Budapest – and Going Offline for a While

OK, so I cheated a bit today. Taking the train from Vienna to Budapest (see luggage taking a break too), where I’m going to lay up for a while, see old friends and make a serious attempt at learning Hungarian.

The Hungarians are so keen that foreigners should master their imposssible, upside-down but fascinating language, that they massively subsidise classes at the Debrecen/Budapest summer school – which has a three-week intensive course starting here in a week.

Perfect timing, picking up on lots of hard but ultimately incomplete learning during my time in Vienna in the ealy 80s. In which city, warm thanks to Brigitte and Andy for their fabulous four days of hospitality while I nursed a sore ankle.

Taking a break with my passion for Hungarian (was I a Magyar in an earlier life?) will also give time for the tendon to heal before cycling on into Transsylvania, most probably, to meet up with brother Hugh and check out on Dracula and the some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes.

Today, meanwhile, IT WASN”T RAINING. Gloriously sunny, in fact, and Budapest and the Danube – Chain Bridge and Parliament above – positively sparkled.

Trees bursting into green, warm and everyone out by the river relaxing and cycling and reading and talking. Mainly Hungarian. Spring as she is meant to be. At last.

So, expect something of a break in blogging for now, and then a probably sporadic resumption, as the Blackberry coverage in rural Hungary and Romania when I get moving again won’t be brililant.

Still, it’ll be good to be pedalling again. In Hungarian.

BFN.

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The Ultimate Mobile Office

And while I have access to a decent, real computer here in Vienna, able to post serious photos taken with a serious camera, here’s a shot from back in France, on the Loire at La Charite (once a major stop on the Camino to Santiago), of my mobile office.

O2 Stellar Blackberry-enabled mobile on the left (also more technically known as an HTC Kaiser), and folding Stowaway keyboard on the right. Apart from the last two, all the photos on this blog are taken by the mobile (hence my previous inability to post a picture of the actual device), and although a bit fiddly, the keyboard works very well with Bluetooth.

And the other bit of kit that is now working better is the old tendon. I’m told today by sensible medics (my GP phoned in Cirencester) that it’s actually OK to keep cycling, gently, and fill up with Nurofen at the same time. So, the trip remains very much on – though several days, if not a week or two, of quiet in Hungary are about to ensue, perhaps with a focus on learning Hungarian properly at last.

So, will be much quieter on this blog for a while now. Don’t expect, or dread, daily posts. I’ll be back, though…

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One I took earlier…

These three cheerful types were spied rather earlier on the trip, back in Paris almost a month ago, where I stopped to take some photos, in the rain of course, of self, Raven and the Arc de Triomphe.

The two on the left started eyeing the bike with clear expertise, and when I greeted them en mauvais francais, they explained they had returned, literally the previous week, from a year and a half cycling together around South America, and were now planning writing projects and lecture tours.

Did I, they asked when I explained that I was just setting out on a shorter European version, have a blog. Mais non, replied I truthfully at that point, whereupon we were joined by a determinedly cheerful young South Korean, see right in the picture, who had just bought a bike and panniers in Paris. And was setting out the following day on a three-month tour of Europe, through the Low Countries and Germany.

There are clearly more of us demented cyclists out there than you would expect.

Did I get their names? No. Bad journalist again.

And if you’re wondering why this blog looks different, it’s because it’s from a Real Computer in Vienna, where I’m laying up for three days with Brigitte and Andy before continuing to Budapest by train at the weekend – just a short powered trip, honestly – to give my aching Achilles tendon a break. Unfortunate term. Shall we say, a rest.

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Vienna. And Why Blog?

Hundertwasser Waste Recycling Plant, Vienna

Well, words fail me

Beware, this is a long blog. Take a deep breath, jump in, but be prepared to navigate in manageable segments.

Yes, the tent last night stayed dry inside, as did the sleeping gear, and I even dreamed of warm and snuggly sleeping bags.

OK, I have had to wear my socks and expensive 100% waterproof (not) rain jacket this morning to dry them out. And sitting in a warm and dry café on the Vienna Ringstrasse, just round the corner from my old BBC office, my shoes are still sodden.

But hey, I survived. And even made the last 20 miles here this morning with reasonable comfort. Rest of the day is quiet to rest old Achilles. No wonder we use that metaphor for our weak spots.

I’m going to muse a bit on blogging today, having had some lovely supportive emails from friends and family after my early morning bleat.

But first (as Kate Adie, who doesn’t believe journalists can possibly get traumatised, says introducing From Our Own Correspondent on Radio Four), an explanation of the pictures.

Sue in Cirencester and Clare in Berne especially will appreciate the photo of a power station on the NW approach to Vienna prettified by Austria’s oddest but most brilliant post-war architect, Friedensreich Hundertwasser (what a fantastic name), a kind of Central European Gaudi.

See here http://www.outbackphoto.com/places/2000/20001022_Hundertwasser.html for some more images of his work.

I was reminded passing the power station with its disguised chimney (still belching noxious effluent of course) of a once boring old East German school block in Wittenberg which Sue and I saw last year, also given the Hundertwasser treatment, and of a totally outrageous but beautiful hotel and appartment complex in this style in the centre of nearby Magdeburg.

Flair, colour, inspiration and curves – all lost in so much of modern industrial architecture.

Curves and straight lines also in the quite arrestingly pink piece of modern art (yes, that’s what it is) I cycled past just before Vienna this morning, outside a large (square) museum dedicated to the artist who created this interesting and in my view rather unnecessary piece.

I forget his (of course, his, not her) name – Essl, I think. But if you can enlarge the image (the squeamish may not wish to, this already being quite large enough) it’s is on the plaque on the wall to the right. (Blast, on re-reading the blog, I realise I posted a different picture, one without the plaque. But I’ll leave the thought about enlargement…)

I wonder what it’s intended to represent. No answers please. They might be stopped by my spam filter.

Onwards.

The lady in the remaining picture with me and Raven outside the café where I’m now sitting is Susanna Hamad, a young Austrian broadcast journalist now embarking on a Masters research project into journalism and trauma in this country.

We had a good conversation about her research questions and people to talk to, useful timing in terms of where Vienna fitted into my travels and Susanna’s research. Clive, that photo, although a bit distant, is in part for you…

So, why blog? Narcisisstic self-indulgence, as Sue would probably think? Or serious connection and communication?

I’ve actually been surprised what fun this is, having vowed not to. As long, of course, as one has something to say in which people might be interested. Alastair, my number two, is well up on matters internet, and warned me firmly of the dangers of vacuous blogging for its own sake.

But as one who has always found writing for work really hard, despite it being my core profession for so long, doing a blog is very different.

It’s personal, direct communication, without having to sastisfy editors or programmne-makers or established, usually unexamined and unquestioned, agendas blocking authentic connection between the writer/reporter and the useful/consumer/reader.

One of the reasons, also, why From Our Own Correspondent, which has always been a bit bloggy, is so popular with both listeners and BBC reporters.

Awareness of the blog, I find also, gives structure to my thoughts as I pedal along during the day.

I’m chatting with you all all the time, whether you like it or not. Not sad and self-indulgent, but a real conversation. And if I forget to include an important thought one day (well, what strikes me as important anyway), I can put it in tomorrow. There’s a continuity and a flow which is rather rewarding.

And given how many said how much they envied me doing a trip like this, I do feel emboldened and encouraged to share a little of what it’s really like to do something as challenging, fun, different – and wet – as this.

For the therapeutically-minded, it’s also about Attachment with a capital A, as in John Bowlby, and the need each of us has, from infancy on, to feel emotionally connected/bonded with people who care for us and vice versa.

It’s also a form of diary writing, which I always encourage my therapy clients to do for the sake of their own emotional well-being.

It’s good for the brain chemistry. Putting ideas down in writing connects our thinking and our feeling bits, and helps us act and feel in a more integrated way. Especially when it’s shared.

Time to switch gear a little.

The industrial age has been – will have been – a catastrophe for the human species, and for many other species besides.

(My hobby horse, as you know, but on which see a serious, authoritative and alarming report today in the Daily Telegraph on the security implications of global warming. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2008/04/23/eaclimate123.xml&DCMP=EMC-new_23042008).

But again with James Lovelock, author of the Gaia thesis, I believe that amid all the bad things we have done, the internet and mobile technology are good, a quantum leap in evolution and consciousness.

And at a very small level, that’s what serious blogging (this one included, I hope) is about.

E.M. Foster summed it up in A Passage to India well before the internet was even dreamed of, in the novel’s core message about, in effect, the Meaning of Life, which has stayed powerfully with me from A-Level English.

Only Connect.

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The Danube cont. And rain. Lots of it.

The less said about today's ride the better.

Eighty-four hard, and for the second half spectacularly wet miles (see grey pic above), the last 30 slogging through a succession of thunderstorms in a vain search for a warm dry B&B.

I've ended up having to put up the tent anyway, in Tulln on the Danube about 30 miles short of Vienna.Thank Heaven for waterproof Ortlieb panniers, so at least my sleeping clobber is dry.

And, how come there are no free guest rooms in one of Austria's major tourist destinations in the middle of a rainy week in April and not even school holidays?

France, you are forgiven.

And – moan, moan – that Achilles tendon is playing up so badly after all that for the first time I'm beginning to wonder if I'll have to cut this trip short. The prescribed cure for an inflamed tendon is rest. Several weeks of it. Hmmm.

Before things turned seriously unpleasant today, though, the Danube turned for a while seriously picturesque and unboring.

Offering an unusual opportunity also for self-reflection, as you can also see. Always good in the therapeutic business – but I can't immediately see why the local folk at this point of the Austrian Danube put up a line of perfectly honed mirrors alongside the cycle path. Perhaps they make mirrors there?

Elsewhere in today's pictures, Duernstein (with Raven) where Richard the Lionheart once had one of his major Central European crusader castle bases (top left on the hilly horizon) as he and his medievally merry men were heading out to bash the Muslims and claim Jerusalem.

These days, I guess aircraft carriers do the same.

Vienna, slowly and carefully, tomorrow. Old BBC working base nearly 30 years ago when communism and the division of Europe seemed set in stone. And then, tendons permitting, it will be across the old iron curtain, where so much has changed.

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The Danube and Pilgrims

The banks of the Danube, which I reached today and along which I ploughed for a healthy total of 83 miles into a ferocious headwind, are indeed flat, as expected.

But they're also, to be honest, a bit boring, despite the last couple of days' fabulous explosion all around of tree blossoms in this very late spring.

And, this evening, it's also wet. The heavens opened just before I set up my tent, right by the river just west of Ybbs.

I have been intending to test my camping equipment for a rainy overnight stay. Tonight's clearly the night – I just hope the Danube doesn't rise during the night and sweep me away.

The river photo above from one of the many hydroelectric dams that interrupt the Danube's eastward progress here is boring apart from the promised view of the Brooks saddle.

Nearly 1500 miles now and I hope the sunless view is enough to show how exquistily supple and even comfortable the leather has now become.

Believe me, Brooks saddles are hard bum work to start with, but they're worth the investment of briefly, in the greater scheme of things, sore parts….

This will, I promise, be my last reference to the saddle, despite the rather intimate role it's currently playing in my life…

I mentioned food in yesterday's blog. Those not familiar with Austrian cooking may have wondered what on earth a Palatschinken is.

Confusingly, it has nothing to do with ham, which is what Schinken means in German (and Austrian). (Not sure what Palat means…)

What it does have to do with is pancakes – large ones, full of cream, ice cream, chocolate sauce and nuts. A day's calories in one go.

The enormous one above was pictured at about four o'clock this afternoon (with my little foldable keyboard to the right), and the timing of its consumption might help explain why I felt energised to keep cycling beyond the 80-mile boundary today, until stopped by the rain

The other two photos illustrate that this remains el Camino, der Weg, le chemin, the Way to Santiago de Compostela.

The lady with the rucksack, Cecilia from Linz, is a Genuine Pilgrim, heading to Spain in short stages, a few days at a time when she can.

She was heading west as I headed east this morning, away from Christa, my hostess last night (Danke auch fuer das schoene Fruehstueck!), pictured in front of the house in which her family have lived for nearly 200 years.

Vienna next, but probably not tomorrow. A bit of a stretch at 90 miles, especially if it continues to pour with rain.

And maybe then, the promised blog on why blog at all. A hint – it's to do with Attachment.

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Salzburg and The Sound of Music

Now into mjy fifth week on the road since leaving home on Easter Day, this was one amazing day's ride. 64 miles heading east from Salzburg through Austrian pre-Alpine landscape for which the word idyllic was invented.

Stayed last night with Dart Centre friend and colleague Susan Moeller at the Schloss Leopoldskron in Salzburg, home since 1947 of the Salzburg Seminars, but better known to most as the setting for the final scenes of The Sound of Music.

Talk about beautiful. The two shots above give just a hint at how lovely it was this morning, with the sun out at last and the sky blue, and snow stilll lying on the Unterberg mountain across the lake.

Then, up a long winding former rail track (the nicest cycling there is) from Salzburg east to the Mondsee and Attersee lakes, where we once had a fabulously picturesque holiday with the boys in 1982 (I think) when Jutta and I were living in Vienna.

With the sun out, the cyclists have also emerged. For weeks, I've been almost the only serious rider on the road. Today, Sunday, the routes were full of them. As a German farmer comnmented as I spun past the other day – Ah, the cyclists are out. It really must be spring.

Today was a chance to muse on how efficient the human body can become at doing this kind of work as long as it's appropriately fed, watered and rested.

It hasn't taken long to begin to feel very fit indeed, and heading up hills is surprisingly little trouble, if more slowly and in a lower gear (with the Rohloff hub Raven can climb almost vertically) than would have the case 20 or 30 years ago.

The left knee tendon which was so sore before setting off has been no trouble at all, to my surprise, and the keyhole surgery at Cheltenham General last December to clean up a tear on the right knee meniscus has done what the surgeon said it would. Sorted. Amazing how well these interventions can now work.

Left Achilles tendon still a bit sore – but maybe that's also got to do with banging the damn thing again and and again, until I realised what was happenig, with the left pedal. One is not as robust as one was….

Food tastes unebelievable. Bread, tomatoes, cheese and cucumber for lunch – heavenly. And as for a Greek salad at supper or sickly sweet Palatschinken for afters … Gorgeous.

And yes, there have been, briefly, bilsters in Interesting Places. All well cured by now, thanks especially to some slidey cream daughter Katharine gave me for Christmas. Too much detail, I think.

My saddle – I will take a picture tomorrow – is now exquisitly supple and smooth. Caressed and worn into shape over more than 1400 miles by determined bum bones.

The days settle into a kind of working routine. It's good to do 30 miles before lunch, and then to try not to even THINK about looking for a place to put the tent up until there are 65 or so miles on the daily clock.

Tonight, found a soft grassy spot in Schwanenstadt (av speed 10.2mph, 6:17 hours in the saddle) outside the house of a local woman who recognised the shell on my handlebar bag. and who turns out to have done the Camino de Santiago, twice.

Schwanenstadt is on the Austrian segment of the Camino, and her brother next door has just invited me in for a beer, so must rush…

Reach the Danube tomorrow. Flat. Lovely.

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