Days 40-42: 25/09/03 – 27/09/03
Rest Days: Budapest
Budapest gradually grew on me, mainly due to the thermal baths dotted all over the city. Highly recommended for tired cyclists with aching legs.
Day 43: 28/09/03
Weather: Warm, scattered clouds, cross/headwind
Headed southwest out of the city towards Lake Balaton. About 4 hours sleep, a hangover and a row with the hostel manager (he tried to rip me off) all made concentrating on navigating out of Budapest’s urban sprawl a challenge. Eventually escaped and was out on the open road alone again. Robin was heading towards Romania across the Hungarian Plain. Unfortunately the fore-mentioned row meant that we didn’t get to say goodbye properly. I’m sure we’ll get to meet in either London or Eindhoven pretty soon. It was great fun riding with Robin and I’m taking some great memories away with me, particularly from our time in Krakow and Budapest.
Managed to find a book called Cycling around Hungary that includes a 1:250 000 map of the whole country with suggested bike routes marked on. Will follow these to Croatian border.
After finally escaping the capital I finally got on to a quiet road through the town of Etyek that bisected some huge vineyards. Stayed on these roads all the way to my destination. Met a Swiss tourer on the road in the last 20 km and we teamed up to slipstream each other through the strengthening headwind. Got to a campsite about 4pm and had the place to myself. A couple arrived a bit later but the place is still dead. Exactly what I need. An early night is on the cards.
Day 44: 29/09/03
Weather: Overcast, rain
Left site about 9 and by midday was at Lake Balaton. Due to grim weather I couldn’t actually see much of it though. Followed the cycle route on the northern edge of the lake. Looks very commercial here, though by late September almost everything closes down. I’d avoid this place in July and August. The bike route was on quiet roads or, where there was no alternative to the main road, a separate cycle path had been made. Got to Revfulop and the weather had got worse if anything. The morning’s gentle shower had given way to a damp, all encompassing mist. There was no way I was going to camp in this weather. Tourist Info found me a cheap room. Shame, there’s loads of great camping spots right on the lake.
Day 45: 30/09/03
Dist: 104 km
Weather: Sunny, tailwind
Thankfully the gloomy weather of yesterday had lifted to reveal Lake Balaton in all its glory. Its 100km length meant that I still had half a day of riding by it. Once past the lake I took quietish roads over Kis-Balaton and on to Nagykanizsa, a town populated by the most miserable people in the world. People talk about a dour and grim Central European attitude, but I hadn’t seen that much of it ‘til I came to this place, which is the epitome of the stereotype. Couldn’t find either tourist information or the campsite so had to get a room. On the bright side, I had my first tailwind for weeks today. Hope it lasts.
Day 46: 01/10/03
To: Novi Marof
Weather: Sunny, scattered clouds, strong cross/headwind
Set off early and was through Letenye and over the Hungarian/Croat border by 10am – it was only 30 km away. Don’t know if I missed something here, but when you are over the Croat side the only signed road you can take leads you straight on to a motorway. So, if you ever happen to cross here on a bike, take the dirt track to the right of the main road, just before you are hemmed in by roadside barriers (trust me, this works, and is the only way I could find out of here). This turns to tarmac after about 100 metres, and if you take the first tarmaced left you cross over the motorway and drop down to the old, pre-motorway road to Zagreb.
Traffic on here was light until Cakovec. Stopped at this delightful town and soaked up a bit of the atmosphere in the main square. Croatia felt very different. The laid back people, their friendliness, sociability, vivacity, terrible driving – yes, this is definitely a Mediterranean country!
Continued on the now busy main road to Varazidin where I jumped on a minor road for a bit. Then back on the busy number 3 route to Novi Marof. Could have pushed on another 60 km to Zagreb at this point but the strong headwind was really starting to piss me off. Also, I’d had enough of the main road with its endless stream of juggernauts. Would rather take an extra day picking my way through the hills, enjoy it, and not arrive in a capital city knackered and moody at 7-8pm.
Day 47: 02/10/03
From: Novi Marof
Distance: 84 km
Weather: Sunny, strong headwind
Got straight on to road number 24 that wound its way along a flat valley, zig zagging over a seemingly disused railway line. At Zlatar Bistrica turned on to the 29 and slowly began climbing over hills between me and Zagreb.
If you come this way take the time to detour a km or so to Marija Bistrica. The church building is amazing and the town square it is on is nice to relax in. I had my usual lunch of bread, cheese, crisps, chocolate bars etc here. (The guy charged with keeping the square spotless is probably the cheeriest street sweeper you’ll ever meet!).
Back on the 29, the road starts to climb more steeply now, before culminating in a series of sharp switchbacks. Traffic is light, but look out for the tourist coaches taking day trippers from Zagreb to Marija Bistrica and back. They come way too close and sure enough eventually one clipped me.
Went in to the city on the road from Sesvete. Wouldn’t recommend it as the tram lines are on the pavement side of the road rather than down the middle so there’s no-where convenient for you to ride.
First impressions of Zagreb – a superb place. Best city I’ve been too by far. A lot to see and do but due to it being relatively small, and also due to the nature of the people, it feels a very human and intimate city. Think I’ll have 3 nights here. Then its on to Split and the coast, via Plitvicka Jezera National Park, for some more walking.