Saturday, August 9, 2008

Rumbling into Romania

As a devotee of flatland cycling, I have to report that it does not get better, or flatter, than eastern Hungary. We covered about 200 miles in three days. In that time we ascended a couple of highway and railroad overpasses. Otherwise, flat going and some excellent highlights!

The highlights included those Hungarian thermal baths, which turn up wherever a city is near a body of water. I was a late convert to the muddy water of the thermal bath, which must be around 115 degrees, but it is a great way to end a long day in the saddle. Hats off to Hungary on those.

We also were lucky to be guests in Szegelom (rhymes with "gitalong") at the Riolit Panzic, which had no other guests for the evening. After an unsuccessful negotiation with the proprietress over prices and terms, Matt found himself going face-to-face with her son-in-law, Janosz, who promptly called his wife Christina to translate and referee. Before they were done, Matt had talked on the cell phone to Janosz's brother in Toronto, visited Janosz's home, wangled an invitation to the family's St. Christina party that evening, and secured a ride for us to the thermal baths, which also happened to be the home of about a dozen storks who had built their nests atop the lampposts next to the baths.

The party was a lot of fun, exposing us to Hungarian hospitality and cuisine -- the cuisine was delicious but, yes, a little heavy.

Riolit Panzic. Write it down. Next time you're in Szegelom.

The cycling has gone extremely well. Matt's kept us mostly off the main roads and moving in the right direction. Thursday was a perfect day -- we covered 62 miles before breaking for lunch. Friday was hot, but we hung up another 60 before finding the Riolit. Today had threatening skies, which made it much cooler and easier to travel. We got to Oradea, the first city over the Romanian border, by 2 -- but since we had crossed a time zone, it was 3 p.m. (First time zone crossed on a bicycle!) Tomorrow we will head east from here, which will include more vertical stretches. The Carpathians loom. But we'll try to shorten up on the distances and chug along.

Cycling does change one's perspective on many things. Now, when I venture onto a road, my first concern is the quality of the pavement. Most vehicles in Hungary, where some roads are less than perfect, engage in the "road surface tango," which involves finding the smoothest possible surface -- and at least missing the holes -- while also evading oncoming and following traffic. It could be a rather dull video game, sort of like Pong or Frogger. A second change is my attitude when I enter a snack shop during a ride. I am interested in the finding the most efficient calorie-delivery product that tastes good. Fruit drinks, fruit, and candy are at the top fo the list. It's simple refueling.

Oradea looks a bit tired and less prosperous than Hungary did.

I suspect Romania is a step behind Hungary and Poland in the development scale. This part of the country also suffers from the two-name problem. This trip has persuaded me that if there are two alternative names for individual places, there's been trouble in the recent past. In Poland, many places have a Polish name, a German name, and/or a Russian name. Bad history. Too many foreign occupations. In this part of Romania, most places have a Hungarian name and a Romanian name, the legacy of border redrawing after World War I, which left an undigested Hungarian minority here.

A final word on language and keyboards. One excellent thing about being in Romania is the computer keyboard where, which tracks the American version. Hungarian has 44 letters in its alphabet, including 12 vowels. (Don't hold me to those numbers; that's what a Hungarian told me.) So that means that they need to crowd a lot of letters onto the Hungarian keyboard, which moves everything around to where it DOES NOT BELONG. Indeed, the @ symbol can be found almost anywhere on a Hungarian keyboard. A small inconvenience, but entirely unexpected.

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Meghan said...

in rwanda, so just getting to read all the updates now! This sounds so so so great! love the writing-

James said...

Enjoying every entry. Can't believe you are almost at the end of the journey.
When I was in Hungary I made a macro-key for the @ symbol so I could send emails.

Channing said...

Leave it up to Matt to turn confrontation into friendship. I hear Georgia and Russia could use his help. Keep up the great posts. We're following you!

jcurry319 said...


Enjoyed hearing about the entire trip. Keep the photos, anecdotes and observations a comin'.

John Curry