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.
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.
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).
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.