Leaving Budapest. Well, that was not the easy move I had hoped for. Firstly, I couldn’t get out of my tent, I was so exhausted and had been so chilly in the night that I couldn’t now remove myself from the snugness of my sleeping bag. It wasn’t until the sun hit me at about 8.30 that I was forced out and I slowly packed away while chatting to various other campers who were curious about Scout and the bike and the Union Jack flag. Most everybody can speak some good english and I’m both grateful and thoroughly embarrassed that I have zero Hungarian and very little German. I tried once again to use the internet at the campsite to upload my pics and video to the cloud which has been a singularly frustrating endeavour for the entire trip. Predictably it didn’t go to plan this time either and I reluctantly set off back into Budapest centre to find the EuroVelo 6 again and head north out of the city. Only I was still so zapped of energy that I stopped for coffee as soon as I crossed over into Buda. Budapest is actually two towns on either side of the river – Buda and Pest – that merged at some point into one sprawling capital. As a result the two have quite different personalities and architectural tendencies. I’d spent most of the day in Pest yesterday and sitting for coffee in Buda (and using good wifi to finally upload my blog with pictures) felt very different – quieter, older, more relaxed and it set me up to move on. One of the waitresses was also a blogger and she took a picture of the website address to follow us – Budapest has been full of lovely people interested in the story. I know how to say ‘she is a street dog’ in French and Spanish and that’s been enough where English fails but people remark on how fine she is and ask her breed: Mongrel, Bulgarian edition.
I’m beginning to feel quite proud of my little urchin pupper, especially when she sits close to the tent and bike and curls up quietly while I build or break camp. She’s a little afraid of the dark though and tends to be a bit barky when loud people, especially men, approach our tent. She actually was very perturbed when a mother was sort of play wrestling with her youngish son who was making those youthful noises of exertion and frustration. I couldn’t tell if he was misbehaving and wanting to run away from her or if they were simply playing but his effortful exhalations could easily be interpreted as distress. Scout was very alarmed and started barking at the pair until he ran away from her and Scout growled and watched the mother as she walked past us with serious suspicion.
The cycle route was fair to middling, a little rough and confusing in places but mostly I could tell I was leaving the city, even if I hadn’t got moving until after twelve. I’d wanted to get to a campsite at Esztegom by evening but that was now impossible, I figured I’d be wild camping somewhere up-stream. I passed crazy looking riverside homes that I envied and waved at lots of cyclists, giving me some confidence at least that I was on the right track.
At some point a Budapest tour guide on his day off joined me and asked where I was heading, what my route was, what my plan for the evening was. I was anxious to make some distance but thought again about my promise to say yes more… We stopped for a swim and some food at a little beach he recommended and he told me about a beautiful camp area on the northern point of the island of Szigetmonostor, one that I needed to take a ferry to get off in the morning and that would take me out onto a busy road the wrong side of the Danube to the cycle route – he termed it the ‘highway to hell’ and, quite frankly, I’d had enough of those. Having been without the EuroVelo for the days leading to Budapest I was loath to deliberately leave it, even with the recommendation of a local but I thought about it.
He was going to come with me – it was a truly special place, he said but in the end it wasgetting late and I bailedand thought I’d be better off crossing the river as per the route before finding somewhere to camp. So Peter sped off, unburdened by dog and belongings and I continued, lost the path, doubled back, asked directions and discovered I needed to take a foot passenger ferry to that island anyway. And there were steps to get to it.
When I’m on tarmac, when I’m moving forward, when the wind isn’t catching me from the side, Jeeves and trailer handle the 20kg of luggage, 15kg of dog and 60 odd kg of me incredibly well – we glide, we’re balanced, everything seems so efficient. But stop moving forward, introduce steps, divorce Jeeves from trailer, try manoeuvring them through any space not straight and wide and, my god, they’re like beached whales. Heavy and awkward and not interested in going anywhere fast. Actually they’re more like beached sharks because they also have sharp bits that try to take your leg off. I unhitched the trailer, ran to the ferry, now already loaded with passengers and asked a strong person to help – Jeeves is about 35kg with bags and unwieldy af, – a nice man took on the challenge, and carried the trailer and Scout down the steps along the metal grid gangway she refused to walk on. There were steps down into the tiny boat also – he’d said yes to bikes but it clearly wasn’t built with them in mind. We wrestled Jeeves and trailer and Scout inside, to the bemusement of the other passengers. “I’m going to London!” I said in an attempt to garner sympathy or at least temper the unamused looks of the ferrymen. Of course, to add to the embarrassment and apologising and flustering it turned out I didn’t have enough Forints to pay the fare. I hadn’t realised I’d be taking ferries on the bike path and hadn’t worried about getting more cash after my coffee.
I had euros and the elder ferryman consulted the younger, “five” he said, and I dug around for my change, thankful for their accepting me, thankful I could repay them somehow and gave him all my change – six euros. After the nice man (who I shamelessly thanked by telling him how strong he was) had deposited Jeeves, up a ramp on the other side, stopped the trailer from rolling back onto the gangway when I turned away from it, and had walked back to his car, almost certainly laughing at my claim to be cycling all the way to London I hitched Jeeves and trailer together and got Scout inside again. She hadn’t enjoyed the experience much more than me. Thank god that was over, the ferrymen continued to watch me with that particular unsmiling curiosity I’ve encountered in Eastern Europe and I smiled and waved and tried to hide my utter exhaustion and mounting self-doubt.
It was getting late and I thought about travelling north to the camp ground Peter had told me about. It wasn’t on any of my maps but it was local knowledge, maybe it was a good idea? But this island seemed utterly deserted, nothing here, people had taken the ferry to get in their cars to go somewhere I couldn’t see. I rode on along dirt roads, praying the next ferry (yes, to get off the island again and onto the mainland on the other side of the Danube – I hadn’t looked very closely at the day’s route) was a car one that I could roll onto without making a total tool of myself. I decided to stick to the bike route and didn’t head north, I wasn’t enjoying this empty island and didn’t fancy getting deeper into it not knowing where exactly I was heading, so I cycled to the other side and to my deep relief saw a car ferry – great floating platforms attached on one side to a boat that basically pushes, drags and twists it from one side to the other – it’s some pretty able sea-manning. By now the day was wearing on and I was, I’ll admit, a little fraught. When the man asked me for a third of the price the other ferry had asked for and I couldn’t even pay it I felt terrible. All I had was a ten euro note and 100 Forints and he dismissed me as the silly foreigner I truly was shaping up to be. I pushed off the barge thoroughly demoralised and foolish feeling and with a creeping sense that finding a place to camp would be a joyless experience and that’s when I met Michael, standing astride his touring bike, his matching panniers oozing experience and confidence. “You’ve got a lot of stuff!” he yelled cheerily at me as he queued up to get on the return trip. “I’ve got a dog!” I said only slightly defensively. “Is there anywhere to camp along the path this side?”
“What? No, I’m heading on to the island – there are two campsites there. Come on!” he beamed in his undulating Australian accent. “Oh, I, er, I ran out of money! I didn’t pay just now!”
“Well I’ve got money. Let’s go. I wanna hear your story.” And so, with a little more protesting from me I finally gave in and fell in with Michael who looked as seasoned a cyclist as you could find and as calm and unhurried as you might expect an Aussie to be. He was my polar opposite right now and his confidence and generosity (he had to pay for my first trip also when the money guy saw that I’d found a man to pay for me, more utter embarrassment on my part) began to slowly smooth my nerves and unruffle my feathers. Both campsites were long closed but one let us set up on what used to be a camp ground and, of course, Michael paid for it.
Through some confusion they also opened up a twin room with ensuite in their empty 60s motel-type establishment that we could use, although not with the dog – I was happy to camp and to his enormous credit, Michael forwent a bed and camped alongside me. I was, happily, able to repay him slightly by cooking us dinner and loaning my power bank to charge his phone. He was on his way to a few days in a lovely apartment with family in Budapest and was happy to slum this last night with me. We chatted long and Scout and I were devoured by the most insistent and insidious mosquitos so much so that I popped her half a piriton to relieve her swelling bites. I learnt about touring, about bikes, about his tours and travels – the man has seen a lot since he began biking in retirement – and picked up a few great tips. The night was so cold I had to hug Scout for warmth, I don’t think my sleeping bag is going to cut it if the nights get colder. The next morning Michael showed me even more about touring pace – he was a most unhurried man and I was constantly quelling the voice in my head saying ‘You need to get going, you didn’t cycle far enough yesterday – you’ll have to make up for it today, no time for this, no time for chatting.’ But I was held hostage to Michael’s wallet – he was luckily going back to the side he’d come from and heading to Pest on the East bank and would, again, pay my ferry fare – the ferrymen hid their confusion well. I was so lucky to have met him, but when he invited me to have coffee with him, I declined, the voice in my head finally screaming at me YOU HAVE TO GET GOING – why!? Why, voice? Why do I have to? It didn’t answer that but I decided I would finally appease it and took off, thanking Michael profusely and agreeing to add the amount he paid for my (three) ferry crossings and the camping to the fundraiser and to consider it a donation. What an awesome guy to have met at possibly the most stressed and flustered I’ve been on the whole trip. I literally had to say yes to his suggestions and we shared a very pleasant evening in each other’s company. Thank you Michael! I’m sorry we didn’t get that coffee. But I managed to see Esztegom and clean my chain with baby wipes, and get to grips with maps.me – you not only saved me that evening, you continue to make my journey easier. I’m also getting (a little) better at stopping for coffee and taking my time. I cycled a good 90km that day and wild camped at the edge of the river and, having shaken off the tensions of yesterday, I slept like a baby.
Ice-cream and lunch by the river and lovely paths:
A much more relaxed third ferry crossing the next day:
And Esztergom and my river camp: