NSW Loop day 3: Warialda to Barraba (NSW, Australia)

I had an amazing sound sleep last night. The bed at the Royal Hotel Warialda was probably one of the most comfortable I’ve ever slept in. It was so comfortable that I had to fight off sleep while texting a mate and it wasn’t until morning that I happily realised I hadn’t fallen asleep on him (phone service was not good enough for a voice call).

Heavy woolly clouds blanket the earth all morning. They trap in moisture and heat, making for a sweaty start to the day. It’s absolutely gorgeous the way the rain has made the dust fall from the grass and trees. Colours pop and there’s a freshness in the air. The locals at the bakery discuss the rain. They are grateful and will take every mil of the 24mm that fell yesterday afternoon. I hope more falls for them now that I’ve passed through.

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I only make one turn today. Three kilometers (2 miles) after leaving Warialda I turn left on a road that will take me all the way to Barraba. I will climb at 2-3% for most of the day, ascending about 1,000m with only about 400m descent. But I know this so am mentally prepared and decide to take the day steadily, riding 20km sections with food stops in between each section. This seems to work well and I find myself enjoying the whole ride without being concerned by the distance. See, I am on a bit of a time crunch this trip. I need to be back in Brisbane on 19 or 20 May and it’s 1,100km (700 miles) back to Brisbane from Bathurst. But it’s good for me to have a tour with longer days than I have been riding. It will toughen me up and help me explore more countryside. Fitness will come as I do this more often.

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The road takes me through a long valley between two low mountain ranges. I’m heading up the valley towards the point where the ranges meet on a tabletop mountain. But I won’t reach that until about 90km into the 106km ride. For the first 60km I enjoy the beauty of the valley with its yellow fields, green mountains and rusty old shedsd.

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The map shows this road as a straight line. But the map is so wrong. It’s an interesting road with gentle flowing twists and turns. Each one teasing with glimpses of the scenery beyond. Rusty sheds rot away. Old farmhouses are overgrown with young trees. New farmhouses have modern utes and sedans parked out the front in rows. And every so often I pass signs that show where the explorer Alan Cunningham traveled in May 1827 (I only know because of the signs). I must read up on Mr Cunningham one day because he is so influential in the European history of South East Queensland and Northern NSW where I do a lot of my travel.

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The valley comes to an abrupt end at about the 75km mark. A sign warns of a steep climb around the next bend and it isn’t lying. Mind you, it’s only about 7%, which is nothing compared with what I was climbing in South Korea. I was much fitter when I went to South Korea though. The climb is over in a jiffy and I find myself on top of the Nandewar Range.

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This is the heart of cattle country. By the look of the beasts, many come here from further out west to be fattened. But it’s obviously also a breeding and rearing area of its own right. I pass a stockwoman watching her herd grazing in the long paddock (along the road). Her dogs are yapping away as they work and seem confused by my appearance. One tries to herd me with the cattle but the stockwoman calls it back. I wave, smile and answer her question about where I’m headed. About 10km later I pass a group of four stockmen also watching their herd grazing along the road. They are wiry old men with sun-leathered faces and broad smiles. Another brief conversation takes place as I ride past noting them shaking their heads as if in disbelief that some madman would ride his bicycle out here. Perhaps they are correct 

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The road stays high up on the range for about 20km. It’s even more beautiful here than through the valley. Cattle graze. Lone trees mark hilltops. Birds sing.

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There’s even an echidna on the road. A live one at that. I stop to take a photo. Five cars pass but none squish the spikey creature. He (or she) turns around and toddles off the road. It’s only the second time I’ve ever seen a real live echidna in the wild. The first being when I was in Tasmania on a motorbike pilgrimage in January 2010 so it’s been a long time between sightings.

One final long whooping descent finishes the ride and I arrive into Barraba feeling content at about 3pm. I make a few phone calls and upload my photos to Facebook and Instagram; buy a cold drink, mandarin and pot of honey from the shop; and fill my water bottles to prepare for camp at the Lions Park 5km from town. It’s a free roadside rest area with a donation box, picnic tables, toilets and flat grass sites. This is my kind of camping place where I am unbothered by the goings on of a formal campground and can watch the stars instead of the camp ground lights. I eat chilli beans with corn chips and dried parmesan cheese followed by chocolate custard while the sun drops quickly in the west. It will be cold tonight so I can see myself getting tucked into bed early with a pencil, paper and the course I need to write for work.

NSW loop day 2: Texas to Warialda (NSW, Australia)

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I wake long before the dawn. An early night to bed and a broken night sleep will do that. It was only broken because the camping ground kept bright lights on all night for security. Almost everyone in Australia who stays in camping grounds is a grey nomad who camps in a caravan so the camping grounds don’t seem to care too much about the effects of spotlights on campers in tents or bivy bags (a good reason not to camp in a camping ground). The good thing about the early start is that I am on the road before the sun rises over the hills.

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A few kilometers down the road I cross the state border into NSW and my ride actually becomes a NSW loop. Borders in Australia are interesting. There’s no fanfare but there is a subtle change in culture once you cross these arbitrarily placed lines. Not to mention that the lines also mark the transitions between which code of footy you follow and the word you use to describe togs (swimming costume).

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The morning passes pleasantly. The road seems to climb endlessly and a look at the elevation data on the map I created shows that this is almost exactly what it does. But I pedal forward quite comfortably. I startle kangaroos and emus. Lots of each animal. They hop and run along the road, crashing into the ever improving quality of farm fencing and desperately try to find a way across the road in front of me. I slow down to let them pass but the panic is making them insane. I wonder whether the improved “marsupial fencing” is causing an increase in road kills, given that the roos and emus have nowhere to go.

I stop in Yetman for a drink. There’s not much to choose from in the fridge at the tiny combined general store / post office / bottle shop / takeaway shop. I buy a chocolate milk; I’m craving dairy at the moment and the only plain milk comes in 2L bottles. It’s tasty and gets me going again.

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After Yetman the riding continue to be pleasant. I cross a low area of dry wetlands where there are plenty of trees. To my east I can see the range I crossed this morning and to the south-west I can see more hills looming. I push on until the 65km mark, just over halfway through today’s ride. I stop for lunch and cook up some vegetarian sweet and sour noodles. This will prove to be insufficient later today when I bonk at the 100km mark. But for now I eat it and take in some of the roadside scenery, like this old man’s beard. I make good time to the 90km mark. Stopping here I rest a little longer than I should but it’s only 1:30pm and I’m feeling good.

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It doesn’t last long. At the 100km mark the heavens open and an icy cold rain chills me to the bone. It’s so heavy that my raincoat fails to keep me dry. For the next 25km I struggle to keep from slipping into that horrible state of depression that so easily comes with getting cold and wet. I bonk shortly after the rains start. I guess I’ve failed to eat enough to fuel my body. I cannot even ride up the hills anymore. At 2-3% average gradient the hills are not steep but they go on for kilometers at a time and I’m worried about visibility for the trucks and cars flying along at over 100kph (the speed limit is 100kph but I don’t think anyone is sticking to it). A flat tyre at the 105km mark almost causes me a melt down but I stay calm and change it in the mud that has developed on the side of the road. Even in these conditions I’d rather be out here than sitting at a desk in an office so I can’t really complain.

It’s 4:50pm by the time I arrive in Warialda. The last 35km since I stopped in the sunshine at 90km has taken me over three hours. That’s nuts. I find shelter from the rain and use my phone to find a dry place to sleep for the night. The Royal Hotel seems to be the only place with rooms. Forty dollars buys me a clean and comfortable single room with shared bathroom. Given that the caravan park charges about $20-25 for a powered site and all I have is a bivy bag, $40 to be warm and dry is great value. I head to the shop to top up my snack and lunch supplies. Clearly I’m not eating enough so I grab some crackers and dip for the next few days and also some tinned tuna to add to my vegetarian lunches. I end the night with a hearty pub meal. Hopefully the weather forecast is correct and I will have sunshine tomorrow.

NSW loop day 1: Karara to Texas (NSW, Australia)

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I always feel a little nervous when I set off on a cycle tour. It’s not a fear-based nerve. It’s just knowing that I’m starting out on a new adventure and wondering how it will go. There’s always a risk of failure and I’ve had rides in the past where I’ve had to turn back. But my nerves dissipate as soon as I start to roll out of the Karara Hotel and onto the Cunningham Highway heading west. This is my zen.

My sister and I drove out to Karara, midway between Warwick and Inglewood yesterday to hang checkpoints for a rogain she is helping to organise. We had a fantastic day out 4WDing on some beautiful farms. It worked out well for me because it reduced my ride from 1,100km (690 miles) down to 800km (500 miles). This means that I will be able to cycle home from Bathurst instead of flying home from Sydney. But that’s still a few weeks away.

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It’s tough country out here in the bush. I will cycle 96km and not go through any towns. Even Karara is nothing but a pub with some motel rooms and Omanama, which I will pass through after 35km is just a petrol station with some picnic tables under a shade shelter.

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The locals farm sheep, cattle and goats battling the constant vagaries of drought and flooding rains. Currently the land is gripped with drought. The creeks are dry and dams have shrunk to the size of small ponds. While I don’t want to get wet while cycling, I can’t help but hope the rains come.

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That’s not to say there’s no sense of humour out here. This is Australia and the larrikin spirit is alive and well. It’s visible in some of the mail boxes, like this tractor.

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The riding goes well today. I leave Karara around 6:30am and make it to Texas before 2pm. I have a group presentation for university due on Thursday and I’ve taken the lead roll so need to develop the PowerPoint slides and record my part of the audio (it’s an online course so we are pre-recording our presentation). I also have a huge work project due while I’m away so it would be great to get the uni assignment done. So, instead of camping at the free camp on the river out of town, I book into the commercial campground. It’s a delightful place to while away an afternoon on my laptop. I get my share of the assignment completed by 7:30pm, stopping only briefly for dinner.

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On the subject of dinner, I cooked up one of my dehydrated meals. It turned out fantastic. I had chicken, bacon and vegetable sweet and sour noodles complete with pineapple. The sweet and sour sauce was from a sachet but the rest of the meal was just dehydrated foods I brought with me. I started rehydrating them after I ate my lunch so just had to cook them up. I find myself mentally thanking my mum for so highly recommending that I buy the dehydrator.

New South Wales loop ride: packed and ready to go

Packing for a trip is always a bit like putting together a puzzle without a picture. I know everything will fit but how.

The handlebar bag is my sleeping bag, mat, clothes and wet weather gear. The frame bag is my bivy, toiletries, jacket and some random items. The rear panniers (front pannier size) are food and cooking kit. Laptop, cables, water and lantern on the rear rack. More water in the chaff bags. And then quick grabs in the lunch box bag.

I could travel lighter but want to try being self sufficient for most of my food to practice for future adventures and to save money.

Tomorrow I drive with my sister to Warwick. Then Sunday I start the ride south. It will take about 8 days to reach Bathurst. Then I’ll hang out with a friend for a day before turning around and cycling home along a different route over 10 days.

It’s exciting to be getting back out on a cycle tour. My first since Hungary.

Pannonhalma to Celldomolk (Central Transdanubia)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

Komarom to Pannonhalma (Central Transdanubia)

After browsing Geocaching.com and noticing some of the photos associated with the many geocaches listed in the Komarom / Komarno city, I decide that I need to do some sight seeing before I hit the road.

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I start by crossing the Danube into Komarno on the Slovakian side of the border. The lure of grand old buildings is too strong and I also want to have a look at the fort. The fort is only open to guided group tours and there are none for another few hours (if enough people show up) so I give that a miss. Instead, I cycle along the city’s streets noticing the difference in the housing. On the Hungarian side of the border, the apartment buildings seem less stark than here. I find that the buildings here are more functional and less decorative; rather like I noticed in China a few years ago. In contrast, I find that there are more grand buildings on this side of the river than in Hungary (for this city). But maybe it is my imagination.

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There’s a building with a gorgeous courtyard. Here I find my first (and so far only) Slovakian geocache. It’s always a challenge finding geocaches in foreign countries because the style is always different. Here, the geocache container was an old 35mm film canister. This style of cache container is almost totally gone back home so I didn’t know to look for it.

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After my success in Slovakia I return to Hungary (oh and I do not count this short visit as being evidence that I have been in Slovakia any more than my border crossing into Laos was an opportunity to add Laos to my countries visited list). I go down to Monostori Erod. This fort was only ever used as a military training ground and was never the scene of any battles. A WWII war boat and some tanks line the road. School children on an excursion are clambering all over the tank; it’s quite a happy sight in an odd oxymoronic way. I enter part of the fort that is a ship exhibit. It is interesting enough but not so much so that I want to pay the 2100HUF entry to the main museum. I’m not really a museum kind of guy because I’m too lazy to read the wads of text that historians seem to feel the need to write. I just wish they’d summarise and tell stories instead of writing texts. Then I’d actually enjoy museums a bit more (like I did in Korea). Perhaps museums need to employ the kind of people who write children’s stories to write the text for their exhibits. Then I’d probably enjoy it more ;). I do enjoy cycling around the grounds of the fort and admiring the buildings and military vehicles.

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The Euro Velo 6 still runs from here to Acs, which is the first town I need to aim for on today’s route. The first few kilometers are fantastic double track that run through a forest. I am quite a fan of this kind of road and feel like I am on a proper adventure.

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As I ride into Acs I see a familiar sight of a father standing next to his young son playing with a model airplane that he has obviously bought “for his offspring” with every (subconscious) intention of hogging the toy himself. I love this kind of commonality across cultures. And also, the plane looks super cool. I watch for a while as it flips and spins and zooms through the air.

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After Acs I leave the Euro Velo 6 behind and start to find my own way through Hungary. For the rest of the day I see no more cycle tourers. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see cyclists. People here ride everywhere, not just in Budapest but also out here in the countryside.

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I ride through endless fields of wheat that stretch to the horizon and are probably a necessity given the amount of bread that gets eaten here.

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At times, wind farms line the horizon. Flat country is good for wind so it makes sense to see these here.

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Farmers work the fields with tractors, throwing up clouds of dust in their wake.

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And large slow moving vehicles are a common sight on the road. They are so slow that even I have to overtake them. But not until I’ve sat behind enjoying the feeling of being in an agricultural place.

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I come across huge fields of purple flowers. At first I think it must be a lavender field but on closer inspection the plants don’t look like any lavender I know. They smell sweet, like wattle flowers in bloom and the hum of bees fills the air. After passing half a dozen such fields I see an apiarist tending to some hives at the edge of a purple flower field. Could these plants be grown just for honey?

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I spin along easily through the flat farmlands until I reach my goal for the day: Pannonhalma. I had heard about the abbey and that there is a good camping ground here. The abbey certainly dominates the city from it’s position of power at the top of the only mountain (well, large hill) in the area. It is still used for various purposes so has an air of use about it. I like that it feels alive. I ride around the abbey, stopping to take in some of the statues and to join about twenty other people eating ice cream at a pause (this seems to be what the Hungarians call a small place where you can buy ice cream or a cold drink). Like so many things here, ice cream is ridiculously cheap. 200HUF ($1) buys you a scoop of ice cream and you just double that for two scoops. However, the catch is that the ice cream is of low quality and the flavours all taste fairly much the same. But who cares, it’s cold and creamy; just the thing for a hot sunny day.

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After taking in the view from the abbey I scoot down the other side of the hill into Pannonhalma village. The camping ground is unattended but another guest tells me I should just take a spot and see whether anyone comes to ask for payment. He tells me that the camping is for sale and that the old man who runs it is away but his daughter might come up later. I set up camp, guess the wifi password correctly (it followed a similar pattern to most wifi and hotel passwords I have used over the past year) and relaxed. Later I tried to find some dinner in the town. Unfortunately, all but one restaurant was open. While I was so hungry I ate the meal I was given, it was terrible (think broccoli cooked until it was mush). This is the bad thing about Hungary – the food is either so fatty you could have a heart attack just eating it. Or it is cooked the way food was cooked in the olden days when people didn’t go to the dentist. But it was much needed calories and cost next to nothing.

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On returning to camp I watched the sun setting over the plains below me. A lady was sitting at the office. She wasn’t the person I needed to pay but her friend was. She insisted I sit with her and chat. Google Translate did a good job of recognising her voice and translating into English and then translating my typed words into Hungarian. We had what I thought was a nice chat until her friend arrived. Her friend was sociable and then came the time to arrange a price. Now, the going rate for a camping ground in Hungary is about 2,500HUF – 3,000HUF ($10-$13 or 8-10 euros). The lady sat there and faffed around and came up with a figure of 5000HUF telling me that it was because the bathrooms were nice and the camping was nice and that this was a good price for me. Just before this they had been telling me how handsome I was and how it was a shame they were so old. At that moment I had just brushed this off as idle rubbish but it became apparent now that they were getting ready to rip me off. I walked away for a moment to compose myself because I felt angry. When I returned I had typed into my translator that the usual rate for camping in Hungary is 3,000HUF even in Budapest. The lady in charge looked at me angrily but I held my nerve and muttered “too expensive” passive aggressively as I shook my head. I wasn’t rude but I had to calmly get my point across that I knew their game. Suddenly neither of the ladies spoke any English or wanted to play with the translator app. But they did accept 3,000HUF as payment for the site. I hate it when I am treated like I am stupid. I might be a man but I have two brains and I am not stupid enough to be tricked just because some woman says I am handsome and bats her eyes at me (mind you, I’m more into men anyway so they were barking up the wrong tree). With a nasty taste in my mouth and feeling like I’d wasted my evening when I could have been talking online with Paul or actual real friends, I went to bed and decided that tomorrow is another day. I didn’t let the incident spoil my day but it did show that there are greedy crooks everywhere who will try to take advantage of travelers.

Domos to Komarom (Central Transdanubia)

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Waking is pure joy. The air is still crisp, the sun is just starting to rise and the birds are singing. I think every day should begin this way.

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I am on the road by 6:30am and witness the sun slowly rising over the hills casting a golden glow over the crop fields. The golden hour lasts a long time here compared with at home. It’s like the sun is lazily saying hello and enjoying the moment. At home, the sun is high in the sky within minutes. While I am missing that short sharp rise of the bright orange star, I am enjoying this slow steady wake up call too. It’s creates an air of relaxation and pleasure.

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The Danube is gorgeous in this light. Everything reflects and her waters are more black than muddy brown.

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Today I will again follow the Euro Velo 6. I am headed for Komarom, which straddles the Danube in both Hungary and Slovakia. The Hungarians call it Komarom while the Slovakians call the same city Komarno. But I am not there yet.

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My first stop is Esztergom with its famous imposing basilica.

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I stop at a shop to buy my breakfast: a breadroll, banana, yoghurt and chocolate milk. I love that bread, fruit and vegetables are easy to buy here after the steady diet of rice and noodles in Asia. I take the food to a park under the basilica and castle. The second photo above is my breakfast view. Pretty sweet hey. I never do work out how to get up to the basilica. It is probably really simple; I must be approaching from the incorrect side and have missed a sign. But it doesn’t matter because sometimes these places are more amazing from a distance than close up.

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Esztergom has three separate town squares. I don’t know why but all are grand. I can imagine that this evening there will be many people sitting at the restaurants along the other side of this square where tables and chairs are set up under shady trees.

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I’m feeling content on the bike. Perhaps it’s because I am feeling fit after Japan and maintaining some cycle fitness while at home. Maybe it’s the summer sun and ease of knowing that there will be a comfortable camping ground available at the end of every day. Whatever it is, I am not over thinking it because that will spoil the joy.

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Villages come and go along the road. Most are marked with tall church steeples and red tiled roofs. Almost all are surrounded by farmlands that separate them from their neighours. It’s a landscape so normal for Europe but so foreign to me.

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I spin along past old structures like barns and hay stores. After months of riding through rice fields it strikes me that there are none here (obviously). Rather, I think the main crop looks like wheat and grass.

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There’s an old style about some of the people here. Horses still pull carts and so do lawn mowers. I guess it’s a case of making the best with what you have.

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Poppies dot redness across everything. They line the roadside and stand tall in wheat fields.

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I reach Komarom by lunch time and have a choice of three camping grounds. All cost about the same for the camping but one has a thermal pool. I decide to camp here because, well, there is a thermal pool and also the wifi is strong. I have every good intention of making use of the wifi to knock out some work but it doesn’t happen. Rather, I spend an hour relaxing in the thermal bath and then don’t want to waste that calm sensation.

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Instead, I cruise into town to buy some groceries, stopping for bakery and ice cream. I pick up a tourist map from the visitor center but it’s now after 4pm and I feel too relaxed to bother with the sights. So I content myself with standing on Elizabeth Bridge looking down along the Danube at from where I have come.

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And crossing briefly into Slovakia just to say I did, even if only for about 100m.

When I came to Hungary I thought I would be exploring museums and castles but it turns out that, instead, I am exploring the sensation of European Summer along with the many campers from Holland and Germany who are escaping the last of spring’s cold rains. They are everywhere; older Europeans with campervans and caravans driving from place to place and looking for the best bargain. Rather like the grey nomads at home, these retirees are friendly, social and like to while away the long evening hours with good food and wine. Being around them makes me slow down, listen to the birds and enjoy my day.