Subotica to Belgrade – Sunflowers after Pain
27th August 2018
Here’s part two of the cycling trip for you. I am still slightly behind on the blogging but there are just certain things higher up on the priority list when on the road, such as being and staying fully alive in every sense of the word. However, I made the best of some recent sick days and got to wrıte this up at last! Now without further ado, onwards from Subotica where I last left you.
14th of August 2018 – Subotica to Kanjiza, ca 40km
After a wonderfully lush rest at Apartmani Pia (thank you for everyhthing!) in Subotica, breakfast drags on until noon and I discover that blue cheese on thick apple slices is somewhat of a taste revelation, accompanied by honeydew melon, roasted nuts and more of my favourite Parenyica.
In the back of my head looms the prospect of getting my literally sorry ass back in the saddle today but thankfully, my companion Dani is not in a rush and neither is our host Tihomir who equips us with a magazine guide to Serbia and countless recommendations for things to see in Subotica.
It is 1pm gone when we finally get on our bikes – the moment of truth. I have opted for regular shorts over the padded cycling ones today as they hadn’t provided much relief during the previous days. I rest my feet either side of the frame, take a deep breath in, step up onto the pedals and sit down onto the saddle: nothing. A little bit of soreness, maybe, but nothing in comparison to the agony of the day before. I hold back a gleeful squeal, not wanting to ruin this, enjoying the lack of pain however long it may last as we slowly roll out of the cozy hotel’s backyard.
Dani is keen to explore Subotica and despite feeling much better today, I am happy about the relaxed pace as we make our way past various monuments such as the Modern Art Gallery of Subotica, its synagogue and the fountain at its heart, inviting us to linger.
Following Tihomir’s recommendation, we cycle the handful of kilometres to lake Palić, Serbia’s largest natural lake, which, according to legend, was created by the tears of shepherd Pavle over losings his herd as I learn later. We forego Tihomir’s advice on the best café at the lake and settle for a cozier looking option, staying for a long time, chatting away and sharing stories over coffee and beers, looking out at the quaint lake. Despite the conditions being ideal, we spot no tourists, in fact, hardly anyone is around and not a soul is out to swim in the refreshing waters of lake Palić.
In these small, peaceful moments, I couldn’t care less about my itinerary, about reaching Istanbul and whatever may come after.
Refreshed after our long lunch stop-over, we cycle another kilometre to Abraham’s road restaurant, another one of Tihomir’s outstanding suggestions. A light fish soup and we,ll be on our way, or so we think as we enter. The friendly staff upsell us ridiculous amounts of food, including a bowl of fish soup large enough to feed a small family, tripe, potatoes, bread and pasta, accompanied by more beer and wine. It takes us the best part of two hours to battle the food alone, longer to share more life stories, jot some notes down in my diary. They include such trivialities as what we had for breakfast or the peculiar fact that all Serbian taps I have encountered so far are the opposite way round, with hot water on the right, cold on the left. Most tap water here tastes sulphuric.
As we while the time away, digesting to cheesy 90s hits playing in the background, I wait for the familiar sensation of restlessness to set in but it won’t come.
It is 6pm when we finally decide to get some miles in and for the first time on this trip, I race ahead on the bike, right into an oncoming storm, fuelled by tailwind, copious amounts of delicious food and the joy that comes with being painfree ın the saddle.
Long after dark, we find a wild camping spot along road 119 near Kanjiza, next to a field. We wheel our bikes off the road, through a small stretch of trees and bushes, guarded efficiently against trespassers like us by a legion of rather large spiders. As one nearly lands in my face, I am extremely grateful not to be a girl afraid of spiders. Dani remarks that maybe I should be as they could be poisonous… there’s always two sides to fear. We carefully navigate around the eight-legged wardens and the spikey plants on the ground meaning potential harm to our tyres. It is easily 10pm by the time I have finished pitching the tent and setting up camp, but that doesn’t seem to deter a solitary worker on a brightly illuminated, noisy tractor from doing some night-time work on a nearby field, a little too close for comfort. Just as I am starting to worry that he may be coming down the narrow dirt track next to our tent and even rip out one of our guylines, he finally turns off onto the road and disappears into the night. The wind is giving our tent a thorough beating and I am glad we are inside to weigh it down.
Sleep is fitfull, interrupted, but by the morning has been satisfying enough.
15th of August 2018 – Kanjiza to Belgrade, ca 200km
The biggest struggle of the previous night had been the fact that we had completely run out of water pretty much by the time we made camp in the evening. With not a drop left between the two of us, I am keen to get going and rehydrate asap. Some 10 minutes in, I spot a petrol station and make a beeline for the tap outside it. As Dani rolls in behind me, he makes eye contact with an old man sitting next to the entrance. In my urgent quest for water, I hadn’t even noticed him there. He looks a little bemused at my efforts to fill up the bottles from the clearly unsuitable tap but he nods briefly and doesn’t interfere. I gulp down a whole bottle’s worth (750ml) of some of the most revolting water I have ever tasted, then go on to refill it. The water has a sickeningly sweet taste to it and is incredibly soft. I cannot exactly put my finger on the thing that makes it so utterly disgusting as it doesn’t taste particularly rich in any minerals or even toxins but I am struggling to keep it down despite the dehydration. Dani, dehydrated himself, decides to wait for something more drinkable and sure enough, shortly after we happen upon a small shop in Kanjiza and buy 4l of water. I immediately empty my water bottles and refill them with this much more appealing alternative.
We carry our supplies into Kanjiza and celebrate a slightly over the top breakfast. In Becej (presumably as I was not able to retrace this exactly), we stop for our beer-of-the-day in a small Serbian pub where Dani’s Hungarian language skills no longer benefit us. Languagewise, we’re back on the same level as we play a round of drinks charades with a big Serbian lady. She proves to be very hospitable and talks to us more than the language barrier should allow for. She points me to a bathroom with no light, no flush and no working sink. As I am trying to figure out the facilities, she begins filling up a large bucket with water, explaining that she will take care of everything. I can just about stop her short of washing my hands for me.
As we eventually decide to carry on, the hospitable lady and another man from the small pub try and help us plan the route ahead. Neither of them seem like they have cycled more than 20 kilometres in their lives, but who am I too judge? I probably hadn’t either, until rather recently. So we entertain their suggestion that we could easily cycle along what is indicated on our map as a motorway, thinking it may be quiet enough if the locals suggest it as the quickest cycling route to Sajkas, the next town en route.
Some small detour later, we turn around, not at all tempted by merging onto what turns out to be the European motorway E75 and instead opting for a more quiet route through Zabalj, Sajkas and Titel into Belgrade instead.
The miles of the day meander through some small scenic hills, some of the first we encounter and along lush fields full of sunflowers. They all blurr together into a long, yet beautiful path as Dani tells me more about the history of Serbia. It is rich, in nearly every aspect of the word if we don’t talk about money: rich in its culture, heritage and history, in its fruit and arable land and the friendly ways of its people. It is a shame to think of all the losses it has had to face.
I wonder how long I can carry on cycling for. I stop voluntarily now instead of waiting for Dani to pull over onto the green next to the road. I drink my full supply of water at least four times that day, easily going through 6l or more with the heat and exertion.
Somewhere along what I assume now must have been road 13, I stop for more sugary snacks and declare that I have an absolute maximum of 35km left in me. My left knee has started twitching and the kilometre count into Belgrade doesn’t seem to ever chage between the two maps we’re using. My map, giving a notoriously low estimate of any distance, had told me that it would be another 70km into Belgrade hours before. Dani’s map still suggests well over 50km now. I don’t know if I can do it, even when he says we may be able to reduce that to 40km, taking some shortcuts instead of following the suggested route.
By the time the city lights come into view, the dominating feelings are of soreness and fatigue rather than accomplishment. The sun has long set when Belgrade’s outskirts welcome us with some intense and slightly sketchy traffic. We stop at a restaurant for WiFi to find a place to stay for the night. Despite our cash reserves running low, the generous waiter gives us beer we can’t afford along with the most magical pick-me-up in the form of the subtly sour and deliciously energising Čorba (soup) with some bread. Within less than 20 minutes it transforms me from a tired, sore and whinging mess back into a sufficiently awake, cheerful version of myself, animatedly chatting away. Dani breaks to me that we have cycled around 200km that day and I can’t help but feel a little bit proud. High on Čorba and the prospect of finding a hostel with a shower, we carry on to the centre with relative ease, talking about the hits of the 80s and 90s and the songs of our respective childhoods in Hungary and Germany. Despite the fatigue, the mood is much lighter after our quick stop-over. We are so close.
It is almost midnight when we have carried our bikes up some stairs into a wonderful little hotel room near the centre of town. As I am skimming through a cupboard, looking for some tea, the lovely receptionist Angela (like Angel, she explains not without pride) finds me and offers us Rakija instead. The time of day, our exhaustion or the fact that we haven’t showered in about 48 hours don’t seem to matter as we sit in the lobby, keeping the night shift receptionist company. We stop her short of making us Turkish coffee after midnight – after making the mistake of letting her know we like the stuff – and decide on some well-needed rest instead.
As usual, I am not sure when I wıll next hit an internet café but I will keep you up to date(ish) on this wonderfully mad summer that is turning out so different from what I thought it’d be.