Monday, 14 June 2010

Mad dogs and Englishmen time

During last autumn I spent some time poring over maps of Hungary looking at where there might be potential for interesting bike rides. What caught my eye was the 'Danube Bend', where the river north of the city twists its way through a line of hills.

This is said to be one of the most beautiful parts of the whole river and for the cyclist it offers the chance of a 45 mile flat ride north along the edge of the river followed by a 25 mile ride back in a straight line across country to Budapest. The catch is that the straight line return goes over the hills and not through them.

Now, while a week ago we were shivering in unseasonably cold wet weather, now we are sweltering in unseasonably hot weather, with the temperature in the low 30s. That is not the best time to be contemplating long bicycle rides, but remembering that I am either a mad dog or an Englishman, I set off anyway.

With the flooding having started to recede I was able to see some of the problems that it has caused, fields still partially underwater with crops withered from being submerged for a week or so and sandbags still in place to protect the lower-lying roads.

I cycled on through the heat until finding a likely spot for sandwiches beside the river just near Esztergom.

After lunch I decided to pay a visit to Slovakia and cycled across the bridge from Esztergom into Sturovo and did a quick tour of the town. As one of my colleagues told me some months ago, the only advantage in her opinion to living in Sturovo was being able to enjoy the wonderful view of Esztergom's basilica.

When I passed this way before in February I knew little about the relationship between Slovakia and Hungary, but since have discovered that many people living in the southern part of Slovakia are Hungarian-speaking because prior to 1920 Hungary's borders were much greater than they are today.

And therein lies one of today's European nationalist issues. Much as Hungarians resented being governed by Austrians in the 19th century, Slovakians resented being governed by Hungarians in the same period. During the Cold War nationalist issues were not discussed, but now they are surfacing again. A few years ago the Slovakian government banned officials from speaking Hungarian (even if they were Hungarian speakers) in the course of their work. And now the new Hungarian government has passed a law which offers Hungarian speakers in Slovakia the possibility of having dual Hungarian-Slovakian nationality.

The Slovakian government is apparently not impressed by this.

Anyway, I left this tricky issue behind me and cycled up into the hills, a 4 mile 6% climb, which in the 30° heat was pretty exhausting, and as my partner opined later that evening, probably not sensible.

But the descent on the other side was wonderful, and cycling back along the riverbank as the early evening sunlight gave the city its magical glow was quite uplifting.

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