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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.)
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).
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…