Slovenia and Hungary
For more info on Slovenija see the Wikipedia article.
23/9 I meet Willi and his wife from Rosenheim in Bayern who tells me a bit about this area. He comes here every year for the last 25 years. They also kindly provide me with bread and hot water for breakfast. Just on the offchance I turn on my PC and it WORKS! Beats me. The day starts overcast with very dark clouds on the mountains, but Willi thinks it will stay fine. He is right. I pass over the Vršič Pass (pay the warden to park your bike here!) to reach Kranjska Gora. This seems to be a tourist resort, but I manage to find a supermarket to stock up more or less for the weekend.
On to Jesenice. This looks like what I always imagined communist towns o look like: drab and run down. Finding the turnoff to Bled turns into a mission, as the town is only signposted once I'm on the right road out of town. I climb up to the castle in Bled for the view,
then pootle around the lake and onwards to Bohinj. I'm supposed to take backroads here, but can't seem to find any. My large scale map is of not much use. This beeing in the National Park there are maps posted on billboards from time to time, but I find them confusing and eventually get completely lost in the mountains, ending up on dead-end dirt tracks. There is another lake here, but it's a weekend and there are tour buses and lots of locals here and to boot you have to pay to park by the lake. I buy a road map and then head to Škofja Loka. To my surprise the road over the saddle soo turns to dirt. I was planning to camp early, but my new map doesn't show any camp sites in this part. But I'm in luck: a lady at a service station sends me down the road and luckily I recognise the name of the place, because it is signposted as a sports centre. What a great place: cheap, friendly and there is a whole bunch of locals partying and grilling here with loud music. I have barely pitched my tent when a plate with meat and bread arrives, brought by Smiley, a Bosnian living here. I soon join the crowd, bu can't really communicate. At the tent I get cornered by Drago, who speaks good English and is very interested in my trip. Strangely, at about 21h they all pack up and go home. It's Saturday, so I thought they would party to the wee small hours, but not so. They do drive after drinking all that beer, though.
24/9 A cold and foggy morning soon gives way to more blue skies. I ride into the Centre of Ljubljana for a look. There is little traffic on this Sunday morning, but I bet it's different on weekdays. The town is small for a capital city. Lots of old buildings in the centre in all stages of repair. There is a nice river flowing through the centre and the place is chocker with tourists. I climb up to the castle. It's a hodgepodge of very old, not so old and new, but nicely done. Having seen many really old castles I give it a miss and walk around the courtyard and the outside. The view is obscured by many trees, and the part of the footpath that would give me a view is closed for the construction of a cable car. Back to the camp, where I engage in some artwork on the panniers. I think I won't try to make a living from this...
25/9 An even foggier morning. A bit of confusion at breakfast time: when I ask the bar lady whether they sell any bread I just get a strange look. I repeat my request and she asks "sill any briid?". It becomes clear to me that no matter how hard I try, I cannot speak English any more, only Kiwispeak. My accent is so thick I have to use sign language.
It's definitely autumn now. I get an SMS from Rok, a contact made through the HUBB. He is expecting me in Trebolje ar 14:30 for lunch. That should leave me some time for a short loop through the alps and a small corner of Austria. It turns out that I am cutting it a bit fine, as navigation isn't as simple as I thought. The last bit I do in a bit of a hurry and I'm still on time. So I get to meet Rok, who rides a Honda VFR 750, his sister Nina and father Boris. They are a lively and switched on lot and we have long and interesting discussions about everything over lunch. They serve a dish of fried potatoes and boiled meat, I think. Rok later explaines that it's one of the last remaining traditional Slowenian dishes. I have yet to discover what happened to all the other one. A big thanks to Rok and his family for their warm hospitality. It's alsways interesting to get an insight into peoples' lives and views in other countries and of course there is so much recent history to discuss. Rok then takes me for a tiki tour around the hills and shows me his family's weekend home. I could live there, it's so spacious and modern. Finally he takes me me to the next campsite, where we continue our talking.
26/9 A tiki tour through the hills near the Croat border. It is strange to see the new border checkpoint they have built, knowing that as soon as both countries are integrated into the EU they will have to tear them down again. Such is the folly of politicians. I have decided not to free camp any more, because the days are just too short and the mornings very damp. I like the comfort and sometimes the company of the campgrounds, not to mention the hot showers. In Ptuj the camping is part of a large thermal pool complex. So, part of the evening is whiled away in the pools. The weather is partly cloudy but warm and with a bit of a breeze blowing for a change there is no dew in the evening, so hopefully I will for once be packing up a dry tent.
27/9 The breeze soon stopped and everything got wet again, but the sun came out again in the morning and after talking to my German and French neighbours everything was dry again. Made my way to a small border crossing and as I pull up at the barrier - SNAP goes the clutch cable. Much to the amusement of the Slowenian border policeman I spend the next two hours unloading the bike, removing the tank and changing the cable for a used one I carried for this purpose. He is a nice chap and a biker, too, so we talk quite a lot while I work away. To summarise my impressions of Slowenia: green, modern, nice scenery and generally friendly people. The scenery is generally nice, especially in the alps and the hills. It reminds me of Austria. Definitely worth a visit and I'm sure I'll be back one day.
I enter Magyarország and another world. Right away the road surface deteriorates, there is little traffic and what there is are often old East-Bloc vehicles. It is evident, however, that the government is spending up large: all the road signs are new and many roads are being rebuilt. Even the railway lines are new. However, some of the back roads I travel on are third world standard, very bumpy and full of holes. Winter in Anatolia being on my mind I press on and find myself a camp ground on the shores of lake Balaton. As I finish putting my things into the tent the heavens open up with thunder and lightning. Having made two strategic errors, namely not buying supplies in the last town and leaving my jacket hanging in the rain I decide to eat in the restaurant. Strange that it is still open: I'm the only guest, the season is just about finished, the camp will close in 3 days.
View from the hill above the camp. I wonder what this lake was like when my father was here, involuntarily, in 1943, forced to assist in conquering new living space for the 1000-year Reich...
28/9 A laundry and chilling out day. I discover that there is wireless internet access on site, provided by Deutsche Telecom. As I discover soon afterwards, they seem to have bought the Hungarian Telco operator, as all the pay phones are run by them, too. I buy an access card, alas, I can't get a logon screen, despite having established a connection.
29/9 My father's birthday. I thought I would give him a call on my mobile. Nada. Neither available operator seems to have a roaming agreement with mine, so I can't make calls. Despite sweating in the sun I have great difficulty drying my tent (no wind at all again, I'm not complaining). I post a picture CD and surplus maps to my parents, then hit the road again, following the North shore of the lake till the end. Western Hungary is firmly in German hands. Shops have "Lebensmittel" in big letters on them and there are German signs everywhere. Most supermarkets and grocery shops seem to belong to Lidl, Plus and Spar (German food store chains). Again, I only have the large-scale map provided by the ADAC, so I think of taking a shortcut at Dunaújváros. Funny that, I enter the town from the South-East, intending to cross the Duna, then taking back roads East. But the road passes the centre and gradually I find myself heading back South, without ever having seen the river. At a petrol pump they explain to me that the bridge over the river is still being built... Then I discover that there don't seem to be any back roads in the normal sense. Although the country is completely flat, there actually seem to be no more roads than are on my map. When I try to get away from the busy main road in the evening to find a camp site I immediately find myself on very bad tracks of earth or sand. I'm glad the ground is dry. There are houses and hamlets everywhere and it seems impossible to find a quiet spot. Until, that is, I spot a Youth Hostel sign. Now, I don't expect a YH around here where tourists never venture, but the well-known blue sign with the tree and the hut gets often used for other things. Here, too: I end up at a channelised river where people are fishing. I set up my tent on the bank just as it gets dark. Unfortunately, the main road is clearly audible, despite being 5 km away. Oh well, pothing is nerfect.
30/9 The bend in the river turns out to be a lake, after all. Before I leave my campsite in the morning I spot a large grey patch, like mud, on my front tyre. On closer inspection it turns out to be a giant moth. Lucky I spotted it before pushing the bike off the stand. In this flat country I make quick progress towards the border. In theory, it's 60 km/h for 10s of km, as the entire road is being rebuilt. In practice, everybody ignores road signs around here, unless there are cops to be seen. Which is the case nearer the border, where revenue gathering is in progress: on a nice wide straight piece of road, in a village, sort of, the radar car. For your safety, certainly. Then I experience somthing strange: a cop closes the main road. The oncoming lane is blocked off. Once our direction is allowed to go I pass the scene of a recent accident, presumably. There is an awning set up on the road, under which people are sitting, wearing reflective vests, there is a table, it's like a picnic. There are some vans flying the Hungarian flag and an enormous cross is erected on the road. Do they do this for every memorial service, even on a motorway? Speaking of religion, Rok in Slovenia commented that since independance all the churches have been renovated, something which is obvious to see. He thinks Slowenians are not that religious and wonders, where the money is coming from. I notice the same in Hungary. I reach the border at about lunch time and I'm through in a breeze, just a Romanian stamp in my passport.