My goodness it is sweltering, I think the top temperature was in Vienna at a very toastie 38°C! Luckily I wasn’t cycling but enjoy the sights of the city and cooling off in The Alte Donau (or Old Danube to you and me). The Danube doesn’t run through the centre of Vienna, only a canal created many moons ago, so there is no historic front. This doesn’t stop the Viennese enjoying the river however and they flock there to take a dip in the calm waters, a great atmosphere about the shores.
But I jump waaaay ahead of myself. So yes I have been through Austria but I now sit in Slovakia, although my tent is across the bridge in Hungary. Confused? Ha, the town of Komárno or Komárom on the Hungarian side was split into two towns after WWII and I just popped across the bridge to see what the other side had to offer. Anyway I digress, again! I blame travelling alone. I mean don’t get me wrong I talk to folks all the time but sometimes your mind goes a bit well, er wonky?
So yes talking to folks, I mentioned previously Aitor whom I cycled with for a few days. We have since parted was as I wanted to press on and try to get to Vienna to see Christian before he darted off across the globe- a great WWOOFer pal from Italy. Aitor and I also had different ideas of what a days cycle might consist of, don’t get me wrong it was fun to have a companion but I do like to be able to decide on where I might spend the night or move on without having to think about it. Certainly nothing personal.
Unfortunately I haven’t been able to cycle all the way until this point, there was a 100km stretch between Straubing and Passau which was not possible by bike, due to severe damage to the cycle paths. I hope you will allow me this little relief by train. When we arrived in Passau it was looking just beautiful in the sunshine but the devastation from the flooding was all around, not least of all at our campsite. My heart went out to the owner who told me she had spent a week leaving the house via the first floor windows, into a boat! The entire ground floor of the house had been destroyed and the campsite wasn’t even really open, they were using their private lawn as it was on higher ground.
Since Passau there has certainly been less water about, no fish hiding in holes as you push your bicycle through what is now a fast moving stream but once was simply tarmac. Yes honestly, I fell down a hole and out popped a fish, about the size of my hand! There was one little hole, well more a mild crater. There was the aftermath but no more wet feet. I think actually this was more depressing to see, items from homes piled up out on the street- everything from washing machines to little girls push chairs and now sodden sofas. The speed at which people are attempting to return to normality is astonishing, as was the immediate clearing of cycle routes and roads. At this point I feared how the Hungarian clean up effort might compare but so far it seems the flooding was nowhere near as severe.
A particularly beautiful stretch of river is the route between Passau and Vienna, I believe one of the most cycled touring routes in Europe. The Danube Bend at Schlögen harbours so much wildlife on it’s banks, and also I got to go on a mini bicycle only ferry! Melk should also be mentioned with its incredible and enormous Benedictine Abbey and four tiered gardens. Not so impressive was the campsite I had intended to stay on, it was putrid after being under water for nearly 2 weeks. I decided to find a room for the night, the thought of a bed gave me butterflies, but it was not to be. It was the midsummer festival and the town was fully booked, all but a €120 room for the night and so my butterflies soon vanished. Instead I wild camped with a couple from New Zealand, the had hired bicycles for a week to see what touring was all about and stuck without as place to stay too we teamed up. Our hunt for a ‘wild’ spot was a little pathetic, we decided to simply pitch up beside the river when it got dark. We received no complaints, only a visit from a snake. I tremble only recalling the encounter, I am not a fan of snakes. It was from this day that the temperature soared, not knowing that it was going to be in the mid 30’s I set out as normal but felt terrible by the time I reached my campsite for the night. I find it can be hard to judge when pedalling a long in a self created breeze but sure realised when I stopped. I topped up with water several times and was even given a pass to the nearby lake to cool off when I got to Tulln. I wasted no time and jumped right on in, the water was 24°C! Such a divine feeling. I even treated myself to a half litre of beer, in hindsight perhaps not the best combination but it tasted good.
So from here to Vienna, which I loved! I didn’t really know what to expect, as is the case with many of the places I have/am headed to. I have done little research. Vienna is somewhere I felt at home. I don’t really know why, perhaps the incredible cycle lane network, the amazing architecture and stunning Volksgarten roses. I wasn’t intimidated but the huge capital, its busy streets and noisy traffic, everything about it should be crazily intimidating for a cyclist trying to navigate such a gigantuous place, but all was calm.
I of course indulged in some Wiener Schnitzel and crisp and cool white wine from the vineyards in the surrounding areas, which I had cycled through just the day before. I have already mentioned my time by the river and also did some super exciting chores, had a serious bout of hay fever related sneezing and received the new maps and tent for the next stage of my journey. Yes that tent I was so excited about, well it had a faulty fly sheet and Vango posted a new one out to me. Vienna I will be back!
Within a day I cycled from one capital to another, Vienna to Bratislava! (Which yes is in Slovakia NOT Slovenia for those of you who saw that genuine mistake, but not through lack of knowing, on Facebook. Ahem let us brush over that). It isn’t as far as it may sound, just about 60km so quite a relaxed day in the scheme of things. In Bratislava I had heard incredibly bad things about the campsite and so decided to stay in a hostel for the night. The bed was very much appreciated, as was the night away from mosquito exposure, but the git that stole my cheese and tomatoes from the communal fridge had me raging. I did however have a very nice afternoon in the city. To avoid the crazy heat I am now getting up around 5.30am so that I can reach my destination before the climax of the sun. It’s actually working out surprisingly well, a lazy afternoon with a bit of sight seeing and an early night. Lovely. So yes Bratislava, again I was surprised. I couldn’t believe how little there was of the old city, I took a free waking tour and met a couple of lovely girls and we had a traditional Slovak dinner together. Cheesey dumplings and bacon, washed down with a beer or two. Delicious! Bratislava is a very pretty city and incredibly busy when the sun goes down, and not just with Brits going out there to get pissed (although there are A LOT of them). So from Slovakia’s capital my Hungarian adventures began, not having spent even 24 hours in the country I crossed another border. Partly why I came over again tonight, I didn’t want it to feel unloved.
So a day and a half in Hungary and it has been rather lovely. Lovely people, views and cycling with a strong wind pushing me a long. Not such a fan of the mosquitoes, they have been bad for a good week or so but last night was something else. Yes I was camping beside the wetlands but really if it is necessary for a man to drive around the town for nearly 2 hours pumping what I can only imagine is some sort of insecticide out the back of a van, then you shouldn’t allow people to put up a tent. There are going to be itchy people in the morning. I am covered in bites, clothing doesn’t even stop the buggers. Inside my tent I am sure there was over 200 trapped between the inner and outer so that the whole place hummed as I tried to sleep. Fun fun! The campsite itself was just beautiful but I won’t be recommending it for more than a photo stop. Watching the starling murmuration at sunset was pretty awesome, but I think my staying out miiiight have had something to do with the number of bites.
After totally putting this night of camping down I must mention the hospitality of an elderly Hungarian couple. They were the sort of Mamma and Pappa of the site. I arrived and they were very welcoming (they’re only staying here btw, they’re not the owners or anything) and even insisted I move a picnic bench to beside my tent so I had a seat. Once my tent was pitched and I was about to consider what to do for lunch I heard the man shouting ‘Hallo, hallo, come, come!’ And the old man was beckoning me over. He didn’t speak a word of English and surprise surprise my Hungarian ain’t that brilliant. I was ushered into their caravan and presented with a bowl of food, a pale yellow colour with a boiled sausage and a hunk of bread. OK he knew more English than none, next came ‘eat, eat!’ I was totally astounded that strangers would invite me in to make sure I had a square meal. From what I could gather it was traditional Hungarian grub and in a market today hunted for the yellow veg. I can confirm they are called ‘bab magyar’ and it was a yellow baby bean soup. Very good! Bless they’re hearts. I did then have to ask their help, I managed to break the shower on he campsite and the office was closed…I say break, I was simply unable to turn it off. Nor could anybody else and somebody had to be called to fix it, I didn’t do anything other than turn the taps, I promise! I seemed to take a good hour to resolve and for less than £5.50 for a night I think I may have been an expensive guest. I apologised profusely and I promise to be less eager to shower with full power in future. Eek!
So really that brings me to the present moment. A good cycle today, a little cooler I temperature and some interesting terrain in the way of unpaved roads and severe potholes. Bring it on Hungary, but please be kind to my front spokes.
Next capital is Budapest, see you Monday!
Total distance so far: 1195km