Austro-Hungarian Border and Serbia
Updated: Sep 21, 2018
Sunday, 10th June 2018 Hegykö to Peresznye, 67 miles
I woke on my concrete foundation next to the fly tipped electrical appliances and left as quickly as possible. It wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t that good either, probably the worst spot yet. But another night survived.
The scenery has now changed to small hills lined with vineyards. Flitting in and out of Austria (yep we haven’t seen the last of her) and Hungary all day there is again a difference between the two neighbours. It’s not as drastic as the Czech wild frontier town. That doesn’t exist. But there is a deterioration in the standard of living.
The currency buys a lot in Hungary and I forgot to buy an ice cream and a coke there. Instead I spent over eight euros in a low key joint in an Austrian town. Muppet.
But it was hot and windless today. Low thirties for most of it and I got through a lot of water, maybe six to seven litres, and at the end of the day I had none left and still had a thirst.
The main highlight of the day was an open air museum at Klingerbach. It celebrated what was known as the Pan European picnic of 1956. Citizens of the GDR, freely entered Austria via Hungary when the border was opened. Several hundred used this route to escape to the west before the GDR took Hungary off the approved holiday destination list.
There was a sculpture with an open door and the park was called the Open Door Memorial Park. I took a photo and you can see in the background the Austrian Soldier in his temporary accommodation swatting wasps.
There were other attractions but the one I was looking forward to was the Japanese cherry trees. The cherries were out everywhere and since Czech Republic I had been gorging myself on them at the roadside and wondered if the Japanese ones were any sweeter. I couldn’t find them and looked at other pieces of art. A pagoda, a bell and the European Statue of Liberty. I later found out that the cherry trees had been stolen.
In the afternoon I swapped my tyres around as the rear was dangerously worn and dried out my tent in the heat.
At night, I camped near the spot where Kurt Werner Schulz was shot on the 22nd August 1989 - the last refugee shot trying to cross the Iron Curtain. It was in a field near buildings within an enclosure.
Monday, 11th June 2018
Perezynes to Slovenia 🇸🇮 Border, 66 miles
It was a lunatic asylum, I must be losing my touch for picking camping sites. Screams in the early morning that kept me awake weren’t those of Kurt Werner Schulz’s tortured ghost. As I passed the fenced in buildings in the morning light, men in pyjamas shouted ‘Liverpool’ at me from behind the bars. It was like being at home.
To add to that feel, the next town, Kozeg, had a Tesco and I was quite excited to go but my hopes for a taste of home ended at the door and the list of creature comforts evaporated in the aisles of East European gruel in a can. I settled for a Hungarian yogurt and a mango which later turned out to be rotten inside. The yoghurt made me go into a gluten tiredness which I really needed on this sweltering hot day.
I battled on and by noon headed towards signs marking ‘Iron Curtain Museum’ 5000m.
In fact it was a lot further away and as I drew near a huge hill loomed. I was already off the E13 and thought about not going as I was certain it would be closed.
It wasn’t, woo hoo. It was a private enterprise in someone’s back garden. The owner was an ex border guard from the 1960s and he did the service of telling his story of landmines and fences with photos kept in glazed cabinets, outside, with canvas curtains to protect the photographs from the sun. It may have been a bit amateurish and a little worrying but they had English translations and the old man gave it a real authenticity.
In his seventies he was bare chested, wearing only his jeans. His bum crack showed as if he had lost weight recently and he drove his lawnmower around the garden as I took half an hour to look at the mine field. He had recreated the 2015 border fence that was used by the Hungarians to control the Syrian influx of refugees.
He offered me a coke, which I accepted, it was a really hot day and I had already had two litres of fluid by that time. My thirst was insatiable.
The rest of the day was spent climbing Austrian (yep still there) hills and travelling through villages until I came to Hungary and in the evening Slovenia. The was one big final climb to the border and I pitched openly at a T junction where three cars passed in all the time I was there.
Tuesday, 12th June 2018
Slovenian Border 🇸🇮 to Letenye 🇭🇺, 56 miles
I woke early to the patter of rain which I discovered was the dropping of flying ants off the tent canvas onto the tent floor, in the vestibule. The site of hundreds of silvery winged animals didn’t faze me, in fact I think I went back to sleep. In the confusion the whole nest had turned out as if an alarm had been raised and the vestibule floor was appeared to be moving.
I left through the back door and opened the front insect net releasing the prisoners to the open air and a squadron of dragon flies who wasted no time on devouring their delayed breakfast.
How the dragon flies knew that breakfast was waiting or how few, if any, ants survived. But within minutes aerial activity had ceased.
To clear the foot-soldiers I put some sugar and porridge oats on the nest. It wasn’t long before word had spread and with the morning massacre forgotten all rescuers moved out of the tent and set about moving their spoils down below.
I set off into Slovenia, a young country established in 1991 and into villages where hay carts and scythes were still in use. The landscape is changing and the people are too, with darker skin and traditional clothing the roads open up to simpler times.
It’s hot, my Garmin reads 35 and I sweat on the hills and I drink lots of water but by mid afternoon I’m exhausted and shelter in the shade of a cafe wall and down cokes whilst locals match me with beer.
We chat but our language barrier restricts our conversation.
The day has been shattering and my focus has been on climbing hills, drinking water, and staying cool. I look back a realise that I haven’t taken any pictures.
By five I set off again but three hours later and back in Hungary the heavens open and I pull up at a Pension for the night and watch the lightning from a terrace.
Wednesday, 13th June 2018
Letenye 🇭🇺 to Rušani 🇭🇷
After a quick breakfast, I was back on the road by eight. It was so much cooler - maybe fifteen degrees - and it energised me.
The evening before, I had booked my return flight from Bulgaria to England. It gave me 22 days to complete the trip and so I would have to average a little over sixty five miles a day.
The focus on mileage, the cool morning air and flat plain roads had me cover 30 miles by noon. I stopped at a Coop for some water and a couple of bananas and the shop drunk offered me some of his lager and I offered him some fruit.
I’m uncertain whether Hungary has the direction and drive that I saw in Poland. The parts that I had seen so far had demonstrated an apathy. I have to be careful when I write these comments that I am not projecting my own mood.
I text Dan, my brother’s business partner, who lives in Hungary with his wife and children to let him know where I am and send him pictures of the guide to show the route that I’m taking. Dan is an athlete and cyclist and we arrange to meet up at the weekend for a ride. He asks me what he needs to camp. At this point I realise that I have everything that I need and all that Dan would need to bring along would be a roll mat and a sleeping bag. Oh and a fork, maybe a plate.
Being away from civilised living for sometime now has been a release. Nature has replaced social media and the road my worries. Occasionally I have a Mary Poppins moment but I still can’t determine if it is a panic attack or bonking. I had one in the afternoon, there was a bad storm on the horizon and some serious fork lightning. There was no need to worry but I must have began to overthink the situation. Before long I couldn’t feel the road through the handle bars or my feet or backside. I was floating. I carried on and tried to think about what I had been thinking. It was the storm, great. At the next village I stopped at a bus shelter and opened my panier. A few minutes passed, I had forgotten about the incident and had a second Snickers as the heavens opened.
The approach to Croatia takes you through the town of Barcs. It’s a small border town and it is one of the worse I had seen on the journey so far. It had just fallen apart. It wasn’t like the frontier towns of the Czech Republic, it wasn’t even like the Russian Border Town Ivangorod which had a bustle. Barcs existed.
The Hungarian and Croatian border-posts were manned and a dividing bridge over the River Drava brought a cool breeze across my face and arms as I passed razor wire and concrete blocks in a state of readiness to become a blockade.
I search for a place for the night.
Thursday, 14th June 2018
Rušani 🇭🇷 to Beli Manister 🇭🇷, 82 miles
The sun set times are significantly different just a few degrees further north. Here the sun sets at 2030 and rises at 0510. That did not stop a stray dog from barking at my tent at 0430.
I peered through my tent vent to see him approach, barking and then passing, barking and then all went quiet, never to be seen or heard of again. It was raining too.
I waited until seven and it stopped and I headed out and back onto the gravel path that was some 400 metres along a muddy path between crops. It was a little muddier than last night and by the time I reached the road my feet were sodden.
Then it poured down and my feet became wetter. I decided, though, that this weather was in some ways better than the heat of the previous days. I put on a layer between my tee shirt and rain coat.
The wind was behind me also and the road was flat and the navigation was simple. The miles added on without effort as I passed from road side town to road side town.
Croatia is only in its late teens. In the Yugoslav war 20,000 Croats were killed and over 2.4 million became refugees. 200,000 of those did not return. Along the road many houses were empty, in a poor state of repair and men sat in bars early in the morning nursing bottles as I cycled by.
The few villages that I pass are a far cry from those of Austria and Germany. I wonder where Croatia would be now without the support of the EU. As I said, it’s in its infancy and my day cycling through is just a day of observation.
Friday, 15 June 2018 Beli Manister 🇭🇷 through Serbia 🇷🇸 to Bácsszölös 🇭🇺
There were no wonderful views to wake up to this morning and the road out of Croatia took me through more villages with half populations, abandoned homes and derelict businesses.
Although the Croatians won the war, they lost their Serb next-door neighbours. Over fifty percent of the houses in the villages that I passed through were empty. The Serbs are, by all accounts, returning. But I imagine that it’s a little awkward.
Yugoslavia was, before the conflicts of the 1990s, a growing holiday destination. I clearly remember looking at brochures and thinking, "I’ll go there next year". Next year saw the beginning of Serb domination of the five other states and Croatia, which had the majority of beautiful coastline, focused its attention elsewhere. My guide-book warns me of minefields: an indicator of how real this aftermath is.
Mrs F and I climb a little onto a road that passes small wine houses with cellars carved into cliff sides. There is a small, growing industry here and some jolly fruit pickers giggle and laugh as I pass watching them unload their peach harvest from waist nets.
I descend into the valley taking in the views of the Danube and arrive at the border crossing and cycle over the river and into Serbia.
The border guard is in good spirits and jokes about my Russian visa with a colleague. I cycle into Serbia where The Yugo is still the car of choice. And villages are complete, although a tad shabby, and commerce a little more structured than in Croatia.
Signs for Eurovelo 6 and Eurovelo13 sit side by side bringing unity and sweetening relations between the nations. A little later on, someone has daubed ‘Fuck EU’ in yellow on a road sign: so for some, there’s a little way to go before international serenity is achieved.
An hour later, after meeting a Korean cycling tourist traveling from Spain, I arrive at the border where another jovial Serb border guard asks where I’m off to. I say Bulgaria and he asks if I’m going in the right direction? He’s right, following the E13 is a bit of a pain and he has difficulty in comprehending the fact that I will be back in Serbia the following day. Out comes the guide and I do the Kirkenes / Bulgaria routine.
I spend the rest of the day in Hungary on roads that pass through villages and fields patrolled by Border Police on the look for refugees. I make a note to be careful where I sleep tonight.
Bácsszölös, there is a storm nearby and, Border guards aside, I’m in my tent as the first drops fall and settle down for the night.
Saturday, 16th June, 2018 Bácsszölös 🇭🇺 to Mokrin 🇷🇸, 76 miles
After realising that there was a great number of miles missing from those described within the guide to the actual number that I had to achieve before my flight home, I was a little panicky.
I had to average 75 miles a day and I believed that the road conditions would become worse and that mountain roads and hot weather lay ahead. I, therefore, promised myself to achieve more miles on a daily basis where possible.
Today, I am glad to say, I achieved one more mile above the target.
By ten o’clock I had completed twenty five miles. The early start and a good helping of porridge set me up. I was meeting Dan, my brother’s business partner and his family, and whilst I waited for them at a service station I set about putting a new tyre on Mrs F and tightening her chain. I was half way through this task when Dan pulled up and we all took some time to have a chat and a Magnum each. Yum.
Bernadett, Dan’s wife, is Hungarian and has a lovely warm manner about her. Dan’s children, 9 and 7, Jasmine and Daisy, chat with me openly and with confidence. For me it is an absolute delight to be able to chat away and listen about normal stuff. The girls are all excited that Bernadett’s friend had gotten a bit tipsy at the town’s annual music festival the night before.
Dan and I set off leaving the girls to meet up with us a little later on. Dan is a triathlete and has represented team GB so he is very kind free wheeling alongside me as I turn the crank of Mrs F sporting a very shiny black front tyre.
Dan has spent many years in Hungary and has a good insight into its history and current affairs. Closed though to conversation about Serbia and Croatia, we focus on the post war reparation land grabs by its neighbours. He speaks fondly of Victor Obán, the Prime Minister and how he wrestles with the EU to ensure that the country doesn’t get walked over. And how he has managed to navigate the country away from Communism without falling to into the hands of widespread corruption.
He talked about how, in 1989, Bernadett remembered the history teacher asking for the class to hand in their text books and being issued new ones as the subject matter they had been taught was not true. He told me how her father had received the tap on the shoulder from the KGB to spy in the UK and coincidentally found himself in a car accident where the brake lines had been cut a week later after his refusal.
We entered Serbia through a busy check point and jumped the queue. Vehicles were being checked and we talked about the 2015 crisis and the ongoing border situation and how illiberal Hungary was as a nation for imposing strict border restrictions. His mother-in-law regularly saw Syrian refugees pass her way and, under threat of life, had not reported her sightings.
The time passed quickly and the miles passed by and we stopped for lunch where we chatted some more and, when a storm broke, we chatted some more.
When the rain lifted Dan made his way back to his family and I headed into Serbia. I stopped a little further on and texted Bernadett a goodbye and a little later she replied and said that Dan was back safe and that they were on their way home. Fast bastard.
I carried on into the evening and things are changing. A homeless German Shepherd runs with me along the road his coat full of mange. Not snappy, like the thousands of domestic animals that have barked as I have passed, but loving and loyal, just looking for a master.
Sunday, 17th June 2018
Mokrin to Vrsac, 98 miles
The field and the path to it was sodden, but it was also very open and flat and I watched the sunrise from my sleeping bag.
After joining the road I stopped to scrape away the clay, the wheels would only move under considerable force. As I scraped, two small stray dogs came and stuck their noses in before laying down in the dewy verge to catch the morning sun.
The aim was to cover ground today and that’s what I did. There was little else to do, sadly. As I travelled from village to village, I passed many roadside dumps, which turned me off to Serbia. As each town looms large silos would break the monotony of the flat maize and sunflower horizon and the highlight of the day was a huge storm which set me down in a bus shelter for an hour or so.
In the cooler evening air, I approached Vrsac. I wanted to set down before the town, or else I would be tempted to spend the night in a hotel. I couldn’t find anywhere, the fields were soaked and the tracks to them worse than the morning camp but as I approached the town I saw a dyke, cycled along it and asked the old man whose house stood next to it whether I could stay there the night.
I did this by putting my hands together and tilting my head. He nodded no problem and I closed my eyes with a slightly more positive perspective of Serbia.