Into Slovakia

My mobile evidently didn’t like Northern Hungary. But it feels entirely happy and reconnected in Slovakia. So, the blog resumes.

I wanted to put up a photo of shop-owner and -keeper Zoltan at an awesome bikeshop near Salgotarjan near the Slovak border (yes, bicycle in Hungarian is Kerekpar, nothing you can get a handle on) who fitted Raven up yesterday with the same robust two-legged bike stand which Hungarian postmen- and -women use.

And it works, even with heavy loads. As you can also see in the photo of the derelict former pass-top restauarant and B&B in another of the photos above – an illustration of how parts of the Slovak economy have simply fallen apart since the end of Communism and accession to the EU.

Slovakia, a bit like the Czech Republic, is a sad country. Communism knocked the stuffing out of the place, and as I bike through what are stunningly pretty landscapes, with pristine forests, beautiful views and lovely people, it’s as if the old order had actually set about destroying or at least maiming anything beautiful.

So far to go to heal the wounds of 50 years, spiritual and physical. I hope the Slovaks get there before global warming does. But, at least the Czechoslovak secret police aren’t following me, as they did ostentatiously, and I have to admit to my intense anger, when I last travelled these parts by car as BBC Vienna correspondent in 1984.

Then, I ended up confronting the goons, three strapping young men in their invalid-signed Skoda, yelling at them in Russian that they were a disgrace to their country and should get the f*** off my tail.

They did – or at least, continued much more discreetly. For some reason, fear perhaps, it’s a story I never wrote for the BBC.

Being mobile-less for 48 hours has been a blessing, allowing time to read the most sobering but also inspiring of new novels, The Road by Cormac McCarthy. About a post-apocalypse world of brutality, loneliness but also love and redemption. Thanks Nick in Budapest for the loan – you were right, it’s a breathtaking book.

And it reminds me of the issues with which I need to reengage when I’m back. End of June or so, in case you were wondering.

So, the journey continues. Amazing views, including of clouds boiling today over the High Tatras behind a field of sharply-scented rape. And a winding mountain road in the pilgrimage centre of Levoca glistening in the sun.

Tomorrow, Poland. And some serious climbing in the process. Rule two of cycling, hills slow you down. 70 miles today, over what the locals call Slovak Paradise, and 2000 metres or so of height climbed. Average speed therefore of only 8.2mph, requiring eight-and-a-half hours in the saddle, longest yet.

But, what a day. And it only rained a bit. And that’s rule one. Cycling rocks.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

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