What just happened? I was standing on a hill on the outskirts of a Hungarian village watching a fantastic sunset, enjoying the crisp but clear weather and talking about how the simple things in life are not always cornflakes, but usually the best when things suddenly got dark. A massive black cloud approached from the north and the weather changed drastically. As Timmi and I clambered down from the hill and walked past the first few houses of the village, the storm broke and we took cover next to a large brick fence as darkness surrounded us.
For the last two months, the weather has been more than acceptable. While the nights are cold, the days have been clear, the sun has been warming and the winds have been refreshing. The Hungarians call it Ven Asszonyok Nyara (old woman’s summer), where autumn is unseasonably warm, but no one really minds. This good weather has made my bike riding a relatively easy affair, with the Hungarian pot-holed roads and lack of motivation being my only hindrance. But while I was in Halásztelek, the weather changed quickly. Really quickly. To exaggerate this change, last Sunday daylight savings shifted the clocks back an hour, so things get dark around 5pm now. Whoppie Do. I shared an email with the Americans I stayed with in Budapest, and they expressed their surprise at the cold snap in a way only Southern Californians can: “What the crap? It’s so freakin cold”. It's been snowing for the last three days with the temperature hovering around -4 and maxing out at 1. I got an email from Vienna last night saying they just had 10cm of snow around the outskirts of town. Awesome. I’m already booked in for some sledding and ice skating when I return.
The ride from Halásztelek (Hal-ass-ta-lek) to Székesfehérvár (See-Kash-fa-hear-var)
A nice an easy journey with plenty of countryside to soak in and a few abandoned (but heavily guarded), soviet-era factories. The weather, in defiance of the previous days, was quite pleasant. One of the villages I stopped in to grab some food and sat down on the step outside to prepare my impromptu lunch. A little kid came up to me, pointed at my bike and trailer and started babbling away to me in Hungarian. I apologised and said that I didn’t speak Hungarian, to which he took a step back, thought about it, then fired up the Hungarian babble again. I showed him the kangaroo hanging off of my bag and his mum translated to him that I was from Australia. He took another step back, thought about it, and started the babble once more. The next village I went through was Tölök, where I met Karo and Kasper, two really short guys (possibly midgets), who were raking up leaves and keeping the place tidy. I stopped and walked over to them and we communicated through gestures and guesswork. Kasper offered me an apple and evil looking cocoa drink. In exchange, I gave them some of the cheese I had bought earlier, and asked if I could take a few photos. They obliged and took up a photo pose. As I was looking through the viewfinder at these men, dressed in their overalls and mismatched children’s clothing, I started to think about just how fake my life is. At that moment, my only worries in the world were what white balance to use and where I could next pick up wireless internet from. A few other white boy pain issues, but basically the complications in my life are all a construct. I took my photos and the two of them talked amongst themselves for a bit. I began to imagine what their lives must be like and I started to I envy their simple existence. An old log cabin with their bikes outside collecting frost. A rabbit hutch full of tomorrow night’s dinner. A pile of wood waiting for the winter. Sleep when the sun goes down, wake when the sun comes up. I think 'Wow.. They probably just gave me everything they had to for food today'. Much in the way I experienced when talking to a Shinto monk in Japan, my head wandered off on its own philosophical journey and suddenly my life became the sum total of nothing more than the result of a consumption fuelled society. My squirrel put down his card game and coffee, pulled out an abacus and started to calculate the mathematical equivalent of life, the universe and everything.
Tree falling in the woods.
Waking up dead.
One hand clapping.
Bah dit da da - da da darr.
Kasper’s polyphonic A-Team ringtone shatters the moment. So much for the simple life.
After that little existential detour, I jumped back on the bike and continued on my way. I hadn’t realised when I first went to Halásztelek that it is on an island (Sziget), with the Danube and the Soroksári Duna carving out a separate land mass stretching 50km south from the outskirts of Budapest. This meant I had to find a place to cross, but according to the map, the only bridges off the island were back in Budapest or over the Soroksári, which was in the wrong direction. If I wanted to head southwest, I needed to use one of the ferry crossings over the Danube and this made me a little nervous. I was fine though, as the signage at the dock, while not in English, used easy to understand pictograms to explain cost and times. I had to wait forty minutes for the 400ft ferry ride. I spent this time eating cheap but tasty pistachios and drinking a beer from the little shop nearby. Once on the other side, it was a short ride to the next village, where I would have to take the northern road around a small lake. I screwed up and ended up taking the southern road around the lake, which took me to another one of those annoying roads where the bike lane stops, a sign clearly states that bike cannot use the road ahead, but don't indicate an alternate route for us two wheeled adventurers.
Bad roads aside, it was an easy ride to Székesfehérvár, which was the capital of Hungary 1,000 years ago. The name can be broken down into Székes (The throne) and fehérvár (the white castle), but apparently the two words have no connection other than the name of the town. I am staying with Katalin, a Hungarian English teacher who has a million different stories of fun and adventure with the places she has been and the people she has met. I will write a bit more about her later. I have a dinner date with the neighbour’s freshly slaughtered pig tonight, but I’ll write a bit more about that later as well.
I’m keen on buying an old Škoda (preferably a 110), and driving it around Eastern Europe for a couple of months during next year's spring. Plus on Jan 1 2007, Croatia and Bulgaria become EU countries, making adventures in those places a little easier. My possibly-maybe cameo back in Australia will determine the dates, but if the idea of being a co-driver appeals, seed this one in your head.
Tomorrow I ride 60km south-west to Balatonboglar, a town on the banks of Lake Balaton, Hungary's favorite lake. The colours of the late autumn trees combined with the recent snow should look pretty cool.