17 08 2007


August 2nd, 2007

I crossed the border into Hungary today! I can’t really say I was sorry to exit Slovakia, though I guess Bratislava had a few points in its favour (mainly the fellow travellers I met, and the fact that it’s cheaper than Vienna!).


Over the Danube again, and a bit of fun with the border-control boys. Two uniformed fellows met me at the checkpoint – one big and burly with a friendly face, the other more regular-size and quite serious looking.

‘A cyclist?’ the big one asked. I smiled and nodded in response, taking off my sunglasses and helmet.
‘Where are you going?’
‘Tokyo, Japan’
The big guy’s eyes widened a little and he let out a surprised laugh, followed by ‘Japan!… By bicycle?’. The other guy’s eyes narrowed, and he peered at me intensely, slowly starting to circle around behind the bike.
‘Yes, I hope so’ was my truthful response.
‘Your passport, please’ said Big, which he took and handed swiftly to a third guy I hadn’t noticed behind him. Intense was right behind me at this point, and he gave my rear tyre a gentle kick, testing the pressure (I assume). ‘Japan – is very far, yes?’ asked Big (he likes rhetorical questions, it seems). ‘Yes, very far’ I replied with a slight grin.
Third went into the booth with my passport, where I saw him hand it to a silhouetted figure seated at a desk.
‘How will you go there? The… route?’ asked Big
‘Uh, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan…’
‘Iran? You go to Iran? Not to Russia?’
‘No, not Russia. The visa is very difficult, and it’s far from here’ I said, pointing back the way I came.
‘Yes, but Iran… What is in your bags?’
(Intense said nothing during all of this. He had completed his circle of the bike and was now boring into my handlebar bag with his X-ray vision)
‘A tent, camping gear, clothes, bicycle parts… everything I need’ (I omitted the PC).
The silhouette emerged from the booth, and was clearly the man in charge, the others all backing off as he approached.
‘You are going to Japan?’ he asked. ‘By bicycle?’
‘Yes, that is the plan’
‘Oooh, this is very far, no?’
‘Yes, about 12,000km, I think’
This brought silence from all of them, followed by a reluctant grin from the Boss. The mood was never really serious, but now it eased right up, and we were all buddies. Intense asked me where I was going from here.
‘Uh… Gyor’
‘Ah yes, Gyor – you can go this way’ he said, pointing at the only possible way to go.
‘Thank you’ I said, and I meant it.
I asked if I could take a photo, given that everyone was all smiles (except Intense), and the camera wound up in Big’s hands, taking a shot of the Boss and I, with the bike.
The Boss started saying something I couldn’t understand, and Big translated for me. It turned out that the Boss’ 19-year old son was studying law in Prague, and that he had an email address at the university. He wanted me to send the photo to his son, along with an explanation (I assume) of what was going on, which I promised to do.
The translation session had pushed Big’s English to its limit, and he was looking tired. Staring thoughtfully to the upper-left, he summoned up one final gem:
‘You may pass… freely!’ he announced (in a grand-yet-hesitant tone)
At this, Intense finally cracked and burst out laughing, and I thanked them all, shaking hands with the Boss and pedaling down the road… into Hungary!


I soon discovered that bicycles are illegal on the main roads of Hungary (including the road that Intense had advised me to take), as are horse-and-carts and tractors. Big glaring no-go signs met me every few hundred metres, but having absolutely no alternative, I carried on cautiously. I passed several police cars, both moving and stationary, but none of them seemed to pay me much notice beyond a passing glance at the bike itself. I passed within spitting distance of a speed-trap, a bloke standing road-side with a radar gun on a tripod, and he barely turned his eyes towards me. I kept pedaling.


When I finally reached Gyor, I was very pleasantly surprised to find a really beautiful town, with a magnificent central square. I checked with the tourist office about campsites in the area, and I was directed to a place over the river, about 5 minutes out of town. One extremely handy point of the Hungarian tourist information (for me, at least) was that the pamphlets all had GPS co-ordinates of the attractions, so I could punch in the numbers directly (which I did), and off I went. I still had a bit of trouble finding the place, as I didn’t really believe the house I’d ridden past twice on the main street was actually a ‘campsite’, but I was wrong. I hesitantly wandered around the back of the house, into a vast backyard complete with permanent caravans and a couple of shacks, and a tent in the back corner. I interrupted a guy on a hammock, who mimed that I should ring the doorbell, which I did. A couple of friendly elder ladies greeted me (in German) and ushered me around the back of the house again, telling me I could pitch my tent anywhere I liked. The light was failing, so I quickly chose a spot and got the tent up, and was later greeted again by the guy in the hammock. He was a Frenchman named Jerome, and he was also Cycling down the Danube river, from Strasbourg to Budapest. He had a guidebook written by an elderly English gent who wrote a very detailed account of the ‘traditional’ cycling routes down the river, and the histories of each of the locations along the way. I really wish I’d had that book a few weeks ago…


I was starving, so a quick shower and I was keen to get back in town. But Jerome was quite interested in my bike, and after offering to make me a cup of mint tea (which was really, and quite unexpectedly good), he related the tale of how his bike had totally self-destructed on the cobblestone roads of Passau. Apparently his frame had come apart at a couple of (rather rusty) points, and the bike literally collapsed underneath him! But according to him, he walked no more than 50m down the street, into a bike shop, and bought his replacement bike for 30 Euros (!) Yes, *30* Euros! I nearly choked on my (excellent) mint tea, and asked him how the *hell* he managed to do that. He said the bike wasn’t new, and that some parts were a little ‘old-school’, but still… I didn’t have the nerve to tell him how much mine cost. Let’s just say that if I did it his way, I could afford to have my bike explode at every major city I came across on this trip, and I’d still come out way ahead. But I’d rather not have the hassle or danger of an exploder-bike, thank you very much – and it could easily be life or death in the the really ugly stuff (yet to come), which he happily conceded.


After that, I zipped back into town on my extremely sturdy and rugged bike, and found a great meal of spicy goulash soup and ‘schpatzle’ (similar to the stuff I had in Bavaria) that would easily have fed two people. I ate it all, of course, but it was a very slow ride back to camp…







3 responses

18 08 2007

Hi Nigel,
I’m one of the guys you’ve met just the day before budapest.
We were cycling down to the Sziget festival.
Well, meanwhile we have lived through that and are back home in Munich. Only so much: It was a great time there. I don not know, though, what was greater, the biking or the festival.
I do not think that you stayed for the festival. did you?
Well, I hope your journey makes good progress and that you reach tokio in best condition!
Save ride and many greez


20 08 2007

Hi Flo!

Thanks for the comment, and thanks to all you guys & gals for a great time on the way into Budapest. I’m sorry we didn’t get to catch up at the festival, but I really couldn’t stay in town that long – though I really would have like to. How was the festival? It must have been awesome!

As you probably know, the Formula 1 race was in Budapest on the Sunday also, so it was really hard to get a bed at a hostel, and I had to move to a different one every night. Nothing available on from Tuesday night, so I hit the road…

If you ever come to Tokyo, let me know!


23 09 2007

Hi Nigel! What a way you have covered since I met you in Gyor! I think often about , I imagine how it must be a pleasure to continue this life of an adventurer with the discovery every day of a totally unknow landscape,a new region, a new maneer of living, a new language…I have remarked it since I found again my daily life. Thank you for the foto, it’s very funny for me to observe myself at this precisely moment, and to read the maneer you relate it. Imagine that I had so difficulties to continue my way after gyor because I was always lost on a kind of motorway without finding any cycleway or at least a secure way. I tryed to leave this route but i joined always the same road again. A few days later? I was even in the mountains because I intended to take a short cut with notably a climb of 20 km, I passed a lot of group cyclist , and I rode a lot of this stage by feet :-).otherwise, the sziget festival was very cool and I appreciated the shower of budapest to rest my jambs!Have a good trip dear Nigel I admire you for your challenge!

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