Crossing borders

Near Belgrade, we cross the Danube and suddenly everything is different. It is flat.

A lot of wetland along the river. But even after that it remains flat. There are no longer many villages and agriculture is suddenly large-scale: grain and rapeseed as far as the eye can see. We cycle long stretches straight roads; sometimes up to 10 km at a stretch. At times this is boring and heavy on the hands. We subconsciously pedal harder.

The villages are also different to those south of the Danube. They remind us of the villages we saw in more northern eastern Europe on previous trips: on either side of the main road all square, detached houses on their own plots. There is usually a wide verge with sometimes a ditch or path or both.

We wondered, “This doesn’t look like the Balkans anymore, or at not like Serbia as we experienced it until Belgrade with small-scale agriculture and lots of Orthodox churches. We googled and yes, we found a map of the kingdom of Serbia from 1913; which ran from Ohrid and Bitola in the south to, yes, Belgrade and the Danube in the north. North of the Danube belonged to Eastern Hungary! That explains a lot for us. We are surprised, though, that after 110 years you can still feel that influence. A little further north, an additional language also appears on place name signs and often on advertisements on facades and such. We assume it is Hungarian and that that language is still spoken in this region. Again, we ponder that sometimes borders are so arbitrary while in the middle of a country there is a very obvious one…

And then we come to the current border between Serbia and Hungary… The new iron curtain. This time not to stop unwanted leaving, but unwanted entering… thick rolls of cutting barbed wire on the ground and in a triangle on top of the fence.

While scenically it is not clear why there is this border here, we do notice pretty quickly the impact of being a member of the EU. It is richer, better groomed. Supermarkets in northern Serbia were already starting to look more like the shops as we know them in the NL, but there were still plenty of ‘mini-markets’, in Hungary we find supermarkets abundantly and we haven’t noticed a mini-market yet. At the same time, people seem less spontaneously enthusiastic when they see us. That takes some getting used to 😉

By the way, we cycle along beautiful cycle paths and, partly because of this, occasionally almost feel like we’re in the Netherlands…

And then suddenly a kind of Lage-Vuursche. Playground (paying admission before you can get to the café for coffee, so we cycle on) and further on a sort of theme park with an announced 3D film about … , we don’t know. In front a huge statue of Atilla the Hun (the first Hungarian according to the sign) who settled on the plain between the Tisza and the Danube. However, we are on the northwest side of the Danube and therefore not on that plain… Anyway; a fine example of “nation building”.

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