Budapest was lovely, but also hot, tiring (cos of walking everywhere, especially hunting bike or gear shops!), and stressful (cos of visas). So it was great to leave and zip through the countryside.
The way out of Budapest was trouble free. Our route took us along an island in the middle of the Danube where, at Rackeve, we found a pleasant spot next to the river for lunch and a swim. The river was actually warm here after several days of blazing sunshine as it isn’t a part of the main flow. A ferry ride got us back on the main land but immediately into problems with our route.
As the day was pressing on we were keen to make the campsite 10km further on. We’d got used to, in Germany and Austria, that even if there was a main road we had to spend some time on there would be a cycle track along side it. Not on this occasion. The road was obviously rather new but not only was there no cycle track but bicycles were not allowed on it! This lead to a trail of expletives from Gid and an instant search for another route. Between the Garmin and the 1:400,000 map we hatched a plan; to go back through the village circle round using the minor roads and head back to the town where the campsite was. Somehow Gid managed to convince me to take a slightly longer route which meant less doubling back but reaching the next campsite along the way. If the navigation was correct there was a minor road out of the top of the nearby village that would by pass the main town and get us were we needed to be. Firstly, Michelin’s minor road didn’t exist despite checking our location with some elderly gents, secondly, the loop round involved an awful lot of traveling north before we finally managed to turn south again.
After clocking up 127km, and originally leaving Budapest rather late, we arrived at the campsite after eight. Mid tent pitching Zoë and Adrian strolled past. They had taken a leisurely two days to reach this point.
Following our long day we had a slow start and ambled along the embankment. We took another dip in the Danube and had an extended lunch break. At 2:30pm the first of the thunder had started. The sky was an ominous black in every direction and things were looking grim. At that moment we passed an unexpected campsite sign. Both of us were keen to dive in and get the tent up fast. A storm last week had lasted 3 – 4 hours with some heavy rain and we were totally exposed along the embankment. A speedy 10mins later the tent was up. 30 mins later the sun was out again and the ‘storm’ had passed over. Amused by this, we twiddle our thumbs and wondered what to do. The next campsite was 10 – 15 km further on, which was hardly worth moving for; the one after that was nearer 50km which too far to go, especially after yesterdays escapades with our route. It wasn’t long before both of us were asleep, clearly in need of some extra rest.
Before going to bed we had investigated the immediate area and observed a herdsman taking his donkey, goats and flock of sheep to pastures new along the embankment. We’d first witnessed this back in Germany and have seen it again since. Whilst sitting across the small unpaved road from the campsite, at the waters edge we had speculated on the purpose of the two somewhat neglected pontoons. Neither of us had predicted the sight we saw in the morning; 3 very large river boats were moored up, 2 in tandem. Several coaches had also appeared to take the torrent of tourist emerging from the vessels. Gid had wandered down to get a better look and was flagged down by a passing truck with two large tanks at the back. It was very low on its springs and carefully negotiating the pot holes, advertising ‘Live Fish’ across its bonnet. Musing over this while we ate our breakfast we also watched the shepherd ambling back along the embankment, stool under arm, with his dog rounding up the strays of his donkey, goats, and flock of sheep. Had they seriously been gone all night?
The embankment route through Hungary has afforded us excellent views of the countryside. On many occasions we have been looking out across well managed farmland, some of the fields are very large. On one count there were seven tractors working on one field and the certainly weren’t crowding each other out. Just occasionally we’d come across a cluster of bikes left in the grass in the middle of nowhere. This led to a guessing game as to what they were doing there. It was some time before we noticed the group of workers in a line, moving up between the rows of plants, hoeing the fields. We’ve previously seen one elderly gentleman tottering between his rows of crops with a hoe but that was on a small field these workers were on an industrial sized crop.
Whizzing along the embankments where we are serenaded by crickets, bird song and, the occasional now, frog symphony is extremely delightful but on one occasion, when newly in Croatia, it went badly wrong. We merrily took the embankment’s paved track immediately opposite a signpost, just like we have many times before, but on this occasion it lead to problems. We skirted round the barriers, thinking nothing of it as it is regular practice, in the UK, where at times the cycle track sign is actually attached to the barrier; and in Hungary there were similar vehicle barriers with a tarmac cycle track laid round them. We stopped to ponder a bird of prey and its mate a little further off, both perched on a hay stacks, (on a photo shoot back in England a similar bird of prey had been positioned on a hay stack because this was it’s natural habitat but we can’t remember what it was called), admired the hares without suspecting anything. It was with great surprise when we arrived back at a minor Hungary / Croatia border. There was no route through and we were met with a barbed wire barrier.
Two cyclists approached on the other side, merely turned round and scooted off again. Faced with this dilemma and the late time in the evening we decided to camp back from the border at the foot of the embankment on the recently harvested meadow. Whilst eating our supper and considering a tortoise, a tractor appeared on the other side. It stayed for a short while at the border before turning and disappearing. It felt strange at the time but it didn’t raise any alarm bells. We pitched our tent and went to bed – 3rd mistake.
We’d just settled into our slumbers when the tent was shaken together with gruff voices asking who was in there. Gid emerged, I peered out behind him. Two policemen asked to see our passports; recently used to cross the border there was no problem with these. Having tried to explain how we came to be there the policemen were unimpressed making it clear we had to leave; a) the barriers had been ignored, b) this was not an official border crossing, c) we were in an area where hunting took place, d) there might be bombs in the nearby woods, and must leave immediately.
As the policemen waited nearby, we packed up rather rapidly. Making our way back along the embankment one boar, which explained the stench we had passed earlier, and a couple of deer darted across the path. By the time we reached the recommended town it was at approximately 1:30 am. We’d disturbed numerous dogs along the way trying to find a pension or campsite that might be open but all to no avail. Turning up at the town at this late hour rallied all the strays into a united effort to herald our arrival. We finally found a quiet spot tucked away safely for the remainder of the night, at about 2am. At 7 in the morning, having made a speedy exit from our hiding spot, when the shops & cafés are open, the village was a much friendlier place.
We’ve since learnt that the Croatians don’t have any EuroVelo 6 – Danube cycle way tracks, we just use the roads. So any sign, no matter what track it appears to be indicating, means the turning down the road.
The highway route has taken us away from the riverside and into many of the villages along the way. The route to Ilok at the Croatia Serbia border was recommended by our Swiss friends, Zoë and Adrian, whom we’d bumped into again. Despite the lack of cycle tracks it has been a good move as it is very interesting to get a glimpse of life in Croatia. The streets we have cycled along have, in many ways, looked cosmopolitan. They have had bungalows neatly lined up and, in the main, well cared for with attractive flower beds etc. except, every so often there is a bungalow in a serious state of dilapidation. Gid’s theory is that this is probably be due to families abandoning properties back in the 1980s during the civil war. It would certainly explain the number of houses that look abandoned and the water tower and telecoms tower we saw later, that each had several holes blown into the side of them, to the total ruination of at least the one that was supposed to hold water. The photo is of the telecoms tower – possibly still in use.
Equally juxtaposed is when you get a glimpse into rear of the bungalows; they appear to be from a different world with chickens, animal pens and carts just like a farm yard perhaps displaying the dichotomy of new culture and old.
The people are very friendly, often waving us on or calling out hello. Gid was highly amused when he raised his water bottle for a drink, in response, an oncoming lorry driver raised his beer bottle motioning a cheers salute.
Another lesson was to plan our border crossings better. A cursory map check of the Hungary Croatia border showed a town at it, so off we went, planning to camp a few km into Croatia. Oops. The town was entirely on Hungary’s side. So, no Croatian money! And it’s 5pm. The next border we got right, we stopped for the night in Croatia, spent all our Croatian cash on food in the morning, and routed in Serbia via an initial town, specifically to find a cash machine. Actually, in both Croatia and Serbia the Euro is widely accepted.
Very little sign of organised camping in Croatia, our second night there, at Ilok, we spent very comfortably at the Old Cinema hostel… with Zoë and Adrian.