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April 30th, 2016 in Belgrade

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It's now been almost a month since we started our journey. Since our last post we've left central Europe behind us and entered southeast Europe and the balkans. And even if there is a palpable difference in our surrounding, the biggest difference is probably with ourselves. We'll try to explain. 

Central Europe was easy and very familiar. Things more or less looked and worked the same as back in Sweden and even if none of us are anywhere close to fluent in German (really not!) we could (almost) always made ourselves understood either in English or German. In a way, this made us feel more like we were cycling around our own backyard than exploring new parts of the world. 

But entering Serbia and the balkans things finally started feeling a bit more real. It might have been the fact that we had our first real border-crossing (with armed patrolling military, double line of barb-wire-fence and a proper stamp in our passports) or just the fact that we now seemed to have run out of bicycle paths but things slowly started to feel a little more like how we've imagined them to be. 

Don't get us wrong; Serbia is still Europe and, compared to what's to come, still easy. But things are getting less and less familiar. People are more… everything. It's hard to sum up in a sentence but it's the waving people we pass by in the fields, the cars honking at us as a welcome but also the honking and swearing that we are taking up the road, the extra hospitality (read Slivovitz)…and the endless smoking everywhere :(

bad road
But as we are feeling more and more unfamiliar with our surroundings, we are also getting more and more familiar with ourselves and our new daily routines. And it's not just the things like finding a place to set up our tent, preparing breakie and getting up with the sun in the morning (ok, that's not really happening yet). It's everything in between those things as well. From waking up on a inflatable mattress in the morning, the cycling and stops during the day and cooking with our Trangia kitchen at night; it's all starting to have a certain routine to it. 

Saying that, it's not like everything was normal and without its ups and downs before we reached Serbia. We might have jinxed ourselves a bit with our last post, saying everything was going smoothly...

Leaving Prague, we had a hard time finding our way out of the city due to the city's topography combined with way too many stairs. But after some spinning around and a lot a detouring we finally found ourselves in the countryside. However, we didn't come far before we had our first misfortune. Suddenly, one of Ida’s cycle bags feel of! Apparently one of the hooks securing the bag had broken in two. So what do you do when something breaks in the middle of nowhere and you have no spare parts? You glue it and tape it, MacGyver style. And if it breaks again? Zip-ties!

pannier sönder

Unfortunately, new hooks for our bicycle bags is not something every bike shop stocks. Really no bike store seemed to have them… So we ended up calling the manufacturer (Ortlieb) who gave us the number to their distributor in Austria (since we had left Czechia by then) and the disturber quickly shipped the part to a bike store in Vienna, where we would arrive the next day. A big thanks to Ortlieb for fast service! 

Unfortunately our newfound luck would not last. In Vienna we were going to meet up with our friends Johan & Marcus who was flying down from Malmö. Unfortunately, Marcus could not make it and Johan missed his flight. The silver lining in all this was that we'd rented quite a nice rooftop apartment for the four of us and Johan managed to find another flight early the next morning. So we didn't get two days together but we got one good, sunny one. 

myz

From Vienna to Budapest we had several short, easy and sunny days. Well, mostly. The last day before Budapest a downpour caught us just when we were looking for somewhere to put our tent for the night. As the area was hilly and littered with fields and houses we were having a hard time finding a suitable place to camp. So we stopped at a small gyros restaurant and bar (though honestly I don't think anyone ate there) where we, with the help of Google translate, asked for directions to some place to camp, a nearby forest or anything really. The owner immediately stood up and gestured that we should follow him outside where he led us the the back of the house and gestured that we could put our tent in the garden and also borrow the house facilities. 

backyard camping

Planning for this trip we've read about this kind of helpfulness and hospitality from strangers but it is something else when you experience it yourself. Especially when you're soaked, tired and hungry. 

The day after, a Sunday, the place was already open as we left sometime after seven in the morning. The bar was already filled with about 5-10 persons drinking beers. One guy even had a shot glass standing in front of himself. Different countries, different cultures...

Arriving early in Budapest we ended up taking a long soak in one of the beautiful thermal baths to warm up our cold, dirty and aching bodies.

Bath

Before we left Hungary we also managed to have two lost-in-translation moments buying groceries as we bought salt instead of sugar, ruining a otherwise good pad thai, and a chili instead of a pepper which led to a very spicy sandwich. But I guess we live and we learn! Or starve…

So, just as we had come to accept that things around us was slowly changing we came across some unexpected guidance. About 30 km outside Belgrade we saw our second touring couple coming the other way. As we stopped to have a chat (as seems to be the unwritten rule) it turned out that they started in Singapore 18 months ago. It was really nice to meet someone who didn't think our journey was either crazy or amazing, but at the same time a bit odd. On the one hand we felt like rookies having only just under a month of Europe under our belt. On the other hand we have the majority of our adventure in front of us while they were facing “reality” in just a couple of weeks. We are where they had been some 17 months ago with everything being new and exciting. And they are where we hopefully will be in about a year's time. Confident and experienced with a hakuna-matata-attitude. I guess it was somewhat bittersweet for both of us… 

After squeezing them for as much information as we could without being rude we rolled our respective ways. 

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