Red Hot Chili Peppers

October 3, 2012 – After a lazy day in Baja we leave early in the morning on 3 October to reach Szeged on time – it is Johan’s birthday. The day begins quiet with very long and lonely streets and hardly any cars on the way. On the map we see that we will only pass six villages on our 120km journey. Following a rest-day it always cycles easier, also when riding through unspectacular landscape. Today the landscape is getting even more boring, since the harvest has been brought in, so there are mainly empty fields with dark soil.

 

The closer we get to Szeged the nicer the area gets: we are passing vegetable gardens where they grow a lot of different things now, such as cabbage, melons, and hot peppers, fields and fields of pepper, ready to be harvested. The houses are getting bigger and are nicely decorated again and the area gets lively with more people on the streets and a few cars passing.

Getting into Szeged isn’t really easy because we have to cycle about 5km on a national road which is extremely busy and doesn’t have a shoulder. But we’ll manage and the last kilometers into town we can use the bike-path again. And suddenly everybody cycles. We are in a beautiful student city and bikes clearly have priority over cars and pedestrians, what a luxury. Finding a hotel or pension is more difficult as we had thought though. We try to find the tourist information without success, there are also hardly any hotel signs, while Szeged is the fourth largest city in Hungary, so there must be some places to sleep. On top Szeged is a great city with a lot of nicely renovated old houses, some in the Art Deco style.

 

 

Finally and after approximately 1.5 hours we find a pension that meets our budget. At least this way we already discovered the city. And here more or less ends our Hungary experience. All in all a nice country with nice and friendly though a bit shy people. They also don’t trust anybody we found out: twice they tried to charge us for food we did not eat, once in our pension and once in a hotel. Both times we convinced them that we did not have the food they were charging us, but I know that the pension guy thought we wanted to screw him and the hotel guy needed a proof that we didn’t have dinner in the hotel.

Food in general was nice, we now cook hardly ourselves anymore which we both start missing. I am a big fan of their pancakes and had a few of them. I am glad we cycle so much and immediately burn all the calories! Accommodation was also relatively cheap, decent, clean and even the smallest pensions offered free WiFi, nothing to complain about.

It is clear that we did not cycle through the most exciting parts of Hungary, landscape-wise. But we knew this before, we considered Hungary more as a transit country. Szeged certainly was the highlight at the end of our journey.

Leaving Hungary

 

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Somogyudvarhely

 

No, I did not by accident hit the wrong keys, and today’s headline also doesn’t mean hello in Hungarian, this is just a small village we passed during our journey. Impossible to pronounce and even more difficult to just guess what it means. What a language! All I can say in Hungarian is Kössenem which means thank you, and if any Hungarian reads this blog, please forgive me if this is mis-spelled.

We currently have a more or less forced rest day, after a short cycling day yesterday. We are now in Baja, which is at the Danube, north of Mohacs and relatively close to the Serbian border. We actually wanted to leave early this morning to Szeged (which reminds me of Szegedin Goulash :-)) and ordered breakfast for 7am. When we woke up it rained cats and dogs so we decided to stay one more day since the weather forecast for the coming days is great again. Also, we still have sore muscles and really need some rest.

We continued cycling along the Drava, finally south again. Hungary is nice, but no spectacular landscapes where we are. Where we ride the area is mainly flat with small hills in between, farmland and some forests.

 

Roads are sometimes challenging, there are often signs that horse carriages, bikes and tractors are forbidden, but there is no alternative, so we just stay on the roads and so far it hasn’t been an issue, neither traffic-wise nor police-wise.

We had our first funny encounter with the Hungarians at the hotel in Letenye (at the border to Croatia). I have to say that communicating gets much more difficult here since people hardly speak any other language, sometimes either a bit of German or a bit of English, but usually only Hungarian.

At the hotel we stay – a wellness hotel, but the wellness area is closed, so no massages, sauna…. – we also have dinner in the evening. Since the WiFi connection is poor in our room, we decide to go for an early dinner and do our stuff at the restaurant. We are the only guests, so the waiter focuses all attention on us. He also only speaks a few sentences English, such as ‘Would you like to drink?’ or ‘Would you like to drink?’ We order our drinks, our food (which is horrible), eat and drink and then just continue reading emails, planning our trip for the next days etc. However, this is something our waiter is not used to (and by the way it is not late, maybe 8pm or so). So approximately every 10 minutes this guy comes back to ask ‘Would you like to drink?’ until we decide after the fifth time to leave and give up on the Internet. By the way, wherever we go we have free WiFi, that’s great, even the small villages we are passing through have Internet hotspots. Very convenient.

Now back to the landscape. At the beginning we again pass through corn fields, but this time it is less boring. We cycle again about 110km and the landscape passes as follows: cornfield, forest, village, cornfield, grassland, farmland, village, forest and so on. It is quite distracting, but after having passed the 5th village I feel as if I am part of the movie ‘Groundhog Day’, I am not sure if this is the correct title of the movie, since I only know the German title and translated literally. But the guy experiences the same day over and over. And this is how it feels when we pass these villages: you enter the village and after a few hundred meters the street turns 90 degrees left and on the right hand-side is a church. Then the street continues for at least one kilometer with very old and small rectangular houses on the left and right, the front always facing the South (this is an important detail, since that’s the only variation in these villages, sometimes they are facing the street in a right angle, sometimes not). Then the street turns right – again 90 degrees – and there is another church if it is a bigger village. Then the village ends after another few hundred meters. Normally there is only one street through the village. Most fun is it to pass between noon and 2pm, since we are waking up the whole village (if they are having a siesta): every family has at least one dog and they are all in the garden and they all hate cyclists. So each time we pass, we start a concert of barking dogs, believe it or not, but by the time we are through, at least 100 dogs are barking at the same time. Great fun! We by the way are well equipped now against dogs, on top of all we are carrying we now also have at least 1kg stones each, we bought water pistols and for the real mean dogs we have pepper spray.

The area is very poor, we guess that most houses are about 100 years old or older, but in a very bad shape. Some of them must have been very nice in the past, since they have beautiful decor around the windows, but that’s unfortunately a long time ago. There is hardly any industry so I think most people make a living from agriculture and I doubt many tourists have seen this area, at least this is how it feels, since people really stare at us. Most people also have some more animals such as chickens, goats, turkeys and pigs.

 

Then we pass an area where they are growing Christmas trees. Watch out for the label on you Christmas tree this year if it is coming from Hungary.

 

And later we ride through a wine valley. So all in all nice cycling, since there are not too many challenges other than small hills and light headwinds, but also not much to discover. Tomorrow we are heading off to Szeged and hope to arrive in Romania on Thursday.

One evening we arrive in Barcs just before it gets dark (which is now already at around 6.30pm) and find a nice B&B with a horse stable, cats and dogs who all live in wonderful harmony together. The owners recommend a restaurant where we have dinner. The restaurant is located in the middle of a residential area, we first think we went wrong, but we finally see a small sign, but there is not much light inside and we already think they are closed. We enter, and a woman, sitting behind the bar reading a book suddenly turns, pushes a button and it becomes neon light and bright and Frank Sinatra is singing for us :-). We are again the only guests, but enjoy great traditional food from a very happy cook (she has laughed with whoever in the kitchen all the time throughout cooking and dining, hilarious). The next morning – it is Sunday again – we are just about to leave at 8.45am, the owner of the B&B arrives with a bottle of self-made ‘Schnaps’ of which we have to drink a glass. No problem for me, because I am used to morning Schnaps from our skiing trips to Austria and anyway like it, Johan was a bit more hesitant. Prost!

Last but not least – I’ve uploaded many photos from our trip on Facebook since this is so far the easiest solution. If you would like to see more pictures from our trip join me on Facebook at facebook.com/bbussenius.