Vienna to Budapest: Part 2 – the bike strikes back!

Oh Danube, you are a cruel mistress...

Chris is right, waking-up in Komarom, there was already a sense of foreboding. What  he neglected to mention was that I’d had a tire blow-out en-route the  day before, as my wet shoes tied to the back of the bike somehow  got caught in the spoke and broke off the air valve. Chris managed to simply inflate the tire  and voila! But there was a weird bubble in the tire that persisted and  made my ride a bit bumpier than before.

So that morning, I rolled over to get out of bed and felt frozen – like the insect/beetle man from the Kafka story, Metamorphasis, who  mysteriously couldn’t turn over one morning. Now, I have a slipped  disc, this we know. But it hadn’t bothered me in
at least a year and I’d  been cycling regularly through London roads which have some  serious spine-bending potholes. But that morning, the movement that  killed was basically being in the exact position to ride a bike, so Chris and I decided to end our triumphant cycle ride of glory in the less than thrilling locale of the Hotel Juno  in Komarom, Hungary…three days’ ride away from Budapest – our end  goal, and where we had to drop the bikes off – do or die.

I  decided to take a shower and try to feel a bit better about the day, but then the hot water handle broke off in my  hand! Chris to the rescue again, with one of his MacGyver-like fix-it  tools, he managed to get the hot water on and off. Now – normally I’d let the receptionist hear about this, and try to get some money knocked-off the bill or something– but this chick scared even me! Someone would tell her eventually, and I needed this woman to like us…as I had lots of questions to ask now, what with the new circumstances and all.

Anyway,  so back to the journey – we decided to just stick to our route, and go to the same places we’d already planned to reach each day using some form of alternative transport. Luckily, the  scary receptionist seemed to want to make amends and helpfully wrote down the entire train schedule to our next  destination.

Over the bridge, would our fortunes improve?

As  it was early, we headed on over the ‘Friendship Bridge’ to Komarno, on  the Slovakian side. And I gotta say, given our experience on the Hungarian side, my expectations were pretty low.  Our first interaction there did nothing to coutneract this assumption – as when I went to use the public loo – I was charged (to be expected) and then given 2 squares of toilet paper (not expected). Yes, that’s two individual squares of single ply tissue. Luckily I had some tissue in my bag, but this truly added new meaning to the phrase ‘piss poor.’

But walking further on, we were even more surprised – as Komarno actually turned out to be pretty nice – with a pedestrianised area,  pleasant shops and newly restored historical buildings. The main square  had pretty cobblestones in a checkered pattern and I decided to take a  picture when SLIP! PING! BOUNCE! CRACK! I dropped my iPhone. The  screen, being idiotically made of glass (so durable and long-lasting eh?), it shattered.

Site of iPhone injury (Komarno, Slovakia)

You  can imagine, I felt like the world’s biggest walking disaster by that point! And I’ll admit, I felt like crying a bit. But,  these little setbacks can sometimes show you what you and other people  are really made of. The square had free Wi-Fi and I was on the phone to  the insurance people right away. Then at the tourist info point, I was  told where there was an O2 store (thanks to my old company Lambie-Nairn,  I knew that O2 operated in Slovakia, good thing it didn’t happen on the  Hungary side, eh?). The empathetic staff sold me two screen protectors for the  measly 6 euros I had left (the guy proclaiming, “Oh they are too  expensive anyway!”). The two lovely employees held their breath along with me as Chris fashioned something that would hold the glass in place  til I could get it repaired. And magically, the phone still worked perfectly still!

Hard to believe it still works, huh?

We  then carried on, having lunch in a sort of newly built old  European-style courtyard (more Disneyland than Notre Dame, but much  better than the naff new builds seem in a lot of towns) and we went back to the  train station, spirits renewed and happy.

The new old look, it gets the thumbs up from us

The little engine that couldn't

But  apparently, the cloud hanging over us hadn’t finished ruining our good time. Earlier in Komarom, the train we wanted to catch originally didn’t  turn up, which is why we’d had time to visit Komarno in the first  place. But this time, the train had arrived and we got the bikes onto what looked like a mini-train for mini-people, but we were ready!

Chris' sad face

But no  go. There were three trains on the platform – including a massive one  from Munich bound for Budapest, when a woman who spoke a bit of German  explained to me we had to wait for 30 minutes. No problem right…but  then an hour had gone by…2 hours…It was almost 7pm and we knew from  our less than warm reception last night, that all the hotels in the area  stop letting you in around that time. I asked the train lady if we  should just stay the night here and take the train tomorrow. She just  said, ‘Wir mussen warten’ (we must wait). ‘No more information?’ I asked. A head shake said no. We thought of taking a bus, but we had the  bikes – and plus, NO ONE was leaving. Chris figured, if there was  another way of getting there, people would have left for sure by now,  but everyone was staying put. Everyone just seemed resigned to the fact, and  we wondered how often this kind of thing happens?!

Three  hours later (for a journey that should have taken 50 minutes), we were the last train to depart (obviously in these situations, size does  matter). But our questions were answered, as a short ways down the track saw a few fire fighters wave  as we passed by. A cargo train had somehow caught fire on the track!! It’s pure insanity or luck (oh you wretched thing!) that we were able to leave at all, given the circumstances. We were once  again grateful. Everyone on the train sighed and nodded with a  renewed sense of understanding. Why we were never told the truth about  the situation is still a mystery tho…but maybe sometimes not knowing the  real story is better. Who knows what additional horrible woe would have befallen us  next if we’d known, and decided to stay another day in either  Komarom/Komarno!!

Esztergom was dark as we arrived. We were pretty hungry (the emergency nuts & raisins we always carry with us had finally been called upon, but  there’s only so many handfuls of those things one can eat in a four hour  period). Stopping for a greezy gyro/ falafal wrap, we finally arrived  at the Gran Campsite who also rented rooms out of one of their buildings.  The room was another one of these communist throw-backs, and seemed to  take a tip from our train – as it had mini everything! Even the chairs  were barely off the floor and made for little people. We cautiously used  our anti-bedbug sleep sheets.

Taking a photo of a photo - Esztergom, Hungary

Esztergom is Hungary’s answer to Rome, with a massive basilica atop a hill that can be seen for miles. We spent the next morning wandering the streets  without a map as the tourist info point had been shut down, which made  sense as the main square (though obviously recently redone and very  picturesque) was a bit of a ghost town, save a couple cafes. We had some  food smoothered in cream and raw garlic (yes, we both loved our wonderfully aromatic breath our entire time in Hungary) and wandered on…making our  way to the top of the basilica for a beath-taking view of the city and  surrounding countryside.

Up here, we defo got the fear!

It  was the highest up we’d been yet – and the thin rail didn’t provide  either of us much comfort in the way of safety. But one country’s death  trap is another’s money spinner, and we were fairly happy to be  taken advantage of. Inside the church, various bones were displayed in glass cases (a  femer here, a skull there) . ‘The relics’ as the Catholics  like to call the bones of important people and saints, seemed  frightening to me and other small children in the vicinicty. Carrying on  with the theme, we visited the crypt underneath the church, and saw the  tombs of some of Hungary’s greatest men (and a I hope a couple women  too, hard to say really who was down there). I felt like I was in Tomb  Raider or Indian Jones – maybe if we took a wrong step, some ancient  soul would smite us down or a booby trap would befall us! (Okay, so  maybe I was suffering from a slight case of paranoia/ post-traumatic  stress from the previous day.)

Inside the famed Basillica

Journal writing by sunset

Tasting of the vino

We spent the rest of the afternoon catching up on our journal writing, sitting on a dock near our campsite/room. But, the  highlight of our time there was the Wine Days Festival that happened to  be opening that night (it was a Friday). We’d seen posters around town –  and it turned out it was taking place right next door to where we were  staying, right on the Danube! I enquired about what was happening and we  decided to attend. That’s one of the great things about this trip, all  the little things you come across that you normally wouldn’t. There were  half a dozen Hungarian vitners – from the more posh and branded labels  to the super local mom/pop operations. We had some lovely bbq as well,  and the owner himself (turned out that was the guy I’d spoke to earlier  (in German, of course) who explained it all to us), took the time to  welcome us personally and show us where we could get our wine glass and tickets. We felt so special, and I was  also happy to be wearing my first dress of the entire trip (1 month at that point).

Esztergom's under-utilised but otherwise nice, main square

Next morning, we boarded a Hydrofoil boat that took  us along the famous ‘Danube Bend’ to Budapest in about an hour. It was  ridiculously expensive though, and we had to pay 50% on top for our  bikes. But it was a popular route and we  were lucky to even get seats  at all, as our bikes had to be strapped on the roof. Along the water we saw lots  of campers, some canoeing and even swimming. Pretty houses dotted the  shoreline and we both sighed a bit, as our bike trail would have followed very close to the river.

As we arrived, Budapest’s intricately crafted  Parliament building and pretty bridges greeted us, and we disembarked  into a new place once again…

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About Jenn Connor

Californian in Somerset. Gardener of knowledge. Cyclist. Traveler. Professional communicator. Lover of all things green and growing.
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2 Responses to Vienna to Budapest: Part 2 – the bike strikes back!

  1. Anonymous says:

    MOM Janice…..It still sounds lovely and interesting, but is your back OK? The photos are great!

  2. Jenn Connor says:

    Hi Mom, my back is better now, but I have to do my stretches (I was doing them already, but I’m keeping on with them). And I got a wheely bag to replace the backpack. Chris helps me with the bag. Chris was amazing through all these little mishaps – a shout out to him on that for sure!

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