To Budapest and a Short Stop

Off again.  As lovely as Vienna is it is great to be on the road again.
Whilst I was aware that the Danube is a very popular route I had never expected quite the number of people touring that we have met. Some days we’ve played leapfrog along the way with other touring cyclists where one or other of us has taken a break whilst the other whizzes past. On some occasions we have arrived at the same campsite for a couple of nights. With one couple we’d both taken time out in Vienna & our paths have just crossed again. This creates a great sense of comradery.  Equally, at times there have been 40 or 50 bikes lined up outside beer gardens or, at a random junction, 30 odd cyclists with many groups consisting of entire families.
Cyclists have entire routes with thorough signage & on one occasion a mirror was placed on a tight corner.  As we have moved on from Germany and Austria the quality of the tracks has deteriorated.  Here in Budapest there are  very few cycle paths around the city.  Mixing with the traffic adds another element to the cycling
As we’ve travelled through the countries I’ve been very interested to see how local people seem to have very long allotment or garden strips.  This has been evident since Germany and maybe earlier on.  Some of these strips have vegetables, fruit bushes or trees much the same as you’d see on a English allotment but many have a variety of different things such as  horses, chickens, ‘country garden’ flowers and shrubs and some a combination of the above.  The strips are quite skinny in comparison to their length so it looks very odd to see a horse, stable,  cart and bail of hay, on this long skinny strip.
On route to Budapest we enjoyed a short day taking a lunch time dip in the Danube and arriving at our campsite, in Esztergom, by 3pm.  Listed in Neale’s guide book as a delightful town we set off to explore the castle on a hill top, numerous churches and the usual cobbled streets.
After two days with some heavy rain & arriving at the campsite in a pretty sodden state, we’ve moved into a hostel for the  next three days that we’ll be spending in Budapest.  This gives us the added security of knowing that our kit is under lock and key and a  chance to dry out.
First impressions of Budapest are that it is awesome.  The Houses of Parliament are stunning.  Budapest is  quite small in comparison to London therefore the museums, grand hotels, monuments etc. are very near each other which has quite an impact, as in every direction you look, there is something stunning to see.
Now we’ve been here for a couple of days and moved off the well trodden tourist route another aspect of the city is coming to the fore.  Many of the back streets, whilst they can have very interesting little shops and eating places (we passed a street market area which was called A Jewish Street Eating Market) there is also a high degree of dilapidation in both the buildings, many needing cosmetic rendering, pointing and general repairs while others need more structural rebuilding, and the roads/paths.
We’ve visited a number of the key tourist sights which have been very splendid and also done a couple of museums and places of interest one of which was the main Jewish synagogue.  This was attached to a museum which outlined the impact of the Holocaust on the Jewish communities in Hungary and how they tried to secure their Jewish historic artefacts and culture through the years of persecution.  This, together with a wall recording the Jews who perished during this period and a memorial tree with every leaf naming a person, were very moving and powerful experiences.  The synagogue, whilst in principle similar to a church, was a very different and magnificent building.
The second museum we visited was about the torture of the Hungarian people during the Second World War and the Russian dictatorship that followed.  Again, this was a very moving and powerful portrayal of the impact it had on Hungary as a nation and the specific impact on citizens, families and communities during these times.

Last Photo-Call for Vienna

Well, that’s it, tomorrow we leave Vienna, albeit one of us will have to rush back by train on th’ appointed day, to collect visas. So, here’s a final photo-roll from Gideon’s pics.

A view of St Peter’s dom, hiding the bits in scaffolding or not cleaned yet.

The Belvedere, we couldn’t quite get to the purpose of; it seems to have been basically a summer house, Hapsburg-style. Compared to many of Franz Joseph’s (later) creations, it is relatively unornate.

These fine fellows’ forefathers must’ve carved a lot of the fine stonework. No call for it today. Instead, they apply a superb level of craftsmanship to Vienna’s pavements (sidewalks). You could’ve played snooker on this patch, I swear they were polishing it. Nothing like Murphy’s “hit it with the back of a shovel’n’run”.

The Kaiser/Emperor was never going to take up cycle-touring. The court was often in travelling mode, but it wasn’t choosing titanium sporks. This is how they packed the candlesticks. Actually, the final decades of the Austro-Hungarian empire did coincide with the invention of bicycle and indeed cycle touring.

Vienna

With a few days to wait we’re appreciating some of the many tourist atractions and fantastic architecture here in Vienna.

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From the streets of Vienna.

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This is our second day of sight seeing. Because Monday is a Bank Holiday we’ll have to do another one.

A Day In Vienna

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The Vienna running club limbering up.

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We had always planned Vienna as a substantial stop, as all embassies are here. Then, in (I think) Deggendorf, we had the most wonderful bit of luck. Clare had got chatting with Monika, a solo cycletourer going the other way, aiming to reach the North Cape over three months. We were able to pass on a few tips about Norway (such as waterproof socks, value of; old post road, steepness of), and helped load maps.me onto Monika’s tablet, as we’d found it great for finding campsites, while not online, which she’d found an issue. Then Monika offered to let us use her flat in Vienna. Wow. Thanks Monika. Much nicer than a pension, and helps a lot with the budget. And helpful neighbours Helga and Andi let us in and set us up.

So: Friday: Get up and work out what to do. Revive visa research memories, and reread recent email from helpful David at Stantours. Started revising schedule based on current performance. Decide first priority is to get Uzbekistan visa. Check process (big form) and embassy opening hours: drat, it shuts at 12, in 30 minutes, no chance. Next opening is Wednesday. We’d better be ready…
Thus, into Vienna for sightseeing, bike repairs, and a few bits.

Bike shop #1, looks promising and quite different from German bike shops. A row of sleek racers fills the front, then MTBs, then utilities. The shop looks like it’s been here for decades, resembles an old fashioned chemist, with cabinets of wooden drawers and a counter. Few parts or glitzy clothing visible, though a glass case holds Campag Record kit, like jewellery. An old gent with fine moustaches comes to the counter, then fetches & presents a drawer containing Shimano dynamo hubs, 36 hole, with alternative axles. Usable at a pinch, but basic models, draggy, heavy and needing different spokes in the spares kit. We demur, and he suggests a few 100m up the street.

Bike shop #2, we hit lucky. It’s a more modern shop, but again, ungermanish, these urban Austrians clearly skip the utility jobs in favour of drop bars and carbon everything (Well, the utilities still fill the streets, but it is a workday). And the staff are expert conversationalists in English. And, bingo!, some of the stock bikes bear SP hubs. So, a new one is ordered, it seems we can get this job done in under a week, even with a bank holiday.

Then onwards, to the bookshop (maps & phrasebooks), and a few clothing refinements. And gawping at the huge array of spectacular buildings of the imperial past. And avoiding being run over by tram or elegant horse-drawn fiacre.

Now, curiously,  after all this frantic activity, we have an enforced long weekend of inactivity. Hmmm.

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There are newspapers and some magazines for sale on street corners.

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Along The Way To Vienna

We’ve reached Vienna.  We had a couple of full on days with headwinds but arrived before the rain set in.

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White horses on the river and a bow wave breaking on the barge.

We have been stunningly fortunate to be able to stay in Monika’s flat near the center of Vienna. Monika is busy cycling to North Cape & very kindly allowed us to use her flat.

The route has been very smooth, staying quite faithfully to the  bank.  This has worked against us in the strong headwinds we have had these last few days as there was no shelter. Some days we could only grind out 15kph or so, and 80km days have been hard work. Sunny & warm though. The penultimate day before Vienna, there were white horses on the river, really a stiff breeze.

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But the last day, weather broke, misty and dull, few drizzly showers, but less wind, and we covered 117km to Vienna without hardship. It tipped down overnight, but we were snug!

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Broadly speaking, as we approached the Austrian border the Danube changed character.  We took a boat trip through the famous “breakthrough” gorge section where every prominent feature was named.

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This rock is called The Maiden.  She looks rather pregnant to me.

The river continued with a narrow passage and steep hills either  side on into Austria where it eventually wiggled round the ‘great meander’ before widening out again, as we progressed further.

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There were many beautiful castles, monasteries & churches high up on the hill tops through this section commanding excellent views of the river, that can be seen from miles away.

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There are a lot of ferries, many taking bikes, well, there are a lot of radfarrers following the radweg.

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The radweg runs on both sides, and one day we took ferries three times, not entirely necessarily. At €2.50 each pp, it made some dent in the daily budget (Which is about €30 each per day).

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We’ve been inside a number of the churches when chilling out in the town centers & they are all very spectacular. The stone carvings much more extensive and, well, floweryer, than in England. We also remarked on the changing styles of church spires.

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Since France really, we have seen little evidence of local rural life. Although we have frequently passed through agricultural land we’ve seen very little activity.  In Austria the crops have changed from arable into orchards and vineyards, although these are in small strips.

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One older man in a leather apron was using a pitchfork to load hay onto a small cart & another was wandering across a good sized field of seedlings with a hoe but I had expected to see much more evidence of more ancient ways of life.  I guess it will come as we travel further east.

Ulm and the Start Of The Danube

My introduction to the  Donau was on a day trip into Ulm.  With the chores done we turned tourist & climbed up the 768 steps to the top of Munster, the largest church tower in the world which had spectacular views of the city, countryside & River Danube. Last year Ulm celebrated 150 years of completion.  Cologne also celebrated the occasion whilst noting the old rivalry saying, congratulations to 150 years & 4 metres.

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Approaching the last of the stairs.

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One of the ancient stain glass windows in the Ulm church.

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View from the Munster (Minster) in Ulm.

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Reflections in the water ways through the old town in Ulm.

Both of us had expected to follow the river quite closely but having cycled many Sustrans routes in the past, where the North Sea Cycle Route goes through York in the UK, we should have known better.

Gid has had a flat tyre, in fact it’s an old one (an instant patch) that has failed after 9 months use, 6 / 1. Gid always gets the punctures, tee hee, but I have killed my down mattress by deflating it when kneeling on it.  A baffle broke & the inner tent looked as if there had been a snow storm.  Gid has also had gear failure on his bike, apart from the on-going shimmy, that dominates his packing proceedure and many hours of cycling, he has had a bearing brake in his front hub.

Along the route and generally scattered around are street dispensers selling inner tubes.  Gid hasn’t needed to purchase one yet!

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As well as the stunning views and numerous castles along the route we are notching up a list of animals we’ve seen.

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So far: far more hares than rabbits, snakes, a slow worm, deer, numerous buzzards that seem to follow tractors like the seagulls in England, to name a few. There is also a frequent cacophony of frog ‘song’.  Once one frog starts they all get going until it eventually quietens back down.