Posted by Dan, Alba Iulia, Romania
Salzburg, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, Gyomaendrod, how do you pronounce that last place name, Krista? Gyomaendrod was of course a Hungarian town.
Germany was beautiful and Salzburg, the introductory city to Austria, was just as great. We made some fine friends there and stayed for a week, and it is by far my favourite city yet. It was in Salzburg that we received our first Poste Restante parcel – courtesy of Bram – had guided tours from Christine who kindly hosted us for that time, went on bike rides and had swims in mountain pools.
From there, we made a concerted effort to rejoin our original route and pick up the pace. The Danube is a great vehicle for cycle tourists and for those making longer journeys by bike, it’s an easy way to cross Europe from Germany to Bulgaria.
We followed its path across the north-east tip of Austria, the smallest slice of Slovakia and into Hungary, where, in Budapest, our love-hate relationship with this ‘radweg’ (bike path) ended. However, the track gave us the opportunity to meet some great people: our new friend Philip, who was making his first solo bike journey; Pushkar, who has been cycling around the world for 11 years for peace; and brothers Julien and Fred who are making a journey to Vietnam from Belgium.
After following it for ten days, Krista and I began to crave to be out on our own again, away from the crowd, searching out the heart of each country. When I am amongst hundreds of other visitors to a country, I feel as if I am non-distinct – just another tourist eager to spend. And like a walking dollar sign, we began to feel like a commodity, and as a result, we began to find it hard to make genuine connections with local people. So from Budapest, we chose our own path once again and began to see life without the polish and sheen put on for the tourists.
And our pace picked up… we took only one day’s rest in two weeks, crossing Hungary in five days.
The impact of Communism began to show itself in Slovakia. Many of the buildings were drab and grey, and there were lots of derelict factories and houses everywhere. People of the older generation were shy and protective, locked gates and aggressive dogs secured the perimeter of every house.
Hungary, for the most part, felt a featureless place – flat, hot and void of character. We pushed on hard everyday, past monotonous cornfields, sunflowers and genetically modified crops labelled by serial numbers.
However, at the end, our Hungarian experience was made in Gyomaendrod (how do you pronounce that again?) by Istefan and his family and friends. They invited us to join their meal of Hungarian goulash, cooked on the open fire in a huge pot. The evening we spent with them remains my favourite chance meeting so far, perhaps because I was still being encouraged to drink a shot of alcohol until I brushed my teeth for bed!
Before leaving Hungary, we took four days rest in a campsite in the border town of Gyula, just 20 kilometres from Romania. Unknown to us, we had entered Hungary’s tourist hotspot. Krista made a friend at the tourist office, a lovely woman named Ibi, and in their conversations, confirmed our suspicions that Hungary is fast becoming affected by consumerism and marketing, arguably desperate for a modern identity after Communism suppressed individualism.
We were lucky on our first night in Romania. We stopped at a church to ask for refuge and the priest and his wife were more than happy to help. Dana offered us a shower and priest Dan talked with us. Neighbour Nikolae insisted we would be more comfortable sleeping in his house, rather than in our tent in the church grounds. Priest Dan told me about life in Communist times, some 148,000 people were murdered in Romania – mostly intellects – such as doctors, writers, poets and priests and that it was compulsory to watch two hours of television a night, consisting of Communist propaganda. Aswell as this, people lived from meagre food rations and shops were bare. As a result, even now we’re seeing how resourceful people are – growing their own crops and keeping animals such as geese, chickens and pigs.
Now we’re taking a path that’s destined for the mountains. We’ve had some unbearable heat to deal with recently.