Thursday, 24 October 2013
Black Sea or Bust - Day 5 Ilok - Novi Sad (Serbia) 41 Km
At only 41 Km this is a half day ride. I decide not to leave at first light but at second light. I consider for a moment leaving at third light but decide against it. The hotel in Ilok is good, the rooms arranged to one side of a courtyard. A decent dinner too and it all costs tuppence. The Serbian border is only 3 Km away but there are hills. At the Croatian border post I am waved through and a small dog sitting by the side of the road decides to accompany me. If I stop he stops and I stop several times to rest on the next hill. I start to have a fantasy that this loveable mutt will come all the way to the Black Sea with me. I have a volume of Ibsen plays with me so I decide to call him Henrik. After a couple of miles we arrive together at the Serbian border post where he plonks himself down in a comfy spot in the sun and leaves me to carry on alone. Oh well.
It is discernible as I pass through the first few Serbian villages after the border that they are poorer and shabbier than their Croatian counterparts a few miles back down the road, and the people are less cheery. Normally I say "Good morning" and wave or at least nod as I ride through a village and normally there are a couple of old gaffers who will wave back. I imagine that after I have passed one will say to the other " Oo Aar. There goes the last cyclist of the summer." After a few minutes his companion will reply " Oo Aar but one cyclist does not an autumn make" and so on. But here in these first Serb villages I am ignored and also ignored by Serbian drivers who are intolerant of cyclists and the entire morning's ride to Novi Sad is by no means comfortable.
Novi Sad is the country's second city and has been called the Athens of Serbia. I was going to make a cheap crack along the lines of that being the same as saying Stevenage is the Florence of Hertfordshire but when I arrive on a hilltop high above the city I decide that that would be unworthy of the beautiful city below me. A delicious freewheel down to the Petrovaradin Fortress on the south side of the river before crossing one of the two remaining bridges into the city. Nato bombing in 1999 destroyed all three of the original bridges and only two have been replaced, a line of reinforced concrete stumps being all that remains of the third. I cycle up a broad boulevard and find my hotel almost immediately. It is brand new and a bit smart and, joy of joys, there is a bath. The city has a large university and swarms with very beautiful young women who are out in force in the warm sunshine. The centre of the city is attractive and I loaf for a bit before hitting the local art gallery which is good and walk a fair way to visit the railway station which is quiet, lacking all bustle.
I have a dinner of sausages and local bread straight from the oven in a tiny cafe down a back alley. Interestingly even this miniscule establishment has wi-fi. To bed early for I know that the Belgrade run will have to be a first light start.