I had planned to cycle to Cluj-Napoca and end the tour there with a visit to my cousin, but the previous day had taken too much out of me. I awoke stiff and with a sore back and headed straight to the station in Baia Mare. The lady at the desk spoke excellent English and had a fully functioning system, which informed us that bikes were only taken on the afternoon train so I had to wait around most of the day, eventually arriving in Cluj about 9.30pm.
This gave me a chance to visit the enthnographic museum in the Baia Mare, and, next to it, the village museum, with its entire restored traditional village, complete with wooden church. It was not however so different from the buildings I have already seen still very much alive around the village of Breb.
In the Village Museum, Baia Mare- note the hang-glider circling the wooden spire!
I spent a couple of days in Cluj, exploring the old town, the fine cafes and restaurants, and walking and cycling to some of the viewing points around the city.
The Matthias Corvinus monument in front of St. Michael’s Church. Corvinus was the 15th Century Hungarian King, born in Cluj
Traditional folk dance in front of St. Michael’s Church
At the botanic gardens
Views of the city from Cetatuia Hill, the spire of St. Michael’s visible in the centre
Cluj is a pleasant and seemingly quite affluent and cosmopolitan city to visit. There is a lot of construction visible around the more fashionable areas away from the centre with many expensive-looking properties. Prices for food and drink similar to Bratislava, no shortage of great places to eat and drink and delicious food, including great gulash, the national dish of sarmale, cabbage leaves stuffed with mince, and amazing mici, grilled mince meat rolls.
The city lies in a hollow so whichever way you leave involves a climb. An hour’s walk up the hill north of the railway station, close to where I was staying, takes you quickly out of the city through more quiet residential areas, with traditional houses with their steep shingled roofs, and quickly into extensive fruit orchards- some old and abandoned, some new and intensively managed behind high fences, and grazing land with shepherds and their flocks. From here there are terrific views across the city and beyond to the Carpthian mountains.
So after a brief taste of this fascinating country I headed back to Bratislava by train, via Budapest. This was not without its own adventure- it took two hours to buy the train ticket, apparently caused by confusion over the bicycle reservation! Once again, only later trains (the 14.45) would take bikes- this was established very early on. This required an overnight stay in Budapest.
The lady at the sole international ticket window did not speak English, and spent a simply extraordinary amount of time pouring over the regulations, scrutinising documents, making calls, consulting with colleagues, all the while the queue of people behind me, some of whom needed tickets for that day, grew increasingly agitated. (Actually they were very patient and did not blame me at all).
You would have thought this was the first time a bike had ever travelled on this train, and yet when I finally got on it the next day, there was a clearly marked carriage for bikes with about 8 racks for them. The train was half-an-hour late, then was held up for nearly three hours just over the Hungarian border- no information as to why, some problem on the track ahead. I was able to spend the time chatting with another cycle tourist on the train- the first really I had met on the whole tour- heading back to his home in Hungary, and we were able to get out and buy some beers to while away the time.
I finally arrived back in Bratislava yesterday (23.8) after another great tour.
Lessons learned and things to consider for future trips: don’t rely just on a GPS! Try to plan routes much more carefully, otherwise there is a real danger of meeting either busy roads or unrideable off-road sections. This may mean sticking more to tried-and-tested long-distance cycle routes in future.