Day 79 Ambienta Pension, Dometa-turnu Severin (Romania) to Camp St Mokranjac. nr Mihajlovac (Serbia).
We woke up quite rested considering we had only got to bed at 3.30am. Jon went on a mission to re-stock for the next three days at a local supermarket, while Vanessa leisurely organised panniers and made a few phone calls home.
Once all re-stocked, we were ready to head down the 10km stretch of heavy traffic towards to the Iron Gate border crossing over the dam to Serbia.
We had already experienced the intensity of traffic on the way into Romania, so we knew what to expect. Luckily the right side of the road also had a 3 foot wide section, which we both used all our energy to stay within, with Vanessa tucked in behind Jon. Before we knew it, we were at the border crossing. Relieved to have made it with no hiccups, we crossed into Serbia, snapped a photo or two of the dam and carried on alongside the Danube. Traffic was scarce, the sun was out and the wind was behind us, so we were very pleased.
After a fairly easy 40km ride through several small towns and passing by plenty of excited dogs , we decided to stop and have lunch. It so happened that a perfect wooden covered picnic spot appeared just as we were getting hungry. As we were filling our faces with food, a kind tractor driver stopped and pointed at the trailer behind his tractor. He had heaps of grapes, we took one and thanked him but he insisted that we took more, so we settled for two bunches.
With Vanessa feeling a little overfed and Jon fairly satisfied, we headed off. The Eurovelo 13 book mentioned that this road would be busy but to our pleasant surprise it was still quiet. We followed the signs until we reached a small town with nothing much bar a supermarket and a few houses. We only had 16km left to our pinned campsite, so we decided to stop for a drink and ice cream. We then headed off on the last stretch, where the Eurovelo turned us off the main road and back towards the banks of the river. It did indicate that we would encounter both dirt and tarmacadam, which we didn’t mind, as it would avoided the 85metre climb on the main road.
We cycled past several little towns, where dogs just seemed to hang around and this made things difficult for Vanessa. At one point she was surrounded by 3 dogs but soon realised that they did not want to eat her but just play.
The road varied from tarmac, rocks, dirt and slightly sandy, plus it was overgrown in parts. It was picturesque though, with lots of fishermen and pontoons and hills as a backdrop.
We soon found Camp St. Mokranjac, entered and eventually worked out how much for the night (we think he made the price up on the spot and overcharged but hey) , we then pitched our tent next to what at first we thought was sinks, toilets and showers but on closer inspection, we realised that they had no plumbing.
We asked the owner where we could shower/go to the toilet and he showed us into his home. The showers were cold mind you, but at least there was something. We cooked on the picnic table outside his house and shared ‘rekia’ with him and his several animals. Then had an early night.
Day 80 – St Mokranjac Camping, Nr. Mahajlovac to Dimitrovgrad (Serbia)
We got up pretty early and packed the tent whilst it was dry, as the forecast was for rain later in the day.
After eating breakfast watched by the resident cats and dogs, we picked a small supply of apples from the campsite trees (we already had too much food to carry) and set off.
We had 13km to cycle until Negotin, from where we planned to catch a train (or 3 as it turned out) south towards the town of Dimitrovgrad, close to the Bulgarian border, as the Eurovelo 13 booklet indicated this (approx. 200km) stretch was on busy roads. Plus it was likely to be wet.
This 13km cycle was mainly alongside the Danube on quiet roads, although we did have a four-legged companion follow us for a few km. We would lose her on the downhill stretches but she caught us on the ups. Eventually she got tired (or bored) on one long downhill stretch and we managed to escape.Arriving in the town of Negotin shortly after 10am we headed straight for the train station, where we were surprised to find 2 other bike tourers waiting amongst the locals at the very small platform. We were immediately advised by them that the train left in less than 2 minutes time and that we needed to travel first to Zajecar (approx. 50km away), then swap trains to Nis (another 50km approx.), from where we could travel onwards towards the Bulgarian border.
A very helpful local with good English assisted us in buying our tickets very quickly (we had to borrow 1000 dinar (€10) from the other bike tourers, as the station didn’t accept card) and within seconds of doing so, the train to Zejacar arrived.
We were more than a little concerned when we saw that the ‘beaten up’ looking train consisted of only a single carriage. The two of us, together with our 2 kiwi travel companions ‘Ella and Jimmy’ rushed over to the ‘train’ with the 4 bikes and countless panniers, hoping somehow that we would all fit in. The helpful local assisted in lifting up and somehow squeezing our bikes and panniers into the small compartment next to the main carriage and explained that the conductor would not make a fuss if we offered him a little money…which we did.
We bungeed and strapped the bikes, which we placed in an upright position, as best we could, so that they wouldn’t move too much and then took turns to hold them (actually we forgot to relieve Jimmy who spent almost half the journey watching the bikes whilst we chatted away) through the hour and a half long journey. Ella and Jimmy were a little over half way through a 2 month cycle tour from Copenhagen to Greece, which meant that we had travelled the same route as us down the Danube during the previous few days but would be taking a slightly different route south after Nis.
We all poured out onto the platform when we got to Zejecar and no more than 20 minutes later, the 4 of us caught the train to Nis, which thankfully was a whole carriage bigger and had an area for bike storage. Three very slow (the train wound its way through many hills and valleys) but scenic hours later we were in Nis.The 2 of us headed straight for the ticket booth to get a ticket for the next train to Dimitrovgrad, whilst Ella and Jimmy watched our gear. Fortunately this train station was larger and accepted credit cards but as the train left only 15 minutes later, we had no time to find an ATM and barely had a chance to say goodbye to Ella and Jimmy before leaving (we promised to transfer them the money we had borrowed).
A few minutes later the 2 of us had dragged our bikes aboard our third train of the day and then had a further 3 hour journey to the Serbian border town of Dimitrovgrad. Arriving there at shortly after 7pm it was already dark and raining quite heavily. We consulted Mapsme and aimed for the nearest accommodation (Hotel Amfora), which was 400m away. We were only slightly wet when we got there and very relieved that they had a free room and a covered area for the bikes as it was forecast to rain all night.
Our relatively short journey South had taken a short cycle, 3 trains and pretty much the whole day but tomorrow we would be in Bulgaria.
Day 81 Hotel Amfora, Dimiitrovgrad (Serbia) to Dragoman Hotel in Dragoman (Bulgaria).
We knew that it would still be raining today but hoped to make some progress by catching either a bus or train across the border in Bulgaria . We had read in our Eurovelo book and on several blogs that at this short section of road was not advisable to ride as it has no hard shoulder and plenty of traffic. As it was, it was raining anyway, so we were happy to explore the public transport option.
We got up early and checked out the very small and deserted train station, the ticket office was closed, so Vanessa went hunting for someone to ask. She managed to locate the only one person around, who seemed to think that the train to Sofia left at 3pm ish. With this good news in hand, we tried reading some of the information in the outside of the ticket office with our cool App google translate, which did say 3.30 pm Sofia.
Jon then set off in search of the bus station indicted on Mapsme, unfortunately all he succeeded in doing was getting wet, as the train station no longer excites. With all this information at hand we decided to wait out the rain in the comfort if the bar/restaurant area of our hotel and drink tea whilst updating our blogs. We even had the best hot chips ever!
At 2pm we got ourselves ready and cycled the short 400metres to the train station . To our surprise a train was already parked and after asking a few people and reading the sign on the front of the train we established it was heading to Sofia and hoped that it would stop in Dragoman. Having so much time, meant that we could leisurely put our stuff on the train, without too much fuss.With all the excitement Vanessa realised she had left her gloves outside the ticket office onto of the radiator. Jon sped off, as he had left his there too, only to find out they had gone. Vanessa was not happy as they were her expensive good gloves, actually only warm gloves. Vanessa then started becoming suspicious of two new arrivals who had a large bag and were acting a little odd. Vanessa got off the train, peered into their bag to find that her gloves had been shoved inside. Without any delay Vanessa grabbed her gloves and politely said ‘Excuse me, these are mine!’ And got back on the train before the gentlemen could say much. He obviously knew he was in the wrong, as there was no protesting. Vanessa and Jon were both relieved but feeling a little more conscious about their belongings.
Thirty minutes later a fully loaded army man with machine gun and police officer boarded the train and ask us a few questions then took out passports to be checked. Ten minutes later, they returned with our passports in hand and everyone else’s on board. Then we were off.
It chugged along slowly, it was still raining outside so we were happy to be inside and dry.
The journey across the border took merely 5 minutes before the train stopped again and Bulgarian officers came onboard and took our passports again. Once all the formal checks had been done we were off. We made good progress and had established that the train did stop at Dragoman. The train conductors hadn’t asked us for any cash yet and seemed happy that we were getting off sooner rather than later. So we decided not to mention anything.
Our station soon came round and we got off, we were still a little baffled as to why they hadn’t charged us but pleased all at the same time.
The only hotel in town wasn’t far and we hoped they had some room as it was still raining. Luckily for us, they had rooms and were very happy to store our bikes inside. What a result!
We didn’t actually cycle today but only traveled a short distance of 22km into Bulgaria due to rain and heavy traffic. Weather for tomorrow was meant to be much nicer, so we were happy to hang out.