Howdy Ho Good People of the World!
Was hoping to get another update out sooner, but it is really quite difficult to ride a bike, put in miles and distance and then get to a hotel and sit all day inside the room while at a computer. I had all the best intentions to write last while in Budapest, but the City was just too cool and we spent the entire time there out walking around. So the update had to wait, I'm sorry.
Last update, Ville and I were in Ruzomberok (say that ten times fast), Slovakia in an absolutely giant apartment waiting out the rain. I think Ville could have led a yoga class of 20 just in the living room the place was so big. Well, if he could sit still long enough to do yoga that is. And we had a fully equipped kitchen for cooking some meals, which sure beats the one titanium pot on our little Snowpeak stove! Riding south we had more excellent bike paths that climbed up into the thick forests of the Lower Tatra Mountains, passing multiple ski resorts along the way. The weather has cooled down, the drivers give us plenty of room while passing slowly (moving further from the Poland border has been a blessing as the Polish drivers lessen) and the people in towns are extremely friendly! We are jazzed.
We dropped down into Banska Bystrica, a cute mountain town with a large central square and walking street, and rode straight to Techie, a fix-it shop Ville found online in Ruzomberok, who felt very confident they could fix my broken phone. After looking it over, they told us they would need to order a screen to fix it, but would then mail my phone onto Budapest once it was repaired. Having nothing but fantastic reviews online, we agreed to give it a go and left the phone to go check into a Hostel. After a sleepless night of street noise, we set out to find another hotel, meeting this super nice girl, Slawuska, who although the hotel she worked at was booked, served us coffee, gave us WiFi and helped us search for another hotel to stay. Thanks a million Slawuska! After another night at a hotel off the Central Square, we pedaled on south and upwards into wide open high plains and grassy fields passing occasionally through small little villages along the way.
Just before dark, we found a gated dirt road, ducked under the gate and rode a ways up to a ridge and camped nestled in the trees with beautiful views of the forested mountains. The next morning, as we were waking up, we heard the grinding of a truck in low gear heading up the road past us. After being told it was illegal to camp in Poland, we were both immediately nervous not knowing if that was the case in Slovakia as well. But when the driver rolled by, leaned out and waved and kept driving, we exhaled a sigh of relief, elated that we were not going to prison. Yet anyways.
After packing up, we had a long hair-flapping-in-the-breeze thrilling decent out of the mountains and straight to the Hungarian border town of Balassagyarmat, where we immediately found a gigantic Tesco Supermarket. For those not having spent much time in Eastern Europe, the countries we have traveled through are a far cry from most of the Latin American ones we last rode through. Many places in Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Columbia, Ecuador, Chile and Argentina have large cities and capitols with many of the modern conveniences allotted to the Western World. However, there are many, many areas we spent lots of time that people live more rural, "off-grid" you would call it in the Western World where it is done by choice; no electricity, wells, but no running water in the homes. We loved biking where you saw so many people also biking, walking, waiting for buses, riding a horse drawn cart, pulling donkeys loaded down with supplies, families packed onto mopeds, etc etc. But Eastern Europe is not that. As Ville pointed out, most places have to meet pretty strict guidelines to get into the European Union. So all the towns and villages we ride through are developed with running water, electricity, insulation in the walls of houses, most everyone drives cars, the only cyclists are by choice, you can get a latte or pastry almost anywhere. We are in the developed world folks.
One of the biggest noticeable differences between Eastern Europe and Central Europe, would be nicotine. Oh sweet nicotine. Those of us that live in the US or Central Europe are very educated around the dangers of nicotine. Unless you live in a cave removed from the outside World, we know that smoking is bad. Chewing causes mouth, throat and stomach cancer. Vaping is a good way around trying to pretend you are only sucking down sweet smoke, but it also gives you cancer doctors can't identify yet. But here in Eastern Europe, they don't know. Or, it's so entrenched in their DNA that they just don't care. Smoking of all kinds is EVERYWHERE. You stay in a hotel, open a window and someone will be smoking right outside. Go to a restaurant and choose to sit outside? Expect to share your meal with the next tables second-hand. Probably because most of these countries are in the EU, they cannot (thank God) smoke indoors, but by golly the outdoors are for filling up with nicotine smoke! Ah, Eastern Europe.
We stocked up our food supply at Tesco, and then rode into town to find breakfast. Unfortunately, not being able to read menus, we very often get the opposite of what we are wanting. For example, a veggie sandwich turned out to be a giant block of breaded and deep fried cheese on white bread for breakfast, but at least we are not going hungry so that is a total bonus. Northern Hungary turned out to be also beautiful, green rolling hills with kind drivers, and very friendly people in the grocery stores we pop into. By nightfall we found a field near a forest to camp and had another day riding through countryside and towns before following a zig-zagging bike route into the heart of downtown Budepest.
Excited to see all the sights, and needing to wait for my cell phone to get fixed and shipped, we booked five nights in an apartment with a balcony and a big kitchen. With all the best intentions to catch up on this Blog, we spent every day walking 10-12 miles all over the City focusing on eating healthy, and taking it all in. We spent a day running in the Central Park when it rained all day, a day lounging in Lukasc Bath House, walked to the top of Buda Castle, Gellert Hill and along the Danube Riverfront. One of the funniest trends right now in Eastern Europe (and quite possibly the rest of the World for all we know) is women of all ages, and sizes, are rocking these jean short cut-offs that expose the bottom quarter to one third of the girls ass. My personal favorite is when I see a young mom pushing a stroller with her ass cheeks jiggling in the breeze. You GO GIRL! I could only imagine what my parents would have said if I came downstairs in a pair of those on my way to school. "What are you wearing?" "Mom, Dad, it's fashion." "Well, you can take that fashionable butt of yours right back upstairs and cover it up with some clothes missy" And that would be the end of that fashion statement. But imagine the traffic I might stop wearing a pair while riding! Would put a whole new spin on my bike-short tan lines.
Both Ville and I were sad to leave Budapest, we thoroughly enjoyed checking out all the different areas and hangouts in the City while having a place to call home for five whole days! My phone even arrived on the last day in town and is, thankfully, working! Hurray! Having connected with our good friend Zoltan (from Hungary and now lives in Bend), while in Budapest, he put us in touch with his cousin Buci who met us at his horse farm on the outskirts of the City. We loaded our bikes in his trailer and drove with him back north to his home in Vacduka. We spent a night at his place eating the biggest sausages I have ever seen, drinking palinka, eating the best deserts in Vac, and hearing stories of his wild life of travel before his year old daughter came along. Buci is a Roma Gypsy and although many were killed along with Jewish people in WWII, they are still severely discriminated against all over Europe. I don't blame him for punctuating most sentences with "shit" and "fucking shit" when discussing everything from the Police to the weather. Thanks a million Buci and Silvia for having us at your place and showing us around! After getting a ride the next day back to their horse barn, we pedaled west through the City, crossing from Pest over to the Buda side of the river and loaded our bikes on a train heading to Lake Balaton.
On our hour train ride out of Budapest, we met two super friendly young guys originally from Teheran, Iran now living in Budapest for college, Amir and Mehrshad. They were also on bikes, heading to the lake to spend the weekend riding around the lake. We spent the train ride and then the ride to their hotel chatting about their country; foods they missed, family that sacrificed for them to study abroad, injustices of government and religion. Now, I don't follow the news as closely as Ville does, but many of you know more than me that the news has been reporting of tensions between the US and Iran right now. Why? I don't really know, and to be honest, I don't all that much care. Because tensions between countries usually means tensions between men sitting behind desks playing a global chess game. Because sitting with these guys we can make jokes about these tensions between our countries, being more alike in the world as any people are. And yet I still felt compelled to say, "I'm sorry for what is happening" and they said, "Us too, but it's not your fault" and really we have nothing to do with any of it anyways. As usually is the unfortunate case. Governments, leaders and Dictators have issues and all us human beings are at the core, just human. We want health and happiness for our families, friends and ourselves. We can talk for hours as our stories carry more similarities than differences, make friendships, stay in touch, maybe even see each other again in each other's home countries. All while our countries decide to be allies or enemies. And the reality is, we are all human. We are all the same. And yes, it really is that simple.
Riding our bikes around Lake Balaton was one of the highlights of the trip so far! A designated bike path around the entire giant lake, riding through small towns, fields of grape vines and grass, restaurants and hotels, beaches and boardwalks. At nightfall we arrived at the boy's hotel and pedaled down the road to find a place to camp. Being college students, they had booked the cheapest place they could find and we figured we would get a better night sleep out in our tent. The next day we pedaled back to the ferry terminal at Szantod and ferried to the north side of the lake, Tihany. On the ferry crossing over, we found ourselves surrounded by sailboats with their multitude of colored spinnakers flying. We think it was either a for-fun race or parade not really sure, but so cool to see so many boats!
Before climbing up the hill to Tihany, we found an excellent swimming spot with a changing room and everything! Ville went to chat with a local guy on a windsurf board and was able to take his board out for a spin. We packed up, rode up through the super-touristy town of Tihany, and took the lake front bike road west. After 20-ish miles, we veered off and climbed up into the hills and away from the lakefront to a small town called Kaptalantoti. There we called another of Zoltan's good friends, Robbie and Silla. They are also world travelers, from Hungary, who have returned to buy a small plot of land in the hills, rich with orchards, grape vines, walnut and plumb trees and are in the process of building a retreat/community center. Robbie and Silla have the cutest little 3 and a half year old boy, Zen, who loved to run around exploring with as much clothes on as you can expect a 3 and a half year old to wear. What a cutie. We camped at their place and spent the next day at a huge Sunday Market in town brimming with locally made everything; honey, cheeses, meats, shoes, sweets, clothes, fruits and veggies.
Another total fail with food, I ordered what I thought was a stew, turned out to be the biggest bowl of liver and onions I have ever seen and I HATE liver. It was everything I could do to choke it down and not have it come back up. I know what you liver lovers are thinking, but it's not the texture or even that I know it's an animal's liver. I loved the brain and cheek tacos in Mexico. I even loved the cow tongue tacos. But liver tastes like iron while chewing on rubber. Not a fan. We then biked down to a swimming spot on the lake, but this one was covered in green algae. Another fail, but we swam anyways and tried to shower off after. We had forgotten sunscreen so ended up pretty red by the time we arrived back up at Robbie and Silla's farm, strike three and your out. Silla had made us some really yummy chilli we ate when we arrived back, but after our three strikes, we both had raging migraines. I have struggled with them for years now, but for Ville to have one too was a first.
That night Robbie played for all of us music on his flute, drum, and citera in their yurt. It was so relaxing we drifted in and out of sleep and barely made it down the hill to our tent. By the next morning, both of us were feeling pretty sick and still with head splitting migraines. We knew they would have been happy to have us stay longer if we asked, but we both felt that we needed to get out of the sun and get some hydrating things in us. We thank you both for such a warm stay and having us at your farm, may your sanctuary grow into everything you dream it to be! We made it back down out of the hills to the Lake and by that time realized going much further would not be a good idea. We ended up finding a hotel to check into, rested while downing gallons of water and electrolytes, and by the evening Ville was totally better (as per usual, he would tell you it's because he is a super human), but I had stomach issues. We found veggies and white rice to eat downstairs, as far as I was willing to travel away from a toilet or bed.
By morning I was feeling a lot better and stomaching a little more food, and we headed out on our trusty steads. We tried to visit Szigliget Castle perched up on the hill overlooking the lake, having rode our bikes all the way up to the top of the hill to find it was closed for construction, but still had a really enjoyable ride on the bike trail circling around the lake. Running out of steam, I am still not feeling 100%, we opted to get a room where we are now in Keszthely so I could get more rest and catch up on this here Blog. Chatting with all of you while just an arms reach from the toilet. Just in case :) Ahhhhh, what fun it is to be sick out traveling. Part of the adventure.
We had originally planned to head south through Serbia and Bosnia, but after chatting with multiple friends about the route, have changed plans to ride through the Croatian Islands next. Not because we don't want to go to those countries, but because of timing and, well, you just can't see everything. But the adventure continues...until next time friends, hug your neighbor, make some friends with those around you, trust others, smile more, and keep on keepin' on!
K.G. & Ville
In Helsinki, Finland still writing the Book
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” - Hunter S. Thompson