I am now writing from a Romanian village called Siria. I lived here, on a farm, for four months in 2004 as part of a gap year. It is a farm for homeless young men, part of a larger charity called Networks. The journey from Budapest crosses the Hungarian plains (also called the Puszta) where there is no hill in sight until you cross the Romanian border, and in the distance the first foothills of the Carpathian mountains are a dusty silhouette on the horizon. It is at the base of the first of these hills that Siria sits.
The Puszta is renowned for being desolate, windy and flat. It is also one of the worst cycling experiences I have ever had. The roads are bad and very straight. The first day from Budapest was easy riding apart from the hailstorm which stung the bare skin on my legs. I had a lovely host in Szentes who showed me the sights, and her grandfathers fruit brandy. By the second day the novelty was long gone. Turning onto Arad street I could see the road ahead cutting a straight line to the horizon through endless fields. The trees that occasionally lined the road act to remove any doubt of a turn anywhere ahead. They framed the shimmering tarmac which glimmered like a torch on the horizon. Add to this a headwind and you have a recipe for mental torture. As I was in this state the Lord sent the angel Zsigmond to alleviate my pain. Zsigmond appeared from nowhere and rode alongside me at midday. We chatted about cycling mostly but he was great company till, after 5 miles, he turned off towards his home and life as a clerk.
Getting to the Romanian border and seeing the hills gave me a new lease of life. The road I had found led me to an unmanned border crossing and as I ducked under the locked barriers I felt like a fugitive smuggling myself away to foreign lands. Arriving in Siria was a wonderful relief after 95 miles and reminded me of being here in my youth. I remember the young man who would not have imagined the adventure he is now on.