Around the world by bike
(605km - 8days)
23 June - 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 - 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.
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 - 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 looking forward to two days of rest and sightseeing in Vienna.
26 -28 June - 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.
28 June - 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 had 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 - 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.
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
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.