Sitting in a big leather comfortable bench inside a hostel watching an old man behind a computer right now. He lives in a hostel since december 2015 and sits all day behind his computer. He even brushes his teeth behind this computer and watches lectures or movies. Or another old guy on a scoot mobile driving on main road at 20 km an hour while a truck passes by. A few of the weird encounters in the Balkan Area..
We are in a hostel right now because William wins the unpleasant price of getting sick before me. He got really sick on the day we were supposed to leave Sofia. Upset stomach and gastroenteritis to be a it more specific.
On one of our previous trips the same happened and that day we decided to continue cycling which was a really bad idea. On Wednesday 28 october 2015 me and William were cycling in the north part of Spain. Riaño to be exactly. A very beautiful little town after we crossed “los picos de Europa” William woke up with a bad stomach. I’ll spare the details but his bowels were a bit upset. With all of this we decided to start cycling anyway. After 1 km he started vomiting already but this didn’t stop him. We continued and cycled about 100 km that day. After a few more vomiting sessions we arrived in Leon and William was looking like a corpse. On the road I had to motivate him the whole time and make isotone mixes to keep him going. Exhausted and dehydrated as he was we booked a place to stay that night. The woman where we stayed is a nurse and she was really worried about him. She took him to the hospital where they gave him isotonic solution to prevent dehydration. 1,5 liter and intravenous (infusion of liquid substance in a vein). After this he felt a lot better but the following days he suffered from an immense fatigue. He describes that day to be the hardest day ever, even more than a half ironman. The next day I got news that one of my best friend committed suicide so I decided to head back home. William tried to cycle 3 days after but he didn’t have enough strength yet and so the journey ended for both of us.
Off course we also have days were we don’t feel all well but as long as you can eat and drink it’s fine. Obligatory rest days have a positive effect as well. We socialized more with the people in the city. More time to explore and understand the big city of Sofia.
Back to Serbia where we are meeting lovely people it just continues. After exploring the third largest city of Serbia called Niš we cycled along the Nišava river to a dead end. We stood still next to a bikerbar and while William was taking pictures this big biker-looking guy approach me and started talking serbian. Then I hear somebody talk english. Stephane owns the bar and invites us in after taking a few pics with the biker guy for a coffee. After the coffee we got to try girice (Fried small fish)and this must be consumed with beer on the side. We had good talks, rakija and he didn’t want to accept any money for all this. What a hospitality! With our drunk heads (Rakija was strong) we started cycling back in th direction of Niš to make a turn again.
Niš is one of the oldest cities of the Balkan region due to its strategic location. Civilization started around 5000 BC and it was conquered by many empires including roman and Ottoman. The birthplace of Constantine the great has a big fortress in the heart of the city build by the turks in the 18th century.
Next morning we woke up very early as we slept in a worker’s barn along a highway they are building. Cycled partly on the highway but soon had to go off because there was no asphalt more at one point. A very scary moment in the downhill when a water bottle fell off my bicycle while trucks were coming from both sides and the one behind me passed really close. In the little town of Bela Palanka there was a guy drinking rakija at 9:30 am who offered us coffee in a bar. While enjoying this coffee outside we saw an old couple in a tiny robust car park right next to us. The old man stepped out and went shopping while his wife remained in the car. Suddenly we hear a loud bang and see a honda just backed up and broke his rear bumper on the front of this car. The old man returned to see some car kissing the front of his car. He looked, said something to the honda driver and stepped into his car. He backed up, made a turn and passed us while our jaws almost hit the table cause his car had no scratch. Serbia is the country when it comes to cars from the yugoslavian period. They call them Zastava or Yugo’s. This tiny robust car was a Zastava and these cars look like they are made of steel.
Reaching Pirot at midday crossing hills looked like a van Gogh landscape painting. Flowerfields, crop fields and ohh yeah, 2 refugees collecting water from a well. We bumped into alex riding his remarkable bullit messenger bike looking for a hostel. He turned out to be the hostel owner and the hostel has moved to another adres. Alex gave us a lot of information about the region, serbia, his love for cycling, volunteering and his entrepreneurial ideas. Keep doing what you do man!
Alex got us Burek and yoghurt the next rainy morning. After it stopped raining we had lunch and left Pirot in the direction of the border to Bulgaria. Just outside of Pirot we got on a nerve wreckingly dangerous road. Trucks passing by at high speeds were just blowing us from the road into the dirt. I was constantly looking in my mirror to see what vehicles are approaching so we can get off the road. There was a high fence preventing anybody to reach the highway that is under construction. There was a tunnel passing under the highway to the other side but there is water flowing through. We took our shoes off and walked barefoot in the water after discovering the fence was crushed on the other side. After a few minutes we were cycling on this big 4 lane highway all for ourselves. Suddenly there’s a young boy cycling next to us asking for water. For being 12 years he could speak good english and Kristijan invited us to his house in Dimitrovgrad(A small town just before the border to Bulgaria) for cookies and fanta. His granddad was home too but he could only speak serbian and russian as most of elder people here. Next stop was at a cafe to get some wifi before we cross the border. I sacrificed my last bill of 100 serbian dinar for 2 espresso’s. It has the face of Nikola Tesla on it and I immediately regretted it when the wifi wasn’t working on my telephone. Pissed off as I was and about to cycle away the owner and some friends come to us and asks us about our trip. He made sure the wifi worked again on my telephone so I could pinpoint a few things on our digital map and we had conversations again. Passed 6 pm we left hoping no more people will hold us again to cross the border. Crossed the border, no problem. Cycled 2 km in Bulgaria, first problem! A horde of 6 dogs came directly to us and I had to swing to the other side of the road. Grabbed a big piece of wood which I still have to scare them off. It was getting late and we also entered another timezone me and William started to argue where to sleep. I was ready to pitch the tent in an open field while William wanted to look further. Tiredness and us (lacle = stubborn) mixed into a poopotov cocktail being put together with cola and mentos. Just imagine…
This night we only wildcamped about a kilometer away from each other. Luckily I had the tent and the cooking pans, unfortunate for me he had the food and the stove.
Next morning I just started cycling without hearing from each other. After 20 km I stopped to check my telephone and suddenly I see William behind me. It was all allright again and after some coffee again we entered Sofia a little over an hour later.
The days after we spend together with our girlfriends in Sofia till William got sick, discuss our route to exit Europe and apply for our Iranian visa. More about that will follow but we have some pictures..