Luca’s Tour. Days 30 to 39.

Ed. Days 27 to 29 were spent soaking up the East European night life – all good things must come to an end eh?

Day 30: 15/09/03
From: Krakow
To: Zakopane
Dist: 128km
Weather: Hot, sunny

Left Krakow on 5 hours sleep on the grim main roads running through the city’s industrial area to Wiekzka. There we picked up a quiet road running parallel to the much busier 964. This took us to Dobcyzce from where we got on the 963 to Wierzbunowa and there switched back on to desolate rural lanes weaving through nice scenic hills. Sticking to minor roads where possible we got to Klikuszowa where we hit the main 47 road through Nowy Targ. At Szaflery, about 20 km from Zakopane we turned off and climbed up on to a ridge to our right. This gave us a spectacular sunset but added at least an extra hour to our journey today. By the time we got to Zab where the road ended and we had to take a steep rocky path 2km down in to Zakopane it was pitch black. Got to the campsite and rented the top half of a log cabin for about 4 quid each a night.

There was a lot of climbing today and the hills were the first big ones of Robin’s tour. He’s regretting bringing so much stuff and tomorrow is going to off load a whole load of unneccessaries.

Day 31: 16/09/03
Rest day: Zakopane
Weather: Sunny, clear skies

Got up early and headed on bike (minus kit) for High Tatras. Took the road skating round the National Park and turned up the bike path for the mountain hut at Schronisko Merowoniec. Don’t know what sadist made the steep, rocky path to the hut a designated cycle route – much of it was unridable and the bits that you could ride were testing to say the least. Got to the hut and after a quick change in to dry clothes and hiking shoes followed by a plate of the ubiquitous Polish pierogei (dumplings) headed off up a yellow marked route to Kaspory Wierch, where most other people were arriving by cable car. Then took the red route along a ridge to the granite peaks to the east. This was spectacular walking with the climb to Siwinca, at 2301 m being just that, a climb using chains and footholes dug in to the rock. This was pretty hair raising stuff and I’m not in the least bit ashamed to admit that at some points I was totally bricking it. Siwinca was the most definite peak I’ve ever been on and the view from the top was phenomenal. On the descent, which was equally nerve-racking, I passed the stunning Black Lake and on getting back to the hut had a beer with Kornellia, a Polish student that I’d walked the last 2 hours or so with.

By the time I got back on my bike and started the descent back to town the light was fading fast. This conspired with the alcohol to soften the edges of the rocks and make the descent a lot faster and more enjoyable than it should have been. To be honest, a 2-pint tumble was well on the cards (Matt knows what I’m talking about) but somehow I got away with it.

Got back to the campsite at about 8.30 to find Robin busy writing his dairy – “Hey, I was worried about you man”. Not half as worried as I’ve been!

Day 32: 17/09/03
Rest Day: Zakopane
Weather: Hot, sunny

Not much of a rest again today. Despite concrete legs after yesterday’s “biathlon” we rode to Polona Chocholonska in the Western part of the mountain range (its just to beautiful to resist despite tiredness). This was a much saner bike route that took us up a wooded valley deep into the mountains and up to about 1100m.

Got back about 4pm and after quick showers we got straight back on our bikes and nipped in to town to get to the post office. After also buying food and maps for tomorrow we got way-layed in a bar that we had popped in to “for a quick pint”. 3 hours and numerous beers and vodkas later we were wobbling off up the hill to the campsite with our planned early start tomorrow looking decidedly unlikely.

Day33: 18/09/03
From: Zakopane
To: Velka Lesna (near Spisska Stara Ves)
Dist: 87km
Weather: Sunny

Headed north from Zakopane to Poronin where we picked up a red marked bike route that climbed up on unrideable farm tracks past Galicowa Grapa to Knapy where we got back on tarmac. From this ridge road we had a superb view of the mountains to our right.

We rode on to the Slovak border on quiet hilly roads and were through the crossing point with passports stamped in about 5 minutes.

As a route over the Tatras didn’t look possible (well, without 3-4 hours pushing anyway) we’d decided to detour to the Dunajec Gorge. We rode the 7.5km Pieniny Way the length of the gorge, which was very pretty but I’m not sure it was worth the extra km we’d put in to get there. From there we headed south, deeper in to the lush green Slovak countryside. We didn’t want to ride late so at 6 we found a quiet spot 100 metres off the road and pitched up. It was dark by 8 so after an hour or so of chatting and star gazing we resolved to have an early start tomorrow and crashed out.

Entering Slovakia has mean’t the return of the battered Skoda, something I’ve been missing since the Czech Republic. In rural areas they tend to be packed with entire extended families. They are also driven at breakneck speed on mountain roads by youngsters, usually painted red and emblazoned with Ferrari stickers! Whichever way, they are driven in to the ground and each day you are guaranteed to see at least one by the side of the road with its bonnet up or being pushed along by stranded passengers.

Day 34: 19/09/03
From: Velka Lesna
To: Vavrisovo (nr Liptovsky Mikalas)
Dist: 99km
Weather: Hot and sunny

Woke up to a bitterly cold morning and a deep mist surrounding our illicit little camping spot. Packed up our soaking tents (what fun!) as quickly as possible and got on the road. The mist soon lifted to reveal another bright, sunny day. Fully warmed up by the first climb of the day, we dropped down to the main road (67) and took it for 7km to Spisska Bela where we turned right and began a long, drawn out climb that would go on, literally, for hours. Not only this, but we’d chosen this route as it skirted the base of the Slovakian side of the Tatras. Nice views we thought, not realising the road would be lined with a dense forest of tall fir trees each side. Eventually finished going up and got our huge descent that meant we made it to our intended destination by 4pm. 100km on minor roads in the mountains with enough breaks and map reading/snack stops is do-able in a day at a pretty relaxed pace.

Day 35: 20/09/03
From: Vavrisovo
To: Tajov (nr Banska Bystrica)
Dist: 112 km
Weather: Hot and sunny, headwind

Hammered it from the start today. In no time we’d got 30 km or so of main roads out of the way and turned up the Lupcianska Dolina (valley) at Partisanska Lupka. This was an amazing wooded valley that slowly climbed up to just over 1100m before a superfast whiteknuckle descent to another main road. Crossed straight over this and climbed again, up to Vysna Revuca where tarmac turned to dirt track.

Another 45 minutes of steep uphill and then a treacherous descent took us to the 59 again and a fast 20km gradual downhill in to Banksa Bystrika. We were pretty tired by now so the last thing we needed was for the campsite marked on the map to be fictional. There was another close by –another 5km uphill!

Day 36: 21/09/03
From: Tajov
To: Zemberovce
Dist: 95 km
Weather : Baking, headwind

After I finished writing up my journal last night Robin and I got led astray by a group of Polish geology students on a field trip staying at the same campsite as us. Despite drunken affirmations at 3 in the morning that we would still get up at 7 to make it to Hungary in a day predictably it never happened. In fact we didn’t leave the campsite ‘til midday, and that was in to a strong headwind.

After a couple of hours we began an arduous 27 km climb up beyond Banska Stiavnica, a very nice place, but by the time we got there I was too knackered to appreciate it. Past the town, on the last km of climbing, I was overtaken by a chubby 10 year old girl on a clunky mountain bike. This climb needed to end soon! It did, and soon we were swooping down to Zemberovce, where we found a pension, happy in the knowledge that its largely downhill now all the way to the Danube and so the Hungarian border.

Day 37: 22/09/03
From: Zemberovce
To: Esztergom
Distance: 70km
Weather: Scorchio, Strong headwind though

Dinner, a couple of beers, a clean, comfortable twin room and cooked breakfast for the 2 of us came to 950 Crowns – about 13 quid. Slovakia is a cheap, cheap place.

Set off about 10 knowing we didn’t have that much to do today, though the headwind made it more of an effort than it should have been. Took backroads all the way to Sturvo where we spent our last Slovakian Crowns and crossed the magnificent Danube to arrive immediately in Esztergom. Pitched our tents in a great campsite right on the river and about 10 minutes walk from the town centre. Went for a quick dip in the towns open air thermal pool where we decided to have a rest day here, and what’s more a proper rest day that doesn’t involve hiking, sightseeing, drinking or anything even remotely tiring. My original plan was to cycle from city to city having 1-4 days off the bike at each one to rest. Thing is, it doesn’t really work like that as the cities themselves are pretty exhausting. Am going to start taking more random rest days at campsites in the middle of nowhere and small towns where I can rest properly.

Day 38: 23/09/03
Rest day: Esztergom
Weather: Baking, again

Tried to use as little energy as possible today. A couple of hours at an internet café were followed by lunch and an afternoon spent lounging by the pool, trying to soften the lines on my severe cyclists arms and legs only tan.

Day 39: 24/09/03
From: Esztergom
To: Budapest
Dist: 82km
Weather: Overcast.

Found a bike path running right along the Danube from town, though this came to an abrupt end after about 8 km. From there we were on the main roads, occasionally dropping down on to bike paths that seem to run intermittently along the rivers edge.

Got to Budapest, and first impressions are of a big city with the negatives that all big cities have – noise, traffic, pollution, moody people…….Stuck in traffic on the main road in to town I could have been back in London.

As many students are returning to the city accommodation wasn’t so easy to come by. Got a hostel after a bit, and now intend to do nothing but laze in the cities many natural thermal spas for 3 days, easing each of the 2854 km I’ve so far rode out of my legs.

Budapest was always going to be a bit of a crossroads for me. From here I could go straight through Romania and Bulgaria and get to Istanbul in 3 weeks or so. Otherwise, its going to be a detour to Croatia, the Dalmatian coast and then up through Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, then a corner of Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. The latter is currently looking much more likely. I’m not spending excessive amounts of money so am in no rush to end the tour and a lot of people I’ve met have recommended Croatia, particularly the islands and also Dubrovnik. Yeah, Croatia it is.