Our last day in Serbia was perfect. Lovely quiet roads, plenty of food, beautiful scenery, a tailwind. All the things a cyclist hopes for. There was a ferry crossing partway through the day, which was so expensive it caught us off guard. We knew we had another boat crossing to get to Romania, so we quickly went from wondering if there would be any place to change leftover money, to concerned about having enough Dinars left. We paid for the border ferry with about 30p to spare, even buying a bottle of drink that day would have left us unable to pay. The border crossing itself was from a textbook of how to take as long as possible to do a job and use what small power you have to make people wait for you.
The ferry and Romanian border were not where we thought they’d be. We thought we would dock in the town of Moldova Veche, but were dropped a couple of kilometres south. We made the smart decision to detour into the town to get supplies, because it turned out that there would be very few of those on this route, and to use a cashpoint of which we didn’t see another whilst in Romania.
The ride continued to be amazing, and even though it had been a bit stressful with the border crossing, we felt relaxed and were thoroughly enjoying ourselves. We stopped somewhere before the village of Liubcova, but felt like we could go on for miles. We knew the next day had some climbing, which would be substantial in the heat. We didn’t know that there would be no shops, kiosks or roadside stalls. The morning arrived, and it was already in the 30s before 9am, so we knew it would be a scorcher. Still, the road was excellent, there was almost no traffic and the scenery was jaw dropping. Every corner we turned had me shaking my head at what I was seeing, and being grateful to be here. Don’t worry though, I can find some negatives! Oh god, the heat. It felt as though every bit of me was melting, and when there was a breeze it was the same feeling as when you open an oven door. We pulled over to some picnic tables in the shade – there are lots of parking areas on the route for people to pull over and enjoy the view – and spotted a monument with a natural spring fountain on the other side of the road. There are not many better feelings than to be baking hot and getting dehydrated, and be able to satiate your thirst with ice cold spring water. I filled up our water bottles, 6 litres in total, and had finished it by the end of the day.
A few kilometres further on and we could see the beginning of the climb in front of us, and even though it was hot and the road was steep, I was feeling pretty strong. I overtook Richard when he stopped for a drink, and when I next looked back he was nowhere to be seen. I have never been faster than him on a hill. I even had the energy to go back and get his bike when he was struggling even to push it. He’d had no fizzy drinks during the day, and while I’m happy and used to existing on water on a ride, his body was zonking without his usual sugar. We had a blissful downhill and then a shorter climb, which he could barely make it up. We stopped for the day after that, so he had time to recover. The following day’s climb saw normal service resume, with me plodding along up a hill and him in the distance, full of cola and iced tea.
But the excitement was building, as now we are cycling through the Iron Gates National Park, and a date with this:
Ever since I found out about the rock sculpture of Decebalus, the first couple of months of cycling has been all about seeing it. I’ve inundated Richard for about a year with links, pictures and endless talk about “Stone Face.” He didn’t know exactly which day we would get there (he insists he didn’t look it up, and he does have somewhat more self control than I do) but predicted that I wouldn’t be able to contain myself and would give it away. That part is kind of easy when I’m usually about a mile behind, but the dramatic rock formations and stalls up ahead made it obvious that Stone Face was near. It was surreal to be standing in front of something I’d imagined seeing for so long. It was exactly as advertised, there had been no glossing or shopping the online pictures, and no case of it being smaller in real life. Here he is again:
The road became quite a bit busier after Stone Face (though it’s still a fairly quiet road,) we think because many foreign tourists make a detour to see him, but there is no easy way to get there from the other side. We saw a few groups of touring motorcyclists go his way and then return the same way. The scenery drops off a bit from here also, and with the lack of services we’d experienced, the fact that we really enjoyed Serbia and its cheapness compared to Romania, we decided to cross back across the Iron Gates bridge. The ride between the town of Orsova (after Stone Face) and the bridge is one of the Danube’s notorious ones, but although it was hair raising in places, we lived. The Romanian border guard was a smiley happy chappy who wished us a safe journey onward.
Even though seeing the Stone Face was something I’ve looked forward to for ages, it was the last fixed place we had in mind, and now we can just go wherever we want. We do know we’d like to see more of small town Serbia, so that’s our only plan for the moment.
Here is a playlist for the Iron Gates National Park ride: