Border crossing under a grey grey sky and fields as far as the eye can see, slight rain, wind and a strange feeling to be in Belgium! We start our stay in Serbia in a no man's land. There is no village in a 20 kilometers radius and the plain has no end, flatenned by three rivers : Sava, Drina, and Danube.
We zigzag between the rain drops until Sremska Mitrovica. At dusk (4:00 PM) we start looking foor a camping ground and we end up staying with a very welcoming family. Of course conversation is limited, but we always find a way to use the few words we know and to use our hands as much as we can. Gestures, sounds, dances, pointing are our best tools. Luckily the language in Serbia is the same than in Bosnia, almost the same, but now we have to learn how to read cyrillic alphabet, and it's not easy!!!
In Novi Sad, Miloš welcomes us wonderfuly well. We go out, we drink, we chat, we share about each other's travels. Like him the whole country is very happy about what will happen on the 19th of december 2009. On the 19th, the serbs, as well as people from Montenegro and Makedonia, will be finally allowed to travel in the Schengen space without any visa.
It is also interesting to listen to the serbian point of view about the war. We understand how the western medias didn't leave a chance to the serbian people to appear as good people. In this war there have been questionnable things on both sides...
Between two bureks we visit the Petrovaradin fortress, dating from the austro-hungarian period, and which is hosting every summer the EXIT NOISE FESTIVAL. We realize everyday that couch surfing is a wonderful way to travel even by staying at home.
OUr bikes need a check so we take them to a mechanic, and we find a good one. Petar is a real bicycle freak and an excellent mechanic, so if you cycle around Novi Sad he will be happy to help you! He is much cheaper than the bike shops in the center of Novi Sad. His website : www.prosports.rs
After Novi Sad, we go to Belgrade. The city is greyish and you can feel the former communist regime. WIth 2.5 millions people the city is pretty big and can scare you a bit. In Belgrade we tried for you the kindness of the the public workers and I have to say that they need a lot to shade a smile.
Evenings and nights are a little more busy : ballet, concert, and nice people that we met here like Raghu and Tamara. We also met Guilhem and Gaëlle, two french travellers who are finishing a beautiful travel : walking and hitch-hiking from Central Asia to France. AN improvised trip that will fill you with joy if you have a look at their blog.
All warm and nice in the youth hostel, we plan the next days of our trip. Along the Danube we should get to Bulgaria where we are expected on the 20th of december ; nice programme. But there is a but : snow is now here. Many people promised it will come soon but we weren't expecting it anymore... When it snows here it is serious and quickly the whole city is wrapped into a 50 cm thick layer of immaculate snow. It's beautiful but very annoying.
SO the new plan becomes to take a bus to Niš, south-east of the country. We go to the train station, but because of a strike, there are no trains. Only one solution left : bus. We buy tickets, go to the bus with our heavy loaded bikes, and after looking at us for a second the driver greets us with a firm 'NO'. After insisting a lot, we manage to put all our stuff in the trunk. The dirver wants now 10€. It's not his lucky day because we don't have money in our pockets.
Eventually we jump in the bus and arrive in Niš, where Nikola, Nenad and 'Snow-White' welcome us and make us like this small city.
The snow is still thick on the roads and makes cycling too dangerous. We have to take a train even if it means that we won't be able to enjoy Serbia as much as we want.
We wait on the platform for 2 hours by freezing -7°C, and another hour in the train before it starts moving. Once again here the ticket control agent tries to get a bribe from us for the bicycles. We have no dinars, no euros and no bulgarian levas... it's not his lucky day either! After the border crossing, the bulgarian ticket control officer tries the same thing, same result. He goes back with his friends and drinks a little more Rakija.
We got to Sofia almost 4 hours late. It's night, it's cold, the language is different and EVERYTHING is in cyrillic.