Why iBike the Balkans

“And to those who believe that adventures are dangerous, I say, try routine; that kills you far more quickly.” – Paulo Coelho

Story

Get on your bike because Podstel and iBikeBelgrade are about to take you on an action-packed and adrenaline-filled biking adventure off the beaten track, right through the unchartered heartland of Serbia. A big shout out to Travel Time Collection for making this happen!

We love finding people who inspire. Ralph is a Dutch entrepreneur who decided he wanted to follow his dreams, so he moved to Belgrade to set up iBike.

Ralph invited Podstel to come and test the route. It was an opportunity we couldn’t resist…

We’ve teamed up with iBikeBelgrade to complete an immense 5 day, 300 km cycling Podventure through north-western Serbia on brand new, top of the range bikes. We were pioneering this new route for iBike, which definitely appealed to our inner explorers! And not only did iBike give us brand new, top of the range bikes, we were also provided with everything which we could possibly need for the road, including luggage racks, bike packs, maps, locks and flasks.

What we wanted to achieve 

So why did Podstel want to bike Serbia? We’ve summarised the reasons below:

  • To strengthen our relationship with iBike so that we can work together in the future to offer cycle tours.
  • To scout out locations for a future Podstel hostel.
  • To gain the outdoors experience we need to lead Podventures into the wilderness.
  • To get a feel for Serbia, beyond the big smoke.

Serbian culture

For those of you who don’t know much about Serbia, there are surprises around every corner in this country which seizes each opportunity to go beyond what’s expected of it. Take it from us – Serbia is one of the most hospitable countries in the world.

The Journey

Day 1 – iBike City Tour of Belgrade (35 km)

Spirits were high and with spring well and truly in the air, we set off on a tour of Belgrade’s alternative scene with Simon, our iBike guide. What makes new experiences so special is the wonderful people you meet on the way and not only did Simon know his stuff, his passion for his country shone through and he had us laughing the whole day.

As we wound our way through roads lined with imposing communist architecture, what really stood out was the extravagant and subversive urban art work, bringing with it a shock of welcome colour to the grey walls. In seeing the scars of communism first hand, it really hit home just what this city has lived through during its tumultuous history.

After taking in the awesome panoramic view of Belgrade, this city had another surprise up its sleeve in the form Ada Ciganliga, a spectacular river island, right in the heart of the city. Cycling all day certainly works up one hell of an appetite, so we kicked back on the beach with a delicious dinner.

All in all, a great day for Team Podstel.

Day 2 – Belgrade to Novi Sad (90 km)

Not having done any fitness training in advance, day 2 turned out to be a pretty challenging as our muscles worked hard to acclimatise. It took us just under 6 hours to reach Novi Sad, and just imagine how sore our bums were when we got there!

Leaving the safety of the familiar firmly behind, it was time to take things up a gear as the challenge of what was ahead hit us.

But we’re certainly not complaining – the setting was absolutely awe inspiring. Following the mighty Danube all the way to Novi Sad, we passed through the beautiful Serbian countryside in the glorious spring sunshine and absorbed the serenity of the long, flat grain fields which stretched far into the distant horizon. What made this day even more spectacular was the locals we met, and we feel privileged to have discovered more about real life in rural Serbia through their eyes.

Navigating was easy enough and the velo route is well sign posted. It’s also a fairly steady ride, with generally low terrain all the way there.

Apart from the pretty awful sunburn, one of the main difficulties we faced arose from the fact that all of Team Podstel were working at different fitness levels, with some finding the endurance test harder than others. But we battled through, took our time and crossed the finishing line together.

The highlight of today has got to be the decline into Novi Sad and the open valley plain, as we cycled into the wind.

Day 3 – Novi Sad: iBikeBicycle Tour (25 km)

Today, we took it easy and met up with Ana, the Manager of iBike, who was kind enough to set us up with a cycle tour of Novi Sad with iBike’s Rasa.
Novi Sad’s beauty is guarded closely from under the watchful gaze of Petrovardin Citadel. And with good reason too, for it really is a stunner. Despite being Serbia’s second largest city, it certainly didn’t feel that way, as we saw locals kicking back in boulevards lined with in outdoor cafes and enjoying the outdoors in the pretty parks dotted around the place. During the bike tour, we explored Novi Sad’s central markets and learned all about Novi Sad’s colourful history, with some much appreciated beer and ice cream provided by iBike en route.

Eager to strengthen relationships with our partners, we took a detour to meet EXIT who are responsible for EXIT Festival, one of the biggest music festivals in Europe. EXIT were majorly surprised to see we’d come all the way from Belgrade by bike and we are really excited to start working with them soon!

The highlight of today was most definitely the ice cream which was probably the best we’ve ever had!

Day 4 – Novi Sad – Fruska Gora National Park / Zasavica (80 km)

Cycling was much easier today, with muscles now well and truly used to the strain.

Setting off from Novi Sad and following the course of the Danube, we headed east past the citadel towards Fruska Gora National Park.

One of the most wonderful things about travelling is the surprises which hide behind every corner. When passing through Čerević, we came across Ljiljana, who is a fine example of how kind strangers can be. Upon realising that we were English, she excitedly welcomed us into her home to meet her husband and share some of their rosé wine, taken straight out of the garden cellar.

Fruska Gora sits on a lone mountain, rising up from the Vojvodina plains in northern Serbia and offers a pretty spectacular setting with its winding countryside hills surrounded by the most pristine green forests.

Given the rising altitudes, we were expecting the route to be tough, but were pleasantly surprised to find that there was only a slight incline in the middle, with the rest of the trip towards Sremska Mitrovica straightforward and flat. The scars of war were still evident in Sremska Mitrovica itself, but this is a side to Serbia which needs to be seen.

With dusk fast approaching, we headed towards Zasavica Nature Reserve to find somewhere to camp, then it was up to the tower to watch the sun descend over the amazing landscape. Nature truly is one of the best therapies and spending an evening in the heart of such natural perfection, really, works wonders for the soul.

There was a chill in the air tonight and without suitable gear, Dan didn’t get much sleep. But this was a blessing in disguise, as it meant that he was up bright and early the next day to witness one of the most spectacular sunrises he’s ever seen.

Day 5 – Zasavica to Belgrade (90 km)

Time to hit the road for the last leg of the journey back to Belgrade and with the wind in our favour, we found the 4 hour journey to be a relatively easy ride. Along the way, we stopped to chat with the locals and played footy with the kids.

Returning to Belgrade in the early afternoon, it was back to where to where it all began and what better way to celebrate than by treating ourselves to burgers and ice cream on the pretty beach on Ada Island!

Why you should bike Serbia

Here’s why you should get on your bike:

  • Get a real taste of Serbia, through the eyes of local people.
  • Unleash your adventurous spirit, with all the beauty and possibilities of the open road in front of you.
  • Experience the awesome beauty of nature, far from the maddening crowd.

Conclusion

What a trip we’ve had! It was absolutely awesome and an experience that we will never forget. It would have been great to spend longer cycling, but this trip has definitely planted the seed for another long distance Podstel bike trip in the future.

iBike were so helpful and did everything that they could possibly do to ensure our trip was a success. Ralph and Ana’s unwavering support in person and by email was really assuring, and we knew that any difficulties we had would be sorted straight away.

Serbia is a hidden gem that is missing from well worn backpacker trails and one which you need to experience for yourself. This underrated Balkan beauty has welcomed Podstel and our ideologies from the very day we hitched across the Romanian border. We’ve been absolutely blown away by the overwhelming support, kindness and positivity which we have received here in Serbia. Despite the wars and hardship this country has endured in its recent past, the resilient defiance of the Serbian people really shines through.

And how can we fully express the wonderful hospitality of the Serbs? In all our years travelling the world, the kindness we’ve experience here has been truly phenomenal. In our home away from home, Serbia has welcomed us with open arms.

The feeling of belonging can really lift your experience travelling abroad into new realms, and we can’t wait to replicate this hospitality to our guests through Podstel.

About iBike

iBikeBelgrade was founded 4 years ago by Dutch entrepreneur Ralph van der Zijden.

Since that day, iBike has expanded to 3 locations including Novi Sad, Belgrade and Budapest.

iBike predominantly offers short city tours but are now looking to delve into long distance bike trips. Their tours are unique, and you get some very welcome perks thrown in, including free drinks and ice cream!

iBike will be offering this route for summer 2015, so if you feel inspired to get on your bike, why not get in touch with iBike?

Find out more information about iBike at the following links:

Website: http://www.ibikebelgrade.com/bicycle-tours-in-belgrade-serbia/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/iBikeBelgrade?fref=ts

Twitter: https://twitter.com/iBikeBelgrade?lang=en

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