The wind took us a short way into Hungary where we stopped to camp in the town of Sarospatak in the shadow of the mountains that cross between Slovakia and Hungary. We arrived without any cash so I had to dash off into town for money and to scout out cafes for breakfast. The campsite wasn't officially open for the season; we were there just a few days too early but we could stay anyway, sharing the site with some very rowdy children and unable to swim in the, as yet uncleared, pool.
We cycled due south away from the mountains and towards the border with Romania. Hungary was as flat as Estonia and mentally very difficult. The roads were long and straight and by now we were cycling into the wind again. At the end of each straight section would come a corner leading to another straight identical to the one we'd just ridden. There was nothing in the landscape which allowed us to gauge progress, like a hill or a farm, and we often felt frustrated.
One thing we noticed was a massive increase in the number of stray dogs. We've often read online about peoples' experiences with strays: being barked at, chased or even bitten. That wasn't our experience at all (yet). The strays were generally uninterested in us and would keep their distance. Occasionally they would give a short chase, like one who ran into traffic towards us, but they weren't anything to worry about. Generally they just appeared bored. Farm dogs were a different matter. They did appear to be aggressive but for the most part, thankfully, they were caged behind fences. Our worst experience with any dog in Hungary was with a very sweet little female, who looked like she was pregnant. We rounded a corner, she came squirming out of the bushes chasing us and squealing. Our usual tactic when dogs give chase is to stop and face them and they pretty quickly lose interest. The little dog came running closer and closer, tail wagging, squeaking with delight at the fact we'd stopped and we made the mistake of petting her which endeared her to us further. We thought that she looked hungry so we gave her some bread, mostly in an effort to distract her whilst we rode off but this didn’t work. She then chased us for the next 8km towards the nearest town. We were almost evenly matched for speed so we were only able to make our getaway on a downhill. I felt terrible for having to leave her but there was nothing we could do. She seemed perfectly healthy.
We followed the border with Romania quite a long way south as the Hungarian roads, while boring, were fairly decent and had we crossed into Romania further we would've ended up on major roads which we are generally keen to avoid. We crossed into Romania at the border crossing at Turnu heading for our stop over town of Arad where we'd decided to take a scheduled rest day. On our way to the city we thought we saw a large fire billowing in the distance but as we looked closer we could see that it was an enormous dust devil many metres in diameter at the base. It quickly dissipated leaving a column of dust in the air a few hundred feet high. As we cycled into Arad we stopped for a bottle of water at a petrol station. We hopped back on our bikes and headed off for our hotel just east of the centre. Sadly on the way, another disaster. My handlebar bag popped open and the camera leapt out and smashed the lens on the ground. Luckily the body is fine, so the lens is being replaced as a gift by family. On arrival at the hotel we checked in, reached for the credit card to pay for the room, and realised in horror that we'd left the card at the petrol station.
Our host told us not to panic and tried calling to see if the petrol station had hold of the card, but no luck. A woman then came round the corner who I assumed was a member of staff. Immediately she told me we must get in a taxi at once and drive across the city to the petrol station to retrieve it. At this point, Helen was looking for her debit card in our bedroom to get money to pay for the hotel and the taxi but before she could even find it the taxi had arrived and I was whisked out the door by the lady and off we went in search of the card. A few minutes later we arrived at the petrol station but again no luck. The staff had changed and the credit card was nowhere to be found so back to the taxi we went to make a few phone calls and make sure the account was secure. With that panic over Chira, the owner of the hotel, decided it was time to crack out the palinka (a plum vodka) whilst we chatted over Google Translate.
As usual on our days off, there are lots of errands to do. We had to go hunting for a new SD card for Helen's GoPro to stop it corrupting and keep the bar view videos coming, and I needed a hair cut because I was beginning to look a bit like a toilet brush. I sat down in the barber's chair and an old lady made me look like a bouncer for the sum of £2.20. Just need a leather jacket and cigarettes now.
From Arad we set off south again for Serbia and rode our longest day yet mostly on major roads. South of Arad we rode through the town of Timisoara where we were chased down the street by a man holding my sun glasses which had been left, again, at a petrol station. Moments later an Aussie man rode towards us barking "CYCLE TOURISTS?!". He was cycling from Istanbul to Warsaw and we explained we were headed for Australia. Immediately we were offered a place to stay in Sydney and given an email address for when we get there. We don't even know his name but that's the beauty of being part of the cycle touring community. The final bizarre encounter of the day came in the form of a TV crew. If you've been following us on social media, we put it on Facebook.
I mentioned about our experience with dogs in Hungary. Again we had no trouble from any of the strays but we were very sad to see so many having been hit by cars, lying dead at the side of the road. We counted five from Arad to Serbia alone.
We kept riding late into the evening crossing the border into Serbia before finding a place to wild camp at the edge of an old railway cutting through a farmers field, with two more countries under our belts. We've hardly seen anything of those two countries though and, as ever, we'd love to go back.
Posts by either Mike or Helen. Individual authors will be named.