A cycle trail leads me away from Orfu and up a long climb towards Pecs. There aren’t many climbs to be ridden in Hungary but when there are, the Hungarians like to make them slow and long. They tend to start at end of the furthest slope from the summit and just follow it steadily up hill. It’s almost as though they don’t want to cut into the mountain but are trying to build a road up the cheapest way possible with the least machinery involved: just a bitumen layer no diggers. It’s quite different to the climbs in South Korea (where they obviously tried to use as little bitumen as possible by taking the steepest route uphill) and Japan (where they seemed to try to be refined by making long gentle and endless twisting ascents). The climbing is pleasant though with forest lining the road, birds singing and plenty of plant life to look at.
Pecs comes highly recommended by Peter from Budapest. And I am in total agreement with him that this city is a delight.
I sit in a square eating a delicious breakfast of cheese on bread rolls while watching a youth basketball competition. A man comes over to talk to me, thinking that I must be one of the other fathers. He speaks excellent English so we talk a while. I have to say this about Hungarians: when they speak English they speak it well. We talk about the basketball competition and he asks me why I chose to come to Hungary of all places for my cycle tour. I explain the story about the Hungarian backpackers in Japan and he seems satisfied. This is a common theme here among the locals: why would anyone come all the way from Australia just to see Hungary. There is a sense of incredulity about it. But I think the delays I am experiencing in posting to my blog probably show that I am thoroughly enchanted by this country and too busy experiencing it (or wearing myself out from overdoing the experiencing) to keep up to date with my writing. And that’s a good sign on a tour.
Around the corner from the basketball games a man busks with a guitar. He plays well but keeps stopping to chat to his friends who are passing by and then changing song without actually finishing the first. It’s interesting to me because I am a huge fan of buskers and believe they (like all artists) play an important role in our society. But I am more used to professional buskers who play sets and don’t stop for social interruptions. I enjoy the few half songs he plays, throw him some coin and continue (had he played full songs I might have thrown some notes but there has to be a discount applied here … haha). I should mention that later I see another busker and he has the same distracted style (including chatting at length to the guitar player who has by now completed his work for the morning)
The main square of Pecs is superb. Words will not do it justice. It is such an important cultural site that the local council have erected a special sign that people who have a vision impairment can use to appreciate the space. It contains 3D images of the main buildings with braille writing imposed on them. As someone who works in instructional design, I think this is a brilliant example of inclusion and communication. I spend ages in the square … partly because I am geocaching and partly because I just enjoy the experience of being there
Pecs was a walled city in its heyday many years ago and much of the northern wall still stands. There are turrets, tall walls and bolt holes where archers could protect the city. It’s free to walk around the castle and climb some of the turrets. We are fortunate that this castle still remains because many here in Hungary have been destroyed both through war, accident and intentional means. In some periods of Hungary’s troubled history the rulers were worried that the castles would be used by rebels as bastions so they destroyed them to protect their governance. But Pecs was largely spared or has been well restored.
Geocaching takes me to a secret walled garden tucked in behind a section of the old city wall. Had I not known there was a geocache there I would have expected it to be private land and missed this lovely excursion.
This sculpture in the garden speaks to me. I think it’s about balance and how delicate it is to maintain. This is one of the big lessons that I am learning in my life right now … how to feel balanced, maintain balance and have a balanced perspective of the world. I could get all philosophical but am sure you would all stop reading at that point so will restrain myself.
Physically cycling out of Pecs is not as easy as I had hoped. I need to backtrack on a road where cyclists are prohibited but that also has no cycle path. Fortunately, there is a Decathlon outdoor and sports shop part-way along so I have some distraction (but manage to keep my wallet in my pocket – just). But once out of town the going gets more pleasant. I take in the flowers along the road and the way they move in the breeze.
And of course there are loads of fields that create a sense of space for my mind to wander or remain still; as the case may be. Actually, this is one thing I love about Hungary: the space. There is an almost endless horizon but pleasant towns every 5-15km (3-10 miles). It’s like a metaphore for the life I find myself leading. I have long periods of solitude and space for contemplation dotted with equally wonderful periods of company and social life. The plains are when I travel. The towns when I come home. It’s a fairly perfect mix really.
And so I pass my afternoon cycling through the fields to Harkany. Originally I came here to use the thermal baths but it turns out that the camping area is too pretty to leave (though I do duck out to buy groceries because tomorrow is Sunday and the shops will be closed). And so I enjoy an afternoon nap followed by a simple dinner cooked in the camp kitchen and a restful sleep under the stars.