Into Eastern Europe

From: Budapest, Hungary (May 20, 2013)

Long lapses in days are common for me on this journey, and I would be hard pressed to account for it. What can I say? I meet many kind and interesting people, eat many tasty foreign treats, and, invariably, some portion of the stop I spend in devotion to the gods of work, hunched in front of my computer. I do feel guilty for the stops, not out of worry for the itinerary (hah!), but for neglecting the road.

I find time upon the road, chasing down the horizon, is where I feel most comfortable. The cities tempt me to remain, and I do enjoy these urban interludes. I stay a day, a week, or longer, but eventually the spirit moves and I move with it, enriched by the delay*.

Anyways, after a lackadaisical few weeks in Vienna drowning myself in tasty coffee, one tiny cup of melange or einspänner at a time, the imminent expiration of my Schengen Visa (the visa covering most of the European Union) motivated me onwards. Over 500km through Slovakia and Hungary faced me before the border of the EU, and fearing I wouldn’t make it in my pokey boat, I biked most of this leg.

Crossing borders in Europe today is surreal if you know even an inkling of history. Within a few hours of leaving Vienna I crossed an imaginary line into the Slav world, the “wild east”. The utter lack of fanfare in which I crossed from Austria into Slovakia is in stark contrast to the violent and tumultuous history of the region.

Four hundred years previous I would have crossed the front line in the Ottoman’s great assault on the West. How different would things be now had the Turks succeeded in capturing Vienna?

Fifty years ago I would have crossed the Iron Curtain and with it crossed the ideological boundary over which the next half-century would be fought, not with guns or bombs (well, not too many), but with words and fear.

Instead, I pedaled past a clump of abandoned guard buildings, no police or flags in sight.

purple flowers next to a rural gravel road in slovakia
Bypassing main roads by traversing the Slovakian countryside
That's an order I could follow.
my bicycle parked at a bench in front of the famous Basilica in Esztergom, Hungary
Lunching at the Esztergom Basilica in Esztergom, Hungary
shot of the Hungarian Parliament Building across the Danube river in Budapest
Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest, Hungary
Szabadság tér (Liberty Square) Interestingly, this is a monument to the Soviet occupation of Hungary surrounded by a sturdy steel fence.

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