UPDATE: As I write this I am sat in my tent in Hungary…yesterday I traversed down the Slovakian border from Bratislava along the Danube river. Today I will come off the river and take the more direct route down to Budapest – a swift 60 miles with just a couple of big hills (I now consider this a relatively easy day!).
I have officially cycled the furthest I have ever cycled in one trip! Over 4 weeks I have travelled well over 1000 miles, across 6 countries and counting. Without wishing to tempt fate, the bike and the legs are holding up well and feeling ready for the next few weeks cycling down to Istanbul.
The last few days I have been crossing beautifully translucent borders so often I have barely been able to keep up with which country I am in, let alone which language I should be attempting to communicate with people in!
I was eased towards the communication barrier, starting as I did in France for a week and a half, then another week and a half in German-speaking nations. Contrary to what my aging GCSE results would have you believe, my French language skills, such as they are, are considerably better than my German. However, not having exercised those neural links for some time, my low confidence caused me to preface conversations in the first days with “Désolé, je ne parle pas francais, parlez-vous anglais?” [I don’t speak French, do you speak English?]. A sentence that I’ve always thought must sound odd when spoken in French and perhaps that’s why I was quickly encouraged by my conversation counterpart to admit I spoke “un peu francais”.
Most conversations involved a bizarre exchange of someone speaking the little English they knew to me, and me replying in my little French, plenty of smiling and nodding on both sides. After a week in France I had abandoned all introductory warnings to the condition of my French and just dived headfirst in to the sea of unfamiliar words and sentence structures. There was more and more understanding with less and less gesturing and it gave me a renewed ambition to improve my language skills.
The chat with other cyclists on the road was generally limited to a passing ‘bonjour’ but I was heartened to think of the number of times I must have been passing a fellow Brit and despite our shared language (albeit unknown), we exchanged pleasantries in the language of our temporary host nation. It did mean however that my only extended conversations during the week were the rare times I came across another English-speaking traveller in the evening or a phone call back to the UK.
Crossing in to Switzerland, the language change was dazingly sudden. My confidence of French on a high, I now found myself instantly having to interpret signs and conversations of German, a language I hadn’t ‘revised’ and perhaps naively thought would just come back to me. In truth, over the week it did come back but it was certainly slower than I had expected/hoped! One day early on I stopped for lunch in a small restaurant (a rare treat)…
ME: *looks blankly at menu in German*
WAITER: “Hallo, bist du bereit zu bestellen?”
ME: “Sorry, my German..uhh..mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut”
WAITER: “Do you know what you want to order?”
ME: “I might need some help, I want quite a big meal”
WAITER: “You want pig?”
ME: “Like pork?”
WAITER: “OK, I would say for this *points*, it is quite a traditional dish”
ME: *recognising the word ‘salat’* “Is it a salad?”
WAITER: “With salad? Yes, OK”
*Waiter takes menu and leaves*
A less successful conversation. Although it was delicious.
Since then I have learnt a couple of phrases in Slovak which were of limited use in the two days I was there, and now I am struggling with Hungarian but I’m taking a day off in Budapest tomorrow which should give me ample opportunity to take some ‘hello, please, and thankyous’ for a whirl!
More updates to follow. Peace and love.