Sultans Trail – cycling part 2, Belgrade to Istanbul
Upon arrival in Belgrade, we are pleasantly surprised that the bicycles have arrived unharmed. It is a bit drizzly so we immediately have to test the rain resistance of our outdoor clothing. And it works. As the Irish also say: “There is no bad wheater, just bad clothing”.
We would meet Jovan Erakovic, our Serbian bike friend, who has already explored many routes and is an official Euro Velo explorer. He has an organization the “Cyclonaut” but unfortunately, we miss each other at the airport. Jovan wanted to surprise us, but we start driving wrong right away and merge onto the highway. Fortunately, there is just a bus stop before the highway really starts. We hoist the bikes onto the bus and that’s how the adventure to Istanbul begins.
Fortunately, Jovan later has the right track for us. We meet in the cafe “Coffee dream” in a Serbian slum, Jovan is surprised to meet us here in the city where there are so many beautiful places. But we also don’t know how we got here.
We sleep on the Hostel-boat Art Hostel on the Danube and set off for Belgrade after one
delicious breakfast. Belgrade is beautiful and easy to cycle and I see the Church Sava up close for the first time. With our luminous traffic jackets and bicycle packaging, we automatically get nice encounters with other cyclists, even with the Sava directly entitled to a fellow cycling fan.
The plan to camp wild starts immediately at night 2, the wettest night of the entire trip. In the middle of an apple orchard, we relax in the mother pool under our sky-blue tent. In the morning it turns out that it was not the smartest place to camp: the sand paths have become mud pools through which we have to push the bicycles for 5 km. It could have been less because we went the wrong way, but yes that is part of exploring the route.
In the end, we cycle wonderfully through Serbia on the beautiful B-roads. We also test the
walking route opposite the cycle paths but mainly remain on the car-free asphalt roads. The landscape is a bit undulating and on a descent I suddenly see Sedat shoot up into the sky with the luminous rear bags behind it. The contents of the bags are on the street and in the ditch but thank God Sedat is still intact. After the shock, we continue the journey. Although we had saved the peanut butter neatly, we did leave the expensive cream bars and new toothbrushes plus toothpaste in the ditch.
After every day of cycling, we are surprised to meet friends of Max, Bram and Ton. The three of them are widely known in this region and the guestbook with notes by Bram Schouten is proudly displayed. Max’s friends offer us Rakia and urge him to say hello. It is great that the Sultans Trail has been so well explored here and that so many good contacts have been made in Serbia. Sedat is proud of the work of the Sultans Trailers.
From Nis we had already made a good walking tour with Tine Lambers, Annemie Demuynck and our Serbia guide Rade Nikcevic last year. The cycling route is very different, but the area is still known. We find beautiful roads and meet beautiful people and many cyclists. It has been booming in the last 5 years since Euro Velo 6 is completed and Serbs are allowed to travel visa-free. Cycling gives a feeling of freedom, and here symbolizes a peaceful time. Especially when cycling paths are made again. After the border, we arrive in a mountainous area where a romantic cobblestone path leads through what was once the old road to Istanbul. Ideal for cyclists although you should not be in a hurry, so we bump quietly into Bulgaria; pleasantly surprised what a beautiful cycling country Bulgaria is with beautiful mountains on your side and quiet car-free paths. In Plovdiv, it is a great party for cyclists. Preparations for 2019 are in full swing for the European Capital of Culture. There is a 43 km long cycle path and you cycle after a busy stretch extremely pleasant into the city.
By far the most exciting piece is in Turkey. Traffic is slowly but surely increasing here, but the construction activity is also fast and huge. This is where the largest airport in Europe will be located and that is noticeable. We also cycle one day through Greece: the three countries day from Svilengrad via Greece to Edirne. The border post at Bulgaria – Greece is wonderfully quiet because there is no freight traffic here.
In Turkey, we are very busy meeting bicycles and nature associations. Our arrival is very well prepared and we will be featured in all local and national newspapers via Edosk, and one news agency. It’s a big bike party with drone footage, news, encounters, gifts, special bike hostels, and we even have a new bike Manager Levent. The cycling public is huge in Turkey, so we have been very busy setting up a cycling network of companies and people who, together with the Sultans Trail, will make a nice entry into the Asian part of Turkey.
For dessert, we also came across Paddy Devlin and we were able to enjoy his wonderful closing days after his one and a half year journey from Istanbul to Vienna and back. Fikri Bekbaş is also indispensable on this tour and we conclude the tour with a very satisfied, grateful and joyful feeling. We hope that many travellers will make grateful use of the information collected. First part 1 will be released and this winter part 2 will be composed and again published by Pirola publishing house.