A floting club moored up the river keeps me awake for a bit, but the magical wax ear plugs drown out most of it. If you have never tried wax earplugs they are really fantastic for noisy neighbours. They are hard wax until you roll them around in your hand like plasticine for a minute or two. When they become mallable they push into the ear blocking out 95% of noise. Quite disturbing when you first try them, they make you feel like you're floating. I indulge myself with the included breakfast and pack my bags and leave them with reception. Unbeknownst to me because of the rain the hostel has extra parts to it, other floating modules that are all tied to the main unit. A bit like groovy looking floating portakabins two storeys high. On one of these at the top is a roof garden of sorts. I dry out the tent here until I return. It's such a nice feeling to go exploring the city without the trappngs of all the luggage needed to survive and the bike feels so light. First stop on the itinerary of such an interesting city bathed in modern history is of course....the flea market. I've been told this is my best chance for a battery charger for the camera. I really can't believe the bad luck Iv'e had with that bloody thing. The rain has stopped and I head out into Novi Beograd. On the approach I see something similar to Brick Lane on a Sunday. People selling bits of stolen, found and unwanted tat out of old briefcases and carrier bags. I don't hold out much hope here but head into the centre of the hubbub and find more normal market fair, selling the usual knock off clothes, fancy goods, tools and cheap electricals. A chat with a woman trader sets me on a possible course but she doesn't hold out much hope. I find three or four of the type of stalls I'm after but I draw a blank on all of them, not surprisingly. I'm also in the market for some cycling leg warmers as I don't have anything good for my legs when it's cold and rainy. I try to convince a stall selling ladies leggings that they will be perfect, she is having none of it and refuses to let me offer them up to my waist, thinking I'm taking the mickey. A tour round the vast market turns up nothing useful and I'm resigned to heading to Old Belgrade to check out the sights. I'm particularly keen to see the Tito museum and to find out about the former Yugoslavia that I grew up with, with headlines on the news but don't know enough about. I ask one more stall about something or other and go through the motions of the camera charger in pure desperation. YES he says and picks up a small universal chinese ebay style charger that I had with me when I left. How much I ask getting ready for a shock, 600 dinar he replies. About £6, I demand to see it working and shake him fierecly by the hand beaming with joy. I'm now writing this having my 3rd turkish coffee of the day in a cafe in the market whilst I get the camera battery charged and then I'm off to take some photos. Bloody technology has really used up a lot of my time, caused me grief and I really have been considering going on my next trip with nothing but a pen and notebook.
Looking back at my route, my photos, my video and my blog however, wins me round every time. It's an addiction I can't kick. Any psychologists reading this should do a study into the effect of being addicted to electronic devices and what this entails. I will be a guinea pig, as long as expenses are covered:) As I look around the market from my vantage point on the cafe balcony it could be anywhere in England on a weekend. Surprisingly the clothes I looked at seem quite dear compared with the prices of other goods in Serbia, compared to Europe. A good beer for 50p, a good coffee for 70p. Fruit and veg seems about 1/3 of the price. But a pair of cheapo cotton leggings £7!! They obviously haven't got a Primark here. By the way I'm a Primark hater and not really a leggings wearer but I know someone who is ;) The central aisle to the entrance of the market has various dogs lying right in the middle which no one seems to be bothered about. Talking of dogs, whilst traversing the park from the hostel I saw a pack of about half a dozen wild mutts, stupidly and showing off I had the bike camera switched on and decided to cycle right through the middle of them to see what would happen. Lets just say I won't be doing it again, homeless dogs just like homeless people tend not to be in the best of shape and most don't have it in them to give chase. Two fit ones had other ideas and I really did get the closest to being attatcked so far. I would gladly take on two medium size dogs with a stick or similar weapon but when its a pack I'm out of there. The others get up the confidence to join in when they would normally be passive. I must remember this. Silly boy. Market done I head back to the hostel to whack the other camera battery on charge and go do some sight seeing. As ususal this goes tits up, as by the time I decide to leave, the Tito museum that I wanted to go and see has closed. I get chatting to the Tanya over a beer. She is running the hostel this morning. It's not just because she is young, pretty and funny that I am side tracked, or even because she has an identical twin... (When I ask if she ever dresses the same as her twin she says the idea is “sick” in a Serbian-English accent which is so cool)...it's that she has a lot of interesting things to say. We talk about the Romany gypsies/people and how they are perceived. A lot of them don't have papers and if picked up by the police will go to jail because of this, thus the vicious circle begins. When they get out they have no where to live and no money. Apparently a lot of them left a decade or so ago but a treaty with other countries to take them back was signed, unfortunately Serbia has little money as it is and nowhere to house them and you find them begging and up to no good or doing the really lowly paid jobs that no one else will do. Same old story. Of course some of them are workshy layabout vagabonds and others are hard working and looking for a break.
My tent has dried on the roof garden and the camera battery has charged. Although it's 3pm I decide I might get sucked into a chillaxed easy going hostel life so I hotfoot it out of town via the Old part of town and the Fortress that dominates that part of the Dunav. Apologies for me constantly changing what countries spelling of Danube I use. It gets very confusing for somebody who can barely speak English, let alone French, German, Hungarian or Serbian. I say goodbye to my fabulous hosts and wish them my favourite Serbian greeting: dobber dan. Good afternoon. I take the cycle path along the river and wind into the city. A steep hill takes you up to the top of the fortress and rather than battle with pedestrians or cars I cycle up the middle of the tram way, half expecting a policeman to wave me down with his little lollipop. Instead they they wave hello with it. The fortress has impressive views right across the Danube and the Sava and across the smog filled sky of new and old Belgrade. The fumes are definitely the most noticeable I've ever experienced. Everything gets burnt, leaded petrol and other fuel I've never heard of still gets pumped out at the filling stations and various contraptions take to the road utilising every type of fuel imaginable. For me the smell of the fumes and food being cooked and rotting rubbish and rotting dogs is quite romantic as it reminds me of time I spent in India. The aroma may not be bottled and sold at an airport duty free any time soon though. The fortress is vast as I explore the cobbled roads inside and move between one old gated archway to another. The signs are in cryllic and English and explain about an old gunpowder magazine and the date, or war machines of former Yugoslavia and a large collection of small tanks and rockets.
I have a chat to some lads from Belgrade who tell me the road to Smederevo is pretty bad and don't envy my journey. I leave the old people playing chess on granite tables and young lovers entwined on park benches and head out of Belgrade in rush hour. Luckily I pick the right road and I stay on it for over an hour, racing with a tram, stopping at lights and catching up with it again as it has to stop for cars parked in its way. We go our seperate ways at the same time. Train 1 – 1 Bicycle. The fumes sit heavy on my chest as I reach the summit out of Belgrade and peel off towards Smederevo. I do some shopping. A red pepper and two small nectarines cost me 6 1/2p. Add a 500ml bottle of dark beer, a pot of yoghurt, half a large brown crusty loaf and a tomato or two and the whole lot comes to less than £1.50. I stop at a filling station to get petrol for my stove as the gas I bought in Austria has finally run out. They don't do screw type gas in Serbia so I have to resort to using petrol for the first time. I'm expecting the petrol pump attendant to laugh as I pull up at the pump on my bicycle and ask him to fill it up. But my metal canister is super professional compared to the moped who turns up and fills his old plastic water bottle. No one bats an eyelid. It's 6pm and I go looking for a camp. I peel off up a side road and as I reach its crest 5 or 6 little Romany kids come running up smiling. I entertain them with my bell and silly noises as they chase me. The ones on bikes eventually tail off and I reach a dead end, with two dogs coming at me. I do a quick u-turn and get the hell out. I ask someone in a house if I can camp in their drive but I think the answer is no. Then the neigbour comes out and tells me in German it's ok to camp in the field opposite. I ask for some water from him and settle down for the night. Incredibly I don't blow myself up with the petrol stove, but I will definitely be testing it out in daylight properly tomorrow. It's now dark and I have my head torch on and a guy comes walking up to me whilst I'm sat outside the tent cooking. He is dark skinned, dirty and has a wild gypsy look in his eyes. I explain I can't speak Serbski and he starts talking Deutsch. He's very intense but harmless. I think this is the closest I have come to a Thomas Stevens experience so far. The look of bewilderment on this guys face as to why I am here, on a bicycle, in my tent, here, where he lives, why??? I am really sleeping in that he says pointing to the opening in the tent, looking confused. He sees my dinner cooking and the stove is making all sort of noises because its not set up properly for petrol and gives me a big grin and a zehr gut. We shake hands he puffs on his cigarette and disappears into the night. My instinct is that I should not worry too much about him and the other family up the road wirth the kids who live in little more than a cobbled together shack made from wood, signs, and other discarded bits of timber and metal, but my brain says if you've got a padlock, use it you idiot. So I pull the bike half in the tent and attatch the long cable to my sandal and zip it inside the tent so it can't be pulled out without me knowing. I definitely wouldn't have been this relaxed about things at the beginning of the trip and all through Serbia I've generally not bothered locking my bike up if I'm not gone too long. Its dirty, smelly and a bit behind what we might consider modern. The people I've met in the street are not as outwardly friendly to me as other countries but I've never felt threatened, scared or worried. I'm sure if you leave anything anywhere long enough it will disappear. But I stiil feel London is the most dangerous and likeliest place to have anything stolen, out of the places I've visted so far.