Category Archives: Paris-Romania 2010: 8 Budapest to Gyula


Settled in the hotel bar now with yet another pot of tea I seem to have energy for the blog. What usually happens at around 4 or 5 pm is that Andy gets busy on the wi-fi and I plug in to some music, or a podcast. Sometimes some reading. Or on a good day all of the above, plus tea. Or beer. He seems to need to be busier, and luckily has some spare energy to continue thinking about the route ahead and checking that the gps is well plotted.

Today was a quiet day off, wandering the town, exploring the history where we could, and sitting, eating and resting up. Gyula is now on the border of Hungary but in 1914 was right in the middle of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Our hotel is right next to the castle, medieval but renovated in the last 5 years so another monument that looks like a Disney prop. It has a moat and a dungeon, so has all the necessary, but just seems a bit low lying to me. I wonder how soldiers were able to defend the town when you can only just see over the trees from this fortress.

Gyula castle and moat
Gyula castle and moat

Gyula is a spa town and is geared up to visitors, though there were few around the spa today as the air was distinctly autumnal. We found the oldest cafe in Hungary for coffee and cake this morning, admired the flowers in the many formal settings, and watched the fountains.

Central Gyula
Central Gyula

A quiet day as I said! Overall I have enjoyed visiting Hungary, though it took some adapting after leaving the gang in Vienna. Cycling days over flatlands has allowed for a different rhythm to each day, and it has been interesting to see the crops changing, such as the harvesting of watermelons this week and my first sighting of a field of butternut squash. With all that fruit and veg out in the fields it has been a surprise to find how big people are, a lot like the Uk no doubt. Boy do they eat, pork mainly- schnitzel for breakfast anyone? We saw one woman eat two of them! Even my bean goulash had pork in it too, so vegetarians must have some trials. And drinking too- great beer drinkers here, and even the Post Office sold alcohol, mainly liqueurs with some of that fruit from the harvests, especially apricot in a drink called palinka. But tomorrow we shall start the Romanian adventure and head to the mountains, the really big effort of the trip. Wish us luck, we are going to need it!

The round tower terrace bar - a lovely place to sit
The round tower terrace bar – a lovely place to sit

We have been something of a curiosity this side of Budapest and get a range of reactions from bemusement to a ‘what the hell are you doing here’ look, giggles and waves from kids, and at times we have both felt a bit self-conscious. However, we have also had some good conversations at bars and hotels as people are interested in the trip and what we are doing on bicycles, and a number of the younger generation have been proud to demonstrate their language skills. I even met a woman who had spent 6 months in Huddersfield so spoke English with a Yorkshire twang, wonderful. Everyone tells us that the mountains ahead are beautiful but there are bears. I’ll keep you posted on that.

Helen’s track of the day: Sting, Moon Over Bourbon Street, version from album All This Time with the trumpet solo by Chris Botti.

Oroshaza to Gyula

A shorter day today – but still the weather stays cool, so it was pleasant enough for cycling. And we have made it across the Great Plain, to the very edge of Hungary. We are celebrating with a 4 star hotel and a day off tomorrow.

Today’s cycling began with a 10 mile long straight section of road across the plain – no villages, hardly any houses, no junctions, just 10 miles of tarmac with a view flat to the horizon in each direction. It seemed to take a long time to cover. We nearly had to resort to playing I-spy to pass the time.

One strange feature were several light aircraft travelling east at only about 150 feet, towards Romania. It reminded us of cold war ‘under the radar’ spy stories. Helen said they were smuggling goulash out of the country.

Gyula is another spa town – this time with flowers and fountains that are reminiscent of Harrogate (though the buildings are very different – mostly single story, even in town). On the way in we came across another familiar sight – not just from home but from just about every Hungarian town.

Tesco in Gyula - it's so interesting to travel to different cultures
Tesco in Gyula – it’s so interesting to travel to different cultures

We are getting ready for the rigors of Romania to come – so we felt that we needed some last comforts in the shape of the 4* Elizabeth Hotel. Helen has been drinking afternoon tea in the lounge and I have had a spa session in the steam room and sauna. This is the life! Somehow we don’t seem to have been out to explore yet. There’s always tomorrow – a day off from cycling.

Helen’s track of the day: Brahms, Hungarian Dance No.5, in celebration of the crossing of the Great Plain, and that I am still going strong-ish.

Kecskemet to Oroshaza

This was a lovely day’s cycling across the Great Plain. We are feeling pleased with ourselves – having clocked 60 miles for the second day in a row. We’re flying!
Kecskemet turned out to be a lovely small town. Yesterday evening we went out to find food and found that the town hall was doing a roaring trade in weddings. In addition, there was a beer festival going on – with stalls all over the square. Drunk people in suits – just like Ripon on race days. We felt very much at home.

The town hall (the following morning)
The town hall (the following morning)

The place we stayed was also brilliant – Fabian Panzio. A series of ‘garden rooms’ round a small, central courtyard garden. And lovely people. Highly recommended if you are passing through Kecskemet.

So to today’s cycling. The Great Plain turns out to be quite cycle friendly – with cycle lanes in many of the towns. The fields were lush and full of vines, tomatoes, peppers, squashes, sunflowers and so on. This is very fertile country. It is also much more prosperous than the little plain before Budapest. Here is a shot of a typical village street.

Village street in the Great Plain
Village street in the Great Plain

Just before lunch we came to a bridge over the Tisza (the second largest river in Hungary). This was a single-track, floating, wooden pontoon bridge and, because the water was low, we had to ride down a steep ramp onto the bridge and back up again.

The pontoon bridge over the Tisza
The pontoon bridge over the Tisza

Then an unexpected bonus. Instead of the expected section of main road, there was a brand new, European-funded, flood dyke with a cycle track along the top. We were able to follow this for about 4 miles to the next town. Excellent. Here there was another remarkable sight. The road had a cycle path painted in yellow along the side of the main carriageway (i.e. not separated entirely from the traffic). It was a residential area with street parking. But instead of parking by the kerb and blocking the cycleway, the cars were parked 8 feet out – part blocking the road and leaving the cycle lane clear. I often bend the wing mirrors of cars parked in bike lanes – but I couldn’t think of anything constructive to do to here indicate my approval. Give the car a hug? Leave a note for the owner?

How to park when there is a bike lane - residents of York please take note
How to park when there is a bike lane – residents of York please take note

And then the last leg. This was longer than would have been ideal because of the lack of accommodation where we wanted it – but at least it will be a shorter ride tomorrow. In this final stage the Great Plain became even flatter, and the roads straighter.

The Great Plain (well, a bit of it - it's rather large)
The Great Plain (well, a bit of it – it’s rather large)

Hungary is proud of its thermal springs, many of which are spa resorts. We had already stayed at one in Komorom, and this is another, at Oroshaza. The advantage for us is the presence of tourist-orientated hotels – and tonight’s is excellent. Gyula tomorrow.

Helen’s track of the day: Dire Straits, Your Latest Trick, with Knopfler’s miserable lyrics rescued by the sax solo of the incomparable Michael Brecker. Just what is needed at the end of a long day.

Budapest to Kecskemet

We were back to English conditions today (18 C, cloudy and raining gently) and it was a welcome relief from the heat. Particularly since we had 60 miles to pedal.

And this was a significant day, because we said goodbye to the Danube (though we will cross it again on the Romania/Bulgaria border) and goodbye to the comfort of an official bicycle trail, with green signboards (if you are lucky).

I had carefully worked out a route to get us out of Budapest that would avoid the main roads. By and large it worked – with just one section where we had to take to a bumpy pavement for safety. The suburbs got gradually leafier and richer until we got out of Budapest altogether. The worst lorry traffic was from the gigantic Tesco distribution centre on the edge of town. Tesco has a lot to answer for!

The rain made it not very photogenic, but here is our lunch stop!

A 4 star lunch break
A 4 star lunch break

After lunch the scenery changed and we entered an area of heathland – not completely flat, and with a sandy soil and scrub ash trees everywhere. It was very attractive. But the calm was shattered by a rally event taking place on the dirt tracks over the heath. We were stopped by marshals where the cars were crossing our tarred road. Sorry – I failed with an attempt to get a decent photo.

In the early afternoon we found our grottiest bar so far and stopped for beer (Andy) and coffee (Helen).

A 5 star tea break
A 5 star tea break

The final leg into Kecskemet even had a decent cycle path – and now we are holed up in a really nice small b&b. Excellent. Just another 60 miles tomorrow!

Helen’s track of the day: Frank Sinatra, You Make Me Feel So Young, yes the old ones are coming out now the going gets tougher.