Serbian Adventures and The Happy Policeman
5th – 11th July 2010
In the northern tip of the Bulgarian coast you will find Kaliakra Cape. Driving out past the resorts of Varna the road and scenery turns quite agricultural. Flat, endless expanses of sunflower and wheat fields. At Kaliakra Cape I found myself on a small peninsula jutting out from sheer drop cliffs remarkably like the Dover cliffs! Here there were remnants of a 8th century citadel that wasn’t very exciting to say the least and strangely right at the top of the “fort” an army surveillance station covered in whirling satellites and aerials fashioning large KEEP OUT signs. However, it did have a church at the very end of the peninsula built into the cliff. There you could look out to sea and spot dolphins.
As we drove east our last wild camping spot in Bulgaria turned out to be a hidden gem on a little windy track. Driving along we spotted a strange asphalt road that had steps on the right hand side leading to, you guessed it, no where! so we thought we’d take a look. The road continued round and around in till we found a nice flat plateau. The views were amazing and we work out that we were looking over Bulgaria and Romania. Getting out and checking out the local surroundings we continued to walk up the spooky road till it opened out on to this big boy with a gun! Its strange what you find on un marked roads, up random hills.
Heading further east we stopped at Veliko Tarnovo and its gigantic high walled fortress that dominates the lower part of the city. The town had a nice vibe to it, probably due to the high volume of students I think! By all accounts it looks like this area has a growing number of British expats that reflected in the towns new English bookshop where we exchanged some books for new reading material. A quintessential requirement to all travellers needs!
Belogradchick. Our last stop before leaving Bulgria. The book said the fortress is something from Lord of the Rings, so we thought, why not!
The area is quite amazing. Beautiful scenery and dark green alpine trees nestle between gigantic red sandstone rocks. At the fortress, you can clamber all over the rocks and take vertical ladders to the top where you find amazing views of sandstone formations dotted far in to the distance. This was my personal favourite highlight of Bulgaria and a definite must see. Quite, super spectacular.
Driving from Belogradchick to the Serbian border we passed through many stunning traditional houses. We couldn’t find anywhere to stop for the night so we thought we’d press on over the border to the first Serbian campsite. Huumm, little did we know that only one hour later we’d be met by stalin-esque crazy border control man.
After getting thoroughly checked over by the Bulgarian vignette man (warning, make sure you keep the counter part to the vignettes) luckily for us, we’d kept them due to our in ability to throw those little bits of paper you store up on the dashboard. We rolled round the corner to Serbia.
Driving in to the border control. We met, quite frankly, the meanest border control people we’ve ever experienced who gave us a moody glare. Mark jumped out and passed our papers passports etc. First thing the border control officer complained about that we didn’t stop, where it says stop. We didn’t honestly see the stop sign, which was situated 100meters away behind us. But bearing in mind that there was not a sole in the control area plus we’d passed through about 18 other border controls in the same manner, we didn’t feel it a problem to stop at the allocated area!
After that, he proceeded to rip the entire contents of the motorhome out to have a look. I had no problems with it of course, but he seemed not to like me much as when he was searching through our things I made sure that I could see what he was doing.
Stalin dictator control man was now opening up every rammed cupboard and riffling through without even any gloves, dirty bugger. Me being a little untrustworthy wasn’t going to let some nutter start planting things in our stuff. It was pretty hot inside the motorhome so I was a little fidgety. The border control man didn’t like me staring at him so shouted to his colleague, then proceeded to tell me to go outside. I did, but a little wary, thoughts crossing my mind of being taken away to be anal probed or something strange…anyway, the female officer, did her little frisk, told me to empty my pockets (which had nothing in them) and prodded her fingers into my pockets and looked at my belly! She shouted back to the nasty Stalin officer who was still looking at me suspiciously. After making a right mess of the motorhome they processed our passports inside the office at the speed of a one-legged tortoise, reappeared a while later, and actually shouted GO!
I think Stalin border control man had serious issues…!
Welcome to Serbia! After our welcoming encounter we were driving down the road and feeling a little wary of what to expect. Our first town, the directions seemed fairly straight forward to follow and roads not in too bad a condition. Then in the first ten minutes we were flagged down by the police. Great. After the Stalin episode we were a little apprehensive. Dobre Dan! The police officer said, we responded back. “English” he said, “yes”, we replied. Ah! The other police officer came across and said “how can I help you?” Well, obviously we didn’t really need help, seen as they were the ones stopping us on the road, but we said “campsite Bor” and the police officer proceeded to tell us full directions! We thanked him and were on our way. All very strange stuff. Driving on, we got to the next town and again the police flagged us down. We stopped and the police officer started jibber jabbing in what I think was no language at all as the bloke behind him was smiling. Then we asked if he spoke English. The police officer shouted to his colleague who came around popped his head in and said in a very well spoken English accent “How can I help you?!” Well this seemed a joke, but again we said camping and the police officer reeled off the correct way to get there, we thanked him and off we drove. This happened amazingly once more. By that time we were getting accustomed to the friendly and helpful police officers of Serbia!
All in all it was a very strange evening in Serbia. By the time we got to the campsite (after getting a little lost) we arrived at Camping Bor.
The staff were exceptionally helpful and even offered alternative spot right on the lake (in front off everyone else’s view) but we happily took the a small spot by the side of the entrance as there was no space as the campsite was literally busting at the seems! After the evening we had, we were happy to take it. Problem was, we had no cash! After getting stopped by the police so many times, we got a little distracted as to locating a cash point and so hoped we’d spot one along the way but of course there were none. The campsite owner was a nice man and said no problem for us to get cash the next day.
Next morning we were giving the campsite owner a lift into town. We had mentioned registering us with the police, but he said he didn’t do that but to our surprise he had the official forms with him to register us. In town we popped to the cash point, he went a register us at the local police station. After paying him for our nights stay we thanked him and went on our merry way, plus without the hassle of registering with the police, yehay!
Travelling through Serbia the scenery is very much like southern eastern Europe. Typical rolling hills, meadows and woods and endless forests. As we drove through a number of villages and towns I noticed that they seemed at little more affluent than there Bulgarian counterparts. Modern houses, well kept gardens and neat and tidy towns and streets. Unlike Bulgaria which has a rough and ready feel to it. No one’s seen mowing verges there!
The countryside was beautiful but I did notice that everyone is on the big grid! In Bulgaria they have very small, local town electric stations, which means there are no massive steel pylons. However, in Serbia all the countryside had big steel electric pylons running valley to valley.
Our second day in Serbia we headed north towards the Hungarian border. Having decided not to stop in Belgrade we took a detour around the city in search of the campsite. This was interesting to say the least! We spent hours. I seriously mean hours to find it. It took us the whole afternoon and early evening in till dusk 9.00pm to find the campsite. This was stupidly our faults, being a little unprepared I had only jotted directions of the campsites in Belgrade and no more! Having changed the journey we were purely looking in an area with a vague address of the campsite. This little journey showed us just how lovely and helpful the Serbian people were. In total we asked around six or seven people directions that day, the first country where we’ve actually had to ask because we were totally lost! Everyone we asked was friendly and helpful. In fact, in hindsight, I think the Serbian people are one of the most friendly and happiest nation of people we have travelled through. Don’t believe what people have written. We had preconceptions of Serbians being mean and grizzly from what we had read from people’s blogs. This is total rubbish, having spent time in a few countries now I see the French, and Italians as far more moody and rude than any of the Serbians we met!
So, by the time we reached the campsite we were welcomed by a chatty gentleman who was the owners friend and translated that in fact the campsite was free! Yep, gratiut. Which was a nice surprise of course. Whoop whoo money saving! We worked out that he must offer the small park up space for foreign motorhomers for free. To be honest, its not like you get many travellers in Serbia apart from Belgrade so this was a nice gesture. Camp Jebuko Cvet was a lovely campsite in very pretty surroundings and the area was flat as a pancake which made excellent cycling opportunities from the well marked EU cycle route running through it. Its well worth stopping by if your on the East side of Belgrade.
Serbia on the whole seemed a very friendly country and we wished we had stayed longer. The only down side to Serbia is having to register with the police every time you change address/area. Maybe for hotel and hostel stays its easy but moving around daily with a motorhome, we found it really time consuming trying to find a police station only to move on and by the afternoon needing to register again at a new address. Hopefully this policy will change, but for now it makes travelling around Serbia a little difficult and generally a pain in the butt!