Monday, October 30, 2006

Squirrel Season

Last week in brief:

Distractions like beer, Zelda (where the fuck is the Hammer?) and cooking have played a big role. My head feels like a big knot of Christmas lights. Sure, it’s nice when they’re hanging up, flashing multicoloured goodness from a dark window, but they can be a bitch to untangle, and if you try to do it too quickly, a few lights tend to bust and not work again.

Last week in not so brief:

Vera recently acquired a new love interest and needed to have her flat to herself for a couple of nights and I felt like having a few good times with some familiar talking dudes. This meant during the week, I alternated between Vera’s flat and the flat where Andy and Laurie (who are an American couple who have been in Budapest for the a few months), live. Laurie studies business and Andy works as a programmer for a company back in California. Quite by accident, they quadrupled booked their spare room with a various array of out of towners and for a short time their flat became the unofficial Hotel California. First it was me, then Vince and Maya from Australia, then the two French guys, then a French girl and an American girl. One morning, as I was the last of the backpackers to leave the flat, I asked Andy: “now that you have your place to yourself, you might be able to get some work done”. He replied, “Nope. Gotta go to the train station in about an hour to meet some friends from the States who are coming to stay for a few nights”. Cue the Eagles: Welcome to the Hotel California. Swapping between Vera’s and the American’s flat has been made simple by their close proximity. I really must introduce them so they can adopt each other.

Monday October 23
Take a dull-bladed blender, turn it on high, throw in four large onions and place your face over the uncovered top. This might give you an idea of what teargas feels like. Although I didn’t get a canister fired directly in my face, I rode through an area where tear gas had been used 30 minutes earlier, and it still affected me. My eyes and nose were running and I really didn’t want to be riding my bike. I missed the main part of the riots (through not having a fancy press vest protecting me and my camera from the water cannon and having a prior dinner engagement), and managed to catch the tail end of the angry masses and the beginning of the clean up. The area where our group had had lunch earlier that day had been completely trashed (bins overturned, phone booths smashed, paving used as missiles, construction sites missing wood), all roads around Parliament were closed for three blocks, the stolen tanks were being rescued by the army and camera shy riot police were sleeping off the night’s efforts. By 9am Tuesday morning, the areas where the riots went through were completely clear. On Wednesday, I met an Irish guy who showed me some nifty shots he’d taken of rubber bullet wounds, angry young men wielding lumps of “fourbeetwo” and burning cars, only to lose them (and the card), later that day during a mishap with a fellow student’s laptop. Andy took some good shots from behind the front line, with his photo of a delayed pizza delivery scooter personifying the opinion that comparing what’s happening now to what happened in 1956 is an idea founded in bullshit. By the looks of it, if you’re depressed, you should forget the song I’ll do my crying in the rain and start a riot in Eastern Europe. You might get tear-gassed and rubber bulleted, but no one will notice your tears, you can take out all your frustrations by stealing tanks and throwing rocks at guys with big black shields. I might upload the rather uneventful video I shot when I have some better net.

What was I doing instead of rioting?
Rather than check out the front line of the riots during the evening (which in a way, I’m kind of regretting), I honoured a prior arrangement and joined Vera and a few friends at her flat for tasty Hungarian food and good conversation. Dave and Veronica joined us, with Dave’s friend (who was locked up for 2 weeks during the first round of riots), was a no show and Dave became a little worried that his friend may have put in a repeat performance. We ate, we listened some questionable Hungarian music, and over the sounds of far off gun fire and tear gas canisters exploding, we enjoyed a civilised evening. I’m still not convinced with some of the Hungarian music I’m hearing. I was impressed with the live stuff I saw at Sziget back in August, but my preference is leaning towards the dulcet tones of Mate Peter (read mat-a pei-ta). Apparently, he shares a similar cult following amongst Hungary’s youth as Kamal does back in Australia and has been described to me as Hungary’s answer to Tom Jones. Go the elf-like crooning and 70s funk I say.

I cooked up a big serving of nachos and our intrepid group ate at the flat before heading down to Simplar for a few drinks. We ended up meeting this Aussie guy who has been working as an Eastern European travel guide for the last few months. It got me thinking about how much I would hate doing call centre work in Ireland, knowing that there are tour guide jobs like this guys floating around. I’ll look into doing something like that, as I’m a big fan of work where I can put myself into it, rather than just another phone zombie.

I forget. I think it involved speaking English at a normal pace, cooking food and even making the occasional obscure cultural reference with an audience who understood it.

Not sure if this was Thursday, but we checked out the Hungarian baths. Good times, but no photos. Cool whirlpool bath outside, various mystery minerals and temp baths inside, with lots of wrinklies doing exactly what I'd like to be doing at 80. However, when I transfered to a different bath
after the steam room, I nearly passed out and had a repeat performance of this. Afterwards, our travel posse headed over to a house party hosted by fellow American Nick and his Hungarian flatmates. I found a corner of locals, sat with them and amused myself (and them), with my piss-poor pronunciation of Hungarian words. I was impressed with Nick’s attempts at importing American Frat party traditions and adapting them to local conditions (Parlinka jelly shots, Kaiser beer bongs). I left around 12 to get back to Vera’s place and we went to her local pub Kuplung (Clutch), for a few drinks, chatted about our mixed fortunes with family life and then returned to her place and made plum dumplings at 3am.

I showed the American’s Kuplung a cool place around the corner from their flat and in return they taught me flippy cups, a drinking game involving beer skulling and cup flipping skills. I’m not a big fan of drinking games, but this one is pretty entertain, is piss simple to learn and is rather addictive.

Our troop of English talking dudes made its way via the “dangerous and confusing” bus and tram route to the Budapest flea markets. The other guys were chasing a cheap space helmet, but were a bit bummed at the 700 Euro price tag. I was a little shocked by the amount of Nazi and Hitler memorabilia, but after talking to a few Hungarians, I get the feeling that there is a percentage of the population that agrees with his work during WWII. It’s been fun hanging out with an assortment of travellers again. Particularly with native English speakers and fellow Australians. Plus, Andy and Laurie are super chilled and cool to hang out with, and are not at all the stereotypical Americans you would imagine. Although with both of them having major deadlines with work and study, I felt a little bad being part of the group disrupting their time.

At 5:30 I met up with my new host (Spelt: Timea - Pronounced: Timmi) at the Chain Bridge, where she told me her place was only 4km from Budapest. I assumed she meant from the centre, but she meant from the city limits. This translated into a 30-something-km ride from the bridge in the failing light of an autumn afternoon. But it was cool, as there is a fairly sketchy bike track for most of the way. It may have been bumpy and inconsistent, but at least I was out of the way of the traffic. Timmi is a technical chemist and makes pharmaceutical drugs for a living. An old school friend from Szeged (200km south of Budapest), was visiting Timmi, which explained the hangovers they were nursing when I met them.

We cooked pancakes for breakfast, Zsuzsa returned to Szeged and Timmi and I drove to a place called Paty, a little village in the southwestern foothills of Budapest. We climbed a hill, saw the autumn landscape with a fiery sunset and got bucketed on by the first storm I’ve seen in two months. For dinner, I cooked the first pumpkin soup I’ve cooked in about a year and it worked a treat. I was very impressed with myself.

Monday (today)
This morning I visited a town between Halastalek and Budapest. There’s more shops, people and wifi and has made organising tomorrow’s ride towards Lake Balaton a little easier. I saw the flower markets I had passed on Saturday night, but this time I saw the big cemetery across the road, which put the markets in context. I sat near a church and soaked up some more default goodness and afterwards browsed a rather impromptu looking flea market. A couple of guys had decorated a retaining wall with second hand goods including hand strengtheners, walkmans and some rather suspect looking, slightly used Eastern European porno magazines. After I ducked into a supermarket across the road for some food, I returned to my perusing of the merch, and was approached by a portly Gypsy couple. As they got closer, they opened up a couple of bags and started doing the hard sell on the bed linen and Romanian socks hidden inside. Not in the market for either, I used some well-selected Hungarian “Nem Kur-ser-num” (no thanks), but they kept on with the hard sell. When I finally just said in English, “sorry mate, but I don’t understand Hungarian”, without missing a beat, the guy switched his sales pitch to English, but the women closed her bag, held out her hand and made a mime resembling eating as if it was a reflex to hearing English. The guy turned around gave her a dirty look, closed his bag and joined in on the begging routine. Rather than giving them cash, I offered them the apple and bread I had just purchased, only to be rejected with a another dirty look and cries of “No. Money! Money!”. I said no and pointed out that rather than buying/stealing the linen and socks, they could have bought/stole plenty of food. The guy laughed, patted me on the back and left. The women, sneered at me and followed her partner. I had a quick scout around a car yard for any Soviet era cars that may have been traded in and are now being resold for nicks, and found something I didn’t expect. A right hand drive, NSW plated Honda 600 coupe. I saw a big fire at a factory and have decided that I still want to be a fireman when I grow up.

There is no net at the place I’m staying at in Halásztelek, but this morning I caught up on the news back at home. I’ve had a feeling over the last couple of internet-less days that something was happening in a galaxy far, far away. Last night, as if some kind of magic signpost, I said goodnight to my current host and asked what the book she was reading was about, assuming it was Hungarian. She held it up so I could read the cover: Lolita. She had just started it and said it was a bit creepy. Thanks to this and a talkative squirrel, I only slept a couple of hours last night and now at 3pm I feel ruined. I must look like death warmed up. Well, at least I’m warm. Maybe a beer might help make me look human. If you’re curious, get me (and maybe yourself), drunk and I’ll tell you all about it sometime.

cool stuff:
this dude (cheers chris, I remember seeing the start of this about 5 years ago)
Lost S03 e04 - huh?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

super slack

I've been doing stuff non stop-over the last few days hanging out with the Budapest peeps, plus the creative juices have dried up a little this week.

A big post is coming soon to a screen near you.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The little squirrel inside

Tomorrow is the 23rd of October, the 50 year anniversary of the Hungarian revolt against the Russians. It’s been interesting to see how the current political situation here has mixed with the events of the past. The opposing right wing government has been playing up the anti-Soviet sentiment that resurfaces around this anniversary and directed it towards the lefty government. The current lefty government has been is a bit of deep poo for the last month or so, with protests occurring every day outside parliament. Now that this 50-year thing has rolled around, the city has asked for the protesters to take a break for a couple of days so that the official celebrations can be held there. Trouble is, the more hard line protesters have refused to move, so the police have threatened to forcibly remove anyone who isn’t supposed to be there. Last time they tried to forcibly remove people, there were riots for a few days. The locals I’ve spoke to aren’t sure what will happen, but I guess I’ll find out tomorrow.

Vera has a theory that we all have a squirrel inside our heads, which is responsible for the little voice that keeps chattering away to us while we are trying to sleep or concentrate on more important things. When the squirrel is tired, we can rest. When the squirrel is running around the place, we’re crazy. When the squirrel is dead, we have a reprieve.. Until another squirrel takes up the vacancy. Each time Vera mentions that her squirrel is dead, I roll up my hands, poke out my tongue and make a face like I’m dead. I think I’m starting to agree with her. While travelling I have found a new internal headspace where my squirrel and I play cards, smoke hand rolled cigarettes, drink coffee and talk about all things fucked up in my world. The great part is that when my squirrel gets to talkative, I can go for a ride up a hill and make it sleep for a while. It’s a curious time for me. But it is cool to do this internalising while travelling. I’m seeing new things, tasting new foods and learning about European history through the lives of the interesting people I’m meeting. I can contrast the events in my life with others around me and somehow relate better with them. My squirrel says to me; “wow.. these people may use ‘seeya’ to say hello and ‘hello’ to say goodbye, but they still have messy break-ups and dodgy dads.” – I’ve said this before, but aside from the superficial differences like language, culture, religion and food, people everywhere are the same. I spoke with Joli, my host in Komarno about this and came up with six words that can describe the necessities in life: Live, laugh, love, learn, listen, look. Funnily enough, they all start with “L”, and when I suggested this concept to a British guy I met the other night, he added “Lesbians” to the list.

As of yesterday, I’ve moved from Vera’s to another host, which is just around the corner. It’s not that anything bad has happened, but with a single room apartment, a new gentleman caller and already one week on the couch under her loft bed, it was time to give her back her apartment. However, I will be returning to have dinner with Vera sometime this week for some more tasty Hungarian food with a funny name. I’m now staying with an American couple, with Laurie studying
business here in Budapest and Andy working as a programmer over the net with a company back in California. They are really chilled out and speak English as a first language. Plus Andy has one of the new fangled MacBook Pros, which runs Windows and OSX. Tonight we’ve been cooking toad in the hole, talking tech, drinking hot spiced wine and playing old Nintendo games (Zelda & Rock n Roll Racing).

I've seen two nasty accidents in as many days. The first was while I was having lunch, and this guy walked past the window wheeling his bike on its back wheel, sporting a 90 degree buckle in the front rim, a rather nasty looking broken nose and bloody bits of skin hanging from his hands. The second was last night about 1am with a motorcycle and a car. It happened about 20 metres from where I was standing, and I ran over to see if I could help. All the fancy plastic bits of the bike had been ripped off and the rest of the bike was laying on its side, with the engine still running flat out. The guys head and back were ok, but one of his legs was pretty messed up. The cops and ambos were there within a couple of minutes, so it gives me faith that even though riding through Budapest is dangerous, help will arrive quickly.

In short:

Lots of bike riding through the city is good for the soul.
I was bumbed that I missed it in Vienna, but The World Press Photo Exhibition is also here in Budapest. West Balkan bar is super. I remembered I know a kiwi who lives here in Budapest, but she's in Poland at the moment so no hanging out for us. Happiness is not a happy movie. What the fuck is going on with Lost? S03E03 is nutty like a picnic bar.

Time is getting away from me.
If I want to return to Vienna and see my Austria peeps before leaving the mainland, I'm going to have to reasses (again), where I'm going by bike before xmas. And should I store Frankenbike and trailer somewhere, or should I release them back into the wild?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Buddha Pesht

Budapest is truly a beautiful city. Up there with Prague, maybe even above it. There's beautiful old buildings lining every street, gothic churches and baroque castles on hills shouldering the Danube. It's a bit dirty and still a bit eastern european, but shit. You want to go somewhere different right? While having a healthy tourist industry, Budapest doesn’t have the same “seething with tourists” feeling Prague had. Granted, things are starting to cool down and the crowds aren’t as strong, but the city’s famous bridge is still in use and you can walk over it without seeing another tourist. And there are two towns here. Old Buda and new Pest. East si-ade and West si-ade. Buda, nestled among the hills on the west side of the Danube, has some cool buildings, with little some places retaining their 1,000-year-old Turkish roots. Pest, on the eastern flatter side of the river is the “newer” city, with buildings dating back only 600 years and most of the streets looking a bit like an unpainted Vienna. As with all the big Euro cities I’ve visited, there isn’t that much sprawl as most of the population lives in flats and apartments within or just around the heart of the city. (Can someone tell me the difference between the two, because I’ve always had the impression “apartment” was an Americanisation of the perfectly functional Australian word “flat”) – Being such compact places, riding a bike from A to B isn’t such a challenge. The cobblestones, non-grid city layout and crazy drivers who like to lean on their horns (prfftt – Slats slaps you on the shoulder), do make it more interesting. However, to totally trump my experience in Prague, I’m going to have to get locked in Parliament House.

Today I went for a big ride around the city. I first headed north, took a few random back streets and ended up back here, where I entered into the city properly on my way into Budapest. I got to see some of the Soviet style multilevel housing and follow some footworn tracks through fields to see where they ended up. One of them led me to a disused military base and rail yard, which has been converted to a place for scraping and recycling metal and other reusable stuff. Hidden amongst all of this I found Attila and Gustav, two homeless guys who lived together in an old rail car on the border between the train line and the scrap yard. They were burning old PCBs to melt down some of the aluminium they had found so they could resell it to the nearby yards. We shared handshakes, names and smiles, but due to the language barrier, not much else. As we gestured to each other in international why can’t they understand me charades, the toxic black smoke from their fire wafted over through the “conversation”. I coughed and tried to indicate that the smoke from the fire (complete with exploding capacitors and batteries), wasn’t too healthy to breath in. They just laughed at me and took big exaggerated breaths of the stuff. Oh well. These people had nothing, we couldn’t communicate and the smoke was probably going to give us all cancer. But sitting there in the sun sharing some apples I had, it really didn’t matter.

After that I headed over to Buda via the Castle on the hill. This ride is becoming one of my favourite bits of Budapest, with the old back roads leading up to the castle being pretty much devoid of traffic and the views always satisfying. Coming down the other side was entertaining, with a windy snake of a road, with multiple bends all hairier than Devils Elbow. I spent the afternoon in a café, drinking coffee and attempting to read what I think were magazines about Hungarian advertising. Then I rode back to the flat across a different bridge and was again surprised at just how good Frankenbike is. I did however lose my beanie, which was clamped to my rear rack. Another thing I like in Budapest but can’t be bothered weaving into a story (and my hands are starting to freeze), is watching the gulls on the Danube float down with the flow of the river, only to fly back upstream when they reach the shadow of the bridges.

My Host
How do you measure weight? Pounds or Kilos? Ounces or Grams? Imperial or Metric? I’m staying with someone who uses time and distance to measure weight. “I can lift 89 minutes, but the house record is 169 minutes”, says Vera, my latest Hospitality Club host. She works at an arty cinema as a projectionist and clerk. Over morning coffees, I can tell which work she’ll be doing during the day by what she is wearing: - Jeans, Docs, T-shirt = Projectionist - Dress over slacks, heeled boots, makeup = cashier (today, I dress like a woman). - Vera is a super chilled woman with a great laugh and plenty of good friends. For those with their minds in the gutter, there’s no funny business between us. Besides, she already has a Czechoslovakian lover who goes by the name Meo 5 XB.

The other night, Vera and I went out for a drink to a place call Szimple. This is a huge pub set in the courtyard and ground floor of an apartment building a few streets over from her flat. You walk in past security and you are greeted by an indoor hang up bike rack, which is something sadly missing from Australian establishments. The pub itself has a downstairs band/club area that fires up on weekends with the rest of the place decked out with a mish-mash or seats, couches, lamps and tables. We grabbed a table in the beer garden and Vera went to buy some beers. As I was sitting alone at the table, I became aware of a bunch of guys staring at me from within the pub. I did a few of the stretch/surreptitious looks, and yes, they were looking at me, occasionally pointing and nodding. Not knowing their intentions, I returned to looking at my hands and just as my fingernails had become interesting, the group approached the table and asked in a friendly American accent if they could join me. We ended up chatting about the wonders of Hungary and what we all thought of Budapest. They mentioned the renaming of the pedestrian bridge outside their campus The Steven Colbert Bridge, and the lefty political jokes began to flow free and fast. We all bounced our thoughts, impressions and questions off of Vera and she was happy to give us a Hungarian take on the world around us. A couple of Finnish girls joined the group, and I scored some brownie points with my Kiitos (thanks) and Getpissed (cheers), which are the only two words I remember from Finland. As I was getting up to return a broken glass to the bar, I fell over and scuffed my knee in a nasty way and ripped my trusty Hard Yakka pants. They were coming to the end of their serviceable life, but it was still a shit to rip them, and made me swear in Hungarian. This did give me an excuse to go shopping and I am now sporting a nice pair of brown cords, with a spare pair of army pants for bike riding. Total cost: 3200 Forint ($19 AUD). My knee still hurts. Oh.. While the weather during the day is dreamy, it is getting pretty chilly at night now. Almost time to crack out the gloves.

A couple of nights ago, we returned to Szimple, but this time with Veronica, an old friend of Vera’s. We took up a cosy spot on a big couch and started chatting about the world. About one beer into the conversation, I could hear some English floating in from the other room, and the nasal but slightly British accent with the occasional sentence ending on a high alerted me to South Australians. I did what I usually do when I think I hear an Australian accent and slowly walk past for a second listen. Yep, they’re from Adelaide. I sit down and say “so which bit of Australia do you come from?” The girls answer in unison “Adelaide”, and I say “Shit, me too”. This is where my fellow Adelaidians disappointed me. Rather than asking “so what do you think of Hungary?” or “isn’t this a crazy co-winky-dink?”, the bullshit Adelaide question of “so, what school did you go to?” gets pulled out. Now, in some parts of the world, this question is used to get a frame of reference or locality for the enquirer as to determine if they might live near or know these people in some other way. Not in Adelaide. It is the question that is asked to determine your financial status or place of your parents within society. The great thing is, the only people who ask this question can only have gone to one of about 10 schools, with gender, clothing and annunciation narrowing down the selection even further. Besides, I went to a shitty day care state school and whenever Adelaide people ask me this and I tell them the name of my school, they get this confused look on their face, shrug and ask “where’s that?”. I say “near Port Adelaide” and they respond “oh.. Port Adelaide.. I see”. In the hope that these Adelaide peeps might want to veer away from the script, I say “C’mon. Like that matters. We’re in Hungary. Isn’t this cool we ran into each other? So, what do you think of Budapest?”. Sorry, not good enough.

“Nah.. What school did you go to?”
“Le Fevre High”
Confused look, shrugged shoulders
“Where’s that?”
“Near Port Adelaide”
“oh.. Port Adelaide.. I see”

After getting slapped for suggesting the girls went to Walford, I returned to Vera and Veronica’s table in a bit of a stink and explained what had just happened. About an hour later, the two Adelaide girls came over and asked if they could join us. By that time, I had gotten over my little working class badge wearing and offered them a chair. We talked for a while and we started to compare Adelaide notes, actually using where and what we studied to determine if we did know each other and not the brand of daddy’s car. There was this weird sense of recognition and after a bit of Q&A, it finally clicked. One of the Mercedes girls and I had shared a tute last year in Marxism in the 21st Century, one the lefty subjects offered by the brilliant but recently deceased Paul Nursery Grey. When I thought about it the next day, the coincidence of meeting someone from uni in a random backstreet bar in Budapest was only outdone by the irony of what we studied together and the opening question about what school I went to.

As my previous post said I just finished a video I haven’t touched for a while. This was fun and has helped put me in a moving on/life continues mood. Slight tech problem though. Adobe Premier isn’t doing so well putting the footage back to the camera. This is a pain in the arse, as I would like to keep the footage, but not have it taking up about 14gigs on my hard drive. If any geeks out there could suggest a simple dump to tape program I can use to output this DV footage back to the camera, I would be most appreciative.

I keep getting asked "So, What is the Australian "Cheers"? Up ya bum last time I checked. But be careful how you say the Hungarian version of cheers - Egészségedre. Most non-Hungarians pronounce it ag-a-shag-a-der, which roughly translates to with your whole arse. Close enough.

Monday, October 16, 2006


And you all thought I was in Hungary.

I'll write a longer post tomorrow, but after not touching the footage from Mongolia for the last 4 months, I finally picked it up again the other day and put together a little video.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

better in b&w

Have you ever had the feeling of being totally overwhelmed by a series of experiences that you need to sit down for a minute and drink a nice, hot cup of tea? No, I'm not talking about having too many funny coloured pills and hugging fluffy things while you chew your own tongue off, I'm talking about the moment when you overload on the strange and wonderful events the universe throws your way and require a Bex and a good lie down just to deal with it. This happened to me last Friday in Komárno when I walked through the doors of Rev bar, while Joli was explaining to me how that day was the 157th anniversary of the local hero György Klapka achieving something important and that the following day would be devoted to all things potato in the neighbouring town of Kormaron. With this information, my brain twanged like a pulled hamstring, and as if I had forgotten to say "when" as someone poured me a drink, my thoughts began to flow over the side. Thankfully, I was there for lunch, so the sit down, beer and Hungarian food brought the colour back to my face. Then I saw the Koori Mail sticker on the stereo and my brain twanged again.

I'd been excited about Komárno fort all morning and it fidgeted with my thoughts over lunch. When the menu arrived, the idea of eating Hungary's version of haggis didn't disgust me as much as the idea of doing another new thing did. My brain was full and the consumption of
stomach could wait until Scotland. However, as planned, after lunch I ventured down to Komárno fort for second time and explored a couple of the buildings for about 4 hours. I found a few murals on the walls, a tree growing out of a roof, cool Soviet regalia, a marching ground, spiral attic stairways, old newspapers and other fun dilapidated building stuff. I'm really surprised that the place has been left untouched by vandals as the buildings looks as if one day people just stood up, threw all the furniture out the windows and left. (I'll upload video of the place when I find some better internet). After, I met up with Joli in Komárno town square and was treated to a modest ceremony to commemorate the 157th year of something Hungarian. The town of Komárno, while being within the borders of Slovakia, is a Hungarian town. The mayor is Hungarian, the majority of the people are Hungarian and the Komárno flag look suspiciously like the Hungarian flag. Later, over a tasty apple sponge cake, Joli explained to me her theory of cultural and national identity. If people step over a border of their own volition and chose to live in another country, they are better prepared to adapt and identify with that alternate culture. However, if the border steps over the people, this integration can be troublesome and sometimes impossible process. Joli says that zealous nationalism makes this worse, but as she considers herself a Hungarian-Czechoslovakian, it doesn't really matter to her anymore. She did however think that Prague was a much better capital to have than the present day Bratislava.

So many little things I want to write so much about.. argh..


The next day was an early one. I said goodbye to Joli and Komárno (for now at least), thanked her for the Hungarian cycling map and rode along the Slovak side of the Danube to the border crossing at Štúrovo-Esztergom. I had been recommended to approach Esztergom from the Slovak side for a few reasons. The first was that the route isn't as busy as the Hungarian side. The ride was a comfortable and in one of the villages I passed a midget on a fully blinged out bike (streamers, spokie dokies, flags, lights, mirrors), and kicked myself for not taking a picture. When I stopped to take a photo of a bike with a pumpkin trailer in Moca, I was invited by its owner (an old pumpkin and grape grower), to drink some of his homemade wine in his cellar. Two types: Aged wine and New wine - Good gear which seems to be the Slovak equivalent of Austria's Sturm - As I left he gave me a 1.5l bottle of the more mature stuff and a little light headed, I continued on my way to the border. The second reason for taking the Slovak side was the view of the Basilica on the approach into Esztergom. I wasn't disappointed. It is the biggest Basilica in Hungary and can be seen from about 20km away. The church is surrounded by lovely old buildings and some groovy 600-800 year old Turkish ruins. Štúrovo, the Slovak sister of Esztergom on the opposite side of the river, is classic Neo-brutal soviet, with big cube flats and run down shitty looking buildings. This seems to be a recurring theme all along the Danube, with one side being the ugly Soviet sister of the other side's old school baroque Euro style Cinderella. During the ride it occurred to me that humanity has only been travelling quickly for the last 150 years or so, with horses and the like making up for a few thousand years prior and then foot work before that. Riding a bike through a country has given me the chance to soak up the environment around me without compromising too much on speed. It does suck when the weather is bad, but you know, that's bike touring. Thankfully, the weather has been dreamy and it has been blue skies and warm days all the way. However, things are cooling down and after about 7pm, things start to get frosty. Icebreakers at the ready ladies and germs.

I arrived in Esztergom on time, met up with my host Marcel and we got on well from the first instant. He rides his bike everywhere, takes photos (with a real film camera), and gets into the same sort of music as I do. After I dropped my stuff off at his place, we were picked up by his friends and driven back to Slovakia (more stamps), and bought up big on cheap booze and food. We then drove for about an hour and a half back the way I had just ridden to a spot just near the Győr border crossing for a low key, all night dance party. This was the 5th annual party of its kind and thanks to too much Palinka and vodka, I missed pretty much all of it. However, in the morning I sat around a table with a bunch of Slovak guys, who were either coming down from or still on this nasty pharmaceutical concoction called "White" (which, before being able to touch it I would have to first put down the 40 foot pole), and chatted with them about all things Slovak and Australian. Unsurprisingly, I ended up talking the most with the guy who had the best grasp of English, which he had learnt by watching the Cartoon Network as a kid. He was this group of Slovak friend's drug dealer and he explained to me what "White" was made of. When we talked about the effects of drugs, he really liked the English phrase "full on" and used it to describe his experience of the previous night. I then talked about how my brain had split open the day before and compared the effects of drugs with drug free overwhelming experiences.

We cleaned up the site and headed back to Esztergom (more stamps), around 3pm. The rest of the day Marcel and I swapped photos, videos and music and I now have an abundant collection of new music. Hanging out with Marcel was cool and it'll be good to catch up on my way back north. He recharged my music supplies, been a good person to hang out with and reminded me that photos sometimes look better in black and white. So be prepared to see some B&W stuff on Flickr. On Tusday, I got to see the place where Marcel will practice his social work and later in the evening we froze our arses off hung out near the steps of the Basilica. Before leaving Esztergom on Wednesday, Marcel drove me to the top of a nearby mountain and pointed out the sights of the town from a different angle. There is a good view of the local Suzuki factory (which celebrated its millionth car a few days ago – great), and then told me that the spot we were standing on was where a girl had been raped and murdered a couple of years prior. Nice way to end my time in Esztergom.

More cool stuff happened in Esztergom, but this post is already long enough.

The ride from Esztergom to Budapest was pretty straightforward, but one thing stuck in my mind (and throat), along the way. Flies are supposed to have a couple of hundred eyes, right? So you'd think they would be able to see my open mouth and avoid the dark and damp death that lays somewhere near my gag reflex. I arrived on the outskirts of Budapest when I expected I would, but as with any big city, getting into the heart can be a tricky affair. I followed the bike map's suggestion and crossed the Danube at the railway bridge, which led to a bike trail along a few quite roads and back streets, much like the tree lined streets of Unley in some parts. I got a little lost, but eventually found my way to my rendezvous spot near the Octagon (a collection of shops theatres and attractions described by the Lonely Planet as Budapest's little Paris), to met up with my Budapest host. I'm now staying in a cool flat, with a friendly cat and a host who works as a projectionist at an arty movie theatre and likes bikes, coffee and swearing in English.

Today I rested, bummed around the flat until about 3 and watched Boogie Nights. I had forgotten just how good that film is. PT Anderson is a genius. Then I went wifi hunting, found a nice spot in a nearby park and soaked up some emails. A few Gypsy kids came up and started asking questions about the laptop. Initially I was a bit nervous about my stuff being ripped off, but after a little while we were all laughing, dancing and performing bike stunts. Nothing to back up the countless bad gypsy stories I've heard, but I could tell one of the kids was rather fond of my fancy bike light. I'll write more on gypsies later, but it is interesting to get an outside perspective on the psychology of repressed minorities within a society and the environment and attitudes which perpetuates the vicious circle. By the way, how many aboriginal people are you been friends with / worked with / went to uni with? As for dicey places to travel, I've decided to go as far as Belgrade and then come back into Hungary via the Tisza River, which meets with the Danube in Belgrade. This way I'll be able to make it back to Vienna where I can catch one of the cheapy airlines and fly to London for xmas with Jo and Craig.

Tomorrow I play the tourist. Museums, old buildings and stuff. I also have some tech stuff to deal with. My DVD drive is spitting out coasters and I fear the photo backup I did in Vienna may be missing a big chunk of the photos from Russia and China. Arse. Thankfully it's under warranty and there is a service centre here in Budapest. My camera's sensor also needs a good clean.

PS - Lost 0301 - Good, but WTF?
PSS - Thanks to my river side travels, I missed 3 birthdays in the last week. All emailed, skyped and wished at.
PSSS - Something old that's worth a revisit: link

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

anyone for tea?

Sorry guys.. It's been a busy week with no internet, but here's a quick update:

I'm in Esztergom, Hungary until tomorrow when I head for Budapest, which is about 70km south of here. In the last few days I've been hanging out with Marcell, who studies social work by day and is a kick-arse photographer by night. Check his stuff here:

I've had so many unique little experiences over the last week. Tomorrow when I get to Budapest, I sit down at a cafe and try to write it all out.

later skaters

Friday, October 06, 2006


Komárno Fort
Up there in the top ten coolest things I've seen my entire trip. But first a little history: The fort has its roots back in the 13th Century, but was made into a proper fortress with walls and turrets in 1572, with moats and bigger walls coming in sometime between 1650 and 1660 to guard against the Turks. Fast forward to the second half of the 20th century and you find the place occupied by the Soviets, with all the mod cons like light fittings, machine guns and a swimming pool full of pickles. When the Velvet Revolution came in 89, the commies left and the Czechoslovakian army moved in and set up shop. When they got bored of guarding nothing, they took all the lights, guns and pickles and left the place in 1991. Since then, it has only been opened to the public once a year and twice for a couple of small, open-air music concerts, but the place has pretty much been kept under lock and key the last 15 years. A combination of decent security (der, it's a fort), and city officials with that "go-getting ex-Soviet gunna" attitude has kept the site pretty much as it was left back in 1991. One of the buildings on the outside of the walls has been polished up and is now being used by the local uni, but all the stuff within the fort is vanilla.

Somehow, whether it be by an error of security or a change in admittance policy, I found myself on the more interesting side of the front gates at Komárno Fort. They were wide open and I just rode on in with Frankenbike and was given no friction. The place is so big and quiet with literally hundreds of little rooms, hidden stairways and catacombs to explore. It's the sort of place Wizard dreams of going to after he buys a new Maglight. As I had already planned to meet Joli for a tour of the old city walls, I only had an hour or so to explore, but that hour was well used and I took a whole bunch of photos. Needless to say finding this place has got me out of a stink of a mood I've been in for the last week and has made this part of the trip a little shinier. And yes I had my phone with me just incase there was a repeat of St Vitus in Prague. Before I leave Komárno on Saturday, I'll go back to th fort with the video camera and make an angsty metal music video there. Now where's my wig, leather jaket and tight black pants?

Other stuff floating through my head:

  • Can I have one of these installed the back of a Skoda 110R, or does the engine get in the way?
  • Hungarians traditionally don't clink their beer glasses together when saying "Egészségedre" (cheers), in remembrance of their top generals being executed by the Austrian army 150 years ago.
  • When an animated movie with celebrity voices like Toy Story or Shark Tale comes to a place like Germany or Russia where films are dubbed into the local language, do equally famous locals re voice it or do they just get a couple of fat guys in a studio to do the whole thing?
  • How are the Mt Panorama kids planning to commemorate Brocky this weekend? Like this over shadowing this, Brock just couldn't compete with Steve Irwin, so his death missed the attention it deserved. A fitting tribute would be an XU1 Torana doing a few doughies on Conrod, then performing a lap of honor with his coffin sitting between a couple of cartons in the boot, held closed by occy straps (the boot, not the coffin).
  • In Austria, the usage of "von" before a family's surname was outlawed in 1918, meaning that The Sound of Music has lied to me.. Again.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

fish champion winner

I've spent the last few days in Győr, hanging out in a house of seven guys and some of their friends. I've got to watch a bit of MTV, VH1 and Viva and I must say that the new Robbie Williams is a like the new Dj Shadow (WTF? Is he serious?). On Monday night we had a nachos night, with about 10 people partaking in the feast. On Tuesday, I rode to Pannonhalma, only to miss out on seeing the inside by about 15 minutes. Oh well.. It was a nice ride and I got to walk around the monastery grounds and see the old parts of the building. The views were pretty cool, especially with the late afternoon sun and hiding around the back I found a new sporting area with fancy red bouncy AstroTurf. Later that evening we all went out and danced until about 4 to mostly bad Eurotrash music. The highlight for me was when some Hungarian 80s and 90s music played, and everyone in the room linked arms and started singing much in the same way Khe Sanh would have been sung at the Central Districts Football Club after winning against those snooty Roosters. One very weird thing happened though. A guy dancing in the crowd in another group of people came up to me and asked me in English if I was Dan. I said yes, and he got huge smile and asked me if i remembered him. I didn't, but my involuntary polite response of "yeah sure I do.. um... mate" slipped out and I never got to the part of how I know him. He then introduces me to his group of friends, with me shaking their hands and looking over my shoulder giving one of the Christines a "What the fuck?" look. Random. I still can't remember if I played table football with this guy on Sunday night or if I met him at Sziget and took his photo or chatted to him.

The ride from Győr, Hungary to Komárno, Slovakia

Sometimes you can follow a river. Sometimes you can follow your heart. But most of the time it's best to follow a map and directions from locals. What a balls up.. Lets just say I swore a lot to myself today, occasionally pulling out a few of my new Hungarian words (Korva, Bosznak), to express how pissed off I was at myself. Here's the deal. Peter suggested I follow Highway 1 (the less busy of the roads that pass through Komárom/Komárno), but after my experience with other Euro highways, they don't allow bicycle traffic on them and finding an alternate bike route can be a difficult, if not impossible task. So I decided to follow the small river which ran past the front of the place I was staying at in Győr and follow it until I reached a bridge somewhere further along. After riding about two and half hours (60% in gravel), I reached a small town called Vének and realise I'm starting to head back west. I check the map and see that Vének is on the wrong side of the river and that to cross it, I have to return to pretty much where started from, cross a bridge and then follow Highway 1 (just as Peter suggested). I swore at myself for about 10 minutes and flirted with the idea of riding back into Vének to see if there was a footbridge to cross to get onto Highway 1. After deciding that this was a waste of time because it wasn't on the map, I headed back to Győr via a much quicker path, found my way back to the main bridge, rode past the place that I had stayed at and followed the dedicated bike track running parallel to Highway 1 out of town. I'M A DICK. I had lost almost 3 hours from my ride and I had added another 40km to my trip. Anyway, on the way back out of Győr (about 15km), I was still pretty pissed at dan murphy, when half way through an internal telling off of myself I rode past a sign pointing out a pedestrian and bicycle bridge to Vének. Double shit. Not only did I not listen to a local's suggestions, I also didn't listen to myself. I did however, listen to a whole bunch of Ianto Ware's music. I hope he finishes his studies soon and writes some more, because it's well suited to riding the back roads of Eastern Europe and I've got a whole bunch more riding to go.

I rolled into Komárom around 19:20, about two hours after I said that I would be there. I try and give my host a call but I have no luck with the public phone or skype. It was dark and I only saw a couple of signs pointing out the way to find the bridge border crossing into Slovakia and Komárno. I eventually find my way there and park my bike where the border patrol guards point. One comes up to me and points at the trailer saying something in Hungarian. I shrug and he repeats the question in German: "Kinders?". I answer "No sorry... Haven't met the right girl yet." Stupid Australian humour lost in translation. So I hand over my passport and he spots I'm Australian. He grumbles and shouts across the border station something in Hungarian and then "kangaroo!". I start to laugh, and everyone has smiles on their faces. One of the other guards gives me a hard pat on the back, and says with a big smile "Rex Hunt. Fish champion winner" while he mimed fishing with a rod. I got a couple of stamps (with one on the plastic covering of my passport holder, which the guard rubs off and laughs but doesn't replace), I get a thumbs up and a "Yibbida yibbida" from the fish guy and as I walked away with my bike I focused my thoughts on how to contact my host. This thought process was quickly interrupted by saying "Dan?", and my host Joli emerging from the shadows in front of me, holding out a hand to be shaken. She had tried to contact me via email earlier, but had given up and had gone for coffee with a friend. She had locked her bike up earlier this evening to the railing of the bridge near the border and was now returning to retrieve it. After spotting me and my bike coming through the checkpoint, she took a punt and guessed it was me. Joli is a 51yo child psychologist and has hosted 5 people previously, most of whom were making the same bike journey I'm doing.

Tomorrow I get to visit Eurotown, where part of central Komárno has been converted so that each building represents a different country. Should be a lark.

Monday, October 02, 2006


I'm now in Győr, Hungary.

The 90km ride from Bratislava was an easy one, as there is a bike path almost the entire way down the Danube. For about 30kms out of Bratislava, there were plenty of cyclists and in line skaters all wearing their fitness clothing, ipods and fashion water bottles. What I was impressed with was the two cycling paths and and the little snack outlets every 5km or so. The crowds thinned as I got to the island. The ride itself was quick thanks to the dedicated path but was at times a little dull. DJ Vadim came to the rescue via my MP3 player and the kilometres disappeared under my wheels quickly. However, the village on the island is cute, the dam looks cool and the weather was fine. In the bit between the dam and the border crossing, there were these super annoying gates which I almost killed me and my trailer a few times. When I got to the border, I didn't have the same problems as I did with the last border crossing, but the guards still thought an Australian riding through these parts was a bit of a novelty. Frankenbike has been going well, but has developed some funny noises that seem to come and go as they please. The worst noise is coming from one of my brand spanking new pedals, which sounds like a bunch of nuts and bolts being chewed by a dog. It feels like it will fall off and I probably need to get it replaced soon. I wonder if my warranty is good here in Hungary or if I have to shell out for another set?

Győr is one of those pretty little Danube towns with a couple of bridges, a few churches and some tasty 'neo-brutal' ex-soviet flats. There's also a university here, so the place is full of students. And if you're not a student, you probably work in the Audi TT factory just out of town. I'm staying in a student flat which is currently empty thanks to the local elections making everyone return to their home towns. It is usually occupied by seven guys, and all it seems to be missing is a bong in the lounge room. But the guy who is here, Peter, and his neighbour Gabriel (ha! Peter Gabriel), didn't go home for the elections and have been entertaining me for the last couple of days. I've learnt some Hungarian words, but most of them are rude. We've gone out for a few drinks with their mates, with their friend Bela being the best table football player (male or female), I've met in a while. People back in Australia should be happy to know that Heartbreak High is one of the most popular shows on TV here and still plays on a regular basis.

Today I ride to Pannonhalma, which is a town with an old monastery about 20km out of Győr. The monastery is positioned on one of the few hills in these parts, has a fairly impressive looking library and a pretty good views of all the flat bits of land around it.