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10 Countries Down, 15 To Go….

November 29, 2009

I won’t make a habit of it, unless you want me to, but I thought you might like to know a little about my routine. Since the past few days have been fairly representative of life in the saddle, here it is, as written in my diary:

364 days until The Ashes: Thursday 26th November – Belgrade to Vranovo (58.33kms)

After spending a fantastic few days at the cosy Hostelche Hostel in Belgrade, and being looked after by my fantastic hosts Dunja and Bojan I set my alarm for 8am, with the intention of hitting the road by 9am. 

Bojan and Dunja with The Ashes. Vladimir Keeping a Close Eye on the Prize

At 11am I said goodbye to Dunja and Bojan outside the hostel, and cycled up the long hill heading east out of the city. Not long after I reached the countryside, I saw a lycra-clad cyclist tackling a steep incline about 300 metres ahead. This represented an opportunity, not only to see if five days of drinking and eating in Belgrade had decimated my fitness, but also to lightly mock a member of the lycra crowd – it’s always good fun. I closed in on him slowly, and as I passed him, I lifted myself out of the saddle and pumped my legs furiously. “Lovely day for a game of cricket isn’t it??” I said as I passed. He didn’t understand. A petrol station about a kilometre on, provided me with an excuse to stop. He didn’t see me as he pedalled past the station – he must have thought I had rounded the next corner already. Very juvenile of me, but fun all the same.

Three Kind Ladies on Top of a Hill

At the top of the next hill waited a pleasant surprise. Three old ladies shouted at me to stop. They were tending a huge fruit market. They loaded my bike up with grapes, apples, oranges and an unknown fruit that tasted delicious, and wouldn’t let me pay for any of it. Thank you ladies – you’re not only beautiful, but kind too.

By 3.45pm that day, I still hadn’t found a suitable spot to pitch my tent. It was getting dark. Eventually, on the outskirts of a horribly industrial town called Smederevo, I saw a track leading towards some fields. I began to set up camp, although hadn’t got very far when, to my astonishment, I was greeted by an old lady carrying 40kgs of logs on her shoulder. She was no spring chicken – my guess is early 90’s. She seemed happy enough with me bedding down in her field, so I did. I began reading Batting on the Bosphorous by Angus Bell before nodding off (nothing to do with the book Angus, it’s great!) I woke up at 7.30pm to see a committed farmer doing a spot of night ploughing. Forty metres from my tent…then thirty. Again, I nodded off and when I woke up at 11pm he was gone.

363 days until The Ashes: Friday 27th November – Vranovo to Dobra (88.57kms)

My morning alarm went off every 5 minutes, for an hour. Everything gets wet and cold overnight so it’s tough getting out of the sleeping bag. I was on the road by 9am though. In the first village of the day I stopped for a burek breakfast at a grotty establishment called “Grizzly Bear Cafe” – a reminder that I’m not the only one sleeping outside in these parts.

After pedalling through ten countries, my breakfast ordering routine is now honed. I enter the bakery / cafe, try to explain that I want a beef / cheese / chicken pastry, and fail. Thereafter I embark on a series of cow / chicken impressions, and without fail the person behind the counter laughs, and hands me my breakfast. Having made a new friend, II bid them farewell, and am on my way again.

The Gorge Beyond Golubac

The scenery as I entered the gorge in the small town of Golubac was staggering – the best of the tour so far. In a small village just outside Golubac I was hailed to a road-side convenience store. Vladan, the owner, wanted to give me a shot of rakia. It was 10am, but Bojan had got me used to this early morning Serbian custom, and so I obliged. After a couple of rakia himself, Vladan wouldn’t stop telling me that Andy Murray was puny, and Novac Djokovic was muscly. Get down the gym Andy, Vladan’s noticed too.

Nice Pitch

After 90km, I saw a sign for a camping ground. I followed the path and, as I suspected, the site was closed for winter. Perfect. I jumped over the fence, pitched my tent on a grassy spot three metres from the river, and cooked myself a gastro meal of rice in beef stock, onion, garlic, paprika and cream cheese, which hit the spot.

362 days until The Ashes: Saturday 28th November – Dobra to Negotin (115kms)

The morning was uneventful, other than passing one of the oldest villages in Europe just outside Donji Milanovac (8,000 years old, and Neolithic), and cycling along with a 6 year old riding a motorbike – a good example of “laissez-faire” parenting, I thought. In the afternoon I headed away from my good friend the Danube – I have been following its bends for almost 2,000kms now. After heading up a stunning rural valley for 20kms I was lost, and so stopped to ask the first person I saw for directions.

Tihomir Markovic and his wife - thanks for the Pumpkin Cakes!

Tihomir Markovic and his lovely wife invited me into his parents’ home for Turkish coffee and sweet pumpkin cakes, and gave me a local history lesson. He spoke perfect French so we chatted for a while – he warned me about my route to Negotin, where I planned to spend the night.

I should have heeded his advice. I undertook the first two major climbs of the trip in the pouring rain, in the pitch black, and with failing bike lights. It was a definite low point, although I adopted the strange tactic of telling myself that I was loving it, and it seemed to work.

I should have just swum the Danube - half way to Negotin

I pedalled into Negotin with a huge smile on my face. It was a relief to arrive after three hours of climbing in the cold, dark and rain. Each of my shoes were full of water and weighed about 2kgs. I rode down the main street shouting “I’m English, and I’m here to play cricket!” No-one fancied a game, so I checked into my hostel and, after lugging 80kgs of kit up four flights of stairs, fell asleep within minutes.

Now it’s Sunday night. The weather today was blinding. I had a lie-in and then crossed the border into Bulgaria at about 1pm. I’m in Vidin now, heading to Sofia where I’ll play cricket with the Bulgarian team, and also have my first experience of couchsurfing. So, 10 countries down – can you name them?

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. Brendan King permalink
    November 30, 2009 10:01 am

    Hi Oli,
    You probably won’t remember me but we were in the same team at Cockpole Green on 19 July where you scored an unbeaten 79 n.o. and I have known Alistair for a long time. I follow your progress every day. What a great adventure! I marvel at the communications now available to keep track. (When I did a 12-month overland trip from NZ to the UK back in 1980 the fastest form of communication we had were airgrams via Post Restante!). So when you are pedalling along through the pouring rain in the dark, feeling cold and hungry and looking for some shelter and thinking to yourself “What on earth am I doing here?”, take comfort from the fact we are all supporting you and watching for every turn of the wheels.
    Best wishes from everyone in Patrick Allen’s Eleven.
    Brendan King

  2. November 30, 2009 11:38 am

    Hey you don`t have any better picture of us? We look like freaks! Nobody will want to came to our hostel,hehehehehe…Nice to have some info about you. I see you have new fruit girlfriends : P

  3. Gee permalink
    November 30, 2009 6:17 pm

    London, France, Belgium, Brussels, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bulgaria

    Do I get a prize?

    Gee xx

    P.S. Did you get the fruity ladies’ mob numbers?

    • November 30, 2009 7:50 pm

      wrong Gabi….no prize!

  4. Gee permalink
    November 30, 2009 6:23 pm

    Woops..Hang on…this is wrong…take two..

    London, France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bulgaria…

    There you go…do I get a prize now?

    • November 30, 2009 7:51 pm

      still wrong Gabi. Come on…someone, anyone…!?

  5. November 30, 2009 7:45 pm

    What great characters you’re meeting!

    I love the way you ‘change your mind’ during the bad times. Great stuff! We could all learn a lesson from that.

    love Viv

  6. November 30, 2009 9:12 pm

    England, France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria. From your No. 1 fan

    xxxxxxxxxx

    • tali permalink
      December 1, 2009 5:47 pm

      keep on going pea, you’re nearly half way! (through your country list that is…) xx

  7. Annie permalink
    November 30, 2009 9:56 pm

    Easy! Mum wins 🙂 xxxxx

  8. Gee permalink
    December 1, 2009 11:18 am

    Mums are always right!!

    Is there a runner up prize? Next time will be bang on on…xx

  9. Michael Barnett permalink
    December 1, 2009 2:48 pm

    Oli,

    I wondered where my son had got to, he was only supposed to go to the Abbey.

    Michael.

  10. Swiss permalink
    December 8, 2009 9:16 pm

    Re your breakfast ordering charades – if mooing means a beef sandwich, clucking gets you a chicken sandwich, how do you order a cheese sandwich? tricky one….

    Keep it going my man you are doing outstandingly – we are all rooting for you. Try and keep your country count ahead of Tiger’s mistress count – he’s closing on you. all the best – Swiss

  11. Jimmy McKillop permalink
    December 21, 2009 11:21 am

    Oli,

    So good to hear that all is going well. No doubt you’ve heard about our lads in SA – Swanny is playing like a beauty!

    Keep the fantastic news coming matey. I cannot get enough of it. Gives me 10 minutes of stress relief every time I read it!

    Superb effort.

    Jimmy

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