From Budapest, 7-31-06 (I am struggling with this ’Magyar’ Hungarian keyboard)
I just rode from Krakow Poland to Budapest in about 3 and 1/2 days. Less than 500 kilometers, but I had to cross the Carpathian mountains. As much as I enjoyed Krakow, I disliked riding on their bicycle unfriendly streets. All too many times I would be riding on a rough bike path to find it abruptly end, only to begin a few blocks later. I would be forced either to walk my bike, or swerve out into heavy traffic without any shoulder. I am not comfortable with that.
I did purchase the necessary shifter part for my bike in Krakow, so I could manage without major handicaps.
Many parts of Poland appear to be opting for the US model of suburbanization. I see some new homes popping up in rural agricultural usage lands. I do not see this happening in Czech Republic, Slovakia, or Hungary. In the latter 3 countries, the governments have specific policies to preserve farm land. Sprawl is out. They have made important longterm decisions about how the land should be used. These land usage decisions will have major consequences in a post peak-oil world.
On day one I left late and rode all afternoon to the foothills of the Carpathians, near the Czech border. Just as I was beginning to look for a campsite, around 7:30, I have a flat near a pull-off. Not much traffic here. I flip my bike over and take all my tools out to quickly fix it. As I begin working on it, 3 cars pull up, loaded with people. The men quickly get out and gather around me. I take them to be of Arab origin. We work on finding a common language. French. Where am I from? Je suis Canadian. It was automatic for me. I notice that the cars are loaded with women and children. The women are not covered. I ask what other languages they speak. Russian. They are Russian Gypsy refugees living in France. They ask me how much my gear costs. They keep offering to help. I have have long since pulled all the gear as close to me as I can. I say very cheap prices. The bike? No more than one hundred. The tools? $7. Can I help them get to Canada? Yes, of course. I write some address down. They are truly interested in the idea of riding a bike across Europe. I get the tire back on, shake hands with the men (I know not to offer my hand to a Gypsy woman) and ride off.
I get lucky and find an isolated campsite in a hayfield as it is getting dark. Next morning, it is raining. I cannot find my poncho. How could they have? I was watching everything. I spend 2 hours climbing nonstop to get over the first of 3 major ridges. Another flat. As I get out my tools, there is my poncho buried away in the ’wrong’ place. And maybe a bit of paranoia revealed too? (note, I have found everything I thought was gone)
On day 2 I cross into Slovakia around noon. Crossing borders on a bike is fun for me. Sort of an accomplishment in just getting there. I reward myself by buying a good map and a beer. I have been buying a lot of good beer lately. Europe on $20 a day, $10 in food and $10 in beer. It is sunny. I pull off my shirt and ride for 5 smooth hours along a large cool river. I pull off and bathe in it in the sun. Perfect. In a few minutes I am recharged. Again, I find another campsite in a freshly cut hayfield. The sweet smell of clover.
I am up at dawn (5 am) and riding a ? hour later. From 1 pm to 6 pm, I climb non-stop up a mountain pass to finally get to the summit. Just a slow steady grind. I go thru close to 2 liters of water an hour, even in the rain. I am not a great climber, nor do I particularly like it.
At the top, at Donaval, there are a few ski resorts. I am temporarily exhausted and soaked. Out of my glycogen reserves. I buy a candy bar and it feels great going down. And I am not a candy fan.
After the peak, I have a near non-stop coast of 18 kilometers. I keep my hands on the brakes all the way. At the bottom, I am cold and wet and very sweaty. Yes I will reward myself with a very nice room in Banska. It was what I would imagine a Swiss Chalet to be like.
Slovakia is a wonderful, clean country. Everyone has been most helpful to me. There is much open space there. I must discard my stereotypes of ’crowded’ Europe. I rode thru many miles of land without houses or people. Campsites all over. Europe has done this ’agriculture thing’ for a few millennia. Perhaps they know something.
Well, this is going on a lot, and it is late.