Hungary - Paprika, Dike Roads and Bumpy Trails
Country #6 - Hungary
Bumpy Trails Take Me Home
September 26 to October 6, 2015
Cycling distance in Hungary: 488km's
Total cycling distance: 1628km's
|Hungarian Border Crossing|
After sadly leaving the amazing Oksana, Jan and Andrei in Bratislava, we quickly reached the Hungarian border with tailwinds pushing us along the way. I swear the wind turns into the exact opposite direction each time we change travel direction ourselves. But today the wind gods were smiling on us and rewarding us with some very welcome winds at our backs.
Of course because of this wretched Schengen Area Agreement we once more did not get a stamp in our passport. In fact there isn't really a border crossing in the "traditional" sense. Only an open gate and a sign with the Hungarian colours. All that changes is the Language.
|Hungarian Border Crossing|
Immediately after crossing the border things change a little. It's more rural and you can tell that this is no longer part of the wealthier Europe such as Germany or Austria. It's definitely "first world" but things are older, sometimes more run down, and the Eurovelo route definitely takes on a narrower, meaner and bumpier tone.
|Don't Mess With Me!|
Our first night was spent in Gyor at a little Panzio (guesthouse) right in the old core of the city. We both instantly loved the place. It was quite well preserved (or restored) but without the overly touristy feel of so many of the old cities further west.
|Kissing The Road|
I think the reason the Eurovelo 6 route is so bumpy and bad in Hungary, especially after such gems as Austria, is because they blew their budget on frequent and amazingly nice cyclist rest stops. They come complete with covered picnic tables, often bike racks and they seem to be quite new.
|Beautiful Rest Stops|
It's important to read the guidebook sections BEFORE heading out. If I had I would have clued in that during and after rainy periods some sections are best bypassed. At first this section didn't seem too bad ..until the mud pits showed up. Patti was within milliseconds of rebelling and we rode quite far apart, once the asphalt showed up again, so we could both "reflect" in peace :-)
|I Ain't Cycling That One!|
|That's What A Touring Bike Should Look Like|
After Komarom, the Eurovelo 6 follows a lot of busy highways. Unlike in many parts of North America, European two lane highways do not have shoulders. So we had trucks and other vehicles whizzing by our shoulders for some considerable distances. But what Hungary lacks in smooth cycling infrastructure it makes up for by providing you with the absolutely most courteous drivers towards cyclists I've ever experienced.
|Petro-Canada, Hungarian Branch|
After stunning Esztergom we once again ended up on a nice restful trail through parks and forests before rejoining the busy highway.
The Danube is now a far cry from the little stream it was when we started out in Germany. Large barges ply the waters and ferry crossings are a normal part of everyday life, no exceptions in Hungary. The ferry crossings were always a little opportunity to rest and just take in the scenery.
|Ferry Crossing to Szob|
|Pumpkin Man of Hungary|
The Bikeline Cycling Guide promised a campground in Nagymaros and it didn't lie. The place was deserted except for some men cleaning their boats. It also served as the Nagymaros Yacht Club. A beautiful old ruin of a castle was our view across the river until the sun set and we happily retreated into our tents. Yes, we mostly slept in two tents. It's pretty hard to get some personal space while travelling together for this length of time. Besides, Patti's snoring keeps me awake ...oh no, wait a minute ...I think that's the other way around.
|View From Camping Kikoro, Nagymaros|
The next morning my bike felt very sluggish and hard to control. We hadn't even left the gated camping/yacht compound yet and I had to stop. Yup, I had a flat tire. I couldn't believe it, Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tour tires are supposed to be puncture proof. As it turned out it was the seam of the tube which had separated. So we were delayed by 30 minutes while I removed the luggage and the front wheel and replaced the tube.
|First Flat Tire|
This is an exciting morning. The still extremely bumpy route will take us into Budapest today. I've heard many good things about the city. I had contacted Haller Camping right in Budapest and they assured me they were still open but we could only stay two nights since they'd be closing at the end of the month.
|Mary Poppins Flew Into Szentedre|
We had a lovely lunch stop in Szentendre. It's definitely a tourist town, lined with restaurants, artsy benches and a lovely promenade along the water's edge. We even found some Greek gyros.
|Try Pushing An Overloaded Touring Bike Up This One|
From Szentendre the Eurovelo 6 route is ...well, let's just come out and call a spade a spade. It's pure crap! I've never seen such rim crunching, frame cracking, butt busting "trails" and routes before. I'm so glad I had my seat post shock absorber.
|Street Art North Of Budapest|
All the pain and suffering was justly rewarded as we entered Budapest. We were on the Pest side of the river and, in spite of large sections of the trail being under construction, the views of the city on both sides of the river was simply breathtaking. Ornate buildings, rebuilt bridges, castles and churches galore. I immediately liked it and couldn't wait to take some time off to explore.
|Popular Bike Share Program In Budapest|
|Hungarian Parliament Building|
|On The Pest Side|
Now it's time to be "tourists" for a day. We headed out for the evening to head up Gellert Hill. Patti had kept that one a secret from me after learning about it from some other travellers along the way. So we headed to the subway for a nice evening of exploration.
We walked to the subway station and went down below. Little shops and food stands were selling things such as baked goods, pizza, spirits and so on. We had pizza by the slice while listening to drunk homeless people noisily going about their drunken business.
The Subway system in Budapest is apparently the oldest one in continental Europe. We ended up on two different lines ...there are four in total. The first one had a train from the Soviet Era and was left over from the mid 80's.
|Soviet Era Subway Car, Budapest|
And the next train on our connection was brand spanking new, driverless, and could be the envy of any modern city in the world. What a dichotomy.
|And A Brand New One|
|Modern Subway Station In Budapest|
We clambered up Gellert Hill in the dark, huffing and puffing up the steep inclines. The reward was stupendous night views of Budapest along with some giant statues on top. It also seems that this is where the teenagers of Budapest meet to drink and be silly.
|Budapest At Night|
|Liberty Statue On Gellert Hill, Budapest|
|Liberty Statue on Gellert Hill, Budapest|
|Castle District At Night, Pest|
|Action Shot Budapest|
|Plaque From Soviet Era Inside Subway Car|
It's not often that we get to "close down" a campground. There were four other camping parties left and we were proud to be part of this tough team of camp til the end crowd. Of course we were the only ones left in tents on the last day, so we win!
|Camp Canada At Haller Camping, Budapest|
|Patti's Office At Haller Camping, Budapest|
Now it's time for a complete tourist day in Budapest. I still can't believe it but we opted for a "hop on, hop off bus" for tourists. I ended up loving it and it was quite a pleasure to just sit back and see the city go by. Even though it costs 20 Euros, it's good for two days and gives you full access to 4 different routes along with the boat which takes you on a tour along the Danube.
|Blob Type Building In Budapest|
We did take the boat and were treated to yet another view of both sides of Budapest. Once off the boat we finally found a place with an Internet connection so we could make a Skype call to Patti's family. Then back on the red bus for some frank family discussion and more sights of the city.
We got off in a non touristy part of town and I liked it even more. But finding a toilet in Budapest is a bit of a challenge. We ended up walking into a restaurant and I put on a very pained looking face. The manager looked quite annoyed but let us use the toilet anyway.
|Have A Drink Here And You'll Look Like These Two|
We were hankering for some Indian food and found a vegetarian Indian restaurant. I have to say this must have been the least inspiring food I've had in a long time and any self-respecting real Indian would probably throw herself from the highest temple in shame after experiencing this restaurant. It was bland, even for non Indian food standards. Oh well, I guess we didn't go to Hungary for its' great Indian food.
|Cruise Ship On The Danube In Budapest|
On the way back to a subway station to get back to the campground we had a bit of an interesting encounter. A man who obviously looked like he was Hungarian approached us and asked for directions to a castle in fairly good English. One of his first sentences was "I am tourist", as he was waving the map in front of us. My alarm bells were shrieking quite loudly in my head and I was getting some seriously wrong vibes from this fellow. I told him that I didn't know and that we were tourists as well. In the meantime I quickly scanned the area and turned towards another man who was approaching us. We were both carrying backpacks but were careful to always keep an eye on each other. The man then slightly veered and walked past us. The first individual then left in the same direction. I've heard of a scam where pickpockets pose as lost tourists and I had the sense that we may have been targeted. But I suppose we'll never know and nothing was taken.
|Scooter Person, Budapest|
Part of the conditions of camping at Haller Camping was that we would have to be out before 8:00am on October 1st. They had a coffee vending machine and I was looking forward to a nice early morning coffee on our day of departure. But the rascals had removed the machine overnight in anticipation of closing down. So back it was to the camp stove.
|Leaving Budapest On The Eurovelo 6|
The hordes of cyclists had already thinned out after Vienna but once in Hungary we basically had the Eurovelo 6 route to ourselves. South of Budapest the horrible conditions of the so called trailed continued on. We even had to duck downed trees and navigate around some others. Judging by the worn trails around these fallen trees it was obvious that the trail has been neglected for quite some time. We now started opting for alternative routes on the roads instead of always following the "official" route.
|The Road NOT Taken|
A night was spent in Kalocsa, the paprika capital of Hungary. Then we ended up once more on an unpaved dike. This time it wasn't mud or dirt but grass. That posed a bit of a challenge in of itself but we managed. Early in the morning along this trail we stopped and an old gentleman was tending to his house in the middle of nowhere. His smiling face, devoid of a full mouth of teeth, invited us for a drink. "Just a little one" he gestured when we told him it was too early to drink. I guess for them drinking is an all day event. We politely declined.
|Yup, We're Basically Riding On The Grassy Dike|
|At Least Their Signage Was Pretty Good|
In Szalkszentmarton (try pronouncing that one) we had our first experience with a low budget "motel". Patti slept in her sleeping bag, but we did have a very nice pizza dinner at the adjacent restaurant which bore no resemblance to the dive of a motel we were staying in. But hey! it was only 20 Euros per night.
Then came the endless paved dike roads. They stretched on for about half the day and made for some very easy, albeit monotonous cycling. Our butts, rims and bike frames appreciated the break from the previous hellishly bumpy routes through Hungary so far.
|Then Came The Endless Paved Dike Roads|
While still in Switzerland, a German cyclist told me about map.me and I finally got around to downloading the app. I've now become quite a fan of it and it proved very useful in navigating around areas of bad trails.
|Finally Using And Really Getting Into Maps.me|
It's paprika season in Hungary and locals are proudly drying their crops on the sunny sides of their houses.
|It's Paprika Season|
We stopped for lunch in a park in Baja. A well maintained park along the water served as a nice resting spot. We saddled up and headed along the path and spotted a very new looking building. People were milling about and they were cooking something in cauldron. We asked to use the washroom and they started talking to us and were asking about our trip. Before we knew it, the rakija was brought out, and we were toasting to everyone's health.
|Rakija Toast With The Baja Rotary Club|
The young man who had offered the drinks then let us know that we were invited to their get together to have some traditional Hungarian fish soup. Bits of fish, including the head, were floating in the cauldron. Fortified by some more rakija we accepted the invitation. I even had some fish eggs, they tasted a bit bland. The soup was quite delicious and was eaten with noodles. To be polite I had a little piece of the carp.
|Followed By Traditional Fish Soup|
It turns out they were part of the Rotary Club of Hungary and they were celebrating the annual release of newly spawned fish into the Danube. I felt quite honoured to have been invited, even though I felt quite out of place in my cycling clothes surrounded by neatly dressed individuals who were doctors, diplomats, etc.
|Patti Comes Up With The Patented Cargo Net Laundry Drying System|
As an aside, we ended up calling ourselves "The destroyers of rooms". Once in a hotel room we'd set up our laundry line, wash our delicates, hang the tents and tarps to dry, sometimes even cook on the balcony or prepare hot water for coffee in the shower in the morning. But we always returned the rooms to a pristine condition before departure.
After leaving the Rotary folks behind we were a bit bolstered by the alcohol and followed a beautiful brand new bicycle path along the highway. I hadn't seen a Eurovelo 6 sign for a while and was desperately looking for any other sign to tell us where we were. But what the heck! we were making amazing time on the beautiful trail.
Well, the trail ended and I finally saw a sign. Map.me told us that we were two highways too far east from where we were supposed to be ...oops! But map.me also told us how to get back to where we were supposed to be. So we entered Mohacs from a different direction after adding only about 10km's to our day, just in time for the ferry to take us across to Mohacs.
|Old East German Trabant|
Centrum Panzio is marvelous. The room was quite new, spic and span clean and a great place to hole up for a few days while piles of paper tissue accumulate beside the bed.
|Very Nice Panzio (Guesthouse) In Mohacs|
Of course we saw nothing of that and as usual, news reports are exaggerated and non travellers should not spout travel advice. What we did see was a rather depressing razor wire fence which demarcated the border between Hungary and Croatia. It had been erected by Hungary to keep out the migrants. That really puzzles me. I understand that tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of migrants pouring over borders in an uncontrolled fashion is less than desirable. But what I don't understand why Hungary would care. They do have a right wing kind of government which isn't keen on migrants, but these migrants don't even want to stay in Hungary. If I were some right winger with a hate on for migrants I would just let them in and let them pass through so they could head to Austria, Germany, etc, where they wanted to be in the first place.
|Razor Wire Border Fence With Croatia|
We signed out of Hungary and are about to enter Croatia. We are now leaving the Schengen Area and finally we get to experience border formalities. First we "check out" of one country, then we "check in" with the next country. The very young, very friendly and very attractive border policewoman checked us out of Hungary by stamping our passports and we moved down about 2 meters to the next window for the Croatian formalities.
Stay tuned for Croatia