30 Jul Budapest to Belgrade: 2000km and biking the Balkans
2000km down, 3000 to go. We’ve made it to Belgrade!!
Along the way from Budapest we’ve had our first dog attack, cycled further and faster than before, and Erin and I have had our mental resilience stretched to the limit.
We’d also like to take this opportunity to ask for your support.
We are raising money for Big Change. Big Change works with young people in the UK, helping them rise above and beyond their circumstances, and giving them the opportunity, motivation and courage to see the positive differences they can make. They support key projects to give young people the start in life they need to go out and achieve, and we’ve seen first hand the impact that this can have. From teaching children the life skills that are missing from the academic curriculum, to providing mentorship and other fantastic opportunities, we passionately believe in what Big Change does, and we hope you do to.
If you’ve been following our progress, or just stumbled across the challenge on the web, we’d like to ask you to make a donation to our Virgin Money Giving page. We’ve raised over £1300 so far, and we would be ecstatic if we could raise this total to five thousand pounds.
That’s one pound for every kilometre we are cycling, all the way to the summit of Mt Elbrus in Russia. We’ve cycled 2000km so far, and its been the hardest and the best thing either of us have ever done. We’re going to keep going until we get to Russia, so please give generously.
So, onto the journey.
Leaving Budapest we started with a quick warm up. A 230m climb to the Buda Citadella!! It had great views which overlooked the city and it was a fantastic goodbye to one our favourite stops so far.
We picked up the Danube at the bottom and it took us south towards the Balkans. We headed down the road towards Kalosca in Southern Hungary. With cooler weather conditions and no head wind, we were at last able to have a frictionless day of cycling. We were feeling pretty pleased, after leaving Budapest early in the morning we had smashed the 140km in a great time.
The next day, we were slightly less fortunate. It rained for eight hours. We spent the entire 130km cycle feeling pretty wet and cold as the sun had decided to take a day off. For some reason, we were both in great spirits the whole time and excited to approaching our first proper boarder crossing.
Traveling so far by bike seems to have accentuated our perception of distance. We’d cycled across the whole of Hungary, and now we were reaching the edge. We had the strange sensation of a country coming to an end; the last towns and villages fell behind us, and the final kilometre was barren. The checkpoint is designed to process a high volume of commercial traffic, and even late at night the lorries were queueing several hundred metres back. Reaching the edge of the schengen zone meant that for the first time, we had to show our passports and we sat, interspersed between cars until our turn came. All the border guards came out to get a look at the mad english couple.
As we cycled off into Croatia, daylight began to fade. It definitely had a more rugged and wild feel to it than Hungary, and some buildings still bore the scars of conflict. We came across our first 100m+ hill for a while. At the top we stopped to take some photos, trying to capture the mysterious and slightly gloomy atmosphere that was quite a change from Hungary.
We visited Vukovar, the scene of heavy fighting fifteen years ago. They have left the water tower as a memorial. Heavily damaged during the war, it looms over the town as a poignant reminder that there war war in Europe less than 20 years ago.
Day three and day four were tougher. Our mistake was probably to set all four days with distance targets above 120, which is about what we can do without feeling completely knackered. We had to cross into Serbia and take the roads, and whilst we were making good time, it was harder to stay motivated with the more monotonous scenery and constant buffering from the passing lorries.
We also had our first dog attack! Whilst getting info for the next part of the route, we had read a truly horrific blog post from a cyclist in Romania. He was repeatedly and remorselessly chased by wild dogs across a 100 km stretch of Romania. So we had our eyes out!
The dog struck in the perfect ambush position; just as we were halfway up a fairly steep hill. With nowhere to go and no way to outrun it, we resorted to screaming at it. We’d read that if you shout loud enough then they get scared, and sure enough it pealed off after a few hundred metres to await the next unsuspecting cyclists! We had a good laugh at the top of the hill, and got our breath back.
Mid way through the fourth day we were both struggling a bit. It becomes hard to just cycle when there isn’t much to look at, we can’t talk to each other because of the road noise, and we are constantly cringing as the lorries pass by. It had again become a mental challenge.
Our solution was ‘the lorry game’, where we tried to guess the size of the approaching car from its sound. The small family cars make a friendly, high pitched and safe noise, whilst the biggest lorries make a deeper, more horrific, bloodcurdling howl. By finding it funny we got round the mental challenge, and we arrived in Belgrade late that night.
We’ve had a lovely rest day in Belgrade, and tomorrow we set off again.
The Adventure continues..next stop Sofia!!
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Thanks to our sponsors Mark Evision Foundation, Cosaraf Foundation, Halfords, Hubrick, Bounce Foods, Snow and Rock, High5 Nutrition, Power Traveller, LSE Annual Fund and Bergans.