Wanting to get our bikes from Cluj to Budapest for our flight out to Madagascar, the most economical way seemed to be a combination of internal trains. In Romania, a bicycle can be taken on any train with the purchase of an extra ticket (costing 10 lei). At the ungodly our of 0238, we left Cluj on a slow train to Oradea, which turned out to be one of the new-model trains with doors that open at the level of the platform, so we could wheel them straight on instead of the usual frantic heaving. After a wait of an hour and a half in Oradea‘s abysmal unheated train station, we got a local train to the little community of Săcueni Bihor, and this time we could put our bikes in an spacious, but unused, compartment for wheelchair users. Săcueni is an hour north of Oradea and next to a little-used border crossing with Hungary.
From Săcueni we cycled 7 km to the border and stood freezing while we waited for the customs officials to return our passports. The officials, who rarely see anyone coming through here, let alone foreigners on touring bicycles headed for the Southern Hemisphere, kept us in conversation for a long time before handing our documents back.
It was another 37 km or so from the border to Debrecen. Soon after the border we reached (along a paved bike path built alongside the road) the agricultural town of Létavértes. Afterwards, the road went only through deserted meadows and forests before we reached the outskirts of Debrecen. There is no shoulder to the road and passing drivers sped along the twists and turns, which occasionally proved stressful.
In Debrecen we quickly got a train to Budapest. The cost of a single one-way ticket, including bike, was around 17€. We were told that we could only take the bike in the first or last carriage, but as passengers started to board, a ticket inspector waved us toward a dedicated bike carriage halfway along the train.
Three hours later we were in Budapest. Navigating the city streets, riding alongside cars, on bicycle was initially daunting, but as we observed many local hipsters flying past us without helmets or cares, it was easier to make the journey to our lodgings without panic.
The next day, we set off in search of the bike boxes necessary to check our bikes as luggage on the plane. This proved slightly more difficult than I expected. Hugo Sport at Kalvin tér 7, one of the largest shops on the Pest side, had put all its boxes in the rubbish, which had recently been taken away. Nearby at Allez on Baross utca 3, a small supply and repair shop, we succeeded in getting one box, but the proprietor explained that he would not be receiving new stock (and thus new boxes) until the spring. He was kind enough to ring another shop he knew of, Bringaland at Dózsa György út 64, which had a few boxes in a rubbish closet and promised to hold one for us. So, we made our way there and picked up the second box, and got a fork spacer to boot.