Day 18 – Crossing to Croatia

I awoke and was packed up early, but as I passed the centre of the town I was surprised to be met by hoards of kids on bikes making their way to the start of the triathlon. Today was the day for the young ones and obviously you need to get up early if you want to be a triathlete. There were kids of all ages, some really young; they seemed to be moving around by different age groups. I didn’t see the group with stabilisers, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they had one.

I didn’t know there was such a palaver about triathlon. First the bike needs adjusting, then re-adjusting. The numbers need to be fitted on the competitors and their bikes. Then the bikes are checked that their brakes are working, the seat is secure, as is the helmet. There seemed to be a question over the size of some of the wheels, so they had to be measured. Then there is a ritual around finding your bike stand slot, fixing your shoes to the pedals, ensuring the straps are just loose enough for your feet to slip into. And the helmet just exactly on the bike where it can’t fall off. Then running shoes and another race number are laid out, like a sacrificial alter, neatly beside the bike. And all this was only the nine year olds! Anyway eventually the race got underway and there was great excitement.

This morning it was once more onto the flood dyke, but along the edge of a Nature Reserve. Beautiful tall woodland and luxuriant backwaters and creeks, with the background sound of croaking toads. The grassland on the dyke were rich in diversity and colour, alive with insect life. Lizards, basking on the warm track surface scurried to safety as I passed. Butterflies and day flying moths too basking on the grass soaking up the morning sun. A deer bolted for cover and a bit further on, a marten bounded across the track. I don’t know which one, for it could have been any one of a few different species that occur here. Think of the terror it would strike in the pine marten campaigning Longford Councillor knowing there are more than just pine martens to contend with should he ever decide to holiday in these parts!

A short ferry trip brough me to the last Hungarian town before the border with Croatia. I had some Forints left over so I decided to have a meal. Having a nose for such things, I noticed that there were quite a few well dressed families in a restaurant on the main street, eating their fill. It was a buffet, all you can eat for 2,400 Forints, expensive enough but at least I’d be well fed for the rest of the day. Well there were three main stew options; a brownish-red one, a cream one and what can only be described as a snot-green one. The colour alone put me off the latter, but I definitely wasn’t going to touch it when what seemed like a fish eye there looking up at me. I went for the brown option with chips. The gloop I got defied description. What I though was meat certainly bore no resemblance to anything I had eaten before. I couldn’t touch it, but the chips were good. I returned to try the cream option, taking only a small amount this time. Whatever it was, was equally unappetising. For a third attempt I chose some of the roasted bits, notice I didn’t say meat bits, as these proved to be from parts of the animal (what animal I’m not quite sure) which I understood the EU had outlawed for human consumption some years back. It gave ‘all you can eat’ a whole new meaning. I did have some fruit though which was good. Not only was the food inedible, it was pricey; I can safely say it was the most expensive banana and chips I ever had.

It was then off for Croatia. After what seemed like an eternity cycling across land without any building, I finally arrived at the border control, and I duly took my place in the queue of cars waiting to be ushered across. There were two tiny kiosks next to each other, with a customs officer in each; first the Hungarian then the Croat. I handed my passport to the Hungarian who didn’t make as much as eye contact with me, never mind speak. He checked my pasport on a computer then handed my passport, behind his back, to his Croatian colleague. I could tell by his demeanour he was finished with me, and I could move on.

Two feet away, across the border in sunny Croatia, I was met with a cheery ‘Hello sir. Where have you come from?’ I told him. ‘And where are you going by bike’? I mention Bilje, my planned stop for the night. No, he wanted to know about the bike trip. ‘Cycling the Danube’ he repeated with some interest. ‘And why did I want to do that?’. Fair question, I thought, but I just shrugged my shoulders. Now, with half of Hungary backed up trying to get out of their homeland, I was beginning to feel a bit self conscious- should we not speed things along a bit? He was having none of it; he was full of chat and no matter the reams of policies and legislation there are across the EU to assist the free movement of people and goods, wasn’t going to let these get in the way of being helpful. He asked me what route I was taking to get to Bilje. When I mention the Danube Cycleway he grew concerned. I should not go that way, a shorter route was to go via – and here he lost me listing about a dozen incomprehensible village names all ending in -vac or -vic. He knew I was struggling so asked if I had my map- that duly resulted in me fumbling in my paniers, fishing out the map and Mr Croatian Customs Officer and I pouring over a map, with half of Hungary and by now quite a few homeward bound Croatians looking on. When he was sure that I would save myself 10km or so, he waved me off as if we were long lost buddies.

In Croatia, off to my right I could see a ridge of high ground, the first I’d seen for days. The route took me towards this, a small ridge of mixed cropping, including wine production. I had to climb this ridge. My legs had forgotten how to go uphill, so I had to give them a stern talking too.

Later I saw my first Black Stork of the trip, which was nice. Spent the night at a lovely guest house in Bilje. The landlady couldn’t have been friendlier or more obliging. She insisted that I have a plate of homemade sponge cake with apricot jam. I guess she thought I needed them!

I had covered 110km by the time I stopped for the evening.