A near miss and friendly neighbours
Balkans Cycling Trip, day 8
We climb the first serious hills of our trip in Central Serbia and I nearly get hit by a careless driver. Breathtaking views of artificial lakes and another heartwarming experience with the friendly Serbs
13rd July 2017: Tatinac – Bistrica (Nova Varos)
Distance: 85 km
Total distance: 505 km
The day before the owner of the campsite convinced us that we should try a speciality of Uzice for breakfast and he duly appeared with three enormous packages hiding a kind of sandwich filled with scrambled eggs and local cheese. It was delicious and far too much for us; we had the rest of it for lunch.
Anita had had some problems with her knee and we knew the first 30 km of the day would be one long uphill ride so we asked if there were any buses to Zlatibor, a popular mountain resort at around 900 metres. There were several services and he kindly accompanied us to the bus station not to get lost. Different companies operate different sizes of buses in Serbia and the first ticket I bought turned out to be the wrong one: the bus was too small to take a bicycle. So Anita had to wait another hour (the Eurolines bus was big enough and the bike only cost 30 dinars extra) but it gave the two of us some more time to cycle up.
A near miss
Actually, only the first 8 km section was tough but at least the road was wide enough so it felt safe. The medieval castle of Uzice made us stop several times to take photos and to just admire its beauty. The dusty quarry that followed was a bit of an anticlimax though…
Then there were easier parts and the weather was also pleasant so we only stopped once near Zlatibor to have a drink and an ice-cream and we arrived at the bus station half an hour after Anita’s bus.
Zlatibor itself left us totally unimpressed. It is one of those overrated holiday destinations that become popular for their natural beauty, which is then carefully destroyed by uncontrolled development and all you have left is a characterless bunch of high-rise buildings and unfriendly prices.
Needless to say, we only spent a few minutes there as we checked our bikes although we could have stayed much longer. Just as we arrived and were looking for the bus station, a careless driver hit my bicycle and I nearly fell. Thankfully, it was more scary than serious.
Over 1000 metres
Clouds were gathering as we pedalled the next 30 or so kilometres along the road meandering in the mountains at an elevation between 900 and 1100 metres. We had our lunch outside a foodstore in a small village (it’s so nice that these shops always have some tables and benches outside, where you can drink or eat) and after we hit the highest point of the day (just over 1100 m), we started to descend towards the artificial lake called Zlatarsko Jezero.
As we followed the valley of a mountain brook, the scenery became more and more captivating and then we arrived at the lake itself, a swath of turquoise water surrounded by coniferous forests.
The original plan was to find a camping area nearby but it was only 2 pm and we were still full of energy so we decided to carry on cycling. We had a drink in a bar by the lake and cycled up the last long uphill to Nova Varos.
There we bought the ingredients for our dinner (pasta again with vegetables and sausages). The shopkeeper was amazed by our performance and he surprised us with a package of crisps and a few peaches.
The perfect camping place
The road descends fast after Nova Varos and we had to break a lot if we wanted to find a suitable spot for camping. The river was tempting but its banks were too steep and we didn’t want to listen to the noise of traffic all night.
We finally left the main road and took a narrow but paved country lane that led us to pastures and gardens. When we saw this inviting hillside we knew immedately that it was the perfect place. It was only 5 pm so we could enjoy the sun and the views before we washed and prepared our dinner.
Dinner was cooking when a man appeared in the garden next to “our” pasture; he was fixing the fence and he only nodded towards us but I grabbed our bottle of palinka and two of our plastic glasses and went up to him. He said it was OK to camp there and gladly sampled the Hungarian booze. He was really impressed when I said zhiveli and suggested we join him for a coffee after dinner.
Of course we accepted the invitation. Soon we were sitting in his yard, drinking Turkish coffee, the unmissable rakiya and spring water. Then his wife and mother appeared, smiling as they offered raspberry liqueur to my wife and homemade cake to all three of us.