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1999 Biking East Europe

Saturday, September 4 – Komarom, Hungary – Zimmer Frei, 4 000Ft
Distance cycled: 95.6 – Maximum speed: 31 – Average speed: 15
Exchange rate: 218 forints : $1

We are brunching in Gabcicova. On tinned pea omelettes, pomme frittes and hearty local bread for which, as last night, we had to request butter.

We both slept well last night in our room off the Danube – both being physically exhausted (there is something special about the sleep of physical tiredness) and were back on the cycle path again by 07h30. On a clear, cool morning. No-one around. The path is now essentially on the dam wall and is totally flat for km after km. Only problems: a headwind impeding our progress (at one point I told Charl I was using him as a windbreak – he said I should break my own wind!) and the aches and pains we picked up yesterday.

Before eating we shopped for a juice to mix with water for taking on the bikes. And sweets to suck. The little supermarket was clean, with a fairly wide range of goods and helpful staff.

There was an amazing shift after crossing the border yesterday. From pristine wealthy Austria to slightly dilapidated Slovakia. Graffiti on the walls, some litter, broken window panes, more pollution, much older cars. But there are people about and a sense of life. In one Austrian dorp we literally saw no-one. A pretty ghost town. (Charl is impressed by the new-look Skoda – says we should import it to SA.)

We are in Hungary having crossed the border from Komarno over the Danube to Komarom at about 16h30 this afternoon. We had some trouble finding the border crossing as it was badly signposted on the Slovakian side. But managed to avoid the very long queues (in both directions) by cycling past irritated motorists and being seen to by an official in a separate booth. There was no passport control on the Hungarian side.

After our delicious and much-needed brunch in Gabcicova we were putting our bags back on the bikes when a short, toothless old man approached us and began to talk to us. No matter how often we told him we could not understand him, he kept on talking. At one point he put out a hand mangled by arthritis to shake mine – or so I thought. Actually he clasped my hand, turned me around and patted my bum(!) – clearly commenting about my size. In the west people seldom mention my weight (to my face) but whenever I travel I encounter this willingness to comment – my favourite still being from India where I was once told ‘You are not a small man’. Right on more counts than one.

The road we travelled after abandoning the cycle path at Baka for shaded country roads was perfectly flat and well-sign-posted passing either through pretty dappled forests or a variety of small quiet towns. In the towns we particularly admired people’s gardens – haphazard charming informal, a riotous mass of colour.

In Kliska Nema we stopped to take a break and fell into conversation with a woman who spoke really good English. She invited us to sit with her at a tiny open air juice place from which the owner was missing. She was clearly lonely and proceeded to tell us a little about her life and to ask about South Africa and our trip. When we told her we were en route to Budapest she lit up and said it was a wonderful city. She explained how once, when she was especially sad in her life, she visited Budapest where she explored and discovered art works of special beauty and said that the memory of these lasted her for weeks and made her less sad. She said she has always loved items of lasting beauty – that when she was young she was beautiful but now she weighs nearly 100kgs. She told us that she missed her mother who had died recently. That she had never married and until her mom’s death she had not regretted this, but that now she felt alone. She said she and her mother could talk about anything (unlike the locals whom she called uncivilised and about whom she was disparaging, taking great exception to the young man who came over to join our group clearly wanting to be part of the conversation) and mentioned discussing with her mom Dustin Hoffman – having watched him in a movie on the telly and told how at the end of the movie they had switched off the telly to marvel at his acting ability. It was odd to feel that we – total strangers – had made her day, if not her week / month.

Once we left the back roads and hit the main road again into Komarno, route 63, we encountered many a watermelon salesman along the road – selling that small round variety foreign to us. Two young women at one stand gossiping in the sun; an elderly man elbows on knees, cigarette drooping from his fingers, head bowed – deep in thought, dozing, depressed?; a father and son. Yesterday we saw two hedgehogs going about their evening business on our walk home from the Komarno Hotel in Samorin. Today I saw a splat-flat fellow on the road. We also came across a wedding on the outskirts of town. The church door outlined with flowers and many of the uninvited townsfolk standing on the pavement opposite or surrounding the flower-bedecked car awaiting the appearance of the bride. Many had arrived by bike and so when we joined them on the grassy bank we were not too out of place!

We were amazed and amused to discover that in Komarno they still have mechanical robots – which click loudly and continuously, hard at work. And fold-away garages like a pram hood pulled up and over the car.

There is virtually no English spoken in this part of the world, but quite a lot of German in which we have been able to muddle through.

We are staying in a Bed & Breakfast near the warm baths instead of at the Thermal Hotel & Camping we had planned on as they wanted to charge us to use the pool even though we had no plans so to do. We are, however, dining most pleasantly and reasonably at their outdoor restaurant. Komarom has obviously grown tremendously since our guide last visited as the number of places to stay and eat far exceeds the couple mentioned in Lonely Planet.

Between Samorin and Komarom
Between Samorin and Komarom
Between Samorin and Komarom
Between Samorin and Komarom
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