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At Home in Hungary

Suggestion : Print this out in draft form, on scrap paper, and use it for some bedtime, bathroom or weekend reading. Our journals are more like a chapter of a book and this is 6 pages. So relax and enjoy!

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Journal July 1, 2008

Looking back from my seat here in Slovakia just a few days back on my adventures in Hungary all I can do is smile! I rolled in on the train from Serbia after taking some much needed time off my beat up bike and arrived in the stunning capital Hungary, Budapest. The sun was going down on the ancient buildings as we rolled slowly into the station and I was so excited. My belly had huge butterflies as I was now entering central Europe and had officially left my home in the Balkans where I had spent the last month.

It was a Friday evening in Budapest and the station was buzzing. I was excited about my weekend arrival and the fact that I had a host family and avid cyclist waiting for me. I tossed the pieces of my battered bike off the train and began building her up and trying to distribute the weight to keep my broken rack from completely disintegrating on the 15km ride to my host family’s house. My bike was riddled with problems and Budapest would be where my spare parts would arrive and a major overhaul mission would go down.

I was happy to find some bike lanes out of the busy capital but still managed to get lost a few times on the way. Not only that but I forgot to button up a pocket on my bag and was flagged down on the road by a guy yielding one flip flop that I lost. Upon further investigation I realized I did not have another and was not out flip flops! Bummer! Then, just as I was rolling out of that situation I hit a bump in the road and the rack completely broke! I had to use tons of tape and twine to keep it from falling into the wheels. I literally rolled into my host family with duct tape and bungee cords keeping my bike together! It was classic!

But before I knew it I was being escorted by my smiling host Betina to her adorable home in the suburbs. Her boyfriend Laszlo joined us for some dinner and a cold beer on the patio and I was grateful to have found a home in Hungary. I was still a bit tender emotionally from Serbia and apparently some of the funky mojo was carrying over to Hungary a bit. I was happy to have a Hungarian mom and family to help me nurse back into shape.

I got an SMS message from some of the cyclists from the bike messenger community who heard about my arrival from a friend Eva who I met in Xian, China in 2002. Small world! They were eager to show me Budapest by night so I pedaled the tandem towards downtown, full from a big Hungarian sausage meal, and arrived just as the last touches of sun was glowing on the historic Budapest buildings. I was greeted by a cheery guy Steer, a jolly gal Eszter and dozens of friendly bike messengers as we sipped cold beers in a park full of cyclists watching the world go by—pretty blissful scene. The rest of the night was devoted to more beers, meeting more new friends and great chats until about 3AM.

Saturday was a race day at the famous Velodrome, a circular race track for bicycles. Budapest has Europe’s oldest working velodrome and I was invited to attend, speak to the crowd and give some rides on the tandem. I met even more great people at the event including a guy Miklos who has 3 tandem bikes he uses to organize rides for blind people. I gave tons of rides and even got a chance to ride one of the fixed gear track bikes around the loop a few times. Good fun—I’m hooked! I’ll get myself one of them rides when I finally settle down no doubt!

After the race I was being called to the famous Budapest thermal pools where I relaxed, steamed and napped until the sun went down. That evening I met up once again with my crew of cyclists and we caught some food, drinks and live music at an outdoor venue in the park. It was perfect. But I honestly was not in the mood to do a huge night on the town so ended up coming home pretty early to get a good night sleep for full day of bike fixing and overhaul that I had planned with Bettina’s boyfriend Laszlo.

Sunday morning I slept in until the sun beat into my room and I woke up dripping sweat. I knew I had a big day of bike fixing but was feeling pretty unmotivated and unhealthy from two nights of parties in Budapest. But finally I was up and Laslow and I were installing two new racks, a full new drive train, new tires, new pannier pieces and a hub overhaul. Laszlo was so helpful as we drilled, cranked, greased and wrenched away at the tired tandem in the scorching heat wave temperatures at over 35 degrees (95 degrees). But after lots of patience, determination, several cold beers and about six hours of hard work we had a bike that was as good as new! Everyone got a victory ride, including Betinna’s 16 year old son and his mate Tomas.

If that was not enough of an effort on Laszlo’s part, he then proceeded to start up a fire in the back yard and do a 3 hour preparation of the famous Hungarian Goulas Soup! Funny thing about Laszlo is that he speaks only a few basic words of English and a few words of German. But between those two, plenty of hand motions and our shared intention to communicate we were able to build a super friendship and have plenty of fun together!

The Goulas Soup is quite famous in Hungary and a staple for many. You start on the open fire and add onions on the bottom with oil. Then adding water, the meat and plenty of Paprika. But you have to cool the water just after you put the Paprika in there or you mess up the flavor. Then the meat has to cook just right for hours, with proper water additions along the way, followed by vegetables and some folks put in red wine. There may be some other steps I missed but the end result is beyond words. So so so yummy! And even better the next day!!!

After dinner I went up to start organizing my things and had a pretty ugly buzz kill. I realized that a huge bag of batteries had somehow disappeared. All my spares batteries, hundreds of dollars worth that I really need to run my production, had gone missing. I’m pretty sure that back in Serbia when I kept stopping to pump up my slow leak I lost it there as I had my pump in the same pannier. And, on top of this, I was missing a one of my riding shorts I thought were in my panniers from the day before so the tandem had only one pair of cycling shorts! Luckily my sponsor Assos quickly sent a pair up to Slovakia and they arrived yesterday. If that was not enough, I also realized I lost my ATM card that I use to withdrawl money! Yikes! A triple major loss!

Although the funky feelings were not nearly as strong as Serbia, and I had met so many great people in Hungary, I was still not in my full 100% Jamie mood of happy fun lovin good vibes. I was on my way out of a nasty funk but still clearly was not all together. And when I have these funny things going on personally then they seem to come into play in life as well. I made several trips into Budapest over the next few days and continued to build neat friendships with a handful of great people and I was even able to talk about and be understood about this “cycle” I seem to go through of feeling strong and connected tehn losing it and feeling lost, sad and “off”.

It seems that everyone, no matter where I go in the world, has to deal with the ups and downs of life. Nobody, no matter how perfect their life may seem from afar, has a perfect life without challenges and adversity. Our final conclusion was to just wait out the storms and know that the good days are just behind the challenging ones—and to embrace the challenging ones as valuable teachers.

On Tuesday I was invited to go on a very popular radio show called Radio Café for a 1-hour interview broadcast all over Budapest and decided to stay one extra day in the city to spread the good word in Hungary. Also, I got an answer from an invitation from my friend Gida that she was able to come riding with me the day after the radio show. On top of that, my friend Steer also accepted the invitation to ride up around his home town of Gyor on Friday. So the riders basically made my schedule for me, and I was set with riders for Wednesday and Friday when I entered the radio studio, but a gap of no rider for Thursday.

One of the hosts of the show’s name was Tusi and he is a charming man with a huge smile and very positive energy. I liked him right away. They were all so excited to have me on the show and were great interviewers. The show went off great as they asked me questions then went about translating my answers into Hungarian. Towards the end of the show I told Tusi that I’d like him to announce that I don’t have a rider for Thursday and if anyone was interested they could contact me. Turns out he did announce it, but he said something to the tune of “if none of you contact him, I’ll ride with him as I’d love to go!”.

Once I heard this is what he said after the show and that he was free that day, we were set. I had my Thursday rider! That night I rode home after a major thunderstorm finally cooled and cleaned the air, leaving the sky perfect for a lovely sunset. I was off that night to have a final dinner in Budapest with my first rider Gida and my host for 4 nights Bettina. Gida cooked a lovely meal and Bettina came into the city for a change. We had an awesome night and I was feeling alive and happy, drinking wine, eating great food, and having lovely chats with super people.

Gida, on the other hand, was not feeling so hot. While she was away on her business trip she came down with a real nasty back ache. She could barely bend over and was doubting her ability to do a 60km ride the next day, especially so early in the morning as I had planned. I did not want to force anything so we decided she would just do her best on a local ride around town and I would ride solo up the river and meet Tusi for the second day.

We got a late start the following morning (bit too much wine, admittedly) but did manage to get out on the bike and see the city together, have some great chats and do a bit of filming. Gida is a single mother of a lovely 11 year old daughter and she is clearly her pride and joy. She works for an environmental NGO and is a very positive, cheerful and enthruiasic woman. She was truly gutted about not being able to ride onwards.

But it was clear that she was not fit for a major bike ride. After I dropped her off and finally got ready to ride out of town I called up my host Steer to grab my things and realized that I forgot he was not going to be around in the late afternoon. So I would have to wait until after 6pm to get my things to tour out of town. Bummer!

Then, a bit of the funkiness coming through the back door here, I realized that I lost my wallet! (Or I thought I did) I went into a full on freakout riding all over town to the places I was before and just was in a state of awe about the entire situation! Luckily at 6pm Steer’s brother came home and I got the good news that at least I did have one spare credit card in my stuff and was able to get some cash as I was broke without both my ATM card and now my wallet! I ended up finding the wallet later in the evening stashed away safely.

We went out to grab some cash and a bit to eat together as it was too late to start a tour out of town at 7 PM. We ended up finding a restaurant with the Euro 2008 soccer game going on and enjoying some great times and many laughs with new friends we met there. I called Tusi and we changed our plans to now ride together out of Budapest the following morning so it was all good. In fact, his girlfriend Timi was going to come meet us in the afternoon and take us to his parents place for dinner then and up to Gyor to keep the expedition on schedule after this wild day of adversity (well, adversity made up in my own head!)

The next morning I would finally get the bike moving again on tour. Steer made me an amazing breakfast of sausage and eggs and I hit the road to go pick up Tusi. He was all smiles when I arrived in front of his place and we made our way out of town to Szentendre and onwards to Visegrad along the stunning Duna river. The scenery was awesome at times as we rode along the Duna river, but we had plenty of main road riding too. We had a super ride with great chats about our unique lives, our goals and ambitions and my favorite part was when he enlightened me with stories about his life living through the communist era and into modern capitalist days. Tusi is quite an entrepreneur and has several businesses besides a radio host. He’s also a team building coach and imports cars on the side. We had tons in common and got along like brothers! And he’s not hooked on biking and is going to buy one and start riding again! Go Tusi!

Tusi’s lovely girlfriend Timi wanted to meet us up ahead where we would put the bike in her car and drive to Tusi’s parents house where he was so excited to introduce me to his mom’s famous Halászlé. Halászlé is a very rich fishermans soup with big chunks of fish and it’s one of the national famous dishes like Goulas. We saw her car just as we were finishing our rolling interview and stopped to join her for a celebratory beer and some soup before hopping in the car towards Baracska in the countryside.

We stopped off to check out Esztergom, a cool town with one of Hungary’s most famous churches, before making our way. From there I got my first view into Slovakia, where I would be riding to the following day. Slovakia and Hungary do not like each other very much so the Slovakians seem to put major industry just on the border of Hungary just to make them angry—at least that the Hungarian version. It was true here that just across the river there was some very ugly industry with big smoke stacks right near the charming town of Esztergom. Sort of a shame but I’m used to it by now—bordering countries in Europe never seem to get along very well.

We arrived at Tusi’s place and were immediately greeted by his awesome family. His sister and her family live right next door to his parents raising a young toddler with endless energy. His mom Ferencné and dad Piroska were so sweet. His mom even went on camera and shared all her famous home made dishes like Kovászos uborka (pickles), Hurka (blood sausage) and Kolbász (another awesome sausage) and the famous Halászlé fish soup.

We had an unforgettable time together. They brought out all sorts of strong locally made spirits from both households, amazing sweets, and all the food was truly divine. It was almost all homemade and the ingredients from their garden or local. I had such a positive connection with Tusi’s dad, who had a huge smile that never seemed to leave his face and leathery tanned skin from being outdoors tons. They all laughed often and I was able to give them a gift of a photo from the printer, which they were super grateful for. Just before we left Ferencné gave me two amazing hand knitted gifts of a table cloth and a pillow case that were truly beautiful. It was a perfect evening and I hope to return for more laughs, good food and simple country living!

We said our goodbyes and were off towards the town of Gyor where I would meet my third rider and Gyor native Steer that evening. I was grateful for Timi’s offer to take me and all my gear up north to meet Steer and they were both more than happy to contribute to the Peace Pedalers project. Tusi and I landed a sweet deal on a room right downtown for Steer and I and I finally had to stay goodbye to my brother from another mother Tusi. I’m sure I’ll be in touch with this guy and our adventures are far from over!

I just got settled in, showered up and unloaded when it was time to pick up Steer from the train station. Steer is a computer programmer and had to work extra hard to get everything done so he could get some riding in. He arrived just as a huge thunderstorm was coming in at about 11PM. He arrived with his own fixed gear track bike and we rode into the rain off to find him just what he was after “a beer, some food and a cigarette”…

It was pretty late that night and only one place as open for food and no place for him to get a smoke, but we were both in good spirits. He was not able to clear a full day off on Friday so we were only going to be able to do a shorter ride the following day and I’d be going most of it solo to Slovakia, but I was grateful that he came all the way from Budapest just to show me his town and share his thoughts with the world!

We were up pretty late talking so we only got a few real hours of sleep before getting up. I woke up first to get the bike ready and we finally hit the road at about 8 to do a tour of the city and the outskirts. We ran the cameras right out of town and were chatting away and as the charming city rolled on by. We rode out of town into the cute suburbs and along a quiet back road with a nice smooth bike lane sharing and sucking in special morning air that comes after a big storm. It was perfect.

Steer was the first Hungarian friend I met and he would be the last Hungarian I would spend time with before making my way onwards to Slovakia. I liked Steer a lot since the first time we met. He’s a simple guy, very genuine, friendly and easy going. He is happy to say that his life changed for the better when he received some strong intuition that he just had to get a bike! He does not own a car and rides daily. He’s very active in the Critical Mass movement to build awareness for cyclist’s rights, which in Budapest just hit 80,000 participants at this year’s event. He’s also working to save the historic velodrome that is in risk of being torn down for a parking lot.

Steer had to get back to programming and he had to work from his laptop in Gyor all day. I was grateful for the evening and morning with Steer and all this hospitality. I know we’ll meet again one day. I gave him a hug goodbye and hopped on the tandem at about 10AM, took my shirt off, put my Ipod on, and was soon flying along the flat road north towards Bratislava, Slovakia. I had a bike lane most of the way north, nice weather but a pretty strong headwind that made the going tough.

By the 45km mark of a solo 100km day into the wind I found myself cramping already and quite tired. I stopped at a restaurant and told the chef to toss in extra salt on a huge dish of rice, pasta and meats. When I got back on the bike the cramps were gone, my strength was back and I was powering through the headwind at 20km/hour grooving to my tunes from around the world, with chills of gratitude setting in as I made my way towards the border though cute Hungarian villages.

As I got closer to the border of Slovakia I took my usual stop that I hate taking. I was told by so many people to take off my Hungarian flag from my bike before going over the border. Slovakia and Hungary have had tensions for years and years, mainly political and territorial. And I was told that some people do indeed take it very seriously and can get aggressive. It’s the only major complaint I have about Eastern Europe so far—that neighboring countries just bicker, complain and fight, carrying grudges and nonsense on for generations.

But fortunately my last few kilometers in Hungary were just like all of my days out riding. I rode about 350km in the country and everywhere I went my waves, smiles and peace signs were returned with much of the same positivity. In fact, even when I was still in Serbia but in the Hungarian section of the country I started to feel this warmth from the Hungarian people. And reflecting back on my adventure in Hungary I must say I don’t remember any real negative person or experience at all, except what I created in my own head ;)

From the warm heart of the country in Budapest to the small veins of goodness out in the countryside there is something very special about Hungary and I won’t soon forget it. And I’m happy to say that I’m part Hungarian as my relatives were born in the former Hungary before the new borders were cut after World War 1. So it was great to be back home in Hungary—and I will be back!

Endless thanks to all the people who helped make my adventure in Hungary so special. Especially Bettina, Laszlo, Steer, Arpad, Eva, Eszter, Gida, Tusi, Timi, Krisztina, Aron and any others I may have missed but know you sent the good lovin intentions!

Over n out from Slovakia! On the road tomorrow to Czech with 3 great riders and off to see my distant relatives too!!!

Whooo hoooo!


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