Archive for August, 2011

Woke up at 3 a.m., then 5, and finally got up around 6. Rob and I went for a walk but nothing was open. Still, very pleasant, looking at the architecture and statues. In particular, there is an impressive equestrian statue of Prince Mihailo Obrenovic’, who reined in the early 1800s and is hailed as the great liberator, freeing the country from Turkish rule. They also have these life-size plastic cows all over the place, sponsored by various groups and painted in wild colors. (I’m sure you’ve seen similar painted animals in other big cities.)

We returned to the hotel and ate from the breakfast buffet, which was quite nice–delicious eggs, bacon, ham, cheese, hot and cold cereal and wonderful baked goods. Lots of wonderful fresh fruit and tomatoes (everyone has tomatoes for breakfast here!) and good, strong coffee–the last good coffee we would have for a while. (Most places served awful, watery coffee or teeny tiny very strong muddy Turkish coffee, no refills.) Annie ate her weight in watermelon, but this was only a preview. I think if she could live on watermelon, she would.

We all walked to the old Belgrade Fort, through a lovely, long pedestrian mall with shopping and pushcarts. Ice cream carts are very popular here. The brand is “Frikom,” written in bold letters on the umbrellas that shelter the stands, so forever after, ice cream bars are called “Frikom” by our family.

The Belgrade Fort is huge and amazing. All around it and through it is the enormous Kalemegdan Park, which overlooks the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. (The waters are different colors, and there is a distinct line where they meet.) Given the amazing vistas from this fort, it’s easy to see why the site was coveted as a strategic location. It was first occupied by the Celts, then the Romans. Very little exists from those early times. Much of it was rebuilt in the 18th and 19th centuries. But the size of it is amazing. Vendors line up along the walkways, and I bought a woven purse.

It must have been claustrophobic to be stationed in this tiny tower with its arrow slots. But what a great view.

That’s the Sava River.

We checked out of our hotel and at around 1:00, Ace Travel picked us up and we met our guide, Danijela, and our driver, Zoran. Danijela is very cute, energetic, and extremely organized, and she speaks very good English. Zoran was at first taciturn, and I thought perhaps he didn’t speak much English, but he does. He listened to us jabber for a long time before he joined in the conversation. He used to be a professional cyclist, and his job was to follow behind us during our ride and address any mechanical problems we had. This trip promises to be much better organized than our Bulgaria trip from a few years ago.

We rode in the van three hours northeast to the port city of Apatin. Our hotel is right on the Danube, with river views, and we can see across the river to Croatia and Hungary.

We went for a “shake down” ride of about 25 kilometers, in a circle, just to get the feel of our bikes and make sure there were no problems. We rode through farmlands as the sun set, cornfields and sunflower fields. It is very flat here. The roads varied from a fairly busy highway to cobblestones to something like a goat path. Afterward, we enjoyed the local beer, which is produced in this town, called “Jelen,” which means “deer.” (Deer Beer.) It is quite tasty. Danijela explained our itinerary and gave us maps. We will be riding 60-80 km every day, with one rest day in the middle when we will drive through the busy cities of Novi Sad and Belgrade. Then on to the mountains.

Dinner was bread, cheese, crackers, fruit, cookies and beer. Since we skipped lunch, we ate a lot.

Our room is quite nice but noisy; there’s a party going on in the restaurant below. However, I was tired so I had no trouble sleeping.

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The whole gang, plus Danijela our guide and our two drivers, Zoran and Zoran.

It took an entire day and three flights to get from Long Beach, CA, to Belgrade, Serbia. Fortunately, everything went smoothly. The Super Shuttle van picked us up at 5:30 a.m. We were the last stop before the airport, and with very little traffic and almost no lines at LAX, we ended up at our gate¬† whopping 3 hours before our flight. (We like to leave extra time, in case of bad traffic, which can happen any time on the 405). Soon we were joined by our niece and nephew, Zack (18) and Annie (14). This was Annie’s first cycling trip with us, and all of the adults were anxious as to how she would fare. She had very little cycling experience, especially on busy roads and up mountains.

Max (18), Rob’s cousin, made it to the gate at the last minute. I think he likes the adrenaline rush of almost missing a plane, but not me.

It was a quiet flight to Chicago O’Hare, where we changed planes to Polish LOT Airlines and flew to Warsaw. We walked along the concourse behind a guy in leg shackles, surrounded by five guards. (I confess, I never noticed him–I was too busy trying to find the International terminal.) We had to go through security again, what a drag. I tried to sleep on this 9-hour flight, with some success.

In Warsaw, we had to go through security yet again. Annie and I had our bike water bottle full of water by now. Max gallantly chugged them down so the security people wouldn’t confiscate our bottles.

Day 2:

It was a short flight to Belgrade, where we met up with the rest of our group–Rob’s sisters, Marion and Amelia. Amelia is the one who made all the arrangements. It must be like herding cats; I can only imagine.

A representative from Ace Travel picked us up in a van and took us to the Old City, where our hotel awaited. I found Belgrade to be quite a charming city. There are almost no signs of the most recent war. The city is busy and vibrant, with lots of construction going on. Our hotel, Hotel Kasina, was next door to a very small casino. Rather than having huge, destination casinos like we have, Belgrade features small gambling clubs. (They didn’t seem particularly inviting, so I resisted temptation.) Our room is quite adequate, with a private bath, nice pillows, A/C and even a TV (though the remote doesn’t work.)¬† Here is the view from our window.

Marion, Amelia and Annie had an unfortunate, non-flushing toilet, so they moved to another room. Our toilet worked fine, though it ran constantly.

Anyway, the architecture in Belgrade is interesting. We saw plenty of the old, blocky communist construction, but also much from the 19th Century that was highly decorative.

Our first destination was the Roda Supermarket (underground; Belgrade has lots of underground tunnels for crossing busy streets; these are lined with shops). We had a picnic in a small park–bread, cheese, fruit, cookies. Here, we had our first encounter with the white rabbit. There’s an old man who is something of a celebrity in the old city. He walks around with his pet white rabbit. The rabbit runs loose, no leash or anything, and it just follows the man (or maybe he follows it.) It kept trying to escape under a construction barricade to get to some fresh green grass on the other side. I wish I’d taken a better picture of it but I was in the middle of eating dinner. It was a definite Alice-in-Wonderland moment.

We tried to stay up late so we could sleep a normal night but it was a losing battle. We fell asleep shortly after dark and woke at 5 a.m. Ah, well.

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I am just back from a cycling vacation in Serbia! Most people’s reaction when they hear this is, “Why would you want to go there?” The answers are many. I’m going to be posting my trip diary and pictures over the next few days so you can see/hear for yourself what a fabulous country Serbia is.

Meanwhile, though, I’m going to sleep about 12 straight hours!

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