Day 2 – Esztergom to Tata

Did two loops of Esztergom before finding my way out – once again, erratic signage beat me; the Eurovelo route 6 signs followed the edge of the Danube but stopped as the path curved and merged into a three street junction. It’s quite frustrating – someone is spending big dollars to get the signage out there, and there’s lots where it’s not needed, and bugger all when it is. I’d set out at 8:00 am – it was 9:30 before I found my way out of town.

The first 30 k or so followed the main highway between Esztergom and Kamerom. Imagine the worst section of the kings highway, triple the roadworks, multiply the potholes by 100 (for size, depth and frequency) and you’re 1/2 way there. Now move all the traffic you’d find on the Pacific highway entering Sydney in rush hour and you have some idea of road conditions. It was the scariest 30ks of my life; some of the hamlets I passed through had houses so close to the road that the bricks at bumper height were chipped away; there was a roadside death marker (cross, flowers, photos – some times even a headstone) every couple of hundred metres or so. Very scary – though I must say that drivers were all courteous, giving me space when they overtook, and patiently waiting behind me until it was safe to pass. I’ve spent too much time on main roads in Australia, where I’d swear that drivers try to see how close they can come to knocking you off your bike without damaging their paintwork.  At around the 30k mark I took an alternate route on backroads.

To quote from the guide book – “Before turning off to Tata, be sure to buy provisions; the route is strenuous with many hills to climb, and there are no places to stop for a coffee, or to buy food, and no restaurants” Wow – No restaurants!!! WTF is the world coming to? What a Bunch of Wimps! Sure it was up and down, but I never had to resort to granny (even with a bike weight of around 35kg, plus my eighty) and I managed with a camelback and a muesli bar 🙂

I went through Dunaszentmiklos (town of St Michael, is my guess), past acres of budding grapevines, then Szomod (NFI), and entered Tata via the chemical works, cement factory, railway line and main tip – not a great way to enter the “Hungarian Venice” as it’s advertised. It’s more a ribbon of industry and  housing until you hit the old town, which you could chuck a stone over. A short day; I was booked into the Kiss Panza by 3:00.

I’ve had a look at the maps – between Nyergesujfalu and Neszmely there is no way of avoiding route 10; there are some backroads between Esztergom and Nyergesufalu, butt this saves only 21 k of the route on the main road, and to be truthful, some of that did have a dedicated cyclepath.

The pub is good- though it’s all double glazed, I cannot open a window, and even with the thermostat as low as it goes, I’m typing this in my jocks and still sweating. I’m now gunna go and find a Panza to kiss . More later.

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Day 1 – Budapest to Esztergom

Up at 6:00 to check all my gear and pack final bits and pieces. I have a pair of Ortlieb rear panniers, which contain spare bike shoes, wet weather gear, medicines, first-aid kit and dilly bag one on one side , and clothing, electrics and laptop on the other side. My front panniers contain camping and cooking gear plus food for the day – there’s roughly 5 Kg in each.

The main road running North South through Budapest has a marked cycle path, which just disappears as you approach the Elizabeth Bridge.

Looking down the Danube toward the Elizabeth B...

Looking down the Danube toward the Elizabeth Bridge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Commuter traffic and roadworks make for cycle unfriendliness to the point of animosity, so I walked the bike over the bridge, down two flights of stairs and got on the cyclepath heading North past the Bastion. Once out of the city I pedalled through kilometres of public housing – huge high rise blocks of flats, all identical. Looked an awful place to live.

The bike path is well marked with the EV6 (eurovelo and route number) until you find a tricky junction, where it gets too hard for the signage guys, so they don’t bother. I kept as close to the Danube as possible, and meandered through the undercity – abbattoirs, sewage works, rubbish tips, tanneries, scrap yards and such. It took me an hour and a half to clear the city. The bike path follows the Danube, but here and there the path vanishes due to maintenance or new developments, and alternate routes are not well marked. I was glad to be on my mountain bike here and there, as I had to pedal through fields and along dikes to get around parts where the bike path should have been, but wasn’t. I stopped in  Szentendre for a coffee, and checked my map.

The next few K’s were a glory – warm sun, European bird song, blossoming trees, wild flowers and  a flat track. Cycling heaven. I had to take a ferry to Vac, and shared it with a Hungarian bloke, who turned out to be Michael Hesz, the gold medal winner in the men’s kayak in Mexico. Still looks very fit. Ferries are now nationalised, and there is a standard fare, and a timetable. Like most nationalised institutions the service is erratic and often not there at all. I arrived for the 11:30 ferry, and finally got across at 12:30. The two guys having a sandwich and a coffee while I waited ..at the ferry side cafe turned out to be the captain and the crew;  Must have been smoko time. I could have used the hour’s wait to walk around the Szentendrei Sziget , a small island cum national park – but the sign at the entry (written in German, Hungarian and English) said that it was home to the endangered colossal Russian  Tarantula, which hides in holes. It didn’t give it’s size, but I had visions of the spider in LOTR,  so I decided discretion was the better option. Wouldn’t have minded spotting the long nosed grasshopper, though.

The Danube River, and the Szentendre island, f...

The Danube River, and the Szentendre island, from Visegrad citadel. Judging from the map, the town that can be seen is probably Verőce. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vac to Szob takes you around the Danube’s famous knee (well, that’s what the sign says). On the other side is Visegrad, which has a small mountain with the biggest castle I’ve seen to date. More glorious countryside (I was never more than 5 Ks from a village), and at the SZob ferry I had a beer while I waited – the ferry ran a bit late.

church of Szob i.

church of Szob i. (Photo credit: .::Danka::.)

Pilismarot to Esztergom has a very busy and narrow road  which you have to ride along for the first 5 Ks.It was an interesting 20 minutes…. Then there’s a bike path along the river, and the view is dominated by the Esztergom Basilica, a huge , cathedral-cum-castle-cum-monastery.

Central Europe: St. Adalbert's Basilica, Eszte...

Central Europe: St. Adalbert’s Basilica, Esztergom, Hungary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s like building St Pauls in Bredbo; the scale of the building in relation ship to the town is dramatic;  Esztergom did have a horse, but it died. It took me  a while to find my pub; I was booked into “pension Basilica”. Every darn thing in town is named after the basilica; there’s the Basilica pizza place, the Basilica laundrette, the basilica bar and bistro – but after an hour of meandering up and down the (steep) streets of the town I found zero pension Basilicas.

Turns out that pension translates to Panzio and basilica translates to bazilika (with an umlaut and a grave accent thrown in). What I’d assumed was a garage door for a private house had a sign “Bazilika Panzio in letters an inch high (due to heritage values, I found out) – the door opened onto a huge courtyard, and I had a cold beer after booking in. 

A long day; it took me 12 hours to do 80-odd Ks. probably about 1/2 of that riding or pushing the bike. Feeling a bit leg weary, I had a shower and a spa bath, then crashed.

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Day Zero – Budapest

English: Budapest Parliament. Français : Le pa...

English: Budapest Parliament. Français : Le parlement de Budapest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Long trip From Canberra to Budapest, but I’m now here, and I’ve set up the bike ready for tomorrow, when I set out for Esztergom; a nice flat ride, mostly along the Danube – a steady distance of 81 km, which will be a great start, and it’ll be good to get a few miles in my legs after 2 days in a pressurised tin can.

I’ve stayed at the Hotel Parlament, which is a stone’s throw from the parliament buildings, and cannot speak too highly of the place – great rooms, fantastic breakfast, brilliant staff – many thanks to Eva, who helped me find my lost bike, and went well beyond expectations in finding me space to set up my bike, find local places to sight-see, and then arranged for disposal of my bike box and suitcase, which I’d always intended to ditch at the start of the ride; I’ll find a new box and suitcase in London. If you’re ever in Budapest, or intend heading there, google them. Be sure to say hi to Eva from me.

Topography of Europe, with Danube marked red

Topography of Europe, with Danube marked red (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m following the Danube to Kelheim, which is a few days away yet. For the first two legs (Budapest to Vienna, Vienna to Passau – which takes me through four countries) I’ve arranged a self guided tour with Greenways. I met their local guy today, and picked up maps, a GPS, mobile phone, and other pertinent stuff. As well as this, they’ve booked me into an hotel each day. Very helpful people, as well as knowledgeable – Tomas Leskovjan runs the show – check out their offerings at http://www.gtc.cz. End of plugs for now. After that, I’m on my own.

I spent the day looking around Budapest, enjoying the sun and the walk while waiting for my bike to arrive – fortunately it arrived undamaged, and I spent an hour re-assembling it, checking out gear changes, brakes, seat height, front and  rear shock pressure, then cleaned and greased the chain, and packed the panniers so I’m ready to go after breakfast tomorrow. The weather forecast looks great – 10C overnight, and 21C during the day; no rain, and a very light wind. I’m getting excited.

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Tuesday April 16th 2013

Three more sleeps. I’ve prepared all my bicycle gear and clothing and have done the same with  medical stuff and personal grooming items, and have got my ipod, camera and laptop ready, along with various chargers and power point converters. The only casual gear I’m taking will be worn on the flight – Canberra/Sydney, Sydney/Dubai, Dubai/London, London/Budapest. It’s going to be a looooong journey trapped in a tin can:)

I’ve got a small amount of currency (Hungarian Florints, Euros and GBR Pounds) in cash, and a travel debit card ready to go. I’ve got a new credit card with a $A1,000 limit (so I don’t lose too much if it goes awol) for those times when pubs need a credit card imprint. I’m taking some medical items with me, and see my doctor tomorrow to get a letter stating that they’re all mine and legit – surprisingly this letter will (and has to) also cover what I think of as run-of-the-mill; vitamins, skin care creams and ointments for cuts and abrasions. Without the letter I’d possible have to post this from inside a cell….

The bike has a pair of panniers front and rear, and I’ve got 20kgs of stuff to spread around them. I’ve had a couple of trial rides fully laden, and have now got the gear balanced nicely across the four panniers, and arranged so that stuff I’ll need during the day is easy to get to. The bike and empty panniers will go in an airline bike box (which is much bigger than the boxes you can get at a bike shop), and I’ll use my sleeping bag and mat as additional padding. I owe a huge vote of thanks to Timothy J. Burleigh’s web site – http://bicyclegermany.com – his advice on how to pack a bike, what gear to take (among many other tips) was invaluable.

I’ve booked two nights in Budapest, which hopefully gets me over jet lag, and will give me time to do any needed repairs to the bike. I’m taking my Trek Liquid as it’s got suspension front and back, and has proven to be a great tourer over many trips; it’s not the fastest beast on the road, but it’ll get me there – the only additions to it are Old Man Mountain racks front and back. If you are looking for a rack, I’d recommend them.

I’ve arranged for a minibus pickup to get me to the hotel http://www.parlament-hotel.hu/ – My trip organiser (http://www.visitgreenways.com/) for the first two legs (Budapest to Vienna; Vienna to Passau) Has booked me into pubs like this one for the first two weeks. Nice!

I’ll post again when I get to Budapest, and am road-ready.

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Nervous, unsure, uncertain – but it’s something I’ve wanted to try, and I have the time – a really long distance ride, through countries where I am the alien – no language, no real skills, just me, my bike, and the road. So, after some basic research, I thought Budapest to London; up the Danube, cross over to the Rhine, and follow the river to the coast, somewhere where I could catch a ferry to the UK.

I’ve ridden some supported routes in Australia ( thanks alltraiis.com.au) – and tackled some solo rides along the bicentennial trail, and found it fun. there’s an element of being alone, tired, wet and hungry that appeals to the inner bloke. Being cautious I’ve booked a self guided ride from Budapest to Passau via Vienna; this gives me 14 days of easy riding, with a pub at the end of each day, with maps and an easy 40km  or so daily ride – still carrying my own gear, and heading against the tide. From there on, I’ll be camping wherever I end up at the day’s end.

From there the plan is flexible; up to Kilheim, over the hills via the Danube/Main canal, then follow the Rhine till I get to Amsterdam, down the coast to Calais, over to Dover, up to London. I should be a blast…….Let’s see how I go.

I set of to Budapest on the 19th April.

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