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:



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:



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.


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.


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:



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.





Kovin Wednesday 13th June. More rest. Norman’s rejoinder and the return of Steva (nije kriv). More thunderstorms.

Another day in quiet restful solitude. All equipment cleaned, tuned, repacked, washed and honed. Muscles unwound and brain back in gear. Until Steva returned from his holiday in Greece. Its gas, I go south from Belgium to Serbia and he goes further south to Greece for his holidays. No sooner is he back then plans are being made for BBQ. His long lost cousin is coming back from Australia for a few weeks visiting the family. Musicians have to be ordered about the place and preparations have to be made. My job was mostly to stay out of the way for the most part, despite several offers to help. While there was a lot of shouted conversations going on I took to the time to alternately swim in the river, dry off, write a bit, have coffee and biscuits and bide time until a very late lunch/dinner or Linner. Shortly before then I heard a plaintive shout from the avenue in front of the house and away from the river. “James!” in a nordy English accent which could only mean Norman actually managed to find the place fair play to him. He was in a bit of a state though as he had been going along the levees in the top heat and humidity of the day. He was a a red faced neon clad balloon of sweat and practically jumped fully clothed into the river. Between his suffering body and the threatening storm clouds I thought it would not take much to dissuade him from his plans of continuing on to Bela Crkva (another 45km) near the Romanian border that day. However Norman was a man with a plan that he did not like to waver from. The dulcet hospitality of Steva and his band slowed Normans momentum and chipped away at his steadfast willpower until he gave way with a “go on then, just one beer”. After that it was just a question of getting him to agree to sidestep Romania for now and take the ferry from Stara Palanka across the river to Ram and stay in Serbia for another couple of days. Our hosts had told us that the Euro Velo 6 trail (which splits in two here) was less hilly on the southern side of the river….. For the rest of the trip Norman was to ritually pipe up that Kovin was where the wheel came off his plan and that Serbs have a peculiar conception of what hilly means!


Norman having to provide the entertainment himself.


Being by the Danube, the Duna Dunave song had to feature a few times:

Od izvora do Crnog mora
tece reka plava kao zora,
to je Dunav plavi
u snu i na javi
kojim moja ladja plovi,
tamo kraj Golupca
jedno srce kuca zeljno poljupca

Ref. 2x
Dunave, Dunave moje more
kraj tebe najlepse svicu zore

Dunavu sam poklonio dane
i sve noci iz mladosti rane
Dunavu sam dao
ono sto sam znao
pa mi nije zao

Ref. 2x

Kad ostarim gledacu niz reku
kako bele ladje Dunav seku,
pevacu im pesme iz proteklih dana
nek se cuje do Bezdana

Ref. 2x


And it being Steva’s place and his band there is inevitably the Steva song about no matter what sort of carry on went on Steva is never, NEVER guilty of anything!

here is as much as I was able to gather of it for now. The rest will surely come in combatitive messages very shortly…….

Ja prebacim harmoniku preko ramena
Izdajem napolje a voda do kolena
I krenem polako do Mišine barke
A tamo unutra svi pijani k’o majke
ko je kriv, ko je kriv
Znam da Steva nije kriv, ne pitaj me gde si
Znam da Steva nije kriv, kad se već sve to desi!
….? Jabuke
I nema šanse da ona nestane
Jer Vučko je svima dosipao redom Mišine jabuku namazanu medom
Znam da Steva nije kriv, opet pitaš gde si
Znam da Steva nije kriv, kad se već sve to desi!
Znam da Steva nije kriv, ne pitaj me gde si
U zoru se društvo jedno razidje
Ja krenem da spavam u svoje odaje
Ključeve zaboravih tamo kod Steve
Znam da Steva nije kriv, vešto to sve podnesi.


and bedtime was the surprisingly early hour of 1am (considering the company) because the ferry from Stara Palanka is at 10am and to be sure of making it we had to leave at 7am….










Kovin Tuesday 12th June. Rest and meeting with Tito..

There was one other guest at the Inn. A french lad apparently. Also a cyclist, he had eaten and gone to bed by the time we got back from the copshop (circa 20h30). He was back on the road at the dawn of crack this morning too so I did not get to meet him….

Breakfast was the full spread of homemade bread, jams, cheeses, sausage with local vegetables and eggs washed down with turkish style coffee. It was another fierce hot day and I was glad not to be on the road today. I took the opportunity to roll out the tent in the sun to get it properly dry. I was also able to use the washing machine inside and the clothes dried in no time on the line. I spent the day in swimming togs trying to stretch my legs and catch up on this blog (not at the same time of course).

Below are some of the photos that I took at this lovely place during previous visits since June 2014. Included are some photos of the great Josip Broz Tito himself who has a clear affinity for the place.


Dragana – lady of the guesthouse who now lives in Milan most of the time.


Fishing from the Levee in June 201420140724_132759

Crap rent a bike in 2014


Ferry from Stara Palanka June 201420140724_163100

Ferry from Stara Palanka June 201420140724_164548

Ram, June 201420140725_152445

Ram, June 2014

Mad bastard local. June 2014


Mad especially with specimens like these in the river….


An Austrian man who walks from Vienna to the Black Sea every other year.


Not Steva’s Titantic.


Dragana’s Aunty


Tito and admirers June 2014


Aneurism on tire/tube of crap rent a bike June 2014


Tito fan boi.


Some Zander and other fish (dace??)


The man alone.





Belgrade to Kovin Monday 11th June 64km. Small and avoidable disaster near the end of the day.

Over coffee in the morning I gave myself the option of another day in Belgrade for visiting or moving on a bit and then taking a break in the countryside. Having been to Belgrade many times before and hot heavy weather being forecast for the next few days it was an easy decision. Get out of the city asap. From the Skadarska some of the streets are cobbled. There are two main kinds of cobbled surfaces in Belgrade – those with different sized stones which are rounded on top and sometimes rather uncomfortable to walk on. These apparently date back to Ottoman times. The other cobbled surfaces are from the Hapsburg times and are made from more uniform, square stones providing a flater more efficient surface which is less painful to walk and indeed cycle over. Tramlines in the city are another matter and are deadly to the inattentive cyclist in any city. I pitied the poor commuters in the tram that seemed to follow me along Bulevar despota Stefana past the Džordža Vašingtona tram stop. The heat and humidity out on the bike had me sweating fiercely but at least I had fresh air. They had sweat, axe and maybe eau de toilette. Belgrade is the first city I have  known that openly names a street after a despot – it seems this lad was in charge in the early 1400s and was also know as Stefan the tall. At 1m78 I suppose he was tall for the age.  Over the Pančevački most and I discover more signs for the eurovelo 6. In Serbia these signs have been given a bit more thought than elsewhere. In addition to the usual information of place names and distances, a certain amount of philosophy or advice for the cyclist is added:


I have been along here a few times since 2014 and the signs are starting to show their age. Meanwhile, this side of the city there seems to have been no progress in upgrading the Euro Velo 6 at all. I tried to follow the signs down an unpaved street and came to a cul de sac where an old lady sitting in her garden shouted at me: “Young man, you must turn back and go into the field”. It sounded like some witchly curse that threatened bad things if I failed to comply. I turned back and saw the sign hidden by a bush pointing into the field. There was a bridge over a small stream made of two railway sleepers and nothing more. The trail over the field led up to the top of the levee/dyke which was covered in 60cm high grass and weeds. I passed an old man sitting on a large plastic bucket facing inland away from the river. He also had a fishing rod. He was a long way from any other path or road. Perhaps he thought I was some sort of inspector with my fancy helmet and hi-viz jacket and maybe he was hiding an illegal catch of Sterlet under the bucket. Maybe he was just tired. Onwards I scythed through the wheaty dusty trail. Another man on a bike stopped to chat. I asked how much further to the next bit of asphalt. 12 km he reckoned. I suggested I might be better and quicker going back to the road. He said maybe. On the levee I may be slower but I was 100% safer. On the road he claimed the truck drivers had no regard for cyclists. I took his advice so by the time I made it back to the road I was ready for Lunch. The signs for the Mali Raj restaurant popped up and it was  welcome deviation from the route. I have been there many times and the tree covered terrace with trickling water features was a welcome respite from the heat. As was the excellent cuisine and service. I even took a bit of a siesta here until the major heat of the day passed.

Pancevo itself is a busy dormer town of Belgrade and I went straight through for the road to Starcevo where the traffic thankfully and suddenly died down. The traffic further reduced as I came into Omoljica site of an act of kindness in September 2014. It was my first attempt at cycling to see the Iron Gates further down the Danube. I had rented a bike in Belgrade and had already had a flat tire. At the filling station in Omoljica I had discovered a tear in the rear tire which caused an aneurysm in the tube which could burst at any moment. At that time there was a petrol attendant at the station. He gave his name as Schulz (turns out it was a nick name his friends gave him). It was 7 o’clock and the hardward store across the street had just closed. He called his friends in the village and told me to join them at the cafe a few hundred metres up the road. No sooner had I arrived than they were helping me strip the wheel and put my belongings into an old mercedes saloon and 2km later we were outside some old lads house. The old lad happened to have a supply of the exact type of tire and tube I needed then and would only accept cost price for them despite my insistence in offering the equivalent of 3 euros extra for his trouble. Back at the cafe I had the bike fixed in no time and was ready to leave but could not. They insisted I stay for dinner and it was almost dark before they were ready to let me go. At that point they insisted on bringing me in the car with bike and all…. Roll on to June 2018. The filling station is closed. Schulz must be out of a job. There don’t seem to be as many young people about as in 2014…… I cycle on through Banatski Brestovac eastwards to Skorenovac through the massive fields of grain and sunflower. At Kovin I made for the harbour and took the levee down river for 6km towards the Dunavski Plicak guest house:


The levee was not as overgrown as the earlier one. It was lined with giant Poplar trees bristling in the wind by the river. On the other side of the levee there is a long polder where shepherds were grazing their sheep in flocks of a few hundred each. The shepherds seem to stay with the flocks all day long. Hard boring work in the heat which isn’t be very well paid I imagine. How long before these jobs are gone or the workers themselves gone to find better pastures for themselves elsewhere in the world. This whole part of the world has historically been depopulated due the ravages of war over the centuries. Now the ebb and flow of capitalism, urbanisation seem to be doing the rest of the clearance. The surface of the levee was quite bumpy and I was going very quickly as I was looking forward to a shower and rest in the quiet place that is the Dunavski Plicak! On arrival though I was panicked to find that my right hand pannier had been open all along the levee. Not only that but the bouncing around bounced my wallet out at some point. I dropped my gear and went with the manager back along the levee by bike before the daylight failed. No sign of wallet only a few receipts….. A short diversion up to the police station to report the loss (nothing ever came of that by the way) and back to the guesthouse for a fine dinner replete with cursing myself for my own stupidity. My first thought was that I might have to abandon the trip – no mon, no fun hun… Aha there was still the main stash of cash still left buried in the luggage. In addition I was able to wire some money to the Italian son in law of the owner. Alessandro’s word is currently respected by Don Steva so he lent me some money on the strength of recovering it when Alessandro came to visit next month with his granddaughter. Incidentally Don Steva has gone a bit soft and created a part of the lawn in front of the guesthouse into a paradise for small children:






Novi Sad to Belgrade Sunday 10th June 94km

At the hostel before I left I met an American gentleman who told me he was living on welfare from the USA and found that he could make his money stretch much further in the Balkans than back in the US. He seemed to have travelled all over the Balkans.

I managed to find my way to Attila’s building and he came down to meet me and help me with the bike. We brought it up in the lift standing vertically on its rear wheel to the 12th floor. The building looked as if it may have been built in the 60s or 70s. I was half expecting it to be decrepit but the opposite was the case – everything was spick and span. There was no sign of vandalism. People here are clearly proud of where they live and take care of their apartments and common areas very well. The view from Attila’s balcony was quite impressive as his building is on a curve of the river and one can see quite far in both directions.

There is a new bridge going across parallel to the old one. It has been under construction for almost as long as the new airport in Berlin and is suffering delays for similar reasons. At least now they have managed to make it possible for freight trains to cross it.

Attila served me some excellent Turkish style coffee after breakfast along with fresh home made lemonade and ice. Litres of the stuff which was necessary as the temperature was back over the 30 mark and I had a fairly big climb soon after I crossed the river. There is no way to avoid it really. I was lucky though as (a) it was Sunday and (b) there were roadworks ongoing which reduced the flow of traffic dramatically. Nevertheless, by the time I got to the cafe at the top of the hill I consumed 2.5 litres of water in less than 15 minutes. At the top of the hill at Beska the locals advised me to continue towards the river at Stari Slankomen which is a good bit longer but much safer than the main road. I went on through Surduk, Belegis, Stari and Novi Banovci before hitting Zemun on the main route 100 which was full full of big mastodon vehicles. On making it into Novi Belgrade though I was happy to find cycleway again even though it was slow going through the crowds who enjoying their Sunday with their kids along the river. There were also several new cycle paths in well advanced state of construction and on crossing the massive bridge into the old city I came across my first Eurovelo 6 signpost in Serbia and it was for a specially designated lift that also catered for bikes! This city is clearly making efforts to become properly bike friendly:

I was booked into a “bohemian” B&B in the Skadarska part of the city and met a good friend – Igor Radonic who works on logisitics projects to help with water in mass refugee situations caused by natural disasters or conflict accross the world. He had just come back from the Congo, the site of one of the worlds largest conflicts and we in the west don’t hear or know anything about it.

After dinner Igor brought me to see some of the old city and we ended up in a sort of cultural quarter that was made from what seemed to be an old manufacturing or warehousing facility and we had some excellent chats in a sort of place which is becoming very rare these days: A proper vinyl record store.

The owner of the store and a small part of his collection.

it is the sort of place that makes you want to take up vinyl again as a hobby….

I want to go back there again and buy some of the available albums. Some real classics that I could not take on the bike obviously…..

Vukovar to Novi Sad 84km. Saturday 9th of June

The TV crew were long gone back to Zagreb when I went down for breakfast. I was in no hurry as it was still raining heavily after the storm last night.

View across the Danube from Vukovar in the rain.

When it cleared the temperatures were mercifully much lower than yesterday and the sun was hidden most of the time by the grey dull sky. The road to Ilok and the border crossing to Backa Palanka was quiet and flat with murderous exceptions at each village on the river. The road descended into each village on a 10% gradient cutting through the sandy bluffs. Inevitably there were 10% ascents out of each village too. Nothing too long but enough to get the heart rate up and break a sweat. I met a German couple on inclined bikes. They were aiming to get to Belgrade but were planning to take a boat for the last leg from Novi Sad as they had heard the traffic into Belgrade was pretty awful.

The crossing to Backa Palanka was over a long and high concrete bridge. The passport control was uneventful apart from being able to skip the car and bus queue because I was on a bike. The route practically bypasses Backa Palanka and I was on a main road through Celarevo and Glozan villages. It was pretty grim with occaional HGVs buzzing me along the way. So much so that I pulled into a Naftachem petrol station for fuel. Thankfully I was able to pay by euros and get change in local currency. There were some tables and chairs set outside where I plonked for coffee. I was not feeling happy at all, probably due to the grey skies and the horrible traffic. I was wondering if it was going to be like this all the way to the Black Sea. I knew it was going to be largely like this to Belgrade having cycled Budapest to Belgrade before and there was something of a break along the dykes of the Danube after Belgrade but I was only familiar with the route as far as Golubac.

I was not long into my funk when I experienced my first act of spontaneous kindness since I started out in Quiberon, Brittany. Two men _ Goran and Radenko and Goran’s son sat at the table next to mine and ordered some coffees and so forth. Unbidden, a coffee was also brought to my table. Naturally they were obviously to blame and very soon I was sitting with them chatting away about the trip, about their day (they had just been to a culinary festival centred around beans/grah where the had all sorts of soups and spicy stews so they were full of beans to be sure). The older of the two was an engineer and the other guy was an in house lawyer. They were able to give me some great directions and the news that from Futog (the next village) I would be able to rejoin the river on a very new cycle path and follow it all the way to Novi Sad. When I offered to buy them some coffee in return they refused and when I tried to insist they practically threatened violence so I politely desisted.

No sooner was on the new cycleway than I experienced yet another random act of kindness. Two middle aged guys coming from the other direction pulled up and stopped me “Hey brat, kako si?” – Hey brother how is the going. Having seen my gear they had figured me for a fellow traveller. Attila (who is half Serbian and half Hungarian) and Miodrag were taking some exercise. Within 2 minutes of chatting Attila had offered me a bed for the night. I declined with the explanation that I don’t sleep in the houses of men I meet for the first time 😉 but we arranged to meet up for dinner later that evening.

I pushed on past a quarry on the river:

The people protesting against something like this happening in the Donautal in Germany are absolutely right!

In Novi Sad city centre I found a cafe with wifi (now that I was outside of the EU I had to turn off data roaming in order to avoid being fleeced by the telecoms companies!) and checked out what was available by way of accommodation. My criteria this time was proximity and not price. So I ended up in the Tesla “Art” hostel which was effectively a 3 bedroomed apartment in the 4th floor of a building. I called the number and was instructed to lock my bike in the courtyard and go upstairs. There were some pakistani students and an older Chinese man. Nobody spoke English. Or German. Or Serbian. Then I discovered the first Chinaman I ever met who understood Gaelic. At least he seemed to know what I meant when I said “Bainisteoir” (manager) and waved my sweaty arms and made some hand signs. He signed back “5 minutes, take a seat” and said “Chai?”. I nodded and made the sign for a shower and he showed me the bathroom. It was a standard shower in a bath, right beside the toilet and the washbasin and washing machine and drying clothes on lines. I was not bothered and a few minutes later I was no longer sweaty Irish out foreign cycling man but cosmopolitan chai supping with Chinaman man.

The hostel was converted into 2 rooms with 4 beds and one with 6. When the manager arrived he came in the shape of a young midwest american medical student on a year out in Europe and a politer person I had not met in the whole trip. He explained that a bed was available for 8 euros but if I stretched to 12 I could take the chance that nobody else would check in that night and have a 4 bedder to myself. I pushed the boat out and went for the privacy.

Attila had instructed me to meet in front of the cathedral at 8pm. Instead of going to a restaurant he suggested that we eat some Burek which are either meat or cheese filled hot pastries and simply delicious (especially when your belly is about to leap out of your mouth and mug the next person carrying an ice cream). Attila was of the view that the restaurants had quite good food but were not good value for money. He and Miodrag wanted to show me a few spots in the town but first I wanted to go just near by to the Shamrock where the owner was so kind to my friends and I the last time I cycled through here.

Attilla and Miodrag

Unfortunately the owner was not in as he was taking care of another place he had opened since I was there last. He had spent 8 years in Ireland and seemed to have been infected by some sort of entrepreneurial bug there.

We met to lads from Belfast though. Marty and David who were trying to catch some of the friendly international matches on the telly there. When that was not happening though they suggested another Rugby place nearby. Attila and Milorad were up for it and next thing we passed through the courtyard of an old building down into a huge vaulted and dimly lit basement cafe with live Balkan music. There were no TVs so no Rugby but by the pictures on the wall it was certainly a Rugby den. It turned out that Marty was stationed out there with the EU working on Community Policing programs in Montenegro and Kosovo (he was formerly in the PSNI) and had met his Serbian wife there. He also got his first international cap with Montenegro at the age of 43 hence why he knew all the giants of men in the place.

Marty’s friend David was on a cross Europe tour on his motorbike. I avoided getting into my dislike of motorcyclists and tried to wind him up on sectarian grounds instead but he was such a nice chap that he did not rise to the bait at all. Attila and Miodrag (the two local boys) had never heard of the place we were in but were clearly enjoying themselves. The band were not holding back and the crowd were already dancing and singing along even though it was not even 10pm. It was up to ninety when the band started doing covers of the famous “Plavi Orkester” and I even had to dance with Miodrag when it came to their special number “Bolje biti pijan nego star”. At midnight I had to get to bed and I left the guys to it but not before Attila invited me to breakfast at his place with his family the next morning. On looking at the map it was easy to accept as he was based right beside the bridge I needed to cross to continue my journey. A bridge that was bombed by NATO back in the day……

Batina to Vukovar, 83km, Friday 8th June

Ivan had a solid breakfast lined up for me. Eggs boiled and fried, toasted bread, tomatoes dried and fresh. Homemade jam – three sorts plus local honey. Coffee – turkish style with the grounds left in the cup so you have to be careful not to slug the last bit.

Before heading off southwest towards Osijek I went to take a closer look at the soviet monument:

and Ivan’s angling equipment:

Ivan reckons the fishing around the area is great and he claims to regularly catch Zander, Pike, Catfish and Carp.

I set off southwestwards along the top of a ridge through Zmajevaca, Suza with a quick break at Knezevi Vinogradi (duke’s vineyards). I made a call to Davor a semi retired lawyer I know from holidays near Dubrovnik who is based in Osijek. We arranged to meet for lunch but unfortunately he had to call me back very soon afterwards to cancel as he had an urgent client matter (he works in the criminal law area for the most part). Onwards through Mitrovac and Grabovac where I meet a couple on a tandem headed the other direction. We stop in some shade to compare notes.

They were on a round trip through France, across Italy, into Greece and up through the Balkans to Austria. They have a pretty neat app to capture their journey online here: http://www.polarsteps.com/AntoineCharlotte. Antoine is a construction engineer and Charlotte is a medical doctor and they were taking time out before launching themselves fully into their respective careers. Before we parted I gave them a heads up about the bad roads in Hungary. Incidentally the roads in Croatia so far have also been excellent. On I rode along the flat plain through Lug, Vadarac, Bilje and into Osijek. On the way into Osijek I made the exact same mistake as two years previously and followed the bike path down to the river instead of going on to the main road and crossing the river Drava with the rest of the traffic. The upshot was, instead of cycling back about 1 km I lugged the bike and gear up several flights of stairs to get back up to the bridge.

Osijek was extraordinarily busy and full of traffic. I learned later that evening in the guesthouse I ended up sharing with the Croatia national broadcasting team in Vukovar that in fact Croatia were to play their last friendly match before the world cup in Osijek that day against Senegal. Croatia won 2-1. As I write this, Croatia will be playing France in the world cup final tomorrow. After all of the kilometres I have travelled and all the places I have seen it is kind of zen to think that Croatia have made it all the way to the final and I for one will be supporting them to bring the world cup home to Croatia. It would give the country such a huge boost when it really needs it after all of the economic and political problems it has suffered.

Osijek is fine well laid out city and for the most part it is well geared for cyclists. This could be largely because it is a university town with lots of students who tend to use bikes a lot.

There is no bike trail from Osijek to Vukovar but there is a road out eastwards through Nemetin, Sarvaz, Bijelo Brdo, Dalj and Borovo which follows the river fairly closely and does not have much traffic as it is a rather round about way to get to Vukovar. There were a few high speed boy racers that passed me by at warp speed in an effort, I suppose, to get home from work in time to watch the match.

Vukovar is famous for being the site of some of the most vicious fighting between the Croats and the then JNA (Yugoslav People’s Army) and various paramilitary organisations from Serbia. It suffered an 87 day siege in 1991 during which time it was bombarded by heavy and light ordinance the effects of which can be seen in many of the remaining buildings in the city.

The famous water tower which was almost blasted from existence is now under restoration:

Very close to where I was staying there is a monument to the fallen in the battle/siege:

The guesthouse I stayed in was just a shell after the war:

now inside it has a few mementoes of the bombardment:

While I was chatting with the Croatian TV crew after dinner, a heavy thunderstorm rolled in and once more I was glad not to have been caught out camping somewhere.

Great lightning show!

Donafoldvar to Batina (Croatia), Thursday 7th June, 135km

No breakfast available at the inn so it was a short stroll down to the town square for me. Stayed on the shadowed side of the street. Even though it was only 08h30 the sun was fierce and it looked like it was going to be a hard and hot day on the road. There was a bakery which sort of doubled as a cafe in that there was seating available for up to four people. Ordering as done by means of pointing, smiling and lots of “köszönöm” (“thank you” in Hungarian – only one of two words that I have been able to master of this fiendish language after all the times I have been here). A bread roll (Kaiser roll?) of ham and cheese along with sickly sweet coffee (how can one do the hand signals for simple coffee with milk when one is a little impatient with a sleepy head and remain gracious?).

Looking at the maps and outside on to the dusty square I decided I wanted to get out of the country altogether. That day if possible. I had been on a cycle over 4 days from Budapest to Belgrade with the lads in September 2016 albeit along the other side of the river. I don’t recall the roads being as bad there and near the Paks nuclear power station there was even a 10km or so stretch of high quality dedicated bike trail. The day we did Paks to Batina then was about 105km and nearly broke us, particularly on the lead in towards Batina there was a long steep hill climb over about 4km before a steep drop into the village. Then again we had not cycled several weeks of almost consecutive 100km plus days….. We had a great B and B then and I resolved to try and make it there. The bad news was that it was a 135km stretch, on bad roads. The good news was that it would all be on the flat if I stayed on the left bank of the river. I would have two border crossings – Hungary to Serbia and Serbia to Croatia. These could serve as mini-breaks.

To force the exit of Dunafoldvar I agreed with myself to take a break for coffee in a village called Harta even though it was only 15km down the road. Sometimes it is hard to tell who wins in such negotiations. Harta was a lucky break though – in the one place that was open for coffee the owner actually spoke perfect German as well as Hungarian. On enquiry it turned out that the reason was that Harta (aka Hartau) was what is known as a “Scwhabisches dorf” or Schwabian village. Such villages are dotted around what was formerly Hungary and can be found along the Danube in what is now Hungary, Croatia, Serbia and Romania. These German people began to settle along here when the Ottoman Empire started to be rolled back after the Battle of Vienna in 1683. The lands had been devastated and depopulated by war up until then. The owner was able to give me some good news in that the traffic should lessen on the way south but the bad news was that the surfaces would not really improve.

Further south at Dusnok for lunch I had another bit of help where a local was able to tell me to take the road in the direction of the M9 motorway and turn left along the river. This had me on a nice bit of levee and away from traffic pretty much all the way to Baja. I gave my host Ivan in the Air BnB in Batina a call (albeit avoiding the Air BnB app and cutting them out of the business) and he insisted on fixing a time for my arrival. I settled on 20h00 although I disliked the commitment and the pressure that came with it, he only wanted to know for the purposes of preparing dinner.

After Baja the road became rather lonely with only the occasional HGV to raise my adrenaline levels. Approaching the border with Serbia the only indication of the migrants crisis were two lorry loads of soldiers coming in the direction away from the border. Perhaps it was a shift change. At the border I was waved through the Hungarian side and free wheeled up to a uniformed man slouched in a seat outside a kiosk. He waved me urgently to another one and I duly complied. A uniformed lady walked quickly out of the main building asking what I was doing and Mr. Slouch announced that he had put me right. The lady seemed to be rather annoyed with my perceived impertinence. She grabbed my passport and proceeded to flick through every page. Meanwhile she received a call from the phone in the kiosk. From her answers I could only gather that she was dealing with me now and that the caller was some sort of supervisor watching over CCTV. I don’t know what sort of politics were going on between the various actors there but she seemed to want to take it out on me. She flicked through the passport twice more and stated that I “was a long way from home”. “Not really” said I pointing at my panniers – “I have a tent with me”. This did not humour her at all and she demanded to know where I was staying that night and seemed to be satisfied when I announced that I was just passing through that corner of Serbia and on my way to Batina in Croatia (about 15km away). She walloped a stamp into the passport and I was on my way. On the Croatian border my EU passport elicited a very quick check on their machine and a warm “Dobrodosli” or “welcome”. The roads on the Serbian side however were fantastic compared to those in Hungary. They were not perfect but where potholes had been repared one could see that it was done with precision and care: the affected piece of road was carefully excised in a square or rectangular piece, refilled and sealed along the edges leaving an almost smooth join. Unlike in Hungary where the potholes had potholes and they were all filled slap dash with whatever asphalt seemed to be available. A stretch of about 6km before the border with Croatia seems to be largely swamp and was the site of a huge battle between the Red Army and the Nazi’s as the Red Army attempted to cross the Danube there. There is museum on the Serbian side and a monument (spomenik) on the Croatian side commemorating the battle. I can only imagine what it must have been like trying to wade through the morass over those distances while under fire….

Crossing over the Danube from Serbia into Croatia in the evening.

On arriving onto the street where I was staying it was 20h05 so I was 5 minutes late which was not bad I thought, considering the distance I had just covered. Even so Ivan was already out on the street looking for me. He kindly took the bike off me and brought it around the back of the house while I was instructed to go in the front and take a shower immediately. He had laid on a lovely evening meal which included sundried tomatoes in olive oil from his own garden and home made sausage known as “kulen”. Perfect end to the day. We spent the rest of the evening chatting about the two friends that were with me the last time I was here and he was genuinely interested to hear about Steven becoming a dad and Simon living in Prague. He had made many improvements to his house including external insulation cladding and a self built brick barbeque and chimney which he showed to me as well as his store of homemade provisions in his cellar:

Kulen sausage being cured in the cellar.

Various jams and conserves from the garden.

Ivan, my host. A very happy and contented man!

Budapest to Dunafoldvar Wednesday 6th June. Rough ride

I have previously referred to the roads in Hungary being reflective of the character of an overweight man in his 50s. I should add that they also reflect his outward appearance. At least they would today if that man had come down with a bad dose of Shingles on the same day as an infestation of Scabies and Chiggers. There were cycle paths out of central Budapest which were reasonable and the eurovelo 6 was signposted on the way out. However once I hit the great Danube island and District XXI south of Budapest standards dropped drastically. Things were not helped when I missed a signpost for the eurovelo 6 (I later learned from Peter the Trigamist in Romania that the sign was actually hidden by overgrowth).

I was left bumbling along the busy humpy bumby road in competition with HGVs, white van man and the occasional normal car all being driven at the fastest speed possible on such roads (about 60kmh). Not pleasant. The surroundings were general light industrial or commercial. Eventually as I got further from the city, the intensity of the traffic lessened but a thunder storm was closing in. I made it to Rackeve and a restaurant just as the first drops were about to fall. Over lunch I hunted online for accommodation further south as did not fancy the effort of camping in the rain after such a bad day on the bike. A place in Dunafoldvar on the right bank of the river was offering itself up as a double bedroom in an atypical house for 12 euros the night. Deal.

The road for the rest of the day was apparently part of the eurovelo 6 (I had rediscovered signs and even an aged map by the bridge at Rackeve) but remained very much a main road all the way bar about 15 km which was a sort of levee which ran parallel to the road. Nonetheless the traffic became less intense and was almost tolerable.
I made it to my home for the night after 20h30 to learn that the local restaurants were about to close. The lady of the house was a semi retired Hungarian lady with reasonable German. The house was built around a courtyard and garden filled with antiques and relics. One was even an old sculpture dating back to Roman times. She was into ceramics herself and used to have a shop next door that she leased from the local authority. One day she complained about a wedding venue to the rear of her house and the unacceptable level of noise there late at night on some weekends. Mysteriously a few days later her lease to the shop was terminated. She had to move all of her stock and equipment to the courtyard. Her son Abel returned for the evening after a day out walking with his Dutch girlfriend who he had met during his studies in Holland. He very kindly asked me to join them for a wonderful simple Hungarian evening meal of boiled sausage, fresh tomatoes, mustard and bread. I didn’t need to be asked twice! As we finished the other guests for the night returned from the restaurant – 6 Dutch people who were in the process of developing a walking trail from Budapest to Istanbul over a number of years and stages.

Budapest 5th June. A day that turned into a rest day…

I had spent the night in Brody House in central Budapest as a guest of Mr. Peter Grundberg, a friend and generous proprietor of http://www.brody.land. Last night he had suggested via message over electronic device that we take breakfast together. He is also a busy Dad so when I telphoned him for breakfast I was actually smugly pleased that he had forgotten about the school run and could he call me back later. After the previous days exertions I did not need prompting to take some more sleep.

A few electronic messages later and I found myself headed up to Pest (district XII of Budapest) in a taxi. It was quite a climb so I was very pleased not to be cycling up!

The two photos I have from today refuse to uploand but anyway do not do justice to the Writer’s Villa so you can find plenty more at http://www.brody.land/the-writers-villa .

My original plan was to spend the morning catching up with this blog and chatting with Peter and then to continue my journey for a short distance, may to Rackeve on the island downriver from Budapest. Peter was working “Off-Site” for the day. That is to say that he was getting away from the distraction of day to day business to catch up with some strategic planning. He was telling me about a building his company recently acquired. The building is just a short walk from Brody House and was once owned by Ernő Blaskovich (also known as Ernst von Blaskovich) who was known for many things but was most famous for being the breeder and owner of Kinscem the greatest racehorse of ALL time! Kinscem won 54 races from 54 starts. Part of her legend was as a young horse she was awkward and lanky. She was stabled in Blaskovich’s ancestral home with more than 50 other horses. One night she was horsenapped by the gypsies. When the law finally caught up with them they were asked “Why this horse when there were so many more better than her?” “Because while the others may be better looking, she is the best of the lot. She’ll be a champion”. Her career began in 1876. To put this into context – Parnell had recently become a member of parliament and the struggles over the land in Ireland were well underway. Kinscem raced all over Europe including Goodwood in England and bet all comers.

Peter invited me to stay for a lunch of “leftovers” which turned out to as good a scran as I’ve had since Shergar went missing. The afternoon became quite hot, heavy and the pool all the more inviting. Cycling was postponed for the day and legs rejoiced. Peter kindly invited me to stay the night at the writers villa but I wanted to see some of Budapest while I was there so I booked into the Butik hotel one block from the right bank of the Danube and directly opposite the Hungarian parliament. I spent almost 3 hours walking up and down and around the inner city admiring the beautiful old buildings lit up at night (along with thousands of tourists from all over the world). It was only early June but the heat was oppressive (like the current government here …).