Avoiding Vienna and loving Budapest!!
After a beautiful start to the day I am back to climbing through woodlands before reaching the empty Czech/Austria boarder crossing. The buildings are complete with flags and other paraphernalia but totally deserted. I pass into Austria and immediately come out onto a wide open road with fabulous views back into the Czech Republic and then round the next bend an unexpected view of the mountains, topped with snow … The Alps i think! Its exiting seeing them and being back in a German speaking country I feel more confident again.
Not an issue at for me, in fact I know I prefer the uphills to the downs (something about being or feeling more in control!!!) and so I was happy to crest the hill at 777m ‘uber das meer’ before lunch! More views of the Alps and a long downhill in to Linz …. This part of the journey was the least pleasant since the trucks and cars were whizzing past me with little apparent concern for the impact of their speed or proximity. The views of the villages in the valleys either side of the road were great but it was difficult to fully appreciate them when I could see the next truck heading towards me or hear the one coming up behind me at speed …. Quick straw poll … The Austrians are the least considerate drivers in the EU so far … Big cars and no consideration of cyclists.
So I headed into Linz briefly but my aversion of the hustle and bustle got me back out again quickly. Having picked up the cycle path along the Donau I was enjoying the early afternoon when I met 2 German cyclists who were doing the cycle path from Passau to Vienna (I think!) and I joined them for the afternoon and evening cycle until they found some accommodation. Christian and Bernie turned out to be great fun and I enjoyed the brief cycle with them … There were lots of jokes about the noises outside their previous accomodation (traffic and motorbikes) that had kept Christian awake so when they finally found a place to stay and were eating dinner there was much laughter as the church clock sounded very loudly outside their hotel, the cockerels crowed and a motorbike revved past!
I left them there and set up camp just outside the village but as I am doing so I am gifted a time with a wild hare sitting a few feet from me… He or she doesnt notice me for a long 5 minutes and I felt so privilaged by this encounter. Unfortunately when it does realise I am there it tears off at great speed zig zagging across the field in a bid to get to safety.
Over the weeks there have been many chance sightings with hares and since they are so unusual to see in England I am excited and grateful for each encounter. Butterflies and moths have equally been a part of my view in most of the counties I have visited. another reason for cycling, as I think I mentioned before, is the capacity to see and encounter wildlife in ways otherwise impossible. The following day I have an amazing days ride, alone, through the beautiful Austrian countryside alongside the river, the river itself is very wide in places and I see hills on either side shrouded in mist since the weather has turned and there is intermittent rain for most of the morning.
By lunch the weather has turned again and I am ditching the new waterproof (purchased in Ceska Krumlov and doing a fine job) and by the late afternoon I am cycling in hot sunshine towards the incredible Wachau Valley.
This is a very famous wine region and I can see the amount of finance being kept in the region by the quaint old villages along the route and their expensive looking houses. I notice a picture on a bulletin board in one of the villages, of a stone carved female figure. This is a figure I recognize from my degree many years ago and Im really excited that it is in a nearby museum. The village of Willendorf had rung a bell and I cannot believe my luck that it is on my way. Its getting towards late afternoon and my worries that I might have missed the museum are confirmed when I get there. Im crushed as had been so excited to see this important female deity, fertility figure but there is a sign directing me to the site where she was discovered so I go and look out on the landscape which the carver of the figure would have seen 2500 years ago. There is also a 3 foot modern representation of the figure looking out across the valley.
When I returned to the village there was a woman opening up the museum to sort out some admin so she let me in for my own private viewing!!! My luck is pretty amazing I think!! It was fantastic to get to see the Venus … She is a tiny figure and is much more beautiful in reality than in the pictures and in subsequent representations. The carver of the Venus evidently put a lot of love and care into her making. None of the modern skinny for these people! You will have to believe me that this small figure can command such a strong sense of presence …. art at its best, most raw and powerful.
I continue on through the vineyards of the valley and through pretty villages, one of which appears to be celebrating the new grape/wine season and I see fertility offerings on the grapevines. Evidently the old traditions are retained here.
The following day is a push towards Vienna (Wien) and there is an immediate change in the landscape following the town of Krems, from the high side valley of Washau to much more open, flat lands again. The Donau increases in width accordingly and I get to see all sorts of plants including I think orchids along the route. I also stumble upon this tea room and have a lovely chat with the owner about the trip and about his family (in German!) and eat some of his wife’s fantastic Backenkrapfen … doughnut like batter and covered in icing sugar!! Oh and a coffee, to go with it ofcourse.
I have decided not to go into Wien and so camp out on one of the long islands just outside the main city which means I get a great night time view of the massive cruisers that plough up and down the Donau and of the cityscape. It feels like one of the more dicey places to camp but is fine!!
I’m up very early and head straight out of Wien for the Slovac boarder and Bratislava which I hope to make for luchtime. The route takes me out of Wien via an industrial area and then a very strange sort of grasslands park. Strange because I appear to be the only person here and there are miles and miles and miles of cycling along a raised bank, like a dyke, amongst the wild garlic and wild flowers. Its eerily quiet and I feel a little on edge to have such space to myself.
I see a sign for a free camping spot and go and have a look. Its by the river and has a 2 story platform on it which says it does breakfasts (evidently not today) but looks like a great place for a weekend camp. I make coffee and chat to a couple who arrive to look around and who tell me that there are turtles in this region of Austria! Nesting, breeding turtles! I don’t spot any unfortunately, just hear the continued chorus of mating frogs and toads. Day and night!
I head off following the signs to discover I need to carry Tilly and the baggage 101 steps, 3 flights, up to get onto the bridge over the river to get to Bratislava … This would not have been on the itinerary for the day, had there been an itinerary.
Tilly, bags and stuff all safely on the bridge and we cross over the Donau getting ever closer to Bratislava. I have already sent out several messages via Warm Showers so am hoping to be able to stay with someone tonight. On the other side of the bridge there is a different feel to the towns I encounter. The Slovac boarder might be a bit further away but it feels very immediate, yet again it is the geographical setting, namely the river, that creates boarders and change. At my first sight of Bratislava in the distance I discover I have a puncture and pump the tyre back up in the hope it is ‘just’ a slow puncture and that I can make it to the city before having to fix the inner tube. Vain hope and 4 sets of ‘just’ pumping it up later and I am in Slovakia outside a military bunker finally fixing the puncture, which takes no time and I wonder why I made such a fuss.
As I cycle into Bratislava I am aware of having no Slovak language. As is the same everywhere, English is the go to language and I sit outside McDonalds using their wifi and listening to the sounds of the city. Today these include students celebrating their graduation and a group of mic’d up Hari Kristena playing cymbals, dancing and singing. One inevitably comes over for a chat which is nice and we talk about cycling and he tells me about India!
Having check my emails and finding that unfortunately the people I had contacted on WS were unable to host me in Bratislava tonight AND after a fruitless search for a bike group who might be able to help, I leave the city, not having seen much at all I realise but wanting to get going and needing to find somewhere to camp for the night.
I cycle out of the city back onto the Donau path that goes to Budapest. After a couple of hours of being on another raised cycle path, I see a lake with house boats on it … not the K&A sort but actual houses on platforms on a lake. This lake evidently filters off the Donau because as I go further I see wide open stretches of river, this time with large logs and islands of reeds in the limited flow. I setup camp just off the path in some trees and spend part of the night listening to and watching the lights of the Donau Cruisers heading down river in the darkness. An early breakfast by the river means another completely different and beautiful view of the river.
After waking in Slovakia I travel the short distance into Hungary with almost no sign of a boarder. I took a picture of what I thought might be an indicator but I am still not sure. Again in a different county with no concept of the language so I head for the nearest town and wifi so at least I can get up Google translate and work on the essentials of please and thank you. Changing currency is a strange experience since Hungary uses Florins and I am looking at notes with severel more 0s than I am used to.
My excitement is growing as I have been looking forward to Budapest all trip. As I cycle the weather had become much hotter and I truly feel like I am cycling across tangible time /seasons as well as across countries and maybe continents.In Gyor I meet Theo and Neo who are musicians travelling by tandem from France to the Black Sea and who are towing their equipment in a trailer … So I spent some of the day with them, listening to their music and eating ice cream … 2 favourite past times.
I then continue on and in the evening decide to find a campsite. I find a hotel with site attachment which looks promising … Its perfect as the camping is an extravagant £3.50 and an all- you-can-eat dinner is £3! I don’t think they were expecting someone to eat 2 large plates of main course and 4 desserts but as it appeared that the local body building team used this as their end of the week blow out I felt it would be fine for me too!
The roads have become noticeably worse in Hungary and the following day was no exception. After a couple of hours cycling I meet up with a German cyclist, Karl, who is on a 2 or 3 month tour of Germany, Hungary and wherever else he fancies. We ride together for the day and having company for a change is great because I take it more leisurely and when the opportunity to go sight seeing in Esztergom arises, well the Basilica was impossible to miss and so impressive in the hot rocky landscape, that we decide to take time out and go up and visit. The whole building is incredible and the dome is amazing and has the most fantastic echo I have ever heard along with an awesome view of the landscape from the outside walkway … Lots of steps and totally worth it for the incredible 360° views!
After the visit to the Basilica we cycled on for a while until our way was halted by the lack of ferry boat … it would resume in the morning … and so we ate pizza (cat looking out for scraps) and were given home made Parlinka (Hungarian fruit schnapps) to finish and a place to camp in the field opposite… Just perfect.
The following day was a day of two ferries, good, cheap coffee and awesome views of the rocky ruins at Visegrad from across the river before reaching the outskirts of Budapest. It was an extremely hot day, and the roads and cycle ways appeared to get worse not better. At one point the way was just sand and rock … I am not a big fan of sand since the broken pannier incident so ended up pushing Tilly through that, thankfully short, portion of the route.
The hot day coupled with the dodgy terrain highlighted inevitable differences between Karl and myself . He liked to check his GPS system if there was any confusion about the route whilst I would cycle on looking for the next sign and using my ‘look – there is only one visible route’ method of deduction!!!
When we reach the outskirts of Budapest Karl has found a campsite on his GPS which he wants to look at … we go, I think it is run down and expensive to say the least and ask to see the showers and ensure they have hot water – they don’t initially and then after the boiler has warmed up they have tepid water. By this time I have given up and since the price for a bungalow is less than for camping agree to stay.
After settling into the bungalow we go back to the side of the Donau for dinner and have the best fish i have ever had! Not sure what sort, it said Hake on the English version of the menu but was totally delicious either way! All the locals appeared to eat there as well which was more or less the deciding factor for where to eat!
In the morning the price of the bungalow has inexplicably gone up and Karl and I have a ‘strong difference of opinion’ on how to manage this, paying for things and generally make decisions …. And so we go our separate ways. Its difficult to try and manage these things when 2 people, both strong characters, are thrown together and I don’t feel I handled this situation well.
So i cycle into Budapest alone … get my first glimpse of the parliament building and all my thoughts refocus on the amazing architecture and the feeling that tendrils of the ‘east’ have extended this far … Budapest, which incidentally used to be 2 cities Buda and Pest, has been heavily influenced by the Ottoman Turks who ruled here in the 15th century as well as the expected Austro-Hungarian look.
I quickly find a central campsite and start exploring the city, little knowing I will remain here for nearly 2 weeks!!
During my time in Budapest i meet some fantastic people, Laurent (French and totally outragous!), Julien and Jana (live in Grmany but Belgian and i think German respectively), Eva and Povi (Warm Showers hosts who i went to visit for coffee but ended up with ice cream … Winner!) and 2 lively Canadian girls as well as the friendly people on the campsite (the gardner handyman added a flower to Tillys collection when we left!)
In Budapest the architecture was incredibly beautiful and i saw the city in sun and rain, crowded and quiet. The Metro and tram systems were great fun to navigate since i had no idea of how pronounce anything or what it should sound like and some stops sounded different to my assessment of what they should be like.
The layers of cultural influence in the city are evident and the architecture reflects this. The Margrithid (bridge) joins both sides of Budapest and gives a great view of the iconic buildings, there are other bridges, older, doing the same thing but they dont retain the same awesome aspect.
Budapest has many baths in different styles from different eras and whilst there i wanted to visit one of the turkish baths so went to the Kiraly Bath. Im so glad i did … It was quite run down and very beautiful. The sunlight streaming in through small windows in the roof and the circular structure was lovely. It used to be a mens only bath but had recently allowed women as well.
I also visited the most Northern muslim pilgramage site , Gul Babas tomb. Again beautiful. I think i will love Istanbul!
There is a very evident change in Budapest than in previous cities and that is the number of homeless people on the streets. Their makeshift homes are very much in evidence and the majority of these people seem to stay in the same places through day and night. One man near where I was staying had made a home under a bench built into a wall. No doubt it felt safer and was near the police station and hospital but was still a bench. I’m not sure if it was the heat or the dust but Budapest struck me as much dirtier and more ‘raw’ than other cities I have visited … the situation of poverty that many people find themselves in and is not something I feel comfortable with.
After many days on the campsite of attempting to write the blog from the phone i finally broke down and bought a cheap tablet, taught myself more about blogging and downloaded a photo resizer and set about getting some of the amazing things i have done and seen posted on the blog ….. Phew! But there is always more!!!
By the time I left Budapest I was in danger of becoming ‘marina bound’- an apt boating phrase from a boaty couple I met on the site.
So I hit send on a last hasty post and leave … I am planning an all night cycle since it is now 5pm and the heat of the day has lessened. Its good to be cycling again!