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Heartful Croatians & Serbs

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26.09.2003 from Vrsac, Serbia - 1796km

Dear friends,

I am sitting here in Vrsac, Serbia, a couple of kilometers from the Romanian border. I would not have thought that I would end up with my two-wheel companion, but it happened. I gained many different impressions over the last few days from Ljubljana and when I am thinking back to the start in Switzerland it seems that an eternity has passed since... but now things in chronological order. From Ljubljana, I cycled to the east to Celje and then from there to Rugovska Slatina. This is a small border crossing to Croatia. Like arriving in Slovenia, I arrived in the backcountry in Croatia. Although the landscape is still the same here, the living standard seems definitely lower. Agriculture involves much more handwork for example. Very old tractors are also used and of course horse carts. Over many small hills and through lovely landscape, I cycle to Varazdin, the first major town. Unnoticeably, the landscape became totally flat. Now, corn fields are reaching out to the horizon, as well as the road that I am cycling on. I decide to take the major route straight to Osijek. Many villages alongside the road are seemingly endless, as most of the time the house of the next village join the houses of the previous village. Nevertheless, there is rarely more than one line of houses... strange! Camping out in nature is very easy here, as some parts of the agricultural land is not used. While resting for some minutes in the shade of some trees in the villages, I often get approached by very friendly people. I am getting offered anything from beer (several times...), coffee, food, etc... Once I got called while cycling and a woman offered me a handful of apples just like that. Really great people here!

Of course, I get always asked about my travel plans. Now I started to say that Istanbul would be my final destination, as otherwise I get even more looked at as some sort of E.T. Many people say that I really miss the best about Croatia... the Adriatic Sea. But they are all wrong, as the best part of Croatia is surely the warmth of their people!

In Osijek, after a long dayride, I reach a very sad part of Croatia. Many buildings still show very apparent signs of machine gun shots. For many years, a brutal war raged here and Europa was just looking. By chance, I find the small tourist information office in town. Tourism is actually all but non-existant here but nevertheless, the two women looking after the office are full of enthusiasm. The office was actually closed, they opened especially for me. After a couple of phone calls, I get pointed to Bilje, a village some 9 km from the center. Like chased by the devil, I riding in complete darkness over the road. I am quite scared to get hit by a car or truck... as the traffic is already dangerous during daylight...

After a long shower I get to bed in my room in the private pension in Bilje. The next morning I am talking for a long time with Marijne. She studied mathematics and is living now with Ankice, the owner of the pension. We are talking about many different things, especially of course about my travel plans. Marijne and Ankice seem to be very fascinated from the thought to just take a bicycle and discover the world. At least Marijne will cycle now a bit more. Although she excludes to go on a long tour. How knows...? But Marijne tells me also about her experiences during the war. She lived through horrible moments, as bombs were falling so close to where she was. So many people died. I feel very moved by her tellings. Incredible, I cycled for just two weeks and I am already at a place where such things happened. The news coverage during the 90s now become a very different importance to me. It is already late afternoon when I leave the pension. I cylce through Kopacki Rit, a famous nature reserve, but my thoughts are still at the stories about the war. At night, I pitch up my tent again on a agricultural field. But strangely huge parts of the land were not cultivated, all becomes clear as I see the signpost warning of minefields.

On the next day, I cycle through Vukovar. The town shows very apparent signs of destruction. Many houses, industrial compounds or water towers are still in rubbles or show many bullet holes. But at many places a proud Croatian flag has been hissed upon. There seems to be a lot of hope around here. In Croatia I always tried to avoid to mention Serbia as part of my route, because a lot of bad feelings are associated with this country. Some of these feelings seem to influence me as I cycle towards the Serbian border. Arrived in Serbia, I see a lot of hopelessness, at least it is my impression. The economy must have suffered a lot from all the expenses for the wars. But I am meeting also very kind and hospitable people. For example at a petrol station, I get invited to taste some Serbian food. Just to try, because it is not exactly eating time. They especially fry some fish and meat for me. In fact I am a vegetarian, but on these occassion I have decided to just eat what I get offered. Been on a cycling tour is already strange enough for these people... how should I explain that I do not eat meat? Ironically the name of the family who is running the restaurant and petrol station is Milosevic. But they are quite happy that somebody of the same name is now before court in Den Haag. So, every country has its positive aspects. Tomorrow, I am heading off for the Carpates in Romania.

See you,


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