Bratislava, cycle touring along the Danube, cycle touring Austria, cycle touring Czech Republic, cycle touring Hungary, cycle touring Slovakia, Danube Cycle Path, Donau Radweg, Gyor, Poysdorf, Vienna, Wien, Znojmo
If you have never slept under the stars, I urge you to get out there and do it. To watch the moon rise, and feel the spin of the earth as it rotates under the cosmos is simply magical. When we pitch the net part of our tent without the fly, you get that feeling.
We have had a unique run of perfectly still nights, four in a row now. You feel the slight breeze that picks up before dawn, and the cooler air that drops from higher ground into the valleys at around midnight. Four nights under the tents bug net, and now we only feel truly safe when we have got this visibility. Strange, but I bet some did not like the move into caves that our ancestors made.
The A82 is busy with holiday traffic. Every third car has a foreign plate. The Dutch are here in numbers. But then, the Dutch are everywhere. They have an impulse for travel, a gene or something that implores them travel. The remotest Glen back home in Scotland and a road going nowhere and it is late November. We park our camper van, and within the hour there will be a second van. Dutch of course.
A short ride into the town of Gyor. We took a look at a book of photographs of the town and it looks amazing. We want time to look around, so bikes and bags are left in a hotel, and off we go. Again, we have stumbled across a place that failed to make it into the guide books and is too small for the city break market of nearby Budapest. We loved it.
A bike map of the district shows a spider’s web of cycling routes spreading out from the town. There is a path along the river that runs North West, our direction. We take it next morning. It turns out to be unsigned, and deeply surfaced in rough stones. Perfect on a mountain bike, and a pig on a heavy touring bike. We end up navigating a retreat along farm tracks. We are heading for the village of Mosonszentmikols to look at the church.
Half a dozen kilometres further and there is another church worth a visit. This one dates back to the 13th Century, and has the usual troubled history of this area. Invasion and rebuild follow one another in series up to the present day. You forget that the Turkish Ottoman empire was so vast and so recent. A sign near the door directs the pilgrim to the Compostela – 2990Km.
Unusually for us, we have a plan at the moment. We are heading to pick up the River Danube as we know there is a good bike path along it that should give us easy riding for a while. As we get closer we stumble across a whole network of bike paths, one of which is the Euro Velo 6. There is easy touring in this area and anyone in search of a place for a first adventure should look consider here.
A gentle day of flat riding draws to and end. In the village of Dunakiliti, I break our most strongly held rules of the road. It has it’s origin here in Hungary, on a trip we made here with a borrowed car and tent. ” Would you like to try some of our wine? We make it ourself. ” Of course we did not yet have the tent pitched when we started the large Coke bottle of wine. It got pitched eventually. But not very well, and there was giggling and falling over.
TENT UP BEFORE ALCOHOL – I break the law now with an ice cold Pilsner. But not before Esther agrees to be ‘ designated tent erector ‘ – stay safe my friends. Another night under the stars for us, we are the only tent on a small campground.
We can no longer remember what it is like to cycle in falling rain. I think we have only had rain on three or four days since we started this trip in Malaysia. Strange then, that just a month or so ago, this area suffered terrible flooding with the Danube bursting its banks for hundreds of kilometres, and destroying the homes of thousands.
We spend the last of the Hungarian currency on an early coffee as we ride to meet the Danube the next morning. Harvest is in full swing now, with combines working into the nights. We meet the ‘ official ‘ Danube Cycle Route, and run like Salmon against the flow of hundreds of bikes shortly after we enter Slovakia. Within an hour we are cycling into Bratislava, the capital.
We are just passing through the city and taking the opportunity to pick up a new sketch book for Esther. We join in with the local bike traffic. Tourers, cruisers, racers and people just out for groceries or to visit a book shop. The air is still in the city and pavement cafes with shade are at a premium.
Another day another country. It is a Rock Tour itinerary and within an hour of getting back on the bikes, we are in Austria. The fade from Slovakia is unnoticed and both use the Euro. Three countries in one day makes your head spin. The sun is going down as we ride next to the Danube. I glance at the altimeter on my bar, 180m above sea level. Goodness, the math looks impossible. The river has hundreds if not thousands of kilometres to reach the Black Sea and just 180m to spare.
The flooding has led to a ‘ baby boom ‘ in the local Mosquito population. We get chased off a possible wild pitch by an angry mob of the air-born Piranhas. The second choice is a harvested corn field. Up goes the tent, just short of the village of Marchegg. I manage to make a brew and then we have to dive into the tent or be eaten alive.
An impossibly large moon rises. It is full and clears the trees quickly, before hanging in place for the next few hours. Behind us there is rough and long grass. An Owl quarters it, low, silent on stealthy wings.
Next day. It is hot enough to get us up early and we are riding north parallel with the Slovakian border. Villages fill with the sound of clapping as this years Storks demand food with slaps of their beaks. Many of the villages are strangely empty of people, some look almost abandoned. Are they holiday homes? It is all so removed from the energy and life of a bike ride through an Asian or even European Turkish village.
Kites are riding early thermals in this hot weather as we near Angern An Der March. A Kestrel breaks from a hover and drops on prey it has seen in the stubble. Curiously it has an old English name that describes this, ‘ wind fucker ‘. Yes, I am shocked as well. But it meant ‘ wind beater ‘, at the time, a harmless description of how it hunted.
It is only when you glance at the map, that you realise just how close we are to Vienna. The landscape is flat and the big and rather new tractors passing up and down it point at wealth. Things are very orderly and managed. If you are the local rep for lightning protection systems, you have two clients here; churches and grain silos. Both stand out white and tall.
The heat of the day evaporates our energy along with everything else. Poysdorf, the wine making capital of Austria has a campground and we call it a day. The town looks prosperous, and it looks like ‘ old money ‘. The campground has the hardest soil we have ever tried to force pegs into, and the best toilets of this journey. China will have colonised the Moon before it gets anywhere near this level of sanitary sophistication.
There are a few drops of rain overnight, but it has lost the knack. Within a kilometre of starting out we are changing into ultra light tops and covering noses with factor 50. We are heading for the border town of Laa. I must say,for all the conformity and ‘street clean ‘ perfection of Austria, it has many plus points. Drivers have been most courteous, giving us the regulation 1.5m passing room. Bit of an irony then, that this is the first place you would not mind ending up in hospital in.
Slovakia had faded into Austria without much in the way of obvious signs. Austria to the Czech Republic ( country 34 for us ), is another matter. The border is not even manned. Within a hundred metres there are shops specialising in making a living out of the border trade. Roadside grass is longer, the paths have more weeds. Things need a strimming and a coat of paint, and flowers bloom in gardens and field margins. I actually prefer how it all feels.
We stop for food in the first sizable village. There is a town map, and as usual bike paths go off in all directions. We take a tip from the map and follow one of the routes. Bikes are lent up against walls in every small village and we pass a rider every kilometre or two. We had no idea this was such a touring destination and most are locals. It is wonderful.
Dark clouds. It has been unbearably muggy today and something has to give. We pull under cover at a mill and within thirty seconds it is raining. They are big drops. Each has form and hits the ground with some weight. The drops feel colder than rain should be. We are at the water-mill in Slup along with about a dozen Czech touring cyclists. None speaks English or want to try German. They talk excitedly amongst themselves. For many this is a first tour. They are so lucky to have such a perfect country for biking. I think you should join them before it becomes too popular.