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September 2, 2007

Budapest, Hungary - farewell to Merlin

LOCATION: Budapest, Hungary
Longitude: N:47deg.30'33.
Latitude: E: 019deg.00'36.
Kms from Istanbul: 1,483

Two weeks on from Edirne in Turkey, we have reached Budapest. Jason tells me that we have covered just over 1,000 km on our bikes to get here. Tomorrow, I take a boat up the Danube to Vienna before flying back to UK. Notwithstanding some truly scary traffic and death defying unlit Serbian tunnels, both my bike and I are in one piece. One pair of cycle shorts have bitten the dust and I had to replace my bike saddle in Bulgaria to preserve my nether regions. I shall miss shared camping with Jason but not when he had to crawl into my one man tent in the middle of the night when it rained (twice)!

Travel, especially at the speed of a bike, has two aspects: the gradual changes in people, landscape and culture and the odd, sometimes bizarre and, usually, unexpected moments or encounters.

From Belgrade, we headed North. We left the hills behind us and, with it, some of the southern Slav culture with its Balkan salad mix of the appealing, the exotic and the mildly frustrating. We were now on the Great Plain which shadows the Danube and spreads out to its east and as far north as the gates of Vienna. This area of northern Serbia is known as Vojvodina. It's made up of endless maize fields stretching to the pancake flat horizon. We passed by the first Baroque onion church domes.


At Novi Sad, we passed through a Hapsburg gateway. The people looked different. There are apparently a large number of ethnic Hungarians in this area. Signs of "Western" ways, infrastructure and consumerism began to creep in. This process accelerated once we were over the border into Hungary, where we came across our first Tesco store. The amount of litter by the road diminished and we no longer saw dead dogs, just the occasional cat road kill. The temperature dropped by about 20 degrees.


Once into Hungary, we took a break at the town of Szeged which is laid out in immaculate fashion with some beautiful municipal buildings, many in the Art Nouveau style of the early 20th Century. Szeged too has the most amazing ice cream parlour.


So, what of the quirky points? There was the most extraordinary coincidence of coming across my old Serbian teacher from 20 years ago, Sava, in Knez Mihailova, the main street in Belgrade. There was the snatched conversation with a guy from Belgrade who pointed out the tower block that he lived in: when I suggested that he would know what to do if he wanted to commit suicide, he said that he would never want to jump from his flat since he might want to change his mind half way to the ground. We agreed that this would be a Balkan view and that an English person would never think that way.


Somewhere on the plain north of Belgrade, there was a brief rise for a bridge: on one side there was a dead hare, on the other a dead hamster. Having seen virtually no bicycles since I joined Jason, at Srbroban there were bikes everywhere. A Serb on a bike, heh! Today, we came across some long distance cyclists, including a young Chinese Malay and a man cycling on his back. If I had to pick one special moment or experience it would be my visit to the New Synagogue in Szeged. The entrance hall walls were covered with 3,000 names of Jewish people from Szeged who had died in the Holocaust. Inside, there was the most fabulous painted and ornate interior, the beauty of which was made all the more poignant by those names.


And, on a slightly different note, this business about attractive Slav females that Jason commented on in the last entry - I have to dissociate myself from any such impressions and I do not believe there is any genetic link in Lewis Erratic Optics Syndrome which Jason seems to suffer from.

Merlin Lewis

(Ed. note: absolute rubbish Merlin)


Posted on September 2, 2007 10:21 AM