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.
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.