Week 8: Monday 17/08 – Sun 23/08
A day on the road – Monday
Checking again for Covid travel limitations is attempting at our mental health. We have come to the conclusion that heading back home might be the best solution. For this reason, we have set as destination Italy, we will explore the east and west coasts. However, before that we have to cross all Hungary, reach Croatia, take a ferry and to land in Ancona, drive south then north… the whole plan has changed, but we like it “as much as” the previous one.
After a long breakfast checking the latest news about the virus, we decide to drive until Budapest and spend a couple of days discovering the city. We spend the rest of the day driving through the country. We even drive through Budapest and manage to park just next to Vajdahunyad vara castle, in a beautiful park where just a few cars pass by at night.
We have a long walk to the city centre and when we are the furthest from the van it starts raining. Completely soaked we decide to enter a bar waiting for the rain to calm down and drinking a beer. When the rain is finally over we walk again to the parking lot.
We sleep until 8, when the parking lot becomes paying -it’s free from 6pm to 8am- and move the van to a free parking under a bridge in the suburbs.
Budapest, the centre of Hungary – Tuesday
Budapest was born from the reunion of three towns and is now divided only by the Danube. It is located more or less in the centre of the country and counts 1.7 million inhabitants, the city-centre is quite big; therefore, we decide to explore it by bike. This is also the cheapest solution in Budapest. Indeed, the monthly subscription to the ‘public’ bicycle costs only 30 euro cents right now -normally 1.60 euros for 24hours. This subscription allows us to take a bike whenever we want from one of the 143 stations all over the city for half an hour for free. Before the half an hour has expired we can change bike and go on exploring, otherwise is 1.6 euros every additional hour. Thanks to this we can really explore the whole city, from the island Margit-sziget to the bridges, the huge and impressive parliament, the synagogues and all the city-centre.
Budapest it’s almost a bicycle friendly city. Drivers are quite respectful and a decent network of cycling lanes allows us to reach every spot we wanted to see.
If you are wondering how we are showering in the capital… doing it in the parking lot didn’t seem viable to us. For this reason we decided to go climbing in a block gym and showering there. We reach the gym at around 5pm and are pleased to see that the bathrooms are clean and spacious. After doing some indoor climbing -a couple of hours- we enjoy a well deserved shower: the whole thing cost us 6 euros each, not bad.
After moving the van back to the beautiful parking in the park, we go back to the city-centre to enjoy a couple of beers. G goes back to the climbing gym to retrieve his shoes -he tends to forget them everywhere… Having cycled more than 30km, walked around 15, climbed two hours, we are happy to lay in our beds.
Budapest by night is beautiful.
Heading to Croatia: a nice break at Balaton Lake – Wednesday
The alarm rings at 7:45 allowing us to avoid paying the parking. We then drive to the highway and follow it until Balaton lake. We then follow the southern shore of the lake until Balatonberény, where we want to bath and refresh in this hot day. Balaton is the largest lake of central Europe, 79 kilometres long and 13km of maximal width. However, it is only 3.5m deep on average with it’s deepest point of 12.5m. For these characteristics its water are warm: we can bath in the nice breeze with the water to our hips for hundreds of metres from the coast. The water is clean but turbid.
The parking next to the lake that we found is full of cars and a lot of people passing by, therefore, we decide to hit the road again, getting closer to the Croatian border, to sleep on the shore of another, smaller, lake: Csónakázótó. However, this lake as well is crowded because people living in the city next to it -Nagykanizsa- come here to chill, cycle, run and train. There is also a rowing club on the other shore of the lake. We find a table where to work on our computers and wait for the parking to empty.
The night is calm and the toilet in the morning are clean.
Crossing the border and bathing in the sea – Thursday
We can tell that we are not far from the border by the huge line of cars in front of us. It takes us 30 minutes of queue to cross the river Mur -the natural border between Hungary and Croatia- and an additional hour and a half to pass the Croatian police check. After two hours of queue, we change the remaining Hungarian forints into Croatian kunas. However, not being able to change the coins, we decide to give them to the first Hungarian people we find. M gives the coins to some guys in a van. After a few minutes they come to us and give us a can of coke and a bottle of water. We thanks them a lot, even if we would have rather refused plastic bottled water and coke…
The climate and the landscape changes drastically in some 50 kilometres. From the Hungarian green countryside we deepen into the Mediterranean brushwood and the semi-desertic scrubland. To the horizon the flat and blue sea. We drive along the border of Paklenica National Park towards Starigrad -a small village on the coast, not far from Zadar. From the high promontory where bushes and goats survive in between the harsh rocks, we descend towards the sea, where the only vegetation surviving are tufts of grass.
In Starigrad we find the cheapest camping -which, as we will realize in the next days, is also the nicest-, park the van, and bath in the sunset light. We then buy some vegetables from the truck of an old man, and M cooks an amazing ratatouille. The lady running the camping is happy to receive us, we are the only clients apart a couple of Czechs. This is something extremely rare on Croatian coasts during summer, an ‘enjoyable’ -at least for us- aspect of the epidemic climate we are living into.
The night is fresh enough to sleep well.
Swimming in the sea is the only break we can take from the extreme heat – Friday
Yesterday we decided to postpone our visit to Paklenica National Park of one day in order to get some rest. It was a wise decision, it was the only cool night in which we could sleep late.
G wakes up and go for a morning run with the objective of finding the entrance of the park. When he’s back we have a large breakfast and decide to go snorkelling. The shore is some 300m from the campsite. The water is fresh and is the only way to bare the heat. Standing in the sun for more than 10 minutes without bathing is just impossible. Our day goes on chilling and trying to get through the heat.
Paklenica National Park: a treasure of trees and rocks – Saturday
We arrive at the entrance of the park at 7:30 am. We had never paid to enter a national park before. The two of us and the van have to pay 130 kunas, which makes about 17 euros. We will realize that it’s totally worth it. After a very hot and sleepless night is hard to start walking; however, the cool breeze and the amazing view of the canyon motivate us to deepen in this wild nature. We decide to reach Paklenica Dom, the oldest hut that was built in the park, it’s a 10km round-trip that allows us to explore Velika Paklenica, the most impressive canyon of the park. The whole trail develops in a tunnel of trees and is fresh and shady. The karstic nature of this area gave origin to an impressive system of canyons, caves and gorges. These characteristics make this park a bats’ paradise. Indeed, here live at least 21 species of bats -which is a lot knowing that in Europe we have discovered 45 species of this flying mammals so far. The park also hosts the largest Mediterranean forest.
These canyons also offer a great terrain for alpinists and sport climbers. Not having trad material with us, we have to opt for single pitches. We walk back to the parking, get our rope and climbing material and install in the most popular sector of the park, at the very beginning of the main canyon, 5 minutes from the parking, we are feeling lazy.
The amazing thing of this climbing spot is that when in Starigrad we would be burning in the unbearable heath, here it’s shady and cool. We climb all afternoon until we are exhausted on the nice limestone.
Once back in Starigrad we enjoy some more snorkelling in another beach, where we can spot a lot of fishes, some yellow corals and a few Pinna nobilis, the largest bivalve mollusc in the Mediterranean sea. Refreshed, in the sunset, we enjoy a beer and the remaining ratatouille. The night will be hot and full of mosquitoes. M will wake up with swollen eyes because of mosquitoes bites.
Towards Split, visiting Sibenik – Sunday
Sunday morning is hard. We both didn’t sleep much and M was eaten alive by mosquitoes. We enjoy the gas cooker and the fridge of the campsite until noon, when we leave -waving at the old lady owning the place- for Sibenik. This was the first town Croatians built on the Adriatic sea, the first document found about it dates back to 1066. Saint James cathedral and Saint Nicolas fortress are included in UNESCO world heritage list. Saint James cathedral, according to UNESCO, is the perfect union of Gothic and Renaissance’s styles. After a few hours exploring the city we are too hot and decide to drive until the camping we are planning to sleep at tonight, in Zaboric, a village on the coast.
Once there, we are kindly welcomed by the owner that places us in a pitch in the sun, our van will be burning the next morning… After a bath and a beer we are ready for the bed. The night is just too hot.