With a small spell of loneliness, I befriended a grape farmer in the southern Hungarian village of Szabadszallas. I had only cycled about 80 km, but was ready to stop for the day. Cycling near the center a nice man offered me grapes. We talked for a few minutes in broken English and Hungarian, and he offered me a camping space in his backyard. I set up my tent and cycled into the village to eat some local food. Wandering about on side roads in the dark I entered the community center, and walked in on a jazzercise class. More interested in me than the students the teacher informed me where I could find the only restaurant in the village, a small hotel converted into a pizzeria. Somehow my sausage pizza order was misunderstood for a breakfast pizza, and after a brief wait I was eating a pizza covered in runny scrambled eggs, and ketchup. Too hungry to complain I ate and felt comfortable in the warm evening.
After 8 pm the village become a ghost town and I pedaled slowly passed the wild dogs back to my hosts house. Almost all night the bell in the clock tower would sound on the half and full hour. To my surprise I was camped within 20-30 yards of the tower, and found it a bit hard to sleep. When the bell finally stopped ringing the local dogs started barking and suddenly my stomach started to feel funny. Hmm, runny scrambled eggs cheese, dough and for desert a bit of yogurt, did my host tell me where the bathroom was? Not wanting to turn my fellow grape farmers backyard into a toilet I ran across the street into a cow Pasteur and joined my fellow mammals for a squat. Do the stomach problems ever stop?
After a few hours of sleep constantly interrupted by doggie chorus or an uneasy stomach, I opened my eyes to a rainy morning. I said goodbye to my host, packed my panniers full of grapes and cycled south. A rainy but beautiful morning! My thoughts drifted past the wet, cold countryside, and found a peaceful rhythm in my pedaling pattern. I had spent the earlier part of the following evening listening to dharma talks and today I started working on my new meditative cycling practice (to be explained later). Grapes, muesli, and dry bread kept me going till the earlier part of the afternoon.
Pedaling into the small village of Forraskut, the left crank arm on Gaby fell off. Shit, somehow I managed to unscrew the crankarm bolt and now I could only pedal with one leg. A few km down the road brought be to a guitar repair shop, where I played them my favorite Nirvana song in drop D, “On a plain”. Afterwards they found the right tools to put everything back together. Upon inspection I noticed the arm was bent, creating tension on the bolt in the bottom bracket, eventually leading to the crank arm falling off. Have you ever heard of a bent crank arm? Just after leaving the guitar workshop I saw sign advertising a Hindu Temple,here in the Hungarian countryside? The Marpa stupa in Northern Hungary was also a surprise but I have learned that Hungary is a very spiritual place, and anything is possible. 5 km on a side road brought me to the Nadaflava temple, situated on about 50 hectares of wheat, corn and pine trees. With a guest house and all the open space there was only one person living at the ashram. Sarva Shakti, a very nice lady from Luxembourg, welcomed me and let me stay for a few nights. The first day I woke up before dawn, and walked to the temple for the morning meditation, the temple was warm and I fell into a nice comfortable state of concentration. It rained all day, and I enjoyed the peaceful ashram till the following day. I departed the Ashram before dawn and pedaled the last 40 km of Hungary to the Serbian border.
Cycling the main highway I found a line of cars, and waited for more than an hour, inching my way toward the border check. After a few stamps on my passport and a quick look inside my panniers I was free to cycle into Serbia. Compared to the Hungarians and Poles, the Serbians are extremely friendly. Constantly cars would pass, honk and wave. Farmers from the fields would wave and employees in the stores and gas stations would enquire about my heritage and journey. (It is often to hard to say no to requests and I often find myself drinking beers at every café)
I met some new friends in the village of Zabalj and spent the night drinking beers and eating barbeque pork. (At times it is so nice being a foreigner, everyone is happy to meet you and eager to learn about the land you call home). Hung-over and sleep deprived I said goodbye and I pedaled the last 80 km to Belgrade. A very busy and extremely bike unfriendly city Belgrade has a very eastern feel. Departing from the American pop music constantly played in Northern Europe, Belgrade has lots of live middle eastern influenced music.
The city center, a very Santa Monica like Promenade, is packed all day with tourists and locals shopping in strip malls and department stores. The smell of roasted pork and spiced meats permeate the narrow alleys and pedestrians fight for space on the small sidewalks packed with parked cars. The city is broken into two districts the old city, located on the eastern side of the Sava river, and the new city on the western side. Several early 20th century buildings located in the new city were bombed during the Kosovo war, and they remnants remain as a symbol and a reminder of the war. I stayed in a full apartment with two other cyclists, Fanny and Bolaj, a European couple from France and Hungary and the residents Alex and Milica.
Although extremely hospitable I spent the two days on the sidelines, not quite feeling like the piece that fits. I cycled around the old city and viewed the Danube river from the top of ancient castle walls. I wandered through the small alleys and ate roasted pork with the locals. Bolaj and Fanny have been great travel companions in the city and in a way I envy their companionship.
One can become rather selfish spending so much time alone, and these qualities become more apparent when spending time with others, or maybe its just hard being the third wheel, either way we spent the weekend together in the city. From Belgrade, I am headed to the Romanian border where I will cycle the euro-rail 6, a fantastic bike route along the Danube river, to the Djerdap national park. From Romania I will circle back north through Serbia and follow the Bosnia/Serbian border to the Tara national park and on to Sarajevo the capital of Bosnia. Still unsure about where to spend the winter, I now have all the pieces to my stove and a beautiful new tent thanks to the Klinefelters. I will write again shortly. – Julian