Tanja is our wakeup call - no easy task with two knackered cyclists. After 2 or 3 of such calls we are pried out of very comfy beds, the prying eased by the prospect of breakfast. Giant and tasty meal done with we reluctantly pack our belongings. Based on the company and hospitality so far I suspect leaving Serbia could be tough. Tanja gives us a bag of snacks and we say our goodbyes. It's going to be a hot day. Mihailo did this route on his way out and so know the location of the hills, allowing me some time for mental preparation. Though 6km @ 8-10% requires surprisingly little effort these days. I try to put myself in Mihailo's place, the last of a 40 day 3500km tour, heading home to family and friends -must feel pretty good. We've cycled together for 20 days and each one genereated some story worth telling. I'm impressed he timed it so well, arriving back home on the day he promised - dont think I'm capable of such organisation, though I guess I'll have to be once visa's demand arrival dates etc...
On a particularly hot/straight stretch of road we spy through the rising heat haze the unmistakable siluatte of a loaded cycle tourist. Subconciously we press the pedals a little harder to close the gap. Carlos is nearing the end of his trip from Madrid to Belgrade. We ride together for a few k's and stop for a cold Coke and a chat, cheeky icecream too. Shortly after a pair of seriously loaded cyclists roll by the shop. We wave a greeting and they pull up to say hello. Both bikes have trailers, they park up, give a whistle and a dog hops out of each trailer. Michael and Sybille are from Munich. Unbelieveably these four are also heading to India!! If you'd like to follow their progress here's a link to they blog - they even have business cards!!
The dogs are very well trained and even sit for photos on demand. Their daily distances are relatively low due to the immense weight they both carry. I definately feel a pang of "If they can do, I must have a chance!", but I must not forget - it's down to much more than kilos carried. We say our goodbye's and steam off at 30kph, having chatted for longer than intended we will struggle to get to Belgrade on time. We have plenty of energy after the break and a hoofing along. Mihailo signals to pull over, we cross the road and through the gates of a house, unaware that we had anymore stops to make I am confused. One thing I'm slowly learning, unsure if it's a trait typical to Surbs or just the one I've met - all time constraints are forgotten as soon as a socializing opportunity arrises. No bad thing I think, though quite a contrast to socializing back home where a certain degree of punctuality is expected. When meeting Tica and Jovana Mihailo did warn me that Serbian girls are always late.....
So we sit in the garden and I get aquainted with four other cyclists and the house owners. We sip some very refreshing sweetened mint water and Mihailo fills all in on his trip and how he came to meet the hairy Englander sitting across the table. The cyclist are friends of Mihailo's from his previous tours and will be joining us for the final furlong. It will be great to ride in a group though the have a distinct lack of luggage and I'm slightly concerned I wont be able to match their pace. I'm releived to find their speed bareable, though suspect it's mainly for my benefit. They stop to show me a comical door bell that appeals to my childlike humour - various car/tractor parts take the form of a man, when the bell is pressed a siren sounds and he spray water from his cock. Nice! Further down the road we stop again - food time. I'm clearly the only one concered about Mihailo's time limit and decide to adopt a more "Serbian" approach - forgetting I have anywhere to be and enjoying the food and company. We see the guys with dogs again and share some Coke with them, after some more group photos we jump back on our bikes - I expect the pace to be furious. As I push off I notice a rather squishy back tyre - great timing!! I pump it up and hope I can limp it the last 30 km's. At 32kph I can keep up ok, though seemingly this requires next to no effort from my companions. We reach a hill, jeers go up and as one we stamp on the pedals - they all hit the 40's and I'm panting away stuggling to make 20kph. Eventually that gradient eases and I'm able to close the gap again - at the cost of a fair proportion of my fleeting energy reserves. My arse is bouncing more than normal and I see my rear tyre once again in a sorry state. I take several stops to maintain some kind of tyre pressure. The road's in central Belgrade are closed off due to the Beer Festival - hows that for timing! I ride the last km on my rim. Side by side with Mihailo we weave through the walkers towards the riverbank, it's quite exciting - I almost feel I'm finishing my trip!
Mihailo is very happy to be reunited with his friends. He has told me about many of them while we cycled so it's good to get introduced and put names to faces. I fix my puncture and join the group for a beer or two in a riverside cafe. I follow Mihailo's friend Joca through the city on his scooter to the flat and my home for the next few days. Joca instructs me he'll pick me up in 30 mins for the Beer Festival - result!
As I mentioned earlier, several of the roads through town are closed off for the event, compared to beer festivals in England this could only be described as off the scale! Parking is difficult but once sorted we continue on foot. The emphasis is definately more on Festival. A big stage plays live Serbain bands and DJ sets later in the night. Bars selling various Lagers surround the perimeter and people fill in the rest. I've no idea on numbers but wouldn't be surprised if there were around 10 thousand (very roughly). Lots of drinking, dancing, happy people. Joca was my escort home but I managed to loose him in the masses. After an unsuccessful bimble through the crowd I decide to make my way home...where ever that is. I leave the crowds heading East, though I wanted North - I put this down to my sense of direction being 90 degrees out of phase thanks to the beer...yea....right. My blistered feet protest and I flag down a taxi - this could be expensive.
"Well, here's the thing.....I'm not too sure. But I do have a key, perhaps we could try all the locks in downtown Belgrade??".
Joca took me to the flat via the fortress and so I ask to go there in the hope that I was paying attention when I cycled through earlier. To my utter amazement I direct the driver to the door of the flat. I still don't know how, drunken luck maybe....