I am writing this from Budapest, on my own for the first time in 12 days! If you read the previous blog post from Penny you will know that I was joined for the Venice to Budapest leg of the trip by one of my best friends from university and her visit has absolutely flown by.
I first glimpsed Penny across the arrivals hall of Venice airport trying to part the jostling crowds like an unsuccessful and harassed looking Moses. She was wheeling a huge and rather cumbersome bike box on her trolley and told me that twice in Birmingham airport she was asked if she was taking her television on holiday with her! This does make me slightly worried about the state of mankind.
I won’t go into too much detail about the first leg of our journey as Penny gave a brilliant summary in her post. I will however discuss what it was like travelling with a partner in crime. There were many benefits to cycling with Penny; inparticular someone to look after my bike whilst I went into the shop. But don’t get me wrong we also had our disagreements, some of them quite fundamental, such as whether we were going uphill or downhill. I didn’t think it was possible to get this wrong and now I’m wondering if when I’ve been alone I’ve thought I was smashing up a hill when actually I was going down all along.
Our days also involved many more cafe stops than I was used to. We relished the cheap Slovenian prices and found the people we met to be incredibly friendly and curious about my trip. One lovely waitress Sasha was so happy we had visited her cafe that she sneakily slipped me a kilogram bag of salted peanuts into my bag so that I wouldn’t go hungry. I have been eating peanuts with every meal and for snacks in order to try and reduce the weight that I’m carrying!
Despite signing up for a cycling trip it seems more like we have spent the last two weeks on a tour of eastern European watering holes. Two days after leaving Ljubljana and cycling through the stunningly beautiful Sava valley we arrived in Putj. We had been looking forward to the campsite here as we knew it had a thermal spa attached. And what a treat it was! As we were visiting out of holiday season we had the pool to ourselves. We spent the evening drinking wine and I swanned around the 8 or so different saunas in the nude feeling like some kind of Roman goddess!
Before setting off the next morning we spent a few hours in the campsite water park enjoying the slides, wave pool and diving boards. Well I enjoyed the slides. I managed to drag Penny on a rubber ring ride as you had to go down in pairs and she did not stop screaming the whole way down! I had no sympathy and was laughing so hard at her that I couldn’t offer any support! Safe to say I only got one ride on that slide…
Two days and a creepy night in the woods later and we crossed the border into Hungary. I was suprised by how suddenly the landscape and culture seemed to change. If Slovenia is a sort of bridge between East and West then Hungary felt like we were in eastern Europe proper. Penny and I both struggled with the language, even if you see a word written down that doesn’t help with pronouncing it. English was not very widely spoken in rural Hungary and we often had to get by with pointing and gesturing. The people were friendly enough but seemed a lot more reserved than the chatty Slovenians, but I guess that may be because of the language barrier.
Our next destination was Europe’s largest thermal lake in Heviz. Hanging out in the lake was clearly a big social activity for Hungarians and many groups of friends bobbed around in rubber rings chatting merrily away.
On the theme of Europe’s largest we next headed for the biggest inland lake, Lake Balaton. With 197km of shoreline the lake essentially acts as Hungary’s sea and holiday resorts are packed into every inch of precious space. As we were visiting out of season everything was eerily quiet and at times felt post-apocalyptic with shuttered up buildings and empty beaches. This made for a very peaceful visit and one evening we ate dinner on the lake as the sky entertained us with a glorious sunset followed by the rising of the harvest moon and a nearby electrical storm. Who needs a television when you’ve got the night sky?!
From lake Balaton it was a smooth direct cycle into Budapest. Prior to coming to Hungary I hadn’t even bothered to research their cycle network as I assumed it wouldn’t really exist. How wrong I was. Over two thirds of our time here has been spent on segregated cycle ways as they accompany many of the major routes across the country. Budapest also has a very impressive network of cycle routes all over the city. And if that isn’t enough of a reason for you to visit Budapest then the grand architecture, cheap food and plethora of thermal baths should be. It is definitely one of my favourite European cities and I’m in no hurry to leave!
Joking aside I am hugely grateful to Penny for coming out to join me in the middle of my trip and fpr enduring the hot temperatures, insect bites and dubious wild camping spots that I made her sleep in. It gave me something to look forward to which was a great help when setting out on my own so many weeks ago.
After one more day exploring Budapest I will head off down the Danube deeper into eastern Europe. For me this is where the adventure really begins. I feel like the rest of the trip has really just been a warmup for the next few weeks where I will head off the beaten track a bit more to places where cycle tourers are a much rarer site. I cannot wait for this leg of the journey and to discover some of Europe’s more hidden treasures.
The adventure continues…