I wake early to a magnificent view of Pannonhalma and the surrounding farmlands. The view is everything I hoped for from a European cycle tour: cute red-roofed villages surrounded by green farmland. I know that much of Europe doesn’t look like this. But most of my experience on this continent has been visiting family in Holland where the landscape is similarly flat.
It’s not even 5:30am when I ride down the steep camping ground driveway and into the flat lands below. Hay lays drying on the ground in some fields while it is already baled up in others. A huge hay baler turns onto the road and travels towards me. It couldn’t turn onto the road without taking up both lanes, so large are the tractors here. The wheel size almost reminds me of mining trucks back home. But I know they aren’t. It’s just that they are huge for tractors.
Churches announce the presence of villages about 5km (3 miles) distant. It gives a sense of progress when riding from one church steeple to the next. That long lingering sense of staying stationary or making no progress cannot exist in this landscape.
After 20km (14 miles) I take breakfast in a village park. I need these villages for food because I am not carrying any with me (other than a bag of pasta and some dried herbs). The availability of fresh bread, fruit and vegetables means that it doesn’t make sense to carry anything extra. I buy a couple of bread rolls, bananas and pear juice. It feels so luxurious to have a table and chairs in a gorgeous location to eat breakfast after sitting in the driveway of so many 7-Elevens in Japan. I feel like I am on holidays.
An hour later I am in Papa eating langos (Hungarian garlic bread) in a square in front of a grand cathedral. The langos is a huge disappointment because it is far more fatty than the ones I buy at the Eat Street Markets at home in Brisbane. There is no parsley, onion or tomato either to break up the grease. Just sour cream and cheese. The pastry is also deep fried, which the ones at home aren’t. I doubt Australians would accept this particular Hungarian variety of their local food because we have definitely started to move away from fat in favour of fresh. But I am excited to have tried this food and will give it a go in other places if I see it for sale. Even if I can’t eat a whole one it is kind of nice to try something other than bread and pastry.
Just outside of Papa I see this impressive nest. It is so large that it has its own ecosystem. Small birds nest in the underside of the main nest while mid-sized birds steal twigs for their own nests. All the while a white head with massive beak pops up to check out what’s going on down on the roadside. Seriously, I think this nest is probably 2m (6′) in diameter. I don’t know what’s nesting in it but I am glad it’s not an aggressive defensive bird like a magpie or we’d all be in trouble.
I am enjoying the cycling immensely here in Hungary. The roads are long and flat (so far). They remind me of the roads back home but with shorter distances between villages and towns. However, care must be taken to avoid popular through roads because the same Hungarians who are courteous to cyclists in cities and towns are in a serious hurry when out on the open road. While speed limits on secondary roads are between 60-70kph (37-43mph) many cars are traveling at German autoban speeds. There’s no real way to anticipate whether a road will be safe or not because the class of road doesn’t seem to influence driving behaviour. Rather, it must be a factor of destination. For example, I started the day on a local highway where traffic traveled at a moderate speed. Then I rode on a secondary road that was also fantastic. But the dangerous road was also a secondary road. I switched to a tertiary road, which was good until the final 2-3km (1-2 miles) before it connected back with the secondary road. I had read about this speed problem but didn’t appreciate it until today. Fortunately, I have an excelled map that shows all the roads, including the minor ones so I should be able to navigate my way off the hectic roads when I come to them.
I should mention that, despite the speed issue, Hungarian drivers tend to be courteous and leave cyclists plenty of space. They tend to wait behind me if they want to overtake but a car is coming and only toot their horns if they are traveling too quickly to avoid an accident or if I am on a road with a cycle path next to it (I usually use them but didn’t notice one today behind the long grass so got a polite “get on the cycle path” toot). Even when crossing roads on the cycle path, turning traffic will wait for me on my bicycle and if I stop it causes confusion (I will have to remember not to try this at home because I will get run over or abused if I don’t let turning traffic turn before I cross the road, despite me actually having right of way over turning traffic when crossing a road).
Today I saw many crucifixes on the side of the road. I probably saw a dozen in various styles and locations. Some were standing pride of place on traffic islands where the road had been built around them. Others stood on the edges of fields while a few were trapped in forest overgrowth. Some had names written on them while others just had years, all pre-dating the mid-nineteenth century. I guess these are to Hungary what the Buddhist and Shinto shrines were to Japan.
And then, around lunch time, after 85km of riding I reach Celldomolk. It’s quiet in town as I ride through. Almost all the shops are closed because it’s Saturday afternoon but the supermarkets are still open doing a roaring trade. Tomorrow is Sunday and all the shops will be shut so everyone is doing their last minute weekend shopping. I load up on groceries and ride to the thermal bath camping on the outskirts of town. This is another thing I am loving about Hungary: the prevalence of clean, cheap and well-appointed camping grounds. This one is no exception. I select a site behind a young hedge so that I have a little privacy in my bivy and also because it is closest to the view of the crater behind the camping. I while away the afternoon in the thermal baths, watching movies and chatting online with Paul. Tomorrow I will stay put for the day making the most of the facilities the spa has to offer.