With the notable exception of Romania, all of our border-crossings had passed off without a hitch until we reached the Hungarian/Serbian border where we were forced to abandon our British queuing etiquette and jostle along slowly with everyone else for two hours. This would turn out to be the opening act to a run of bad luck.
Fortunately, in this instance, Caro was able to clamber in to the back and make sandwiches whilst we waited.
We eventually made it across the border and were, once again, surrounded by agriculture and endless fields of sunflowers as we made our way towards Belgrade.
We didn’t have a particular desire to visit Belgrade and simply skirted around the edge on our way to Djerdap National Park which sits on eastern border of Serbia, on the bank of the Danube. The drive along the river was beautiful and we made the most of the only view of Romania allowed to us in a hire car.
As per usual, we hadn’t planned where to camp but a swift google showed that there were a couple of sites about half an hour from the park. We made our way to one of them, which appeared to still be being built, so swiftly reversed before anyone saw us and went to the other oner. As we pulled in and took a look around we started to regret our decision ever so slightly but the man who ran the place was already making his way over to us and we couldn’t possibly deal with the embarrassing situation of making an excuse and leaving so, instead, we gave him money and found a nice soggy spot to set up camp in. It was a little bit rough around the edges.
That being said, it was directly on the river and we had a beautiful view which, in the end, is much more important that indoor plumbing.
Djerdap National Park Headquarters is located in the town of Donji Milanovac, immediately next door to the Visitor Centre. For all but one of the hiking trails in Djerdap you need to be escorted by a ranger so we went there to see if we could book in for a hike that day. This was risky on our part and for anyone with the teeniest amount of pre-planning capacity it would be much simpler to call a couple of days ahead and you will be able to book in for a hike no problem. Everyone we spoke to was extremely helpful and whilst they tried to find out if a ranger was available we took a quick spin around the exhibits in the lobby which included a collection of mildly terrifying, presumably amateur, taxidermy.
We were informed that it wouldn’t be possible to engage a ranger that day but we could book in for the next day and were given a list of the available hikes to peruse. A majority of them were actually quite short, between 1 and 6 kilometres, and it felt a bit of a waste to wait around an extra day for this. We asked about the one trail you could walk unaccompanied and it turned out to be a 7-kilometre educational trail that started at the top of the town. Deciding that we could always call and book a ranger in the afternoon if the whim took us, we drove up to the hotel at the top of town and set off on the walk. We were told that the trail was well sign-posted but this wasn’t strictly true. Once you found the first sign post it was pretty easy to follow (up to a point) but finding it in the first place was a bit of a mare and then the map of the trail was very, very vague.
Given that we had had such trouble finding it Caro thought it would be beneficial to write a walking guide for other directionally challenged hikers but we never actually made it to the end of the trail, because we couldn’t find it as the signposts simply disappeared, so a guide written by us would be worse than useless. We managed to do about three quarters of the walk and we can confirm that it is lovely with vast numbers of butterflies and wildflowers and beautiful views over the hills and river.
Walk (largely) completed, we set off south for the town of Niš, the birthplace of Constantine The Great and where there are some Roman Mosaics that we planned to visit the following morning. We arrived in Niš, managed to track down some free wifi at a petrol station and looked for a campsite, sure that we would find some near to the fairly sizeable town. There were absolutely none within 50 kilometres of us and it was now about 5 o’clock in the evening. We picked the nearest one and set off again. Maps.me had told us that it would take us 35 minutes to get there but it didn’t take in to account the Serbian roads which were deteriorating before our very eyes.
We spent an hour weaving along this patchwork of tarmac before turning off on to this, infinitely worse “road”
We wound our way first up and then down the hill to the town of Sokobanja. Things looked up considerably as we drove through the town; there were people everywhere and everything was open, there was a fair in town and everyone was out and about to enjoy it. We were eagerly anticipating joining the crowds and wandering around for a bit when it transpired that the promised campsite did not exist and there wasn’t any alternative around. It was approaching 8 o’clock and we finally had to admit defeat, we weren’t going to find somewhere to stay. We drove back out of town, back up the hill, in to the forest and parked, no doubt illegally, at the very back of a picnic site, hoping we wouldn’t be spotted. Our luck did improve marginally as a mist descended which, although making it considerably chillier, did mean that Delaney was rendered invisible unless you walked in to him.
The mist hadn’t lifted the following morning but we were inexplicably confident that the weather would improve as we made our way back down the other side of the hill to Niš once again. The weather did not improve and drizzle did not improve an already drab city.
We had woken up really early and the site of the mosaic, Mediana, didn’t open until 10am so we had decided to get the drive to town done first, find somewhere to park and make breakfast whilst we waited for it to open. We made breakfast one of the most depressing carparks we have had the pleasure of eating in.
We did manage to sneak on to some free WiFi from one of the surrounding warehouses and wiled away the next two hours quite happily. At 9:55 we bundled up in our rain jackets and made a mad dash across the road to the site. It still looked pretty shut up but there were some other people waiting so we joined them, at a reasonable distance so as not to encourage conversation of course. James noticed that Delaney’s lights were still on and darted back across the road to turn them off, praying that we hadn’t drained the battery in the two hours that we had been sat there. In the meantime, Caro started snooping around the office and came across a sign taped in the window.
We had even checked the website the day before for the opening times and nowhere did it say that the bloody place was closed for half a year. James had made it back across the road and came face to face with a slightly manic smile; “you aren’t going to believe this”. All in all, a spectacular waste of time and even more so when we had to drive back in the opposite direction to get to Montenegro. In short, Serbia hates us but we were at least able to see the funny side and mercy of all mercies, the car battery hadn’t died so we could escape.