Monday, June 12, 2006

Subotica, Serbia

Friends: Serbia is the sixth country I've passed through on this journey and the first to add a stamp to my passport. The border official was looking at my many stamps so closely I feared he might be looking for a visa, which wasn't supposed to be necessary. But he was just the curious sort at a quiet border.

Serbia also provided me with my first egg since my daily quiche of France. It was sunny-side up atop a thick slice of pizza, peering at me from behind a glass case at a bakery in Sibobran. I hadn't planned on pizza, but this one couldn't be resisted. I had intended on another burek, as advertised on the shop window, to see if it would be cheesy, rather than meaty, as had been my first Serbian burek. That one had been served with a cup of yogurt. I don't know if that is the style in Serbia or if the cook was being kindly to me, as I arrived at his small cafe rain-soaked. I looked around to see if anyone else in the restaurant had a cup of yogurt along with their burek, but the half-dozen or so other customers in the restaurant were only drinking.

My burek actually came from the adjoining small cafe. It wasn't the first time I had mistaken a bar for a restaurant here in Serbia. This bar and restaurant somewhat adjoined each other, though they had separate entrances from the street. The guy preparing the food in the cafe was actually over in the bar sitting at my table watching England playing Paraguay in the World Cup.

Its only the first weekend of the month-long competition, but it has already taken over. In the big city of Novi Sad most of the outdoor cafes along the main boulevards had TVs tuned to Eurosport, some even providing English commentary. I'm looking forward to biking through Germany where it is all taking place.

There was so little traffic on the roads here yesterday, Sunday, I feared I might be violating some curfew. There were a couple of racing-garbed cyclists out for a spin and a lot more cyclists puttering along on clunkers that Working Bikes, the Chicago cooperative that sends used bikes to third world countries, would reject. More than a few of those riding bikes were smoking a rancid cigarette that would force me to speed up as I approached them to escape the fumes.

Tractors are a common enough site on the roadways that the larger towns have to have signs forbidding their entry. Every once in a while I'll encounter one going slightly faster than my solitary speed that I can latch on to and draft. The roads here are the worst I've encountered so far, with lengthy stretches of patched potholes. I've also had to contend with cobbles. Repaving is going on. Sometimes only one side of the road has been repaved. If it is the opposite side of the road from what I'm on and is upraised, traffic passing me isn't inclined to hop over on it, sometimes passing me a little too close for comfort.

Men's and women's washrooms in these parts are indicated by a high-heeled and low-heeled shoe on the door. The service stations have offered some of the best toilet facilities I've encountered in Europe, better than most public toilets even in France, complete with hot water and mirrors and toilet paper. These bathrooms have been my chief source of water. I have yet to find a park with a drinking fountain. The weather has been so wet and cold, my park sitting and people watching has been very limited.

Unlike France, where most stores are closed on Sunday, Sunday seems to be the big shopping and market day in Serbia. There were throngs on the street in Novi Sad and at the large shopping center on the city's outskirts. There was also a huge outdoor market rivaling anything I've seen anywhere with everything from puppies to bike parts and flowers and food for sale.

On to Hungary, George

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