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March 14, 2011 / Helene Bienvenu, travel-writer

Budapest spring: the great (industrial) bike outdoors / Printemps budapestois : petit tour des friches industrielles à vélo.

The sun has been shining beautifully the past few days in Budapest, what’s more, one of my brothers (I have a few of them!) came from Paris to visit me. It was high time to plan some bike trips. Don’t expect here a description step by step of  the nicest bike trips the Hungarian capital can possibly offer. I might do that someday but it’s not the purpose of this post! You know that I have a crush on industrial wasteland, don’t you? Although my first idea – going to Szentendre from Budapest – was not a very industrial-oriented decision, we passed a few ‘ipari terület’ as the bike lane follows former industrial zones.

Vissza kell menni, nincs kijárat!’ ‘there is no exit from here, you have to go back!’ said an old lady from Soroksári út area living by the train tracks.

The V 6 European bike lane that Hungary and Budapest partly host (a decent road stretching from Nantes in France till Constanţa – in Romania, from the Atlantic ocean to by the Blake Sea) looked very promising. However the lane is not exactly perfect – sometimes it’s hardly even suitable for biking and the signs might suddenly disappear to reappear a few kilometers later if you’re lucky!

But before starting to detail the trip to Szentendre, let me give you some practical advice about biking in Budapest and its surroundings: first and foremost, you can rent a bike very easily in Budapest (click on the link to see where) and it’s a pretty good idea to do so. Don’t be deceived by Budapest not very biker-friendly’s look. True, Budapest is not Amsterdam and drivers go crazy in their own little vehicle but there are some bike lanes in the city and when you can’t find one, it is all right to ride on the pavement (Budapest pavements are generally very large -I’m not refering to the Inner + Jewish district small sidewalks- so you can actually bike on them not just slalom between strollers and pedestrians! of course officially it’s not really allowed but…). Additionally, it’s also not so freaky to bike on the road inside the city centre – on the week-ends or on the ‘Busz – bus’ lanes – probably not allowed but… Just mind the tram tracks: be careful when you cross over them as your bike wheel might be stuck in it. What else? If you want to leave your bike, make sure you attach it very carefully with a strong locker – bike robbery is sadly an everyday reality. You can’t just attach it inside your building even if you have to dial a code to enter: simply take your bike up to your floor and attach it there on the ramp (if you live in a traditional courtyard building). That’s the unpleasant part of Budapest biking: you HAVE to bring your bike up, forcing the lift or carrying the bike up the stairs. Another warning: it’s compulsory to use lighting when it’s dark (policemen can fine you if you don’t) and it’s forbidden to drive a bike if you’re drunk (and the police can check you up – they sometimes do and fine bikers – now you know!).

Last but not least: you can take the HEV (Budapest suburban train) with you bike, you just have to pay an additionally ticket for the bike. Perfect for the way back!

Ok, so let’s bike to Szentendre! First, if you’re in Pest, you have to cross to Buda. There is a bike lane which spreads on the Buda side, from the foot of Lagymányosi hid till the border of Budapest with Bekasmegyer – Budakalasz, it’s the one which goes to Szentendre (30 km away). However the road doesn’t always borders the Danube – which is a shame especially in the vicinity of Arpád hid – where you have to bike on seemingly parking lots of ‘panel’ (communist massive block of flats). Don’t go – as we did on Hajógyári-Obudai island: you will be stuck there between rusty storage places and daytime asleep nouveau riche clubs and won’t be allowed to cross back to Buda with the pedestrian bridge – let’s call it the ‘Sziget festival bridge’. Hajógyári sziget was named after the dominant local industry: shipyards, launched by István Szechenyi (and totally gone by now). Actually the whole Danube bank of Óbuda (meaning Old Buda, which was already inhabited by the Romains) is quite industrial. Nowadays Obuda island – its southern part at least- is dedicated to the nightlife and is famous for hosting the Sziget festival each year since 1993 (at that time it was a small student festival). Other than this nice little escapade (!), when biking to Szentendre from Budapest, you’ll pass some remnants of industrial activities, a couple  ofbuildings look quite stunning a would be great venues for some rave parties… Others are more modern and still going. On the way to Szentendre, don’t forget to stop for a heck from April to October on Romai part, by the Danube! The rest of the bike lane borders the Danube but towards Budakalasz you’ll have to strangely cross a forest (unless we got lost?) and the lane turns into a muddy-mountain-bikes-only path! Nevertheless biking is very pleasant and Szentendre is worth it. The funny thing is that the HEV was not operating all the way to Szentendre, we had thought we’d go back that way to Budapest… We could have biked but it was dark already, I had no light on my bike – going through the forest in the total darkness and missing to fall into the Danube was not very appealing- and we were in a rush not to miss a play at Trafó. I had to beg the driver of the ‘replacement bus’ to take our two bikes onboard which he did (nice of him really!), though the ticket inspectors were totally against it (the bus was almost empty, no comment…).

Another possibility for industrial wasteland spotters lies in the southern surroundings of Budapest, namely Budapest 9th (Ferencvaros), 20th (Pesterzsébet), 23rd districts and Csepel (21th discrict) as well as Budaharaszti. We went there as we wanted to reach the lovely Rackeve (45 km away from Budapest). Csepel is sometimes called ‘the red’ as it was there -on this gigantic island- that once beat the heart of the industrial Budapest, at high level during communism. Biking along Budapest 20th, 23rd districts and Budaharaszti is all but especially exciting, to be honest. I mean you see nothing except some houses that still bear the name of Karl Marx street (Marx Karoly utca), car show-rooms and car-repair workshops and so on and so forth. Add to that the smell of burnt tyre and you get it all!