Croatia and Hungary – the long, flat roads of Europe

Well I’ve got two countries to rage through today, as the EuroVelo 6 took us through a sliver of Croatia before diverting us into Hungary and into what could possibly be the most boring three days of our cycle yet. But no more complaints, as it led us into Budapest – which is a capital and a half!

When we left Novi Sad we went through a quite officious border control to get into Croatia, and yet again felt the difference immediately. The churches looked different, there was a lot more coloured paint on the buildings, and it was significantly more expensive!

Pastoral as you like!

We had planned to wild camp, but hit some massive inclines around the 4pm mark. This is usually the hottest part of the day for some reason – so we were both up for getting a hotel and a decent scrub!

We ended up paying EUR32 for a room at a B&B, which could get you roughly three nights’ worth of accommodation in Turkey. This EU shizzle ain’t all it’s cracked up to be!

Having a budget packet noodle dinner to balance the expensive accommodation!

The next day we were off again, and the route stayed flat and wound through some beautiful farmlands and a nature reserve. It was very picturesque – especially with Sean’s open cycle shirt flapping in the wind like MJ in The Earth Song. Very beautiful.

Part of the nature reserve
Big ole farm building

We got to a campsite just in time to sort ourselves out before catching the country play in the World Cup. And thank God we went, cause they bloody won! And compared to the Serbians, the Croatians were very invested. One man was even yodelling.

There was a biker couple there that we’d seen at the campsite and they happened to sit next to us. What came next was three hours of trying to smash through the language barrier whilst enjoying a beer every 30 minutes. Needless to say, I was a bear with a saw paw the next morning. And still only know Croatian swear words.

Croatian fwends

But off we went again into the breach and straight into Hungary, and into what is surely the most boring section imaginable of the whole EuroVelo network. We were riding on what was almost exclusively a cycle track (amazing) through similar farmlands (not so great) petted down with intermittent rain (quite annoying).

Our first meal in Hungary. Looking at those ‘wimpi’ hotdogs now makes me feel v v sick
Crossing the Danube by moving platform. Another first for me!

At one stage over this period however, we stayed at an amazing guesthouse that was catering to people cycling the EuroVelo. The nice proprietress gave us a beer each as a welcome, and our massive room had a bloody sauna in it!! There was also a nice man there named Gary whose son is actually now attempting to be the youngest person to circumnavigate the world by bicycle. I actually just found his blog. Go Jimmy!

One of the nicest places we’ve stayed on the route

After the guest house we were keen to get into Budapest before 2pm to watch England play. Again, we smashed it and so did England, and my budding fondness for Harry Kane deepened.

When it was over, we explored Budapest, which is a magnificent city, mainly due to the wealth of the Hungro-Austrian Empire and the fantastic buildings they threw up everywhere.

Pedalling hard to find a pub showing the match!

On our free walking tour the next day, the guide explained more. Initially inhabited by the semi-nomadic Magyars tribe, Hungary became a Christian kingdom under one of the ruling descendants, Stephen I. After enforcing Christianity and ridding the country of pagan ideals, he switched the alphabet to Latin and became a saint. A busy man.

Then loads of stuff happened that I can’t quite unite, as I listened to this info around two weeks ago. And even reading Wikipedia isn’t illuminating much, as I’m fairly hungover today. But I’ll try my best.

St. Stephen’s Basilica – the world’s largest church which was funded by a city’s people

What I do remember is whilst parts were always ruled by a monarchy, other areas became part of the Ottoman Empire.

The monarchy was part of the lands of the Habsburg Monarchy… Those Habsburg’s eh?! I had heard of the House of Habsburg but until the trusty walking tour I wasn’t really sure what it was. For all I knew, it could have been a sofa manufacturer.

Rather, it was one of the most influential royal houses of Europe which produced emperors and kings of Bohemia, England, Germany, Hungary, Spain and many others. So now I know!

One of the bridges uniting Buda to Pest
Sqinting at the top near the country’s main Parliament building

Our tour guide told that a lady within the Austrian Empire held a deep love for the Hungarians, and married into the Hungarian Habsburg line – which preceded the union of the two countries. Hungary was then filled with construction and developments in the style of Vienna, which is still impressive today, and became one of the most wealthy and influential empires of Europe.

However, to put it lightly, it was on the wrong side of WWI, and in the fallout, the empire was dissolved and two-thirds of Hungary became their own states – including Czechoslovakia.

Striking a pose outside the Fisherman’s Bastion 

Hungary was involved in many more wars in the region and was on the wrong side of the next World War.

The humiliation and culmination of all these losses has never been recouped. Our tour guide said she was the opposite of modern Hungarians, as she was ‘tee-total, vegetarian, a non-smoker and optimistic’.

Having a quick beer in The New York Cafe
Inside St. Stephen’s Basilica

The country’s economy sees public sector workers paid a pittance – doctors are paid EUR 500 a month. And due to low wages, and high rents, many Hungarians can no longer afford to live in central Budapest and whilst the exteriors look magnificent she warned of poverty within and mass homelessness. The result is a brain drain which has created a massively decreasing population. All this whilst the so-called “most dangerous man in the European Union” Viktor Orban – the longtime prime minister of the country – upholds deep-rooted corruption in the country and pedals mistrust of other country’s leaders and immigration.

Szechenyi Bath – one of the best things we did in Budapest
Having a cheeky pint in the thermal waters
Having a great time

I’ve gone into this quite thoroughly, and it is probably quite the about-turn to then say this is the best city we’ve been to. As despite the problems, Budapest is a fantastic, youthful city with a mass of culture, great food, and friendly locals.

Our tour guide’s optimism is based on the possibility of an upswing in tourism. And hopefully she’s right. We had a blast there. As the pictures hopefully show.

And that’s all for now! The next blog post will be about the cycle from Budapest into Slovakia and then Austria, whilst following the Danube and skirting many naked locals. Xx

Cycling out and into what is probably another shit show.

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