food. While roaming around town I came across the french guys I had been riding with the other day. Their host Özgür and two of his friends where also with them. They invited me for dinner. I happily accepted.

About riding on freeways, headwind and çay

About riding on freeways, headwind and çay

Riding out of Sofia is a real challenge. There are neither dedicated bicycle lanes nor roads with little traffic. The only way in my direction that made sense was the A1, the freeway to Istanbul. Riding on a freeway isn’t actually that problematic. I had the hard shoulder to myself - a three meter wide strip of perfect tarmac. The other drivers on the road could see me from far away and the new rich in their fancy cars were on the left lane.

I was surprised that nobody honked. Moreover, multiple police cars went by me without stopping me. I knew that it was common to see bicycles on the freeway but I learned only later that this is de facto legal. A group of local cyclists spotted me on a bridge leading over the freeway and made me come off the next exit to talk with me. They told me there exists the old road parallel to the freeway without cars because of the many potholes.

About Touristy Stuff, The Iron Gate and The Movie Shining

Belgrade, what shall I say? The hostel was again a very chilled out place. The staff made me feel at home and I just enjoyed the atmosphere. So it happened that I did something I've never done before... Guess what? I did one of these guided walking tours! 0_o

No really, it was quite fun. Beside some history, börek, rakia and dancing it involved mainly jokes about ex-Yugoslavia. They LOVE jokes especially if they are politically incorrect and are about another area within ex-Yugoslavia. I guess it is a way to deal with the bumpy past.

After the obvious touristy stuff it was time for some nightlife. I connected with a woman called Nicole from New York and we ended up being in two totally different world's.

We started with a Kafana. A Kafana is many things at once. As the name suggest you can drink coffee but it is more than a simple cafe. It is a place where business is done. A place where you can eat. It is a pub. It is a place where you go for you first date. And this is what we saw. A club with traditional songs of which everybody - expect of of course us - knows the texts.

Let me tell you how we experienced that. We came into this cellar. There was no sign in front but we heard traditional music. We entered and got the table in the corner of the smoke thrilled room. The Serbs handle the smoking rules very traditional. So be prepared for some second hand smoke if you ever visit the Balkans.

"Tourist you know - put them somewhere safe." - The waitress

In the beginning everybody was sitting and drinking. So did we. What happened next is still cryptic to me but the next moment the chairs where shoved aside and everybody was dancing. So did we.

What we learned later. There would have been two more stages: Eventually dancing on the table and later trying to dance under it. We saw neither of those as we moved on to the more contemporary style of clubbing.

In Belgrade they call it "The Cathedral of Techno". A simple club in the industrial part of Old Belgrade. This place used to be a slaughterhouse before it was converted. The atmosphere suits the music and the name seems to be program - "Drugstore".

The next day I was nevertheless way too early on the road again with a long day ahead. The road east out of Belgrade is hilly and full of cars. I enjoyed it. I like riding in traffic. It kind of makes me feel alive and concentrated.

After lunch I left the hilly area behind and flat lands were in front of me. I passed a steel mill which burned coal for energy. Due to the wind, the smell of coal fire accompanied me for another 10km. I connect this smell with some good memories of my youth. During the summer time we sometimes visited family from the area of Cologne who lived next to open pit coal mines. Here though coal has a bad connotation. The coal dust can here be found everywhere. It gives the atmosphere this post apocalyptic mist and the facades of the houses are covered with smut.

I rode on and left the coal dust behind. The shadows got longer and I started to get tired. I stopped at a fuel station about 20 km before the planned destination for the day. I organized a stay with Dragan & Vera over Warm Showers and I was looking forward to get one. Standing there drinking some of my last water I had with me a car pulled over and stopped next to me. The driver greeted me with my full name and asked how I was. I was taken aback and too starteld to mumble more then some incomprehensible words.

They turned out to be Dragan & Vera with a friend of them and another guest. The lot of them just came from Belgrad where they were in the church. They took some of my heavier luggage and I rode after them.

At their place in Kamijevo I was treated with incomparable hospitality. Dragan & Vera host many people from all over the world. They are involved with Work’n’Tavel where people come to their place to work on the farm and in return get board and lodge. Probably the most famous of those organizations is WWOOF.

Dragan is a man with a wild past. Today though he is a man of faith. He and his family are part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This explains why they were in church on a Saturday. We had some good and long discussions about god and the world. However, I took particular interest in Dragan's bee keeping.

The next morning I was treated to an epic breakfast and was only allowed to leave the house with some home made honey, wine and rakia. This was an excellent start into the most famous part of the Donau river - The Iron Gates. This part is full of ancient history. There are even some pre-historic excavations dated about 9500 years old.

The valley is steep so that almost no sun reached my side of the river. Furthermore, minus degrees Celsius were announced for the night. Against my original plan I decided not to camp. To find a quiet camping area would have been difficult by any means. I ended up in Donji Milanovac. This seems to become a pattern now: Almost every accommodation is closed since the season hasn't started jet. The only open hotel was a place called Hotel Lepenski Vir. A huge complex from the best days of communism. 5 restaurants, 360 rooms, multiple swimming pools and me as the only guest.

Have you ever seen the movie Shining with Jack Nicholsan? This place had the flair of it. When I wandered around the hotel at night I became goosebumps. Nothing was locked. I could enter the pool - which would have been ready for me. Unfortunately I had forgotten my swimming trunks when I started my adventure - not that anybody would have bothered here.

Breakfast again was extremely surreal. I sat in this huge restaurant and every place was neatly prepared. The waitress meant I could sit anywhere. But I did not want her to walk too much just for me and sat somewhere in the corner. Moreover, it would have felt strange to sit in the center. I did not make a picture of this ridiculous setup but I add a link of† one from the internet. It gets my point across.

The next part of the road is the real bijou of the Donau river. All those people who do the part between Passau in Germany and Vienna in Austria just miss this one here. It is a spectacular road. Unlit tunnel after unlit tunnel while the road twists up and down the rocky faces of the canyon. Believe me I know some spectacular road - I’m Swiss - but this stretch is really phenomenal.

At the end of the Iron Gates I crossed the Donau river again and landed in Romania where I spent the night in a pension in Drobeta-Turnu Severin. The hosts had some cyclist in this family run place before and the son took a special interests in me. Why didn’t I fly to Nepal he asked over and over again. I tried to explain him that meeting people like him is the reason. He still insisted that I should at least take a motorised vehicle. He even offered me to take me to Vidin by car.

The next day I got to Vidin - still motorised by my own legs. I crossed over to Serbia again and two hours later I entered Bulgaria. The Serbian border guard didn’t find it funny that I entered the country twice within a week. They made a huge fuss for nothing and asked for my police registration. You need to know that you have to register yourself within 24h after arriving in Serbia. Since I am a lazy guy I didn’t do that. Actually nobody I met does it. Luckily I had stayed in this Hotel Lepenski Vir two days ago which had registered me. So I was registered at least once during my last “visit” to Serbia.

In the end the guards let me go and I have the suspicion that they were just bored. During the whole procedure no one else wanted to cross. I assume this was just a taste of what I am going to face at the next ten boarder crossings.

About Fratricide, Free Fuel and What You Can Learn from Truckers

About Fratricide, Free Fuel and What You Can Learn from Truckers

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.

About Noise in Budapest, other Cyclists and Border Guards

About Noise in Budapest, other Cyclists and Border Guards

Saturday in Budapest. I was up way to early again… but today was my washing day. If you travel with only two pairs of underwear you have to wash more often than most other travelers. I always liked the flair of those public launderettes, places that attract only a special kind of people. The sign pointing out that you should lock the machine whenever you go away gives you an idea. To be honest, I prefer launderettes to cafes for watching people, something I really like to do when I’m traveling.

About Wind, Refugees and Cheap Hostels

About Wind, Refugees and Cheap Hostels

The first day alone on my trip. A strange feeling indeed. Having nobody to talk to was new though liberating. From Vienna to Bratislava it’s only about 80-90 km, and since I had a lot of wind from the right direction I did it in less then 4 hours. This stretch of cycling path was nothing special, actually quite boring. I rode mainly on the dam with no view onto the Donau what so ever. A few days later I would give a lot to have those smooth roads again. But more about this later.