30 July 2007

CYCLING HUNGARY - Budapest to Szeget






11 July
London – Budapest


In London I tried endlessly to get a visa for Europe but all in vain. One needs to apply in one's home country and have proof of accommodation in Europe. In the end Eddie and me flew to the first place outside of the EU, Hungary!

We arrived in Budapest and what a very interesting city with loads of old buildings, cobble streets and the mighty Danu River. Budapest is a large and very interesting city covering an area of 525 square km, it became a single city occupying both banks of the river Danube in 1873. (West-bank Buda and east-bank Pest).

12 July Budapest

This truly is the land of the paprika and sausage. We wondered around the city staring in awe at all the beautiful buildings.



13 July- Budapest – Esztergom - 5O miles (80km)

Perfect weather, lovely day, cycling along the Danu River until we reached the small town of Esztergom sitting on the bank of the Danube river. There was still enough time to visit the Basilica, Hungary's largest church. The building's imposing sizes (Height: 100 m, the inner diameter of the cuopla: 33,5 m) make you feel like a dwarf.


14 July Esztergom – Győr – 60 miles (95km)

We cycled through forests, fields of sunflowers and small villages to the town of Gyor. Nice hot day. Gyõr, is richest in historic buildings with plenty of Churches, palaces, museums, characteristic corner-balconies and narrow lanes, all reminders of a historic past.



15 July - Győr and surrounds – 50 miles (8Okm)

Decided to camp in the same place again and just cycle around the country. Past many small villages, farm lands and more fields of sun flowers.

16 July - Győr – Papa -58km

Decided to head for Lake Balaton. Boiling hot day with a strong head wind. Very very hard work. A local Hungarian who speaks no English offered us ice cream and 2 slices of some smoked meat. Pápa is a historical town dating back to 1061. The town had many lovely old buildings specially the Great Church in the Main square, which was built between 1774 and 1786.

17 July - Papa – Balatonfüred 40 miles (64km)

Left Papa for the last stretch to the lake. Another blistering hot day and quite
hilly as well. At last we reached Lake Balaton a freshwater lake and the largest lake in Central Europe. We hardly had out tents up before diving into the luke warm water of the lake.


19 July - Balatonfüred – Badacsony 30 miles (48km)

Another very hot day, could only manage to cycle half day, found a nice campsite and headed straight for the lake again.



20 July - Badacsony – Fonyód - 35 miles (56km)

Still debilitating heat, it took the entire day to cycle 35 miles, had to stop every 10 km or so for a beer, what a live.

21 July - Fonyód – Balatonszeme - 20 miles (32km)

At last a bit of a breeze, and the wind picked up and was quite strong by the end of the day, then suddenly it dropped again and back to paradise.

The campsites, 20 in all around the lake, are all very well equipped all with access to the lake, shops, bars, and restaurants, as well as loads of entertainment, specially for children, waterslides, games, cable skiing, and paddle boats.



22 July - Balatonszemes – Siófok - 20 Miles (32km)

This must be the closest place to paradise one can find. Blue skies, luke warm water and no wind, no wonder there are so many tourists around the lake. The lake shore is very shallow and excellent for just floating around. Shops, restaurants and bars are scattered all around the lake, all adding to a great holiday atmosphere.

23 July - Siófok

I have now cycled around the entire lake and have decided on another day laying around and enjoying the sun.

25 July - Siofok – Budapest 110km

A fairly easy ride, back to Budapest to pick up my Romanian Visa.

27 July - Budapest – Kesckemet 90km

A very pleasant and easy ride, nice and warm perfect for cycling, found a campsite in the centre of town, very convenient.

28 July - Kesckemet – Szeget 65km

Another easy and flat day on the road. Arrived in Szeget and what a beautiful town it was. Town located on the river with an excellent campsite as well as a thermal bath!!! Now that is the way to go.

29 July - Szeget

Spent another day at the spa and why not?

30 July - Szeget – Arad – 78km

We left Szeget with a stiff tail wind which became a near gale force cross wind, difficult to keep bike on the road, with all the trucks, the road was extremely busy. Arrived at border post to find that Hungarian visa, was not what I had expected, but in fact 2 x 10-day visas, (where did that come from?). I therefore overstayed and after a lot of hand signals, back and forth from building to building, I was allowed to go.

We arrived in Arad very late looking for a campsite, as indicated on the map but all that remained of the campsite, was an abandon field. So now it is raining and quite dark. So booked into a pension at 120 Lei. 3.1 euros to a Lei.

The language still remains a problem, everything (as expected) is in Romanian.

25 July 2007

CYCLING IRELAND - Belfast to Carrick




8 June - Glasgow to Belfast 6 Km

In order to get to Ireland, Esther and myself had to cycle from her house to Glasgow Central to get a train to Stanraer. Esther fell off her bike 3 times between the house and the station, this is just the funniest thing, every time I look around Esther is laying on the ground, bike on top of her, and all this in peak hour traffic as everyone is on there way to work!!

At Stanraer we got a ferry to Belfast and arrived in Belfast at around 16h30 (peak time again) where Esther proceeded to fall off again, the bike is too big for here and her legs too short to swing over the middle bar.

We laughed so much that it was a surprise that we managed to cycle the 6km north to where we set up camp.

Esther now refers to her bike as Silver, and let me tell you, Saartjie has nothing on this one, it bucks and kicks and is rather unwilling to see Ireland.

9 June - Belfast to Cushendall – 43 miles (69 km)

What a beautiful morning, sun's out, no wind, what more can a person ask for? So with Silver loaded and packed we took the coastal road, which is extremely scenic, specially on such a glorious day. We cycled past many small coastal villages and large white limestone cliffs, it is definitely the best cycling day to date. Esther proceeded to fall off another 5 times before arriving at camp where she managed to fall off again in full view of all the campers!! Good thing she is wearing a helmet. We managed to do a full 43 miles.

10 June - Cushendall – Ballycastle - 20 miles (32km)

We left rather late and shortly after we left the village of Cushendall there was a sign indicating a scenic route via Torr head, which sounded rather nice, the sign 'not suitable for caravans and coaches' should have warned us not to take that route, yes it was scenic, but the hills are definitely not for cycling with a loaded bike. Esther claimed that she did not fall at all today as she had to walk the whole way and now she has blisters on her feet.

The downhill section into Ballycastle was fantastic and after waiting at the bottom for a longer time that usual, I cycled up the hill again to were Esther was, just to find her walking downhill as well!!! This time with a flat tyre. No quick release on this bike and one needs a spanner to get the wheel off. Needless to say we have no spanner. So we walked into town and found a campsite. One very nice man in the camp had a spanner and we took the wheel off (actually he took it off) he also gave Esther a lift into town to get a new tyre as her existing tyres are so old, they are just disintegrating.



11 June - Ballycastle – Castlerock - 40 miles (64km)

Wow, we woke to a brilliant morning again. The day started in its usual way with Esther being a total disaster again. While loading up old Silver the one bungy cord slipped loose and hit her on the lip, now she has a fat lip as well, besides all the bruises and scratches from falling off her bike.

So first things first and back to the bike shop to get a spanner and new front tyre as well.

The coastline is absolutely magnificent and we stopped at The Giants Causeway and spend sometime wondering around.

Not only is the scenery fantastic but the local people are extremely friendly, after quite a long hill a lady offered us some tea, Esther thinks I'm trying to kill her and she reckons that it would have been easier and quicker to have taken an overdose at home!! So after 40 miles we packed it in and found a campsite. I think the lady took one look at Esther's face and let as camp for free!!!

12 June - Castlerock – Quigley’s Point - 20 miles (32km)

Just a short ride to Magilligan Point to get a ferry to Greencastle, where we got slightly lost as a local map shows a coastal road which is non existing, (Esther not happy with me) so we pitched the tents at the first opportunity we got to give her backside a rest, and went across the road for a pint. People in Ireland are really relaxed and laid back, and sing songs in the pub is very common.

We are now in the Rep of Ireland and only discovered it when we wanted to draw money and the only option was Euros!!

13 June - Quigley's Point - Portsalon via Letterkenny - 57 Miles!!!! (91km)

It rained all night and there's nothing to do but pack up in the rain and head for Buncrana, where we intended to take a ferry to Rathmullan, just to find that the ferry only starts operating on the 16th. The only option now is to cycle back to Letterkenny and onto Ramelton and then to Rathmullan. Although its cold and raining the scenery is still out of this world. We met a cycle tour along the way and stopped for a chat, they even offered us some coffee, what a pleasure!!

We found no camping in Rathmullan so we headed on to Portsalon. Esther is getting stronger by the day and she is not falling of her bike anymore. Old Silver is still creaking and squealing, and extremely unwilling on the up hills, but Esther shows her no mercy and we push on. From Rathmullan to Portsalon, is only about 19 km but we took the scenic route (again) and encountered some really nasty hill before a serious downhill into Portsalon. By now Esther’s one hand is totally numb and quite useless, she is now 100% convince that I'm trying to kill her. I tried to break it to her gently that it happens to everyone, but I don't think that convinced her.

14 June – Portsalon

The weather turned even more foul overnight and it is now not just cold and raining, but there is also a mean wind coming from the ocean, so we decided to stay put and we both crawled back into our sleeping bags, zipped up the tents and read the whole day.

By 5 o'clock we had enough of laying in the tents and headed for the local pub, which is a shop and pub all in one, a few locals were sitting at the bar and soon the singing started, this is just great!! It was three in the morning before we got back to our tents so I guess we had a real good time.

15 June - Portsalon - Melmore Head - 37 miles (59km)

After only getting into bed at three in the morning we were rather slow in packing up and it was 12h00 before we eventually got on our way. The weather is now really bad, drizzling, a strong wind and bitter cold. We pushed on but Esther appeared reluctant to do the scenic route again (I do not blame her). In Carrickart we were told that there is a Youth Hostel not far from there, so we opted for a room instead of looking for a campsite. By now it feels that as if frozen stiff even Esther is wearing long sleeves!! It was not as close as we were lead to believe, but we soldier on up a steep hill to find the hostel, very basic and remote, but warm and with a bed!!!

16 June - Melmore Head - Letterkenny - 45 Miles Belfast and Larne

Esther needs to get back home so the only option is to cycle back to Letterkenny and see what is available from there. We were in luck as there is a bus in 20 minutes to Derry and then another bus straight to Belfast. A little shock awaited as when we arrived in Belfast. Belfast was packed full, each little nook and cranny was fully packed due to a large international boxing event in town. Each and every B & B and hotel from the cheapest to the Hilton (even considered that one) was fully booked. By now it is 10 0'clock and freezing cold, I suggested we cycle the 6 km north to were we camped before, but Esther nearly had a hart attack and refuse blatantly to get on the bike. So back to the train station, were the staff were extremely friendly and directed as to a B & B in Larne, one can also get a ferry to Glasgow. They even phoned to book and helped us on the train. Wonderful people.

17 June - Larne - Oxford Island - 57 miles (91km)

We had a great breakfast at the B & B, what luxury!!! The B & B is right across from the harbour so we went directly there. Esther could get the 10.30 ferry.

I hopped on my bike and headed back to Belfast in order to go south. It's a great morning and as it is Sunday plenty of cyclist are out, all stopping for a wee chat (as they say here) So I took the recommend route south of Belfast along the River Lagan, all the way to Lisburn. From there on a minor road via Moira to Oxford Island on Lough Neagh.

I even saw the Orange Order men marching, band and all, in one of the smaller villages.

18 June – Oxford Island – Ballyronan - 45 miles (72km)

The people here are really friendly, even offered me some dope!!! The Lough is a fresh water lough and one of the largest in Western Europe. So I decided to cycle along the shore to Ballyronan. The path follows small country lanes and minor roads, past small villages and farms. The lake has an interesting legend which says that it was formed when the Irish giant Finn McCool scooped out an earthen clod to toss at a Scottish rival who was fleeing Ulster by the Giant's Causeway. Finn's shot fell into the Irish Channel and formed the isle of Man!!

19 June - Ballyronan - Kesh (Lough Erne) - 63 miles (101km)

Packed up in the rain again, what's new, but it cleared and I had a fantastic cycling day west along the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains, via Omagh to Kesh. In Kesh I cycled onto the campsite, which was up some serious hills, just to find it's not a camp site but a mobile home park with no camping. Bummer!!! The owner was however nice enough to allow me to camp on a small piece of grass and he even unlocked one of the mobile homes so I could use the shower and toilet.

20 June - Kesh and surrounds - 20 miles (32km)

Decided to stay in the area, and went down the hill to the proper campsite from where one can take long walks around the lake and through the forest. I even found some dried fruit, yummy, ate the whole lot, now I'm shitting through the eye of a needle. Well talking about food, I always considered myself as the Queen of carbos, but I have nothing on these people, they have macaroni cheese & chips, baked potato with beans and chips, how's that?

21 June - Kesh - Donegal (Dun na nGall) - 45 miles (72km)

The road to Ballyshannon runs all along the lake and with a tail wind it felt like down hill all the way. At Ballyshannon I turned northwards along the coast to Donegal, still with a tail wind, so I arrived fairly early and set up camp at the Youth Hostel. Later that day I took a walk along the river in Donegal,very tranquil.

Carrick

A walk up the cliffs before I am on my way again and what a view!! There is just no end to the beauty of Ireland. The cutting of peed out of the blogs is alive and well, people mostly use it form home fires, and what a good smell it is, reminds me a bit of Africa.

Ireland is a land covered in stone ruines and just about everywhere you go there is some or other kind of stone ruine.

05 July 2007

SCOTLAND - THE WEST HIGHLAND WAY

26 May - Getting ready

We decided to do the West Highland Way, and with Esther having 3 of everything, it was easy to borrow a backpack and all the necessary hiking gear from her. So we packed our bags with tents, sleeping bags, food, stove, pots and odds ready for the long walk.

The West Highland Way - 95 miles (153.8km) – is Scotland’s first long distance footpath and passes through some of Scotland’s most beautiful and dramatic scenery.

27 May - Milngavie to Drymen - 12 Miles (19km)

So off we went on the West Highland Way. Caught the train at 09.20 to Milngavie, which is just a short distance from where Esther lives (about 4 stops). Half the train got off at Milngavie, all doing the West Highland Way. I did not expect to see so many people on the hike; I also did not expect to see them only carrying small day packs. Most people make use of Travel-lite to transport their packs.

The 12 mile walk from Milngavie to Drymen is really well marked, the route is fairly easy and flat and the path wide, so there is no chance of getting lost. The first section of the route we walked through beautiful deciduous woodlands with lots of streams. The route past by many villages so halfway we popped in for lunch and a beer.

We camped on a farm about 1 mile (1.6km) before Drymen, the farm offers a cooking shelter which came in very handy as it started raining just as we arrived.

28 May - Drymen to Rowardennan 14 miles (22.5km)

We left Drymen, a pleasant walk though the woods, the path soon reached Conic Hill, our first taste of the Scottish Highlands. Reaching Balmaha we, once again, stopped for lunch and a beer. From Balmaha we walked along the shores of Loch Lomand. The views across the loch and towards the mountains are fantastic. We walked past Ben Lomand and through ancient oak woodlands, the views are really spectacular.

On arrival at Rowardennan we found only a hotel, youth hostel and wild camping. Esther opted for the Youth Hostel and we found it to be very comfortable and warm.

29 May - Rowardennan to Invernarnan - 14 miles (22.5km)

On leaving the Youth Hostel Esther was struggling getting her backpack on (anyone who knows her, will know that she has the whole world and the kitchen sink in there). The man from the Youth Hostel looked at her in amazement, and asked if she knew there is a transport service. So we decided to send the backpacks with the van. By now we were well known as the people with the large backpacks, so the other walkers looked at us in disbelieve as we came strolling past, swinging our little plastic bags containing the days provisions.

Once again the path followed the shores of Loch Lomond and passed through more natural oak woodlands. We even spotted some wildlife, being the wild goats in the area. The area here is much associated with Rob Roy MacGregor, there are many stories about Rob Roy and I am not quite sure, if they are all true.

The path was much more hilly than the previous days and what a good thing we were not carrying those heavy packs. We camped at Benglas Farm which also had a great bar/restaurant and cooking shelter, which helps a lot in the rainy weather. We took a walk across the river to a bar which is apparently more than 300 years old, and what a nice atmosphere it had. We had an excellent night of singing (and drinking red wine) with the other walkers, to such an extent that I left my wallet in the pub. Disaster again.

30 May - Inverarnan to Tyndrum - 13 miles (20.9km)

First thing in the morning it is back to the pub looking for the wallet and to my relief it was still there!!! By now everyone knows the South African has lost her wallet (how embarrassing). With wallet in hand we set off to our next destination. The route follows the River Falloch and posses spectacular gorges full of waterfalls and rapids. We soon reached the old military road built towards the end of the 18th century, the path follows the road (by now mostly just a narrow track) for most of the way. The hills all have a blue/purple colour as they are covered in blue bells.

We walked past an area known as “the king’s field” where legend has it that in 1306 Robert the Bruce (From Brave Heart) suffered defeat by the MacDougalls.

By now the dreaded midges had come out (smaller than a muggie but more ferocious than a mosquito), these biting insects are just everywhere and as Esther walks in short sleeves she is now covered in lumps and pumps, they get in everywhere, in your hair, ears and even up you nose.

At Tyndrum we camped at “By the Way” and took a short walk into the village, well known for its Green Wellies Shop”. Here one can find almost everything, from hiking gear to food. So Esther and myself picked up two very small backpacks, as walking with a plastic bag is not all that becoming.

31 May - Tyndrum – Kingshouse - 20 Miles (32.1km)

We did a longer walk today as Ronnie, a local guy, told us to rather do this, as the other sections are very hilly, and you never argue with a local. Although it was a long walk it was fairly flat.

We walked through forestry plantations, which is a bit muddy in places, and now I understand why wearing hiking boots is better than running shoes. The route crosses Rannoch Moor with spectacular views of various Munros (mountains over 3000ft) and lochs in the distance.

On descending into Kingshouse, one can see the magnificent mountains of Glen Coe and Glen Etive where I am sure there must be excellent skiing in winter and some fantastic rock climbing areas.

We camped at Kingshouse which only offers wild camping with no facilities, so no better thing to do but sit in the pub until bed time.

1 June - Kingshouse – Kinlochleven - 8 Miles (12.6km)

A nice short walk today. We are now in an area with some of the most impressive peaks in Scotland and it makes you wish you were a rock climber. So we go over what is known as the Devil’s Staircase, still on the old military road, and reach the highest part of the walk. It’s the first day the sun is out and the views are truly magnificent.

We reach Kinlochleven early and camped at McDonald, which is on the loch side. The village is picture perfect with a large ice climbing centre.

2 June - Kinlochleven – Fort William - 13 Miles (20.9km)

The way climbed steeply out off Kinlochleven through woodlands and joined the old military road again. Esther even brought a beer as refreshment, which we had at an old ruin along the way. The other walkers must think we are total hooligans by now, as we constantly canning ourselves laughing at absolutely nothing, they must think that we are pissed all the time.

On arrival at Ford William we did not, unlike most others, go straight to the camp site, but first wandered about town in search of a pizza and a beer.

3 June - Ben Nevis - 12 Miles (19.3km)

We put off getting up until about 09h30 as it is raining and very, very wet outside, but how long can one be cooped up in a small tent? So in the end there is nothing more to do than put the wet weather gear on and head up the mountain. The starting point is at The Visitors Centre which was conficulously quite and we did not see many hikers along the route as the mist is very heavy and a constant drizzle made it a bit unpleasant.

The path up the mountain is a gentle climb and not very steep, I was surprised at how quickly the landscape changed from green rolling grass to a very rocky landscape. I could not believe my eyes when we reached the top and found a large snowfield!! How impressive.

The walk up and back took about 7 hours and needless to say we went straight into the pub for a beer and some food. Mission accomplished!!