And I’m Off!


NOVI SAD, SERBIA — As I drove through the weatherbeaten gates of Petrovaradin fortress and onto the bridge over the Danube, something interesting finally happened: a swarm of 20-somethings on scooters, all waving Serbian flags and honking their horns, merged into traffic. The leader of the bunch wielded the largest flag of them all, and it engulfed his female passenger as he drove and honked. I slowed to bring myself beside him, and yelled over the wind: “DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?” There was a short pause, then he replied “OF COURSE!” with a vaguely insulted look, the way Serbs do. “WHAT’S GOING ON?” said I. “WE BEAT GERMANY!” he hollered, and then I twigged to the fact that the Serbs had done the impossible after their World Cup embarrassment two days earlier to a Ghana squad coached by a turncoat Serb. Unfortunately for me, I don’t like soccer. “WAY TO GO!” was the best I could come up with, and I joined in the honking, if only for kicks.

They weren’t the only folks celebrating in this city of 400,000, though, and traffic downtown was gridlocked. And then a thunderstorm hit. And now, while I wait for the rain to stop, here’s my recounting of Day 1 of the trip.

First order of business was saying goodbye to my pals in Belgrade.

The fellas from Vespa Club Beograd

Maja Medovic: Almost undefeated in Name That Tune

Mr. Ivan Agbaba, mayor of Belgrade

Enterprising man-about town Aleks Brkic

And then, the big moment! Kilometre zero was in the shadow of the Sveti Sava temple in Vracar, which is allegedly the largest Orthodox church in the world. I fired up the engine, rolled the bike off the kickstand, wrestled the gearbox into first, and stalled. Whoops. I started the engine again and managed to get going without stalling this time, and wobbled my way into the dust and fumes of Belgrade traffic.

So long, suckers!

And then I cruised across Branko Bridge over the Sava river, my 50 kilograms of gear making operation of the Hamburglar quite unwieldy indeed. About 10 clicks north of Zemun, the not-so-well-maintained Serbian roads finally got the better of my bike when the windscreen and GPS mount fell off and clattered across the road behind me. Over-zealous tightening of the mounting bolts on my part had stripped most of the threads in there. But no matter; I tied the windscreen onto the back with a bungee cord, duct-taped the GPS onto the headset, and was off again. Along the way, I happened upon some military hardware and couldn’t resist a picture:

Vepsa vs. MiG: The jury's still out on who'd win in a race

Next stop: Osijek!

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