Setting off from the camping I have no idea what to expect from my cycle tour of Hungary. At this stage I still think I am going to combine Hungary with neighbouring Slovakia. But as the day goes on, this thought will change because Hungary becomes increasingly enchanting the further I ride. And this is only day one.
It’s only about 3km from the camping to the Danube where I can pick up the Euro Velo 6 and follow it west. But I can’t just ride to the Danube when there are these narrow streets to explore with tall pastel coloured buildings and courteous drivers. It’s just after 9am and the city is alive with colour and sound. But there’s not a honking horn to be heard … there’s just people talking, quiet car engines and the whap whap of car tyres rolling across cobble stones.
The Euro Velo 6 will take on many forms today. In places it is a perfectly smooth trail that allows you to enjoy views of this famous river. At other times it is a lovely gravel trail through the woods. At it’s worst it is a pot holed mess of bitumen that forces you to ride next to it on the gravel and grass. But it is convenient and allows me to get acquainted with Hungary without having to navigate.
The river is the focal point for activity in the area. Rowers cruise past training their bodies and disciplining their minds. Fishermen meditate on the banks as they do on river banks the world over. Holiday makers eat lunch and drink beers in the many bufes that overlook the water. And people everywhere are sunbathing on rocky beaches, grassy fields and park benches.
My first stop is Szentendre. Peter from Budapest recommended it to me and he’s spot on. The village is gorgeous. It sits along the river on a small rise. The cobble stoned streets are lined with pastel walled buildings. There are many tourists but it’s not yet the high season so it isn’t bothersome yet. I think I have come at the right time of year to enjoy the best this country has to offer without the crowds. I soak up the atmosphere.
I come across a small farmer’s market. The air is filled with the delicious sweet scent of strawberries. They look so big and juicy but look like they are being sold by the kilogram and I don’t know how to ask for just a handful (I don’t like strawberries much once they’ve been mushed in my bike bags). So I just take in the scent.
Back out on the Euro Velo 6 things are getting busier. I pass so many cyclists going in both directions. Most are in their sixties and all are weighed down by overstuffed panniers. I guess that’s how I looked in Korea and Japan too before I lightened my load. Most don’t say much as I ride past. I can hear from their accents that many are Dutch so I can speak and understand in their language but they are all on missions. Or maybe there are just so many cycle tourers here in Europe that the usual habit of saying hello and sharing a yarn for a few hundred meters or kilometer isn’t the done thing. It’s a shame but then there are many cycle tourers.
I reach Visegrad in the heat of the day and walk up the hill to the castle keep. This is my first medieval style castle for the trip. A large group of people follow two drummers in medieval costumes down the hill and into a local restaurant. At the castle gatehouse there are more drums beating in a stadium behind the walls of the keep and a stand full of cheering people. A man in medieval costume walks to his car carrying a falcon and I see some archers lifting bows over a low section of the wall. I guess this must be the show that precedes the second sitting of lunch at the restaurant.
I am content to buy an ice cream and lean against a broken section of the castle wall taking in the view over to the Slovakian side of the Danube.
The mercury has hit 32’C. Despite living in a hot climate, I find the heat quite oppressive and uncomfortable. So I am happy when I arrive in the delightful village of Domos and find a camping ground. After a shower and setting up camp I make my way to the camping ground restaurant for some much needed calories. On this trip I’m actually tracking my calories a bit to see whether I can prevent the cycle of calorie deficit and pigging out that has probably been part of why I’ve gained 10kg in this past year. And the information on my phone tells me I need to eat big. Sure, Romanian style steak with potato chips is probably not the healthiest choice but it is delicious and is also my first actual Hungarian meal other than some pancakes that I ate on Monday. It’s pretty grand to be sitting here under a beer-company sponsored umbrella eating a delicious feast while gazing idly at the famous Beautiful Blue Danube (which isn’t actually blue at all).
With daylight extending past 9pm I have plenty of time for a post lunch spin through Domos. It’s everything I want from a European village. There’s a church steeple, low but long painted render buildings and even some old ruins. I don’t actually know what the ruins are because the information sign is written in Hungarian but I suspect it is an old abbey (because there is a cardboard cut out of a monk on the side of the road pointing to the ruins). The foray through the village is the perfect way to end the day.