The events in this story happened on Monday the 19th of August, 2019. We paddled from a Slovakian resort town called Kúpele Patince to Štúrovo, also in Slovakia. This stretch of the Danube river forms the border between Slovakia and Hungary. Across the bridge in Štúrovo is the (more famous) Hungarian town of Esztergom. This was a distance of about 33 kilometers.
Our Stay in Kúpele Patince
As you may know from my previous post, we didn’t stay in Kúpele Patince by choice. We wanted to stay in a town called Moča, but Booking canceled our reservation there. The owner gave us a call to explain that they had some kind of “flood” in the house – which we think is a pipe burst – and that we couldn’t stay there. Booking gave us another option to either confirm or deny: a small apartment in Kúpele Patince, a holiday village surrounding a spa.
While Booking did a great job with finding a similar accommodation, the apartment in Kúpele Patince was much further away from the Danube than we liked: 1.4 kilometers. Also, Kúpele Patince was only about 15 kilometers from Komárno, which meant that to get to Štúrovo we needed to paddle 7 kilometers extra next to the planned 26 kilometers. Paddling 33 kilometers on yet another 35°C day is right on the edge of reason for us. To paddle that much, we’d need to bring as much water as we could carry, which hinders us in walking 1.4 kilometers. So we had to arrange a taxi to get back to the river.
We really did try to find alternative accommodation, including the option to extend one night in Komárno, then stay one night in Penzión Mlyn in a town called Radvaň nad Dunajom. But it was too late in the day to reach any of these places by phone. So we accepted Booking’s alternative, hoping we could get some money back for the extra costs we had to make.
So Kúpele Patince is a kind of wellness resort/water park. It’s fenced off and has a gate with reception. There are pools, restaurants, shops that sell bikinis, tanning equipment, and inflatable pool toys. The grown men live off fast food and vodka while their children are running amok high on sugar. The women’s holiday comprises of taking care of both types of children. Teenagers get to experiment with alcohol, cigarettes and broken condoms. A summer to remember.
Jonas decided not to work on our off-day in Kúpele Patince. The whole stress from having our plans messed up was a bit too much. This doesn’t mean we were going to the pool or something. Our luxury apartment hadn’t given us towels and we’re too skimpy to use our own for poolside activities. Besides, the pool is where the children and feces are at. And we’d probably had to pay to use it.
Everything inside Kúpele Patince was modular: you pay for each thing you want separately. The first night we went to the ‘cheap’ fast food place near the small grocery store. Jonas got the most depressing depression meal that someone actually paid someone else to prepare. All three items on our plates were a separate price: the meat/cheese, the fries/bread, and the sauce packet (€0.30). While it came on ceramic plates, we had to use plastic cutlery. I felt really bad for using it. Then the plastic fork broke in my food and I felt even worse. Considering the health impact of eating this food, the price was definitely too high.
The next day we went to the ‘upper class’ restaurant elsewhere on the premises, which was a positive experience.
Leaving Kúpele Patince for Štúrovo
We’d arranged the taxi to pick us up at the main gate at 7:00. We were sitting there on a bench in the morning sun; the shadowy bus shelter had vomit on the ground. A yellow taxi approaches our road. The taxi had to come all the way from Komárno some 15 kilometers away, which was very silly for the 1.2-kilometer drive we needed to get over with.
The man helps us get our stuff in the trunk and we speed off. He asks us if we’re going to Komárno and we say we have to go to “Prístav Patince” (the marina of Patince) – somehow, this message wasn’t delivered with dispatch. His face reads confusion, so I say “nalyeva, a patom naprava” in Russian, which means “left, and then right” to confirm we’re really only going to the harbor. He drives us with these directions.
It’s a silly short distance to the marina by car, but it’s still much better than walking it. We arrive at the slipway and we tell him to stop here. We take the kayak stuff out of the trunk and then Jonas asks for a receipt. The man fumbles with his receipt machine and his phone, but there’s some problem because he’s outside of the Slovak phone network and probably in the Hungarian one. We stand there 20 minutes trying everything to get a receipt. Then we decide that a piece of paper with the price, a signature, the name of the taxi company and the license plate might also help us get our money back from Booking/Moča. We have to pay him €14 for the trip, which is €2 more than the reception lady of Kúpele Patince told us.
I already started inflating the boat and doing other preparations. It’s already quite sunny and warm. I’m trying not to let the events of the previous three days get to me, but it’s hard. We have a very long paddle day ahead of us because of this clusterfuck. We’ll stay only two nights in Štúrovo, then two nights in Dunabogdány, and then five nights in Budapest. Budapest was our original goal of this trip and suddenly there’s only three paddle days left. That’s nuts.
We paddle away from the nonsense of Kúpele Patince at 7:25 with the sun in our faces and the moon behind our backs.
As we were paddling directly east, the sun reflected annoyingly in the water and below my cap. I tried with sunglasses, closing my eyes, and turning my head to stop the constant reflection of the sun – with varying success. I paddled hard to get warmed up and to make a lot of progress early on in the day before the heat. It was quite warm for the time of day, so I grabbed the hose of my hydration bladder to rehydrate and took a big gulp of water into my mouth.
The water tasted a lot like the dishwashing soap I’d used the day before to clean the hydration bladders. It’s disgusting. I didn’t want Jonas to worry, so I swallowed the last sip in my mouth that I’d used to identify the culprit of the foul taste. I paddled on and next time I’d be thirsty, I’d ask Jonas for a sip of his hydration bladder. He didn’t mention anything about the taste yet and I didn’t want to worry him.
We paddled on past Penzión Mlyn and saw how amazing it would have been to stay there. The hotel is right next to the water and has a very pleasant beach to land on. We stayed on the left-hand side of the river until after Penzión Mlyn because of the river islands on the right. We crossed over at 8:15 but didn’t get close enough to enjoy the shadow. Meanwhile, my body starts feeling really weird. Weird, like the feeling of electricity running through my upper spine and into my brain. I twitch a bit like I’m not in control anymore. I can’t get the soapy water out of my thoughts and I’m really worried. Not drinking isn’t an option on such a hot day as today.
We saw some people on one of the river islands with a red canoe. They were friendly and we waved at one another. Then we encountered a lot of trash in the water. I grabbed one tetra packaging of red wine, but there was too much trash to grab it all. I’m pretty sure these ‘friendly’ people were responsible for the slew of trash downstream from their campsite. Also disgusting.
We paddle past our original stop at Moča. We’ve paddled the 7 extra kilometers now. I’m thirsty again, so I ask Jonas for a sip from his hydration bladder. It’s the same soapy water. He asks me why I wanted his water and what’s wrong, so I decide to tell him.
“The water tastes soapy. I think I didn’t rinse them out well enough yesterday.”
“Are you sure about that? I don’t taste anything.”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Perhaps you thought about that yesterday and now you taste it because you were worried about it?”
“No, it truly tastes like soap. I’m not making this up. Can I please have the tiny water bottle?”
Jonas gives me the half-liter plastic bottle that we filled up this morning before we left. It’s still quite full. This one tastes normal. Jonas sticks to drinking from his hydration bladder. I’m thinking about slurping some Danube water. How dangerous is drinking soapy water actually? Me feeling like shit after that first soapy sip could be psychosomatic. I look on my OSMand+ map to see where the nearest supermarket it that’s also close to the river. The Hungarian town on my right-hand side is Süttő. It has a shop but we haven’t really paddled far enough to make a stop. I can deal for now with the tiny bottle of clean water.
We paddle on.
Covering the Distance
We stick to the right-hand side of the river without really enjoying the little patches of shadows from the trees on the south shore. There are so many people out and about this Monday morning. In both countries.
We paddle past an old ferry crossing between Lábatlan in Hungary and Kravany nad Dunajom in Slovakia. It doesn’t look active and I can’t describe what kind of ferry it is. The river is crazy wide on this stretch, but the shipping lane is a skinny path in the middle of the river. We’re still in the zone between Čunovo/Gabčíkovo and Nagymaros that’s hard to navigate for the big ships. That’s also the primary reason for the little river traffic here; the cargo and cruise companies just won’t take the risk.
It’s 9:30 and the sun is high enough to not reflect in the water anymore. Jonas doesn’t have this problem with the double sun because if we’re paddling directly east, the front of the boat and me in it are blocking that reflection for him. He still doesn’t wear sunglasses, though. I’ve given up on encouraging him to protect his eyes.
Jonas is in a jolly mood today – despite me having told him I might have accidentally poisoned his and my water. He sometimes takes a big sip and informs me “Nope, I still don’t taste it.” What a guy.
We talk about how his non-working day yesterday was really beneficial to him. He was first a bit disappointed that he didn’t feel better about it but concludes that taking a day off mostly benefits the day that comes after. Jonas tells me he thoroughly enjoys paddling today. It’s beautiful out here.
I still feel miserable, but I don’t want to rain on his parade, so I keep quiet about my discomfort.
It’s 9:55 when we’re bending right to approach a Hungarian town called Nyergesújfalu. I’ve identified an exit spot on its shores to walk 350 meters to a supermarket. I hope it’s some kind of shop – you sometimes don’t know with these crowdsourced maps. Hopefully, I can buy some bottled water there. I know, I know, plastic bottles are fucking evil.
First we take a short toilet break a few hundred meters before the stairs up to the town of Nyergesújfalu. There were some fishermen up ahead, that’s why we got out earlier.
Doing the Shopping in Nyergesújfalu
We land at the good exit at 10:10. It’s really good that Jonas carries both Euros (Slovakia) and Forint (Hungary – ‘HUF’) in his wallet. I’d be so fucked if we didn’t carry Hungarian tender right now. Jonas indulges my wish to buy bottled water. I put on my dress to look a bit more ready for the judgment of terrestrial people and Jonas gives me 2000 HUF (€6) to buy that what sustains life.
The original plan with our 7.5 liters of water was to A) drink it and B) make some mac and cheese with it. The last time we made riverside pasta it was a smashing success. I tell Jonas I’m still open to making pasta with the soapy water, but I’m internally gagging. What I know for sure is that we’ll neither use bottled water nor Danube water to make lunch pasta.
I walk via a tunnel below the train tracks and walk up the stairs through some stinging nettles. Once up, I’m next to the Saint Michael’s church (Szent Mihály-templom). On the main road, I use the traffic light to cross the street. I only notice then that I’m wearing my water shoes and neoprene socks and they’re both soggy enough for me to leave a trail of wet behind me.
I find the location of the shop, but it’s not the same. It’s more like a pizzeria or Mediterranean restaurant. Anyway, I see they have a fridge with bottled drinks in it. The floor is freshly mopped and I don’t want to anger someone by stepping inside. There’s a young woman sitting on a chair doing things on her phone while the floor dries. I ask her for drinks by pointing at the fridge while staying outside. I use mostly English and gestures, and she responds with a bit of English.
Three tiny half-liter bottles of water, with bubbles please, and one Pepsi coke. She invites me to the check-out but I point at my wet feet. She doesn’t mind and urges me to come in. I pay 1000 HUF for the drinks, thank her, and say goodbye. I’m very happy with my idiotic amount of future plastic waste. The whole point of the hydration bladders was that they’d reduce our plastic waste on this trip. Now it feels like I’ve offset my offsetting.
They Know Donaueschingen
I walk back to the shore where Jonas waits for me. He’s very happy with his Pepsi. We both take our time to rehydrate a little and then I grab the sandwiches to make this break even better. I start chomping on my cheese with cream cheese sandwich and Jonas already ate his whole sandwich. Sometimes I’m not sure how he’s still alive.
An older man with a small black dog walks through the bushes the same way I come back. He approaches us and I get a bit nervous. He asks Jonas which language? And Jonas says “German.” The man starts talking to us in fluent German and I’m very confused. It’s probably the dehydration.
His wife follows and they’re very happy to be chatting with us. Let’s call them Hans and Frauke. We’ve only left the Germanophone area 2.5 weeks ago and Jonas is already having a hard time doing dual translations for me. The man asks us lots of questions about our kayak trip. Jonas tells him we’re going to Budapest or maybe Mohács. The man asks us where we started and Jonas says in German “Donaueschingen, that’s in Baden-Württemb—”
“We know Donaueschingen,” the man interjects.
Oh wow! Basically nobody we’ve met since Ulm has known Donaueschingen. I’m trying to follow the conversation. Jonas asks them where they’re from but the man doesn’t let Jonas finish speaking. Somehow, it becomes clear for Jonas that they’re from the city of Hamburg.
The couple walks to our Zucchini and snap photos of it and of themselves in front of Zucchini. The man fires a volley of technical and logistical questions about the trip and Jonas tries to answer them all. They continue their walk on the beach for a bit and come back to inform us that the guys 50 meters away from us have caught a fish – albeit a tiny one.
They tell us that Budapest is beautiful and ask me what language I speak. Jonas says I’m from the Netherlands and the man says in German “But she also understands and speaks a little German, right?” I’m still chewing and choking on my sandwich and barely get out “Ein bisschen.” Perhaps I could have responded with the recently acquired phrase “Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof.” to see what the effect of that phrase is.
They wish us a good trip and wander off.
Sailing to Štúrovo
We paddle off to Štúrovo, even though it’s still a long way to go. The water is so tasty compared to the soapy stuff. I didn’t have the heart to toss out the tainted water et, so we’re carrying an exceptional amount of water now. But the added weight doesn’t really affect our ability to gain momentum when speeding up from floating motionlessly.
We pass between a river island and the town of Nyergesújfalu. Even though the river is wider on the other side of the island, the shipping lane passes through the narrow part, which must be deeper. There’s some kind of factory just on the shore of Nyergesújfalu. A little Googling tells me it’s a carbon fiber production facility called Zoltek run by a Hungarian guy who migrated to the USA and founded this company. Carbon fiber is yet another shape of plastic, but s t r o n g e r, which makes me feel a little less crappy about my recent water bottle purchase. I really hope they’re not dumping waste into the Danube.
The next stretch we paddle, there are so many people spread out over the Hungarian shores. They’re fishing, tanning, swimming, walking the dog, or just strolling along the shoreline. The Slovak shore is a lot less busy with summertime activities. On our right, something splits off from the main Danube to form a few river islands named Táti, Nyáros, Csitri, and Körtvélyesi. I’d thought it would perhaps be possible to paddle through there, for fun, but with the low water levels, the risks of running aground continuously are too great.
It’s noon by the time I feel a tailwind on one of my bare elbows. I want to use the kayak sail, but we need to turn a bit more left before I can use it. Once the turn begins, I deploy the kayak sail and we go into the shipping lane. I see the reflection of a tiny motorboat downstream. A cargo ship travels upstream and we decide to cross already to the left-hand shore where we’ll need to land to access Štúrovo. On the other side, I fold the kayak sail away again.
Štúrovo’s Entrepreneurial Scene
Once on the Slovak side, there’s yet another industrial zone. The port zone of Štúrovo appears and we cross paths with the old ferry between Štúrovo and Esztergom. I don’t think it exists anymore since the EU helped to fix the twice-destroyed Mária Valéria bridge in 2001 in anticipation of Slovakia and Hungary’s ascension to the EU in 2004. That’s not a particularly long time ago.
There are cruise ships docking and leaving and it’s very busy here. We see something crossing the river very fast and making a lot of noise. It’s orange and annoying. It travels way too fast for the pilot to notice us on time. My guess is that it goes at 100km/h, easily. This is incredibly irresponsible with so much other traffic on the river.
We approach carefully and very close to the shore as we enter Štúrovo. Many people are navel-deep into the water or tanning belly-down on the beach. The beautiful arches of the Mária Valéria bridge and the Esztergom basilica appear and so does a tiny anchoring area for recreational boats. That’s where we see the culprit of the danger. Two of these racing boats – orange and yellow – lie on the shore. That’s very lucky for us that they’re out of the water now that we’re closeby. I repeat: you do not want to share the water with these machines.
The race boats look like nothing we’ve ever seen before. I snap a picture of the machine for later Googling. It’s apparently an invention native to Štúrovo, made by a company called Hena Motor. They call this ‘sport’ boats…
We’ve been on the Danube for quite a long time now. We’ve seen things… but hands down, these machines scream “I have insecurities!” the loudest:
We arrived at our landing spot right before the Mária Valéria bridge at 13:07. We later see the Hena speedboats on the water again. Jonas and I are independently shaking our heads at the sight and the noise.
Jonas is in an excellent mood still. He’s had a very good paddle day after one day’s rest in Kúpele Patince. We pack up the boat after drying it on the beach and walk to our apartment in Štúrovo found on Booking. A friendly lady checks us in and I get to use my Russian for the first time on this trip.
Saint Stephen’s Day Fireworks
It’s a really nice apartment, but it’s missing towels. This is becoming a pattern. We spend the rest of the day relaxing and buying some small groceries. Before sunset, the other owner of our apartment drops by with a message. I open the door and hear him out. He has a little note saying ‘fireworks 9:00’ and points in the direction of the Danube. I nod to tell him that I’ve understood what he’d been trying to tell me.
I’m not a fan of fireworks at all. They kind of spook me, especially when it’s regular people and their offspring handling the socially acceptable explosives. Beyond that, it’s really crap for the environment. But this night, there was a big firework show that was professional. And it wasn’t even in Štúrovo, but in Esztergom across the river in another country. This somehow made it OK, so when the bangs started we actually went towards the noise.
It just happened to be the night before Hungary’s State Foundation (Az államalapítás ünnepe) Day or Saint Stephen’s Day, which refers to Stephen I of Hungary and not any other Steve. He was the first king of Hungary. Google said that his celebration day is August 20th, not the 19th, but it’s fairly common to do the fireworks the evening before a big public holiday.
Lots of people were out to watch the show on the Slovak side. Then I realize again that Štúrovo is one of those places in Slovakia that has a Hungarian majority. They even have a different name for Štúrovo: Párkány. This led me down a wormhole learning about Hungarian-Slovak relations, Magyarization, Slovakization, and all the tensions between the peoples. There are so many yikes in that area, that’s a story for another time.
We stayed for two nights in Štúrovo.