Creswick to London » Istanbul to Budapest

Istanbul to Budapest

Written by Jess Dan. Posted in Australia

The European side of Istanbul is a land full of sunflowers at this time of year. Very colourful cycling. The turkish hospitality didn’t let up, and we continued to be offered free chai and food whenever we stopped.. There is something in this special culture to take back home. We camped at a truckstop near the Bulgarian border and were offered chai and Bulgar (like cous cous) by the truckies. They were driving through to Iraq which fascinated us to no end. I hadn’t contemplated that the trucks might be heading there with anything, or even stopped to wonder if that particular border was open as I had already heard that Turkey’s border with Armenia was closed as Turkey sided politically with Azerbaijan whom Armenia were currently in conflict with regarding the position of their borders….. I guess I had just assumed that the Iraq border would also be closed. I was interested on another day, to be scolded by an actually rather nice shop attendant as I was drinking coca cola, a product produced in this area of the world in Israel, an altogether not particularly popular country here, just at this point in time. We were really sad to learn more about the current Israel/Palestine conflicts and that Israel are bombing during a ceasefire, and that Palestine are continually putting their civilians in the line of fire. It is a very tricky situation out there at the moment, and it is hard to get a hold of all the latest while we are on the road. We do know that prior to things escalating, Ultimate Peace (the charitable foundation we are cycling to raise money for) we able to hold their annual camp in Israel for Israeli and many Palestinian kids, although not all of the Palestinians were allowed to cross the border on this occasion. We thank Ultimate Peace for their efforts, and all the staff and attendees for their courage to run the camp under this pressure at this time. We hope one day their will be an end to the fighting in this region, and Ultimate Peace is doing a great job to start building the bridges among the young people.

We spent three days cycling across Bulgaria, and felt like we had been transported back to the ‘stans as we were reading Russian type once again. We were very fortunate to catch up to a local Bulgarian cycle tourer, Angel, who had spent his week long holiday riding from Sofia, out to the black sea and back. We caught him on the back bit, just outside of Plovdiv, and he guided us into this, the second largest city in Bulgaria, as well as Angel’s own university town. We rode through the ancient old town and through the walking mall street to get 1 Levi slices of pizza of which we gutsed down quite a helping after the 50km ride on almost no breakfast… Sadly we were on a mission to get to Budapest and didn’t have time to see more of the city with a local, and no time to ride on the windy backroads with Angel either, we merged onto the freeway just outside of town, and that’s where we stayed through to Sofia. Sofia was a little disappointing, no doubt in part due to our lack of time. We saw a beautiful old cathedral and rode through the old town, with streets constructed of bumpy brown bricks. The entire town as well as the landmark cathedral needed a coat of paint, but it did have a certain charm.

We left Bulgaria all to quickly, and arrived in Serbia. Immediately across the border the sunflower farms seemed to stop and were replaced by cornfields as far as the eye could see. Serbia too has a lengthy history and many centuries old buildings. We found ourselves winding through some country towns and filling our waterbag at the town fountain. The serbs are kind people, and we have been looked after very well. After these little towns, we soon found ourselves squeezing into the service lane on the autobahn in order to cut down the kilometres to Budapest and to avoid any steep climbs. We were waved through the toll points by the police and we hope that will continue for a little while longer as the legs are now fatiguing a little.

We pulled into Belgrade on a hot and sunny day, after a long stint and with a big afternoon to come, we called in to see the Belgrade fortress. Cycling some of the way up, we found ourselves at the opening of the Belgrade Beer Festival and took in an art show. As we were the only visitors to the excellent display, we were given a free tour and translation of each of the creative works of Serbian mythological creatures and ancient artifacts. After our tour, our new friend from the museum offered to mind our bikes so that we could scale the fortress and take in the view from the top. It’s a very beautiful view down to our first sighting of the danube, and the ancient walls are quite spectacular. We wish we could have spent longer in Belgrade, particularly with the beer festival just underway, but we reluctantly found ourselves back in the saddle, legs and bums screaming but still heading in the direction of our friends in the next major city of Budapest, Hungary.

Finding the border to Hungary was an interesting experience as we were riding on the minor roads nearby to the freeway, eventually we had to make some turns to rejoin the freeway to reach the border crossing, but we had no idea where to go. Thankfully some other local cyclists pointed us the way up a boggy single trail path, then a right hand turn up an even more boggy path, up the hill, through the fence, and yep, right where we left it, the freeway was full of honking noisy cars and bored passengers moping around. We rode to the front and were waved through to an empty bus lane (a few cars expressed their displeasure, but the staff were cheerful and welcomed us in) some of those cars must have waited for hours (!) and they are not allowed through the bus lane like we sometimes are. Once we received what we believe will be the last stamp in the passport until the UK, we decided to take the freeway past the first exit to see what would happen. Well, we got what we expected, for the first time of the trip(!) a small car with flashing orange lights trailed us and eventually Jess said “Uh, there’s a car with orange lights trailing us…” I looked around and decided that maybe this guy wanted us to stop! We did, and he pointed at the next exit and said something, we smiled and said sorry we don’t understand (that old favourite) and he frowned and just said “Go away!”.

It was for the best, and the roads we took into Budapest were pretty well signed and nice to ride along. We were pleased to see some of the first bike paths of our trip, and pretty quickly when we missed a turn into one, and were left riding on the road, some very helpful *cough* motorists kindly pointed us in the direction of the bike path while also shouting something out the window that again we just didn’t quite catch..

On the final day of riding and after another 120km fighting our second big headwind, we cheered as we pulled into Budapest, greeted only by the waving and slightly questionable young ladies lining the side of the road just at the Budapest sign. It took another little effort to get into the city from there and get our bearings, but the 1465km in 12 days had been achieved, we were going to the Sziget festival and going to see our friends! In Budapest, we followed some signs that eventually led us to the tourist information centre. Arriving at the centre we enquired as to whether they could point us in the direction of a hostel… met with blank stares and the response “sorry we don’t know where any hostels are” pause “some other people were looking for a hostel too, and they went that way”. Ah ok. Can we just grab a map then? “we don’t have maps”. Not off to a flyer there were we? We found some wifi and started to get some hostel locations, then started tracking them down. “sorry we’re full”. “sorry, everyone is here for the festival, we’re full, try this hostel”. “We’re full. Sziget”. We criss crossed town and tried a nine different hostels, following recommendations here and there until finally we arrived at the Europa Centrepoint Guesthouse, funnily enough, pretty much where we started. The guesthouse was of course, full, but the very helpful attendant got me on a computer and we made a reservation at the Pesto Hostel, in swanky District 5 – for Pesto’s final room of course, apparently the only room in town. We leaped onto the bikes and flew across town to the hostel to make sure that room wouldn’t be given up to someone else. The doorbell was answered by Luca, a guest at the hostel, and no one was manning the reception – maybe that’s why they happened to have a spare room? Luca rang the manager who also came racing in on his bike and Sebastian (the somewhat frazzled manager) informed us we were very lucky, as two bookings had come in virtually at the same time, with ours just ahead. We had a room!

Our stay at the hostel was a little odd, in that the hostel had just three rooms and eight guests at a maximum. All the guests changed entirely while we were away at the Sziget festival, and the manager of the hostel was never around. Apart from when a guest rang him to let him know we wanted to check in (the guest had unlocked the main door on the street for us) we saw Sebastian just once in our three night, four day stay. The three euro we were told a load of washing cost, was unable to be paid as no one was around. We should have finished all four loads…

We spent a great day at the sziget festival with many of our friends from home, who were touring around europe after participating at the world ultimate club championships in italy. After a mix up of meeting points, we eventually were united with the crew and saw The Kooks, Outkast and Calvin Harris, dancing the night away. Thanks to everyone there for including us in the plans!

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