Giurgiu to Oltenita, Wednesday 20th June. 75km (if you go directly, do not pass go and do not collect €500)

Breakfast in the breakfast chamber with the travelling salesmen, truck drivers, Luca and Jozef. Hello Luca, hello Jozef. I told them my plan for seeking out the nearest bike whisperer and that I was in a hurry. I would see them down the line perhaps. They were all set for another big long cycling day of 150km or more. Bye bye Luca. Bye bye Jozef.

I left all heavy gear in the hotel room and set off at 8am in the full hope and expectation to be sorted out in an hour or two at the most. Blessed is he who expects damn all for he shall not be disappointed. The first place was sort of an open street market and while there was plenty of bikery around, they did not have spare spokes or wheels to fit my spec. The next place was an actual bike shop and looked like it had everything I needed. However the bike whisperer was not in residence and would not be available until 14h00 at the earliest and even that was not sure. Perhaps he was sleeping something off.

Nothing for it but to head across the Friendship Bridge to Ruse, another city in another country. I had my passport and money with me and the bike was holding up.

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The Friendship bridgehead, small and far away.
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The Friendship bridgehead, big and near.

 

The bridge was named the Friendship Bridge by the Soviets but is known on the Romanian side as the Giurgiu bridge and on the Bulgarian side as the Danube Bridge. It is one of only two bridges connecting the two countries so as luck would have I would shortly have crossed them both . The other connects Vidin to Calafat. The bridge is over 2km long and has fairly heavy traffic although thankfully the long queues of trucks I had seen the nigh before seemed to have already made their way across. What lines there were at passport control I easily skipped past on my breezy two wheeled wobbler. Passport in one hole of a kiosk, lobbed across the desk to Bulgaria and handed back to me through the next hole. Ruse is a large enough city where a good friend (a former chairman, treasurer and secretary of the Munster supporters club of Bulgaria (all posts were held at the same time)) spent his formative years. As I recall the way Dimitar describing it, he spent an inordinate amount of time after floods with his friends having competitions throwing rocks at bloated wild boar carcasses bobbing on the banks. First exploder winner. Some more of the time was spent trying not to get killed by traffic while playing football on the streets. The fact that he is alive and well in London is testament to his skill at that one. Skill that one still needs today. Luckily I was soon out of the traffic standing at my first Bikorium which was of great repute on the interweb. From the outside it looked just the ticket. I reckon it had all sorts of bikes here even the sort of one that you would use if you had to abseil on a bike down the side of a cruiseliner docked in Monaco before cycling across a rake of steps, over a few moving cars, through a casino, rob a necklace from around the narrow ivory neck of an heiress, escape through the fountain, back over more moving cars, along the very very narrow balcony of a restaurant where you snatch a glass of wine from yer man just as he was about to sip, and it is good wine too by the taste of it!, sideways down a metal bannister nearly breaking the chain, speed wobble on a tram track (happens to the best of us), wink at the child in the back of the tram, jump off the street over the wall down onto a well placed canopy over a cafe at the dock, up the mooring cable back on to the cruise ship and into the helicopter and away. They could well have had a bike just like that in this shop. I will never know though. Feckers were closed.

It was not looking good for the Jimser today. 3 bikerys and no bikewhisperer. What do you do? What can you do? Go to the next place. The place that wasn’t really a place because it barely existed on the interweb. Except it was a place. A great place and a bike whisperer! An unassuming man in a shop coat with moustache and glasses. He was able to assess the issue in less than 30 seconds of my demonstrating, hand waving and bad Serbian. Another 10 seconds to agree a price and 10 more to tell me to feck off for an hour for a coffee up the road and don’t be annoying him. Best coffee I had in a long time too! I also had time to buy a belt because I was wearing my regular walking around shorts (as opposed to the spandex ones) and they were falling off me as I had turned into such a skinny fecker. I had to hold them up with a least one hand in a pocket at all times. Belt duly bought (with several extra holes punched into it) I went back to the whisperer. The bike was ready and he was able to sell me a spare pedal (and kept the other one as well. All done for less than 10 euro including a tip that he was reluctant to take.

Back through passport contral, across the Friendhip/Danube/Giurgiu bridge, get lost in Giurgiu, find myself again and then the hotel. Pay, load up and finally after 1pm get on the road to Daia to catch up with Norman. It was supposed to be a short and easy 75km day and I had already clocked up about 55km. On the way out of Giurgiu on the 6 lane dual carriageway I spotted a fellow long distance cyclist taking photos of the sunflower fields on the other side. He waved at me and I waved back. He waved again so I stopped and waved back. He clearly wanted to talk and came right across the 6 lanes. A mad man from Gibraltar who was living in Holland and on his way from Holland to meet his daughter in Istanbul before continuing onwards to the south coast of Turkey for a holiday. He went by the name of Silver. Can’t be too many of them from Gibraltar so if anyone knows him say hi from me. I couldn’t hang around too long as Norman was waiting up the road and it was getting late even if there were only about 70km left to cover over relatively flat land. Just after Daia the road forked and thankfully we peeled away from the main road to Bucharest. The noise stress dropped off almost immediately and the going became pleasant again. We pulled in at Baneasa for refueling and were soon flying along the N41 westwards through Pietrele, Prundu with a stop again in Greaca. We were less than 50km south of Bucharest and the villages were indeed becoming more and more well kept and wealthier looking:

 

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We were cycling up along a plateau that was about 100 metres above the flood plain of the Danube. At one place we passed what may have been a giant gravel quarry:

 

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All along the roads in the balkans there have been “bornes” or stones marking the distances in Kilometers:

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Norman and I both spoke English but for any conversation relating to, where we wanted to go and how far away it was and quickly we would make it there, we probably only understood 70% of each others coversation. Norman always firmly enunciated everything in imperial measurement whereas I had long ago moved across to the logical and familar meters and kilometers of metric. You can take the man out of empire but you can take the piss out of while you are at it 🙂

I found the red and white bornes of Romania to be quite comforting and familar along the route. They were for the most part well maintained and easily visible. However in some counties the paint had long ago flaked off such that they were illegible. Onwards we went through Cascioarele and past lake Catalui before our last break of the day in Chirnogi where some local farm workers had finished for the day. As they lounged outside a small shop with us they tried very hard to make conversation with us but we were not able to get past the basics. Even so they eager to share what fruits they had with them and waved us off as we hit for Oltenita. We had made an AirBnB booking that turned out to be completely different but altogether better than what we had hoped for. The road into Oltenita was quite busy with trucks bringing in the harvest but they eased off as we got off the main road in the town itself. We found the address of the AirBnB but it did not exist. We called the number to no answer and went back the way we came to pass what looked like a guest house. Lo and behold, Luca and Jozef were there along with a father and daughter tandem team from Italy. Luca and Jozef had given up on their idea of a big long day and had decided to enjoy themselves en route a little more. They were also looking for accommodation and the guesthouse had lots of free rooms but no manager/owner. After the young lady who had the keys gave us the number of the owner who was on holiday in Greece we were able to quickly sort things out. Quickly showered and with our things packed away we headed with our new best friends to the nearest eatery to feast while the mosquitoes feasted on us. This was the second worst mosquitoe night of the trip with the prize for the worst going to the campsite in Vannes, France on the second night. I suppose the mozzies in Vannes were keen to get stuck into fresh meat at the time. Said meat generally became tainted with various tinctures and potions along the way which made it unappealing to the suckers. Suitably sated I was soon in the land of Z.

 

 

 

 

Turnu Magurele to Giurgiu 109km Tuesday 19th June 2018

 

Ionela and Daniel had prepared an excellent breakfast of an omelette with vegetables from their garden and plenty of coffee. Accommodation along this part of the Eurovelo 6 trail seems to be rather scarce. For anyone plotting their course through Turnu Margurele, I highly recommend staying here. You will not get a better welcome or insight into the town and locale. They plan to add a pool to their garden next year too. Contact details are as follows:

Ionela + Daniel PirlanTurnu Magurele, street OLTETULUI, nr 48 (not OLTULUI).
phone number 0040763793736, email address ionelle2000@gmail.com

 

Thus it was that we left as the Sun began its glare at the floodplain. We were like turkeys that voted for Christmas. The end of the journey was upon us and we were glumly making our way direction Constanta and the Black Sea. It is telling of the mood that today was the only day that I took only two photos:

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This mixed adulation to various architectural styles seemed to my untrained eye to have been gleaned by someone who travelled all over Europe and perhaps beyond. Several locals told me that this house belonged to Gypsies and was constructed over time with money they sent back regularly from wherever they were and that they would ultimately retire to it.

The road eased us eastwards, mostly straight through many villages lined with fruit trees. Mostly plum and cherry trees.  Ciuperceni, Traian, Seaca, Navodari, Vanatori, veer north around Lake Suhaia through Lisa and turning south again through Piatra and a quick stop for a coffee in Viisoara. It looked to be the only place open in town. There was a speaker outside on a chair blaring very bad version of local folk music. We were the only customers. We tried to ask the two young men running the place if they could turn it down or off but they seemed to plead powerlessness to change anything. Another, older, man came out from the neighbouring garden where the speaker’s lead ran into. He noted our presence, disappeared back into his garden and the music was made louder. I can only surmise that the neighbour was engaged in some sort of war with the cafe. We stayed less than five minutes.

We continued south through Viisoara, Suhaia, Fantanele and took lunch from a supermarket in Zimnicea. There were no children coming out to give us high fives all through these villages. The villages however appeared to be somewhat more prosperous and well maintained than those we had flitted through further west. Perhaps proximity to the capital had a bearing on this. Traffic also built up as we went further east with many large trucks that seemed to be less considerate too than the ones we had experienced before. We crossed the Vedea, another tributary to the Danube and were regularly buzzed by the traffic. On one occasion I bopped the bike down the 5 cm drop off the asphalt onto the verge. Normally this would not be a problem but after the traffic had passed and things grew quiet our progress was marked by a tickledy tick coming from the rear wheel. Perhaps a stick or a we stone bouncing through the spokes? A pause to investigate. Lift bike, spin wheel, squint. No sticks. No stones. Spin and squint again. And again. Change angle. Wheel has a slight wobble. Check spokes. One had snapped and wheel had indeed a slight buckle. Nothing to impede progress directly but worriesome enough. Norman and his amazingly well packed bags had a spare spoke of the right size! Bike on its back. Off with the wheel. Off with the tire and tube. Not off with the damaged spoke. It did not want to move. Another problem was the bit that had snapped took the holding nut with it for a visit into the hollow chamber of the rim. No holding nut no holdy spoke in the righty placey……. My left pedal had also acquired a habit of ticking on the downside of each revolution in the later part of each day. Something I put down to a lack of grease in the spindle housing. I was going to have to find a bike whisperer that evening or the next day….

We gingerly continued our way through Bojoru, Pietrosani, Vedea, Slobozia and into Giurgiu. Giurgiu is a large town full of trucks in a long queue waiting to cross the Danube into Bulguria. A friend in Ireland had suggested that I might want to favour Ruse over Giurgiu for accommodation on the basis that Ruse was slightly better quality and value for money. Norman had a place booked just north of Giurgiu at Daia and I managed to book in the same place but had to cancel when it came apparent that I would have to check back into Giurgiu and possibly Ruse for bike repairs. I found a simple 2 star hotel and installed myself, leaving Norman with the arrangement that I would catch up with him at Daia the next day once I had sorted things out.

Things took a turn for the better as I was having my dinner at the hotel – two other Euroveloists – Luca from Italy and Jozef from German were having a vivid conversation via google translate at the next table. It turned out that they had just put in a huge day from the west – about 150km and they were planning the same the next day as they wanted to have to time to explore Constanta and Tulcea when they got there. I told them they were crazy but that we might see each other down the road and we exchanged contact details.

Our original plan was to have an easy day to Oltenita (about 75km) the next day. However I was going to need to get some repairs done and information online and via local intelligence as to where it might be possible, was very limited. An early night for an early start as many places around here open at 7 and 8am.

 

 

 

 

 

Bechet to Turnu Magurele 78km Monday 18th June

 

After yesterdays efforts we have a later start to breakfast than usual. Peter the trigamist has already been foddered and saddled his bicycle before we sit down. We cheerfully wave him away with a loose commitment to look out for him on the road when we perhaps catch up with him.

I have received confirmation that I can go to pick up cash sent by a friend via Moneygram. I learn that there is a Moneygram agent just 200 metres down the road.  Today is looking good! Except the Moneygram agent has the sign but no money. Not to worry, there are plenty of Moneygram places in the next big town – Corabia. “Sounds like a grand place for lunch hey Norman? Only 40km”. “Sounds like a plan, James!”. So off we amble on the same 55A main road that we were on all day yesterday. Leaving Bechet seems to take forever but in fact it segues into one strip development after the other: Calarisi, Dabuleni, Potelu, Grojdibodu, Gura Padini, Orlea. Between the latter few the landscape opens up a little and the harvest is getting into full swing even though we are only in late June. There is a certain amount of traffic related to the harvest – pony and carts bringing people to and from fields, tractors and huge heavy goods vehicles. The HGVs are hauling the grain and other crops to the mills for processing, storage and onward freighting. In fairness to the drivers of all of these vehicles – they were well aware of our presence on the road and gave us plenty of room. White van man however is alive and well in Romania. This evil reincarnation of newspaper delivery boy on speed ensconced in 2500kg of metal is oblivious to anyone else on the road. Speed limit signs are mere guidelines to be bettered. Villages are irritants which require more concentration to get through at high speed without damaging the van. WVM has no regard for human life. We are wondering how many children in Romania have fallen victim to WVM in all the villages he plows through across the country. How many WVM languish in prison. Not enough is our guess.

Corabia, might have once been a thriving place and it has the feel of a place that will thrive again some time in the future. Right now, concrete buildings festooned with rusting air conditioning units and variegated sunshades, line the symetrically arranged streets. Block after block of weedgrown bockety footpaths draped with badly parked brand new cars. Three moneygram places 90 minutes later and still no money. One place wanted me to prove my home address as well as show my passport and the transfer number! I was resigning myself to potentially living off the land for the last few hundred km. I was so near to the end that this thought did not bother me too much. Anyway there was still money for lunch and we tried out for a place by the river. We found the Faleza Dunarii which looked very new, clean and with a decent menu at good prices. The river was several hundred metres distant but by the topography it looked like it came very close once there was any sort of heavy rainful. There was also a swimming pool that some local kids were making full use of. It looked quite appealing in the heat. On closer inspection, the greenish tinge to the water killed the appeal, dead.

Shortly after we made our order the young staff put on local folk music at full volume. Although we were the only customers they refused to turn it off or down. The staff must be entertained too I suppose. The interweb then gave up the knowledge that our lodgings for the night would be in Turnu Magurele at the house of a middle aged couple. The day’s rain came as we ate and finished as we finished. We had no other reason to hang around and that became one of the shortest lunchs of my entire trip.

Onwards, westwards through proper Romanian countryside. Huge fields full of wheat or sunflowers all the way to the edge of that world which is visible from a bike:

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The bees have to work too! The traffic this side of Corabia (or perhaps this side of lunchtime) seemed to have died off and we had the road almost to ourselves the whole time. It was somewhat eery though to be in the middle of all that space with no human noise apart from the click and chittle of the chain on our bikes. The road was flat for the most part and took us over the river Olt before we had to pull left at Turnu to find our hosts Ionela and her husband Daniel. They were expecting us and Daniel offered to bring me into town to get some supplies and sort out the Moneygram problem. Amazingly, at the first Moneygram place with a few loud words of encouragement and my money issue was fixed. The power of local!  Back at their house the served us up a delicious local dish of polenta with all the trimmings and we all ate together. After dinner Ionela and husband retired to “their” side of the house and left us on the veranda to watch the sun go down in the east while some silly world cup football match was on the telly and neither Norman nor I were really interested in it. It did not matter. Our bellies were full, the end of the journey was almost within walking distance at this stage. It looked like we were going to make it indeed and that left us thinking about what it would mean to get there…….

Novo Selo (Bulgaria) to Bechet (Romania) 129km Sunday 17th June 2018

We had the makings of a decent breakfast already provided in the fridge of the house. It was kindly left there by Nick whom we then met in the village for a parting shot of coffee.

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View from the back yard of the house we rented for the night in Novo Selo (which translate as “New Village” btw).

We had gathered all of our Bulgarian currency and handed it to Nick for use to assist the orphans of the village keeping only enough back for some fruit and water. Nick described the route ahead and the best place to stop for provisions before leaving the country.

It was Sunday morning and we had the roads to ourselves. The sun was beginning to heat things up when we stopped at the shop suggested by Nick in Kapitanovtsi. It had an veranda type entry where the sides were almost all glass and it must heat up to a wicked temperature. Like a greenhouse in the afternoon. Inside the shop proper however there was air conditioning and a reasonable selection of goods. We grabbed and paid for what we needed and did not delay under the veranda (where there were seats for customers to take coffee).

The countryside was rolling and we rolled along on top of it on pretty smooth roads for the most part. We could just about see the river as it peeled away from us in the distance, round a huge bend to rejoin our way as we approached Vidin. Vidin could soon be easily recognised with its several high rise apartment buildings and what I suspect were grain silos. All from the communist period before 1990.

 

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At Vidin a huge bridge loomed across the river. It looked to have been constructed rather recently. Indeed the on/off ramps seemed to still be in the course of finishing. The bridge designers did not have pedestrians or cyclists foremost in their mind when they were designing it. We had to cover a long loop on both the approach to the bridge and again to get off on the other side. The thing itself was huge and it needed to be in order to cross the river here:

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On the bridge itself towards the Romanian end there were some lunatics with helmets and ropes. They were trying to sell bungee jumps. We were mad to be doing this bike ride but not mad enough to fall off the bridge with an elastic band tied to us.

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Over the bridge we were able to cycle past the long long line (more than 1km long) of trucks to the border post. I wonder what it must be like on busy weekdays.  The border control was perfunctory and we carried on to try to find our way past Calafat and onwards along what looked like it might be a very busy main road.

We had been warned about the feral dogs in Romania. We were only just on the outskirts of Calafat when a band of three dogs of differing sizes came at us. They went straight past me and started growling and snapping at Norman who breezily scared them off by roaring at them and cycling faster than any time I had seen him cycle up until then. He passed me like a hot lemon. Further up the road we debated why he was the dogs preferred target. He thought it might be because he was older. My favourite theory (just to annoy Norman) was that it was because the dogs were racist and didn’t like English men. In reality it probably was because he looked like an alien in his high visibility top. Certainly he looked extremely different to local cyclists and therefore a legitimate target…

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Norman the lemon in pre dog attack pose in Bulgaria near Vidin.

We stopped for lunch in Poiana Mare, a long strip developed village just after Calafat. In fact many of the villages and towns melded into each other along stretches of the roads in Romania such that it was only possible to tell where one ended and the other began by watching the communal signs. We had trouble getting lunch as we had no local currency, no cards we had could be accepted and we did not speak the language. Luckily the restaurant owner was final called by the waitress. He spoke French and had no trouble handling euros for payment. We waited in the shade guzzling water and swatting flies. Families with horses and carts passed up and down the street interspersed with soviet era universal tractor and trailers. Cut grass seemed to be the freight of the day along with deadwood and occasionally scrap metal. The horses were not very big and did not go very fast.

Lunch was vegetable soup and some bread. Change was returned in Romanian Lei which was reassuring as we knew we could get supplies further along the road. We also fixed Bechet as our destination for the day because (a) that brought us almost in line with Norman’s blessed plan and made him more relaxed and easier company to be in; and (b) we were able to confirm accommodation there in advance. It was only 83km away and it was only about 14h00 when we left the restaurant in what was only the hottest part of the day. Things were made easier going through each village – Piscu Vechi, Ghidici, Rast, Bistret, Carna, Gighera and Ostroveni as we were nearly always made to feel like as if we were part of the “Tour de Romania”. Kids of all ages would stop what they were doing in front of their houses and race up to line the road with their hands out. We had to high five them all! They would then go back to watching over their chickens and chicks, ducks and ducklings or turkeys and poults. All in the shade of the trees in front of their houses while grandmothers looked on. After Carna we crossed a small bridge over the river Jiu which flows into the Danube there. Just over the bridge there was a campsite called camping Zaval. It was sort of on Norman’s original plan but one look told us that it was definitely not on the plan now and we pushed on to Bechet. Our bed and breakfast turned out to be a large well organised guesthouse with restaurant – the “Tata si Fii” or “Father and Son” Hotel: http://tatasifii.ro/ . We met a young seventy year old man there who was also cycling to the black sea. He went by the moniker that was given to him by his running club “the hash house harriers”.  The HHH is some sort of casual international network of leg joint damagers who like to socialise together after pounding out a few kilometers in the name of bodily wellbeing. Peter the Trigamist was on his third wife apparently. He had no maps and travelled using the sun and the rivers as his guide. He had come along the Rhine and the Danube this far and seemed to be doing just fine.

There was world cup football on but watching the tail end of Germany losing to Mexico and afterwards the draw between Brazil v Switzerland did not exactly add any energy to us and it was early to bed for all and sundry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kladovo (Serbia) to Novo Selo (Bulgaria) 93km. Saturday 16th June.

Leaving our Kladovan hosts in the morning did not happen quickly. Their house was set up alongside a courtyard with a narrow alleyway leading to another courtyard and house which in turn lead to a different courtyard and another house. Some of these houses were split into two or more living units. As far as I could tell every unit was occupied by a part of our hosts family.

Our hosts insisted we take some Turkish style coffee with them before departing. As we did so approximately 17 members of the family or in laws passed through the first courtyard as we sat there with our coffees. We were introduced to and shook hands with each and every one of them. At each introduction it was announced, to the wonderment of all of them, that we were cycling all the way to the black sea. Most of them must have thought we were pure daft. The rest of them just knew we were. When we were finally able to extricate ourselves we had one final round of handshakes with our extremely hospitable hosts who reminded us that we had in fact officially stayed overnight in our tents down by the river. This was what we were to say if we were asked on crossing the border. I said that this would be no bother and sure didn’t we have at least 17 witnesses to prove it? Thankfully they got the joke and laughed heartily as they waved us off up the street.

We passed the street market which was well underway. The vendors had everything from tomatoes, lettuces, radishes and cabbages, various fruits as well as honey and many varieties of jam and several types of hooch. All produced locally. We headed out of town, eastwards and downriver to see Trajans bridge or at least what was left of it. Apparently a similar amount of ruined remains exist on the Romanian side of the river. My father in law, Lothar Koch-Mehrin R.I.P used to tell a story about the one time he visited the ruins back in old Yugoslav times. He used to work as a journalist I think and had some free time during an assignment in the area so he went to visit the bridge of Trajan. By the way, the bridge must have been an engineering wonder of the world in its day. Indeed it could even be considered so today given the condition of some of the extant bridges or the fact that many riparians still rely on simple ferries to cross the Danube. The river at this juncture is several hundred metres wide and has an enourmous volume of water flowing down it. It also floods often.

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As Lothar tells it, he was sitting by the river minding his own business when a Yugoslav soldier came along and asked him what he was doing. Lothar joked that he had just blown up the bridge – pointing to the ruins and making exploding signs with his hands and noises with his voice. Times were more sensitive then and particularly there as there is the very important river crossing and power generating dam just a few kilometres up the river. The joke did not translate at all well and Lothar got to spend the night in the local clink for his trouble.

While we were there a mini bus disgorged a bunch of other tourists including an older couple from the Netherlands. The dutch lady was very upset because she had just learned that the tour she had booked did not include the prices for individual elements of the tour such as museum entrance and the ticket for a boat tour further up river in the gorge of the Iron Gates.

We cycled back to the main road and doubled back through Kladovo to cut across the finger of land made by the Danube. During the first few kilometres we were passed by several vehicles travelling at motorway speed on what was little more than a secondary road. However as we pulled further away from the town the traffic died down to almost nothing. I suppose this was because most of the traffic was local to the town of Kladovo and probably related to the market which would have been ending just then. So we had the countryside to ourselves really. Big wide empty and uncultivated for the most part. Perhaps they were subject to frequent flooding or there was not much livestock in the area that needed fodder. Perhaps they would become part of a wetland nature reserve.

We stopped a restaurant called “Dimic” in the village of Dusanovac which had wi-fi to go with the soup, bread and coffee that we could afford with the last of our Serbian Dinari. I was able to catch the tail end of the second Australia v Ireland Rugby test match and had a pep in my pedal for the rest of the day. This saw us negotiate through the town of Negotin (mainly by following the signs for the Bulgarian border).

We crossed a disused railway before we got to the border at Bregovo. I will probably say this many times in my life but disused railways such as that would make excellent hiking and biking ways and would be a fantastic asset for tourism in any country with landscape as beautiful as that in Serbia.

At the border crossing there were no people crossing. It straddled the river Timok which is a tributary of the Danube. It was eerily quiet, hot and humid. Nothing moved as we approached the Serbian part first. Our passports were given a cursory look and walloped with a stamp. I was somewhat dissappointed to not have been asked about where we stayed the night before. No real exitement here.

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bye bye Serbia…

On the Bulgarian side a man with a very white and impressively ironed and creased shirt came out of his (presumably air conditioned) hut and inspected our passports. As we were leaving a Bulgarian car pulled up. We were waved on as the attention of white ironed shirt man was diverted. The driver of the car was alone was ordered out of the car and had to empty the entire contents of the car boot out on to the concrete apron. We were not able to see what was in the car but voices were raised. We kept moving.

The part of Serbia we had just cycled through was not prosperous but this part of Bulgaria was clearly very very poor. We peddled northwards out of Bregovo and back towards the river in the hope of finding a place for a break in the next village which was called Baley. A bunch of surly teenagers hanging around what looked like a possible cafe waved us away and told us there was a place a little further up the road. In Kudelin we did find a shop which also served as a cafe. It was made out of what was probably the front room of a farmhouse and had a lean to attached at the side where there was a place to sit and find out where we were going to stay that night. The place reminded me of the sort of shops you used to be able to find in the small villages of the west of Ireland up the 80s which had a little bit of everything in them. Being back in the EU also meant that we did not need to rely on wi-fi. The local cell network signal was actually really strong there. I was soon able to determine that in a 30km radius there were no booking.com lisitng and ther was only one Air BnB listing which happened to be….. just down the road in Novo Selo which was right by the river in the direction we were heading. Minimum booking was for 2 nights but for the price they were asking it was still a no brainer and who knows we may end up staying another night if we felt like it. The booking was confirmed very quickly and I received an email from a non-Bulgarian sounding Lewis instructing me to call a non-Bulgarian sounding Nick once we were near Novo Selo. We did so and a mancunian accent met us very soon outside a similar shop to the previous one only the building used to be an orthodox church and the owner was the very same guy who had been given a hard time at the border. It was very soon laughter all around at the chances of all us meeting at that time in that place. Nick was constantly being high fived by the numerous kids that were buzzing around the market square in front of the church/shop. It turns out there is an orphanage just up the road where he helps out with maintenance work and also manages to direct donations of clothes and other help to it, mainly from the UK. Nick brought us to our lodgings which was actually a 3 bedroomed house less than 5 minutes walk away. It turns out that the house is owned by an Ulsterman!

 

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you check the Gaelic and somebody else can check the Bulgarian….

Warm welcome to the place we felt indeed. We were quickly showered and at our insistence Nick joined us for dinner at a place he recommended which was actually on a beach on the river. After the hot weather it was really pleasant and cooler by the river but thunder was in the air. Over dinner we were treated to a major thunder and lightning storm across the river in Romania. Not a single drop of rain fell on our side but they were inundated over there. The storm lasted over an hour. This was something that was going to repeat itself over the next couple of weeks and indeed over the summer. The local TV had terrible images of catastrophic flooding up and down the country of Romania and I don’t think a single word of any of these stories made into any news in western europe. I could be mistaken though as I don’t generally watch TV.

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Pre storm views at the beach. For a really good value sun holiday you could do a lot worse than come to Bregovo for a week if you just wanted to relax and do very little.

Over dinner Nick outlined how poor the area was. It may well be the poorest part of Europe. The orphans and local families are really struggling. Especially in the winter.

Donji Milanovac to Kladovo, 67km, Friday 15th June. Tolkien’s inspiration perhaps…

A small but one of the greatest pleasures in life must be sitting comfortably in the dry and the warm while looking outside at the rain pummeling water and land. We had already taken breakfast at 8am and were ready to go but there was no point or pleasure in going out in that. It looked to be the tail end of a thunderstorm that should clear up in no time. I took advantage and was able to observe all via the terrace from the comfort of bed. It was close to 11am before it we decided to chance it.

It was a freewheel down into the town and flat south around a long bay which served as the mouth of a tributary to the Danube. The road soon brought us north and back to where the road was hemmed in between the mountain on the left and the Danube on the right. The storms had caused plenty of mini land slides and rock falls on the road. We were very impressed because the local authorities had the clean up job well under way by the time we got there. Workers were either alone or in twos digging debris from the gullies on the roadside. Twice there was a team with a mini digger and lorry taking the worst worries away. The road creeped up the edge of the mountain through more and longer tunnels. The river stayed where it was below. Eddying and hurrying as the canyon narrowed. The only traffic were large trucks for carrying loose rock and stone. These were only very occasional interruptions to our reverie. The one time it happened in a tunnel though cast us into a nightmare. Was that a cave troll having a bad acid trip struggling to catch us up from behind? The noisy roars reverberated through the tunnel and there was no escape from its noisome noxious respirations in the tunnel. Thankfully the cave troll, being virtually blind and its sense of smell and hearing being overwhelmed by its own discharges, passed us by and left us unharmed.

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I was glad to be on this side however as the traffic on the Romanian side was more varied and frequent – trucks, cars and tourist buses. There were zero tourists on our side of the river thankfully. This is possibly because there are only a few places where a car or bus can stop safely and disgorge passengers to risk their lives taking selfies on the edge…

Only one thing really bothered us being on this side however. Would we be able to see the great sculpture of Decebalus, the last king of Dacia? The sculpture is carved into the cliffs of the Romanian side and may have inspired the sculptures of Mount Rushmore. Decebalus fought and beat the Romans for most of his reign from 87 to 106AD.

According to Roman commentator Dio Cassisus: “This man was shrewd in his understanding of warfare and shrewd also in the waging of war; he judged well when to attack and chose the right moment to retreat; he was an expert in ambuscades and a master in pitched battles; and he knew not only how to follow up a victory well, but also how to manage well a defeat. Hence he showed himself a worthy antagonist of the Romans for a long time

He suffered a setback in 102 AD and Dacia became a vassal state of Rome but Decebalus continued to fight until a Roman force outnumbered him in 105 AD and Trajan came and finished the job by exterpating the then Dacian capital of Sarmizegetusa “a la Carthage” but he didn’t get around to sowing salt and ruining the land thankfully. More on Trajan later. Interestingly our family car for the last 2.5 years has been a Dacia and a very useful car it is indeed.

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You would look pissed off too if you had to figure out how to fight the then world’s superpower on a yearly basis during your reign….
As the road is so hemmed in along this section of the river there is no space for any settlements. Thus there were no cafes and restaurants and it was well into the afternoon by the time we made it around the next bend in the river where the mountains fell back and we descended to restaurant “Panorama” near a town which had no discernable name. Initially we were the only customers in this restaurant which was so new the outside walls had yet to be plastered. Soup, salad and bread was our preference in the heat of the day. A carload of other guests pitched up shortly before we left – two guys and three young botoxed ladies who spent the interval between ordering and eating taking selfies and pictures of each other.

Onwards we went around the next bend until we were heading southeastwards past the Iron Gates hydroelectric dam number one. Stored downriver from the dam beside the road in the open were what I assume were blades for the electric turbines of the dam. Of stainless steel they are what recyclists must dream of. Being the size of a bus however, it would take some serious rag and bone man ingeniuty to shift them down to the recyling centre unnoticed.

The remainder of our day was over the flat into a town called Kladovo where we had decided to stop for the night. It was only 17h00 but yesterday’s efforts, particularly the mud cycling, had taken its toll. So after a quick coffee we started operation accomodation. A fine spot showed up on the one of our apps less than 300 metres from our location. On closer examination it turned out to be a former residence of Tito and was currently used only for “protocol” purposes. Other apps showed accommodation which was completely booked out and the local hotel had a room apparently but at an absurd price for the quality on offer. Another thunderstorm was building in the distance and we did not want to be camping in it. We walked with our bikes on the riverside promenade. I decided to go old fashioned and just ask somebody. Outside what looked like a closed restaurant was a man and his son in law. It turned out that Steva was the owner of the restaurant and was also a former tourism manager in the local district. Not only did he speak German but perfect English too. He immediately offered to let us pitch our tents on the lawn beside his restaurant but as he followed our gaze to the black clouds gathering in the east we did not need to respond in words. He bid us sit down and have coffee while he sent an emissary (his daughter) to investigate the possibility of rooms for the night. He explained that due to the rock concert scheduled that night, accommodation was scarce. His daughter came back in 10 mins to ask us to follow her to what turned out to be her grandparents place. They were both over 90 years of age but fit and healthy. The grandmother was Croat from the Plitvice region in Croatia but had lived in Kladovo for almost 70 years. She showed us our rooms and the showers and we agreed the very reasonable price immediately. Her sole concern was that on crossing the border, if we were asked where we stayed that night, officially we slept in tents. It seems that there are still laws from Yugoslav times which require non-family members overnighting to be registered at the local police station. Her concern was reiterated several times before we departed and we reassured her several times that we would faithfully play our part in this deception of the authorities. Hence why I post no surnames in this part. We had reassured Steva that we would return to check out dining possibilities. It turned out that he desparately wanted us to be his guests and soon we were supping fish soup and double portions of Zander with all the trimmings. This despite the fact that Norman is normally not a fish eater. Hunger is good sauce!

Kovin to Donji Milonovac, Thursday 14th June. 125km. Soon crossing into terra completely incognita.

The trees were still dripping after the nights thunderstorms as we started out along the Manastirska Rampa at 07h01. We were supposed to start at 07h00 but Norman delayed us foostering with the straps on his panniers. Our best local intelligence directed us that the ferry from Stara Palanka to Ram would leave at 10h00 and although Stara Palanka was only 34km away the going along the levee was expected to be slow after the rain. It was. Although the water had cooled things down to about 18 degrees we were very soon sweating as we pushed along through the gluey mud.

We had another excellent breakfast at Dunavski Plicak ensconced between last nights casualties sprawled on the

benchs. Apparently the merrymaking had continued rather late into the night. The bodies raised themselves to give us a stirring send off into the silence of the morning. The silence was partly due to the earlieness of the hour but also the isolation of the levee. We saw no person or vehicle until we made it back to the road about 15km later. There was a fierce serenity with the weather as well:

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The storm had come from the south and the waves coming directly towards the north bank were over a meter high. Dejan, one of the neighbours, went out fishing in a boat in the middle of the storm. Crazy guy. I have not heard of him since which probably means that nothing happened to him.

The riverward side of the levee is clad in concrete slabs. These in turn are are smirched with waste plastic like the dirt line of a coal miners bath on a Saturday. The line extends all along the bank. Following the storm the Koviner’s could claim that it was waste plastic coming from the Smederjevans on the south bank but its source is likely from both banks up the river and its tributaries. My subjective impression is that this plastic problem has drastically increased since my first time along there in 2014.

At Stara Palanka at 09h54 we learned that the ferry only left the other side at 10h00 and from our side at 10h30 so we had time to meet to fellow cyclists who had stayed in the guesthouse there. A young Dutch man and a young German man who had met for the first time the previous night. The Dutch man was cycling all the way to China and the German guy was going in the same direction as far as he felt like it. It was the first time we had met anyone going further than us which was somewhat humbling. They had a lot more gear on board than we did and their pace was thus somewhat slower than ours on the way out of Ram and we did not wait around for them after the viewing point above Ram:

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Soon we were pulling up at the Srebrno Jezero (Silver Lake) resort for lunch. The lake is of the oxbow variety and cut off from the plastic riddled Danube. The water in the lake is extraordinarily clean, clear and when bathing in it, it is easy to observe the sticklebacks sticklebacking around over the gravelly bottom. There are about a dozen restaurants and 5 or 6 hotels in the village which I believe is a very popular escape from the city in the summer.

On we went around the broad curve of the river which soon opened into a giant lake just before we entered the next touristy town of Golubac which has a famous fortress just before the river enters what is known as the “Iron Gates” gorge. Twice before I have attempted to cycle down past Golubac but I ran out of time on both occasions so I was rather excited with the prospect of finally seeing it.

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We took coffee outside the hotel in Golubac which I explained to Norman was the scene of the air conditioning accident two years ago. With a group of friends I arrived late into Golubac back then. Simon, desperate for a good nights sleep after two nights in the heat with no air conditioning had commandeered the single bed in a room leaving Mick and I to share a double bed. Simon retired long before either Mick or I and also pointed the mobile A/C unit in his direction before falling asleep. On ascending to the room Mick and I promptly redirected the A/C our way. Later Simon reversed the move as did we later again. So on and so forth until I gave up at around 05h45 and got up with Simon following me out into the dawn. At which point we realised that the A/C had an exhaust outlet which in our posturing during the night no longer exhausted through the designated hole in the wall but back into the room. On top of this, Simon had some how succeeded in turning on both radiators before he retired. The temperature in the room was 41 degrees celcius, in the hallway it was 19 degrees and in Simon’s head it was heading towards 99 degrees…. The cycle back the next day was long but somewhat short tempered.

After the fortress at Golubac the road went through a series of tunnels as it rose squeezed between the mountain and the river.

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The first few were less than 100 metres but we soon had to turn on lights. This did not spare us one terrifying moment when a heavy truck came unexpectedly from behind. The sound inside the tunnel was cacophonous and although there was very little traffic on the road we took extra care to time our passage through each tunnel such that we were alone.

Our local intelligence had suggested that the Serbian side was less hilly than the Romanian side. Something I still believe but which Norman has not stopped ribbing me about to this day. He always makes the claim that his plan was perfect and he had stuck to it up until the previous day in Kovin but since then the wheels had come off it. In my defence I maintain that our alternative route on the southern branch of the Euro Velo 6 there still had him in Constanta on the day he had foreseen. Furthermore there was much less traffic than what we could observe hurtling along on the Romanian side. Soon we were quite high up indeed:

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We made it as far as Donji Milonovac just as the weather looked to be turning bad again. We pulled in at the Restoran Lepenac and very soon had two rooms with en suite bathrooms overlooking the Danube with breakfast included. All for the equivalent of 10 euros. The restaurant was also excellent with really friendly service.

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