A hat-trick of capital cities in 7 days – Vienna to Budapest
25 October, 2010 6 Comments
It’s been an interesting last week on the bikes as we’ve been moving further east and cycled through three previously unvisited countries and capital cities.
First up was Vienna, Austria. We had a great couple of days staying with Stef and Angela who treated us to a few episodes of the new series of the Inbetweeners and an array of savage home brewed shots.
Whilst in Vienna we realised that when we’d arranged a date a few weeks ago to meet Bex’s family in Budapest, we’d been slightly over cautious – we now had eleven days to cycle approximately 350km (even going slowly, five days is more than enough). Still, this situation was infinitely preferable to our last attempt at arranging a rendezvous, which left us with 3 days to cycle 400km. Our forecasting skills clearly need some refining…
With clean clothes, a dry tent and fresh legs we cycled out of Vienna down the trusty Danube, entered Slovakia, and crossed the river into capital number two, Bratislava. We wanted to take the following day off to look around the city, but we found out that the campsite had closed for winter the previous day. As a result, we ‘treated’ ourselves to a bunk bed in a six man dorm in a hostel at a budget-destroying £14 per night – the first time we’d paid for a roof over our heads and our most expensive accommodation yet. The hostel actually turned out to be quite nice, and the discovery of a Tesco ‘hipermarket’ next door combined with the hostel kitchen even meant we could be slightly more adventurous for our evening meal than another round of pasta slurry.
Bratislava has a small but attractive old town, with lots of small cobbled streets, cafes and restaurants to attract the tourists. Thankfully the beer is getting cheaper as we get progressively further east (we’re down to just over £1 a pint now), which means it’s beginning to come into the range of our limited budget.
Our body clocks were still on camping mode (sleep at sunset, wake at sunrise), which coincidently was the exact opposite of our two Aussie roommates who were partying hard and living a nocturnal life. A pair of earplugs ensured I had a perfect night’s kip, although they probably thought we were losers for going to bed before midnight.
As you can see on our route map, we only dipped into Slovakia for a few kilometres either side of Bratislava, so shortly after leaving we’d crossed the border into Hungary. By the way, border crossing so far have been far from momentous – if it wasn’t for a wonky sign we’d never have known we’d left Slovakia!
Immediately it began feeling a bit more Eastern European after the weeks spent in Germany and Austria, although this was enhanced by the fact that we were in a rural farming area. Run-down tractors were as common as cars, and signposts forbid bikes, tractors and horse-drawn carts from using the busiest roads. We got a cheery wave as we overtook a renegade farmer in his horse and cart, feet up and smoking whilst ignoring the rules and taking his chances on the A road.
Later that day we were cooking dinner under a tree in a rainy campsite when the owner took pity on us and invited us into his nice warm house. We were given some lethal spirits from an unlabelled bottle and, as he spoke no English and us no Hungarian, tried to explain our journey using school boy German and gesturing. After forcing down the last of the drink (it took a huge effort not to gurn horribly) a beer appeared, and I settled down in front of the fire with Champion’s League football on the TV. Inexplicably, Bex decided that a wet tent was preferable to this slice of heaven and made her excuses.
We arrived in Budapest (capital number three) on Thursday and have spent the last few days exploring the city with the help of our host, Jani, and giving our bikes some much needed maintenance – the ‘bike routes’ in Hungary have taken us down some very muddy tracks, and as a result our bikes were caked in mud after the first day!
The subtle differences noticed whilst cycling through Hungary have confirmed how much I’m looking forward to visiting countries that are completely different to the western world that I know. A large part of the reason for choosing New Zealand as our target was that we would have to pass through a wide variety of different cultures to get there. However, Germany and Austria were great for cycle touring and the perfect way for novices like us to begin the journey, as the similarities with England far outnumber the differences.