Tuesday, 30 September 2003

Hungary, Slovakia, Austria 2003

Had 2 terrific weeks in Zurich with the Australian team for the World Duathlon Championships. was pleasantly surprised at how small and manageable it was in Zurich, and I loved the cycling over the hills nearby. The race was over a tough, but ideal course for such a competition. Finished 8th in my age group. While not as good as last year, I was well satisfied. Really enjoyed my role as assistant manger of the team.

Twelve days ago flew from Zurich to Budapest, caught a bus (with my bike box,backpack & 2 panniers) to the metro, changed metro trains twice, then caught a train (2 & a half hours) to the delighful small city of Pécs in the far south of the country. From Pécs I cycled east to Mohács on the Danube, and followed the Danube north via Baja, Kalocsa, Solt and Ráckeve to Budapest where I arrived on Wednesday evening.

Saturday 6 September 2003

Stayed overnight in a nice room, with my own bathroom, above a wine tasting room, which in turn was over a wine cellar. As a result, when I woke up at 6:30am, after a good night's sleep, had rather a thick head! Went for a 9.5k run along a sandy track between fields, having run a short distance from the village. Another cool, beautiful morning, with a cloudless sky.
Went to breakfast (not included in my panzio price) in the same little restaurant in which I had dinner last night. Faded imitation flowers on every table. Fellow diners were all German, and all wished me "auf weidersain (?)" as they left. Getting a bowl for my meusli, with a jug of milk, took much discussion and many hand signs. Breakfast comprised:
Espresso coffeeCheese omelette, with plenty of paprikaBread, yesterday's thick-sliced whiteMy meusli and milk.
Back to my room and said G’Day to Erika, who runs the wine tasting room, and whose parents own the building, who was friendly as ever.
Chatted to 2 middle-aged English women who were on an organised bike tour that they were enjoying. Today they would cycle to Budapest. When I commented that that would be a good ride, they explained that after cycling the first 22k, the bus would take them the remaining 80k! They each had two huge suitcases which their accompanying bus would take for them.
After packing my bags, wandered around the village of wine cellars, taking a couple of photos. Then packed the bike, said good-bye to Erika who was cleaning the other rooms, to get on my bike at 10:20am.
Rode back the way I had come from Miske yesterday afternoon, between fields of corn and sunflowers. Encountered a couple of horse-drawn drays carting farm produce. Little traffic and very pleasant.
Continued past Miske to the large town of Kalocsa. Although it is described in the Lonely Planet guide as worth visiting, I continued through, as it was still only lunch-time. Encountered significant problems controlling my bike over the terrible cobble stones (see diary entry for Sunday). An old bloke helped me pick the bike over some particularly difficult urban terrain in the central square! Bought some bread rolls and an apple at a small mini market.
Stopped at a bankomat to get cash, and two young blokes and a girl admired my bike. The girl spoke good English and translated everything for me and the 2 blokes. The blokes were keen bike riders, but had never seen a bike like mine, and were most interested in the fine details.
Found my way in the correct direction, on a small road west of Kalocsa, hugging close to the Danube. Delightfully quiet roads through several small rural villages. As it was now after lunch on Saturday, everything had closed for the remainder of the weekend.
The Danube curved back westwards, and I was back on route 51 north towards Budapest. The traffic was fairly heavy, and it was rather bring country, as passed through Harta, Solt (a large town), Apfstag and Dunsvecse.
Was getting very tired, having underestimated how much I would have to ride, particularly after the morning run.
I'll try this again. You can see that I'm now spending time keeping copies in Hotmail.

Sunday 7 September 2003

Yesterday was a big day of cycling and I arrived at the "motel" with restaurant attached very tired. After an excellent feed I slept very well in the first air-conditioned room I've had in Europe on this trip (5,000 forint). Awoke at 6:15am, showered and called Carolyne for a good chat. Went to the restaurant for breakfast only to find it closed. Was amazed, although being Sunday, most places are closed. In my room had some meusli and water in a glass, with a Powerbar for dessert.
Even after 4 days of cycling packing the bike is a slow process, and it was 8:45 when I hit the road. Headed north along route 51 - a main road - to the small town of Tass. Although there wasn't much traffic, I was pleased to get off the main road.
In Tass was surprised to find a small Coop supermarket open. Bought a small yoghurt and half a loaf of fresh, white bread. Have found limited choice of bread in Hungary, and here there were only large, white loaves. The woman serving at the deli counter cut one in half for me and sliced it thickly by hand.

Total cost was 170 forint. Outside the shop I scoffed the yoghurt and a couple of slices of bread, packing the remainder on the top of my pack.
Headed east along a quiet rural road between the crops I'd seen most: miserable corn and miserable sunflowers. The hottest and driest summer in recorded history has devastated crops and left flower gardens in towns looking bedraggled. Occasionally I saw small groups of people, presumably families, collecting produce of chillis or vegetables from their plots. Saw a couple of small herds of cattle with shepherds watching them. The only rural fences I've seen have been surrounding orchards, otherwise there are none.

Came into the larger town of Kunszentmiklós. Stopped in the main square to get my bearings and navigate my way out of town. Dropped my yellow cycling goggles. When I realised I wasn't wearing them and returned 2 minutes later they were gone. Some old blokes sitting on a park bench chatting were able to help get on the right road.

For the first 2km this was along a paved surface, with no path at the side as an alternative. Bloody paving stones! However hard they are to ride on with narrow tyres, they are 10 times harder with a huge pack on the back. My 2 panniers and small back-pack weigh probably 15 kgs. They rest on the rack attached to the back of my seat-post. When I go over a small dip or bump, the rack flexes and the panniers swing into the rear wheel (despite the frames attached to the rack). A couple of times this has has jammed the wheel, causing a rapid decceleration and a loss of tyre rubber.

Once off the paving stones the road passed through Kiskunsági Nemzeti Park, with forest and meadows. It was beautiful and peaceful, with an excellent road surface. Passed several ponds with blokes fishing. Rescued a small tortoise and returned him to the forest. This was the longest stretch of road I seen without villages. Stopped occasionally to eat a slice of bread and admire the scenery.

Eventually came to the town of Kerekegyháza. From there into Kecskemét, my destination for the day, there were scattered houses and farms, some of them offering accommodation which I hadn't seen before. Kecskemét is a small city of 110,000 and is the capital of the province. I followed the signs to "Centrum" and eventually finished up at the main square at the centre of town.

Stopped in the shade - it was 12:45pm and quite warm, about 24° - ate the last of my bread and checked the Lonely Planet guide. It said that the TourInform office would be closed (found later that it was open) and suggested a good, cheap panzio (Hungarian for pensione). I found the panzio okay, but the woman who opened the door (thankfully she spoke some English) told me it was full. Kindly she suggested the Pálma Hotel and called them to make sure there was a spare room. Found the Pálma, and was delighted with the large, clean room, with 3 single beds, large bathroom and separate toilet, for 4,600 forint, plus 500f for breakfast. There are 3 velux windows in the sloping roof (I'm on the 2nd floor) which look onto a beautiful 18th century church.

Showered and went exploring the delightful central square, surrounded by lovely buildings, the most striking of which were built in the late 19th century in art nouveau style. There are lots of trees, and people wandered in the Sunday afternoon sun. There were chess players in one corner. Had a double scoop of ice-cream (140f) from an art nouveau café, and then an espresso (100f).

On advice from the friendly TourInform staff (they are invariably friendly and helpful) found an Internet Café open. Was very frustrated by spending an hour and a half drafting a diary entry, only to lose it when I hit "send". Will be more careful in future.
As it was now 6:15pm decided to find a restaurant. Was hungry and felt like a good feed. The Lonely Planet suggested several cheap places, but I followed its advice on a quality restaurant serving Hungarian cuisine.

The Mágnás is a cellar restaurant with delightful decor: high-backed chairs, white table cloths with salmon pink settings and crockery, thick-walled high windows up to the street, with stained glass. There were spotlights on the walls and a candle on the table. As for last night, the maitre d' was in his forties and took my order. A young bloke served the wine (cork delivered on a saucer) and food.

First course, bean soup á la Jókai (550f). Huge tureen with soup server and separate bowl with sour cream. Soup had red and white beans, speck, ham, peppers, onions, carrots, white rice-loke lentil (?). Strong, rich, spicy taste, although too salty for my taste.
Side serving of the ubiquitous thick-sliced white bread.
To drink, started with the famed local produce, apricot brandy. Forgettable. Then a bottle of local cabernet sauvignon, Mét 2000 (1,500) - not as good as the Hajós cabernet from 2 nights ago, but okay. Glass bottle of natural mineral water.
Main course, catfish with cabbage (1,500f), came on a huge bed of cabbage and potatoes, with onion, capsicum, thick bacon, spring onions, heaps of parsley, 2 fillets of catfish, lemon & white wine. Was good and very generous serving, though not as tasty as last night. Left no room for dessert.
Although smaller menu than last night, there were still 98 items! At 7:30pm was finished, but half my wine left. Paid bill of 4,340f + 360f tip, took the remainder of my wine, and left.
Wandered around the nice shops surrounding the main square, allowing dinner to settle. Back at my room drank the rest of the wine and read. To bed 9:30pm.
Honey pie
Have just spent another wasted half hour trying to log into hotmail. No luck. Apparently, this is a common problem. Was great talking to again this morning. Here's today's news so far.

11:30am Monday 8 September 2003
Orange Internet Café, Kecskemét, Hungary

Awoke at 6:20 after a good night's sleep. The sun was shining in the windows - another cloudless sky.
At 7 went for a 12k run, heading west along a road west, straight from the main square. School kids walking to school, people cycling along the shared path, and a steady stream of traffic choking the narrow road towards the city centre. Fruit & vegie stalls being set up. Apart from the diesel fumes, enjoyed the run.
Showered and to breakfast in the large breakfast room on the 1st floor. Other tables were set but I was alone. The middle-aged woman serving checked my room key and sat me at a table set for one. She readily understood my need for a bowl and milk when she saw my meusli. She brought me an espresso coffee and hot water for tea. There were 3 fresh, large bread rolls (put one away for later), 6 small slices of salami and plum jam.
Finished by 9am. Still no-one else. Off to the laundry a short distance away, as advised by the hotel staff. The busy woman there emptied all my laundry onto the counter and counted each grubby piece. Then came the bad news: the total cost was 6,020 forint, about AUD$45!! I stood for a minute or 2 to think about my options. Deciding not to waste half a day scrubbing in the hotel room sink, and having wet stuff hanging all over my room, I went ahead and paid the money. She indicated it would be ready by 8am tomorrow.
Then to a pharmacy to buy face cream and lipstick: my skin is extremely dry and cracked from cycling into the dry wind over the past few days. Cost 2,062 forint. Will keep applying the cream until my skin improves.
Took a couple more photos in the main square, with sun at the appropriate angle for these buildings, particularly the spectacular art nouveau council building. Into the oldest church here, from the 14th century. Alongside very early statues and paintings are new stained glass and modern friezes.
Called Carolyne and had a good long chat, complaining about my problems with the internet and laundry. Sent postcards to Lynne and Warren& Lisa.
My plan is stay at the Pálma Hotel again tonight, to be up early tomorrow, collect my laundry and hit the road ASAP. I will head west, over the route I took yesterday and onto Ráckeve tomorrow night. That will be about 100k, but it will leave only a short distance into Budapest on Wednesday, allowing me lots of time to find my way and get accommodation there. Plan to stay in Budapest for 4 nights. Then to Vienna which will take about 5 days. That will allow me time to spend 3 days there, and have 3-4 days cycling to and from Linz further up the Danube.
Love you so much and wish you were here to share the adventure. Watch the moon again tonight! R

Spent 1,200f at the Orange Internet @ 8f per minute, getting a lot done. Left at 2pm, as the school kids were leaving school and filling the main square. Back in my room had left-over bread roll from breakfast with Vegemite and plenty of water. Went into the Council building for a couple of photos - a great building. Then bought a sandwich with cheese, tomato, lettuce and salami for 350f, and 2 bananas. Sat in the main square watching the passing parade. Then to Fodor (same place as yesterday) for an espresso (100f) overlooking the square while I wrote postcards to Jan & Dave and Nev & Lainie. Took photo of a young woman with her dog wearing a red cross to which she was feeding an ice-cream, while eating her own. Went to the main post office to send postcards and the 3rd film to Carolyne VERY slow, taking 40 minutes, though cheap for the airmail at 380f, plus 80f for the envelope. Bought a spare 400x36 shot film on the way back to my room briefly. Wandered to the market which was closing down.
Returned to the Orange Internet at 5pm, planning to spend about an hour.

Net Klub, BudapestSaturday, 13 September

Am writing this on my last night in Budapest, after an all too brief 3 days here.

On the way I took two diversions. The first was to Hajós, a wine village, where I got accommodation in a panzio above a wine tasting room, itself above a large wine cellar. The second diversion was to Kecskemét, a beautiful small city on the Great Hungarian Plain. I spent a full day there and enjoyed it. Kecskemét is one of the few places that has not been destroyed by invaders at some stage, and was an ideal staging post for me between the small villages I've been travelling through and the sophisticated, cosmopolitan Budapest.My cycling hasn't been without incident, but have enjoyed it immensely. My racing bike is struggling with its task of carrying me and the large load at the back over surfaces that vary from ideal to abymal. Have met some wonderful locals, though outside of the cities no-one can speak any English. The countryside appears to have been badly affected by the long, hot, dry summer, with corn and sunflower seed crops, the staples in the areas through which I've ridden, looking very miserable. Have been through many little villages where people appear to have low incomes. Lucky with the weather, with cloudless skies and mild temperatures until I reached Budapest. The food has been mixed: there is excellent food available, but not everywhere. The bread, for example, comprises almost exclusively large, white loaves that are sliced thickly and are frequently served a day old. Lots of good wine, and cheap.What a change from the countrside to Budapest, which is a typical large, wealthy European city, with a magnificent old city and seems to be booming. It's been cloudy, windy and cooler here, but the forecast is better over the next few days. Have been exploring the historical and art museums here, as well as just wandering the streets of the old town. The highlight has been the castle, a large complex on the hill behind, comprising a palace, several wonerful churches, and streets of medieval and eighteenth century houses. Am staying in a small hotel just outside the old city, overlooking a large swimming pool complex. It is close to the Danube, and each morning have been running on Margaret Island, a delighful spot, with large parks, sports complexes, and a running track around the 5.35k perimeter (according to a sign). The track is made mainly of tartan: I've never seen this outside of a sports field.Tomorrow I leave Budapest, following the Danube until I reach Vienna. I'll stay with friends there, before continuing along the Danube, probably to Passau in southern Germany. Will be back in Canberra on 29 September.Please accept the general nature of this email.Regards, Bob_________________________________________________________________ ViennaWednesday, 17 SeptemberAm staying with friends here and am writing this on their computer, with the sun pouring in, sipping on a Schwechater beer. It's still wonderful weather - I've been so lucky. My friends are being very hospitable to me, and we've been chatting to each other non-stop which I'm enjoying. They have a large apartment with high ceilings and well-furnished in an old block close to the ring around the old city.Arrived in Vienna yesterday afternoon, a day earlier than planned. On Monday I was cycling along a delightful rural road in Hungary near the Danube, about 30k from the Austrian border, when my pannier jammed my rear wheel going over a bump. Luckily I didn't hit the road, but my rear tyre lost so much rubber, the canvas was showing through. I nursed the bike to a village with accommodation for the night, and yesterday morning continued to the larger town of Mosonmagyaróvár. As expected none of the bike shops there carried a tyre for my sized wheel (650mm), so I decided to catch a train to Vienna. I really had no choice as my tyre could have burst at any moment.Went for a run this morning along the Danube Canal, a substantial waterway that cuts through the old city. Have spent today ordering a new tyre (even here bike shops don't carry 650mm tyres in stock) then wandering around the magnificent city, going to a couple of exhibitions, taking lots of photos and generally enjoying myself. At my Vienna friends' suggestion, went into a map shop that has a fantastic collection of cycle maps - I counted about 100 - covering Europe. I bought a 180 page book that covers the bike route along the Danube from Passau in southern Germany (my goal, if possible) to Budapest. There are 85 separate maps, with detailed descriptions (all in German!) of every little village along the way. It will be wonderful to carry with me.Assuming my tyre arrives tomorrow afternoon as promised, I plan to leave Vienna on Friday and ride the section of the Danube between here and the Hungarian border, before heading west along the Danube towards Germany. I'll return here to my friend's place late next week, fly from Vienna to Zurich on Friday week to collect the rest of my gear and return home.I left the Hotel Csaszar in Budapest on Sunday morning, in the usual cloudless weather, and the city dead with all shops and offices closed. After a difficult and slow hour and a half negotiating the frequently rough surface and a path that was not well signposted, I arrived at Szentendre 24km north of Budapest. From there it was terrific. The Danube changes from a northerly to a westerly direction, at what is logically called the Danube bend. There are forest-covered hills on both sides of the river, the roads are quiet and I felt likely cycling forever.Stopped for lunch at a restaurant along the road with its verandah packed with Sunday diners. Had seen very few restaurants, and was interested that there were so many people at this place. After a feed of tasty goulash soup with beans and a bowl of bread, a bloke who had been wining and dining with friends at the next table and speaking German noticed my bike with its Australia stickers. He chatted to me in perfect English with an American accent. He introduced himself as the German ambassador to Hungary and said that this restaurant was a little gold mine in the country.I continued through little villages along the Danube and past the delightful large town of Eszergom with castle and walls towering over the river-side bike path. Following the cycle map I have from the Hungarian tourist office, TourInform, I turned southwest, away from the Danube. For the first time I had to climb several hills, passing through pretty wooded valleys towards the industrial city of Tatabanya. Before reaching the city the recommended route turned west and I had a steep pass (10% gradient, according to the road sign) out of the valley. It was late afternoon and through thick forest. At one stage I saw a huge emperor (?) eagle sitting on the forest floor close to the road. As I stopped to photograph it, it flew off through the trees, its massive wing span bearly making it between the trees.After 125km of the most picturesque countryside, and enjoyable riding, of my Hungarian ride, arrived at the large town of Tata about 5:30pm. Stayed at a "zimmer frei" (private room) in a house just off the main street.On Monday I continued west from Tata, across an area called "the small plain", flat, farming countryside but the roads were easy and quiet. At midday I arrived at the city of Gyõr. Navigating to the centre was okay, but in trying to get out I found myself on a major road that banned bikes, with no bike or footpath at the side. Eventually made it out, and a few minutes later, at the village of Gyõrújfalu stopped at another country restaurant, full of people escaping from Gyõr for a pleasant lunch. After a nice meal of bean soup and grilled mushrooms I headed northwest through countryside littered with lakes and rivers associated with the Danube. The villages were tiny and pretty. As mentioned at the begiining, that's when I hit the bump in the road and nearly came acropper.The room I stayed in that night was a private room in the roof of a farm house, with a cat, chooks, a pig and others in the yard and crops of corn at the back. Very comfortable room but after 8km of walking, I found that the two restaurants of the village, both on lanes a couple of kms out of the village, were closed for the evening. After 115km of cycling, plus the walking, my last Powerbar and a beer from the local bar weren't as much nourishment as I would have liked.But breakfast the next morning at the house at which I was staying made up a lot of ground. Another cloudless sky accompanied me for the quiet, slow ride into Mosonmagyaróvár, and then the train to Vienna.


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