The randomness of these posts somehow fits with the randomness of cycle touring and it doesn’t get any more random than a caution, Tortoise, sign, a town you can’t leave, naked Germans, bike paths strewn with Vipers and the cat that looked Hungarian.
On the second day we were heading on to Lake Balaton, behind schedule, happening on to the city of Szekesfehervar. Regarded by many as the oldest town in Hungary and seen as the original camp of Magyar chieftain Arpad, it’s a city that has many charms and much to see. The wonderful town square of restaurants and coffee shops covered in late summer blooms and a sense of relaxation. However it had more of the nasty, spiteful conkers and soon I was upending my bike to fix a triple puncture. No problem we only lost a little time so had lunch and went on our way. Except we couldn’t. Baffled by signposts with more fingers than a city banker and riding through huge industrial complexes which were a throwback to the communist era we came back to the same spot three times. It felt like I was in a Steven King short story and half expected a failed actor from Neighbours to turn up pretending to be Roy Orbison when I realised I had to take positive action or be stuck in this nightmare for all eternity. So I took the map off of Julie and took us off in the right direction. We wouldn’t make Lake Balaton yet again that night but we found a Zimmer and I used my natural ability to find a rock bar and another day was done.
Next morning we arrived at the lake after a few kilometres and proceeded to enjoy a couple of the nicest, stress free cycling we’ve ever experienced. Hardly ever needing to use roads we followed the lake along well maintained smooth paths stopping to enjoy one of Europe’s best kept secrets. Balaton is stunning. The sunset throws up reds and yellows whilst the migratory bird life throws up spectacle after spectacle. Museums with former Eastern Bloc military hardware remind you how unimaginable travelling to places like this seemed as little as a quarter of a century ago was. A real adventure.
Passing vineyard after vineyard we stopped for the night at Tihany to sample the local reds and pass the time with a grumpy cat before leaving the Lake for a half day ride to a town we were both looking forward to Heviz. Riding into the town we dodged tiny vipers soaking up the sun’s rays. Literally scores of the serpents were uncoiled on the path and whilst not especially dangerous we were unwilling to harm them. After all they weren’t conkers! Heviz and its famous thermal lake appeared through the trees. Covered in lilies and heated by thermal spring the lake has therapeutic properties and the smell of sulphur can’t be ignored. A wellness centre has been built to capitalize on this and charges a reasonable amount to get well from the water. It also has a sauna and all the usual gubbins. It was here I did one of the bravest things I have ever done.
This was a proper sauna. A hot one and at its hottest swimsuits are banned. Partly for hygiene and partly because they may actually melt. Well I didn’t stay in there for long but I potted the plunge pool on coming out, with a recorded temperature of -1. So I plunged and wow, just wow. The only way to describe it would be to compare a cold glass of real lemonade on a scorching summer’s day. So I did it again and again.
A couple of days later we’d hit the border with Slovenia after passing through a national park that guide books didn’t mention. I won’t either. If I tell you everything why would you go yourself? And you should.