Jensen Monday Club

Day 2: Belgrade - There be Dragons...

 

Top Touring Tip 2: Don't sit on someone else's wad.

Our early morning ritual, along with oil/water checks and re-stocking the victuals bag, was to check the tyre pressures.

We knew the satnav wouldn't be much use in Eastern Europe but when we set it for Belgrade in Serbia it just said "Your destination is in a restricted area" it may have well said "there be dragons" for all the use it was going to be today ! However we did use it each day to record our longitude-latitude so we'd have some location info to send home and also to the British Steel mailing list.

Today's journey from Ulm, Germany to Belgrade, Serbia was the longest single leg of the whole trip. About 680 miles, crossing four national borders. We didn't expect much hassle crossing from Germany into Austria but didn't know what to expect about the rest of the route which would take us through Ljubljana in Slovenia, then Zagreb in Croatia and finally into Serbia.

As we were cruising quite nicely (we aimed to stay at 3,400rpm which was more or more around the motorway speed limits of most European countries (130kph/83mph) I decided to do some in-flight adjustments to the mapped ignition timing; we settled for 58deg advance at cruise which seemed to suit the car well - especially on German 100 octane fuel...

That was Germany then, gone in a flash, and now it's all looking a bit alpine - must be close to Austria then, that's Vignette country.

An Austrian road tax vignette

Click here for a video of the car in the Alps

Unquotable quote: "What's the German for  plastic bag?"

We stopped at the last petrol station before the Austrian border - along with about a million other people - I guess the fuel in Austria is either expensive or crap (or maybe both, we never got to find out as we passed through without stopping). We were blocked in at the pumps which was a bit scary as this twat from Italy was smoking whilst filling up his car with petrol !

Having filled the car it was time to stock up the victuals, here's Kerry with the grin of a man having consumed four mars bars. You'll also see our box of home-made cake, courtesy of my wife Elspeth (more on that  later...).

So with car and drivers refreshed we hit the road again. Spotted this sign, which was nice:

We thought it meant no lorries in the outside lane (cool !) but apparently it means only red lorries are allowed in the outside line - plus anyone in a hurry and anyone with one of those cute Vignette stickers, best 10 Euros we ever spent - ye-ha !

Whilst researching our route (ok, ok, so we glanced at a very old map, went down the pub and declared it sorted) we found this: Karawankentunnel it seemed like a good idea at the time 'cos it saved driving over the mountains... What our in-depth research failed to uncover was that for 364 days a year it's actually only one lane wide (the other 1 day it's shut) with a one-way stop-go queue at either end, starting in Belgium and ending in Japan ! Here's a picture of the queue after we'd sat for about an hour:

We thought, naively, that it wouldn't be too much longer as there was a coach coming through from the other side - turned out it was running out of diesel and had turned around in the queue and was heading back home. We finally realised we were in for a bit of a wait when the family in front invited us to their roadside BBQ !  Anyway, we finally got to the front of the queue:

Actually it was quite impressive, 7.863 km of pristine tunnel and then one slightly worn sign being attended to by about ten earnest workers with clip-boards - well worth the wait then - I'd have hated to drive through a tunnel with worn signage..

Unquotable quote: "It's a conflux of countries"

So, this was it then, the Austrian/Slovenia boarder - we're leaving safe old "Euro Zone" for uncharted waters - we'd never been this far from home by car before, and it turns out to be...

well, what a welcoming place

although the eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted the traffic cones (our unwelcome friends for the next 48 hours - more on that later) - and the eagle, eagle eyed will have spotted the reflection of Kerry in the windscreen shouting "Watch out for the cones" - a portent of things to come on the Eastern European "motorways".

As it turned out Slovenia passed without any fuss - more like northern Italy than Eastern Europe, Ljubljana is the capital:

disappointingly civilised - they even have cycle lanes:

We had planned to see Ljubljana - there's a "Green Dragon Bridge" that's apparently worth a mooch but having lost so much time admiring Austrian tunnels we decided to press on to Zagreb in Croatia - just a simple border to negotiate first.

So here we were, rocking along nicely, good weather and a nice straight road - we'd even cracked open the box of Elspeth's tasty cakes as we came up to the boarder.

- just a simple Croatia border to negotiate first and then we'll be on our way. All seemed to be going well until we saw the sign, in Croatian, something about banned items, such as guns, rocket launchers, land-mines, and... cake ! Yep, a big picture with a red line through the middle of a birthday cake - We both looked up to the cake sitting up on the dashboard in full view as we pulled into the checkpoint - never before have two people eaten the evidence so quickly !

This boarder crossing was our first experience of grumpy looking people hanging around with machine guns, worryingly not all of them in official looking uniforms; but as it turns out all was fine. We also learned that it's always best to remove your sun glasses as they do actually bother to look at your passport photo. We also got used to quite frankly stupid questions such as "why are you here ?" and "do you have any drugs ?". What did make us smile was the only sign that was translated into English - it said "The book of complaints is at your disposal" - somehow it seemed more like a threat than a public service. Anyway, once through, we cracked on, here's a picture of the Zagreb hinterland:

This made us laugh; I know, I know, school-boy humour and all that, but what can we say.

I think there is some of that fancy subliminal message stuff going on here, but I just can quite work out what....

We decided to just stay on the main road (E70) and skirt around Zagreb as time was getting on and we had to cross all of Croatia and about a third of Serbia before getting to our scheduled overnight stop in the capital Belgrade.

As soon as we'd passed by Zagreb we started to see signs for Belgrade, which was good as this was about half way through today's 680 miles. And then this happened:

One of the twin belts that drives the A/C and alternator decided it had just had enough and jumped off the front pulley. Luckily it didn't actually snap and it didn't take out anything vital on its way. As we had two spares and as the engine was too hot anyway we decided to cut the old belt off and just continue with one.

Although we had two spares with us it was only day two and we didn't know if one belt would be ok so we decided to call up reinforcements. We 'phoned Steve back in Blighty to check he had spares in stock and he managed to get them boxed up and into the post the following morning - more on those in the following "Istanbul pages". Anyway, it all seamed to be working ok with just one belt even with a full electrical load and the A/C running flat out (the A/C compressor had been upgraded to the Sandon type which puts much less strain on the belts than the older V-twin type).

We pressed on into the night and then, suddenly, it was only 100km to Belgrade, we were actually going to make it - and we did !

Finding the hotel in Belgrade was surprisingly easy but as it turned out the fan belt incident did cost us our dinner that night - the restaurant closed at 11pm, about 2 minutes before we arrived, so there was nothing for it but to relax in the bar and light up a fine Cuban. So far a total of 1,619 miles (2,605 km), not bad for two days motoring.

Eventually the hotel bar closed so we set off to find our room; this picture

doesn't really do justice to the relentless drabness. There were 14 floors of this, plus one for the staff quarters, that didn't have paint on the walls or carpet on the floor so in the end we felt lucky to even have a room. When we finally got to our room - it promptly fell apart, apparently you're not actually meant to open the door, it's just leant there to stop next door's wall falling in.

Kerry is in the "fire business" (putting them out not lighting them!) so we had to stop and stare at this. From the state of the cracked hose and from what we could tell from the label it was last serviced in 1973, which had a certain symmetry with some Jensen's.

When we first arrived there was a TV show on which seemed to consist entirely of two women sitting down and talking - about four hours later we switched on the TV in the room and they were still going strong - and it seemed to be on every channel - so that was our lasting memory of Belgrade TV.

In the morning the hotel looked much better (inside) - you could see it was actually faded grandeur - it had been a senior apparatchik's hang-out in the old (communist) days so was actually quite well decked out - except for the lift system, you could hear the wailing of people stuck on the fourth floor (we had been warned) as we made our way up the stairs to the fourteenth floor breakfast room. I've never had meatloaf for breakfast before but as this was our first proper meal for a while we got stuck in anyway. Actually the fried bacon was absolutely fab and set us up grand for the day ahead.

Whilst fettling the car outside the hotel

Unquotable Quote: "oh dear - we seemed to have scratched the thin veneer of civilisation"

for the day ahead we met a Belgian chap who seemed to be a cross between a businessman, a secret agent and a second-hand car salesman. He wouldn't let us take his 'photo but did dispense some valuable advice for English people travelling abroad - pretend you're Scottish !

Outside the hotel was much commotion, the police were out stopping the traffic - this seems to happen just by blowing a whistle at which point everyone drives for the nearest pavement - just before a convoy of five Hummers (http://www.hummer.com/) came roaring around the corner - driven by plain-clothes types with machine guns hanging out the windows. It was later in the day when we passed a court-hose building surrounded with TV crews covering the trials of ex-leaders from the Balkan conflicts (http://www.usatoday.com/news/index/bosnia/nbos002.htm).

I guess this is when we realised we were actually in central Europe proper.

From now on we also started to see quite a lot of classic cars

and also classic car bodges, such as the old "screwdriver holding up window trick"

We decided to take a turn around down-town Belgrade before leaving for Istanbul

No visit to any town would be complete without a tour of the local football teams beaten by the glorious Man United, luckily Belgrade has two "Red Star Belgrade" (http://www.fc-redstar.net/) and "Partisan Belgrade" (http://www.partizan.co.yu/).

Here's the Red Star's shop

and stadium

I was surprised how close the two clubs are together within Belgrade; must be interesting when both are at home, here's the Partizan stadium:

There were actually quite a lot of nice buildings in Belgrade, here's one:

Time was pressing on so we decided to head out of town - not as easy as we'd thought. Most of the main roads out to the motorway had been dug up

but nobody had bothered changing any of the road signs so every road out of town seemed to end up in an abandoned building site. After driving around for a bit (more on that later) we stopped to ask directions and two blokes got into a fight (luckily between themselves) about which knew the best route. Kerry also asked a policeman - I'm not sure what "bugger off" is in Serbian but we got the message and drove for the hills at the start of:

Go To Day 3 (Belgrade to Istanbul) - "Jensen 1 - 0 Bulgarian Rozzers"