Sunday, 3 June 2012

Day 14 - Back into Hungary

Bratislava - Neszmely (using
 My sleep was filled with an endless montage of places that I had seen over the last two weeks, and I realised that everything was running into a blur. I was grateful for having kept a diary every hour or so along the way, and decided that I would need to get this typed up into a more meaningful format as soon as possible after getting back to Budapest.

It was raining when I woke up. I left the hotel by 7:30 and tried to follow a route out of the city that I had planned from my street map. Of course, things went wrong at the first junction, but I followed the direction of the sun and what the compass in my GPS told me and threaded my way out through the pot-holed, somewhat chaotic outskirts of the city. Nevertheless, I was relieved when I saw a sign indicating a cycle path towards the town of Samorin. That was pretty well the only sign that I did see. The roads seemed to be completely devoid of any signs pointing to other towns and cities or indicating road numbers, and I was some miles out of Bratislava before I discovered that I was indeed on the correct Route 63.

Cycling was tricky. The roads were not in good condition and the traffic was heavy from time to time, with the usual heavy vehicles thundering by at speed. Curiously in places there was a de facto cycle lane, where the tarmac had slumped in the centre of the carriageway due to heavy wear and at the side of the road was higher, making it slightly better for cycling.

After some miles the traffic eased off and by the time I reached Samorin the road was actually reasonably quiet. I stopped in yet another Lidl to buy supplies.

I could also see that I was getting into a Hungarian-speaking part of the country. Some places were labelled in Hungarian, and towns increasingly gave both the Slovakian and Hungarian names as I cycled into them. After the small town of Bac I turned off on a side road that ran parallel to the river down towards the town of Gabcikovo.
River in background
I had always been curious to see this part of Slovakia because it forms part of the scheme and that was proposed in the 1980s for creating a massive dam and hydroelectric scheme in the Danube Bend. The Austrian government had offered to fund the construction of the scheme in return for the electricity. Czechoslovakia would build a dam at Gabcikovo and Hungary a second dam at Nagymaros. This would have flooded the entire rally from Videgrad up to past Esztergom, an area of particular natural beauty and of spiritual importance to Hungarians.

However, a small group of environmental activists in Hungary started protesting against the scheme, attracted international interest and eventually the Hungarian government abandoned the plan although the Czechoslovakian government continued even though the absence of the dam lower down the river made the whole scheme much less feasible. In the bigger scheme of things, the sense that citizens could challenge the government had a powerful impact in Hungary and was one of the factors that led to the transition of 1989.

So along the side of this road ran a massive embankment, behind which ran the arrow straight canal that rejoined the main river just south of Gabcikovo. The massive floodplain here contained huge fields of wheat, barley and corn, fields much bigger than any I had seen elsewhere.

The village of Gabcikovo turned out to be a somewhat unsettling place. As I entered it I became aware of someone singing a romantic ballad. This faded away and then picked up again, and I realised that it was being played out of large loudspeakers fixed to telephone poles all the way through the town. When the ballad finished a woman's voice started making what sounded like announcements and this continued until I went out on the other side of the village. I had no idea what she was talking about but it all felt rather uncomfortable and 1984-ish.
I eventually came to the bridge over the Danube into Hungary at about 11:30. It was not the easiest of experiences. The road and bridge are narrow and there was a pretty regular procession of heavy vehicles thundering at speed in both directions. I made my way across on a narrow pedestrian path and posed in front of the Hungarian borders sign.

Then, all of a sudden, it started to absolutely pour down with rain. Fortunately I was right across the road from the decaying remains of the old Hungarian border post so I sheltered in the ruins. It felt rather strange: I wondered what stories the walls might tell.

I waited for the rain to stop and set off along Route 14 into Gyor. After a few miles I came across the old Hungarian cycling conundrum: no cycling allowed along this road, but with no alternative provision, in this part of the world not even an alternative dogleg route through villages. So I just ignored the signs and cycled on as best I could, hoping that these thundering articulated lorries would give me enough space to ensure my survival.

My plan was to go into the city centre of Gyor, which is apparently very attractive, but as I arrived the confusing road system and general noise of the place disoriented me and I ended up following the Eurovelo 6 sign around the west of the city centre. 'Sign' being operative, as the next sign that I saw was about 15 miles further along. The path that was signed had neatly cut trenches across its width every 3 or 4 m which made it completely unusable, so I pushed on along bumpy roads and pavements until I found my way to a small grassy area next to a large roundabout with road signs that I thought might help. They did not. Also, the wind started to become very strong and gusty, the skies darkened and the road noise increased for some reason. I was so hungry that I had to eat, and then consulted my mobile phone sat-nav system to help me get out of this crazy place.

Fortunately, I was heading in the right direction and soon found a much quieter roads take me in the direction of Babolna. The scenery along the road was almost English: small fields, gently rolling countryside, cool temperatures, grey skies and threatening rain. The road passed through several villages that looked as if time was passing them by. People stopped to look at me on my bicycle as if I was some alien and I did not see any other cyclists of any description for many miles.

Rural Hungary
 Babolna was very different. The town centre looked as if it had had some investment, a large sign advertised WiFi hotspots, there were well laid-out cycle paths, a smart new housing estate with a recycling centre. I stopped to eat a banana and someone pulled up in a car to ask me if I needed any help. I thanked him profusely in a mixture of English and Hungarian and it made me feel more positive.

The road then took me to Acsa and I now found another Eurovelo 6 sign which pointed me down the main street of the village and took me out into a muddy track that ran through fields and woods until it started to run alongside the railway line and Route 1. As I was bouncing along the track my rear tyre gave an enormous bang and it flattened almost immediately. After 12 days with one puncture I was now having one a day. Philosophically I stopped and repaired it, making a mental note to buy three new inner tubes when I got back to Budapest.

Through Komarom and I followed the somewhat bumpy cycle track along the side of the road until Route 10 turned off towards Neszmely. I had now done over 80 miles and was feeling tired but knew there were campsites ahead. As I entered Neszmely I saw a sign for the Royal Yacht Club camping site to the left, but this turned out to be non-existent. A few miles further down the road was the Duna Sorozo Camping, which turned out to be the back garden of a small bar. I was the only camper that night, but it was less than five euros and was a pleasant enough spot. I pitched my tent, had a shower and went into the bar for my evening reward beer. The only people there were the young woman who ran the bar and boyfriend(?). We chatted in a mixture of Hungarian and English and I explained where I had come from and where I was going, and then sat down to enjoy my beer and sort out my GPS information for the day. Looking up I saw that I was sitting underneath a poster for Jobbik, and I remembered that I was out in the countryside and that support for such political groups was strongest here. I felt that advertising that I was doing a sponsored bicycle ride for Syrian refugees might not fall on receptive ears.

I drank up and walked up to the pizzeria on the main road, ordered a beer and a margherita pizza and sat down to take advantage of the WiFi. Various locals came in and out to pick up takeaway pizzas and a group of local youths sat at a table sharing some pizzas. From the way that everyone looked at me as they came in and out it was clear that visitors were rare. However, everyone was friendly enough, and after eating I wandered back to the campsite in the gathering darkness.

I had now done 1,115 miles and tomorrow would be my last day. I felt excited at the prospect.

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