(26) From bear country to Budapest
Tuesday 18th September – Friday 21st September
We left the Jewish quarter where we had been staying and headed out of town to a hostel. Our new tent had been sent but it was the wrong model which meant an extended stay in Krakow. Mum kindly took home our old tent. The hostel was a great find on the edge of town so quiet with a lovely garden and really helpful and friendly staff. We booked into a 5 bed dorm and were lucky to have it to ourselves. We had a good few days at the hostel catching up on things. We spent time planning our route south as we had bought maps in Berlin for Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. One great thing about our stay was meeting a Chilean couple called Carlos and Ximena from Santiago in Chile.
Outside of the hostel with our new Chilean friends
We spent time chatting and planning a route through Chile. It was so great to meet them and we are so excited about cycling there.
Our tent finally arrived – however there was confusion over how we should pay for it which took all day to sort out. It involved arranging an international bank transfer –a massive thanks to Sharon’s parents who went into Exeter especially to arrange this. Sharon’s Dad even missed watching Mastermind sorting things out for us – Tim suggested he should enter Mastermind with his specialist subject being ‘supporting his daughter and son-in-law on an around the world adventure’ : ) We finally were able to pick the tent up and got ready to leave the following morning.
Saturday 22nd September
We set the alarm, got up and finished packing. Before we could head off we needed proof of the transfer to send to the tent company. We finished updating the blog and waited for a call from Sharon’s Dad to confirm the transfer had been set up. This done, we grabbed a quick sandwich and got on the road.
The road was good except for lots of glass on the hard shoulder – more evidence of the crazy driving in Poland! We started to climb as we were heading towards the Tatras mountains which divides Poland and Slovakia. We reached the first small summit which revealed the mountains covered in snow. They were awesome and filled us with excitement.
Our first view of the mountains
We arrived at a small town called Mysline and bought a bun and food for the evening. We made a sandwich and with it being 5pm we decided we had time to do another 10 miles.
We arrived in Luben, picked up water at a kebab shop and headed on looking for somewhere to stay. We asked some builders if we could camp next to a house they were working on but they didn’t seem that impressed with our request! We rode on spotting a house up a drive with a great grassy spot which looked as though it was used for the kids football pitch. As we needed a large area the size of a football pitch to put our new tent – which has 2 porches (known as the east and west wing!) we were thrilled to be told yes no problem. Putting the tent up we were surprised to see how large it looked – it was only a metre longer but looked like it was twice as big! As we cooked dinner it started to rain and we were grateful for a larger porch to sit in to eat. It was really beginning to feel colder.
Sunday 23rd September
During the night the temperature plummeted and being the first night in the tent for a while we felt the cold. With the leaves falling from the trees even before we got to Krakow it felt like we were running out of time before we had to cross the high mountains. With a route planned that covered 1,000 miles before we got to the Romanian/Bulgarian border which would take us until the end of October, we realised that we wouldn’t have time before the winter set in. Worried about our route we slept through the cold night and woke to a crisp sunny autumnal day.
Over breakfast we decided we needed to revise our route which we could do at our next rest day. We packed up and got on the road. We were already at 400 metres and it wasn’t long before we could see the mountains again. We were heading to the mountain town of Zakopane. We stopped for lunch in Nowy Targ and sat outside a supermarket to have lunch. We rode on taking in the scenery and as we got closer to the mountains the views became more stunning. Tim picked up a great hat at a stall on the side of the road for the cooler evenings regretting sending some of our warm clothes home. We arrived in Zakopane which was a pretty mountain town.
The mountain town of Zakopane, our last town in Poland
We picked up supplies for the mountains and headed on up into the woods. We continuously climbed to 1,000 metres then descended to 900 m then up to 1,100 m looking for a suitable camp spot. During the climb, Tim spotted a fitch which is like a large stoat. We finally spotted a fenced area with benches and pitched our mansion. We heard some strange noises coming from the woods but didn’t know what it was. We cooked dinner and went to bed, feeling the temperature drop once again.
As the night went on with the temperature dropping we were glad to be wearing more clothes. The road got quieter and the noises got louder and closer which made us feel a little uneasy but with being in a fenced area it felt safe enough.
Sharon modelling Tim’s new mountain hat in our woodland camp!
Monday 24th September
We woke to a blue sky, fresh air and the sun casting rays through the trees. It felt a great place to be. We had breakfast and got on the road; we still had some climbing to do to get around a 2630m peak to descend to the border of Slovakia which was on a river.
Descending down to the border
Crossing the border modelling our mountain hats!
Total number of miles in Poland: 1,093 miles / 1,758km
Total altitude gain in Poland: 9,047 metres
Total distance so far: 4,253 miles / 6,843km
Total altitude so far: 47,712 metres
Excited to be in our sixth country we climbed again to the next summit. We descended the other side and met a Polish cycle tourist called Matthew. We asked him what he thought the noises were and he informed us about the many bears in the mountains – he told us never to camp in the forest. We just listened open mouthed. When we told him we had camped he looked shocked! We said goodbye and rode on digesting what he had just said and grateful to have not come face to face with the bears. We continued to a junction which turned right onto the 537 which traversed the mountain range into Slovakia. Tim had his 4th puncture, 2nd in the front tyre out of the whole trip. We continued to climb into a strong headwind thinking it wouldn’t go that high but we ended up climbing up to 1260m which was higher than the passes we had previously crossed. We stopped on the way to the turnoff to get lunch and by the time we reached the top we both felt really tired.
We joined the 538 and had an amazing descent down to the T-junction and turned west on the 18. The road remained good and the views were stunning. Feeling tired we finally stopped in the town of Hube to pick up water from a guy outside his house.
The town of Hube
We rode on for a few miles and found a spot out of sight from the road. Feeling we were far enough away from the mountains but still near woodland, we were confident to be away from any bears and we pitched the tent and cooked tea. We heard noises in the woods so Tim went to take a look only to find it was deer. We went to bed happy for a good days ride but still a bit nervous about the potential of furry guests coming to check us out. Tim found it hard to sleep worried about the potential of bears and managed to convince himself he was being silly fell asleep. At 4am he was woken by a sound we had become used to and sent shivers down his spine “Bears ****” He only heard one far off down the valley but felt nervous. He fell asleep only to be woken by more and louder growls. It sounded like there were three about a mile away down the valley and one much closer. With Sharon now awake and our hearts pounding we decided there was nothing we could but wait till morning. As the road got busier and the sun came up the noises faded and we managed to catch up on much needed sleep.
Tuesday 25th September
We got up around 8am having had rain in the night; we dried the tent and had breakfast. We got on the road and soon came to the turn off to head south. With another climb ahead and the skies clearing we started the climb to the last major summit of the High Tatra Mountains. It was amazing scenery and perfect cycling weather.
The road to the summit
We finally reached the summit at 1280m which was higher than the day before and sat at a bench with amazing views of the other side. We unpacked our lunch things and put the kettle on. A couple who were Slovakian teachers came over and offered us some food they had left over which was really kind of them. It included salami and fruit juice which greatly improved our lunch of bread and cheese ; )
A great lunch spot
We got back on our bikes and descended 11 miles through a forested hillside to the main highway where the road continued down the valley to the beautiful town of Banska. With a stunning square and warm sunshine, we sat and had a couple beers and enjoyed the moment.
We found out where the nearest bear free campsite was and headed out of town on the road east for 5 miles of uphill. We finally arrived at the site in the dark to find a grumpy man who wanted us to rent a cabin and finally showed us a flat bit of grass. He appeared surprised when we asked where the showers were. After some persistence he opened up a cabin for us to shower in but we still had to cook on our own stove all for 11 euros (about £9). As we ate our tea we looked up “camping with bears “ not a good thing to do before you go to bed – we realised we hadn’t taken any precautions such as cooking away from our tent and camping away from any deer trails. We washed up and with the temperature once again dropping fast we went to bed so tired we did sleep well.
Wednesday 26th September
We got up and made the most of the shower. It took Tim by surprise as its super-heated water shot out of the shower head and he had to dive for safety. We got going by 10.30 and enjoyed a great ride back down into town and on down the valley to the pretty town of Zvolven. We picked up lunch and followed the road south, starting to climb the lower foothills of the next set of mountains. They ended up being quite steep at around 12% towards the top and once there we continued through steeply rolling countryside before we finally came to the last summit and descended 3-4 miles to the town of Vel’ky Kris. We found a supermarket to get supplies and water.
We rode on to find a camp spot and spotted a small village to find someone to ask. We saw a pub and Sharon went in to ask. No one spoke English at first then when Sharon said all we needed was a small piece of ground a guy called Joseph said he could help. He made a phone call and led us to a restaurant out of the village. A friend of his kindly said we could camp on the grass at the back for free. We chatted with Joseph for a while; he sold Slovakian wine which had won a lot of awards. We offered him a beer but he insisted he pay. We asked about bears in the area and we were relieved when he laughed saying there were only ponies, pointing to two small ponies in a pen. We cooked tea and went to bed.
Tim and Joseph
Thursday 27th September
We woke early after a good nights sleep but tired after so much climbing in the mountains. Sharon’s back was painful after all the climbing and we had over 60 miles to ride to Budapest so we were in for a long day. We had a coffee in the cafe and checked our emails.
After 10 miles we reached the Hungarian border, crossing into our 7th country.
Crossing into Hungary
Total number of miles in Slovakia: 171 miles / 275 km
Total altitude gain in Slovakia: 2,534 metres
Total distance so far: 4,424 miles / 7,118 km
Total altitude so far: 50,246 metres
The weather soon warmed up and it was in the high twenties for most of the day. We had flat roads to start with and the going was good. We had regular breaks for Sharon to stretch out. We rode on until we reached the town of Vac where we had lunch in a park. We had ridden 38 miles but with around another 30 miles to go we didn’t stop for long. We also needed to find somewhere to stay when we arrived in Budapest.
The miles passed and the roads got busier indicating that we were getting closer to the city. Tim spotted 2 cyclists over to our right seemingly on another road. We headed right and discovered a great cycle path which followed the river Danube. It suddenly stopped, pushing us back onto the highway for 5-6 miles only to start again nearer to the city.
We finally passed the Budapest city sign and knew we were close. We spotted some trams on the bridge ahead and headed up to investigate. We asked a couple with a map who directed us across the bridge into the old part of the city. We got some money out and started to look for some sort of information place when a guy called Charlie riding a cool green bike came to our rescue. He made a few phone calls and proceeded to take us on a 7 mile ride around the city to find a hostel. On route we passed a stunning building which Charlie told us was the parliament building.
The stunning parliament building
After a few failed attempts at finding a hostel, we finally came to the Mandala hostel which was lovely and very close to the centre. We said our thanks to Charlie and made our way to our room.
Our knight on his shiny green bike!
Before long we were sat in a restaurant feeling strange that only a few nights before we were listening to strange noises in the forest. After a couple beers and good food we went to bed. After 4 months on the road and over 4,400 miles of riding and 50,000 metres of climbing we slept well.
Next installment coming soon….