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1999 Biking East Europe

Sunday, September 5 – Esztergom, Hungary – Szalma Panzio, 5 000Ft
Distance cycled: 57.9 – Maximum speed: 23 – Average speed: 15

We are in Esztergom, feeling exhausted and battered despite an easy road here and a manageable distance. Just tired and sore from the previous two days.

It is a perfect day. Clear and windless. We neither slept as well as the previous night but not too badly for all that. We set the alarm for 07h00 and breakfasted at 07h30 on bread (exactly the same bread we have encountered everywhere else to date) with butter, salami, toms, cheese, pale sweet peppers, jam, tea and coffee. Then hit the road. Again almost totally flat. Running through scenery ranging from mediocre to undemandingly pretty. Green with trees. The Danube (or a diversion thereof) to our left. This side is much more built up than the Slovakian side and we passed through several villages strung out along the road. Some nothing to write home about (just plain block houses enlivened somewhat by unusual roofs), but others very pretty – particularly Nyerges-Ujfalu with its coloured homes and shops fronting directly on to the road and its window boxes and planted pavements. Totally spotless as has been everywhere else to date except the outskirts of Bratislava.

We cycled through a Sunday Hungary. People plastering, painting, mending, building, tiling their homes. Others mowing and tidying gardens. Families out cycling, the elderly en route to church also astride their old gearless bikes. Many people fishing on the banks of the Danube (still not blue).

It took some time to find affordable accommodation here, but we are now ensconced in the brand new Szalma Panzio with a view of the Danube just beyond the ruined Maria Valeria bridge which was destroyed by the retreating Germans at the end of World War II. Our room and bathroom en suite is pristine and pretty enough but without charm. It costs 5 000Ft. Prices have escalated alarmingly since my 1999 Lonely Planet guide book updated its information.

Esztergom is charming. And famous for its Basilica – the largest church in Hungary. It nestles midst the Pilis and Borzsony hills at the western entrance to the Danube bend. Marcus Aurelius, emperor-to-be, camped here in the 2nd century and wrote Meditations here (apparently!). The buildings date from way back, some beautifully restored, some faded. The tourist industry is clearly booming and even late in the season there are busloads of bored-looking people visiting the Basilica in the late afternoon. We too visited the church after a refreshing shower, strolling slowly up the road and steps to its imposing position on the hill. It is very impressive, though not my style – I infinitely preferred the simple white church aglow in the sun on the opposite hill. All marble floors and gigantic pillars and frescoes of Christ entering Jerusalem on a donkey and Saints made of mosaics and scenes painted on the walls and elaborate stonework on an incredibly high domed ceiling. As we strolled around the base in the late afternoon sun we discussed how amazing it is that all over the world the most elaborate structures have been erected to a non-existent being. How this must represent the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on an unsuspecting public. Then upon reflection we decided these are in fact structures that represent the human spirit – the will to survive, the artistic and architectural ability, the imagination and vision. They represent the best of man in many ways (and the worst). And hope. And we conceded that belief in a god definitely improves the lives of countless people.

Saw a great Gosser beer ad in the town – Gut Besser Gosser.

We dined tonight in a restaurant we had noticed this afternoon – one whose prices seemed reasonable and that was filled with laughing eating Hungarians. The place was empty when we arrived but the waiter (owner?) friendly and English-speaking. We dined really well for 2300-odd Ft – on pork and potatoes and salad and dessert and liqueurs and beer and coke. And then strolled home through the dark to sleep long and hard. A fitting end to the day.

Between Komarom and Esztergom
Between Komarom and Esztergom
Between Komarom and Esztergom
Between Komarom and Esztergom
Esztergom basillica
Esztergom basillica
Esztergom basillica
Esztergom basillica
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