Harkany to Baja (Southern Transdanubia)

I wake late and don’t get onto the road until after 7am. This is relatively late for me because I know I have 100km to ride before I reach my next camp at Baja. Why so far? Well there’s really nowhere else to camp in this area. Sure, i could try a wild camp but I have already expressed my feelings about responsible tourism elsewhere on this blog and why I prefer to pay for my camping, particularly in countries where the locals are struggling financially.

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It doesn’t take me long to reach Siklos and the castle within this village. You can just walk straight through this relic of long ago. The locals walk through the grounds on a well worn path leading to some park benches and then on to the main street. I am again taken at the difference between this Hungarian castle and those I saw nine years ago in the UK. The walls are not as thick here and the atmosphere not as oppressive. Rather, this looks like the fortification of a people who were used to fighting men not heavily armoured cavalry. Or perhaps the hot summers here meant that the Hungarian fortress builders couldn’t make places that were as dense because the heat would have been fatal.

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I leave the castle behind and enter the wine region of Villany. Again, this was one of Peter’s recommendations and, again, I am not disappointed. While I don’t indulge in any wines I do enjoy cycling through the vineyards. It is a relaxing setting with a pretty view.

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I link up with the three borders cycle path. In many places it is a beautiful sealed track separate from the main road, sometimes deviating from the main road to take short cuts that bring you close to the vineyards. It’s quite an enjoyable section to ride.

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One thing I can’t help but notice here in Hungary are the many derelict houses. I wonder how many of them have just been left vacant after the economic downturn when property prices here plummeted. There are more houses for sale than not as I ride through the countryside and many of those for sale look almost as run down as this abandoned place. It’s scenes like these that make me realise just how fortunate I was in the lottery of birth. I don’t think we in Australia realise just how lucky we are to have been protected from the worst of the economic downturn. Yes, some of us lost money on houses but we didn’t have to walk away leaving them derelict or have for sale signs out the front of half the houses in our villages and towns.

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But back on a lighter note, the landscape continues to amaze me with the colours of agriculture. The wheat here is more mature than it was further north where most fields were still green. Here the wheat forms a yellow blanket over gently rolling hills. I have to also correct myself from an earlier post where I thought I saw fields of capsicum plants. They were actually sunflower plants, which I discover when I am able to come close enough to the same crop here. Again, the plants were less mature where I was cycling before but they are definitely all sun flowers. These fields will look stunning in a few weeks time when all the flowers open and turn their gaze towards the sun.

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It’s Sunday and all the shops are closed so the only place to buy a cold drink is at a bar. It seems almost oxymoronic to me that the shops should be closed for the day of rest while bars are open from 7am so that people can drink alcohol. Every bar I pass has plenty of bikes standing outside showing that people are inside drinking. This place has a nice terrace where I can drink my ice tea while inside half a dozen men stand with eyes glazed over from the booze. I actually find this heavy consumption of alcohol quite disturbing and can’t explain why. Every day I have seen people drinking alcohol outside supermarkets from the time I buy breakfast until the time I buy my evening groceries. Usually, the beer fridge is near the entry and contains more stock than the soft drink fridge and at a cheaper price. Whenever you come to a bar or terrace there are men drinking large glasses of beer, no matter the time of day. There’s often a sadness in their faces and I wonder which came first: the drink or the depression.

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Back out on the road I continue pedaling my way slowly to Baja.

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I watch rural Hungary go about it’s day with sights like these carts loaded with grass that will become hay.

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And this crazy rusted out old bus that makes me think about the movie Into the Wild, which has been hugely influential on me. Both because it made me realise I wanted to travel and see the world but also because whenever I think about the ending I realise that none of this means anything if I don’t maintain the relationships in my life and ensure that I remain relevant to those I love.

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I reach Mohacs around midday, having cycled just over 55km. The town is a stopping point for some of the Danube cruises. It is also home to a huge Greek Orthodox community who are all just spilling out of the church. I wonder whether there was a special event on in the church today because all the teenagers are wearing matching black pants or skirts and white shirts. I watch in awe as person after person walks out of the building. It makes me think of the University in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series in the way that the building seems to be impossibly small for that many people.

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It’s now over 40’C and I am so grateful to whoever it was that decided to put these water misting sprinklers in the town square. I have seen them in other Hungarian towns too. I walk through a few times to cool off.

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I take a ferry across the Danube. The water is flowing quickly and the ferry has to move very sharply upstream just to land on the opposite bank. I share the boat with a Lada; yet another example of a spy movie car.

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Once across the Danube I turn left onto the Euro Velo 6, which is in excellent condition here as it follows along the high bank of the Danube. The farms along this section of my ride are smaller and more like subsistence farms. But the colours are still intense.

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About 10km from Baja I run out of water. I have been drinking a lot today due to the heat (at this stage I still believe it is only about 32-35’C but later I will learn that it was over 40’C). I am so happy to see this blue pump on the side of the cycle path next to a soccer field. I drink a lot and soak my head and shirt to cool off. This is followed by a short nap on a park bench. I didn’t intent to go to sleep but it happens and I just go with it.

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It’s just after 3pm when I arrive in Baja. The town is pretty with cobble stone streets and grand old buildings. I see children playing in a fountain and adults cooling their feet in it. So I figure it will be okay if I cool off too.

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The camping in Baja is right on the banks of the Danube in a place where it is safe to swim. Acros the river there is a sandy beach that the locals are making the most of. The air is alive with the sound of pleasure. I think about a swim but am too fatigued to bother, opting instead for a shower and rest under the shade of a tree.

At around 5pm a German couple about my age shows up at the camping. They are cycling from Istanbul to Berlin. We immediately fall into conversation. Later a French cyclist who is cycling the Euro Velo 6 from France to Romania arrives and joins our group, as does a Hungarian motorcyclist who is visiting family and friends in Baja. We overlook the river talking about our respective adventures only to be interrupted by a massive electrical storm. Lightning crashes all around us, the thunder clapping at exactly the same time as the lightning strikes. It’s spectacular but my camera is tucked away somewhere in my bivy so I have no photos to show for it. I should mention that I am afraid of lightning, which causes amusement for the Germans. By the time I go to bed the lightning has stopped and only a few spits of rain have fallen.

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3 thoughts on “Harkany to Baja (Southern Transdanubia)

  1. I’m not sure, but cheap booze seemed to be a feature of communist countries. If I’m right looks like this has continued despite the fall of the iron curtain. Love the sunflower pic, looks almost like an alien and a nice change not to see the usual vivid yellow.

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