That same day we crossed the Hungarian border too and found a nice campsite. The next day we cycled on towards Budapest, had a really nice chat with some HUGE Hungarian guys, one of them turned out to be a former European Judo champion. We felt really happy to be getting into a bit of the unknown :o)
It has felt more like travelling since we entered Hungary, with first of all a language that is UN-understandable, different money, old Trabants and Lada’s everywhere and very friendly people. Our second day in Hungary was beautiful and we camped with Laszlo (campsite owner) who made very spicy goulash soup in a big iron pot above a wood fire for us. And gave us a free bottle of wine and some bread in the morning. The next day was about getting to Budapest and it was a very hot long journey, we arrived in the suburbs at 9 pm and it took us another 2 hours to find the centre and a hotel. Along the way it got dodgier by the minute (Dan had his pepper spray ready), at some point we heard gypsy music on the river banks and saw some people roasting a rat in a barrel campfire! But we made it and had 2 days off in Budapest. They have lots of old thermal baths and we spent a great afternoon watching the locals in a sort of old palace in a park with tens of different temperature baths. From icy cold 12 degrees to 40 degrees and 100 degrees in the funniest sauna we’ve ever seen. It was like a big barn in the bottom of the building with thirty people sweating away.
After the good rest we set off towards Belgrade in Serbia, on the first day we were sitting having lunch and saw another cyclist go by with tonnes of kit and big hair. After about an hour of cycling against the strong wind we caught up with him. Claire cycled behind him for about 15 minutes without saying anything, using him as a wind shield, a cunning plan! Eventually she said hello, making him jump. We stopped and we made some coffee for us all. We agreed to cycle on together to Belgrade. That night we stayed in a campsite with millions of frogs!
The next day we cycled 20 km in the wrong direction. This was a bit annoying at the time, but ended up being so cool. We wild camped in the most beautiful spot imaginable, next to the Danube. A few locals were fishing as the sun went down. Have a look at the pictures!
Soon we entered Croatia, our first proper passport stamps. On the second day in Croatia we entered a town called Vukovar. I said ‘look: all the houses are covered in bullet holes!!!’ Claire and Arnaud told me to shut up and stop imagining things, we’d seen a sign warning of land mines at the side of the road. So I’d been in a ‘we’re entering a former warzone area’ mode. Anyway, we cycled on and more and more houses had holes all over them and then we came across an old Russian tank and a totally blown out house covered in big ass holes. ‘HA! Told you so!!!!’ Childish be true :o)
After a bit of research we found out that Vukovar was a strategic Danube port and had been under siege for several months in 1991 and was almost totally laid to waste. Really weird feeling cycling further into the town and seeing so much destruction and knowing that so many people died there. But also really interesting to see how people still carry on with their lives and rebuild after losing so so much. That night we entered Serbia, really looking forward to seeing the country, but feeling funny after seeing all the destruction on the other side of the river. We camped on a river beach and washed ourselves in the Danube...seemed a good idea at the time, but turned out to be some local disco beach until 5am!!! Got a bit scary with 4 really drunk guys waking us up. All turned out ok, except for the loss of a couple of t-shirts. A good, but cheap, lesson to take more care of our things in Serbia (we were warned before but guess we needed to find out for ourselves..).
So we didn’t get off to a good start in Serbia, but things just got better and better! It’s a really cool country and the people are very friendly and welcoming...but very different too. After our 5th consecutive day of 100km plus we arrived in Belgrade and contacted Michaelo (the Serbian guy that we met in McDonalds in Linz, a few weeks earlier). He’d offered us the use of an empty run down flat in the centre, which he plans to renovate later. Turns out he’d invited a few others too! So there are six of use crammed into the tiny flat, very cosy and very kind of Michaelo to give us all free accommodation.
We’ve been having a great time here in Belgrade relaxing and just enjoying ourselves, Claire has a really bad back at the moment...so the rest is needed! It’s one of those cities that it’s nice just to sit in a café and watch the world go by. The city itself is a mix of beautiful old architecture and really ugly Soviet Communist buildings. Michaelo is a wonderful host too and has shown us lots of the sites and tells us which cafes are good. The food is yummy with lots of fresh fruits, yoghurt and lots of bbq-ed meat.
On a more hedonistic note: Our second night here we all went to a crazy beer festival and drank and danced until 5am. Really good fun and remarkably good for Claire’s back! James and I, one of the other cyclists, decided to go and explore further into the crowd in front of the band stage. By crowd I mean 200,000 crazy drunk Serbs! Right at the front there were a group of massive guys mock fighting or something i.e. charging into each other and knocking themselves to the ground, but all in a friendly slightly overly manly way (most were smiling). All had their tops off and some had masks covering their faces, turns out they were Red Star Belgrade Football hooligans. Anyway, James and I watched on with interest at a safe distance...but I guess our interest grew too much and James gave me a funny look and I said ‘F*ck it!’ We both charged in at the biggest of the monsters knocking him back and then proceeded to bounce around for a few more minutes. Eventually we retired from the melee and congratulated ourselves and talked about which one we should run at next. Two minutes later I was laying in the dirt with a sore knee after five of them ran straight at us and bolt me over (somehow missing James), very kindly they picked me up :o) We left and went to find the others...with me limping and ego’s bruised. Good fun though!
We're off now heading further east towards Istambul, should take us a few more weeks
ps more comments please :o)