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


Eleanora Martinez said...

good to hear of all the happenings . . .
LOST S3E2 . . \(>~<)/

jo said...

Keep up the good work Mung - Only 7 weeks until we are in the UK. I feel like singing the final count down!

Rock on dude!