More gruelling riding in Hungary. The road surfaces are just really bad. It’s impossible to avoid potholes, and the constant jarring takes its toll on the wrists, neck and shoulders. Not to mention that it’s reignited saddle sores we thought were gone. And it’s either those roads or long straight gravel tracks where the horizon never seems to change. In all fairness, those trails are flat and the surface in the dry weather is better than the roads, but it’s draining mentally because it’s so monotonous and also very exposed in what is becoming scorching heat.
The driving here can be a mixed bag. When there’s nothing coming the other way, passing cars and lorries always signal and give us loads of space. But if there is something coming the other way, they will not wait behind us and they pass when there isn’t much room. I can’t imagine what it would be like cycling here having grown up riding in Germany or The Netherlands, where there are dedicated bike lanes everywhere, cyclists are given priority to cars in many ways on the roads. One advantage of being from the UK is that we’re used to this kind of thing.
Our first day south of Budapest we were on some bumpy roads, when we stopped for a rest and were approached by a Hungarian family and invited to join them later at a campsite by the river. They were off on a kayak daytrip, but were camping in the evening. The people were lovely, and the campsite looked great. We were sorely tempted, but it was only 11.30 and we wanted to push on. I was kicking myself the rest of the day. We need to take these opportunities to meet people and to slow down. We’ve been in a kind of frenzy to go as far as possible every day, even though it’s beginning to burn us out. The campsite that night was a bit of a downer, which didn’t help. Dirty, most toilets out of order and no hot water in the women’s showers.
We did our longest day yet after that. One of the long, hot, monotonous days on gravel tracks with no shade and nowhere to rest. We were only a few miles from our destination and desperate to stop, when we took a turn out of the flat plains and were hit with a massive sharp climb. One of those ones where you think it’s over but round every corner is an even steeper part. There was a monument and flag at the top, and a couple of road cyclist who crawled up after us, so it did feel like an achievement getting to reach the end, plus the views and some downhill. The following day we started by riding through rolling hills. Far better than steep climbs, but still with nice views. It was some of the best cycling so far, and I think had we both not been so tired then we might have enjoyed it more. We promised ourselves that we will rest when we get to Croatia – we haven’t had a day off since Austria.
There was some anxiety about our border crossing. The Hungarian government website makes it clear that non-EU passport holders can’t use all border crossings, but don’t list which Croatian ones they can use. We were reasonably sure from looking at maps and pictures that it would work out, but it’s not easy to backtrack and divert when you’re on a bike. Fortunately it was fine, and we got our Schengen exit stamps.
Part of the ride across the border involved some rough tracks, fields, and a ravine, but once we got on the roads we had some smooth sailing. The road conditions here are really good, and there is nowhere near as much traffic as in Hungary. Even so, we were still getting a bit frayed round the edges and very tired. We picked the town of Vukovar to take the day off, purely on geography and exhaustion. We since found out that it was one of the key battles of the Yugoslav wars, and the site of a subsequent massacre and ethnic cleansing. The huge water tower which received heavy shelling has been left standing as a reminder of what happened here. There is now a museum near the top of the tower, and it’s a moving place.
We’re heading now for Serbia, and planning on some shorter days and taking rest when we need it.
A playlist for the ride in Southern Hungary and Croatia: