Monday, the 8th of May, a heavy overcast made sunglasses unnecessary as I hauled my bicycle from the basement and my five bags from the room. By shuffling things around on Sunday evening, I managed to get more weight moved aft on the bike. OsmAnd software led me easily up the left bank of the Danube and over the great river into Buda. The sky cleared as I crossed the bridge. From there, I rode through a variety of back streets and bike paths in various states of repair until I picked up the Eurovelo 6 route north of town. I did not mind the extra distance, because the bike paths were easy to ride and I was enjoying the peace and quiet with no motor traffic. I almost missed another milestone: rolling over 22,000 km on my Brodie bicycle. I did miss the few tree roots in the bike path, thanks to the local people who spray paint circles around hazards on the path. I had not seen that kind of helping marking since riding the Capital Crescent bike trail in Washington DC in 2013.
I was very glad to be on a separate bicycle path for almost the entire journey, especially considering that Highway 11 was the main drag from Budapest to the next large city. I soon found myself in Esztergom, a charming city with an enormous park built around quiet canals off the Danube. I arrived too early to stop for the night, but enjoyed riding through the town.
Komárno, Slovakia, rises across the Danube from Komárom, Hungary. The constant headwind began to wear me down after 50 km, so I decided to stop in mid-afternoon. I had plenty of time to get to Vienna, after all. I stopped at one of the economical places in Komárom, check the price, then went to the sidewalk to check Komárno on booking.com. Much better deal. Both cities are fair size, but you can sense the difference in the Slovakian economy. Prices seemed about five years behind Hungarian prices. I checked into a comfortable pension where my bicycle was safe in the courtyard. The hostess was somewhat grumpy, but the food was good and I slept well. I found the architecture not very exciting, and the monuments from the Soviet era depressing.
Komárno surprised me by rolling up the sidewalks and closing shop at 1700. I was used to the late hours of southern Europe and big cities like Budapest. The next morning, I took a walk around the historic center and shopping district before hitting the road. A glorious sun bathed the clean streets as I snapped photos of the local heroes’ statues and the church (closed, so I could not go in). I also found a tourist office open, with a very pleasant and competent young woman inside, who understood bike trails and touring. She went back to the storeroom and came out with a copy of Bikeline’s Danube Radweg, the iconic bicycle touring map series. It was the volume that I never received in the mail before leaving Formia. She photocopied (in color) the ten pages I would need to get all the way to Bratislava, which was only 40 km from Vienna. I knew that I could pick up the remaining volumes to the source of the Danube when I got to Vienna.
By 1100, I was on the road again. The Slovakian side Danube Bike Trail was unpaved, so I crossed back to Hungary. Eurovelo 6 bike path followed Highway 11 and Highway 1, turning inland from the river to the ancient city of Gyo̎r. I noticed that most signs used an umlaut (ö), probably because the software to make the sign could handle German, but not the diacritical marks of Hungarian. Even I could not type the o̎ except in Microsoft Word. Funny what language geeks notice while rolling through dramatic expanses of brilliant yellow flowers and bright green springtime crops and trees.
Gyo̎r proved to be a big city, the main town in this northern corner of Hungary. I found a room in the Teatrum Panzio es Etterem, facing the massive municipal theatre. Stores were open until 1800, but it was clear that I was going to have to get used to earlier evenings in Eastern and Central Europe.
One advantage of staying in these Panzio above restaurants is that one does not need to go hunting for supper. There is time to relax, unpack, and still get downstairs before the restaurant closes. In Komárno and the Hungarian cities that I have visited, the restaurant below the panzio was also one of the better eateries in town, judging from the well-off locals who filled the dining room at night. The are called pension in Slovakia.
Gyo̎r had what I needed most: a bicycle shop. I found the KTM dealer and a full-service bike shop two blocks from the Teatrum Panzio. My chain was becoming badly gunked up from road dust and mud, even though I was oiling it regularly. The shifting was becoming more erratic, so I knew that a chain cleaning, and maybe a check on the derailleur alignment was overdue. The store was closed, but I smiled to see the machine dispensing spare inner tubes. Almost any other spare part can wait, but a flat at night? I wonder if will see more of those machines as I travel into Continental’s home territory (Germany).
The next morning, I rode to the shop, where the staff pointed to the mechanic’s shop to the left. The wrench was also the duty English-speaker. A personable young man named Adam immediately checked the chain, which was not stretched. He seemed pleased and impressed that I had been oiling it. I opted for the basic tune-up and a cleaning, which would cover brakes, cables and wheels. Only HUF 5,000 (USD 17.16). We traded phone numbers, and Adam promised to call me that afternoon. On the way back to the Panzio, I found out what the catchy music was that I heard on the way out of the pension. It wasn’t buskers; but a twirling competition in the big square in the shopping district.
I had barely returned to the pension at 1100 when my phone rang. Adam had the bike ready. When I went back, we got to chatting. He had taught himself English, which very much impressed me. He asked if I wanted to go for a ride that evening after he got off work. I agreed.
With my tight, clean and nimble bike (no bags), I wandered through the historic center and the shopping district, where I had walked before. I found a small power pack for my phone, which fits in my tool kit just below the phone. Now I was not worried about making a whole day using the navigation software if I needed to. I also rode out the northern highway (E575) so that I would know where to go in the morning when I left town. The cities of the Danube floodplain have fully integrated bicycles into the traffic mix, with lanes and paths everywhere, plenty of places to lock one’s bike, and a relatively clear understanding of road etiquette. The cyclists dismount easily and push their bikes through pedestrian areas; motorists stop for bicycles crossing in the crosswalk; pedestrians walk in the sidewalk part of the multi-use paths, especially those pushing strollers. People just seem generally more attentive to their surroundings and the three major flows of traffic remain more or less unobstructed. Amazing to watch.
Adam called while I was out in the country north of town. He got off early. I met him outside the shop about 1730. He led me on a beautiful, smooth bicycle path on a levee north east of town. It ran past water works, canals, parks and farms. It was well-used, with recreational riders keeping to the right as road racers zoomed past them. Adam shredded some grass along the edge of the levee, revelling in the performance of his mountain bike. He is training for his first MTB competition next week, and is more than a little nervous about it.
We stopped at a beer garden halfway out, and chatted over a local brew. He had a meeting at 2000 with some friends, so we would not be out after dark. After blasting up and down the bike path, we parted at the first bridge into town. I had dinner in the Teatrum restaurant again (why not? it had a full menu of delicious choices). Back in my room, I spent some time reviewing the two options for riding up the river, and decided that I would ride north to the Danube and cross back into Slovakia at Medved’ov, where the Slovakian Danube Bike Trail acquired an asphalt coating. Gyo̎r may be a big city, but after working hours, there is no traffic noise. In the quiet of my comfy room, I slept soundly.
Smooth roads and tailwinds,