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From Passau to Budapest

Since we last blogged, we’ve travelled around 700kms and have been followed by what seems to be an ever increasing army of ants and other insects; and they are growing! Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting the insects of Europe and Africa to lay down the red carpet for us but they do seem to be getting more and more tenacious as we venture further from home.  Take this morning when I went to brush my teeth; I opened the toothpaste to find not one, but around 50 ants who had made home for the night in the lid of the brush, it bemused me how on earth they all got in there! Then there was the giant wasp. I know I can potentially, from time to time, be prone to exaggerating a little but it was seriously big – at least the size of my little finger and it had its eyes on our breakfast yesterday morning which meant James sat down and ignored it and I pranced around like I was dancing on hot coals for the next 15 minutes.

Oh, and it has been HOT. The thermometer has been averaging over 40 degrees Celsius in the sun most days – today we left the bikes in the sunshine for 10 minutes while we stopped for an ice cream which was half melted because even the freezers can’t cope with the heat and it had reach 48.9 Celsius.

Heat aside, what a week we have had! This was always going to be the fun 10 days with the Danube flowing through Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest – and only around 400km between them all, you can’t go too far wrong!

The road through Austria took us from Passau (and the drunk students) to a city called Linz, which boasts a big church and lots of pretty cobbled streets, not so fun on a really heavy bike. Actually, if you speak to those who have stayed longer, it is packed full of cool stuff and some great museums. It was Sunday when we arrived and in Europe this means that everything is closed, apparently that also means that campsite staff can’t be bothered to work so we enjoyed a free night at a small campsite just outside the town. Here we bumped into an Italian family from Trento we have seen at a few campsites now. They were travelling for two weeks as a family across Germany and Austria on their bikes and having a fantastic time. The father came and spoke to us telling us how much they had been enjoying their trip and how close they had all become, it was rather lovely until he insisted on taking our photo so that he could show all his friends in Italy the crazy English people who are cycling to Africa!

That’s the thing with travelling in the slower lane, you get some time to meet some new and interesting people along the way and share in a little segment of each other’s lives. We’ve met some great people along the way so far, but I know we’ll get to meet even more when the road becomes more remote and people more willing to chat.

From Linz, it was onto Melk, which boasts an even bigger cathedral and is a stop off on the Danube river cruise tour. Luckily (well not really) the ships docked outside our campsite so we were able to use their free wifi to check up on the world. Again, we were treated to another free night due to a lack of staff at campsites, but we weren’t complaining and we made our way to Vienna.

 

Melk Abbey

Melk Abbey

The road to Vienna was another scorcher and a longer cycle with around 130kms on the clock but it was more than worthwhile. On our approach to Vienna we passed by what seemed more like the Costa Brava then Austria. In the summer, the Austrians turn the riverbanks into their own beach resort complete with beach bars, shisha, Greek taverns and lines of cocktail bars each with their own happy hour to shout about. As much as we were gasping for a cool drink we carried onto the city campsite. A thoroughly miserable experience that was. A campsite made for caravans, all the tents were shoved at the back where there is limited space so meant that we were all camped like sardines in the heat. We had hoped to stay with my good friend George and his wife Charlotte however timing was against us and they were out of town.

Thankfully, we were rescued the next morning with the offer to stay with the lovely Wendy, a friend of my friend Catherine who, until recently, lived in Vienna. Wendy took us under her wing for a couple of days and we were treated like royalty and we are extremely thankful.

It was fantastic to meet Wendy, who looked after us so well!

It was fantastic to meet Wendy, who looked after us so well!

Vienna is a must see, I can’t go into detail here about what to see and why, perhaps I’ll write a separate blog at some point but it really is quite magnificent. If you’ve not been before, go visit – but a word of advice, don’t book the Spanish Riding School practice, it is horses practicing how to trot and not much more and if you are into Opera or music, book before you go and don’t get conned into the tourist traps (thankfully we didn’t).

The Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Don't bother paying to watch the 'practice'!

The Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Don’t bother paying to watch the ‘practice’!

From Vienna, onto Bratislava, the home of the stag and hen parties. I am pretty sure that isn’t how they market themselves, but it is a sad reality. The cheap hotels and beer drive them in in their hoards and we were to arrive on a Saturday night. We went to check into our hotel first – welcome to Slovakia. Wow. We decided to stay in a hotel as it would allow us a couple of nights in a bed and for less than a tenner each, it seemed good value in comparison to city camping. Actually, the hotel wasn’t all that bad, it seemed like an old communist army block so was very functional and lacked any soft touches and was on 4 floors, which when you are on the third floor and you have so much heavy kit, not so ideal. I think it was at this point where James decided to fall out with reception. I’m going to leave that story for him to tell, as I can’t see I will do it justice and I wouldn’t want to misinterpret what happened…

Emily's verdict on hotel Turist, Bratislava

Emily’s verdict on hotel Turist, Bratislava

A day to catch up on admin and then we headed into town to see the sites – the old town of Bratislava is beautiful but outside that there is not much so we pedaled 20km out of town to spend the afternoon by a lake. I swam and read a book and James was instantly transformed into a 10 year old as he spent the majority of the afternoon armed with the Go Pro trying to find a snake that had swam across the section of the lake we were sitting at into a pile of reeds. Most amusing to watch.

And then it was into Hungary, our 6th country. We knew pretty much as soon as we had crossed the border as the fantastic Eurovelo 6 bike path that we have been following since the Black Forest in Germany disappeared almost instantly. The signs were there but our managed paths had now become main roads or dirt tracks through forest and woodlands – all good and well on a full suspension mountain bike, not so much on ours. I kept telling myself it was great training for Africa…. but our bikes have taken a battering.

The beautifully-surfaced Euro Velo 6 comes to an abrupt and bumpy end in Hungary!

The beautifully-surfaced Euro Velo 6 comes to an abrupt and bumpy end in Hungary!

We’re back into camping after a few nights in a bed and are back into a good routine. We’ve got a good system going on now and have even managed to get “our” morning admin down from 2 hours to under an hour. Quite miraculous. We feel incredibly lucky to be experiencing so many fantastic sites, many of which we would never usually have chosen to visit, it really is worth going off the beaten track and move outside the tourist traps from time to time and experience life in different countries and cultures. We are still enjoying every moment. It was not an easy decision to come and do this, but I am so glad that we’ve taken the plunge and cannot wait for the next stage where we get more remote and the campsites disappear and we start to fend for ourselves.

Back to Hungary, and we’ve enjoyed our three days cycling through the country so far. We’ve broken the our stay with stopovers in some prominent towns on the Danube (Györ and Esztergom) both with beautiful main squares and Esztergom has an incredible Basilica and castle with original Michelangelo artwork.

Hungary-8

About 40km outside Budapest we stopped in a small village to get a drink when we were approached by a man, Peter who had seen the London2CapeTown logos on our cycling Shirts and wanted to find out more about our trip. It wasn’t before long that we were whisked off to his family home where we were treated to some watermelon and home made lemonade with Peter and his family. Such kindness is rare in this world, just imagine someone in London stopping a stranger on the street and offering them a cup of tea. It’s how life used to be and should be – Peter, thank you for your hospitality and we hope we can welcome your family in London one day in the future.

Meeting Peter and family near Tahitótfalu, Hungary

Meeting Peter and family near Tahitótfalu, Hungary

We finally made it to Budapest around 5pm and it was well worth a long few days in the heat to get here. The view of the Parliament building on arrival is truly exquisite and quite frankly jaw dropping. We’d been weaving in and out of industrial roads with no views and suddenly we turned a corner and could see the view of the city from the corner of our eyes. Wow. Not often a view will take your breath away but this one did.

Beautiful views as we arrived in Budapest!

Beautiful views as we arrived in Budapest!

As soon as we arrived we managed to check our bikes into a shop for a quick service to check nothing major was wrong – the wheels were a bit wonky so we gathered into the poor mechanic’s workshop to try to watch what he was doing to straighten them up. Not sure they appreciated us hovering over them while they serviced our bikes, but I think we picked up a few new tricks! Other than being a bit wonky, they seemed ok and have been checked over and tightened up and good to go on to Istanbul.

For now, we have two days in Budapest and cannot wait to get exploring.


If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post, please donate to World Bicycle Relief. Every penny goes to the great work the charity does in Africa – not to fund our expedition in any way.

Austria

Life on the Danube

Germany is a country I knew very little about before leaving home, and it’s not heavily marketed to us Brits so we don’t tend to visit much. I had visited Munich and a small place called Friedrichshafen on the Swiss border a few times for work but other than that, if I am honest, it has never been a country on my “must-see” list. For this reason, I was both intrigued and excited about the prospect of spending 10 days cycling through the Black Forest and along the Danube River – to see some of the Germany had I been missing.

We instantly knew we had arrived in Germany when within minutes of crossing the border we bumped into a couple with bikes laden with VAUDE panniers heading to the bike paths – we were going to fit in here just fine. In fact we have been the envy of many of our fellow cycle tourers when they see all of our great VAUDE kit – we’ve been stopped a few times now!

Our first few days in Germany were beautiful but hilly. I’m not sure Germany got the memo on mountain road switchbacks that we all dream about cycling (or driving) up and gradients frequented 20-25% making for tough going when you are carrying your worldly possessions with you – at times my heart was beating so fast I wondered if it might leap right out of my chest onto the road in front of me!

For those who may be interested, the Danube is the second longest river in Europe and flows around 2,800km. The river originates in Donaueschingen in the Black Forest of Germany and travels to the Black Sea in Hungary. Once a main frontier of the Roman Empire, the river is the lifeline to 10 countries from central to Eastern Europe. We have been tracking it for 10 days now and it has not failed to impress.

The source of the Danube (Donauquelle) is an underground spring that is incased in a well outside a German stately home in Donaueschingen. We went to take a look but, but it sadly was undergoing repair work. However, we took a moment to reflect beside the water that would be our route marker for around 2,500km. We were unsure what to expect ahead but we were excited to get going.

James and Emily at the Donauquelle: the source of the Danube

James and Emily at the Donauquelle: the source of the Danube

From here we left the concrete jungle and the path took us off road, on mainly well-managed gravel paths through a simply breathtaking gorge, steeped in Geological history. Once upon a time I would have been able to tell you more about the surroundings but long-term memory fails me, my Geography teachers will be most unimpressed. We could not stop smiling as we made our way along the river along with the other cycle tourers on their summer holidays.

Biking the Danube

Cycling down the beautiful Danube Gorge

Quick pit stop in a town called Sigmaringen was our first taste of the beautiful towns that lay ahead, we celebrated with pizza and a beer before heading back to our campsite.

From here we headed to a town called Ulm where we were due to spend a day. Much to my excitement, it was also one of the only towns along the Danube in Germany that does not have a campsite and so, by the time we realised we’d overshot the Youth Hostel by 5km, we were forced to stay in a hotel for a night. A mattress meant my first proper night’s sleep since Alsace and it was pure bliss.

Actually enjoying a German meal

Actually enjoying a German meal

Ulm is a stunning 12th century town on the riverbank full of hidden gems around every corner and, apparently, it has the tallest church spire in Europe. It was certainly impressive; walking around the town felt more like I was in an Italian town than a German one – why had I never heard of this place? More was to follow with the next few towns we passed – all should go onto a holiday visit list – Donauworth, Inglostadt and the most impressive of them all, Regensburg.

We’ve slowed down a bit since France to allow us to enjoy the surroundings – we don’t want to miss anything – cycling for 4-6 hours a day instead of 8-10 hours has made a real difference. It does not, however, take away some excellent moments that only tiredness can produce such as James getting on his bike backwards and me loosing my sunglasses for a good 10 minutes before finding them on my head.

Regensburg is the oldest town in Germany and the old capital of Bavaria. We checked into a campsite for a couple of nights so that we could spend a day looking around the town. Being in the centre of Bavaria means that a can of beer costs around 40p…around half the price of a can of coke so as my Grandpa would have said, “It would be dangerous not to” so we enjoyed a few beers and cooked a feast at the campsite enjoying a lie in the following morning before heading into town.

Regensburg

Regensburg

Naturally, being a rest day, it rained nearly all day, but that did not take anything away from how incredibly beautiful Regensburg is. If you are into shopping, this is the place to go (Dad I suggest you get Mummy to skip this paragraph) as it is fully of boutique clothes, furniture and household shops as far as the eye can see and squares around every corner with cafés and restaurants. The cathedral was a highlight, dating back to pre 1100; it is home to world famous medieval stained glass windows dating back to 1230.

We are currently around 60kms (and one puncture) further along the river in another charming town called Strau

Ahead of the storm

bing; again home to a beautiful church and an idyllic walled town centre with cobbled streets lined with cafés.

Before you ask – no, sadly we are not wining and dining in all these towns, budgets do not allow but it has been a complete privilege to travel through them and experience their beauty with a packed lunch!

We have been camping on and off for nearly 3 weeks now and are now into a routine. James has nearly managed to work out how to pack his panniers in under two hours every morning while I have time to dismantle the tent, have a shower and do my nails 😉 and it was with much excitement that 5 nights ago we finally worked out how to put our tent up properly. We have been enjoying some good sleep and making the most of German campsites with hot showers and fresh water while it lasts, we are fully aware that before long these luxuries will disappear.

So, naturally, being the man James in in charge of fire and map reading (for those who know me well, you will all agree that both these things are good responsibilities for me not to have, otherwise we would have burnt down the tent and be cycling towards Norway). I am mainly responsible for the kitchen duties, chopping vegetables and washing up, relatively safe, and no, I have not cut my fingers off with a knife yet!

It’s safe to say, we are having the time of our lives and loving every minute of this adventure so far, we’ve met some great people along the way already. I don’t think we will ever get tired of seeing people’s expression when they ask how far along the Danube we are going and we tell them we’re cycling it all and then continuing to Cape Town. One of the great things has been meeting so many families out here, all cycling together – with kids as young as 2 years old.

 

Smiles by the Danube

Smiles by the Danube

Germany is as slick and efficient as you might imagine. For the cyclists out there reading this, it comes highly recommended as a place to visit – whether on touring bikes or your road bikes. The national bike paths are incredibly well signposted and take you to some unbelievably beautiful places and nearly every major road has a cycle path alongside it. If you fancy cycling for a week or two without any cars, this is the place to come!

Ahead of the storm

Tomorrow we head about 110km further along to our last stop in Germany, Passau which is meant to be Germany’s answer to Venice to we shall mark our last day in Bavaria with a Stein, a few sausages and some Sauerkraut. After that it’s on to Austria and hope to be in Vienna by next weekend.

Thank you Germany, we can’t wait to come back again some day.


If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post, please donate to World Bicycle Relief. Every penny goes to the great work the charity does in Africa – not to fund our expedition in any way.