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Published: February 24th 2010
26th May ‘09:
Where are all my Happy Birthday comments then, eh? Rotters..
To Belgrade, then. There is a dilapidated air about this former capital of Yugoslavia; the Partizan Stadium, at least, could do with sprucing up. The toilets are mirrorless and, if truth be told, they are toiletless; gaping holes in the floor and no toilet paper is hardly cricket for rock n roll crew. And it's hot today, mercilessly hot - by 7.30am, I’m drenched with sweat.
Blasted forklift drivers are screaming around the place side-shifting staging pallets, waking up the remaining slumbering truckers. Namibian, however, is jovially filming everything this morning. ‘Come into Catering again Barny - I'm sending this video to my dad,’ he orders. So I walk in again, feigning surprise at seeing Namibian, ostensibly for the first time. His narration on the footage must be priceless, referring to Serbia as ‘Siberia.’
Belgrade (Beograd) is definitely not for cyclists. The roads are clogged, regardless of the time, with high-emission vehicles, and there is no room for the lowly cyclist. Cycle lanes, except along the River Sava, (where fitness enthusiasts smoke outside the Wellness Centre) are non-existent. Try the pavement? No luck there
either: they are cracked and high-sided. It is tiring.
Zastavas and Yugos crawl past, belching clouds of exhaust, alongside tram buses containing doleful-looking employees resigned to a life of drudgery. In the smog, policemen replace traffic lights, beckoning and halting the frustrated motorist. Pedestrians ignore roadwork barricades, treading tar into their soles. Blast, I may need a new pair of flip-flops now.
Stickily, I amble past the train station. Like Paul Theroux, I am ineluctably drawn to trains and their stations. I stop short of wearing a mackintosh - and diligently noting locomotive serial numbers while adjusting spectacles and squeezing zits - but I seldom see a train pass by without wishing I were on it.
And Belgrade seems like a good starting point for an adventure; I yearn to hop on a carriage bound for Istanbul, then Tehran, and still further. I don't really want to miss a free lunch in Catering, though, so I make do with just popping my head in to the main station, to see where trains go. The departures screen, which has departed from the Roman alphabet, is an enigma.
The fort is the big tourist draw in Belgrade -
well, it would be if tourists arrived in their droves - but it is St Sava Cathedral that is visible from all access roads to the city, shining like a beacon at night. With a 4000-ton dome, it is, or will be - I'm hedging my bets because the statistics are ambiguous inside - the largest active Orthodox church in the world. Oh, I do love superlatives. While worshippers put twenty Serbian shitters into donation slots, and kiss the foreheads of painted saints, impious workmen drill, bang and dig, eerily illuminated from high above.
If you're wanting a taste of the Balkans, and regard my advice as worth taking, miss out Belgrade and go to Budva, Montenegro instead..
27th May '09 ("Belgrade - Greece: an unusual route")
For those of you charting the tour's progress, AC/DC’s trucks are heading south-east through Serbia, turning off at Nis, on the E80 to Bulgaria's border. Ah, you think, why aren't they traversing Macedonia to get to Athens? That would indeed be the shortest route but it involves another non-EU border which, for lorries, is time-consuming. So, straight to Bulgaria, and no more paperwork and officialdom - ah, the freedom of
the open road. But we have to get to the border first, which proves to be difficult.
There is little in the way of real motorway in Serbia despite the map marking a nice, thick blue line; gnarled figures carrying hoes share the road with us, crossing inopportunely. The Nis road cuts through mountain valleys, twisting sharply and turning alongside a river. It is pleasant but slow. Then, just twenty kilometres from the familiarity of the European Union, we hit a bridge. Poor old Jon is forced off this bridle path - posing as an international route to Sofia - by another truck hogging the asphalt. Watch this space for what happens next!..
Tot: 2.054s; Tpl: 0.042s; cc: 37; qc: 180; dbt: 0.0818s; 1; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 3;
; mem: 1.8mb