Waking up to Graz was a welcome relief from the long hard drive we endured over the edge of the Alps; we packed up and moved out quickly so as to avoid any time wasted in grabbing breakfast and an early set off for Zabreg, with a midday break in the driving. It was refreshing to sit down for a decent bit of Austrian-style continental breakfast, so much so we took a small takeaway bag for the road ahead – if you’ve paid for it, you may as well take advantage as best you can.
We headed off in good spirits into Slovenia and then Croatia – in 2 phrases – valleys, hills and passport control. The EU’s grasp on free travel and such begins to fade away in this part of the world, and enforcement of Vignettes and motorway tolls is pretty strong. We had our first request of a cigarette from border control today, prompting a need to hurriedly find the cigarette pack and lighter we had deliberately packed for this. In Rhys’ words, “we blagged it” this time, but the message was clear – we may need a little more than passports and innocent faces from this point forward.
Zagreb welcomed us with UK-centric pubs and a mixed use of Euros and Kuna. Ur first point of call was a post office to send out a selection of postcards to loved ones at home –giving us the coldest part of our journey so far – the air conditioning was almost Arctic, and a couple of locals were very much there simply for cooling down out of the summer sun.
We ventured across to a bakery, devoured a small pastry and sandwich selection and headed to a bar to collect water and a chilled beer. The barman was very welcoming and happy for our custom, and Rhys tipped him €4 – a significant jump up from the local currency, so asking for water and use of their locked bathrooms was no trouble at all. We left satisfied and relaxed, and moved on to Serbia.
Now there are flatter countries in the world – The Netherlands, Essex (its own little country, really) but this was very, very different. Once we had a chat and kept the border guard happy we were just visiting friends in Romania via Belgrade, we were met with endless flat land as far as the eye could see… for the best part of 100 miles. So much so that not only could the curvature of the earth be seen, but we were treated to a full and almost blood-red sunset, and a moon rise over the opposite horizon. Serbia beckoned – once into the city we managed to quickly find or way to our reserved AirBnB house – in a soviet block of flats in the “new Belgrade” section of the city, complete with a garage- very kindly offered by the owners. We settled in and took to the town suburbs in the search of a drink and some food, offered in first instance by Café Cezar and Giros. Both of which had staff who were incredibly kind and understanding that broken Serbian may indeed by a little hard to master for those just travelling through.
We headed back, satisfied with our deconstructed Giro, mystery-meat burger and fries, and settled in for the night after some calls home on Skype and internet updates to social media. Over the surprisingly quick internet. Next stop, Bucharest.