These blog posts don't record the smooth routine that we go through every morning. We hope you take it for granted that we've brushed our teeth, checked the camp sight and embarked in our canoe. On day 95 these things could not be taken for granted.
We woke up to our bleeping Casios and from there on it went downhill. I told Jimmy that I would not be going for my morning run because I much preferred wreching just outside of the tent. He grimly accepted this from his squatting spot behind a nearby bush. An unidentified canned object from the previous night was agreed upon as the likely culprit.
As ever, we still managed to wolf down a lot of cereal but there was to be no efficient departure from the river bank. The problem was that we couldn't actually see the other river bank and could barely see the river at all. After a cold night there was a thick mist rising off the Danube which made a chugging tanker absolutely invisible. As I adopted the feutus position inside the tent, Jimmy confirmed that he also didn't fancy going anywhere until the mist had risen.
And it did rise. And we departed to a day that may have been willy-tinglingly cold but was still bright, crisp and a whole lot better than the rain storms of previous weeks. As I burped my way down the Danube, easily winning the intra-canoe competition for most moaning about my stomach and the dodgy-unidentified cans-of-Hungarian-meat-with-pictures-of-cheesy-hamburgers, it was actually a pretty nice place to be.
The Danube has grown wide and the banks are covered with thick forest and dotted with the hideaways of fishermen. With bitter, clear skies you can see beyond the forest and up into hills with vineyards, horned cows or just felled trees. However the last few days in the wilderness have not been lonely; there is literally a small fishing boat on every corner ready to give us a nod or even a salutary fist pump. There are definitely worse places to have a tender stomach.
After a smaller than usual lunch we made it to Novi Sad for late afternoon. Still feeling tender and scarred by recent close shaves with the darkness and the setting sun, we decided it would be a quick trip. Our map reported that this was Serbia's second biggest city. After walking quite a lot of the place in finding a cash machine, deciding not to have a coffee and buying more milk; I have to conclude that Serbia's just not that big. But it was a pleasant stop all the same and it wasn't far until we were past the tanker mooring park and back out into the Serbian forest.
Here, as I cautiously made dinner with a can you can always trust (tuna), we opted for some pretty basic human comfort. Our first campfire of the trip was a welcome addition and will now probably become a regular counterattack to freezing cold nights. Delicately, and foregoing the cold hands and grit that I now associate with brushing my teeth, we went to sleep.
As I announced a little bit prematurely upon waking on day 96, me and my stomach were back in business and ready to hit the waves. And waves there were. And my stomach was also more or less back working, in case you were wondering.
Day 96 was actually one of the slowest full days that we've had on the Danube so far. The wind and the waves battered the boat and we didn't make the ground that can usually be made from just drifting during the routine morning banana break. Nonetheless, it was still a positive day.
At lunch time we stopped in the small town which I'd earmarked at the start of the day as most likely to provide our first coffee break in Serbia. We ate lunch on a jetty, resting our legs in the canoe and then climbed a shaky ladder to the shore. Stari Slankomen turned out to be everything you visualise in a Serbian village. We had old skodas, dilapidated houses, stray dogs and a pick up truck with kids shoveling out grapes to be pressed into wine. We did a short walk up and down the main road, aware that this rural Serbian town had a culture that was beyond us. We had a coffee in a cafe by the jetty and Jimmy felt that the use of a coffee machine was also beyond the poor waiter. (Jimmy is now making clear to me that he had 'coffee beans in his teeth for the whole afternoon'.)
We canoed for another couple of hours beyond a fishing village at the bottom of some sandstone cliffs. Another chilly day was then finished with a campfire on a convenient island and a long conversation with Orange customer services as we tried to reduce the Internet costs of finding somewhere to stay in Belgrade.
The following day saw a routine cold start and a fairly fiery conversation in the canoe about the relationship between religion and regulation in modern society. Pretty mature stuff, I know. Fortunately, we'd soon passed under a half built bridge and the sight of Belgrade provided a new topic of conversation.
From here on in, it was a fairly simple case of trying to overcome all of the problems contingent with canoeing into a city on a budget. We bargained with a yacht club restaurant for a £10 fee to leave our canoe locked on their jetty for a couple of days. We found a bus to take us, our paddles, bags, and barrels to the city centre. We got in contact with our chilled-out 'warm showers' host and arranged to find his flat. Finally, we sat in the middle of Belgrade's main square matching up kilometer river markers with our cyclist's map and then watching the locals and wondering what it was like to be in Belgrade for something other than a rest.
We slept well in our kind host Martin's student den and boshed our washing and shopping this morning. After some more planning and blogging, we've now finally found some rest in a cafe in Belgrade's famous hill-top fort overlooking the Danube.
And well-deserved rest it is too. That was our longest ever week in terms of distance, definitely the coldest and a bit of a shock to the old routines.