We keep talking about travelers who are visiting Serbia, and finding Serbs to be generous people with a big sense of hospitality, and it seems like every day we hear of more and more foreign travelers that are finding this. The latest example comes from Kevin Shannon. He is a 23-year-old British cyclist undertaking a 38,000 mile trip around the world over three years — without creating any carbon emissions. Kevin Shannon was recently in Serbia, and he put up a blog post titled ‘Into Serbia’. The story is so good that I ended up including the whole thing, because it’s too good not to read — but check out Kevin’s site directly.
“Umm, yes please”
I found myself sat in a small roadside bar only a kilometer from the Serbian border with a local farmer.
Before entering Serbia i had known very little about the country and the people. I was simply passing through on my way to Bulgaria and ultimately Turkey. As i pedaled through Croatia the few people who had asked where i was headed would be shocked when i said ‘Serbia’ and i was told plenty of stories of how i would be mugged, shot, stabbed, possibly tortured but ultimately killed by their neighbours to the east. I initially shrugged off these stories as i knew of the past history of these two countries but when i handed my passport over at the border and the border guard looked at me and the bike and inquired as to whether i had insurance i felt slightly apprehensive.
“Erm, for the bike or me”
I pushed off into Serbia. Literally one kilometer into the country a local on a tractor pulled me over and invited me for a drink. One beer led to 4 and before i knew it was invited back to the mans house in the local town of Sid to meet his family and to stay for a couple of days. After 24 hours any worries about Serbia i had were eliminated as i met some of the genuinely nicest people i have met on my expedition so far. For 3 days i ate and drank for free. My requests to buy the next round of beers when in the local pubs and clubs were protested to the point that i felt i was offending them with the mere suggestion. I had become accustomed to eating a small breakfast, a bit of fruit for lunch and a bowl of pasta with salami each day, so the huge meals i was given were too much but i felt bad not eating the food provided so i spent 3 days feeling bloated – but in a good way. The days were spent drinking Coffee, Rakija and beer with the families extended family and friends learning about life in Serbia.
As soon as it had begun it was over. I set off from Sid, my bike a little heavier with the cured meats and fruit i had been given to see me on my way.
I had cycled perhaps 65-70 kms before i arrived in the city of Sabac. My day had been spent being chased by wild dogs and even losing a spare shoe when i particularly vicious pack of 7 dogs chased me for a kilometer or more. I was ready to sleep and had had enough of the ‘wildlife’; the last thing i needed was to have to navigate through a city. I stopped at a set lights to check my map when i biker stopped to help me find my way. After a brief introduction and an explanation of what i was doing, i was invited to his house to stay for the night, an offer i gladly accepted. Soon enough i was tucking into a huge meal with Sarke and his mother. It was explained to me that all the food i was eating was grown at their house and, even better, it was all organic. The next day i saw their large vegetable patch where they grew all their food, their numerous chickens and the friendly pair pigs that i could hear making a lot noise that morning. Sarke went onto explain that everything from the food and animals is used, in some way, in the food they eat and any waste goes back into their produce. Any scraps from the kitchen is given to the pigs and chickens, which in turn are eaten. The waste from the animals is spread over the vegetable patch in early spring, which helps to grow the veggies for the next year. I was fascinated and would frequently ask at meal times if any thing was shop bought or not from their garden, the answer usually being no or sometimes ‘the flour for the bread is from the supermarket’.
I spent several days with Sarke meeting his friends and drinking yet more ‘Pivo’ and Rakija (still not being allowed to buy anything!). One memorable night was spent drinking with 3 of his friends while he went to cut hair (he was a hairdresser/barber). One was a Lawyer, another an Artist and the other a Philosophy student studying for his PHD. We spoke about anything and everything late into the night, explaining how life really is in each others countries, i was given an in depth Balkans history lesson and we generally set the world to rights. The night culminated in Sarke and myself stumbling home singing Bob Dylan at the top of our lungs. I suppose that’s why Rakija has been given the motto ‘Rakija – connecting people’.
We were invited to a party in nearby Belgrade, the countries capital. We gladly accepted as it gave me an opportunity to see the capital and meet yet more Serbians with, perhaps, a different attitude as i was desperately looking for a flaw in countries people – surely they can’t all be so kind. I had been told since my first day in Serbia that Belgrade has some of the most beautiful women in Europe. After about 18 hours in the city i must say i agree.
After a week of good times and great food, i had to get moving again. I wanted to explore the country a little more but i also want to get as far into Asia as possible before the worst of the weather kicks in. I was also, surprisingly, missing sleeping in my tent.