After 24 hours of travel I arrive at the relatively small Budapest International Airport. Instantly I notice that I am once again surrounded by people speaking a language I cannot understand who all look different to me. I can pick the other Australians in the disembarking passengers. They are mostly older and holding brochures for Danube boat cruises. There are also quite a few passengers from Hong Kong who are on a group tour together. Pretty much everyone else looks and sounds Hungarian. And I know that once I clear customs, I will become a foreigner in their country who has to adapt to their culture, food and language. It’s a thrilling thought.
There is no oversize baggage sign but there are three lost luggage counters and all have queues of people waiting. Eventually my bicycle emerges from behind a locked door. Someone had to be called to open it and drag my bike out. You need to pay for trolleys here at Budapest Airport so I copy the technique of the baggage handler and drag my bike box through the airport like it is a donkey that refuses to move (fortunately the bike box slides, unlike a donkey’s hooves). Customs ask whether the bike is new and when I tell them it isn’t they just let me through.
I’m getting much better at traveling with my bike. Whereas in Adelaide almost a year ago I cross threaded the pannier bolt in my front forks, now I know to take my time. I hack open the bike box because the only sharp instrument I have is inside. Then I slowly pull everything out and methodically set the beast of burden up. An hour after my flight landed I am ready to ride.
As I leave the airport I notice how much easier it is to ride with bikepacking kit than panniers. The bike feels light and nimble. The bike bags weigh less than the panniers and I can’t carry as much gear so it’s a win win. I have done some research so ride out of the airport towards the #4 highway. I cross the overpass and walk about 500m (1/4 mile) next to the highway to the Shell petrol station that someone else mentioned in a blog post. I am sure there is a better way through the airport but I’m not sure whether the red circle with a bicycle in it means bicycles are forbidden or allowed on the road inside the airport boundary. If they are allows, then this 500m inconvenience isn’t necessary but it’s only a 5 minute walk anyway.
From the petrol station I follow a path next to the #4 highway until I reach Ulloi ut (Ulloi Rd). Blue bells and poppies (I think that’s what the flowers are anyway) line the roadside and I fall instantly in love with Hungary just for this alone. I had read that the ride from Budapest to the airport is horrible but those people must have been traveling in some seriously gorgeous places because I find it quite okay. Mind you, it is Sunday afternoon so the roads are quiet and almost all the businesses in this light industrial area are closed.
I pedal along Ulloi ut for about 10km sometimes on the road and sometimes on the footpath. The locals are riding in the same way changing between the two randomly depending on traffic (both vehicle and pedestrian). I don’t mind the footpath because I get to relax and take in my new surrounds. I have these crazy moments when I shake my head and think “how kitsch and fake is that … what did the architects think, that they were in Europe or something”. And then I laugh at myself because I am in Europe. I’ve traveled right across the globe and am actually in Europe so of course everything looks European. It’s funny how the mind works.
Not far from my destination I come to Nepliget, a large urban park. I cannot help myself and have to turn off to explore the trails. I love how green everything looks. The trees are totally different to those we have at home and even the grass has a different texture. I ride alone happily watching people walking their dogs, a trio unwrapping boxing strapping from their fists after a sparring session and couples cuddling on benches. I feel energized despite the long flight.
I am almost at camp and have to navigate through quiet suburban streets. The buildings are so old. They look like they have been built for a movie set. I can’t help take yet another glamour shot of my bike in this exotic setting. It’s the colour of the walls, the shape of the windows, the grandeur of the attached houses and the sense of age. In a nearby garden a man lays on a deck bed tanning the whole back of his body wearing nothing but a skimpy g-string to cover his pudgy nakedness. Yep … I am in Europe alright. The sun is shining and the locals are making the most of the onset of summer.
I have booked three nights at BikerCamp Budapest. I am pleased with my choice of accommodation. The hosts greet me at the gate with a smile and welcome. I can select any site in the campground (which is just the back garden of their home). There is a separate series of structures that include showers, kitchen, fridge, tables and chairs, power points and free fast wifi. But what I love most is that birds are singing in the trees despite the close proximity to this large city of 1.8 million inhabitants. The hosts arm me with a swag of maps and information so that I can enjoy their city.
It’s late afternoon and I am tired but I want to get my body into the right time zone. I walk to a local shop to buy some groceries for dinner. Then I plug in my laptop and punch out about five hours of work before I slide into my new bivy and sleep soundly for the night.