August 24th, 2007


Hungary: The end of the road

we made it to Hungary, but we were now 1.5 days behind schedule so we didn't get the chance to slow the pace down.

Rajka: welcome to rural hungary (Sprechen Sie Deutsch?)

Across the boarder was Rajka, we went down the main street and found two houses advertising Zimmer, but before we went in we thought we needed to get some Forint to pay with.  This it turned out was a mistake.  We ran into a problem that the bank only would let your withdrawl from you checking occount.  I managed to get a few Forint out (using my line of credit) and then we went to the Internet cafe and transfered some money around.  Then we took out some more and headed back.

It turned out that was a mistake.  As far as I could tell if you want to travel through Hungary as a foriegner what you need is a large ammount of Euros in small bills.  All the private houses wanted Euro, the grocery store in Budapest also accepted Euro bills (up to 50€).  Several restaurants accepted Euros as well.

The first place we tried nobody, was home the second the wife spoke German (the sign was in German) and the husband did not.  30€ for the two of us including breakfast.  Also an enormous dinner with soup, salad, appetizer, main courses, drinks was less than $20 for both of us.  The garlic creme soup was outstanding, and the pickle salad.

The next day we headed out again and were glad we had decided to spring for the bike-line map (English version apparently do exist) for Hungary. 

The bike-path was gone.  Back to roads, relatively quiet and not always paved.  We got to pass along the goat herd running her goats by the road.  Note gravel slows you down a lot, even if you are not made nervous by it.  Countryside was pretty.  This was more of what I was originally envisioning, long country rides like in Oregon. Road signs were marginal at best, bicycle paths were not marked, or marked after the turn...  Having a high detail map that helps with navigation was a must.

The gravel did not last that long and we were back on roads, trying to weave our way back to the river.

Györ: The next city on the Map (Where the service sucks)

It was a long day before lunch and some off road time to slow us down.  Taska demanded that we have lunch in Györ.  She had gotten ill earlier so we were sticking to bottled water, and the heat was beating down and I was using my water very very carefully.  It was that lips almost chapped, mouth dry but the sweat still comes beating down and stings with salt when it touches your eyes kind of day.

We went through old-town Györ and stopped a touristy restaurant doing a good business in ice-cream.  The menu was interesting, not cheap, and a good mix of International and local dishes (the menu was in both German and Hungarian).  Water despite being on the menu in 0.5 was only served in .33 bottles.  I ordered a Bier.  The first drinks came fast enough but any attempt to order after that was met with confusion and and going in an failing to bring drinks.  In all I made 12 queries to 4 waiters to receive 2 biers and 2 ice waters.  They failed to bring Taska's main course  and also  ignored her requests for drinks as well.

Duco as usual was a source of entertainment for locals and tourists alike.  Talked to a number of Aussies who were riding through town.

Györ was tricky to get out of the trick was counting railroad tracks, and apparently it has had a bunch of building since the 2004 map we had.  Györ was the first city to show up in Hungary on the GPS.  We have the Garmin Mapsource Europe Streets v9, which does included eastern Europe but not very well.  It was great for Austria, but Hungary was a bit of disaster.  I wished I had put in more data from Google maps into the GPS before we had left.

Once we reached the edge of town we went through some nice bike paths, small streets through a little wine growing region and some very nice dirt roads (not too muddy or sandy, so you could actually keep up decent speed) with shade!

Bana: Once destroyed (and two silly dogs)

We eventually made it Bana, we were re-adjusting something and found another "Privat Zimmer" sign (once again these signs are only in German) the owner of the house came out and she spoke no english and very very limited German.  The price was 24€ for the two of us (note we are Hungary and they are not a Euro country the local country is the Forint).  We convinced her to take Forint.  She provided us with water and offered us dinner.  She also brought out a book about this very small town in English and German.   The Mongols apparently made it far enough to defeat this town, and the Turks razed it.  But it exists today and offers cheap recommendations with private bathrooms for traveling bicyclists.

The house had two dogs, one young hunting-dog chocolate-lab mix who really wanted Duco.  What for we were never sure.  Also a bull terrier who was in charge of correcting the younger dog.  The younger one would wine, bark, try to open the back gate and the Bull terrier would bark at the younger dog, growl at him, and occasionally bite him if he got really wild.  It was amusing to watch.

The next day was our mountain stage: 3 climbs 280m (920 foot), 250m (820 foot), 200m (660 foot) which was a bit of a shock after a mostly flat ride.  The day was also the same distance as your previous days.

Tata: before the climb

The ride to Tata was uneventful.  Taska was exhausted the previous day had been long (92km), quiet a bit off-road, very hot , and we skipped dinner.  I was hoping for lunch at the town at the top of the hill, but schedule was not getting us there.  We were moving very slowly that morning and I was still dehydrated and kept going to grocery stores.   Also this morning we had hills (not listed as climbs on our map) and head wind.  So we needed to get lunch and get some calories in our system.  When riding hard for days not eating in the evening is really easy.  Sleep is easier but it can catch up with you, it did for us this day.

We had lunch at a Mediterranean (read Italian) near the moated fortress in town.  It was relaxing and filling.  Then we got to go up.

The hills were pretty solid, not real killers, but steep, and with my 6gear configuration I didn't really have as low of a gear as I had before.  Effectively I only had a middle chain ring.  The first was the biggest and the best, at the top were beautiful vineyards with view of the neighboring hills, the twisting river below, and even the quarries were strong red earth.  Eat your heart out Napa, nothing there was as beautiful as this.  I have not actually tried the wine yet (we purchased a bottle of Pinot Grigio from this vineyard  "Hilltop" in Budapest).  They had a hotel restaurant at the actual peak of the hill with outstanding view s of the surrounding area, but we had a schedule to keep so only a few photos and we kept going.

You can see my new setup here with the XT dérailleur hanging down and the old wheel strapped to the back of my bag.  It actually has the bungie cords supporting the weight of the hub and the axle is on metal part of the rack.

The decent out of the hills was great as well.  The road quality was not top, so you had to dodge pot-holes, but it was mixed with trees nice and steep fun riding coming down.  The view was well worth the climb.  We made it through all of our climbs, the big lunch helped, and the roads were not used that much for automobile traffic.

After the third climb we were done for the day, but could not find anyplace to stay, we tried a couple small towns and eventually wound up on the main highway at dusk.  Not a good time.  One time while staring hopelessly at our map a man came by.

Dorog: the police officer that didn't think we should ride on roads & Bull's Blood fooled the Turks

The bike rider told us we were in the wrong place and led us down to a dirt road that followed the train tracks.  He spoke to us in German, but later switched to English.   While we were riding he told me I needed to have lots of good Hungarian wine.  I asked him if red or white was better and he told me I needed to have red.  He then related this legend:

When the Ottoman Turks invaded Hungary they took many prisoners.  The day before a big battle the prisoners tried to server their captors wine, but the Turks claimed that they were Muslim and could not drink alcohol.  The Hungarians said, "This is not wine, this is bull's blood."  And the soldiers drank it up.  The next day the Hungarians won the battle.

While the story is surely fictional it does seem to be a tradition around the place. He said he had a brother in Miami, he also claimed he was an off-duty police officer and that the roads were too dangerous for cyclists and he had to deal with automobile-bicycle accidents every month.  He wanted us to take a train to the next town.  Taska refused, she wanted to get all the way to Budapest under her own power. (other than Ferries).  It turned out there was a 2 star hotel right next to the train station, so after not taking the train and parting ways we had a place to stay, and fail to eat dinner again!  As the hotel restaurant closed at 8PM and we hadn't seen many other options.

The next day were up again, and the cruel hotel had nothing cool for me to drink with breakfast, they even heated up the pitcher of milk.  I was desperate for something to drink.  We made it to the main road and made it to Esztergom.

Nice bike paths in Esztergom and beautiful beaches on the Donube, but afterwards it was back on the main highway, which was no fun at all.  I looked at the maps and chose a route that was flat and with as little busy roads as possible, but it included 4 Ferries.  Taska was having a very hard day.  Her legs were seizing up and she was underfed (before lunch).

Visegrad: Ferries!

The second ferry of the day dropped us in Visegrad which is a nice tiny tourist town.  Not sure what everyone else was doing there.  Everybody spoke to the restaurant staff in German, but almost nobody was German.  Russians, French, Spaniards, all speaking German, nobody learns Hungarian.  Considering its closest language relative is Finnish I guess it is not surprising.

A bit more highway hell and we had the turn-off to the Ferry.  This ferry was to a large Island in the the middle of the Danube.  There is only 1 bridge to the Island and it is 12km (7 miles) south, it looked like the northern part was heavily used as a recreation activities, but there was plenty of farming as we road further south.  But the roads remained automobile free and we skipped the bridge and took another Ferry back to the mainland.

We quickly were in the suburbs of Budapest.  There was an excellent bicycle path, followed the river for a ways, but again headed inland and some of the connections were hard to find.  An old man told us how to find the underpass with purely sign language.  A bit noisy so close to big freeways, but we moved fast and closer to our destination.

One amusement was a bathing lake that had been given over to water-boarding.  They had put cable pulls around the lake to pull the boarders and let them do jumps.  Water boarding and skiing are both pretty popular in the Danube, but here no boats were needed.

Budapset: The end of the journey

We were running late, but we had actually made to Budapest on Friday night!

of course we had discovered 2 days earlier the Monday after we left would be the big national Holiday centered in Budapest.  We would both miss it and have to suffer with over-filled hotels!

We spent some time looking for Hotels on the street and in the GPS and gave up due to low-availability and high prices.  Eventually we went to the train station, where people wandered around trying to get you stay in their apartments.  Hotel prices 120-145€ per night if available at all.  A studio apartment in the middle of the downtown tourist/commercial district 45€/night.  No cleaning service or breakfast, but Hungary has supermarkets that are open on Sunday (those not living in Germany or Austria with not appreciate what a rare event this is).  The next day I was finally had enough to drink, and even some sugar too.  I had apple juice, orange juice, pear juice, and all the water I could drink.  I reveled in it.

There was an acrobatic plane race in downtown Budapest right in front of the Parliament building.  We spent our day walking on level ground which was a good way to stretch our legs in new ways.  We met up with a high-school Hungarian friend of Taska's named Reka who lives in Budapest.  In one of the Island parks.  The next day we went to one of the baths in the city and enjoyed the multiple temperature baths, the falling apart 19th century architecture, and the crowds.  Perhaps not the most culturally rich tour of Budapest but it was a nice end to our trip.

Then we took the night train back to Munich.  Wound up only with Couchette as an option and were mostly surrounded by college age Americans, with a few others thrown in.  Not the best night, but Duco remained quiet and nobody noticed the pet duffel bag.

All and all it was a great trip, lots of fun, lots of exercise and totally different from daily life.  Road 1,000 km snaking our way from home across the countryside to Budapest.  Highly recommended, if you are planning on doing part of it or a similar trip, drop me a note and I will see if I can dig up any more memories that might be helpful to you.

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