Week four - Say cheese!
I last updated this blog in the shade of a garden cafe in Central Slovakia. I now sit in the shade of a bus shelter in northern Romania, notebook in lap for reference and thumbs akimbo on my phone keyboard.
Slovakia was divine, Hungary was fast and flat, Romania, yet to be seen.
My ride out of Banska Bystrica last week was accompanied by the increasingly familiar rumble of a European midday thunderstorm. They are usually short, sharp, and strike with a ferocity which is every time hard to understate. I had planned to blast down the river valley main road towards Kosice. My hi-viz vest drowned a thousand deaths in the dense road spray and my dads voice echoed through my head telling me to “stay well within the margin of safety”. “Sod it” I thought, and turned off, south into the mountains.
It was an excellent decision. The forested road twisted through steep sided, rich green river valleys. The road surface deteriorated with every metre and before long it was a muddy forest track speckled with the occasional clump of crumbling tarmac. The storm left a dense fog in the valleys, which whispered its way towards me up the abandoned rail track running parallel to my road, never quite close enough to touch, but watching from every bend in the trail. It was eerily atmospheric.
After some time there emerged a cluster of houses to my left, kept apart from the road by the old rail track. Fishing out my Slovakian ‘magic letter’ (a short explanation of my ride translated into the language of each country I ride through) I called “Ahoj!” to the old man wandering through the garden in a pair of short shorts.
The cluster of houses belonged to Marian and his sons family. His youngest grandson could speak English and I was soon ushered into the house for a meal, two bottles of wine and a good sleep (particularly for Marian, who passed out at the kitchen table at around 12). I was introduced to Tvarohc (pronounced with a “ch” at the end), which is a traditional Slovak desert of condensed goats milk and sugar, a bit like ice cream, and absolutely delicious. Here I also met my first Slovakian bear. I mean, it was quite dead and very much splayed across the kitchen wall, but still counts I reckon.
The slovak mountain ride the following morning was beautiful.
I slept the following night in the village park of Gočaltov. Local kids were out to help me put up my tent, and I read ‘Great Expectations’ on a bench while gratefully accepting cheese, fruits and biscuits from the villagers.
The highlight of my week was the second and last night in Hungary. While asking around in the town of Gemuse for a garden spot, I found a group of six people piling into two cars. Nora, the young woman, invited me to follow their convoy to the next town where I could stay at the house of her boyfriend (Peter’s) family.
I was welcomed with open arms by Peter’s parents, as if they had been expecting my arrival and would be been thoroughly put out had I not appeared, rancid and dripping with sweat at their doorstep.
I soon learned my appearance coincided with national “children's day”, where on the last Sunday of May families gather to pass gifts and honour their children. A bedroom was immediately cleared for me, and I was invited to join them for the traditional Hungarian meal of potatoes and chicken cooked in paprika.
Beer was handed around. Wanting to make a good impression, I leaned towards Nora, who spoke English, to ask what the Hungarian for “cheers” was. Here we had a fatal mis-communication, and Nora replied “sajt”, the Hungarian for “cheese”. Raising my beer, I vociferously proclaimed “sajt!” to the table, who confusedly laughed and raised their beers to the English cheese maniac.
It was only a few minutes later that Peter asked Nora if she had in fact mis-heard me, and had I actually said “cheers” instead of “cheese”. Confusion resolved, the family fell into hysterics, even more so when we later took a group photo. The Hungarians sportingly adopted the English custom of shouting “cheese!” at the camera. I sensed the opportunity to prolong the joke and shouted “sajt!”, and everyone fell about laughing all over again.
My foray into Romania is so far short lived. Reaching Satu Mare in the very north, I stopped for a day and two nights with a lovely man and wife I found on warm showers. We had pizza and ice cream in the evening, and wandered round the town in which they had both lived since childhood. My extra day in Satu has given me time to secure a Turkish visa and plan my line through legendary Transylvania, the Romanian Alps and onward to Bulgaria.
continuă să împingi!