September 22 to 27 - Days 4 to 9 Belgrade to Mojkovac (Montenegro)

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Day 4 22nd September 2011 - Belgrade to Ed

Leaving the hotel at 09h00 we made our way out of town on the busy roads. We had a route which carefully avoided the heaviest traffic and we were soon away from the city centre and in residential areas.

I felt, perhaps incorrectly that there was a strong Muslim influence in the areas. Mannerisms and gestures seemed similar to those in Turkey and some women wore trousers with skirts on top. All very strange in an area of ethnic cleansing.

We travelled via several steep ups and downs and even a pedestrian bridge with steps. We were nearing the outskirts of town when our route was blocked by a major highway. It was unclear how we were to make this essential crossing and we were going in completely the wrong direction.

Looking lost a local road cyclist offered assistance and took us to the only safe place to cross the road. Without his assistance it would have been almost impossible to cross.

Once on the other side we were on cycle paths along a tributary to the Danube. It appeared very like the Serpentine in London though much bigger. It was clearly a summer playground for the residents of Beograd who could swim, row and do watersports here and run and walk for many miles.

Eventually we came to the end of the cycle path and took to minor roads. Eventually we had to use the main highway, there being no other roads. It started busy but traffic gradually reduced the further we were from Beograd.

Villages and habitation were frequent and there was a blight of ribbon development. It was easy to find a coffee stop and eventually a lunch cafe. This was near a school and the children were waiting for the school bus home. They start lessons here at 07h00 and by 13h00 were on their way home.

We became the local spectacle and our table outside the front of the cafe was soon surrounded by curious children. I am not sure whether we did anything to improve their education but after watching us for ten minutes or so the bus came and they all swept off.

By mid afternoon we had reached the medium sized agricultural town of Ub. The sole hotel was closed and derelict. As we cycled despondently away a local greeted us and offered us an apple from his garden. We of course asked about accommodation.

He kindly got out his mountain bike and indicated we should follow him. We cycled behind him as he was greeted by his friends along the way. After some ten minutes we stopped at a very new and smart restaurant with new hotel accommodation attached.

We walked into town to explore. It is very poor here, perhaps similar to rural Portugal, but there is a lively street culture and everyone is very friendly. After a beer in a cafe we returned to our restaurant for yet another excellent meal.

Day 5 23rd September 2011 - Ed to Divcibare

We are into early starts as are the Serbs and were away at 08h30. The roads outside the hotel and the nearby businesses were busy from 07h00. We would have found this noisy if we had not wanted to leave early.

We made our way out of town among the farmers' tractors and the horse drawn carts. Just to get our legs working we had a short stiff climb past the cemetery. From here on we had about ten miles going up and down on pleasant and lightly trafficked minor roads.

For a short distance we had to join the main road before turning left into the mountains. It was busy but could have been a lot worse and as usual the truckers were very considerate.

At about half way, in terms of miles, we reached the very pleasant little town of Minoca. Here we had coffee in a proper cafe. Almost every little roadside shop, of which there are many, have tables outside but it was nice to have a waiter and clean toilets.

John still sends real postcards and this being a proper little town it had a post office. He stood in the queue and sent his cards home.

From here the climb proper started. The level of traffic reduced and with the exception of the occasional car or lorry we had the road to ourselves. By lunchtime at around 12h30 we were at about 550m. John, who was ahead, found a picnic table built by local workers so it seemed an opportune time to stop for our picnic in the sunshine. I had a slight problem with this as lunchtime, as the stoker will confirm, is not until 13h00 but the table was too good to miss.

In the mountains you can forget distance, altitude is the only thing which counts. Today we had to climb from 150m to well over a 1000m and we were not only well under half way but we had so far only done the easier bit.

After lunch we had the serious climb into the mountains. There were the usual and unwelcome downs but mostly we were climbing steadily in a low gear around the contours with the occasional zig zag. I, being the older man who has not done enough cycling this year, was significantly slower than John.

As we ground our way steadily upwards in the sunshine we were overtaken by Sasher, a serious cyclist out for his exercise. While I carried on up the mountain at my pedestrian pace he and John went up faster chatting about routes and the best hotel for the evening.

Sasher eventually left John who then continued upwards, considerately waiting for me each time I fell behind. Perhaps not soon enough we reached the summer pasture with the atmospheric sound of the cow bells as the animals grazed. After the summit we descended into the rather makeshift and fairly closed village. The village is a summer resort and a winter ski place for the locals but this was shoulder season.

We soon found a homely hotel and washed away the sweat of the day. We had climbed to 1040m and our total climb was 1560m. It was John's first ever mountain climb on his bike and he really enjoyed it. Even though I could not keep up with him so did I.

Tea shops are essential

Day 6 24th September 2011 - Divcibare to Uzice

Even though it was a lovely sunny morning we started with our sweaters on. We had a descent and there was a prospect of it feeling cold as we went down. Actually we had to climb out of the hotel which was hard on my legs which had been stressed yesterday.

The descent was lovely with beautiful views over the mountains and the valley. I still find it difficult to believe it is so green here considering how far south we are and the current lack of rain. We stopped several times for photos and just to take in the views.

All too soon, in fact sooner than we had expected, the main swooping descent ended. We were then into short climbs followed by longer descents. As we got lower the countryside became more populated.

Agriculture here is labour intensive with many people working in the fields. They often use hand tools and it is not unusual to see someone with a scythe. Mechanisation at its lowest level is a three wheeled cultivator until recent years seen all over Europe. At its best there are tiny tractors which look very old and made in the previous communist countries.

The descent was not without incident for me. I hit a bump badly and my pannier flew off, slightly buckling my rear wheel. The pannier contained the computer but this blog is proof that no harm was done.

We stopped at Pozega, the local market town, for coffee and here we reluctantly exchanged the quiet country roads for a major highway going south to Montenegro. I did however manage with the help of the Garmin GPS to find one last backroad route for an extra couple of miles. Locals also supplemented the Garmin with directions whenever we stopped.

The main road was busy but just about bearable. At least the surface was ok and most vehicles were considerate to us, certainly more so than currently in the UK.

After about five miles and in consideration to a slight inconvenience in John's saddle contact area we pulled off the road into a hamlet of a dozen houses. We stopped to eat lunch sitting on a pile of logs being made ready for winter firewood.

A lovely elderly lady came from her house to make us welcome, offering us apples, plums and walnuts. We offered to share our picnic lunch but she indicated that she could not because she had no teeth.

Other neighbours also welcomed us and Zorah and his wife brought out more plums and offered us cherry conserves and glasses of fresh water. After more chatting they invited us into their garden for Turkish coffee.

The talk got round to politics, something which the Foreign Office advises we should not do. Zorah said that the Americans and British had bombed this area during the Balkans war. Fortunately he attributed this to our politicians and welcomed us individually as friends.

I would have liked to have asked Zorah many questions about his support or otherwise for Milosevic and whether there had been ethnic cleansing in this area. Common sense and plain human courtesy prevented these questions from being asked.

We continued on the busy road into Uzice, a large and busy town deep in a bowl in the mountains. Our information and the GPS indicated that there were three hotels. One of these we would have preferred to miss, a brutalist Stalinist structure towering into the sky. However the other two had both gone out of business. Our room mirrored the brutalistic design of the hotel and did not even have curtains. There was a wedding in the main public area and the music can only be described as awful. It was hard to concentrate enough to true my buckled wheel.

The Serbs do not seem to do much restaurant eating out, preferring takeaways of which there are many. We did however track down a very pleasant restaurant and again had a good meal. Serbia is proving to be one of the best places I have ever been to for a veggie to eat out.

Every kind of transport

Day 7 25th September 2011 - Uzice to Zlatibor

We perhaps made the mistake of not having an early start from Uzice. Instead we went down to breakfast as we had paid for it. It was acceptable in a socialist kind of way and served by elderly retainers from ancient trolleys of the tubular steel type which had seen better days.

The real eye opener came when we decided to walk the three floors to our room because the 'lift' was unresponsive. Each floor and the stairways looked like a demolition site. Raw concrete dominated, doors hung from their hinges and most fittings had been removed. As this was our emergency exit leaving quickly, for good, seemed a wise move.

We circled town on this Sunday morning to find supplies before regaining the main road to go onwards and upwards. By this time it was becoming very warm, about 25 degrees. The traffic was also quite heavy.

It was a long hard climb out of town beside a massive quarry and cement works. We also had to go through our first two short tunnels which were unlit. We were both grateful after about an hour's climbing to come to the summit but disappointed that there was now a descent.

Near the bottom of the hill we stopped for coffee and finished off yesterday's stale doughnuts. John, as is his wont, was putting his Ipod on when I pushed off to make a start on the next climb. It was not until we had been going for ten minutes that John realised he had left his cycle helmet behind.

Back he went to the cafe while I continued to toil up the mountain in the sunshine without a spot of shade. With about fifteen minutes start on John I managed to keep my lead to the tunnel at the summit where I waited for him.

The tunnel was only 264 metres long but unlit and we were going uphill. For the first time we put on our lights before pedalling safely through. On the south side of the tunnel we reached the summit at just over 1000 metres.

Here we turned off into Zlatibor village, a local resort providing accommodation for walkers and skiers. I think we had both had enough after the climb. As we were not sure of what accommodation we would find down the road we decided to stay here.

Just a few yards from the turnoff we saw apartments for rent and were soon unloading our bikes. We had fallen on our feet and found a very well equipped and comfortable studio flat. We had the afternoon to do chores and read in the sun. John walked into the village to get supplies so that I could cook our evening meal.

Day 8 26th September 2011 - Zlatibor to Peripole

Not wanting to make the same mistake as yesterday we decided on an early start. The alarm went off at 6am and we were out of the village by 8am. We had planned a fairly normal day mileage wise but it had the potential to involve a lot of climbing.

We started with warm tops on but as the sun came out these were soon in the panniers. After about six miles we were overtaken by a small silver car which beeped, pulled into a layby and flagged us down. The owner of last night's apartment had discovered that we had left some washing and chased after us with it. It was a particularly kind thing to do and we have found most Serbs to be kind, friendly and helpful.

For the next 25 miles we had superb mountain cycling, bumping along at between 900 and 1000 metres. Both distant and local views were lovely and reminded me very much of the Scottish border country. The road surface was smooth and the high mountains clad in pine forests. There are high meadows with the occasional bell toting cow. Transport varied from Mercedes with blacked out windows to horses with or without carts, and of course our bikes.

It was not easy going and we had a good number of climbs and fast descents. On one of these when I was in front we approached a couple of heavily laden cyclists going the other way. I sped by but John stopped. They were the only tourists John had seen since leaving Poland. They were German and had been out 18 months and were now returning home, having been as far as China.

At Nova Varos we stopped in the town for a coffee. This town had an unmistakable minaret and also a skiing chair lift near the centre. The minaret sadly did not have the usual Muslim symbol on the top.

From Nova Varos we had our first serious mountain descent from over 1000 metres to 450 metres. We did of course hate losing height but it was fun and required careful bike handling.

We had a picnic lunch in a river gorge at the end of the descent and then cycled the last six miles up the gorge to Peripole. It could be a lovely place but again is spoiled by the socialist ways of the past. The hotel is yet another concrete monolith from that era. It was not advertised and we only found it because a couple of local kids wanted to try their English.

You can understand why the Serbs do not advertise the old socialist era hotels but we were glad it was here, though we will keep on using the sterile hand wash.

Lovely countryside and quiet roads

Day 9 27th September 2011 - Peripole to Mojkovac (Montenegro)

We were delighted to leave the hotel. What on earth are the Serbs going to do with such places? The vast structures designed to provide holidays for workers have no purpose today. The swimming pool was full of weeds, a sun terrace had no chairs and plants were growing up between the tiles. Our room was perhaps the only one on our floor still marginally functional but had windows that did not work properly and unsanitary dung coloured bathroom furniture.

Our road led out of the town nestling in the mountains. It was easy to see how it was once a holiday centre. It would offer great walking and cycling and river based activities. There is a rail station to deliver the exemplary socialist workers.

We had the most lovely ride of climbing for almost fifty miles along the same river gorge before a short ascent over a spur to descend to Peripol. We left at around 8am to make the best of the cool morning. Today it was rather too cool with a mist that limited views.

By 11am the mist had burned away completely and as it gradually cleared we realised just how spectacular this ride is. The limestone cliffs sometimes towered almost vertically above the road and the river was constantly on our left.

Also on our left the railway from Bijelo Polje somehow hung to the cliff. Its engineering and construction is almost beyond belief. It is constantly disappearing into tunnels and emerging onto viaducts. Sometimes it is at road level but more often high above us. It has to be a train journey to take.

We finally reached the exit post from Serbia and presented our passports to the police. We then rode on for another 5km before reaching the entrance point for Montenegro. Amusingly, or perhaps not, we passed a stinking rubbish tip in the no mans land between the two posts.

We cycled past the queue of lorries awaiting customs clearance and were given the essential stamps in our passports. Soon after the customs post we came to a couple of short tunnels. These were being repaired and the road was closed until 12h30 when presumably the men went to lunch. Fortunately bicycles are not treated as traffic so we went on and squeezed past the machines working on the tunnel roof. We then cycled very smugly past all the cars waiting to go north at 12h30.

We cycled ever onwards and upwards to Bijelo Polje, our first town in Montenegro. The outskirts were uninspiring and industrial but the centre was lively and pleasant. We stopped and celebrated our arrival with a beer and bought lunch. John tracked down the Tourist Information Office with the help of a very attractive young lady who showed him the way.

As we continued south out of town we passed a functioning mosque with the mullah calling the faithful to prayer. We then cycled past a travellers' camp. We had seen neither of these in Serbia.

The road was now quite busy and we were soon overtaking a line of stationary vehicles with nothing coming the other way. There had been a nasty car crash and just like the tunnel we were able to cycle by it. Fortunately for us it had happened some time ago and the police were at the measuring up stage.

The traffic queue in the other direction was at least 3km long and we cycled around 7km before any vehicles overtook us. By now it was very hot and we had the long slog in the sun to the summit at 1000m and then a short 2km descent to our hotel.