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Hungary – Land of Thermal Baths & Chimney Cake

Once again, each time you enter a new country, everything feels that little more “east”. This time we were greeted by mushroom pickers in the forest and men cutting the grass on the side of the road using scythes and their mode of transport – a bicycle. There’s lots of old people cycling about town and whilst not overtly friendly, they are slightly curious. Navigating the roads of Hungary is hell and there is really only one thing to come here for anyway (we only cycled the south of Hungary so can’t comment on the north), and that is Budapest, it really is completely different to the rest of the country and worth staying a few days to soak up the culture.  We met up with Maureen and Iram again in Budapest and hung out for a few days having a blast!

Thermal Spa Action

Thermal Spa Action

Length of stay:

675km (daily av. 96km), 11 days (7 cycling, 4 rest), 16th – 27th August

Route:

Lenti (entry point) → Route 75 to Keszthely → Lake Balaton cycle route (north side) → Balatonfuzfo → Szekesfehervar → Lake Velencei-to (south side) → Route 7 → crossed Danube by ferry at Ercsi → Danube cycle route north to Budapest → Budapest → southeast to Kecskemet → Bugac → Szeged → Kiszombor (exit point)

Highlights:

Budapest is awesome. In particular: the river bank for an evening stroll; bars in the Jewish Quarter such as Szimpla; the Terror Museum; enjoying one of the Thermal baths; and the generally chilled atmosphere of the city. It’s also the end of the Danube cycle path for many people or a break for those continuing. For cyclists, a must stay camping site in Budapest is Bikercamp, it’s a guesthouse that can fit about 10 tents with a big undercover communal area where you can chat to other cyclists and bikers… we loved it there! We hung out there with the Canadians, some Greeks, Germans and French.  We also heard reports that the other nearby campsite was crap.

Cycle Touring Hipster Bar

Cycle Touring Hipster Bar

Budapest Sunset Skyline

Budapest Sunset Skyline

Thermal spa’s are good and everywhere. After cycling for weeks, there’s nothing better than spending a day at a thermal spa hopping from pool to sauna and back again. It’s a fairly social thing though, although not so great if you go as a couple and have to split up in the boys and girls pools, better to go as a group so you can have a chat.

Cheap camping. There is still quite a lot of camping around places in Hungary and it helps if you have a tourist map telling you where they are. However you kind of get the feeling that camping is not really trendy anymore (the complete opposite of France and UK) and many campsites are closed or run down… but those that survive seem to have lowered their prices.

Cycle path priority over traffic. Although most of the cycle paths are pointless and unnecessary (for tourers), the one good thing is they always have priority over cars when they cross a road. We twice experienced a Hungarian driver begging forgiveness for not seeing us crossing as he was about to pull out, very different from London!

Szeged. Nice city in the south of Hungary with nice architecture and lots of cafes and restaurants to just chill out in. Pop up cafes and bars along the river in summer. Cost of an apartment here for a night was very cheap!

Bugac. Cowboy country in the south east of Hungary. Stayed in a campsite next to a large restaurant and pub near where the Cowboy show happens. The restaurant/pub building was beautiful, and EU funded (??). Didn’t see the show though, Phil’s ultimate hatred of all things horse stopped us.

Lowlights:

“No cycling” signs on most main roads. For a country that has quite a high number of recreational and town cyclists, they sure like to ban cyclists from a ridiculous number of roads. While Slovenia like to stop you from cycling on roads in the towns only, Hungary let you cycle in towns but ban you from cycling the roads between towns; this happens so often it’s so difficult to work out where you can and can’t go, you just take the risk and cycle down the road anyway, and do the cars care?! No, they’re far too polite to let you know if they did anyway. And if the police tell you off just play the ignorant foreigner card.

Lake Balaton cycle path. A cycle path that goes for 200+ km around Europes largest lake – I know you’re thinking this must be amazing. Well you won’t think that when you’ve ridden over your 500th tree root, stopped for 20mins trying to find the signpost or forgotten you’re actually cycling along a lake cos you haven’t seen it in 10km! Okay, okay, it’s acceptable for the weekend cycle tourists who would never do such a trip if there wasn’t 200km of cycle route around their favourite lake, (good god were there a lot of weekend cycle tourists there) with campsites everywhere. But our advice stands: AVOID LAKE BALATON, IT’S SHIT!

Dry, boring landscape with a few ho’s. The south east of Hungary is a flat, dry plain. It’s quite boring to cycle through in summer with the exception of the scantily dressed prostitutes that litter the side of the road attempting to flag down truck drivers. I have to say they don’t wear much and most were pretty fat, not like the more experienced ladies of eastern Spain. My favourites include: the fattie squeezed into leopard print lingerie (from Primark or Target); the young one in pig tails with a lollypop prop; and the older one in the Moulin Rouge style outfit who would stick her arse out playboy bunny style when the trucks went past, clearly her face was like a smashed watermelon.

Their obsession with watering the grass. I have to admit, I’m a little OCD about wasting water, so I get really annoyed by people who overwater their grass and plants particularly in the middle of a 35 degree day! In Hungary there is no shortage of sprinklers on at all hours. We stayed at a campsite where they had 3 separate sprinklers on all day and all night watering green grass. It’s so dry there, it just doesn’t make sense. Here’s hoping the water karma gods get them.

Roads/ paths:

So Hungary doesn’t like you cycling on its roads. They like to make crappy bike paths for you to cycle on, but they’ll probably end in 50m and put you back on the road that you’re not supposed to cycle on. We found that there was no logical reason for them to put these no cycling signs on the roads, we mostly just cycled up them if there wasn’t much traffic.

Trying to follow the Danube cycle path into Budapest from the south was difficult as the signs would disappear. We ended up just navigating our own way into the city. Cycling in Budapest is okay but there aren’t many cycle lanes and lots of tram tracks.

As discussed above, AVOID Lake “shit” Balaton.

Also it would be my preference that you avoid cycling Hungarian style which involves wearing a bikini top and shorts, particularly the fashion on Lake Balaton. Don’t these women know they’ll get saggy breasts??

There is a good cycle path between Bugac and Kiskunmajsa, it made the flat, boring ride a bit more enjoyable as it was in better condition than the road. There is a “thinking Jesus” carving outside a funky looking church on the road between Kiskunmajsa and Szeged.

Check which borders you can cross into Romania at as we found what was on the map and reality to be different. We crossed at the Kiszombor-Cenad border.

Food & Drink:

Expensive to eat/drink out in Budapest, try the food stalls in the big market, cafes out of the city centre and places where you don’t sit down, (if you are central) for cheap eats. We also found a Govinda’s (Hari Krishna vegetarian palce) which was great and cheap.

Local Fair

Local Fair

Supermarkets in most towns don’t have good fruit and veg, you’re best to take advantage of the few roadside stalls you come across.

Also, drink the local booze, Unicum… do it because I said it.

Unicum

Unicum - Don't Question it.

Chimney cake!  We first came across this amazing creation on our first evening in Hungary.  Some entrepreneurial ladies delivered it to your tent door fresh and for a good price.  Delicious!!

Chimney Cake

Chimney Cake

Dreher and Borsod beer is a step up from Slovenia.

Pretty sure you can drink the water everywhere, although we always check. In Budapest the water tasted funny but we didn’t get sick

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