Cycling With Sam, Part 1: Budapest to Serbian Border
Left Budapest. Took ages. Wrong direction. Tired.
I slept sooooo well last night in our little grove. I was asleep by 9pm and couldn’t drag myself out of my sleeping bag until twenty to nine this morning, despite having set my alarm for 7am. We managed about 30km yesterday, which isn’t so bad if you consider how long it took for us to get out of Budapest and that we went at least another 10km in the wrong direction and had to double back. We also had three punctures between us on the first day. I have actually never cycled more than 20km in one day before, so for me this is very good.
Notes about Hungary:
- People never smile. In fact, the more I am smiley and polite at them, the more they seem to frown at me in return. Sam, who is one quarter Hungarian herself, says it dates back to the communist years when you were all in it together and there was nothing to smile about.
- Old ladies in rural villages all wear the same outfits. They look a bit like this.
- There is still a peasantry. We pass many people in fields, working the land by hand in small groups. It’s hard not to feel guilty as you cycle by, carefree. What have I done to deserve this? Oh yes, I was born in England…
We have abandoned the route in the book we were following (Bikeline: Danube Bike Trail 4) and decided to follow theEurovelo 6 route instead. It’s much better signposted and doesn’t go through so many towns. We suspect Bikeline is completely funded by the little tourist attractions, restaurants and hotels the route takes you past.
Time’s ticking on and we need to get some water before we find a place to camp, but there’s no towns for miles. We see a couple of houses and decide to ask there. A man comes out of his house as we are approaching, probably because of the dogs barking at us next door. We show him our empty bottles and he takes them from us and walks round to the side of his house where he has a pump. It takes a long time for the pump to start working and then he has to drain off some water first, presumably because it gets better after that for drinking. He doesn’t speak a word of English, but we communicate through mimes and gestures and Sam gets to practice the Hungarian she has learned, which delights him. When the bottles are full he invites us in for coffee. We look at one another. Neither of us drinks coffee anymore, but I decide this will be an exception for me. I like the man and don’t want to refuse his hospitality. We go inside. He has a small and humble house – little kitchen with gas cooker and table and a small lounge with the television on. We sit at the table and he makes a coffee for me and a hot water for Sam so she can put one of our teabags in. We sit and chat for a while, with lots of drawings and miming, the way you do when you have limited shared language.
It’s time to go as night is falling. I go and use his outdoor loo, collect some water from the pump to flush it with like he showed me. Sam comes outside. “He says we can stay the night”, she tells me. “How do you feel about it?” I ask. She says she feels ok about it and wouldn’ t mind staying if I want to. He seems very nice and unthreatening so we decide to stay. He offers us use of his cooker so Sam gets straight on it. He hangs around and watches what we are doing, clearly curious about all of our strange food items. Lots of laughing and misunderstandings when Sam’s Hungarian means she translates for me that he is offering me a beer and then salt appears, etc. He gives us some of his wine, homemade and very strong, but nice. It turns out he doesn’t have a separate bedroom, but insists we take the bed while he sleeps on the sofa next to it. We get a fairly good night’s sleep, despite his terrible snoring. Fortunately we both have ear plugs.
Very sad to leave our new friend this morning. He offered us the room in his attic which he has kitted out. He seemed to want us to stay longer. He seems very lonely. We gave him our email addresses. He has a computer in his bedroom-lounge, which he doesn’t know how to use, but says he will get his daughter to email us. She lives in London and works for the BBC. His son lives somewhere else too and his wife died years ago. It’s all very sad, particularly for Sam who had a Hungarian grandfather. I think he reminds her of him a little.
Waiting for Sam to come out of shop in Baja – cycled like hell to get here before shops shut. 4pm now, all ok. We found a MaxiCoop. Now I wait with baited breath in the hope Sam will find Manner, food of the Gods. It’s like pink wafers mixed with Nutella, it’s vegan and we were practically living on it for the first few days but haven’t been able to find it at all for the past 50km. I dare not fear the worst.
I’d like to take it easy for rest of day, but not so sure about Sam who gets impatient when we’re not hurtling along concrete at speed – like this morning when most of our bike path was covered by a gravelly kind of quick-sand.
More cyclists starting to appear on route now. We met two yesterday – boys from France, all kitted out in the best high-tech gear. Quite a contrast to us bike-punks with our numerous bags strapped to the back with bungees and bits of old inner tube. Sam got a bit impatient when I started talking to them and I suspect she was embarrassed as with all of our numerous punctures and Manner breaks, we’re struggling to average 50km a day when these guys say they do 100. I don’t mind though. I’m quite proud of our DIY, non-competitive relaxed riding style.
Have most of day off after both getting extremely knackered yesterday – we even paid for a hostel in Baja, unheard of! We were expecting to be in Croatia by now but have been moving very slowly. I don’t mind so much and it’s nobody’s fault, but Sam has been getting quite stressed. We talked it through this morning. I’m really happy to do a big long cycle tomorrow and Sam has found what seems to be the source of her repetetive front wheel punctures – one of the main things that has been delaying us. She has kept the thorn in her necklace as a reminder.
Some kind of festive thing happening in Baja, which is the “cultural and economic capital of the region”. Involves horse racing, folk music and women in fancy dresses, men in jodhpurs. Go to have a look. People staring at us a lot. Notice men wearing the whale on t-shirts (see last post).
Checked email before leaving Baja. We might not go to Croatia at all now, in which case we hope to be in Serbia tomorrow afternoon. The route in our book goes through Croatia, but we are not sure about the Eurovelo 6 and the webpage isn’t much help. Leaving the EU seems like quite a significant event for me, although I’ll likely be back in it again soon enough. Pete emailed with news of a Dzogchen retreat in Hungary at the end of next month.
Sitting on a beach on bank of Danube while Sam cooks dinner on a small fire. One of the best things about traveling with Sam is that she’s *always* in the mood to cook. She sees it as her chill-out time. So, she does the evening meal and I take care of breakfast as that’s when she has her faffing time. Yes, I have my own caterer! I just put our tents up as the sun went down – whole river went pink. Beautiful here, very idyllic.
I have been very tired while cycling, especially the evenings, but now I seem to be getting used to it more. My wrists hurt and my arse is sore, despite my nice new saddle (the one I had to buy twice after it was stolen in Budapest). Mostly though, I feel very healthy both mentally and physically. I don’t really mind where we go or what we do and everything is new and exciting.
Our path has split: One way points to Serbia, one to Croatia, another to Austria and Slovakia – back the way we have come. Hell of a crossroads. I take pictures (now lost, sadly). Now it’s time to decide, will we go to Croatia? We flip a coin. Flower: Serbia it is.
Serbian border. Woohoo! We made it! More on Serbia next post…