I’m lying in a hammock on a hostel’s terrace in the centre of Budapest. I’m swinging a little and absorbing the surroundings. There is some fluff flying around from trees nearby. I can clearly feel the summer is coming. From the terrace I can see Danube and some big boats filled with tourists.
The travel in luxurious hotels from one city to another. As I’m watching it I realize that it seems to be a good combination of relaxation and travelling. What’s more, towns and cities around Danube have a lot to offer, the same as the river itself.
Linz, Krems, Vienna, Bratislava, Komárno, Esztergom, Szentendre, Budapest. Each of those places enriched me. Each of them gave me some unique experience, a new friendship.
The moment I crossed Sumava and I put the boat on water again I felt like moving on the fastest I could. My body, however, had other plans and let me know that the march with the kayak was no stroll in a park. A sleepless night in Linz also didn’t help much and the headwind that welcomed the beginning of my journey on Danube meant that the first lap on the river equalled only 10 hard-worked kilometres. Exhausted, I went to sleep that night near a water power plant and I was sure that a new day would bring me some new energy.
I was right. In the morning I met Leandro who was paddling from Linz, where we also met before, since the early morning. We shake hands and continue to Vienna together. Not only kilometres and time run faster in this way but it’s also handy to have someone to talk to and to help you carry the kayak down the dams. Just a little information: Leandro is from Switzerlands, the same as his friend Adrian who accompanies him on a bike and shoots a documentary about him. That is because Leandro is trying to sail Danube on an old kayak from its spring to its delta. Except a few minor chips he’s been quite successful so far.
It’s probably quite unnecessary to even mention how rich in history the towns and cities along Danube are. After all, Danube has always been not only a source of water and fertile soil, but also an important trading route. It creates a natural border on many places. This and much more add up to the fact that the towns and cities along Danube are rich and varied. However, to point out individual monuments or to map their origin is nowhere near as enriching as feeling the atmosphere itself.
I’m sure many of you know this. There are situations which simply can’t be planned. Atmosphere that can’t be prepared. Some people call it chance, others fate. I don’t really feel the need to categorize such an experience. I’ve learned to be open to it and by this allow myself to live fantastic moments.
I don’t know how much time it would take me to think up that I’d meet a photographer in Linz who’d tell me all the interesting bits and pieces about the city, or that I’d stumble upon Leandro and Adrian and without my knowledge they’d approach me on the next day when they see me lurking around the harbour. I could only hardly plan that I’d meet a bunch of students who’re going for a dinner and a meeting with their colleagues from a project for nature protection, and that they’d take me with them. Even less likely I’d be able to set up that I’d meet Nina who’d want to join me on my way to the delta of Danube and that she’d acquaint me with a journalist from Vienna who’d like to make an interview with me for the Austrian media.
Not planning also helped me to navigate Vienna through the central channel, which is a thing usually impossible for a kayak. Or at least not by the lock. However, I managed to do it and along the whole 16 kilometres of the channel I was surrounded by supportive people. Once they spotted me they started waving, wished me a safe journey or simply gave me their thumbs up and nods. It’s amazing to feel how such a subtle rebellion can bring about so much boost. The unselfishness and all the honest wishes made me really happy. Since it’s also the end of the day and I’d just covered two 90-kilometre laps that support was exactly what I needed.
There surely was some planning involved for meeting Tač and his crew on his motor boat on the way between Vienna and Bratislava and the same with Pavel and his plan to accompany me to Istanbul. Still, this was more mere logistics than a detailed itinerary. I’m fascinated by the way how a simple word of mouth can work. Sometimes it’s enough to say where and when and it works. Nevertheless, it’s still true that even this little of planning could be a limitation to my journey. For example, when one has to make it some place on time and it’s planned a long time ahead without any notice of possible future experiences and the pace of the journey. Still, a word that’s kept has the same worth for me as the openness to experiencing the presence. So, I’m absolutely fine with switching between those two spheres sometimes.
So, as for Bratislava… It would make for a thick book alone to describe the whole story of the city. To share just a few of all the things: there was the generosity of my friends, a miraculous meeting with a physiotherapist Daniela, who was able to get rid of the pain under my shoulder blade within 5 minutes and using only a snooker ball and a few exercise poses and all that right on the floor of a local bar, and yet other amazing things were the support of many people, a great amount of new friends and visiting of many architecturally interesting places thanks to those new friends, or some totally unplanned meetings and hospitality in the Bratislava’s port, the home of the legendary Dodo, and an unforgettable accommodation at the boat ELDO.
Esztergom carved itself into my memory probably for the biggest haphazardness yet. It’s on the way from Komárno to Budapest and it’s supposed to be only a short coffee break but I ended up spending there three days, at an absolutely fascinating and positive place. It started with meeting the chef of a local port restaurant Nautilus. Such meetings are always something that leaves me lost for words. To put it simply, being in the presence of a person like that makes me feel certain that I’m at the right place in the right moment. The whole impression was completed by a stay in a hostel whose interiors were designed by artists from all over the world, and who paid for their nights by putting their own art often right on the walls of the rooms.
During my stay in Budapest the city became a place full of paradoxes for me. I thought it a great welcome to discover a hostel right at the city centre on an island, with its own dock and the possibility to store my kayak. It’s similarly great to find a group of reggae-fans in a local park. At that moment I had no real reason why not to accept their invitation to an almost secret club in the city centre to a half illegal Dub-reggae gig. I was, once again, welcomed by a familiar atmosphere and at a place where all was chill. On the other hand, the moments where I was taking the more touristy routes in Budapest also showed me some arrogance. I’m, generally, not a great fan of unpleasant restaurant staff, especially, when they automatically charge extra 10% of one’s bill for their service when it’s already quite overpriced. Yet at another place I was happy to leave when an oversized bouncer stopped me by the entrance letting me know I couldn’t go in since I had no shoes on me; not forgetting a little commentary when I was leaving, that’s sure.
I’m on a journey and moving forward has almost become a second nature for me. Sometimes the pace gets slower, sometimes faster. So, I have no problem accepting that the hostel in Budapest can’t let me stay for another night. The explanation of the owner that they are closing tomorrow is as much baffling to me as it’s amusing, especially, since the season’s just about to start.
So I lift my imaginary anchor and I’m setting off.