Epic European Cycle

2015-08-18 : Bonus Day in Budapest
Today Brent and I took a "bonus day" in Budapest to do a couple of last things, plus wait out the weather a little bit. We did two things - visited Memento Park, and had a Fish Pedicure. Memento Park was really interesting. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the city's administration decided to gather up all of the statues that had been erected for political reasons and put them in a park/memorial site. There are a number of statues, including a couple I particularly enjoyed - the Béla Kun Memorial by Imre Varga and The Republic of Councils Monument (the enormous scary guy running with a cloak). In addition to the statues, they have a museum building (Northern Barrack) with pictures, descriptions, and timelines from the era, as well as a set of four really interesting films. Budapest used to have a secret film production studio which produced training films for Soviet operatives. When the memorial park was created, they took a bunch of these training films to create a film titled "The Life of an Agent", which consists mainly of four "montage" films with commentary. The chapters are:
- The Way to Hide Bugs
- Introduction to House-Searching
- Methods of Recruitment
- Effective Networking

Brent and I were both spellbound by the films. It was cool and kind of eerie to watch top secret training films from a time that terrified me as a young person. The Fish Pedicure... well... the Fish Pedicure was a really neat experience. A novelty. But, I'd have to go back every day for six months for the poor little fellas to keep up with my heel callous production.
From Brent:

Before we left Budapest, Rhonda & I visited Memento Park. In Hungary Soviet symbols are banned. No red stars, no hammer & sicle and a lot of the Soviet art has been destroyed but someone had the idea to save some of the statuary and bring it all to one place; Memento Park. I thought it was really cool seeing some of the old statues and hearing some of the history behind them. There is also a small museum with stories of various Hungarian rebellions against Soviet rule and a theatre to view KGB training films (Subtitled in English).

2015-08-19 : Train to Nagykanizsa
Before we left the hostel this morning, Brent made a cheat sheet to take to the train station asking for two tickets for us, and two bicycle tickets to Nagykanizsa. He stole words from here and there in our phrase book to make his cheat sheet. He said he wanted to confirm it with Google Translate, so I did that and got a completely different set of words. Brent asked the front desk lady to have a look at them and she said his was better, but she fixed his grammar. She said the Google Translate one was requesting "admission" (instead of tickets). At the train station, Brent presented the cheat sheet to the ticket lady, who happened to have poor eyesight. We got what we needed, though - two tickets for us, and two tickets for the bikes to Nagykanizsa! Yay for Brent's cheat sheet!
When we got to Nagykanizsa, we had a screen shot from Google Maps and my written instructions describing how to get to the local campground. We headed off in the general direction, and at an intersection we stopped to consult our information to make sure we were still headed the right way. As has happened pretty much every single time we've stopped to consult a map in Europe, some people stopped to help. This time it was a fella, Atilla, and his friend, who are cycle touring as well. Atilla's English is very good since he has lived in Australia for several years. They chatted us up and asked us where we were heading. They said they didn't think there was a campground in town - they were headed to a campground 25km further down the road and crossing the boarder into Croatia first thing in the morning. It was good to learn which road to take to get to the border! They stopped a local guy and asked where the campground was, and the local guy said there wasn't one. Then Atilla's friend used his Mighty iPhone to look up a local campground, and they found the one I was aiming for, and it was straight down the road we were already on. Yay! We found the campground AND it is on the road to the Croatian border!
I can't believe I did it again! How many times do I have to learn the hard way to be properly prepared for national holidays in the places we're visting? A number of people have told us that August 20th is a national holiday in Hungary, but that still didn't equate to "get food ahead of time" in my brain! Dammit! After Brent and I set up in the campground, we headed back into Nagykanizsa looking for dinner and tomorrow's breakfast. That's when we discovered that the local grocery stores were closed for the evening, and they would remain closed through tomorrow. As in... we have no food and we're unlikely to get any for a day. Brent's cooperative system may have been ok with that, but mine certainly wouldn't, so I started to get pretty worried. As we were standing in front of the closed "Medium Market" (as opposed to Supermarket... yes, their sign actually says "Medium Market"), an elderly lady came up and started "helping" us in rapid Hungarian. What we both got out of it, though, was that there was a Spar in town that was still open, it was a little further into town, and on the left (good thing she used charades in addition to Hungarian), so we set off deeper into town. When we got to town center, we still hadn't found anything and we were standing pondering what to do. A lady was walking across the street toward us and so, using my best "desperation as a communication technique" voice, I asked her, "Spar?" "Spar?". To which she replied, in perfect English, with exact directions for how to find it (behind us, now, and to the right, behind the bus station).

2015-08-20 : Čakovec
Today was our worst day of riding in the rain so far, and honestly, it wasn't that bad. We set out in overcast conditions. At around 10km, we spotted a little cafe that was open and decided to stop for our first break. While we were enjoying first break, it rained for a while, and then essentially stopped just as we were ready to start moving again. We thought that was pretty awesome, and we reached the border at Letenye easily. Just short of the border, we met a couple of backpackers from Isreal who were wondering where the border was. We stopped for a chat, showed them the map, and assured them that they were close to the border... maybe 2-3 km, or maybe as little as 1.5km. We carried on, and stopped for second break at a nice little cafe just on the other side. Before we were finished, the couple showed up again so we had another nice chat with them. After that, we carried on toward Čakovec, quickly spotting the "R3 cycle route" to Čakovec, which took us very circuitously to essentially the same place that Brent had already plotted for us. During that section we got poured on - we were completely soggy by the time we reached Čakovec, so we checked into the only hotel in town and had a "gear and clothing explosion" in our room to try and dry everything out.
We have both been feeling the pinch of running out of days we can stay in Schengen, so we're both pretty relieved to be merrily stamped in to Croatia. We have eleven days left on our Schengen visa, so if we decide to go back in for a few days at the end of our trip we can. We can actually start a new visa on Oct 29th, which is great, because our flight home is out of Paris on Oct 31st. That gives us some more wiggle room.
Heel crisis averted! I've been trying to manage my heel callouses on this trip without my pedicure razor but it has NOT been going well. My callouses have gotten so big that I've been amazed they haven't cracked yet. Any moment, I'm sure. Tonight, Brent and I poked our noses into a little store and I found a pedicure razor! Yay! Heel callouses are banished and I will be fine for the rest of the trip. What a relief!

2015-08-21 : Dry-Out Day in Čakovec
When we checked into the hotel yesterday, we were completely soggy from riding in the rain. We inquired about staying two nights, but they only had a room for one night with a "possibility" of two. We dried out a lot of our stuff overnight, and it was beautiful out when we got up this morning, so I had half a thought that we would move on today, but then the front desk lady said that we could keep our room for a second night, so we're going to take advantage of the opportunity to see what there is to see in Čakovec, do some "laundry wine" and some more "drying out".
Today we did our laundry, saw the town, and formulated a plan to do a couple of cycle day trips in Međimurje. We asked about extending our hotel reservation for two more nights, and again, our front desk lady thinks it's possible, but has to confirm tomorrow morning. If we can't stay here, we've found a place in Strigava where we can stay. I'd prefer to stay in Čakovec, though, so our day trips are "mostly up for the first part and mostly down for the second part". If we're in Strigava, we'll be climbing at the end of the day. We'll see. We were planning on going back to our grey cat restaurant for dinner, and then to a movie, but I started coming down with something and didn't feel up to it. A bit of Immune 7 and some sleep and hopefully I'll be feeling better tomorrow.

2015-08-22 : Međimurje
Since Brent and I will be in Croatia for a while (according to the current plan), we've decided it would be a good idea to apply ourselves a little bit to learning some Croatian. Brent is having a harder time with it than I am, but I drill him incessantly, and he's coming along. We've got a few words: hvala vam (thank you), molim (please), dobor dan (hello/good day), da/ne (yes/no), racun (the bill), bicikl (bicycle), karta (map), nema problema (no problem), dovidenja (see you later/goodbye). The Croatians we've met so far are disproportionately happy, and giggle a lot, when we use our words.
We started the day with a wrong turn and ended up going south when we wanted to go west then north. We spent a lot of time on the "flat and boring" before we finally started getting up into the hills, and then, by the time we'd done 30km (at Badličan), I was starting to feel sick again so I called an early turn-around. We were going to do 60-70km today (we're not hauling gear), but we ended up doing about 52. Providing I feel ok tomorrow, we'll make another run at those hills. I'd like to make it up to Sveti Martin before we leave Međimurje. Map: http://bit.ly/1JbN0v7

2015-08-23 : Sick day in Čakovec
Taking a sick day in Čakovec. I've been fighting something off for the last couple days, and today I feel like I'm losing the battle, so I'm taking a day off. We've booked into our hotel for another two nights, so Čakovec may end up being the place we stay the longest on our whole trip. We're planning on being here for six nights. Whoa. We might just start putting down a root or something! I'm glad to have the time to rest, though... last time I was sick was when we were with Dawn and then Beth - no time for sick days then!! I pushed through it that time and it was fine... I just don't like to push through if I don't have to. I prefer to sleep through.

2015-08-24 : Međimurje
We had a really nice ride through Međimurje county today. We followed the Pusipel Track for a good part of the day, which took us through some really pretty countryside and really pretty little towns, but for every bit of pretty, there was twice as much hill. Up and down and up and down and up and down. It was sort of like the "Six Killer Hills (and one with Murderous Intent)" route that we do in Edmonton, except I lost track of the number of killer hills. Since I'm still not feeling 100%, we turned back before going all the way to the end of the route and ended up with a total of 43km for the day. It was really great, and we're planning on going back to the "grey cat" for an early dinner. Yay!
German is really common here. We've run into a number of people who speak German, and almost half the TV programs seem to be in German (without subtitles). German culture, too... and when I say German culture, I mean... RADLERS! YUMMY YUMMY Radlers!

2015-08-25 : Rain day in Čakovec
"Rain Day" today, so we spent the day doing two things:
- Muzej Međimurja Čakovec: We spent a long time going through the Međimurja museum, which included a lot of things, including the history and royalty of the area, military history including a lot about the war in the 1990s, and the history of local harvesting technology. Considering there was very little information in English, we understood quite a lot and got a lot out of it.
- Kuna Bin Movies: Since I was sick the last few days, the TV has come on and we've discovered that Croatia (or, at least, Čakovec), has a lot of English programs with Croatian subtitles. We've found a station that plays a lot of movies, but most of them seem to come from deep down in the "Kuna Bin". Kuna is the Croatian currency, and a kuna is worth about $0.20CAD. Brent and I have decided that there's a bin of movies somewhere where the station programmers go to ask what they can get for a kuna... thus the "Kuna Bin". Some of the movies they're playing are REALLY bad.

2015-08-26 : Varaždin
Turned out that Varazdin was only 19km down the road, so we had an extremely short, easy ride today. We had plenty of time to enjoy Špancirfest, saw the castle, went to the entomology museum and the fire fighting museum, and saw an amazing troupe of old folks playing, singing and dancing some traditional Croatian numbers.

The fire fighting museum was particularly cool. We were greeted at the door by our "guide" - a fire fighter who normally works out of Zagreb, but comes to Varazdin museum when they're expecting crowds. He spoke quite good English, in spite of our being his first-ever visitors from an English-speaking country. He had attended his first fire when he was 14-years-old. Apparently the rules were pretty lax about what age they would send guys out up until recently when they had a team of fire-fighters die attending a fire on an island. They don't know what happened - the island is grass, not forest, so it's a mystery why the guys died. Some of them were under 18-years-old, which is really tragic, and if I understand correctly, was the driving force behind Croatia getting stricter about not sending under-age fellas out to fires. Anyway, our guide was really awesome. He took us through the whole museum, explaining everything as we went.

2015-08-27 : To Krapina
I'm sure Brent is tired of me exclaiming "it's so pretty here!" after our ride today, but man... it was really pretty. Brent plotted us a cross-country route since I don't like riding on highways. It was very very hilly, but man it was pretty. We started off heading straight west of Verazdin toward Gornje Ladanje. We zig-zagged west and south through Kapelec, Brodarovec, Ribic Breg, Bedenec, dipping down to Lepoglava to turn immediately northwest to Rinkovec, then a turn at Bednja to go through Sasa, Gornje Jesenje and finally to Krapina. It was a heck of a climb to Gornje Jesenje, but it was worth it, and then after we left Gornje Jesenje, we gave up all the elevation we'd gained through the day. It seemed like we went downhill forever before we finally reached Krapina. Krapina is smattered through a valley and up onto the sides of a bunch of impossibly pointy hills. It's really pretty. My photos don't do the area justice... it's just one of those places. The best pictures are in my head.
Our camera card reader packed it in. That's too bad. I knew it was taking a lot of wear, but I hoped it would last through the end of the trip. Hopefully we can pick up a new one soon.

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