Sunday, 28 February 2010

A grand day out

After a challenging week at work I needed a good weekend, but with Sheffield Wednesday losing 5-0 and England losing the rugby in the last couple of minutes things did not go very well on Saturday.

However, Sunday turned out sunny and relatively mild so I decided to get out on my bicycle again and explore a little more of the countryside. I headed north-west from Budapest into the Visegrad Hills, which rise to about 2000 feet and have forced the Danube to take a sharp detour in its route to the sea.

The early stages of the ride reminded me a little of heading out of Sheffield along the A57, although the distant sightings of villages with white walls and orange roofs gave it a much more European feel. The road climbed slowly and by the time I reached the pass I was into an area still with quite a bit of snow. Before starting the descent I managed to take my own photograph (the paunch is my jacket, stuffed up my shirt).

After a wonderful descent down hairpin bends winding through the woods I ended up at the town of Esztergom on the Danube. Esztergom is the religious capital of Hungary, as it is the place where the Hungarian king first embraced Catholicism in 1000AD. As a result it has a magnificent basilica, built on top of an outcrop above the river.

I decided to eat my sandwiches sitting by the river next to the bridge that crosses over to a town in the Slovak Republic.

Probably because I grew up on an island nation I find the idea of national borders somewhat fascinating, and sat looking over the river musing on the fact that the people just a few hundred yards away spoke a different language, had a different currency and were possibly quite different in character to the people on this bank.

That feeling was reinforced when I looked at the bridge from the basilica outcrop, where I could see that Sturovo, the Slovakian town on the other bank, was a most unattractive looking place, with factory chimneys and ghastly looking apartment blocks stretching into the distance.

If I had had my passport with me I would have cycled over the bridge so that I could add the Slovak Republic to my list of countries, but I didn't, so carried on along the Hungarian bank towards the next major town, Visegrad.

At this point the Danube forces its way through a narrow valley, and Visegrad is famous for its clifftop castle. As by this time I had covered 50 miles, I decided to admire the castle from the terrace of a restaurant on the riverbank, where a coffee and pancakes help to replenish some of the calories that I had used up during the day. It was by now four o'clock, and the skies cleared completely for the last couple of hours of daylight, to give a beautiful evening.

Visegrad was the end of my cycling for the day. I took a ferry across to the town on the other bank and caught a train back into Budapest. A grand day out indeed.


  1. Hi! You don't need a passport to cross, both Hungary and Slovakia are members of the Schengern Area. Also almost everybofy speaks Hungarian on the other side, Stúrovo is 75% ethnic Hungarian.

    I guess you could call this a fun fact. Although Visegrád is a town, it not what you would call major. Some of the villages you had to cross to get there had a bigger population. Visegrád has only about 1700 residents, making it one of the smallest towns in the country.

  2. Thanks Villy, as I'm British I forget about Schengen - we seem to need passports all the time!

    And interesting to know about the Hungarian dominance in that area.