05 July 2011

CYCLING HUNGARY (2)

30 June - Komarom – Budapest - 94km

It was my last day of cycling with the group and I was enjoying my last bit of luxury on the road. A good ride though the countryside and up a few hills brought us to the lunch truck, from where we cycled together into the city centre of Budapest.

That evening most of us went out for a few beers and some good Hungarian food. I had made such good friends on the trip that I felt quite sad to see them carry on without me.

From Budapest I am going to take the train back to the Paris region (where we started) and head west in the direction of Lisbon (or so is the plan). Gergo was kind enough to find out all the details of the train times for me, so all I have to do now is load up the bike, buy the ticket and set off again.

1 – 3 July Budapest

We spent two solid days sightseeing in Budapest. There was just so much to see and do in that beautiful city! Every night we found a different restaurant where we could indulge in the local cuisine.

In Budapest one can visit the ROMKOCSMA (literally RUIN PUBS). These are pubs installed in the courtyards and gardens of empty houses. You don’t see anything from the outside (except people drifting about with their plastic beer glasses, and sometimes a beefy guard who is there to make sure people don’t get too noisy, as these places are usually in residential areas), but once you enter into the inner courtyard, it is something else! They offer live music, alternative exhibits, some even screen films, and they are open until at least 4 a.m… As Gergo’s band was playing in one of these pubs, we all went for a few beers and the chance to listen to some good music.

What a nice group of people they were. I was even presented with a farewell goodie bag from PC and Mieke! The goodie bag was very well thought through as it contained all the essentials: cup-a-soup, instant noodles, an energy drink, sweets and, of course, a small bottle of wine!

On the morning of the 3rd, I finally waved goodbye to my friends as they sped off to the Romanian border and I returned to my room to work on my web updates. My train ticket was booked for the 5th so I had plenty of time to kill before heading back to Paris.

4 July - Budapest

I finally picked up my laundry from the laundromat. I walked around the city centre with PC (who had to come back to Budapest to pick up his new passport). Then it was back to my room to start repacking my panniers for cycling.

04 July 2011

CYCLING SLOVAKIA



26 June 2011
Vienna, Austria – Bratislava, Slovakia
65km


After two solid days in Vienna it was time to move on again. New arrivals to the group included two South Africans (Mieke and PC), Paul from the USA (and whom I had met previously on Tour d’Afrique), Mark from Australia and Rudolf from Canada. We left on a group ride to the outskirts of the city and then ambled along, heading for the Austrian/Slovakian border.

John’s legs were much improved and I think he was relieved to be back on the bike again. The two of us set a comfortable pace and from time to time cycled with Mika and PC. After a quick coffee break we arrived at the border. Border crossings in Europe are rather unremarkable and you need to be quite alert to spot the tiny sign high up on a pole. 4 km later we arrived at Bratislava and found accommodation in a boathouse. I think we were all rather surprised at our unusual accommodation. It was not only unusual, but also very comfortable with large and spacious rooms.

I wondered around Bratislava with Marion and Barry and we marvelled at our new environment; a short bike ride hads brought us to a whole new culture, language and architecture. We walked up to the castle and explored all the nooks and crannies the old town had to offer. Dinner was on the boat and the food was once again excellent.

After supper we took a walk into town, had a glass of red wine compliments of PC, then back to the boat for an early night.


29 June 2011
Bratislava, Slovakia – Komarom, Hungary
116km


It was time to leave our boathouse and we all cycled together out of Bratislava. Soon the group split up, with Chris, Francois, Michelle and Jacky taking the lead. Barry, Alice, John and Marion were on close pursuit followed by Stirling, David and Edna. The rest of us ambled along in our own good old time. I mostly cycled with my fellow countrymen, Mieke and PC. Like good South Africans we had to stop and sample the local brew along the way.

At Komarom we reached yet another border crossing, this time even more inconspicuous than before. We crossed from Slovakia into Hungary and so came to an end my trip with Orient Express as I would be leaving the group in Budapest.

It turned out to be Mieke’s birthday, so that evening we did not only have cake, but also consumed a rather large amount of red wine. Francois tried his best to teach us a few words in French but eventually gave up. After reassuring him that “hou poephol hou” is actually a very formal term of greeting in South Africa, we eventually retired to our tents.

03 July 2011

CYCLING AUSTRIA


23 June 2011
Passau, Germany – Linz, Austria
100km

Edna, Sterling, John, Evlyn and Alf took the boat on the Danube from Passau to Linz, a particularly scenic part of the river. I kind of felt sorry for John as he really wanted to cycle but with his leg being all stitched up, it was just not a good idea. John is a university professor from Canada and he is such a wise and kind man, and the last person in the world one wants things like this to happen to is him. The rest of us saddled up and set off down the river to the Austrian border. Soon we reached a rather small and faded sign indicating the border between Germany and Austria - quite disappointing.

I cycled with David and from time to time met up with the others as we stopped for our usual coffee breaks. 6 km before Linz, we spotted the river boat carrying our friends and we waved frantically to attract their attention. We then proceeded to race the boat to its mooring point, waited for them to disembark and then we all cycled the last few km to camp together. No sooner were our tents up and the dreaded rain came down again.

It turned out that it was a public holiday in Austria and all the shops were closed, making it impossible for Miles to pick up enough ingredients for supper. The result was that we all ate in the restaurant that night.


24 June 2011
Linz – Emmersdorf
110km


We followed the river east and turned off to visit Mauthausen concentration camp. What a depressing site! Soon after the visit we had our first coffee stop, after which I set off and cycled downstream with a strong tail wind, never to see the rest of the group again that day.

There was no doubt that we were in the land of Heidi and the Sound of Music. The scenery was stunning and it was a pleasant day on the road as the rain held off and the sun peeped through the clouds.

It was Evlyn and Alf’s final day of riding as they were due to fly back to South Africa the following day. Bikes were taken apart and boxed, and tents rolled up and stuffed into the bike box. They booked into a B&B for the night and I was sad to see them go as I quite liked them.

At camp John’s leg was cleaned and redressed. Fortunately Sterling is a medical doctor and kept a beady eye on the operations.


25 June 2011
Emmersdorf – Vienna
120km

It was a particularly scenic ride past vineyards, cherry trees, apricot plantations and small villages. These tiny villages are steeped in history, with cobblestone streets, quaint houses and old churches complete with human remains! There seem to be castles on each and every hilltop, some dilapidated and some still in good nick.

I once again lost the group and enjoyed a day of riding on my own. Although it’s nearly impossible to get lost in this part of the world, some people still managed to lose the official path and land up on a really muddy road. We eventually all arrived at our hotel in Vienna and were all lookingall looking forward to two days of rest and sightseeing in Vienna.

26 June 2011
Vienna

Vienna, or Wien as it known here, is the capital of Austria and by far the largest city in the country. We could not have picked a better time to arrive in Vienna as the Danube Island Festival was on and the island was packed with bandstands, food stalls and all kinds of entertainment.

I wandered around the city eyeing the huge Ferris wheel but could find no one to join me, so instead I enjoyed numerous cups of their famous coffee. Vienna is also the home of great music and a person does not have to go far to find piano makers, opera houses, and other great musical shows.

The old and the new seem to blend effortlessly in Vienna. Hectic city traffic, old fashioned looking trams and horse-drawn carts seem to co-exist quite happily. For that matter, so do Armani, Strauss and Mozart! Coffee shops and Bratwurst stalls abound, and one can find opera tickets and tickets to Mozart concerts on about every street corner.

Vienna has enough art nouveau buildings to satisfy anyone for a lifetime; Otto Wagner must have been a very busy man. All in all, a fantastic city with bicycle lanes, large parks, pavement cafes, music houses, opera theatres, coffee shops - and all this situated on the banks of the famous Danube River. It’s no wonder that it is such a touristy place.

CYCLING GERMANY


11 June 2011
Munster, France – Freiburg, Germany
68km

Shortly after breakfast I set off with Alf and Evlyn on a beautiful ride past stunning villages. A short ride brought us to the Rheine River, where we crossed into Germany and immediately found a cycle path. We cycled along through farmlands and the difference in architecture was immediately visible.

Our hotel in Freiburg turned out to be very fancy. I was rather ill-prepared for such a fancy place and I tend to feel half claustrophobic in a room where one can’t open the windows. That comes from living in a tent for too long - I can’t even enjoy the good life anymore. I shared a room with Alice (from Canada) who turned out to be a very strong cyclist. She did not however feel well at all and was in bed very early that night and had no problems with the claustrophobic room.


12 June 2011
Freiburg

We spent the day in Freiburg (situated on the edge of the Black Forest) - a very charming village with cobblestone streets, trams, pavement restaurants, street musicians and plenty of old buildings. Kids were floating their boats down the water furrows and everybody was out enjoying the sunny weather.

Just by looking at the variety of beers available, one could tell that we were definitely in Germany. We wasted no time in sampling the local brews. There was also no shortage of cuckoo clocks, as theyir originate is very much from this part of the world. I was amazed at the number of bicycles in town - there were literally 100’s of bicycles and just about everyone seemed to travel by bike.

13 June 2011
Freiburg – Donaueschingen
75km

We had an amazing breakfast spread, after which we saddled up and cycled through the village of Freiburg. The road led us through a part of the Black Forest with amazing scenery and small villages. Dense forest lined the small road we cycled on and a musty wooded smell accompanied us all the way. The wood business is in full swing here and most houses are therefore timber homes. The ride was not without the customary climb up a hill or two, but also came with some really good downhills.

Donaueschingen is the official start of the Danube River and sits at a surprisingly low altitude for such a mighty river. This is also the start of the world-renowned Danube cycle trail. We cycled along the trail for a few km before reaching our campsite at Pfohren. The campsite was packed with other cyclists and I met a very interesting couple (Tamar and Keith) from the UK) cycling on a tandem recumbent bicycle. Keith even gave me a “lift” around the campsite, quite an unusual experience, but one I think I could get accustomed to.

14 June 2011
Donaueschingen – Sigmaringen
86km

We had an excellent ride along the Danube cycle way and experienced our first sunshine on the trip. The path is very popular and we came across many families (with small kids) cycling along the path. The cycling was easy and followed the river on a dedicated cycle path.

We passed castles, forests, villages and stopped numerous times for coffee along the way. It was a very social ride and everyone ambled along nicely, without any rush to get to the campsite.

Miles is an excellent chef and once again cooked up an amazing meal. A drizzle set in and sent us to our respective tents quite early.

15 June 2011
Sigmaringen – Ulm
115km

The Danube cycle way is a bicycle trail along the Danube River (as they call it here). It runs from the source at Donaueschingen to its mouth into the Black Sea. It is a dedicated cycle path for most of the way and the terrain is far more varied than I had expected. We crossed the Danube several times as the path followed the river in an easterly direction. What an absolute pleasure to amble along a dedicated cycle path!

We arrived in Ulm, after stopping many times for coffee and pastries. That evening we all took a walk into town, looking for a proper German restaurant. We had no problem finding one and pigged out on Wiener schnitzel, sauerkraut and Swabian noodles, washing it all down with the local brew. Delicious!!


16 June 2011
Ulm

We had a rest day in Ulm and did the normal rest day chores i.e. laundry, internet etc. Ulm is known for being home to the church with the tallest steeple in the world, and it is also the birthplace of Albert Einstein, so there was plenty to explore in this very interesting city before setting off down the river again.





17 June 2011
Ulm – Eggelstetten
104km

There is nothing like a breakfast buffet for a cyclist! We filled our stomachs from a large spread of fruit, cereal, bread and cheese before ambling down the Danube again.

We must have impressed the owner of a coffee shop with our “Paris – Istanbul” bike signs, as he offered us freshly baked pretzels, which came out the oven piping hot a few minutes later. He also generously offered us a sample of the local sausage before we set off through the forest again.

Although the path is clearly signposted, we still managed to pick (I think) the wrong route. Not that it made any difference - all the routes are scenic and you eventually seem to land up on the one you are looking for.

18 June 2011
Eggelstetten to Kipfenberg
100km

Everyone seemed to be up early in the mornings due to our early nights, so there was no sleeping in. I however seemed to be rather slow at the getting up thing.

After breakfast we all set off together but soon the group split up and people did their own thing along the way, taking photos, drinking coffee or sampling the local cuisine. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves as our days rolled nicely along and people got into their own stride. The weather however did not want to play along and it drizzled for most of the day. The town of Eichstatt seemed rather interesting but I kept going as by that time I had lost the rest of the group and it was drizzling. I enjoyed the ride through the forest on my own and arrived at camp fairly early.

Soon the others arrived and tents were pitched in the constant drizzle. Fortunately the showers at camp were piping hot and the rain abated as the evening wore on. The cold seemed to encourage the consumption of an unprecedented amount of red wine and chocolates! The red wine fueled in-depth discussions of the worlds energy crisis. As with most good discussions, we all went to bed content that we had solved the world’s problems.



19 June 2011
Kipfinberg – Regensburg
100km

In a constant drizzle we continued down the cycle path, which also meant that we had a good excuse to stop for coffee and pretzels. It was once again such a pleasure to amble along past all the small villages, through forests and past farmlands. We watched barges maneuvering through sluices and slowly moving downstream.

Somehow I managed to miss the lunch spot but found myself on a nice cycle path along the river. So I continued downstream until I reached the famous Regensburg where we had hotel accommodation. This felt like the easiest cycling I had done to date - downstream on a cycle path!! What an absolute pleasure, I could get soooooo used to this!! That evening we all went out to a German restaurant again so it was back to schnitzel, sauerkraut and Swabian noodles - yummy!!

20 June 2011
Regensburg

Regensburg is a fascinating town with a medieval center which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old town is packed with old houses, churches and narrow cobblestone lanes. It is apparently the only intact historic city in Germany. The stone bridge over the Danube River was built between 1135–1146, making it a pretty unique bridge.

21 June 2011
Rederenburg – Straubing
52km

It was a short but delightful day on the road. Soon after we left, we stopped to inspect a very Greek- looking building, the history of which is still unknown to me. With it being such a short day, we stopped even more than usual for coffee and pastries.

Chris was the only racer in the group and normally arrived at camp hours before anyone. Francois (from Canada), Michelle (New Zealand) and Jacky (Australia) are also strong cyclists and normally set a good pace. Barry, Marion and Alice are also experienced cyclists and so were normally right on their heels, with the rest of the group trailing far behind.


22 June 2011
Straubing - Passau
100km

Our last day in Germany arrived and at last the sun came out. We had a fantastic day on the road, except that John (from Canada) had an accident and had to be taken to hospital to have his leg seen to. Fortunately Barry and Marion were there when it happened and could attend to his injuries before the staff arrived with the van to take him to the hospital. I can’t think of a better couple to have with you when something like this happens as they must be the most caring and compassionate couple around.

We stopped for coffee; we stopped for lunch (no lunch truck today) and stopped for coffee again!! There was no rushing and eventually we cycled on to the famed Passau. Our campsite turned out to be extremely picturesque with good showers. Supper was excellent (again) but then the rain came down and sent us all rushing for cover. A few bottles of red wine helped ward off the cold.

CYCLING FRANCE

2 June 2011
Cape Town, South Africa – Paris, France


At last I was on my way to Europe via Abu Dhabi, and from there on to Paris. It was a rather uneventful flight - just the usual sitting, sitting, sitting, waiting, waiting, waiting!

3 June 2011
Paris, France


I arrived at my hotel in Paris, dead tired as usual. There I was in Paris, located on the River Seine and home to Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint-Laurent etc. I didn’t, however, have much use for any of these stores. I was wondering if I would even have time to visit any of the famed touristy places i.e. Notre Dame, Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe etc.

I soon met the other cyclists, all busy reassembling their bikes after equally long flights. With the help of our bike mechanic, Gergo, my bike was soon in tip-top shape. My bike lock seemed to be the only thing of importance that I had left behind. Marion and Barry (from Australia) kindly lent me one of theirs until such time as I could pick one up along the way. Together with David and Edna (also from Australia), I had an early bite to eat and then it was off to bed.




4 June 2011
Paris
35km

Early the next morning the entire group left the hotel and cycled down the road to the city centre. The traffic was light and we had a great ride through the streets of Paris. Past the Eiffel Tower, around the Arc de Triomphe and down the road to the Louvre. We had a quick coffee stop and then it was back on the bikes along the River Seine,and back to our hotel. Ricardo, Miles and Gergo gave us a short briefing on the low-down of what to expect on the tour in the following days. Everything seemed to be extremely well-organised so it appeared that I was in for a relaxing month ahead. I found a bike shop and invested in a helmet and bike lock and was as keen as everyone to get out on the bike, and see what Europe was really like.

5 June 2011
Paris – Chenoise
71km

At last I was back on the bike and could not have been happier. We left Paris in a group ride and I felt a little silly as all my fellow cyclists were dressed in full cycling gear, and there I was in my usual shorts, sandals and T-shirt. It was a very easy ride through the French countryside and past very tiny villages. We stopped for lunch under some trees before we did the last few km’s into Chenoise. We arrived at the campsite in Chenoise quite early and everyone fiddled with their tents and gear. The campsite was on a farm in the countryside with a very French-looking farmhouse and loads of horses, donkeys and ponies.


6 June 2011
Chenoise – Troyes
90km

It got light really early and the farm animals made sure that no one overslept. After a good breakfast we were ready to cycle down the road. At Provins we turned off the road to explore the old walled city with its castle and old houses. Then back on the road through the countryside, past vast farmlands, poppy fields and small villages. These villages were really tiny and extremely French-looking with its stone- built houses and windowsill flowers. Things are so organised and orderly in France that from time to time these villages resembled ghost towns, as not a peep came from any of the houses. Even the “riot” in one of the small villages was so peaceful it resembled a well-rehearsed play.

On arrival in Troyes I was pleasantly surprised to find an extremely comfortable hotel waiting for us. What luxury I was enjoying. Troyes is known as the historic capital of Champagne, and I was looking forward to some really good stuff.



7 June 2011
Troyes

We spent the day in Troyes, famed for its wood-framed houses and the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul. Word also has it that The Order of the Knights Templar was founded here in 1128 by the Council of Troyes. I was keen to find out more about this mysterious history. Unfortunately however, I met no one belonging to the Order but found loads of Champagne and thoroughly enjoyed the day in Troyes.


8 June 2011
Troyes – Val de Meuse
140km

After a hearty breakfast at our fancy hotel we were all ready to get on the road. A nasty surprise awaited us as the (locked) bicycles belonging to my fellow South Africans, Evlyn and Alf, had disappeared from the hotel’s parking garage. I now have the greatest respect for them as they took it all in their stride without making a fuss. Off they went to the bike shop, bought two new bikes and got on the road.

The rest of us set off on a beautiful ride through the countryside with numerous stops for coffee and pastries. Although fairly cold, it was an enjoyable day out on the road. Needless to say that when Evlyn and Alf arrived at the campsite on their new bikes, it was to great applause for their strength of character and the way they handled the whole situation. A good few bottles of red wine were consumed, partly due to the cold and partly to celebrate the new bikes. At 3 Euros a bottle, we felt no guilt in opening a bottle or two.


9 June 2011
Val de Meuse – Plombieres-les-Bains
88km

I was reluctant to get out of my warm sleeping bag as it was still bitterly cold in the morning. The sun threatened to come out from time to time but to no avail. At lunch we had some awesome cheese and bread (something there is quite a good variety of in France).

Plombieres turned out to be a fascinating place with narrow straight-up houses built on the mountain side and known for its thermal baths. After a cup of coffee in the village we cycled the 2 km uphill to our campsite and reached it just in time before the rain came down.


10 June 2011
Plombieres-les-Bains – Munster
86km

We left our campsite in freezing cold weather and sped downhill into the misty valleys of France, past vineyards and quaint villages. One long climb brought us to a ski resort (fortunately it’s summer) where we had lunch and coffee in one of the coffee shops. We sped downhill for about 18km to the small village of Munster where we arrived with frozen fingers and toes. Two people in our group got half-lost but fortunately found their way back onto the right road again.

We arrived at our campsite fairly early and had enough time to wonder through the streets of Munster, eyeing the storks nesting on the rooftops. At camp we (once again) had an excellent supper, accompanied by loads of local wine.

11 June 2011
Munster, France – Freiburg, Germany
68km

Shortly after breakfast I set off with Alf and Evlyn on a beautiful ride past stunning villages. A short ride brought us to the Rheine River, where we crossed into Germany and immediately found a cycle path. We cycled along through farmlands and the difference in architecture was immediately visible.

Our hotel in Freiburg turned out to be very fancy. I was rather ill-prepared for such a fancy place and I tend to feel half claustrophobic in a room where one can’t open the windows. That comes from living in a tent for too long - I can’t even enjoy the good life anymore. I shared a room with Alice (from Canada) who turned out to be a very strong cyclist. She did not however feel well at all and was in bed very early that night and had no problems with the claustrophobic room.

CYCLING EUROPE

CYCLING EUROPE

An unexpected turn of events sent me to Europe. Usually my route takes me on a continuous path from country to country. I was very excited to make the major leap from South America to Europe. My struggle for a Schengen visa forced me to book myself onto an organised tour. I was therefore in the fortunate position of being able to cycle with a group of cyclists for an entire month!! Not only would I be lucky enough to have my panniers transported and food provided, but I would also have loads of company. There’s always a first time for everything!

1 June 2011

I was itching to get back on the bike. A whole month of doing zilch except eating, drinking and smoking had made me very restless. I was ready to zoot off to Paris where I would meet the rest of the cycling group.

I hurriedly piled all my worldly possessions into a single bag (except for the bike, of course). I’m quite convinced that I must be one of a very small group of people: those who can fit into one bag all their earthly riches. I was getting slightly nervous. The company I was going to be cycling with clearly stated that we could only bring 2 x 90 litre bags. All my stuff fits into one bag (mainly because I only have one bag). That made me wonder what the heck the other people were taking?? I guessed I would find out soon enough what should have been in those bags! Damn that bag was heavy! OK, maybe I should have taken two bags…

I said my final goodbyes and was in bed early, ready for my early morning wake up call and flight to Paris

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