Europe


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Memories of Turkey
Years previously I spent a memorable time relocating an overland truck from Kathmandu in Nepal to London - all the advantages of the job… with no passengers! The heat of early summer was beginning to settle across Pakistan then Iran, but Spring seemed to pass that little bit later as I crossed into Turkey. The countryside transformed from Central Asian steppes into the dramatic high plateaux, crisp air and mountain scenery of northern and central Turkey washed in the fresh, new growth of Spring. A huge country geographically with such a diversity of landscape, it was fascinating to notice the changes in the appearance of the people and dress from the more traditional culture in the east of the country, to the obviously more European influenced the closer to Istanbul. I was awe-struck, amazed and astounded at this country I knew little about.

Another time relocating a truck through Turkey from Syria I had visited some of that country's major attractions - wandering through one of the world's best preserved and impressive Roman ruins at Ephesus; lying in hot pools on the brilliant white terraces and ledges of calcium in Pamukkale; the other-worldly gigantic stone heads lain fallen around the top of Mt Nemrut; the 'fairy chimneys' sprouting from rock in Goremé, the only clue of the homes - still there - churches and whole communities dug underground by early Christians; a poignant visit to the dunes in Gallipoli where the mainly Australian and New Zealand (Anzac) forces eventually retreated having suffered overwhelming casualties in an attempt to wrest control of the Dardanelles from the Turks in the First World War.

Turkey is a spectacular country to visit. But this time I was on the way home. A year and a half travelling through Africa, and disappointed at not being able to get a visa to cross Libya and North Africa, my intention was to transit Turkey. And so two days after clearing the Syrian border, I arrived in Istanbul on the Bosporus River that separates Asia from Europe, with one diversion. A visit to the pilgrimage town of Konya in central Turkey ten years previously had made an impression. I wanted to see it again.

Rumi
From the Syrian border, my route followed the Mediterranean coast before cutting inland, up through magnificent mountain scenery and across high desert plateau into central Anatolia. After hours of riding
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across the huge, windswept high plains into the late evening, it was time to find a place to sleep and, too windy for camping, I found a €20 room in the only hotel in the town of Karapinar (my main memory of which was a very friendly Kurdish baker who insisted on giving me a piece of baklava). The next morning’s ride brought me right into the centre of the large city of Konya, to the mausoleum of the Sufi mystic, Rumi.

My head is bursting
with the joy of the unknown.
My heart is expanding a thousand fold.
Every cell,
taking wings,
flies about the world.
All seek separately
the many faces of my Beloved.

Jalaluddin Rumi, thirteenth century Persian poet and mystic, believed passionately in the use of music, poetry and dancing as a path for reaching God, and it was from these ideas that the practice of Whirling Dervishes developed into a ritual form. Watching the dervishes dance is an ethereal experience (I can only imagine what it is like performing).

Dance when you are broken open,
Dance when you have torn the bandages off,
Dance in the middle of the fighting,
Dance in your blood,
Dance when you are perfectly free.


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MAULANA'S LAST LETTER TO SHAMS

Sometimes I wonder, sweetest love, if you
Were a mere dream in a long winter night,
A dream of spring-days, and of golden light
Which sheds its rays upon a frozen heart;
A dream of wine that fills the drunken eye.

And so I wonder, sweetest love, if I
Should drink this ruby wine, or rather weep;
Each tear a bezel with your face engraved,
A rosary to memorise your name...

There are so many ways to call you back-
Yes, even if you only were a dream.

The ‘You’ or ‘Beloved’ often addressed in Rumi’s poems can be read as “God’, the inner or universal spirit. One reason suggested for Rumi's popularity is that he “… is able to verbalise the highly personal and often confusing world of personal/spiritual growth and mysticism in a very forward and direct fashion. He does not offend anyone, and he includes everyone. The world of Rumi is neither exclusively the world of a Sufi, nor the world of a Hindu, nor a Jew, nor a Christian; it is the highest state of a human being - a fully evolved human…”
-
Shahram Shiva, Rumi scholar and performer

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From left: the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya church and Topkapi Palace

Istanbul is Constantinople is…
The road to Istanbul descended off the plateau into the thick, Mediterranean heat towards the Sea of Marmaris. At nightfall I pulled into a likely fuel station, gorged on a meal of four types of barbecued meat, then put the tent up behind a hoarding. Handy bathroom, cafe for a morning coffee and no one bothered me. Earplugs were handy though. From Yalova a ferry carried me the half hour across to the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul. The Sea of Marmaris, the body of water between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, was teaming with traffic - ferries crossing between Europe and Asia, between peninsulas, and between different parts of Istanbul. Ahead of me the distinctive profiles of Aya Sofya, and the neighboring Blue Mosque, approached as we neared the dock. And just like that I rode off the boat into Europe!

I'd made the wrong decision to stay in Sultanahmet, once a quaint and atmospheric old part of the city, but now very gentrified for the tourist trade. The prices of accommodation, restaurants, and even corner shops were a bit of a shock. The first day I spent servicing the bike and looking for baffle material for the exhaust, which brought me into contact with a very friendly and hospitable biker I'd asked a question of on the street. Ahmed took me in hand, brought me to his motor garage, fed me, introduced me to his friends, drove me around looking for parts, and generally couldn't do enough. Then after an obligatory (repeat) visit to the extraordinary Byzantine edifice of Aya Sofya, claimed by some to be the most impressive building in Christendom, and the elegant Blue Mosque built nearby to rival it, I was on my bike and heading the hour through traffic west out of the city, then across featureless agricultural land. Istanbul was European, the parts I visited anyway. I found myself irritable there, uncomfortable with its commercialism, Sultanahmet's prices exhorbitantly higher than neighboring Syria and the other Middle Eastern countries. The city failed to beguile me this time, two days was enough, I was on the way home.

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Ahead lies Europe
Ahead lay the great landmass of Europe - covered in cloud, and getting darker by the minute. The wind picked up and the temperature dropped, transforming what was normally sunny and warm countryside - this was summer in Turkey! - into a grey, dismal and inhospitable canvas. (Of course this struck me as potentially loaded, arriving back to old Europe after the baking, bright heat of Africa. Or did that indicate my frame of mind at the prospect of nearing the end of my journey?) I managed to slip under cover of a fuel station as the cloud burst, made sure my clothes and sleeping gear were protected by plastic bags, pulled on some more gear, and headed for the Bulgarian border.

The Bulgarian border was closed! Which meant riding an hour around to the next border post and a three km queue, mostly it seemed of Turks and their families returning in German, Dutch and French registered cars to their adopted countries of residence. A raincoated official waved me past the long line of parked cars to the first Immigration post, onto the next two, and through to Bulgaria, all within fifteen minutes. I could feel the eyes from some of those car drivers boring into the back of me, their kids running around getting wet in the drizzle or whinging in back seats.

Having crossed further east than anticipated, I decided to make a run for Veliko Tarnovo, a large town over the mountains in northern Bulgaria where a friend and his partner had invited me to their house. I knew that was a bit ambitious, but part of me responded excitedly to the challenge and I texted them of my intentions.

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Violated by a Bee in Bulgaria
But the 'challenge' didn't get off to a good start. Enjoying the ride past large fields of sunflowers, and marveling at being in an ex-Communist country for the first time - a bee got caught in my helmet. Not so remarkable one may think. However, the non-rider may imagine himself riding blithely along a Bulgarian country back road in the late afternoon - actually a little more rushed than he should be as the day was approaching its end sooner than was convenient - feeling the unmistakable sensation of a decent sized insect clipping his neck, then crawling up behind his ear into the helmet. As it dawned on me the probability of it being a bee, I had a few surreal seconds of fatalistically accepting the inevitable before I was stung in the rear of the skull. “Whaaa!” I yowled while scrabbling with one gloved hand in a vain attempt to undo my helmet strap at 80 kph. A bee sting isn't just sharp, it's protracted, a mixture of an acute then deeper pain. Like a horny dog, I could feel the bee thrusting its sting in deeper. Having no chance to scratch or swat, the natural impulse, I had to just allow the bee do its thing and merely observe while desperately trying to stop the bike one handed (not possible). And then it stung me a second time. Either that disproved the theory that a bee commits hari-kari while it stings, or Bulgarian bees can do it twice. By the time I was stopped and had the helmet wrenched off, there was no sign of the insect as I gingerly stroked the back of my aching head.

Maybe it was a wasp. Or a flying scorpion. It certainly felt painful enough. And in the back of my mind (somewhere near where I was stung) was a childhood memory of the whole of my lower arm puffing up in reaction to a bee sting. What if my brain reacted like that? How would it feel, and what would be the signs? This distracted me for a few miles. But nothing happened. The little dramas that entertain the solo biker.

First Impressions Behind the Iron Curtain in Unpleasant Conditions
Road signs were in Cyrillic script (like a foreign language to me). Asking directions was quite time consuming (not “Howaya, which road to Portumna?” “Left here, then straight on and round the lake, ya can't miss it.”) It meant stopping, making a stab at local pronunciation of 'Veliko Tarnovo' - in fact its known as V.T. by ex-pats as it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue - realise I’ve made an error in judgment in who to ask (the guy thinking if he speaks more forcefully I'll understand his Bulgarian), then trying to politely move on. Having had some experience at asking directions over the past year and half, you get an idea as to who is likely to be the more productive target. Didn’t work for me in Bulgaria. And the GPS wasn't much good, showing his age after 40,000 kms of African roads, only informing me when I was heading in the wrong direction, as opposed to what turns I should be taking. I was zig zagging through the country! It was pushing the clock.

Southern Bulgaria is flat. The few cars on the road seemed to be either expensive 4x4's or 30 kph Ladas. A blond haired lad in his late-teens, he could have been from any country in Western Europe, rode standing on his cart, the reins of the large plodding workhorse held loosely in his hand. There were a number of carts on the roads, hauling produce, hay or people.

I was looking for charm, but the towns I passed through concealed any signs of it. Some looked like relics from Soviet times - actually they
were relics from Soviet times - poor, in a depressing and bleak way. Bulgaria was known to be the closest of the old Soviet republics to Russia. A couple of dirty concrete apartment blocks on the edge of town were a common feature, or collections of derelict factory machinery lying rusting in the weather. Next to a filthy looking canal with shiny surface - or maybe it was a river - a junkyard piled high with compacted car wrecks added to the industrial wasteland picture. Evening was approaching, and the rain threatened as an unpleasant blustery wind swirled about.

Bear warnings in Romania
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Balkan Crossing
VT was still another hundred odd kms, the other side of the Balkan Mountains as they taper off east before reaching the Black Sea. Accepting it was now too ambitious aiming for my friends’ place tonight, I was hoping for a town soon where I might find a room. The wind and impending rain made camping an unattractive option. A turn off for the mountain range off to the north of me came and went. A few kms further on with little prospect of any welcoming and charming country inn around the next bend, or next hour for that matter, I weighed up the odds and decided to turn back and have a go over the mountains to VT.

A new sealed road wound its slow way up, disappearing into the heavy clouds sitting on the mountain ridge, and the infamous Shipka Pass. In the village of Shipka there is a Russian Orthodox church, built to commemorate Russian and Bulgarian bravery during the defence of the pass, the scene of four battles in the Russo-Turkish War at the end of the 19th century, which ended Turkish rule in the Balkans. Arriving eventually at the pass, a gate was swung closed across the road. I put the bike on its stand and got off. Rain was now falling steadily, streaming off the roof of the gatekeepers shack, flowing past me in rivulets on the road. Forested slopes stretched up on both sides disappearing into the gloomy mist and rain. Water was finding its way down my neck, cooling me down rapidly. The evening light was nearly gone. This was not in the plan.

Due to my total lack of Bulgarian I couldn’t figure out what the problem was, but the man at the gate, covered in yellow oilskin and hood, eventually let me through, with shakes of his head and warnings, pushing his hands down miming “very slow”. I set off now wet, into the semidarkness. What could he have been saying? It wasn't “Have a nice day” anyway. At least the road was now descending.

But pretty quickly the surface disintegrated and I realised the reason for the gate. Earth moving equipment lay abandoned for the day. Road works are generally bad news for motorcycles. Whatever the state of the road before, temporary detours and loose surfaces are guaranteed to be worse. Particularly if the old road is dirt and rubble in the first place. Parts of this road were now little more than a slimy muddy track with no verge that at times dropped off to the mountain river flowing fast below. Hmmm, this was interesting – I was up the Balkans on the Shipka Pass, it was raining, messy, road destroyed, and just about dark. And the gate was closed so there'd be no friendly traffic passing. I actually didn't feel nervous - hey, this is Europe - but certainly a continual underlying anxiety kept me focused. I didn't want to come off here; it would be a miserable night (if the wolves and bears didn't find me!). It made for a very concentrated ride down.

Wet and cold after a long day, I arrived at the small village of Arbanassi a few kms outside VT sometime after nine, and got a lovely welcome from Kevin, Bairbre and young Marcus, before joining them for a satisfying meal of pork, potatoes and lots of Bulgarian red wine, finishing with espressos, local cognacs and a late night (my bee stings now nothing but a forgotten ache). Yes, I was back in Europe.

Veliko Turnovo
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After only a few days in Veliko Turnovo, I couldn't say I got a fair impression of Bulgaria. VT itself, picturesquely situated on an escarpment over the Yantra River, was what I imagined a fortified medieval Balkan town to be. Narrow streets straggled up hills, terraced medieval stone buildings leaning against each other for support. The old centre of town was prettified a bit for the tourists. I understand there's a growing number of Western Europeans buying second homes in the area.

A news report while I was there announced the European Union was to suspend all payments to Bulgaria due to growing concern into whose pocket this money was actually going.

Vlad the Impaler
After crossing the Danube into Romania, I transited through the capital Bucharesti continuing up into the Carpathian mountains and Transylvania - stomping ground of Vlad the Impaler, also known as Count Dracula. Stopping in the mountainside town of Sinaia to visit Peles Castle (pictured below), I was approached by a swarthy and mustachioed taxi driver who had noticed my Irish number plate. He had just returned from Loughrea near Galway, where he was earning €80 a day laying timber floors. “But the foreman, he was a Brazilian, said he was paying the others €50 so had to drop my rate. I said forget it, I can earn that at home!”

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Lutheran Humanist
Brasov is an impressive medieval town. I visited the Black Church, belonging to the Evangelical Lutherans from Germany, and was struck by the gothic splendour of the building - slender, tall windows, pulling the eye upwards towards the high ceiling. I read there of Johannes Honterus, an important reformer and humanist who brought Lutheranism to Brasov in 1542. He preached that only
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through the civilising influence of learning and education can we understand what others think, and so identify with the troubles and suffering of others. Compassion is developed through the pursuit of the intellectual, a civilising path that moves away from violent conflict and selfishness as an expression of human differences (“unroughing” is the direct translation used for the word 'education').

Ripped Off – Very Close
In a money exchange office to change $100 - a decent rate was advertised outside - Romanian Lei were handed back to me less 18%! "Commission," the lady behind the glass replied to my astounded question. No, I wasn't getting the $100 back, I signed the paper. After all my travels and supposed experience changing on the black market I had fallen for that one. I was outraged, but there appeared little I could do. The armed guard tried to usher me out but I ignored him and raised my voice. “Not leaving. Phone police,” I insisted. After a few minutes of this, realising perhaps my obstinacy, the girl behind the glass made a call - not to the police but alerting her boss - before grudgingly returning my $100. Presumably they could do without unnecessary attention from the authorities. Relieved, I went next door to change it (checking first there was no commission) and mentioned my experience with their neighbour. The assistant smirked. “Bulgarians,” he said.

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Antisocial Exhaust, Sociable Natives
For many months I had been searching for something to dampen down the very antisocial roar from my exhaust, succeeding in Addis Abeba by wrapping fibreglass tightly with strips of asbestos cloth which worked for a while. A failed attempt by a mechanic in Cairo had the exhaust pot-potting out a fine sprinkle of synthetic fibres for a couple of days before reverting to its former incivility, and a half days search in Istanbul proved fruitless. The bike shop in Brasov (“Africa? Let me shake your hand!”) knew what I was looking for. After a few phone calls, he gave me an address not too far off my route, and three hours later I found Enduro Garaj 20 kms outside the town of Targu Mores.

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Horia (pictured left) was just closing up shop when I arrived, but he had the baffle material and we spent the next hour chatting while taking off the exhaust, and tightly stuffing it into the muffler. It sounded sweet! It was a bit late to be continuing my journey and Horia very hospitably invited me to spend the night in his very comfortable house, which he and his wife had built themselves. I mentioned my intention to get my teeth looked at by a dentist in Budapest, as many Irish travelled there for the good quality treatment that is much cheaper than at home. “But the Hungarians come here for their treatment,” Horia claimed, and proceeded to make arrangements for a visit to his mother-in-law's practice in town the next day. I had six fillings expertly done, and my teeth cleaned, for a total of €160.

Romaniacs
Enduro racing is basically taking a bike over hilly terrain, across rivers and through forest tracks - as quick as possible. That evening I was brought along to an enduro get together of the country's top competitors, where I got a very friendly reception. My journey must have been mentioned, as I seemed to be the subject of some kind of apparent respect! I really felt a bit of a fraud. These guys were serious enduro racers, some having placed well in the annual 'Redbull Romaniacs', which has a name for being the toughest 'hard enduro' rally in the world. The previous evening Horia had brought me to an Irish pub (yes, to be found even in an obscure Romanian town!) to
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meet Andres, Romania's number three enduro racer, who also happened to be the country’s top snow boarder. Apparently the two sports use similar skills. A well-built, energetic fellow in his late twenties, with that impressive intensity of the committed, Andres had his own business, Husqvarna chainsaws, which presumably allowed the time to indulge his sports. A friendly guy with a ready smile, he filled me in a little on the 'Romaniacs' event. “I have never done anything as tough as that,” he grimaced. “I was at pretty much peak condition, had trained hard, but after seven days of very little sleep and constant battle out there, I was absolutely shattered!” The winner was Cyril Despres, the current Paris Dakar champion. Alas the following day I missed an invitation to join Horia, Andres and a few other Romaniacs for a training ride, on my back still in the dentist's chair. Horia apparently had thrown down a challenge to Andres that no-one had managed to get up this particular hill locally. Andrea responded with a grin in front of Horia to my query the following evening, saying he had got up. In one go.


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Images of Romania
I was interested to hear of the experience of the collapse of the old Communist government, or rather change of regime, in Romania. Sitting around the kitchen table with Horia and Ion, with a degree of cynicism it was explained to me what the take was on Nicolae Ceausescu, the long-time Communist leader, ("He had to go.") after the growing street protests in late 1989. “He was whisked off to his waiting helicopter but never made it. A few days later he was executed, with his wife. The Communist Party leaders who wanted to continue in power planned it. Using him as - how do you say - a scapegoat. And you know who became the new leader?” Ion asked me. “Ion Iliescu, from the Party. Not good man. They just wanted Ceausescu out of the way.”

When I asked Horia, in his late thirties, and Ion, mid forties, where did they learn their English they laughingly told me, “through the movies and music. Some of the older generation may have had a bit of French, but our second language was supposed to be Russian. Which of course we didn't like. So when Communism was ended, all of a sudden we could get American films, and listen to English lyrics in rock music!” And that's how they became fluent. “We studied and practiced it. That's the only way we could learn,” grinned Ion.

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The Romanian language isn’t as unfathomable as say Bulgarian, or even worse Hungarian. It is a Romance language and shares its roots with the other Latin languages. Written, there was a certain comfort getting the general meaning of, for example, a street sign or shop front. (Spoken of course it was another story.) Hearing Horia conversing with his housekeeper in a different tongue, I learned many people from this part of Transylvania speak Hungarian, as there was quite an ethnic presence here. “They are a dying race,” Horia shrugged. “The Hungarian culture is like an island. Estonia and Finland are their language cousins, buts that's it. Eventually it will die out.” Hungarians I was told had an image of themselves as superior to their Hungarian-speaking cousins in neighbouring Romania, looking down on them. (The Romanians in turn looked down on the 'Roma' gypsies, associated with the southern part of Romania, their race having a Turkish influence. “Roma is just a noble name made up in the Communist times. Gypsies is what they are. Like gypsies all over Europe.”)

I told Horia the image we in Ireland unfortunately had of Romania was largely based on the Roma gypsies who have found their way there, who have a reputation for taking but not contributing. Also many in Ireland are vaguely aware of an unsavoury past here with regard to the care of children in orphanages. The country's problems with large numbers of unwanted children began when the then dictator Nicolae Ceauescu encouraged the population to have more children. He banned sex education, contraception, and abortion and offered financial incentives to parents to produce large families. The national birth rate doubled as a result, but many of the children were unwanted and later abandoned, forcing the state to build institutions to house them. Overcrowded and underfunded
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from the start, conditions in the orphanages worsened during the economic decline of the 1980s, and little changed with the end of communist rule in 1989. The stories of neglect and cruelty are unbelievable. Surely the community at large can't remain unaffected by this, and I wondered what kind of a scar is left on the national psyche. Did this account for in any way, my (admittedly superficial) observations that it is a fairly reserved and undemonstrative culture. Dress was of a sober nature, and, besides the joviality among the bikers, not too much overt humour was in evidence.

I was very grateful to Horia, a genuinely nice guy, who displayed warm hospitality to someone turning up at his Garaj to buy some baffle material, and presume one day we'll meet again. Those couple of days in Targu Mores, passing time with his family and friends, was one of those occasions in travel where I am enabled to get a bit more of an experience of a place. Rather than just observing from the outside, it was an opportunity to mix with Romanian folks. The outdoor-type Romaniacs at the pizza restaurant in the park laughing and telling anecdotes; the respectful dynamic between the more retiring and focussed dentist in her early thirties and the slightly younger, confident and cheerful assistant (six hours, most of it lying on the dentist's chair with my mouth out of action, is a fairly lengthy period to be observing); folks in the (upmarket) Irish bar coming and going, meeting up, socialising; Horia's pals Andres and Ion and their curiosity, and opinions on affairs national (and fluency in English!).

My next destination was Budapest in Hungary. Horia googled campsites, found one fairly near the centre, identified it on GoogleEarth and wrote down the GPS co-ordinates. I then put these into my GPS and in theory, it would now lead me there. I had completed my eighteen-month journey around the continent of Africa, and it was only now I learn about the application of GoogleEarth! It would be of particular use arriving in a strange city trying to find accommodation.

The road from Brasov west is great biking terrain, perfect road surfaces sweeping through green and forested hills. But so frustrating. Single lanes meant overtaking was difficult. And - along with the rest of the world - there are far more vehicles on the road now, particularly trucks, than they were built for. The further west, the more the hilly landscape dropped until it was just flat, endless flat cultivated fields all the way to Budapest.

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Hungary Briefly
Cruising along the dual carriageway on the approach to Budapest in the evening drizzle, I was jolted out of my dozing by a seriously loud Harley-Davidson roaring past. Where did he come from! Any Harley riders I’d seen in Istanbul and the few since, seem to be attracted to the image big time - German style open-face helmet, leathers and tassels, inscrutable look. This guy had on a tight fitting black t-shirt and cowboy boots with the jeans tucked in. And dark glasses in the gathering gloom. A little further down the road, road works meant a diversion onto small country lanes and a huge build up of traffic. I caught up with the Harley and proceeded up the inside of the lane of cars. He followed me, and then roared ahead through a gap on the outside. With my luggage I wasn't able to dance around too much, but got a little surge in satisfaction leaving the Harley behind as I took a mud and gravel shortcut his bike wasn't designed for. The petty things that please an overland biker.

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A day was spent in Budapest checking the necessary sights, including Szobor park on the outskirts where statues that once commemorated Soviet liberators, socialist ideals and Communist leaders had been rescued and were on display (pic below). Back in the city, after a trudge uphill to the Castle district in the rain, high up above the Danube, I found my destination St Mathias church was closed for the day. Standing outside the huge doors frustrated and annoyed at my poor planning, I noticed a young lady in a skirt and heels clipping hurriedly up the stairs and slipping in a side door, so followed her. At a second door into the main church, challenged by a guard, I gestured confidently at the disappearing form of the woman ahead, as if to say, “I'm with her” or maybe, “It's OK. I know where I'm going.” Of course he saw through my pretence - my tourist status with camera hung around my neck a bit of a give-away - and he approached glowering, pointing his finger back out the door.

In that second it came to me that the young lady could be going to mass, and so I blurted out, “Catholico. Irlanda,” pointing animatedly at myself. The guard - middle-aged, severe, uniformed and upright - paused before his face changed completely, and he strode forward to open the door for me, beaming as he ushered me in. Mass indeed was being said to a small congregation in this “sumptuously decorated” interior. The murals in particular are striking. I had lost my guide. Despite the form of the mass being so familiar to me after an early life of weekly exposure, the language in which it was being said sounded so alien. Hungarian is commonly considered to be one of the most difficult languages for speakers of English (or other Indo-European languages) to learn well. I stayed for the full ceremony, so avoiding having to sneak out guiltily in front of the guard (kind of hoping he could see me responding correctly to the mass, that I wasn't a spoofer!)

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Where is Slovenia?
My itchy feet propelled me onwards (and the €18 nightly fee in the campsite - get used to being back in Europe, Hugh). I had an invitation to visit a friend in Slovenia, a country which I knew little or nothing about, not even where it was until I studied a map and saw it wasn't too far off my direction home. Part of the old Yugoslavia, tiny Slovenia lies next to northern Italy, and below Austria. As it happened Mick and Patricia, good friends, were visiting at about the same time and had promised the weary traveller 'wine and victuals'. That was my next destination.

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