I have a very slow start to the day. First I am so comfortable in my cute aqua and purple room on the cute low child’s bed that I take my time actually getting out of bed after I wake. Well, I get up and have a shower before 6am but then decide to return to bed to write some blog posts and phone home because it really is a relaxing spot.
It’s after 8am by the time I actually get my bike out of the garage and I notice that the rear tyre is totally flat. The very sweet old lady who speaks no English and appears to be the daughter of the owner/manager of the guesthouse looks forlornly at my tyre then says “bye bye”. I decide I have two choices: get frustrated or just get on with patching the tube. I have learned on my travels that the former just delays the latter so I skip the frustration and get to work. There are two punctures in the tube quite close together and also a wire sticking through the inside of the tyre itself where something has punctured it and pushed the internal wire through. So I throw a patch over that too.
My inspection of the tyre itself proves that it is about time I bought a new pair. There are green splodges of rubber showing through the tread. If this were a car and not a bicycle I’d get a defect notice for sure. So I guess the lifespan of a pair of Schwalb Marathons when I ride them is somewhere around the 7,200km mark (plus the bike was a bike shop demo model for two years before I bought it). But I will put another 400-500km on them before I can buy a replacement at home because 700c (28”) tyres are not so common here and after I leave Miskolc there will be no more bicycle shops before Budapest.
Technical issues resolved I set off to escape Miskolc. First I spend an hour disoriented in the city centre. I simply cannot work out how to get to the road out of town until I realise that I’m not on the road I thought I was on. This helps matters and I soon find some signs to road number 3 heading east. The problem is that I also find a “no bicycles” sign on said road and no cycleway or alternative road. For almost 10km (6 miles) I struggle my way along a footpath better suited to a full suspension mountain bike than a tourer with dodgy tyres. It takes another hour to navigate this mess and for the final kilometre I have no choice but to brave the “no bicycles” road because there really is no other option.
Safely out of town it takes me another 5km (3 miles) to settle down and enjoy where I am. I mean, in a week’s time I will be leaving Hungary and don’t know when I will return so I soak up the atmosphere. And that choice changes everything about my day.
I start to notice the beauty of coloured flowers and weeds highlighted against the yellow wheat.
I watch as hawks search for mice in the fields. I always love watching them float up on the thermals patiently waiting for their prey to make a move. And how do they see them from all the way up there in the sky. It’s like magic.
Villages appear as if from nowhere in the gaps and valleys between the hills. Most are poor and dominated by small cottages with sheets for doors and empty window panes. Dogs run loose here in this part of the world and more than once I am chased by snarling teeth.
I want some food but find myself mistrusting the groups of 10-20 young men hanging outside the tiny ABCs (convenience stores). These are gypsy villages and, rightly or wrongly, I am heading the warnings from Hungarians and other Europeans alike that the people living here are so poor they will steal items off my bike if given half a chance. Besides, the young men don’t look terribly friendly and there are lots of them hanging around outside the ABCs. If I were at home, I probably wouldn’t trust my bike with all my kit outside a shop with 10-20 young guys hanging around outside either. Also, in this part of the world even the churches are gated and locked. And last night the pension insisted on locking my bicycle inside a locked shed even though they had a locked driveway gate. So I am not taking any changes. Sad as that may sound.
This aside, the landscape is amazing with the yellow wheat, green corn, yellow flowering zucchini and blue mountains in the distance.
It’s late in the afternoon when I reach Abaujszanto where I have booked a pension. But I want to see a nearby castle that is 13km further up the road. I could stop at the pension and drop my gear but I don’t want to miss out on the castle, given that it’s why I came up here. So I ride on (the issue of security is always less of a concern at castles and things because they are away from the main towns).
The castle is amazing! It’s old and run down but still standing tall. The real winner is the walkway to the watch tower. The walkway runs along a high narrow ridge.
I walk across to take in the view of the surroundings area. There is also a brilliant diorama of Hungary’s history in the castle. It tells the story of the Magyars who first came from the east to settle here in 1001CE. Over the centuries that followed, the Hungarians (as we now know them) fought off the Mongols, the Turks and a host of other potential invaders. They made allegiances with their neighbours, created empires and got defeated a few times too. I think it would make for a good movie.
I arrive at the guesthouse in Abaujszanto with few expectations. It’s tucked away down some side streets and at first I worry that I’ve made a mistake in booking such a cheap place. But then I come to the house and it is gorgeous. White washed walls are surrounded by a neatly painted redish-brown fence. The window boxes are dressed with blooming red flowers. My hosts for the night are amazing. Erika speaks near perfect English and her husband has a beaming big smile. Before I’ve even had a shower they are sharing palinka made from their own apricots and wine from their own grapes. Both are delicious.
Other guests, a couple from Budapest who have stayed here many times) come out to join us in the garden sitting area. Together we eat Hungarian food, drink and talk. Erika is a talented singer so it is a real treat when she busts out the amplifier and sings us a few tunes. And then as the sun sets in a glorious display of yellow and blue we move to the Japanese hot tub that has been heated with a wood fire. I’ve never been in a hot tub before so it is a real treat. My only regret is that I forgot to take the bottle of palinka that Erika and her husband gave me. I was so contentedly tired after the day that I didn’t realise that I had left it on the table until after I left the next morning.
Seriously, if you visit Hungary, do yourself a huge favour. Visit Erika and her husband at Hollokoi Vendeghas in Abaujszanto and stay a few days. There are many castles and vineyards to visit in the local area. You won’t be disappointed.