George Johnston: July 13th – Hungary

Got so busy traveling that I lost track of writing. I spent a couple of pleasant days in Ohrid, North Macedonia, the tenth century capital of the Bulgarian empire that stretched from the Black Sea to the Adriatic, and the Aegean for about 50 years under stars Simeon and Samuil. I took a bus to Skopje for two nights of light sight seeing, highlighted by the city museum which traced history from the new stone age to modern times with a large display on the 1963 earthquake that largely destroyed the city, and international relief efforts including the Red Cross.

I bought a train ticket for the sleeper train to Belgrade, hauled the bike with baggage up the stairs to the platform as neither of the elevators or the escalator partly up to the waiting room worked. I was then notified that due to a freight train derailment on the line to the border I would be riding a bus. It was a little easier going back down. One bus had more than enough room for all the passengers and we drove to the Macedonia border station, Tabanovtse and we unloaded at the beginning of a one lane unlit road that led to the station, but was too small for the bus. We weren’t told how far it was and there was nothing to help with baggage. I left the bike bagged and started hauling and dragging toward the station. Had I know it was about a half mile, I could have unpacked the bike and made it quicker and easier. Anyway, I arrived, got my passport checked, and got a bed in the sleeper for about seven dollars. After a short ride, we got checked in by the Serbian border police and made it on to Belgrade without other problems.

I knew that the rail line from Belgrade to Nova Sad was closed for major reconstruction and I had planned to take a train on another line that was about half way there, but by the I got my bike set up I was too late to get to the station for that train so I bike the 80 km. It was a fairly easy ride, except for headwind and some hills near the end. I went to a hostel that was recommended by other hostels and found they had a bed left, but since there was a festival in town the price was doubled to 25 euros for a dorm bed. I didn’t want that, particularly since it would probably be loud with the festival crowd, so I headed to the train station. The line from there to Hungary was open. I called the guest house where I had stayed in the border town of Subotica, meaning “freedom,” appropriate since that was the Fourth of July, and found a room was available. I had an hour before the train so I got a big sandwich, I bottle of Pepsi Twist (lemon flavored), a ham sandwich, and a big bottle of water. That turned out to be a good thing as about a half hour out the train broke down. Some technicians came down a dirt access road and after some time and discourage looks, got the train to run back to the last station for further repairs. I kept inn touch with the guest house through all this, and since the apartment was in an enclosed courtyard the hostess told me she would just leave the key in the door and I could make by self at home and we would settle up in the morning. That was a good Idea as I didn’t get there until two am. The beautiful large apartment with spotless bath and kitchen cost 24 euros, a much better deal than the hostel. I slept until around eight, checked out and biked about a dozen miles to the the Hungarian station across the border. I got a train to Budapest in half an hour and the rest of the trip went well.

I arrived in Budapest in mid afternoon and biked around looking at familiar sights. The hostel I last used had been converted to a hotel as had the only other hostel in that neighborhood, so I biked on the Csepel island on the south end of the city where my tandem bike was made and I had often stayed in the sport hotel at the soccer stadium. As I rode in I saw that the bike shop was closed down, the pizza restaurant by the stadium was closed down, and the hotel was board up and had been closed for a good while. There was another budget hotel across the street but they didn’t have a room available. I picked out a hostel on near where I lived when I took the Cambridge course in teaching English as a foreign language. Their office had disappeared, also. When I reached the address I found no sign of it which had become common on independent properties on Booking, so I called the manager and he said he would have his assistant me at KFC in a few minutes. I ate lunch and then went to the KFC and met Marko, an Egyptian civil engineer who come to Budapest while looking for work in a different country, The US, or western Europe. He was having trouble finding work in Egypt because he was a Coptic Christian and the Islamic controlled companies in Egypt didn’t want to hire him. He got me settled in the hostel, which was one big room with 14 beds in a kollegium, a university dorm. It seems they were subletting this one room and operating it as a hostel called Cozy Bed. It wasn’t. They didn’t do much cleaning. Only half of the beds had mattresses and only four people stayed there including me, Marko, and the manager while I was there. The bed was comfortable and had clean sheets, so that was okay for me.

I made an appointment with the Tern dealer for Monday, July 8, to get a new baggage rack for my bike. The old one was still intact, but sagging from all the weight. Tern is a rival of Dahon, started by Joshua Hon who split off on his own from the rest of the family. He was the one who gave me 60% off on my Dahon Omega when I wrote a story about riding a Dahon bike on four continents one summer. The dealer was a Hungarian working as a side job out of an apartment, but he had the exact rack I needed which fit perfectly. I installed it repacked my baggage on it and took a short ride to the train station. I got a ticket with a reservation for the bike, got a pizza slice for lunch, and was off to Szeged.

In Szeged I biked to the Tisza Lany statue, A girl sitting on a bench facing the Tisza River. I took a picture of her with me and the bike as I do on every visit to Szeged. I got a from in an active university dorm, with a room for two to myself, with kitchen and bath down the hall, spotlessly clean, with a 24 hour porter, the opposite of the last one. I went for a swim and did some shopping at an Auchan store and Aldi on Tuesday, went to a thermal bath on Wednesday. My favorite movie theater was closed for remodeling, but will be back in it’s full glory soon. Thursday morning I took the train from the Ujszeged (New Szeged) station to Bekescsaba. The train ran just on self propelled car and took about three hours for 121 km, with a layover in Mezohegyes to add another car.

I got into Bekescsaba about 11:30 and my apartment wasn’t ready yet, so I stopped by the cobblers shop to get the handle on my baggage bag repaired. He had down some other repairs to the bag last year. When I got a call that the apartment was ready, I biked to it and met the receptionist. He drove to the apartment and met me with his 16 year old daughter who was studying English in school. I think my Hungarian was better than her English, so we had no problems. It is another modern studio apartment with a small kitchen and nice bath, There were some men here with a truck yesterday, but they left and a family came in last night.

I was hoping to bike to Debrecen today, but the forecast is for lots of rain, so I’m going to take a train instead. There’s a break in the rain for a couple of hours now, so I’ll bike to the station. Debrecen looks like rain all day. Monday I’ll probably head to Miskolc to the cave bath. That’s the plan for now.

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