Serbia Bike Touring – ep. 2: We Met Vlachs!

Rain drops are falling on the tent flysheet with a dull sound. We are in Bulgaria, close to the Border with Serbia, and this is day two of our bike touring trip this autumn.

On the day before, we biked from Calafat, in Romania, to Kula, Bulgaria, just before the Serbian border. It was a rainy day and we struggle to keep our spirits up. We pitched the tent close to the road and we are now ready for a brand new day, starting our bicycle touring adventure in Serbia!

It’s a chilly morning and the air is still humid. However, the weather appears to be a lot nicer! We reach the border checkpoing from Vrashka Chuka pass soon enough and, after the formalities, we take our first wheelspins in Serbia. We just crossed the point between the Carpathians and Balkans and started our adventure!

Autumn crocuses are spread all over around the road. We have a nice downhill all the way to Zaječar, the biggest city in the region and an important centre of the Vlach community. Vlachs are people descended from Dacians who still maintain their cultural identity and language, over all those centuries. Needless to say, their language is an old form of Romanian, and we can perfectly understand each other. You can go as far as affirming that Vlachs are the same people as Old Romanian. Same history, same origin, same language. Real history – you know, not the kind you read in the history books – has never hit us in the face like it did now! More on that, later.

Having done our homework, we know that, according to Serbian law, any foreigner must register their entry in the country with the police. There is a form you are required to fill and stamp at the police station. When the clerk asked me “What is your residence in Serbia, where are you staying?”, I simply replied that we are bike tourists and carry a tent. Her expression was priceless! “OK, I’ll just say that you live in the park”, she said, and we both laughed.

Next on our checklist for the day is a warm meal. Luckily, right across the Police Station, there was a restaurant and warm food and we stuffed our faces real good. Bad idea, now biking further is a pain! The climb to Felix Romuliana makes us forget about it though.

A UNESCO World Heritage site in Serbia, the Felix Romuliana palace in Gamzigrad was built by Emperor Galerius. Funny fact about the guy – he was of Dacian origin and, affirming his identify, sought to change the name of the empire to the Dacian Empire. According to ancient author Lactantius, Galerius exhibited increasingly anti-Roman attitude, is response to the treatment of Dacians by Trajan, two centuries before.

Rained started just as we reached the gates of the ancient palace. The ticket man is an old Vlach and we are fascinated to talk to him. It’s impressive how these people kept their language through millenia, despite being assimilated into a Slavic culture! With big smiles on our faces, we enter the gates. The palace must have been an impressive achievement during its time and we can imagine huge halls, with mable columns and handcrafted mosaics on the floors. It was a luxurious place.

Luckily, rain didn’t last long and we are soon on our way. Adelina is really looking forward to a hot shower and we decide to find a place to stay for the night. The city of Bor, Serbia, an important industrial centre, is not far and we soon bike on a quiet rural road. The leaves here already turned yellow and the people are simple and nice. There are, of course, Vlachs, and we love speaking to them!

We reach Bor at sunset and start looking for a place to sleep. The car service motel is good for us and, after talking to the landlady, which was an adventure in itself, we soon find ourselves in a big, cozy room. We spend the evening walking around the city a bit. It’s a classic east-European mining city, but the people have good hearts and spirits and we love talking to them. Tomorrow, we are turning North and heading for the Danube.

The route is here. Below is the video for the second day of our autumn bicycle touring trip through Serbia:

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