Day 45

“Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.” — Clay Shirky

Seven days from Bratislava to Belgrade. Beat that.

We had to earn it though. The last day, 93 miles, riding into Belgrade on the motorway dodging pot holes as bus loads of locals stared in shock at either our stupidity our the fact that they where not expecting to see someone who had developed a temporary fit of tourettes.

So as I sit here with a rare day of rest it is hard to try and work back through what I have seen as the last week has been so intense. With no note taking and no camera to record this trip I am left with these random musings as memory of the journey. So most likely out of chronological order the highlights included

meeting two swedish cyclists as we headed out of vienna looking to pick up the correct radweg. small world no. the two swedish cyclists had headed down from oslo and where trying to get to istanbul. We joined up for the day and ended up arriving in bratislava together where with names left unmentioned to protect the guilty i learnt that they had gone two weeks in the same cycling shorts. I think i am bad at times but jesus two weeks… It was nice to cycle in such a large group and the difference from the start of the trip when i left on my own to suddenly being in a large group of people was quite remarkable.

The sign for Slovakia was punched with delight to continue the tradition and with photos and handshakes at the border we entered bratislava, past the american embassy…. that now has even more fortifications than when i saw it last time. From what one has to ask… and into the old town with the wonders of gps used by the swedish guys.

We drank on the street watching the world go by then standing on my own waiting for malte to catch up two slovakian gypsy girls came up and asked for a cigarette. Before I got a chance to respond I had a hand in my crotch followed by a question of whether i wanted to go for a drink or not. Different world.

Back from random groping we ended up at the hostel where we listened to music from hopefully the email gets through and the girl in the stripy top finds the long riders guild information. Other than that watching somebody that talented is a pleasure.

Out of Bratislava in the morning and straight into headwinds. Relentlessly blowing against us we managed with huge effort to cross into Hungary, punch another sign shake hands then cycle past an even larger sign proclaiming entry to the country and just as i was debating jumping off and slapping this one for luck i saw the body of a middle aged man lying in the ditch next to the side of the road. no shoes, clutching a bottle of booze. Maybe its a premonition.

We gave up twenty miles later and elected to shelter from the wind as it was too bad to cycle so we ended up trying to squat an abandoned building. When that did not work out as we could not get the bikes through the half kicked in door we elected to sleep in the woods instead. Hiding the tents in the forest we then rode back to the main road with the wind behind us then onto the local restaurant to eat battered carp, sweet pancakes and ride back to the tents slightly pissed.

The next morning back on the road the wind had dropped to the point where it was bearable. Horses and carts, old trabants, tractors and suicidal drivers who overtake cars overtaking. Hungary is still Hungary. The language is the problem for me, Malte is fine as a smattering of people can converse in German but the majority of interaction is pointing and guessing. It makes getting the miles in easier but the distraction is starting that more and more people are waving. So cycling one handed whilst wobbling round potholes as lorries past but inches from your side becomes a delicate balancing act.

We camped that night in a wood off the main road. Along a rutted track we came out onto a clearing that can only be described as the perfect hungarian plain. Perfectly flat surrounded by a forest of trees with hunting platforms secreted away, knee high grass as far as one can see, deer sporadically running across with birds circling overhead as a setting sun makes the whole affair tinged bright red. We light a fire, cook a meal and fall asleep.

In the morning we where woken by the sound of a loudspeaker. Understanding nothing at all our first guess is that it is a classic car rally being run through the nearest village. after getting back onto the main road and investigating we discover a disused military base where a giant car boot sale is being held. No prices are on any items and i felt impolite to ask bearing in mind that i could carry nothing away with me, but if you want farm machinery, equipment, car parts of questionable origin or any matter of really weird shit then pay a visit. I was thinking about buying up all the horse drawn carts to sell back in England but transporting them would be an utter nightmare.

The wind at this point had diminished to the point where it only came into effect when the road ran in certain directions but we had the fortune to make good progress through village after village along undulating hills to Keszthely. The villages in Hungary are something else. Imagine small bungalows where everybody has the front and rear garden devoted to chickens and vegetables. corn ricks stand adjacent in some houses, with large number of cold stores built in crude shapes buried into the ground. the houses all look tired and worn out, each house normally has a metal fence rusting away and the overall feel is one of being run down and poor. As we head further south up until the Croatian border the problem is exacerbated and you can see that the money is running out. We head through some villages where houses are nothing more than bricks cemented together waiting for plastering and windows when you receive the sudden shock of realisation that people are living inside them. Amongst the home made tractors which are i beams with a diesel engine welded on top, the lack of cars and the sneaking suspicion that these people might have been on the receiving end of collectivised farming theories not so long ago it is an eye opener and redefines my countries definition of poverty which is the lack of a television.

At Keszthely we camp next to the lake where a guy in his sixties is taking the spark plug out of his old soviet built scooter. refusing the offer of help he kicks vainly away at the bike until after an hour he rides off, the bike misfiring until we are left alone in front of a vast expanse of water. We opt to go fishing and catch the sum total of bugger all. I am made to feel better when another local turns up with carp rods and also blanks. he shows us photos on his mobile phone of his wife holding up huge carp that he had taken out of the lake to put on the dinner table. Seeing another opportunity to have a fire after the fisherman left we collected driftwood off the lake then built a fire that would have been sufficient for ten people in the middle of winter. Thinking it was easter as we had lost track of time we celebrated accordingly with some presents collected earlier in the trip. The rest of the evening was spent throwing burning logs in the water and trying to work out which is the north star.

One Response to “Day 45”

  1. Fredrik says:

    Hey man!
    Nice blog you have, and nice to see that things are moving along.
    We headed out one day after you guys and had some tailwind, a 140km-day!
    We reached Budapest the second day and stayed for three days, and finally arrived here in Belgrade after a bunch of flats, missing passports and shitty roads. And the racks fell off again, the serbians fixed it for free though.

    So where are you heading now?
    I think we will be in Istanbul about the same time, we’ll see, maybe we can meet up for a beer or something. And ye, blowing my cover and all, we’ve taken your advice and been washing the shorts regulary. haha.

    Take care

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