We’re Going Home

With great reluctance we have decided that it would be best to go home. Christine’s arm is improving slowly but we think it will be more than a week before she is able to handle a heavily laden bike with any confidence or safety. When this is added to the need for us to sort out the house letting it was not a difficult decision to make.

But it is not the end of our gallivanting around the world! Once the house is let and Christine’s arm is sorted we will be off again. We are not sure whether we will finish the Down the Danube thing or go somewhere else.

As a result today (Monday) has been spent sourcing bike boxes, booking flights for tomorrow and other admin type things.

Quick Update on the Invalid

She’s fine. Her arm is still extremely sore, with some spectacular bruising developing, movement is very restricted but it became more mobile as Saturday progressed. She is dosing herself up on ibuprofen and paracetamol and doing Dr Tamsin’s exercises regularly.

Appalling photo of the Invalid on Saturday morning.
Appalling photo of the Invalid on Saturday morning.

We are booked in the hotel for both Saturday and Sunday nights so we will see how she is on Monday before making a decision on whether to proceed or return home. There are flights from Belgrade to London as well as daily trains to Vienna so we have alternative “escape plans” if needed.

Sanja, Aleksandar and Nenad came to see us on Saturday afternoon to see how Christine was and to offer further help. How sweet and kind was that?  They are a lovely family and we are so grateful to them.

Bruise developing nicely!
Bruise developing nicely!

1,000 Miles Done!

[This is an old post relating to our time in Germany that had overwritten A Month On The Road which should now be restored. #UserError #Idiot]

On Thursday we went through the 1,600km/1,000 mile mark in just over a month. When we did Land’s End/John O’Groats in 2009 we cycled that far in 16 days so you can see that we are taking things relatively easy now that we are no longer time-constrained by having to get back to work!

The weather was much better with high clouds and thankfully no sign of rain but it was much cooler – around 12°. So we were wrapped up with even Stephen in longs rather than shorts and Christine giving the full-fingered gloves a first airing.  We continued heading north east initially on forest tracks alongside the river where we saw signs counting down the distance to the Black Sea at 200 metre intervals – only 2,560 km to go!

On reaching a hydroelectric power station the route veered away from the river – presumably to avoid the nuclear power station a little further downriver. We hardly saw the river for the rest of the day despite going through a number of towns with “an der Donau” (on the Danube) in their names. The map showed that the water was often a kilometre or more from the centre so we reckoned they were indulging in some wishful thinking.

Instead of peaceful tracks the route now followed a busy road – generally a shared use path beside it but occasionally on it for short stretches. The misnamed towns were not particularly inspiring other than Dillingen (a.d. Donau) which was one of the few German cities that did not suffer damage in WW2.

In Höchstadt (a.d.Donau) we thankfully left the main road and passed a very smart looking palace/castle. The area around this town was the site of what we now call the Battle of Blenheim when the Duke of Marlborough defeated a French-Bavarian army that was seeking to capture Vienna in 1704.

Catching a brief sight of the river when crossing it we proceeded into an annoying headwind. Judging by the farmhouses they are doing very nicely thank you very much out of the Common Agricultural Policy!

Despite the wind we were soon in our destination for the night, Donauwörth, looking for the local canoe club which offers camping to “canoeists, cyclists, walkers and pilgrims”. Although there were no signs we didn’t have too much difficulty finding it (it had to be on the river after all!). It offers few facilities but it is much cheaper than normal German sites at €6 for the night (in Leipheim we paid €22). On the subject of prices for camping, Germany appears to be a little more expensive than France but at least the campers are allowed toilet seats, loo paper and even (drumroll!) plugs in the sinks and basins! So it is worth the extra few Euros.

Oh Dear!

After a bad day for Christine yesterday things got worse today (Friday).

The last section of the route into Belgrade was described as especially busy in the guidebook and people we met yesterday confirmed it wasn’t nice. Christine had spotted what looked like an alternative route on the map so we decided to give it a try.  For the first 5 km or so it was looking like a brilliant choice.

Then it started to rain and the soil turned to glutinous mud almost instantly.  This stuck to the tyres and proceeded to jam up the small gap between the wheel and the mudguard. Christine’s front wheel jammed sold and she was deposited on the ground falling heavily on her left shoulder/upper arm. When Stephen came back to see what had happened he found her holding her arm as though she had suffered the classic cyclist’s injury of a broken collarbone. However, she was pretty sure that nothing was broken – just badly bruised.

As she was in no state to ride we made our way back 2 km to a made up road off to the side with Stephen pushing one bike for a 100 metres or so and then going back for the other one while Christine made her way slowly and gingerly clutching her damaged arm. Once on the road she was able to push her bike and so we made our way slowly into the town at the start of the busy stretch of road which was about 25 km from the centre of Belgrade.

As we made our way towards the station to catch a train into the city a family stopped their car as they reversed out of their drive to ask if they could help. Eventually it was decided that Sanja and Aleksandar would take Christine to the station in their car while their son (we didn’t catch his name) would ride her bike and lead Stephen there.

At the station Aleksandar helped Stephen load the bikes into the train – up 4 really steep steps – and they roped in a friend who happened to be catching the same train into helping us at the other end.

It really was so kind of them to help us and it restores one’s faith in the goodness of people. What a contrast to the car that had driven around her bike when it lay in  the middle of the track while she sat on the side and Stephen walked back towards her!

The train didn’t go into the main station so we were faced with the prospect of a further walk! But first Stephen had to carry the bikes down to street level.  We again benefited from the goodness of human nature as one of our fellow passengers offered to lend a hand by taking Christine’s bike.

We had reason to curse Serbian traffic engineers as the road we were walking beside had to cross the motorway.  This was achieved by an enormous roundabout at which there was no provision for pedestrians other than negotiating four sets of stairs. This was not fun!

On the other side of the roundabout there was a smart hotel for which we made a beeline. Thankfully the cost was not extortionate and, in view of the fact that we were both approaching the end of our tethers, we were more than happy to pay €70 for bed & breakfast plus (much to Stephen’s chagrin) €5 to park the bikes in the underground garage. The staff were extremely anxious to get the bikes moved from outside the main door to reception!

Once in the room and connected to WiFi, Christine consulted our physiotherapist daughter in law, Tamsin, who, as far as she could tell over facetime, agreed that it didn’t sound like anythtimg was broken. Christine is now religiously doing exercises every half hour and we will see how things are in the morning.

Christine Didn’t Enjoy Today!

The morning involved a busy road with a long hill and  the rain came in the afternoon. These are all things that Christine hates!

But let’s cover the last two days in order. We left you on Tuesday evening hanging on to your hat in the strong winds waiting for the rain to come! Well the rain largely stayed away with only a few spots every now and then throughout the night, and gradually the wind died down so that Wednesday dawned bright and clear. This meant that the mosquitoes came out to play having been tucked up in their beds the previous evening because of the weather! We packed up camp as quickly as we could and dived into the adjacent cafe for breakfast.  For the princely sum of £4.40 we had a cheese omelette, a “hamendecks” (say it!), an orange juice and two coffees.

The road out of Backa Palanka was busy, straight and narrow meaning that traffic sped past far too close. To make matters worse the clouds came in and there were more spots of rain. After about 10 km we were grateful to turn off and head towards the river and dyke.

Although the path was not made up to start off with it was fine and we made good progress towards Novi Sad,  the second largest city in Serbia and the only one, other than Belgrade,  that either of us had heard of. As we neared the city the route initially became paved and then joined quiet side roads.

The plan was to go straight through and find a hotel or pension in one of the small towns and villages on the other side of the river so that Belgrade was reachable the next day. However, the rain became much heavier just as we hit the centre of Novi Sad and there was a convenient cafe! An hour later the rain eased up a little but all our motivation had followed the rainwater down the drain and so we headed for the nearest hotel.

Novi Sad was much better than our ill informed prejudices had led us to expect.  There was a very nice square surrounded by typical Austro-Hungarian buildings, a couple of nice churches (one Orthodox with the usual absence of pews or other seating) and a fortress overlooking the river.  We later read (in Wikipedia so it must be true!) that all three bridges over the Danube were destroyed by NATO bombing in 1999 as part of the efforts to end the civil war.

We viewed Thursday morning’s cycling with some trepidation as the guidebook indicated a long stretch on a busy road with some stiff climbing.  It did show an alternative route that avoided the 5 km climb just before the turn off on to quieter roads but when we started to follow this we met a Basque cyclist coming the other way who had given up and said there was no way through.

Reluctantly we headed back to the main road and started on the 8% climb. Christine did not enjoy her walk up the hill with fast traffic zooming past and was decidedly grumpy when she got to the top. However she was a little mollified by a lovely peach from a roadside stall and then a very pleasant chat with three young English lads, Toby, Jack and Rowen who were on their last day cycling from Linz to Belgrade.

We had lunch at a rest area set up for Eurovelo 6 riders by a small village that had wholeheartedly embraced the concept.  A sign showed 1580 km to the Black Sea and over 2500 km to the Atlantic back the other way.

Setting off again we met another English cyclist, Harry, going the other way.  He had been looking out for us having been told about “an English couple” by the two Belgians on the tandem who we had spoken to about a week earlier. Harry was heading towards Passau having started in Crete.

It was definitely a day for stopping to natter with our fellow travellers as a little further on we met a French couple heading home having “done” South East Asia, China and Kyrgyzstan before flying to Belgrade.

The rain had started while we were talking to Harry but by the time we had finished speaking to the French couple it was much heavier. After half an hour of this, and with no sign of a let up, Christine decided that she had had enough for one day and proposed that we stop in the next village where there were two or three places to stay.  Stephen had been expecting this and did not take much persuading!

The village was a little off the route down a 10% hill by the Danube – only the second time we had seen it since Novi Sad. We look forward to the climb first thing in the morning!

Not!!

Dinner was taken in a restaurant with a lovely view of the river and was only spoiled by the smell of cigarette smoke from most of the other customers. Christine ordered trout and was surprised to be presented with two fish on the plate. Despite her protestations she must have been hungry as she left only about 1/4 of one of them!

Passports Ready

Up to now we have only needed our passports to register at some hotels and campsites and to leave the UK.  Today we will be leaving the EU and can expect to experience an old style border crossing (but hopefully no intimate body searches!)

PS No sniggers at the back from those of you remembering Stephen’s experience in Korea last summer!!!

Hang on to Your Hat!

The weather over the last few days has been much better with thin, high cloud taking the edge off the heat so that the temperature has been in the range 25° to 30°. This has been much better for cycling.

As we left Vukovar on Tuesday morning the cloud was a little thicker which meant that the sun cream that we had applied was superfluous. We went past the water tower which is being kept in its war damaged state as a reminder of the terrible times twenty years ago.

The water tower in Vukovar.
The water tower in Vukovar.

The road south was not particularly pleasant being quite busy with fast traffic and slightly undulating. This was not what we were used to! After about 20 km we reached a junction and thankfully a large part of the traffic went the other way to us. However, the hills got steeper with short sharp descents into the villages followed by similar ascents. Christine walked up these while Stephen ground away slowly up the 8% inclines.

As we approached Ilok, where the route crossed the river into Serbia, Christine started to feel a little under the weather, not helped by the fact that it was warming up as the sun had burnt off most the clouds. We decided to aim for the campsite in Ilok’s twin town across the river, Backa Palanka, rather than the one 20 km further on.

The border crossing was quite a novel experience as our passports were inspected by both sides and the Serbian even stamped them! As we crossed the river in “nomansland” we saw a distance sign on the river saying 1297 km to the mouth.  It  was then a short ride into town to find a bank to avoid a repetition of the “money troubles” described in the previous post. As we expect to be on Serbia for around 10 days the amount of the initial withdrawal was less vexing.

With the means of paying our way safely stowed in our wallets we headed back towards the river to find the campsite. When we arrived at the place indicated in the guidebook there was no sign of a formal campsite but a young man explained that it was permissable to camp under the trees by the river. No campsite fees will certainly help to offset the cost of two consecutive nights in hotels in our budget calculations!

As another change in the weather was under way with black clouds heading towards us we quickly erected the tent. Just after this was completed the wind started to blow very strongly making the tent flap loudly. All the bathers who had been enjoying the adjacent lake disappeared in an instant.

As we write this two hours after arriving the wind on billowing around and the temperature has dropped about 10° but there has been no rain – so far!

Money Troubles

Although we managed to deal with the initial money crisis on arriving in Croatia we have continued to have issues.  We eventually found a money machine “on the road” on Sunday morning which meant we were solvent again but we had to take a punt on how much we needed. It is difficult when you don’t know what prices are like or how long you will be staying in the country. And, being accountants, we are mindful of the cost of each withdrawal and the way in which you lose out when converting what is left into the currency of the next country!

Arriving in the city of Osijek on Sunday evening, we saw there were several exchange bureaux so we decided that the remaining Hungarian money could be converted in the morning and so decided to splash out a bit on a decent hotel as we had been in the tent for the last week.
However, it turned out that we had been caught out by Public Holiday Syndrome (Antifascist Day in Croatia)! This prevented us changing the Hungarian money and when we got to Vukovar on Monday afternoon we found that the campsite indicated on the map was no more and the only accommodation available cost more than we had in kuna. So it was off to the monwy machine again. Grrr!

But that is enough of our troubles. Let’s get back to the usual stuff!

Not long after starting on Sunday morning we were confronted by a couple of arrows on the map meaning that climbing was required. The hill was not actually that steep but it was a nasty shock to the system after many miles of flatness.

As we moved away from the border there were more villages and people around. The guidebook told us that this was the “breadbasket” of Croatia and it certainly looked increasingly prosperous. There were many vineyards as well as other crops such as sunflowers, sweetcorn and wheat. Many of the houses looked more wealthy than the average in Slovakia and Hungary but every so often there was one that was falling down and overgrown. We speculated that these were abandoned by Serbs as a result of the civil war of the early 1990s because Serbia is very close.

We were on quiet country roads for most of the day but as we approached Osijek, the fourth largest city in the country, a cycle track beside the road appeared just as the traffic level increased. Very considerate!

Walking around the city we saw many ice cream parlours and cafes but only one restaurant. This was in the top hotel in town (not the one we were staying in – we weren’t that extravagant!) and had a very nice meal before Christine rushed off to the 6.30 service in the cathedral (of St Peter and St Paul to make a change!) The church was packed with many families and young people. She managed to grab one of the few remaining seats with many standing in the aisles.

After the abortive attempt to change money on Bank Holiday Monday we headed off, initially on a cycle track but then on a major road that led to the Serbian border. Perhaps because of the public holiday there wasn’t too much traffic but what there was was going fast as the road had long straight sections. As a result Christine persuaded Stephen to put his helmet on for the first time since Budapest.

As we neared the border our route turned south onto quieter roads and we caught our first glimpses of the Danube since the ferry crossing in Mohacs. As we entered Vukovar we reached a significant landmark on our journey as we went through the 3,000 km mark. We are now more than 2/3 of the way to the Black Sea and more than half way along the Danube.

 

 

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The name “Vukovar” resonated with both of us as a name from the civil war of twenty years ago. The town is slowly recovering from the dreadful events with marked contrasts between brand new buildings of glass and bombed out remains and bullet marked houses.

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All being well we will today leave Croatia for Serbia (and finally convert our remaining forints into whatever they use in Serbia!)

Drat!

Rude words!! Very rude words!!!

There WAS a post titled A Quiet Couple of Days. Now there isn’t! We’re not entirely sure what happened but it appears to have vanished into the ether and there is no backup. Rookie error.

If anyone has a copy of the post in their browser history please email or post as a comment.

Crossing into Croatia

We have just realised that there was a compete absence of place names in the previous post! We ended up on Baja (a city in southern Hungary – not the peninsula in Mexico!) having spent Thursday night in Dunafoldvar  But then you already know this don’t you because you have been looking at the map (here) and the list of places we have been (here)!!!

The campsite in Baja had a restaurant/bar but it was not available to campers on Friday evening because it was the venue for a large party that went on long into the night. There was a band playing dodgy cover versions after midnight and the music was still going at 3.30. Our tent was about 100 metres from the festivities and two layers of canvas do not provide much sound insulation.  So needless to say we had a disturbed night, particularly Christine.

On Saturday morning we stocked up with food partly to use up some of our remaining forints and partly because we are now comfortable with buying food in Hungary and Croatia is unknown territory. Having eaten our breakfast in front of the very impressive town hall in Baja we set off but stopped almost immediately as we spotted a bike shop where we could get the tyre pressures checked. The pump we have is fine for the first bit of inflating from flat but soon becomes very hard work getting the relatively high pressures needed with our heavy loads. It is far easier to use the professionals!

Still heading south, we took quiet country roads and a paved path along the dyke to the ferry to Mohacs, the last town of any size in Hungary. Seeing two or three hotels, Christine mused on staying the night – not least because we still had about £40 worth of forints and no Croatian money and the next day was Sunday. However, Stephen had it fixed in his mind that we were going to Croatia today and so she didn’t push the idea. This was to turn out to be a Big Mistake!

In view of the money situation we looked around for somewhere to exchange but Mohacs appeared to be a very sleepy place on a Saturday afternoon. We had see lots of little booths at the two places where we had gone between Hungary and Slovakia but this was clearly a much quieter crossing point.

We quickly covered the last 5 km to the border.  Still no currency dealers! This was starting to look a bit worrying as the map showed only small villages on the other side.

The crossing itself was easy although we did have to show our passports to leave Hungary (but not to enter Croatia) for the first time since leaving the UK. The signs welcoming us to Croatia were a surprise as they indicated that we were still on the EU. We had missed that Croatia had been admitted to membership in July 2013.

Increasingly concerned about the lack of local money, we set off to look for somewhere to stay the night. The guidebook showed nothing for the first two villages but that the third had accommodation.

Christine had been perky up to now but after the second village the broken night’s sleep started to catch up with her in a big way and she could feel that a migraine was just about to hit. The third village, Gajič, came into sight with signs showing accommodation.

By this stage Christine just wanted to lie down at the side of the road and sleep. There was “no room at the inn” at the house indicated by the signs but the lady pointed us towards the unsigned house next door where we were given the choice of two rooms. In his schoolboy German, Stephen told the lady that we had no “money for Croatia”. A glint came into her eye as she indicated that Euros would be more than acceptable! The exchange rate applied was in the realms of usury but as the cost was only €20 we were not talking about a large absolute amount so a deal was done.

Christine immediately went to bed but we agreed that Stephen would wake her just before dinner to see hoe she felt. An hour and a half later she was feeling infinitely better and more than ready for the simple but delicious meal.