When I look at history, or at the news, actually when I look at my own surrounding I think that the human kind is doomed from its own evil doing. Yet, there are those individuals that amaze me with their goodness that I think that people are, deep down, good. And this day was the first of many where I experienced the goodness of people. Goodness that, perhaps, was all due to the fact that I was riding a bicycle. In any case, I think that these people, on this journey, restored my fate in the human kind, and made me overlook all the bad things that are happening constantly throughout the world.
It all started the early morning at the camp where I spent the night. It was something after 6 am, the sun was just getting up, the air was full of humidity, but it sure was a nice site to look at.
The moment I got out of my tent I saw the camp site on the morning light. It was all green and surrounded with flower beds. It was not a typical camp site, since it was primarily a pool with a bar and a big terrace. But it was very clean, and gave a sense of calmness. I stood on the soft grass and looked around. There were a few tents in the grass and several caravans on the parking lot. In the grass there were some pieces of old, farmer’s wagon cars, something that I find extremely popular among restaurants in the region to use as a decoration to their garden. I do not know who had the idea first, but they all do it. It is so spread out, that it is a contagious disease now.
The pool was not far from my tent, but I did not feel the urge to swim, like I did the night before. I guess it was the fairly cold air that changed my mind. Around the pool there were many chairs, and made it look all too deserted in the morning.
My tent had a lot of condensation and I was having a hell of a trouble to wipe it dry with a tiny cloth, smaller than a handkerchief. I spread out the tent on the nearby chairs to let it dry, but the sun was too low to have some impact. I did not wanted to pack the tent in a dump state, so I continued to use the cloth to wipe the tent and then to squeeze the cloth until there was no water in it. Love (to cut a long story short, love is a polite expression to f_ck)! I could not believe how much water had collected on the surface of the tent. I think I could collect several litters of water. But I did my best not to leave a drop.
People started waking up slowly and the camp was coming back to life. While I was drying my tent I noticed something nice. As one of the campers was starting to prepare a stove to cook his morning coffee, the owner told him that he could use the bar’s kitchen. Normally I would expect that bar owners would like to sell something, but this owner was more into helping out. Nice gesture, I thought to my self.
It took some time for me to pack and dry the tent, but by half past seven I was ready to leave. The owner of the camp explained to me the road I should take and bid me farewell. I was out the door and heading towards Niš (Ниш).
I followed the directions that the camp owner gave me: I turned right at the first crossroad, then left to make a cut through some villages. My intention was to get to the road going to Leskovac (Лесковац) as short as possible, but the ‘right’ way would have been for me to go all the way to Vranje (Врање) and from there to take the road. However I was determined to avoid that extra riding. Actually, initially I had an idea that I should go up into the mountains to an accumulation called Barje (Барје), but the camp owner changed my mind by telling me that there is no road. So, since I was not to go up, I though I could go flat and headed towards Grdelica Canyon (Грделичка Клисура).
In the first village I came to, Zlatokop (Златокап), I saw a shop. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to stop for a breakfast. Well, it was a village shop with not too many things to choose from, so I decided that a glass of yogurt would be sufficient. In front of the shop, the lady was cleaning the bench that was there. It was the right moment for me to be there, because just then a villager came and started arguing with the lady from the shop. He was telling to her that she should not have cleaned the bench, because now he would get his ass (pants) all wet if he sits down, and there was nothing else to sit down on. This was more of a joke that actual arguing. A joking style that, I thought at the moment, is very typical for people from Serbia. And in my head, I felt that talk very familiar, as if I had seen it on TV in a Serbian movie. I smiled secretly and I continued to ride.
It was a very pleasant surprise for me to learn that in all the villages I passed in the area around Vranje there were dedicated baskets for collection of different kinds of waste. And the people were using them appropriately. Something that I have not seen in my own town – Skopje, Macedonia (Скопје, Македонија), where people just put anything in the containers. Seeing it here, in Serbia (Србија), working, really hit me as a very positive thing that people can get organized and be aware.
The road took me through several villages, and I passed many fields. It was fairly flat, though the road it self was very badly damaged and on some places it turned to dirt road. All of that did not pose a problem to the riding, but it gave a very authentic experience of riding through villages. One thing that stood out of everything was the corn fields. I was amazed how many test sites there were along the road. It was all like a big test site, a big advertisement of many corn seed producers. They were all carefully marked with a board stating the company and the seed number or name. The thing was that I was not certain if I should take that as a good thing or a bad thing. So I just kept wondering what the story of these test sites was. Something that I was going to find out some days later in my trip.
After some time spent on the village road, I came to a bigger road that leads to left. Actually there was no road that was going straight so I had to turn to left. I remembered the words of the man I asked for directions along the way, he said: ‘When you turn left you will pass Simpo, Vranje, then across the railroad...’ And there it was, Simpo, Vranje factory. Now, Simpo, Vranje was a very famous furniture factory in Yugoslavia, so it was interesting to see just where from most of my furniture in my apartment came. Well I can not say that I was impressed. I guess that just like with the factories in Macedonia, this one too was affected with the fall apart of Yugoslavia (Југославија). But just then, as I was passing by the factory, a smell reached to my nose… it was a stew. It hit me that the factory must have an eating place for the workers, so I instantly headed to the gate. I asked the guard if there is a kitchen and if I could eat something. He told me that they are having beans and that it was just ready. I was happy.
I went inside, straight to the kitchen. It was a very old kitchen, with tables and chairs that looked very ancient, right from the time when Tito was alive. On every table there was a big water canister and plastic glasses, but not those for single use, but reusable, big, plastic glasses in various colours. It was all empty since there was still some time for the breakfast break for the workers. I sat at one chair and observed around. A voice from the window that was dividing the cooking area from the eating area called me to ask me what I want. I said that I am hungry. The woman called me then to come closer and asked me for money. The meal was 1,5 Euro. I got beans soup with some pieces of smoked meat, a cabbage salad and a very big piece of bread. I was delighted that I came up with the idea to eat in the factory kitchen and it was a nicely cooked meal. I loved it.
Full and happy I got up to leave, and as I was going out of the kitchen I saw that the workers just got their brake and were all heading to eat from that delicious beans. I hopped on my bicycle, said goodbye to the guards and left the factory. It was 9 in the morning, my belly was full and I could not ride very fast. It was going to be a beautiful day.
Right after I went out of the factory I turned right on the street that came. I remembered that the man had told me that I should go right after Simpo, Vranje factory… I passed Vranjska Spa (Врањска Бања), but very stupid of me I did not stop to have a relaxing swim. I guess that my time pressure to get to Belgrade (Београд) as early as possible was very strong. Regardless, the scenery started looking unfamiliar. Now I had been riding here once already. Perhaps it was 5 years ago, but I still remembered some bits and pieces of the road. And after some time riding, I started doubting if I made the right turn, and if I am on the right road at all. I realized that the road that I should take is on the other side of the river South Morava Јужна Морава) and that there is probably no bridge to cross it. Still I thought that there has to be a way to get to Leskovac - the first bigger town right after the Grdelica Canyon, without going back to the factory.
The test fields of corn crops appeared again. This time I decided to take a photo of them.
I saw a man going out of a car with a licence plate from Leskovac. I figured that he must know the best shortcut to get there. So I approached him and asked him about the road to Leskovac. The man was delighted. He explained to me in detail about a road that will allow me to cross the river South Morava so I can get to the old road passing Grdelica Canyon. Apparently, I was quite off the road I was supposed to take, and there was no connection further down the road either. I was at the right moment asking for directions, because even this shortcut was not much, only tractors went there.
The man was very nice and invited me in his house and he offered me a drink. He actually offered me food as well, but I just had that big bowl of beans that was still inflating my stomach and anything more could just make my riding problematic. I figured an hour of rest after the meal would do me good. So I took it easy and sat on the couch placed just in front of the house. The man told me many things about the region there. He said that there were many people that came from Russia there, about a century ago. Even his family had origin from Russia. It was very interesting to learn about his grandfather that he was a taxi driver in the 20s and 30s of the 20th century. The last car he drove was taken by the communists after the Second World War. And the only thing that remained was a wooden wheel of one of the older cars that his grandfather had driven.
Another thing that impressed me about this man was his ingenuity in finding ways to earn his living. He took pieces of trees, like round, flat cuts of tree branches and made religious icons of them by adding an image of a saint. He made various versions of this: for the desk, for the wall, magnets, even key chains. The man wanted to give me one of those big chunks of wood, but considering weight issues on a tour, I thanked him for the smallest key chain with an image of Saint Nicholas (Свети Никола). Had I been Christian or even religious I might have made Saint Nicolas for my xU2-R protector. I mean, he was a protector of the sailors, why not of bicycle riders as well.
After a nice cup of tea and even nicer conversation, I decided that it is time to continue. The man told me to take the dirt road on the right, then across the small river so I can get to the new bridge that goes across South Morava River. He also mentioned that I should be careful when crossing the river, because it might be slippery. Well, the instructions were all too good and detailed so I just followed them. The dirt road was easy – just straight forward. Then after a bit I got to the small river. It was a small river all right, but not small as a stream. It was about 3 meters wide and perhaps 20 to 30 cm deep. Still, the river bed was all made in big stones, and it was obvious that vehicles pass it regularly. The thing was that now I was supposed to pass it with my bicycle. I looked at the stones. They were quite flat, almost like tiles. So I thought to my self that if I am too careful I will have to take off my shoes and cross the river while I push the bicycle, but I can also just pass it riding because the river is not that deep. So that was exactly what I did. I just started pedalling and straight, slowly into the river. My front wheel was in the water, all was fine. There went my back wheel into the water, all was fine. As I approached the middle of the water it just had to go bad. In an instant, my bicycle was in the air, and I together with it. As the river flowed from my left side to my right side, the moment I was with both wheels into the water and in as much as possible, the current just pushed my wheels, which slipped very easily on the stones all covered with algae. The wheels just went up to the right, and I found my self, for a moment, being all in air, sitting on my bicycle, only I was in a horizontal position. Then came the splash. I just found my self lying in the river, still on the bicycle. Well almost on the bicycle, but I did not manage to get off completely and avoid the fall. My left side was all wet, though, luckily the water suspended the fall and I had no injury.
Quickly I got up and looked at the bicycle. My GPS device had fallen out of its holder and was in the water. I quickly picked it up, before the water moved it beyond return, heading towards Danube (Дунав). I was glad I did not get the GPS device version that floats in the water. Then I saw that my left bag was submerged in the water, so I picked up the bicycle, careful that I do not slip on the rocks. Now I could get out of the river. So eventually, I did cross the river pushing the bicycle, only ending up a lot more wet then what I previously thought I would get.
Luckily the sun was quite warm and I did not worry about drying. The bag that was under water was also fine. Some water drops were at the opening of the bag, but nothing managed to get inside to my clothes. It was one of those moments that I was happy that I brought a very good water tight pannier bags with me. I mean, river diving… who could have foreseen that. I am only sad for not having any photos from the fall. And I think this is the reason one should have a friend when going on tours. No, no, no, not to help me – to evident my foolishness. In the shock and chaos of the fall and after it, I completely forgot to make a photo. In fact, this was not the only time I forgot to make a photo. There were just too many moments when I opted to experience the moment fully rather than to detach and take the camera.
All wet, and with some water in my shoes, I continued riding. Like the man had explained to me, I came to the bridge over South Morava River. It was a very simple one, made recently. On the other side it was the road that I wanted to take in the first place, but managed to miss after the great satisfaction of eating beans for breakfast.
Finally, the old road going towards Leskovac. The main road was just next to me, but the old road was lot less frequent, so I could put more concentration on the beauties around me. The road it self was also fairly nice: asphalt, some cracks, but without big holes. At the beginning South Morava River was just next to the road, but later it moved away and instead I got the railroad tracks. It was all flat, even downhill, and not a single difficulty visible in the distance.
Upon arriving to one of the villages along the old road, Stubal (Стубал) village, I noticed something that attracted my attention. It was a bus stop. First, I really liked that the bus stop was like a small hut. It was made all out of wood and inside there was a place to sit down. The reality that people probably waited forever was a cruel one, but the bust stop looked very nice like that. Now the second thing was that it was used also as a place for information. And, I think, the most important information in this southern parts of the world is to know who died. It was completely covered with necrologies.
I have seen necrologies everywhere, like completely covering a big tree trunk, or on poles, or on entrance doors of buildings and houses, but having the necrologies placed on the bus stop was something that I thought of as ingenious. People spent time there endlessly anyway. And I think that who ever had their necrology there, would have the highest reach of local people.
While I was amazing at the bus stop, a man approached me. He first thought that I am foreigner, then asked if I am from Slovenia (which is not wrong), and then he was delighted to find out that I had come from Macedonia. He told me that the bus stops were made by the people of the village, and that they did not have help from anyone. In his words there was a great dose of pride about those bus stops. Apparently I did good to stay there and look at the bus stop.
I parted with the village of Stubal, and continued to the town of Vladičin Han (Владичин Хан), thus making my way towards the Grdelica Canyon. In Vladičin Han I hesitated if I should make a pause or not. But since I had a very slow morning, I decided that I would only walk through the town so I can have a look at it, and at the same time I would be fairly quick.
Once I entered Vladičin Han I went out to look for the centre. Well I tried hard to recognize something that would be like a centre, but I did not really find it, I think. Along the old road, on the left side of South Morava River, Vladičin Han seemed like one street with some houses along the road. At one moment I did notice something, that resembled as a town centre. On the right side of the street the pavement widened and some old folks were sitting there. So, because of the sudden increase of concentration of people along the road I figured this must be something like the town centre.
Opposite, what I decided it is the town centre, there was a new park. The park it self did not looked very special, but there was one feature that I liked. There was something like a big wall, on which an image of what used to be Vladičin Han was painted. Like a collage of photographs from Vladičin Han from 50 or more years back. Perhaps the blending of the photographs could have been done better, though it was a nice representation of the link between the old and the new.
Finally, right after Vladičin Han I started entering the Grdelica Canyon. The road stopped being asphallt and turned into macadam. The surrounding became more wild than before. The rocky hills were close by and I liked that intimidating feeling of being surrounded by nature.
I followed the meandering river for quite some time. I stopped and looked at the surrounding. I can not emphasize anything from what I saw, but throughout I was very happy that I was there. People were almost absent and I had the river and the mountains all around me. The road was just flat, and I was just listening to the cracking of the pebbles while riding on the macadam road while the hot sun was coming right at me, since it was almost noon. It was warm, when I come to think about it, it was hot. But I just kept riding with my head up - looking at the hills, or down – looking at the river. I did not notice when I passed half of the canyon. The last time I passed the Grdelica Canyon I took the main road, and all I could think about was not to fall off the road when the big trucks were passing me. This time, Grdelica Canyon was a real pleasure.
I came to a bridge and a crossing over the train tracks. From that point onwards the road just followed the tracks. It was all a simple straight line, until I came to a village. It was the village Džep (Џеп). Then an uphill appeared that took me to the main asphalt road. At first I hesitated to stay on the asphalt road, but then I decided that it is best if I find how to continue along the old road. So I asked a man that was selling souvenirs on the side of the main road. I realized that I should have made a turn on the left some time earlier to avoid getting to the main road at all, but the man told me that it was not a big deal and that all I needed to do was to go down the road, next to the hotel where we were standing. Very simple, indeed. A small, steep downhill and I was back on the old road.
Though the road was constantly going downhill, not long after Džep there was a small uphill. Nothing difficult or steep, just a mild up the hill, as the canyon got narrower. However, this particular uphill was not really needed because it was quite hot at that time of the day, well past noon, and I could not really find a place to have a break, like something with a shade. I was constantly being just close enough to the main road, so I could hear the vehicles passing. But the main road was some meters up so I did not see the vehicles. A bit down, was the railroad. I think there was not a single train passing while I was there. Still there was a sense of being in a sandwich in this section of the road. The nice thing was that on the old road, there were no vehicles. Well except one or two, from some water management public company. One thing hit me as a very nice surprise as I was going up, it was that there were two water points about the top of the uphill. This was my second day in Serbia and I had not seen a working water fountain, just yet. The moment I came to the first water fountain, I decided to make a break, right there on the road, though tucked in the bushes a bit, so I could hide from the heat of the sun. This did not last long since it was uncomfortable.
Once I was over the highest point of the road, I quickly got to the village Predejane (Предејане). I think I was there at about half past 1 pm. I saw a shop and instantly decided that it was there where I would sit for a moment, have some food and hide from the sun. The place was perfect. There was a table and chairs just in front of the shop, and they were in the shade from the house where the shop was. So I got some silly things to eat, like cheese crackers, yogurt and a soda drink, sat down and decided to enjoy the moment. Well the moment did not lasted long, since I remembered that I had a plastic bag full of dump clothes that I had washed the other night and they needed drying. Lucky for me, just next to the house there was a small wall that I used as a drying rack. The heat from the wall was even better than air drying. All my clothes were really fast dry. Even my socks, that usually took some hours, now they were done in about half an hour. I should remember this that hot stone may be better for drying than a rope.
From here on it was the end of the macadam road and I was back on the asphalt. And with the combination of a gradual downhill inclination of the road, I was speeding towards the town of Grdelica (Грделица). The canyon was opening slowly and the road was becoming straighter with every kilometre I made. It was a long ride on the right side of South Morava River, and constantly close to the river. Just upon entering Grdelica I came across a wonderful part of the town. On the left side of the road it was all green grass with big tree canopy, slightly above the grass, just enough for a man to stand. South Morava was below that green piece. While on the right side of the road there were houses, but at about 3 pm, when I was passing the people seem to be at work since almost no one was around. It all looked so nice that immediately I got a wish to stop for a moment and just have a short rest there. But I found it to be too much close to the houses and I did not want people to think of me in a bad way, so I said I’ll ask someone. Well I did not get the reply I was hoping for. A lady told me that there is a park further down the road, right after the old factory, and I could go there to have a rest. She was polite though, and probably she was thinking that the park was a better place, since I saw that people used this grass as a parking lot.
Overturned from my idea to have a rest in Grdelica next to the South Morava River, I went on towards Leskovac. As the day was getting closer to an end, I was more and more inclined to get my self going faster. I wanted to get to Niš as early as possible. This wish of mine was eased by the fact that the road to Niš was all straight, and I mean straight like a simple line drawn on a piece of paper using a ruler. Luckily it was not a boring ride, I just passed it fast, and I did not paid much attention to it. Well no, it is not what you are thinking. I had to constantly look at my crotch. No again, it is not what you may be thinking. It all started some kilometres after Grdelica, when I started pedalling really fast. I started feeling some peculiar, pinching feeling on the inside of my left leg, just about my crotch. Soon I realised that the SR Suntour SP8 NCX suspension saddle post was the reason for it. The pivots of the parallelogram that the saddle post has in order to make a nice suspension were too much out and managed to catch some skin from my left leg. The reason that I noticed this just then was that I had replaced the pivots recently, since it is a regular thing to do with this saddle post. And I did not have a chance to really notice this before. This problem became so rapidly occurring that I had the riding turned into a painful experience rather than enjoyment.
It did not take far when I noticed that my bicycle shorts were getting caught on that same pivot. When I gave another, better look I saw that my bicycle pants had been torn from this tiny little pivot. That made me angry about the bad design and even worse about the quality, perhaps I should better say precision, of SR Suntour’s replacement parts. I stopped at one place off the road and started thinking how to deal with the problem. Then I remembered that I had this tiny little cloth that I used to dry the tent in the morning. So I used the cloth and tied it around the parallelogram of the saddle post so I would get something like a protection for my shorts and leg.
I was happy that I found some kind of a temporary solution for my saddle post, but I had a new assignment: to fix my bicycle shorts. Though, it had to wait. I was still not even close to Leskovac, and I had quite some more to get to Niš.
When I finally arrived in Leskovac the first thing that I noticed was the bicycle paths and the gradual slopes on the edges of the pavement to get to those bicycle paths. I must say that the bicycle paths were terrible, though fairly better than those that I was seeing at home in Skopje, Macedonia. Then, as I was unsuccessfully trying to follow the dedicated bicycle paths I saw something that I have seen before. It was an installation of many bicycles, all painted in different colour. There were maybe 20 bicycles, placed in the green area between the street and the pedestrian path. I’ve seen this before, I thought. It was massively spread on the internet via the social networks. There were many comments about the image of these bicycles, but none revealed where the image was taken.
I looked around and realized that this installation is actually a decoration related to the nearby sports shop. There were bicycles in the green area, on the trees and even on the ledge of the building, just above the shop. At that moment, realizing that it is all just a marketing trick, in my eyes the installation got devalued. But it still was a very interesting thing to do.
Leskovac is a town, perhaps, single most famous for grilled meat. It is so famous that grilled meat ‘from Leskovac’ is famous all over the world, though sometimes unknowingly. For example, the most famous Belgian grilled ribs place (Amadeus) is owned by a man from Leskovac. Very logical, isn’t it.
The people here are so into grilling meat that in early September, every year, there is an enormous festival about, what else, grilled meat. So I was thinking that maybe, I should eat something grilled. But while I was walking around in the town, looking for a place with a grill, I started thinking that it was already well half past 5 pm and I was nowhere near Niš. Staying for some grilled meat would make me very slow in my plan to reach Belgrade before 18th July. Sadly, I skipped this pleasure. I figured that if I am back home before September, I could come here for the festival and taste the grilled meat properly. Besides, I had my eye on going to a place called Ćićevac (Ћићевац), which is famous for the roasted pigs. I could easily exchange some grilled meat for a whole roasted pig.
On my way out of Leskovac, I managed to lead my self to a road that goes straight to the highway. I realised this too late. By the time I saw it on my GPS map I was far away out of Leskovac, and gaining very close to the highway. It was just too much to go back. So I said to my self, if I need to, I will go over fences, and I continued straight on. The nice thing of this mistake of mine was that this particular road was less frequent than the main road that I should have taken. The main road going to Niš was going almost parallel on my left side so I could see the number of cars there and here. So I was happy about this.
After riding for some time, in the distance, I saw trucks heading my way and then disappearing. That was strange. But then I realised that there was a shortcut there that connected the road that I was at, with the road that was going parallel to me. That was nice, I did not need to jump any fences. The shortcut was a small dirt road going over the train tracks to the other road. It was fairly narrow, no sign, nothing. It was something that drivers had created out of necessity or maybe because they did not wanted to travel all the way to Leskovac to come out on the main road to Niš. Crossing this shortcut involved making room for trucks to pass and avoiding the crossing of trains without any alert. People had even placed some wooden beams to make some parts of the road not to deteriorate easily. This wooden beams jumped out of their places uppon the crossing of trucks. Nothing looked secure about this road. In a moment, as I was waiting for a truck to pass by me, I looked back the road and thought that this is not something I would recommend to bicycle tourists. But now, I think that every person should have the right and should experience all good and bad things in life. It just isn't fun if everything is just too safe. So if someone else travels this same route, I hope they will make the same mistake.
The idea of grilled or roasted meat did not leave me alone for a moment. Right after I got on the main road to Niš, I entered a village with a peculiar name: Pečenjevce (Печењевце), which means little roast. And yes, there were several signs along the road saying that they had roasted pig. I could clearly see the ovens where they did that, just in front of the restaurants along the road. The ovens served as a sign, a marketing strategy to attract customers, and even as a beacon for hungry people like me. But no, I wanted to go to Ćićevac, and that was it. I would endure another day if I had to. The day was coming to an end, I wanted to get to Niš or as close as possible to Niš and I still did not know where I would sleep. So I passed all those roasting places without stopping. This was very difficult to make, especially since I was getting hungry.
While going along towards Niš I noticed one house that I just had to look at it better. It was still in construction. So there was no paint job on the facade, but much of the house was ready. And there was one particular detail that stood out of anything I have seen before. A set of windows. Looking at the house, I think these windows were for the corridor. Since they were going from the ground floor up to the first floor. This alone was not strange. Even their square shape with rounded edges was not too strange. The strange thing was that they were all kinda darker, and slightly spherical on the surface. The only thing I could make out of it was that the owner must be a television servicer and he must have had many broken, old television sets that he could use instead of windows. While me, I just loved the idea.
Instead of a proper dinner, I went and got a banana and a chocolate in the first place that appeared soon after – Doljevac (Дољевац). It was almost 7 pm so I started to look for a place to spend the night. I asked at the shop if they knew where I could spend the night, for which the people addressed me to a place called Mali Raj (Мали Рај), meaning little heaven. So I headed that way. It was supposed to be some kilometres away from Doljevac. Along the way I kept looking for a place where I could put a tent, but I was not finding any. It was all farm land, fenced and people lived nearby. But the greater issue was that at this time I was not that accustomed to wild camping, so I was really, really careful in looking for a place to put a tent.
I met two young men on their bicycles while trying to find Mali Raj. They eagerly said they would take me to the place, since it was on their way too. While riding together, they gave me a suggestion where I could spend the night for free: if I would go to any local train station I could ask the people there if they would let me in for the night. The young men told me that the train stations are locked during the night, which meant that I would be safe inside. Only if the people working there would agree to that and let me stay for the night. This option did not sound nice to me, at the time, so I passed it. These local train stations do not have toilets inside, but outside. So if I was to be locked inside, I would have to suffer for some time if I needed to go to the toilet.
Mali Raj was just left of the road. It was actually a bar, or maybe a restaurant, that had rooms, but they were still preparing those rooms. The man that worked there told me that they would have available rooms there in some days to come. I was there simply too early. So I continued riding towards Niš.
Along the road I asked people, but everyone just told me that I should go to Niš. I looked around if I see a nice place for a tent, but I was way too critical and did not see anything that was satisfactory to my ideas in my head. Suddenly, a car came running next to me and stopped right in front of me. It was a man that I saw standing close to the shop in Doljevac. His name was just like mine – Bojan and offered to me to ask around in Niš for a place where I can spend the night. He called a few hotels, but they were all too expensive for my budget for this tour. Bojan explained to me that he too was riding a bicycle. He had just recently been with a bicycle from Niš to Athos, Greece. The tour is a Christian Orthodox pilgrimage that is very popular in Serbia.
I thanked Bojan for his readiness to help and I continued on my way. I was less than 10 km away from Niš and I decided to go there and look for a place to stay. Niš is a big town and they certainly will have some cheap hostel. To my memory, Niš is a pretty flat town, just like the road I was taking to get there. But Bojan told me that there is a nasty hill just before entering Niš. Luckily it was already night and I could not see much. This hill came more or less as a surprise since it was the highest thing I saw for the whole day. On this hill there was a cemetery. I thought to my self that this is not the place to put a tent. But there was also something like a memorial park. The moment I thought that I could go there to pitch a tent, I heard quite a number of dogs, and they changed my mind. I was destined to go to Niš and that was it.
Once I got to the top of that hill I could already recognize Niš from the numerous times I have been there as a Scout. Buildings appeared already there, at the hill. I saw a board saying hostel on the left. But I could not see anything that would look like a hostel. So I went down the hill towards the centre. At the first petrol station I asked if they knew about a place for an overnight. They directed me to the bus station where apparently there was a hostel. So I went down there. A big sign saying hostel, 10 euros, welcomed me, and on that sign there was a map with directions to find the hostel since it was a bit hidden from the road. It was almost 10 pm but at least I found a place to spend the night. I was happy, feeling relaxed, and I was thinking if I should have a sandwich with some kebabs. Then, right there, next to the sign of the hostel, a cyclist on a road bicycle passed by me. He yelled to me ‘hey, come with me!’ As I was on my bicycle and just making the first push on the pedal I turned towards him and I asked him ‘where?’ He stopped and he told me that he was going to a friend that was also a cyclist and that they were going to talk about their plan to go to Athos in Greece with their bicycles (popular destination, isn’t it). I only asked if there would be beer and I joined.
I followed Ivan (the cyclist) and eventually came to the hill where I already was. It was near that place where I saw the sign for a hostel. Only Ivan brought me there from the opposite side. We came to his friend Sava, and we sat in his yard and talked for some time. We talked about their plan. I talked about my tour. They even knew the guy I had met in Doljevac. It was all too good. After some time, they asked me where I was going to spend the night, to which I told them about the hostel. Well this did not seem right to them, so both of them offered me a place to stay. Since Ivan lived some 10 km away, I opted to stay at Sava’s place. And there it was, I was literally picked up from the street and dragged to the home of a total stranger, where not only that I was welcomed like long known friend, but I was also going to spend the night there, and all of that just because I was riding a bicycle. Life could not have been more interesting or better.
Sava was a wonderful host. I had a shower. His wife prepared dinner just for me. And we talked until I had the strength to stay awake. A surprising turn was when I learned that Sava was earning money from selling bicycle clothing. And this was too good to be true, since I already started my tour with the idea that I will need to get another pair of bicycle shorts. So I did. Right there, and with a discount. Sava even throw in a pair of socks ass a gift. He had a friend that was making their own bicycle clothing, the brand name was GCV.
It was my second day and I had already been full, up to my neck, of experiences. Completely satisfied from the day I went to sleep without even thinking what kind of new adventures could the next day bring.
Date: 15 July 2013
Difficulty (1-5): 2 The road is fairly flat and goes downhill along South Morava River, with the exception of that big hill just before entering the Town of Niš.
Time spent riding: 11:18
Average speed: 12 km/h
Length: 131 km
Minimum elevation: 201 m.a.s.l.
Maximum elevation: 400 m.a.s.l.
Total ascent: 776 m
Landscape impression: The road follows the South Morava (Južna Morava) River, and passes through the Canyon of Grdelica (Grdelička Klisura) which is beautiful to see and you get to see a lot of villages and village life along the road.
Water availability: Several water fountains along the road, otherwise readily available upon asking from a local person.
Security issues: The route is mainly on local roads, so not much traffic, but when joining the main road it may become a bit crowded and full of trucks.
Contact with locals: All one needs to do is to stop, and within minutes someone passing by will start a conversation. People are very communicative and curious about strangers especially travelers. They will invite you in their home and offer you drink food and even a bed.
Accommodation: Wild camping is not a problem since real camps are rare. There some hostels here and there for up to 10 Euros. But you just may end up sleeping in the home of some of the local people.
Food availability: Fruit trees along the road, mainly apples and plums, which means they are ripe August/September. Plenty of small, local stores along the road, at least one in each village.