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European Voices -the Freedom of Movement Tour part 10 – A muddy path to freedom

It’s part ten of our coverage of the Freedom of Movement tour with Chiara Ginestra and Alexander Colling who have experienced mixed feelings in this part of the journey as they reach Slovenia. Chiara and Alex are travelling across Europe on bicycle to discover the wonderful right of freedom of movement within the European Union. Don’t forget to follow them on their Facebook page , Tumblr and their Twitter handle

Alex fills us in.

Our journey takes us out of Györ through fields of sunflowers and along quiet roads. Across the Danube and back into Slovakia, we stop in Komárno for a bit of lunch. It’s going very well. There are a few cycle paths, drivers seem to give us room and slow down, the sun shines. A little further on the asphalt road slowly changes into a dirt track. Not so bad, the soil is firm and dry, we barely notice. After confirming that this is a EuroVelo route, all should be well. Puddles appear. Apparently it rained last night and suddenly found ourselves and our bikes dipping in and out of muddy pools of water while avoiding low hanging branches and being escorted by hundreds of butterflies. It’s all very surreal. After seeing more cyclists we note, with envy and pride, their lack of luggage. Day cyclists. Luggage transfer. We’re feeling better for this and persist. Asphalt reappears! 10km later we find ourselves in a field, enveloped by corn twice our height to our left and right, but the map assures us just a little further until we reach a road. In the solitary expanse I try my air horn. It works.

We cycle on.

The tracks in the dirt road become deeper and more dangerous (like hitting a kerb) so concentration is required. Puddles reappear. They get deeper and sometimes take up the whole road. At times, it means hauling our bikes into the field to get around. As well as rock-hard tracks we also experience softer patches of mud. Too soft and your bike stops and sinks. I’m cycling ahead and I hear Chiara yelp. In turning to see if she’s okay, I wobble and my bike ploughs into a soft bit of mud. My tyre sinks about 6cm and, losing my balance, I instinctively put down my left foot. It also sinks. I try to pull it out and leave my sandal behind. Chiara, safe and dry, is enjoying watching this from behind. I tell her it’s her fault and she helps me retrieve my sandal. It looks like a Roman shoe that has been preserved in a peat bog. It’s impossible to clean the mud off and, to be honest, it felt lovely and cool. Pressing on, our bikes are continuing to build up hardening mud that flicks up and down, jams in-between our mudguards and around our brakes. I cycle on with one shoe on and the other in a carrier bag. Finally finding asphalt and reaching our destination, the Bóna winery, I leave one muddy footprint behind me as we are shown around and information about my sorry state is passed on to the owner, who then offers us wine as compensation.

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The next day, after our camping stove explodes, we have a less muddy cycle but our bikes continue to shave mud from the mudguards for the whole day. It’s now so hard and impossible to remove without a bit of water. The goal is to aim for puddles when we see them. Crossing back into Hungary, I need to buy a new seat post as the one I was using had become damaged beyond repair. After lunch on the Danube we arrive in our home for the night, Visegrad, where we attend New Europeans Scotland AGM via telephone.

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Ignoring the advice of our host, the next day has us cycling along the main road to Budapest. It’s a good road, not so busy, and segregated cycle paths appear as we get closer to the city. We ignored various EuroVelo signs that would have taken us on unnecessary detours.

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It’s time to spend a few days in Budapest and make the most of the baths. I achieved an impressive state of relaxation, where nothing, not even Brexit seemed to worry me. We hear from our hosts about the worsening political situations in Hungary and we briefly attend a protest against the government taking control of the Science Academy’s budget. Our hosts speak with a wry humour about their country. They feel quite powerless but have an acute academic understanding of Orban’s aspirations of dictatorship and the freedoms that are being lost in Hungary.

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After our host, Andras, kindly took the time to escort us to the station, our journey now has a night train to Ljubljana, on which we enjoy a hastily prepared dinner of Hungarian noodles.

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After being informed to expect to be woken up around one am by the police doing a passport check at the border and to keep our passports handy but the check never happened.

Ljubljana is beautiful. After being met there by our friend, Anne, from Edinburgh, it’s reassuring to see a familiar face. Part of reflecting on our arrival in the Balkans was hearing Ode to Joy playing from a city centre clock. I manage to scald my arm draining pasta, and have to rest for a few days.

Our trip crossed a number of borders this week, and all crossings were seamless. In Slovakia we talked with people who said they felt Hungarian. In Hungary we saw no less than three Nazi T-shirts (on people), one of which was celebrating the SS. It was a strange week of mixed feelings. Pure celebration of the EU and common ways of being, concern of the future of our continent, hopelessness, powerlessness. Brexit seemed far away yet so close. Many thanks Orsi and Andras for hosting us in Budapest.

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