Impressions from Hungary: 400 km through Transdanubia

It was February 12, the Sunday when we on Eurovelo route, along the Danube, cycled into Hungary, not even really noticing that.

We grasped just a small part of it in a week of travelling: the Transdanubian regions where we visited Gyor, Veszprem, Tapolca down to Balaton and along its coastline right into thermal waters in Zalakaros and further to Nagykanizsa. All in all about 400 km in 6 cycling days, not much, but still more than crossing Lithuania. Most important, it was the first exotic country for us due to the language as we could not understand anything. And second, it was the first mountainous area we crossed – Bakony – where we had to climb up to about 500 m. and we were proud of it. Now when we are in Dalmatia already, constantly cycling up and down, it feels a bit funny. Back then it was the first one.

There was no border to cross to enter Hungary, but the differences after a while were easy to notice. The bicycle signs got really simple, the architecture changed, villages seemed poor and empty. The first word in Hungarian we have learned was ELADO. The note-poster hanging everywhere as all was on sale. Everybody already moved out. And while cycling through those empty houses it was funny to see plenty of churches. One after another, or one in front of another. Plenty compared to a number of people we met.

As we didn’t have any Couchsurfer waiting (not many available) it was the first time we have camped. Before reaching bigger city – Mosonmagyarovar we started looking for side roads along the fields we passed. We checked one side road reaching to the forest and we heard some animals. Wildpigs? So we chose the other side. We pushed our bikes through muddy paths further from the road. It was still chilly though days were already sunny and the ground wasn’t frozen anymore. Deepest forecasted temperature for that night was -3 for the city we were heading. With the humidity, it felt more.

Morning view on the field

Camping in minus wasn’t a pleasant experience for both of us. Indeed it was colder that what our mattresses are for. Warm sleeping bags are not enough, you really better have a well-isolated mattress. We both could barely fall asleep. I put some new technology iso jacket on the Thermarest that was for up to -2. And that big iso mattress we had under our Thermarests wasn’t as helpful as expected. We didn’t sleep much that night. It was cold, the road was busy with cars, then the dogs from the villages around started barking. We also even heard some shootings or fireworks.

Could not start our optimus so making a fire

In the morning the tent was frosty, the fields were whitish. And we found that the mud on the wheels was frozen, in other words, we were stuck. It took some nerves and a bonfire to save them. The valve of our camp stove got stuck too.. And with me, being hungry in the mornings, that wasn’t so funny either.

Just before noon we reached Mosonmagyarovar, very German oriented city. Offers, prices, service.. we didn’t like it. On the way out we found a local bakery with much more friendly prices. So we learnt another word: pekseg.

Important spots of food

All through the largest island of Hungary, Szigetköz, formed by Danube river, with a sunset we arrived at Gyor where we had found some very kind warmshowers hosts waiting for us even with a dinner. We stayed a couple of days, enjoyed the lovely small Gyor in a sun and treated ourselves with a typical fish soup and fish meal in local restaurant. By accident it was the 14th of February.

Sunny still

On 15th, the Wednesday, we cycled out towards the Bakony region, firstly reaching the famous monastery built in X century and still running, the Pannonhalma Archabbey. It looked and felt impressive on that top of the hill, which last meters we did push.. it was still too steep for us. After a walk around the walls and views around we rolled down to continue towards Bakony.

The Monastery from the far away

We had interesting encounters that day as we stopped for lunch at the local bar where no-one spoke anything but Hungarian.

Lunch break in the village

There was an old lady- waitress and two local construction workers-drinkers. The menu hanging on the wall was luckily available in German. But menu didn’t help much as I guess not many things were available. Whatever I pointed at, the waitress said no and asked what about this.. and pointed at the menu entry for us to understand. So after the main menu was set for us, we were asked about salads. We both understood the offered kaposzta was cabbage and said no. The other option was ubor, uborka. We just repeated the word, shrugged the shoulders and looked at each other. The word wasn’t sounding good. It was repeated again, by the waitress. She laughed then and left into the kitchen, from where she brought the whole pot of soup to serve ourselves. And while we were eating she brought in the pickled cucumbers, and said uborka. As I haven’t seen her approaching, with words I jumped with fear like the cat. Everyone got to laugh at least.
Another encounter with the local was in Sur which we reached with sunset and it was already hilly around decided to ask the local one to pitch our tent in his garden. The phrase we had written by warmshowers hosts in Hungarian for us. With that note we got a place pointed and so we started building it with temperatures dropping. We tried to also ask for water, which took a while, but ended with success. Then again, as we couldn’t open the stove (probably temperature difference), Umut decided to ask for boiling water to make an instant soup. He left for 5 min. just come back with more water. Warm, from the tap. His theatre and explanations didn’t help much. Still not a Mediterranean culture. Obvious. We ate apples and peanuts and went to bed.

The new morning, the 16th, brought even more fog then last night and so everything was frosty around. Around noon, as we cycled up the mountain, the Bakony, fog started scattering. As we started descending we ran straight into fog again. It was so thick we could hear cars coming but could not see their lights until the last 2 meters. Once down at the city we stoped for a wifi and started sending couch requests for Veszprem. Lucky us, one guy responded immediately and we left for the last 15 km with happiness and entered Veszprem with fog.

Very foggy entrance of Vezprem

As we stayed a couple of nights, we went to visit the city Veszprem day after and found it really beautiful! With a fortress and tiny old town on a hill-rock. It seemed all very touristic, just without tourists yet.

On st. Benedicts hill and it is still foggy

For the next night, we already had one Couchsurfer in Tapolca, that agreed to host us on the floor in his room in the apartment of his parents as he had just returned from his travels. That was interesting, meeting locals and learning about the cities, culture, history from them. We rolled to Tapolca down having beautiful vine-field and mountain views.

Small vineyards while rolling to Balaton

One more day later, the 19th Sunday, we finally rolled even more down and reached Balaton. Balaton was all locked in ice and fog to our surprise. Not more than 50 m. were visible and so it stayed in our minds. In fog.

But by the evening as we approached the Kis-Balaton the sun appeared. We stayed in Zalakaros with Couchsurfer again. And next day we had a blast as we took the advice and tried out the second most famous thermal baths in Hungary. It was amazingly relaxing… Sauna, hot mineralized waters, water cascades… all that stiff muscles need. After all the day there we even had to take a nap to wake up back into a reality.

And for the final remarks some interesting things we noticed about Hungarians: they are very silent. In restaurants they nearly whisper, while in streets no-one shouts. People were shy, just secretly watching us, murmuring around, very few openly staring and even less talking to us. But whenever asked for a help they were friendly and helpful: even without asking some wanted to explain the directions in their own language. But then I don’t know how to explain why the side roads were so littered with everything: bottles, clothes, household things. All just dumped there, visible right from the way. No-one seems to take care of it. Just at the Balaton it was s bit more tidier. That doesn’t give a nice impression at all, ti makes it feel that people do not care about their land, the land they live on, the land they live from.

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