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Archive for November, 2011

Nice breakfast at the fancy hotel, omelets, yogurt, watermelon and bread.

According to our driver, Zoran, everyone here has to work more than one job. His second job is selling Italian motorscooters. The Chinese scooters are cheaper, which makes his job hard.

Mountains make for difficult riding, but beautiful scenery!

Today we had a nice ride stopping at an archeological reconstruction of a prehistoric dig that is now underwater (due to a dam). The village is from 8000 BC, the first settlement in Europe beyond hunter-gatherers, and they worshiped fish gods. Before visiting the museum, though, we had a picnic lunch of cold cuts, good bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, baby corn, pickles, fig newtons and very popular peach juice. At an adjacent picnic site, a group of young Serbs were cooking a mysterious whole animal on a spit over an open fire. It looked an awful lot like a dog! But that is doubtful; Serbians seem to like dogs a lot. In fact, Danjela said it was probably a boar, which the locals hunt. The dog-barbecue master showed us way more of his butt crack than we needed to see.

Rob is concerned that the museum will be a flop. Although it’s a gorgeous facility, it isn’t very accessible. There is a semi-long walk along a gravel path, and a lot of what you see at the museum are copies rather than originals, the originals being in Belgrade. The museum just opened a few weeks ago. Only a trickle of attendees were there. (I have to say, though, they had the nicest bathroom in all of Serbia. I have now seen the full array of bathrooms the country has to offer.)

After the museum, we hit the hills, starting with a very steep ascent out of the museum parking lot. Then the road went up for what seemed like forever. Every time we turned,we hoped THIS would finally be the end of the climb. We were often disappointed. I had to walk a couple of times, catch my breath, then get on the bike and ride some more. I was very proud of myself for not giving up. The van was right there, and I could have. After the crest of the hill we had a very long and fun descent.

We had a bit of a tragedy today. Annie hit a rock and fell, then hit another rock with her knee. It was a very deep cut and she scared everybody, but Danjela and Zoran handled the emergency quite well. They cleaned and bandaged the cut, and Annie wasn’t allowed to ride the rest of the day. Once we got to our destination village, they found a doctor who stitched up the cut. Eight stitches! Annie insisted she wanted to ride the next day so the doctor accommodated her with a flexible bandage. She is looking forward to getting on the bike again–good for her.

We stayed in a house just outside the village of Veliko Gradiste. I was really a mess after those hills (mountains) today. I passed out and almost couldn’t be convinced to come to dinner. You know I’m tired when food doesn’t excite me. But Marion cooked some nice pasta (we had a kitchenette).

This was the last day for our driver, Zoran. We were sad to see him go, but another driver took his place, also named Zoran. Less confusing that way.

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Roosters sure do get up early. I also heard a beautiful birdsong outside the window this morning, like a canary, but I couldn’t see it. We are sharing bathrooms this morning. The hot water leaves a bit to be desired.

Breakfast at the guest house: scrambled eggs, french bread with honey, and the nice lady cut our watermelon for us. Unfortunately it was rotten. I TOLD Amelia not to buy three watermelons that first day! Good coffee and tea.

Had a fantastic ride today. We had some small rolling hills to deal with, but we also had a marvelous tail wind. And it wasn’t as hot, in the 70s (F). We rode really, really fast. Perfect cycling. We stopped at a cafe for drinks, then, 5k on a rough, dirt road alongside a channel of the Danube. It was very bumpy, jarred my teeth loose, but Annie loved the bumps. She passed me today 😦 I knew it was only a matter of time. We had a 1:00 deadline to catch a Ferry, but we made it in plenty of time. While waiting around, we saw a huge green lizard and many herons, gulls, terns and crows (carrion crow). The ferry was very crowded, but only took about 30 minutes.

After we landed there was a big hill. I tried to make it all the way up but I had to walk just a bit of it. Then I threw my chain, which is normally no big deal, but somehow the chain got stuck between the gears and the wheel, and it took Zoran and his tools to fix it. I caught up, and we rode and rode. There was one steep downhill that ended in a sharp turn and gravel, and I almost lost it.

Silver Lake

We arrived at a place called “Silver Lake” (In English, no less) that is a resort destination mostly for Germans. The lake is part of the Danube that overflowed and made a permanent lake. There was a tiny store. When I say tiny, I mean, about one person could go in at one time. I had a craving and bought “chipsy” (which is there brand of potato chip snack, kind of like Pringles but in a bag). Very salty and loaded with MSG. Drank Lav beer. Chips and cookies ended up being my dinner.

House swifts nesting on our balcony.

House swifts were nesting on our patio. I spent some time watching the parents go back and forth to feed their babies. Very sweet. The weather was pleasantly cool. A mule parked across the drive complained a bit.

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We got off late today, but we were riding in the van as we had to travel through busy Novi Sad and some other non-bike-friendly places. But I think we were all ready for a break. Our first stop was in the picturesque town of Sremski Karlovci. We did a lightning quick walk through town, but our destination was the Zivanovic Family Museum of Beekeeping. Seven generations of this family have kept bees; the first guy was responsible for figuring out how to build a hive that would allow you to harvest the honey without destroying the hive. He also studied the curative properties of bee stings and believed bees to be responsible for healing his chronic illness. Our guide, Zarko, was passionate about his vocation and it was really very interesting–lots of old photos and old bee-keeping equipment.

The honey was so tasty I bought some to take home. One of the jars leaked all over my suitcase.

We did a formal honey-tasting (“gustatory”); it was so delicious I had to buy some. (Unfortunately one of the jars leaked all over my suitcase. What a lovely surprise I had upon arriving home!) There is also a 300-year-

old wine cellar on the property, and we enjoyed a wine-tasting as well. The cellar features merlot,chardonnay, Cabernet, and an award-winning, herb-infused Bermet dessert wine that was served on the Titanic. The wine is kept in oak barrels at a constant temperature of 12C.  I was very glad we weren’t riding bikes that day, as we all had quite a buzz (pun intended) by the time we left the place.

The old tree in the photo was on this property as well. I wish I had taken more pictures.

Our next stop was a traditional Serbian family farm, where they served us lunch under a huge tree with bales of hay set around for taking a siesta. We had very strong plum brandy (kind of like schnapps), chicken soup, noodles, bread, salad, and the most awesome dessert, a plum wrapped in dough, baked, then coated with sugar and fried breadcrumbs, served warm. It was orgasmic.

This farm was the most lush place I’ve ever seen. Everything grew there–squashes, grapes, tomatoes, plums, walnuts, corn, pears and more. There was a giant pile of hay bales and a little shelter carved into it where workers can sneak off to have a nap.

The owners showed us their home; it was a tiny two-room house with a packed dirt floor, crowded with their beautiful belongings but very neat and organized. There was an antique wardrobe just filled with antique linens, which we all enjoyed but especially Amelia, as she has a special interest in antique textiles.

Plums wrapped in dough, baked, then coated with sugar and fried bread crumbs.

The boys got to wear various interesting headgear. Then there was music and a bit of folk dancing, and the owner danced with me which was a great deal of fun. All in all, this tour has been very well planned with a nice mix of activities. I love visiting with people and seeing what their lives are like.

We had difficulty conversing, but shared the universal language of dance.

During the afternoon we drove through picturesque villages. We stopped at another monastery, about 300 years old with some beautiful mosaics and paintings of flowers on the walls (rather than saints–seemed odd). I bought a kitschy souvenir bracelet there with tiny pictures of Jesus, Mary, St. Nikolai, Archangel Michael, and St. Petka.

It started raining as we drove into Belgrade. The traffic was terrible, and the van got very quiet as several people napped. We drove through “the most polluted city in Serbia” (what a distinction) and ended up in a town with a Hungarian population. Had dinner in a restaurant, where we ate goulash (what else could we eat?) and the best dumplings in the world. Salad, cognac, then peaches for dessert. We are staying in a guest house with a tiny bed and shared bathrooms, and teenagers shrieking and fighting outside our window.

The farmer enjoyed showing us his textile collection. Lace, embroidery, clothing, and these wonderful hats.

At one point we became a bit concerned that the young girl might be in trouble, but apparently it was all horseplay.

Note the canned fruits and veggies atop the linen press. No space is wasted in this house!

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The trip was in August. It’s now November. I need to finish this up!

Breakfast was another huge feast of eggs, something that looked a lot like raw bacon, bread, tomatoes and peppers (picked fresh), cheese, very small amounts of coffee, and a weird sausage. I ate some of everything; you never know when you’ll eat again.

We rode another 60K today. I made a point to hydrate; it makes such a difference on hot days. Annie did great! I think she’s finally gotten her legs under her and figured out what long-distance cycling is all about. This was the first day she kept up with me, no problem. By tomorrow she’ll be speeding ahead with the boys (or the “young men” as we call them, because they’re adults now! Hard to believe. When we first started making these trips, they were 14.

It was another extremely hot day (34-35C) and we sweat buckets. But we stopped at a nice place to have a mid-morning refreshment. I got a lovely cappuccino. Coffee in general has been such a disappointment, weak and flat. There was a cute kitty begging at the restaurant. He got most of the stuff we referred to as raw bacon.

Stopped in Bac to tour the ruins of an ancient fortress. The first written sources of Bac date back to 535 AD when it was mentioned by the Roman emperor Justinian in a letter. In 873 Bac was a barbarian fortress. A little later, it was a King’s town and seat of the Bishopric. In 1241 it was destroyed by the Mongolians. The current pile of rocks was built by Hungarian King Charles Robert of the Anjoy family in 1338-42. Back then, it was completely surrounded by water from the nearby Mostonga River. Access was by a drawbridge. In 1529 the Turks conquered the fortress. During the Rakotzy uprising (1702-04) the fortress was destroyed and never rebuilt. It astounds me that a historic site like this just sits, unprotected. We were the only ones visiting.

This is a place that makes you feel very small.

We returned to our bikes and rode through a nature preserve, and we were lucky enough to see storks. Also gray herons (almost identical to great blue herons, but a separate species), some kind of starlings, swans, and a finch critter. Someone said it was a linnet? He had a chestnut breast, gray cap, spotted wings and he walked and bobbed. We also were besieged by bees! Annie was afraid of them and I assured her they were just curious about the bright colors she wore and they wouldn’t sting. Boy, was I wrong. Rob and I both got stung, but through our bike shorts, so the little buggers couldn’t stick their stingers in very deep, so it was more an annoyance. A bee went inside Annie’s shirt and stung her shoulder. She was very calm and after that wasn’t afraid of them anymore.

In the early afternoon we rode up a short, steep hill to a restaurant that served a traditional Serbian fish stew, cooked over an open fire in a huge black iron pot. It’s spicy, with catfish and a red broth. The stew came some noodles and the ubiquitous bread, raw peppers, salad, and baklava for dessert. We ate on a covered patio overlooking the Danube, and the weather was warm but breezy and pleasant. after lunch several of us went swimming in the Danube. (I waded, didn’t have a swimsuit with me.) There were several young people there swimming also, and a man swimming against the current and staying pretty much in one place. He had a dog that swam with him.

As nice as lunch was, I have never seen such a grim toilet. I don’t really mind pit toilets. When you bicycle in strange countries, you just get used to them. But this one was bad enough to give me nightmares. ::shiver::

At one point in our afternoon ride, we spotted a tiny puppy (only a few weeks old) wandering in the street. It almost got run over. Danjela rescued it. She rode with it for a little bit, just holding it in one hand and guiding her bike with another, until we found a house with a yard. There was no one home; we left the puppy in the yard and hoped for the best. Maybe the people will recognize who it belongs to.

We rode and rode and finally arrived at the city of Backa Palanka and are staying at a posh hotel. The A/C works great! For dinner we had a picnic in our room (watermelon and blackberries, cheese, bread and cookies. When you’ve been riding for several hours, everything just tastes better. At the time it seemed like the most sumptuous feast ever. Annie can eat her weight in watermelon, I swear.

We watched some American TV shows (Law & Order, Ally McBeal, Brothers & Sisters).

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