Friends on the Road, Bratislava to Gyor- Bike Journey Day 13
I rode out of Bratislava a happy, happy man. To put it simply, from my one night stop in the city, I did not find any reason to stay or to ever return. These are my most mild feelings.
Bratislava is not a town for the vagabond, I said to myself as I made my escape from a city that tried to scrap my pockets dry.
But the bike trail out of the city was very good and closely skirted the banks of the River Danube as it led me off in a south-easterly direction towards Hungary. No, this was no ordinary bike trail, this was a bicycle road, complete with a smooth ,fresh black top, guardrails, and even a dotted yellow line down the middle of it. This was probably one of the best quality roads that I have ever traveled, and it was reserved for cyclists alone. Pure luxury. This riding was almost too easy: the sun was shinning, the day was warm, the Road open, and I got some laughs as I rode passed a gross little pond that had naked men standing all around it with their sun-tanned wieners flapping around in the light breeze. European dreaming.
Wade from Vagabond Journey.com
in Gyor, Hungary- July 12, 2008
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I was fast approaching the Hungarian border when I felt the jingle of some Slovak change rattling around in my pocket. I wanted some chocolate, so I stopped off at a little bike trail kiosk and began asking for a Snickers bar (I have grown very fond of this type of chocolate bar after having to live off them during a long Ramadan in Morocco last year). They were all out of Snickers, but had Twix bars that were sitting hard and cold in a big refrigerator.
“Ok, give me one,” I said as I began counting out my change.
20 Slovak crowns was all I had.
“22 crowns please,” requested the kid at the kiosk.
I dropped twenty in front of him and nearly lamented the fact that a day earlier I had dropped exactly two crowns into the hat of a singing beggar in the street. I really wanted some chocolate.
The kid behind the counter looked at my pocket change, looked up at me, and just laughed. I shrugged my shoulders and said that it was all the money I had. He laughed at me some more and said that it would be enough. I flashed a big grin, scooped up the well refrigerated chocolate, and, with a bunch of thank yous, rode off to Hungary as satisfied as a fat kid with candy.
But the great bicycle road turned into a car road which turned into a highway as I approached the Hungarian border. I then passed through the broken down and disused immigration control post and into another country. As I did so I tried to count up on my fingers the number countries that I have traveled to, but gave it up as a lost cause. I think the count is now a little under forty, but I am not too sure. But the day was still bright and I rode on next to an industrial rail track with some annoying Dylan song playing ceaselessly in my head.
Hours slipped by without my caring and the Road was straight forward and brought little to think about and even less decisions to make. I just rode. Soon a sight ahead broke up the joyous monotony of the riding:
A fellow bicycler unexpectedly pulled out in front of me from a random grouping of side-of-road-bushes. He was clearly equipped for the long haul, as he had a great set of factory made panniers, a nice touring bike, and riding clothes on. But something about the impression he gave me let me know that he was not the usual stiff, gear-toting, bicycle tourist. I found myself riding quicker to catch up with him – I wanted to meet this bicycle traveler – but I lost the nerve and gave up the chase when I got close. I figured that it may be odd to try to befriend someone by overtaking him from behind while bicycling in the middle of nowhere Hungry on a well-trafficked highway. Sometimes I am a little pensive about initiating conversation, and I laughed at myself as I thought of how I would go about riding up next to him on my haphazard bicycle with big black sunglasses and lumberjack clothes and saying, “hello, do you speak English?” as huge trucks rumbled by me speeding down the highway.
No, I thought to myself, I would let happenstance determine our meeting and just ride into whatever that may be. But happenstance clearly dictated that we should meet, as the cyclist soon pulled off into a siding while entering a little village. I pulled up in front of him and said, “Hey.”
The cyclist greeted me with an Australian accent and told me that he was riding to Turkey.
“F’in A,” I said, “I’m going that way too!”
We then dismounted our steeds and sat together on a fence, while introducing ourselves with a handshake. His name was Luke from Queensland and he shared some good trail mix with me that sat well in my much deprived stomach that previously had only a bartered Twix bar to brag of.
Luke and I then talked of where we had been recently traveling by bike and looked over maps. He had rode out of Finland two months ago and traveled on down to Croatia, went up to Bratislava (also thought the city was foolishly expensive), and now was riding back through Hungary to Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey. I had taken two weeks to get to Hungary from the Czech Republic. We then figured that we may as well ride on together for a while as we were traveling in the same direction.
So we rode slow and talked of travel, bicycles, and selected anecdotes of our past histories. This was a good meeting, Bicycle Luke is a traveler, and would also much rather sleep with the crickets than get stalled up in posh hostel beds.
He was also very intelligently equipped for the kind of traveling that he was doing, and had picked up a clever hammock shelter that he could tie up to a couple trees in the forest and zip himself up into. I thought over this modus of camping housing and figured that it offered most of the benefits of a normal tent without the bulk and excess parts. I also like it because the opening zippers would always me near the hands to enable it to be opened quickly in lieu of a potential threat (I do not like tents because it sometimes takes a good deal of time to orient oneself and find the zippers after being startled awake in the dark of night). I also liked it because it would inherently keep the sleeper up of the ground; the benefit of which I learned the hard way while camping at Tikal. The biggest drawback to the hammock shelter that I could foresee is the fact that it needs to be tied up to two solid anchoring points to be completely effective, but, as Luke told me, it works well as a bivy sack. If I come into one of these hammocks I may think hard about shedding the money (not cheap) to pick one up.
Luke also laughed as he told me about how for him “sleeping out in the bush” was not as primitive of an act that it may seem. It became clear that Luke was a traveler who knew what he was doing, and that he carried on his bicycle enough gear to making camping in the forest a real luxury. “Every time that I have slept in the bush I have had a warm shower in the morning,” he joked with me as he told of his ten liter plastic bag that he can just hang from a tree and wash under. I scoffed to myself as I thought of how my only preparation for camping was a tarp, a poncho, and a sleeping bag whose stuffing I ripped out of it. Another advantage of the bicycle came clear to me as I was talking to Luke:
A bike can carry weight. If you have the proper baggage – panniers – you could easily carry an entire home on a bicycle. Not a bad thing for long term travel. As Andy says, “The more gear I carry, the less money I have to spend.” It is true.
View Larger Map
Rough map of the route that I traveled from Bratislava in Slovakia to Gyor, Hungary.
The road that Luke and I were traveling soon came up with another excellent bicycle path that was again smoothly paved out to the horizon. The signs told us that this bicycle lane would take us to Budapest and we joyously rode on it through the shit smelling Hungarian countryside towards Gyor. We would sometimes pull off of the trail and pick the ripe plums off of their purple leaved trees and eat ourselves full of fruit by the river streams that cut through the country. Looking out over the hills as we filled our bellies with tree fruit while on a bicycle journey across a continent, I savored the subtle joys of the Open Road. The mulberries were also in bloom, and Luke and I found that we would not go hungry on our ride through this country (nor would we write over-worn double entandras).
The traveling was good, I had made a friend of the Way on the Road to Budapest, and as we pulled into Gyor Luke left me with a handful of Hungarian coppers so that I could make a phone call to the friends who were awaiting my visit. We then shook hands, agreed that it was good traveling together, and hinted that we may meet up later on the long Road to Turkey.
I found a payphone and used Luke’s coppers to good use. Yumi soon met me at a grocery store and I was introduced to her Hungarian husband as we walked across the city center to their home.
I don’t know where Luke is now. He said that he was going to camp out in the bush around Gyor for a couple of days and that I should keep a look out for him and his bicycle in town. But I have not yet passed by him again. Maybe he carried on to Budapest? Maybe he is down in the street with the Gypsies beneath the window near which I am typing? Maybe we will find each other out on the Road again? Maybe we are fated to never meet again?
Either way, it was some good traveling with a good companion.
“Goodonya,” Luke. I shall hold a vigilance for you and your souped up bicycle set up on the way down to Turkey.
Links to previous travelogue entries:
- Nazis, Communism, and Wine in Moravia
- Hodonin to Bratislava- Bicycle Journey Day 12
- Czech Culture and Character
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