Three countries in one day

Day 4 – Friday 28th of June – Smrjene to Budapest (532km)

What a day! One of the things you hear about trips like this is that it is when you start having problems that the real adventure begins. Well, it must sound like some kind of twisted logic, but it is true – I had my first fall today, and despite this, it has been another wonderful day.

The fall was not serious, but it was quite embarrassing… I had just left Smrjene and went back into the city to cross it and get on the road to the border following the instructions on the GPS. The traffic was quite heavy again, it was the morning rush hour and I was stopped at a red light behind a panel van that blocked most of my view forward. The light changed and traffic started moving when suddenly the van slammed the brakes and so did I to avoid running into its back. I was just starting to move, so the bike was leaning slightly to one side, not having gained enough speed to stand upright by itself, so when I braked it leaned to far to one side and past that angle, the fall was inevitable. It crashed onto its side in the middle of a fully crowded main street in the city center. I got up, made sure I was OK (I was) and quickly tried to lift the bike to get out of the way, but soon discovered it was too heavy fully loaded to be able to lift it myself.  Fortunately, a young guy ran across the street and through the traffic and helped me pick it up. I started it and moved to a bus stop to check for damage. It had landed on the BarkBusters, which did their job very well and protected the clutch handle and on the left pannier, which had a very small scratch. The outer bottle holder had broken free from its lower bolt, but that seemed to be all the damage. I restarted the bike and went on.

I have been told that on such long trips, you need some time to get into the rhythm of the whole thing, and I started to find that to be true today. I had a long way to go again, but this time I was not worried about wasting time if I stopped to take a picture of something I liked or took a rest more often. I knew I had all day to get there, and I had to enjoy the road.

With this new mindset, I stopped for the first time shortly after leaving the city, and discovered that the left pannier was not closed properly. On closer inspection, I saw that the fall had pushed it into the frame, bending it enough for the shape of the opening to be deformed, so it did not line with the lid any more.

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It was quite cloudy and Franci had checked the weather forecast in the morning and told me there was a possibility of rain in Hungary, so I was worried about water getting into my luggage, especially as that pannier contained my camping and sleeping gear. I decided to try to find a repair shop and see if they could bend it back into shape. I got back on the road keeping an eye open and soon spotted what looked like a garage. I rode up to it and when I got off the bike and into it I saw it was a kind of MoT station. As I was already there, I decided to ask where I could find a place to get it fixed, so I approached a man who has coming out with his car documents on his hands. He listened to me and had a looked at the pannier and immediately took his mobile phone out and called a friend who had a body repair shop. Unfortunately, he was not able to reach him, so he took me next door, where there was a car wash.

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The guy at the car wash called his colleague, who had a small workshop behind the building, and he came and gestured me to remove the pannier from the bike and give it to him. I did, and ten minutes later he came back with it, straight enough for the lid to fit and close properly. I thanked them profusely and went on. A couple of hours later I found an old workshop by the road that had these photogenic relics outside and I stopped to take some pictures.

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The roads were great again, and I was wondering whether petrol would be cheaper in Hungary or in Slovenia when suddenly, coming out of a corner and going up a very steep hill, I came upon a sign that took me by surprise.

You can unexpectedly run into people, into trouble, into a lamppost if you are not paying attention, but this was the first time in my life I had run into a country. I had, apparently, come across Austria.

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When I checked on the map, there seemed to be a fairly straight line from Ljubljana to Budapest, but my GPS had apparently decided that I would like the scenic route better, and I did. It had taken me north, to Graz, and then east over the Orségi Nemzeti natural park and into Hungary. I really enjoyed spending some kilometers in Austria and I took the chance to get yet another sticker and fill the bike up, as petrol was cheaper than even Spain. So much for the biking holiday I someday wanted to take in Italy… at those prices I would much rather tour central Europe! The landscape is better, too. Once I crossed the border everything changed.

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The road was still narrow, but in quite bad condition, and everything had an air less taken care of. I stopped at a petrol station right after the border to change some money for the first time and get yet another sticker.

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It had been slightly overcast all day, perfect conditions for riding, no rain, not too hot… but in the afternoon the weather deteriorated and it seemed as if it was going to rain. I kept thinking I should stop and put the waterproof layers on the jacket, but that meant unstrapping the rack pack and my optimistic me kept seeing that the sky was clearer ahead. I had to change from summer to winter gloves, though, because it was getting colder.

In the end I made it to Budapest dry and found the place I am going to be staying at for the next couple of nights without problems. If you come to Budapest by motorbike or bicycle, this is the place to stay! I set up camp, borrowed a set of three precision tools (also known as hammers) and spent the afternoon banging the pannier back into shape.  But more on that tomorrow, it has been a long ride today, about ten hours, and it is getting very late.

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