Summary: After my Kayaking trip on the Elbe, I had to get from Germany to meet a friend in Hungary. I had an old rusted bike with which I did not know what to do, and I could not wait to get to the countryside. I’d never been to Poland, so I ended up cycling past it, before crossing the Czech Republic from north to south, and same with Slovakia. Some nights, I slept in accomodation, some others, I slept wild. Like that night by the border with Hungary, where I slept on a bench by the Danube with nice views while watching some fireworks with a concert in the background.
After my mini kayaking adventure on the Elbe, I went back to Dresden for a few hours to sort out some academic stuff and other small pending matters. But the only thing on my mind was what was about to come: my bike-trip to Budapest. I had planned to meet Mark there, to do a rowing trip on the Danube. And the best way that I could think of going there was by bicycle, starting in Germany, doing a detour through Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and finally entering Hungary until it’s capital, Budapest. I know that there are so many other ways of getting there, but the bike trips always seem to be at the top of my list. Perhaps it is because it is an ecological way of travelling which creates a strong link between me and the environment. Perhaps it is because I always get so many good memories from them. Perhaps it is pure laziness, as cycling just involves sitting down on a saddle and moving the legs once in a while in a circular motion. Indeed, the invention of the wheel greatly facilitates things.
I had already previously done a bicycle trip to Budapest, but that had been from Luxembourg, 4 years beforehand. It that had been a trip that had opened my mind to the travelling world. I discovered the possible simplicity of trips, and the enormous choices and options available. It was some kind of turning point in which I had discovered that what is easily possible is very different from what common people think it is. Since that trip I had already done plenty of others. I remember that at the beginning, I would be nervous, and think about many things that could happen on the way. It’s funny how things have changed: now I just quickly pack my bag and leave. Lol. Not too many thoughts involved, just pure action. I have learned that you do not need much. Good equipment will definitely make the trip more enjoyable and comfortable (and safe some times), but to actually do the trip you do not need much at all. It all depends on the level of comfort that you want to reach. For me, I now prefer to travel lighter, and see what happens. I do not mind sleeping under a bridge, and I do not mind neither sleeping in a hostel, or refuge on top of a mountain. I have learned to enjoy everything that a place and time offers, observing and learning from the surrounding environment.
As a student in Saxony (German region), I had the right to free transport throughout the region, so I picked up my bag (with all my stuff to travel for a year), my bike, and hoped in a train to Gőrlitz, at the border with Poland. It has to be said that the bicycle was not peculiarly good. Indeed, it was quite rusted, with little brakes, the gears having their own will power, and without a luggage rack. The wheels were not fully straight neither, at it was honestly quite heavy. But that does not matter at all if deep inside you know that you are going to have a fun trip, and that you’re going to arrive to destination. Besides, if something breaks, it can get fixed. Or I could just dump the bike and use something else for transport. As for carrying the backpack, it would have been suicide to do it on the back. It’s just really, really uncomfortable and unhealthy for the spine. So I attached it how I could to the handlebar, and proceeded to move on.
At the train station, I just went downhill through the town centre into the river, and crossed the bridge to Poland. Wow, that was easy. Thank god for Schengen, the treaty that allows for free transport throughout mainland Europe. No passport queues or crap like that. Just flow. Great! I did not really know where to go, and only a few people there spoke English or German. But I followed a cycle path, and the general “east” direction, and I was soon on my way. I had previously that that planned my route to follow. I had just gone on google maps, and entered the departure and destination with a random stop in a Polish city, while selecting the available options of avoiding highways and tolls.
I stopped by a large supermarket to buy some puncture repair kit and inner tube, in case of a misfortune. I was surprised to see that prices were incredibly much lower than across the border, a few kilometres away. As an example, the new inner tube costed me the equivalent to about half a Euro, while across the border in Dresden, it had costed me 6 Euros. Yes, that is a mother××××ing big difference! Happy with my newly acquired kit, I kept on cycling up to the sunset through fields, enjoying my complete freedom, and the experience of rolling through new lands. You know, I felt like doing exactly what I felt like. At dusk, I saw a Motel, and I decided to stop there. I had never slept in a Motel before, so that was it. The room was about 12 Euro, and it was just great to have my own space to pass out.
The following day I cycled through many small towns. It was really interesting to see the changes that had taken place around me since leaving Germany. There were many buildings in ruins, and I imagine that it was due to the vast available space all over the place, and that it would therefore be cheaper to just build another building somewhere else. I did not see a single beggar in Poland, although I did see many poor people. Nevertheless, they all had their basic necessities covered: Enough food, a shelter, and security.
That day, there was some kind of national celebration going on, so the supermarkets were closed. That, however, did not matter at all, since there were corner shops everywhere. Almost every village had its own small store filled with the basic necessities, which was something that surprised me. But what really blew me out of my mind was that all of these stores, no matter how remote or rustic the place was, accepted VISA cards! And this was a blessing, since I could just pay stuff with the plastic card, without having to exchange currency.
I recall seeing something really dodgy at one point. There were these dusty, old, very poor looking blocks of 4 floor apartments with only peasant inhabiting them. Only a few had cars, which dated back to the 60′s and were more rusted that the Titanic’s wrecks. I did however see a red Corvette just parked there, in the courtyard. Now, if you ask me, that is very suspicious.
I arrived to Waldbrzych, or however it is spelled. I do not have internet access while writing this, and my memory is not that great with names. The outskirts of the city honestly looked like those from a developing country. But the city centre was very nice. It was absolutely not a tourist destination, since I did not recognize a single one, and the people that I talked to confirmed this to me. The sunset came, and I felt like sleeping somewhere nice and comfortable. I also felt like doing some push-ups and pull-ups, and having a warm shower followed by a warm dry sleep. I asked around, and there did not seem to be almost any hotels or hostels. Finally, I asked a couple who told me that there was a cheap pension on the top of a hill covered by forest, and pointed me in the direction. I got to the entrance of the forest, and I was really confused. There were a few paths and I did not really know which one to take. Luckily, the couple had followed me and told me that they’d walk me over to the accommodation. This proved to be very, very helpful, since it was really in the middle of nowhere it seemed. Finally, after a long walk uphill, we found it: Penzion Hrtufta, or again, something like that.
Luckily for me, once more, they accepted Euros. I instantly fell in love with the place. It was an old wooden hut, that you could definitely tell that it had a big history behind it. My room was in the grudge, and it had a small window in the corner. Everything was really old, and I loved that. The water from the shower fell almost drop by drop, which was great for improving my showering technique. From the front of the pension, in the terrace, there was a view of the whole of Waldbrzych. It was truly beautiful, watching the sun fade away from there, at the top of the hill, surrounded by woods and silence. And I could not possibly finish the description of the place without mentioning the garden, where I had a really good workout. Hehe. Btw, it was about 12 Euros.
In the morning, I decided to have breakfast in the outskirts, sitting down at the side of the road, just to look at people’s lives. It was like having jumped back in time in just 1 and a bit cycling journeys. There was a man collecting metal scraps. Then the other one going around doing stuff on his old motorcycle. The workers had a quick bakery item before resuming their way to work. Everyone was onto their own business, and the only thing that they all had in common is that they all looked at the guy eating a few kg’s of fruits and dairy at the side of the road, with his backpack attached at the bike’s handlebar, with his cap backwards and sport clothes on. That was me by the way. I also noticed that every house had some kind of “danger of fire” sign at the front of the house on a pipe. I guess that they all had gas heating. It is interesting to note that there are almost never any young people in small or old villages. It’s as if all the youth and young adults had moved to the big cities. Actually, yes, that is what has happened. In big cities there are schools, loads of entertainment possibilities, more jobs, the possibility of climbing the social ladder, and other youths. Young people are often seduced by the idea of a modern life, full of hi-tec gadgets, neon lights, and fashionable clothes and money. To be honest, I think both, a city girl and a countryside can both be very hot in their own ways, but what we are taught by the media that is attractive has not much to do with a countryside girl. Off subject, I think it is quite funny to see the kind of games that males and females are constantly playing, in our modern setting. Lol, life is a game.
The agricultural methods were industrialized, making use of tractors and machines, but not of the latest technology, as it is to be expected. The main roads were really good. They had all been re-done with EU funding. I lost count of how many times I saw the panel stating that this or that road had been built with EU funds. The smaller roads were however quite terrible, and I completely understand the reasons as to why this is.
Upon crossing the border to the Czech Republic, I did notice some big changes. The houses were larger and much much much much better taken care of. The outside was covered in paint, and there seemed to be a traditional coloring layout to follow. It was a mix between mainly dark brown and white.
The previous days in Poland I had not truly felt that I was in the EU. However, now, I felt like I was back in it. So I went back to my tradition of sleeping in bus stops. And the one I found was possibly the best bus stop to sleep in that I have ever found. It had the back and top walls built on concrete, and the rest were made of half see through glass. It had a door which could be closed, and it was very spacious. That night it served me well, sheltering me from the rain and wind. As I did not have a mat, I slept on my belongings: The feet were on my frisbee and on some half empty water bottle, my ass was on my sport shoes, my back on my backpack and my head on some other bag on the backpack. It did it’s job, and the morning after I woke up quite early to get cycling.
I spent a lot of my day just chilling out, sleeping around, eating fruit from the trees, and just relaxing. I must admit, that in the Czech Republic, almost no one spontaneously said hi to me, not even after I said hi! I don’t really know why this is, because when I was in Prague everyone was really nice and open. Perhaps in the countryside, as it is less international, and more monotonous, as soon as they see something different they subconsciously react negatively to it. However, this was only initially, because after we started talking, people were as nice as everywhere else. That day I stopped by some old cities to have a look around. At some point, I got lost, and I did not really know where to go. I found a tourist office, got some free maps, and I was once again on track. If I would not have found any, I’d have done what I often do: Either ask around, or go to some petrol station to check out the maps without buying them.
That day, I don’t know why, I was particularly hungry, and I stopped so many times to eat fruits from trees, or to buy food. At some point, I ate 3000 calories in one meal. Yes, cycling after that was hard.
Oh, I just remembered something quite funny that happened to me that day: I bought some instant coffee and mixed it up with milk. I had not drunk coffee since quite a while, and it was only after drinking the whole milk bottle that I realized that I had accidentally emptied half of the coffee container. Yes, I felt it. I was cycling at like a million miles per hour, completely focused on the road, determined to push very hard. The time went past really fast, and I visited this city whose name I forgot.
The sunset arrived, and I was still cycling around. That night I felt like sleeping comfortably again. The problem is that I was in the middle of nowhere in the countryside, and there were no available accommodations for a looong time.
So I kept cycling, and by almost dark managed to find a pension/motel, called Bernhard. The trouble at that occasion was that they did not accept credit cards, and neither Euros. Yes, perhaps I should exchange currency once in a while, but I did not feel like it at that occasion. You see, when I’m on holiday, I do exactly what I feel like! The woman in charge pointed me to a table in the terrace, and told me that they were Germans, and that perhaps they could exchange me some Euros for the Czech currency. So I went to the table and started talking in German, and managed to change a 20 Euro note at the exact exchange rate. But that is not important. What it is, is that I got to meet some really cool dudes and get my own room for the night.
But my night did not start until 1-2am. As I could still feel the caffeine inside me, I went for a walk around, did some sport, drank loads of water, got some fresh cold air and watched the Olympics on TV, followed by a part of a Jackie Chan movie. It was the first time in half a year that I’d watched TV, and it did it’s effect: I fell asleep.
When I woke up, it was almost midday, and I felt great again. I still had almost half of the Czech Republic to cross that day, so that I would arrive to Budapest on the 20th august. For me, the direction to take was just south, so there was not much map reading involved. Anyway, I never carry a map with me on my bike-trips: I’d rather improvise, or get contact with people, or even get lost. It’s nice to be completely self sufficient, but it is not necessary neither always desirable.
It was interesting to see that despite the Czech Republic being more developed than Poland, the corner shops did almost never accept VISA cards. But with all the fruit trees around, that did not matter at all! Actually, I think that in that tree I almost became a tree fruit picking expert. By the end of the trip, I could spot fruits from quite far, and I could easily find out if there were any worms in it, or if it was acid of sweet. I also started recognizing the different varieties of plums and apples. I just love the concept of finding and picking my own food. It seriously fascinates me.
In my trip I got to see many solar panels fields a bit everywhere, which pleasantly surprised me, as it is an investment in future development, usually meaning development and prosperity. Another thing that really shocked me is the amount of castles and churches that we find in Europe. Where the hell did all of these come from?? How could a town with only a few people still have its own castle and church??? I mean, it’s not like they can be built in a day or two with a few people. And it’s not like every villager is a castle and church building expert. I find this very interesting.
The borders of the Czech Republic were quite hilly. Not huge mountains, but rather many rounded hill tops. When I finally entered Slovakia, it was a relief to notice that everything was flat again. The landscapes and field crops changed once more. It felt really nice to be back in Slovakia. It was warm and dry, and it was game on. I got to Nove Mesto, without any plans but to look around to see what I could find. I followed the panel towards the centre for a while, but I then saw a cool looking like gym and I could not resist the temptation of going in. I loved that gym. It was old school yet welcoming, and I got to meet some locals. On the wall, I saw a poster of Tom Voss, a fitness model who’d gone to my same school, about a decade earlier. I’d once met his father training I a gym back home, but never met Tom because he’d moved to the USA.
Anyway, after the session, it was 10 pm. It was dark outside. I stayed in talking with Melissa, the receptionist, for a while. After a few good laughs, I checked my phone and read an SMS from my ex-girlfriend and now good friend. She lives just over 20 km away from Nove Mesto, in Piestany, and had friendly invited me to sleep over at hers. So I fixed my pocket lamp to the front of the backpack, lit the rear light, and got cycling in the dark, below the stars (and shooting stars), moon, between fields and freedom, feeling really good.
After an hour I got there, and met once more her joyful and welcoming family. The father was as smiling as always, and it was really nice to meet them all again. In particular, it was really pleasant to meet Eva once more, and to talk about anything that we felt like.
In the morning, we went together to her part time job, had breakfast, and then, sure as hell, I was rolling on the road once more. A few hills came past, with a great view over the plain and the river. It was a really warm day, and I had drank about 8l of liquid just by midday. I felt completely free, cycling through fields and emptiness, with nothing more than a direction and destination, being myself and the bike my own transport vehicle.
Approaching the border with Hungary, I saw the first beggars I’d seen that trip. They were Hungarian. I know because I was sitting down in the back of Tesco having lunch, when I saw one of them walking towards me. I had gotten up and very fast jumped away as he approached, leaving my stuff behind. I had gotten scared because he was drunk, and he was coming towards me with a hand in the pocket. Now it turned out that he did not have anything in the hand, but I think that it was a good decision in case he would have had something. He made me understand that he did not mean any harm, and that he was just walking past me. And he also gave me some brief monologue, mentioning that he was Hungarian. The reason why I mention this is because I found it surprising the amount of beggars and homeless people that there are in Hungary, whereas I hadn’t seen so many in the rest of my bike trip.
When darkness came, I had enjoyed so much the experience of cycling in the dark that I decided to repeat it. I spent the sunset eating yellow plums from a tree that I’d found. It was Sunday afternoon, and as such, many cars were returning home before dark. So I had spent that time eating instead of dodging cars. Cycling in the dark was almost as fun as I had remembered. The only difference was that I did not know the road at all, and I did not have an end destination. I thought of sleeping somewhere in the countryside, but something happened that scared the shit out of me.
I had just briefly filmed myself illuminated with my torch surrounded by darkness and silence, when I cycled past an isolated home by the side of the road. Everything was completely dark. But I heard some dogs barking, and some running noises towards me. I turned the light towards the right side and saw 2 dogs running towards me, with their eyes wide open with a really really scary look, almost in blood shed. They had their teeth out, and tried to bite me. I illuminated them with my torch, dodged their bite, and proceeded to cycle the fastest that I have ever cycled in my whole life. Of course, I screamed pretty loud. Man, that was some scary shit. The adrenaline rush stayed for quite a while, and I decided that I did not really feel like sleeping in the countryside that night. Approaching the border with Hungary, I saw many fireworks. There was some kind of local celebration. It was getting late, and I stopped at a petrol station to check out the maps, and ask for tips. I ended up speaking with the guy working there for quite a while. He was a funny guy and I laughed my ass off.
Due to the celebration, Esztergom was on fire. Everyone was out. There were music and fireworks, and hoards of people in the street. As soon as the fireworks finished, many people vanished. I found a good spot to sleep in: I slept next to the river Danube, with the view of the huge illuminated basilica and the bridge dividing Hungary and Slovakia, and the occasional firework. In addition to this, I could very well hear the music of a concert, and around me were quite a few people. So I chose a good bench, locked up my bike, and fell asleep on my backpack. It was actually a really comfortable sleep, in the perfect place. I fell asleep with an amazing view, also under the stars, with a good concert, perfect location, and good people around.
But at about 4am I woke up because it was a bit too cold. So I crossed the border by the bridge, and found another bench just below the basilica, further away from the river so warmer. That was a funny change, but it did the job.
That following day, I planned to arrive to Budapest before midday. I only had 45km left, but I was unusually tired. So I had a nap halfway, and found a supermarket. By the way, it was closed, as all of them, since it was the national day. And the small shops did not accept VISA and I did not have any Euros left. But I did find some tasty apple and plum trees. Oh, just for the record: In Hungary there are almost no fruit trees on the street. I mean, there are some, but compared to the Slovakian villages which are full of plum trees, there are not that many.
Anyhow, I was glad to make it to Budapest, once more, to see Mark, a guy with who I am in complete sync with, and his family. There were people everywhere on the streets because it was the national day, and in the night there were plenty of fireworks. We later went on to some illegal party on the top of a hill with the views all over Budapest, but is got stopped when the police came over and arrested the Dj.
Doing bicycle trips seriously now feels like taking a walk in the park! And as I like challenges and change, the day after my arrival Mark and me left on a rowing trip on the Danube.