A Whistle Stop in Slovakia and Hungary

 My time in the Schengen Zone was grinding down to the deadline. I would have to skip through Slovakia and Hungary faster than I’d have liked. 

My anxiety about cycling up into the High Tatras had really built up. In the end it wasn’t nearly as hard as I’d worked it up to be and my policy of slow and steady did the trick. My arrival in the mountains was brilliantly timed, because the following day was a wash out. Luckily I found a fun hostel in Ždiar, which is a real haven for the intrepid backpackers. Most people were there for hiking, but as it rained the whole day we remained hostel bound and drank wine instead (the hostel dog sulked). I left beautiful Ždiar and zipped down from the mountains, through the sleepy medieval looking Kežmarok heading towards Spiš Castle.

The hostel dog embodying the mood on a rainy day

I couldn’t zig zag through Slovakia and explore as much as I’d wanted but I had read that Spiš Castle was a must see. I made it to a town nearby the Castle and brazenly decided to camp in a park on the outskirts, not at all hidden, but unbothered. I was rewarded with fantastic evening views over the castle. Spiš Castle itself was pretty cool, however like so many tourist attractions it is less ‘historical & educational’ and more ‘tacky medieval side show’ that you can only cringe at. The audio guide and the views from the castle were great but.  

Spiš Castle

I took a gamble on a quieter back road past a large dam on my way to Košice. I’d expected to find a nice camping spot beside the dam but didn’t pay too much attention to the elevation of the road, and found that I was too high to reach the dam easily. Nevertheless, I didn’t have too much trouble finding a decent wild camping spot. I wanted a day off to explore Košice as other travellers had recommended the city, however I could feel a head cold brewing. I decided to take an extra day off in Košice, rather than push on cycling in the heat that was beginning to bake the middle of the day. The campground there was surprisingly great, despite the less than ideal location right beside a major highway. It was here that I met several cyclists and some ‘retired’ cycle tourers, in particular I met Steve a friendly Kiwi on his second cycle tour. Steve and I chatted over beers about cycling Africa, gear, bikes and how everyone thinks we’re mad. I’ve had a lot of luck with cheap tents, not cheap and nasty but certainly not top of the range MSR tents that everyone seems to tour with. I raved on and on about my brilliant little decathalon brand tent and how good schwalbe tyres are, only to leave the next day for Hungary and get a flat tyre and break a tent pole. Is there such thing as a NZ curse?!? Or perhaps I shouldn’t have gotten too cocky. The curse didn’t end there. I temporarily patched up the pole but decided to try and replace the tent at a nearby Decathlon store as it was still under a year old. I had no trouble exchanging the tent, in fact this all went so smoothly it should have been an indication of further problems to come. I discovered later, while pitching the new tent in the dark, that the bag was missing tent pegs. Not disasterous for a free standing tent, but not ideal. I had to purchase new tent pegs and couldn’t find the nice light aluminium ones so now my tent pegs weigh more than the tent and poles combined. Curses aside Slovakia had been nice and Eastern Hungary wasn’t so bad. 

I made a point to stop in the Hungarian wine region and Tokaj is the indisputable regional capital for wine. On my way to Tokaj I passed over a corner of the Zemplen Mountains, a pleasantly cool if not mosquito infested forest. For a short distance I had the impression I was cycling through a fairy forest with cinematic Lord of the Rings style music playing through my headphones. In reality the ‘fairies’ were the mosquitoes swarming around my face. Once out of the mountains towards Tokaj I was fascinated by the vast number of stork nests. The Bodrogzug flood plains to the north of Tokaj are RAMSAR listed. The site is home to over 250 bird species including a healthy population of both Black and White Storks that build their distinctive nests on the telephone poles and chimneys in the surrounding area. In Tokaj I wined and dined, relaxed and was drained of my blood courtesy of the booming mosquito population and after a brief stop, was back on the road towards Romania.   

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