It was now time to follow the River Danube from Budapest to Bratislava – 3 days, 300km, and with Richard and Damian along for the ride it was going to be a fantastic adventure.After 5 days cycling around Lake Balaton in Hungary I caught a train back to the capital, Budapest, where I was meeting up with Damian, an ex-colleague from the school that I had worked in Vietnam.
Damian and his wife Karen, my old boss, lived in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. The plan was that Damian had taken a train to Budapest and after spending the night in Budapest we would cycle the 300km back to Bratislava along the River Danube.
It felt a bit strange to be back at Budapest train station as this is where I had arrived with Andy and Eoghan nearly a week before.Once I had found Damian we cycled out to where another ex-colleague from Vietnam, my old head teacher, Richard lived. We were going to stay the night at his house before setting off for Bratislava the following morning. Richard would then join us on the road on Saturday as he still had to work.
Richard lived on the opposite side of the river, the Buda side, and from the train station it was about a 12km cycle.
Once I had met up with Damian and we set off two things happened in quick succession; the first was that we both nearly got mowed down by an idiot driving a drinks truck and the second was that Damian got a puncture.
This didn’t bode well as we hadn’t even cycled a kilometer from the station. The puncture though gave me the chance to chase down the driver of the drinks truck to give him a piece of my mind. It took me two red lights to catch him but I did, and I gave him a piece of my mind !!!
When I cycled back to find Damian it wasn’t too hard to find the puncture in the inner tube as his tube had blown with a hole you could stick your little finger in.
There was no repairing that, and as he had forgot to pack any spare tubes I gave him the only one I carry. This left us without any spares, so we went in search of a Decathlon store that the map showed was a couple of kilometers away.
Every cloud has a silver lining and the ride gave me a chance to see a part of the city that I had not seen beforeOnce we had tubes it was time to cross the river and finish the ride out to Richard’s house.Richard had said that he lived at the top of a hill and he certainly wasn’t lying. It was time for the granny gear for the last 10 minutes of the day.It was great to see Richard and Catherine as I hadn’t seen them since they left Vietnam 3 years earlier. That night they had booked a table for dinner in central Budapest, and as Damian and I were now running very late there was just time for a quick shower before heading back into the city.
As it was a Thursday evening Richard and Catherine both had to work in the morning. Damian and I were on our holidays so as they headed home after dinner we hit the bars of downtown BudapestThe following photos are a bit dark but we had a great night
It was very late when we eventually crawled back to Richards and when we eventually got our stuff together the next morning it was gone 11am by the time we set off for Bratislava.
The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day to be on the bikeAfter about 5km of cycling through woodland we had a first view of the river that we would be following west for the next 300km The first town that we came across, and Richard had suggested that we stop for breakfast, was Szentendre.
As I was on a bit of a budget we skipped the cafés and headed to the supermarket where we bought a picnic lunch and a huge slab of ribs.It was then time to get back to the river and continue our journey east.Along the River there is a marked path called the Eurovelo 6 (EV6) which starts at the Atlantic Ocean in France and after 4500km finishes at the Black Sea in Romania. Along the section of the River Danube that we were following there were ferries that transport you from one side of the river to the other.The official EV6 jumps from one side of the river to the other but as we knew that all we had to do was follow the River Danube upstream to Bratislava we sometimes followed the EV6 and sometimes ‘freestyled’. (the freestyling was far more fun….)
The first town of note that was on our’ itinerary’ was Vac and as it was on the other side of the river we had to catch a ferry across to it
Once off the ferry we cycled into the centre of the town
Vac was a picture perfect sort of town
Damian had had his bike serviced before coming to meet me but his disc brakes were playing up (personal motto – never ride with something on the bike you can’t fix with a hammer…) and so when he went off in search of a bike shop I had a picnic lunch in the main square.After meeting back up with Damian an hour later with his disc brakes now sorted (they grinded down the pads) we decided to stay on that side of the river and catch another boat back across further up river.The next stop on our ‘itineary’ was Visegrad with it’s 13th century castle sitting proudly above the town.
As it was on the other side of the river to us we needed to catch a ferry across. The only problem was that when we checked the timetable the ferries only ran hourly and we had just missed one. This meant an hours wait and then waiting for the ferry back.
We decided that as it was getting late that we would give it a miss and continue upstream.
We now had company on the track as I had got talking with a local rider from BudapestHe had caught a ferry from Budapest to Vac and was out for a bit of a climb in the steep hills which surround this section of the River Danube before cycling back to Budapest.
Our cycling in comparison was flat as a pancake and following the EV6 was ‘champagne’ cycling at its best – no hills, a great track to follow and lots of places to stop for a coffee or a beer.
I still refuse to buy drinkng water and as was now pretty low our new friend showed us a spring that he knew that was only a kilometer from the river.
After filling up and saying our goodbyes we returned to the river and cycled to the next ferry crossing point as we needed to get to the town of Esztergom that night as we were meeting Richard there the following morning.
Hopefully, the ferry would be running as this was our last chance of getting across the river. If it was not then we would not be meeting Richard the following day !!!!
As luck had it when we reached the ferry it was running and we only had a 30 minute wait. With time on our hands we grabbed a quick beer before the tug captain arrived to take us across the river.The ferry was essentially a floating platform with a tug attached to push us across the river. Damian took advantage of the crossing to stock up his protein levels with a can of kippersAs we crossed the Danube looked beautiful as the sun began to set over itOnce we were on the right side of the river to meet Richard we still had another hours riding before reaching the town of Esztergom.
On this side of the Danube the EV6 was on the road for most of the way but thankfully the traffic was light.
As we neared the Esztergom we could clearly see a monument that was on a hilltop overlooking the town. We decided to cycle there to see what it was.
It was a pretty steep climb from the river but worth it once we got there
The ‘monument was a Basilica that stood nearly 100m high. You really had to stand at the foot of the building to understand the scale of it.The 8 columns at the front were 40m high and even the front door was a good 15 metres The statues in the foyer were just as tall
As luck would have it ithe Basilica was still open and when we entered it really was a magnificent sight.
Once we had visited the inside it was time to see the view of the river from behind the Basilica.
What a stunning way to arrive in a town.
To celebrate there was only one thing to do – cycle back down to the river, find a couple of deck chairs, and enjoy a cold beer as the sun set. Once we watched the sun go down over the river it was time to find the campsite that we had arranged to meet Richard at the following morning.
It wasn’t too hard to find and for the princely sum of 8 GBP we had electricity to charge our phones, a hot shower and peace and quiet.One of the above was not quite correct, as when we were checking in the guy behind reception said that there were 100 teenagers staying at the campsite who were on a school trip.
It seemed that we had arrived on ‘disco’ night as we were greeted by a loud techno beat that seemed to reverberate around the campground. Needless to say, we camped as far away from their end of the site as we could !!!
Once we had showered we cycled back into the town centre in search of food and dinner that night was a pizza in a local eatery.
When we got back to the campsite the music was still going strong and before starting this cycle journey around the world it may have bothered me (just ask my wife), but after enduring campsites in Argentina I’m a bit more tolerant and was soon snoring away.
The next morning Damian was up early, the first night in a tent is always a bit of an experience, and he cycled into town in search of breakfast and a coffee. I’m more of a tortoise in the morning and when he came back I was just getting myself together.
Richard arrived at just before 9am (we had cycled all day around a huge loop in the River and to get to Esztergom he had driven for an hour….)
Richard left his car at the camp ground and would catch the train back the following day to collect it. It was now time for the 3 amigos to cycle back to the River Danube and follow it further west.On this side of the river the EV6 follows the road and so the first couple of hours were not very scenic to say the least.
When we reached the town of Labatlan we stopped for a snack and to weigh up our optionsMy map showed that there was a ferry across the river and so we cycled to the ferry station The schedule on the gate showed that there was not another ferry for an hour and a half, but for 30 euro there was an intercom where we could get the boat to come and get us and take us across.
We decided that for 10 euro each to get across the River Danube that this was the best option and pressed the intercom. The only problem was that nobody answered so we gave up. Our only option was to get back on the main road.On main roads it is always best to separate as to pass 3 cyclists with panniers cycling in a row is difficult for cars/trucks so before setting off on the main road we had arranged to stop and regroup 15km away at the town of Dunaalmas
As we were on the main road it was time trail time, and I put my head down and went for it.
Once I reached the town I stopped outside a café to wait for the lads, and as the small hand on the clock was now past midday it was officially beer timeIt was then time to look at the route again as cycling along the main road was no funMy map showed another river crossing up ahead so when we left the café we continued along the main road and cycled there.
When we arrived there was a ferry platform, but no ferry. We asked the locals at a nearby café if the ferry was running. Andreu said that the ferry had stopped a couple of years ago, and now the platform was used solely by cruise boats that travelled up and down the river.
She said that one of her friends, Jozes, was a cyclist and called him over to give us some routing advice. He was wearing a cycling t-shirt and when I explained what I was doing he ran off and 5 minutes later came back with a t-shirt for me.
A fantastic gesture.
While discussing route advice the good news was that 10km away at the town of Tata there was a medieval festival going on which we would now cycle to.
The bad news was that on this side of the river the EV6 just followed the main road for the next 50km. We would have to come up with a plan B after visiting Tata.
As we cycled back to the main road we passed a thermal stream that was bubbling up out of the groundThe water was crystal clear, but like at Heviz thermal lake a few days before it had a slight sulphurous smell to it.
Once we were back on the main road we only had a couple of kilometres before we could get off the highway and pick up a track that wound it’s way next to a stream and took us the 10km to Tata.
It was so nice to be away from the main road
Cycling through fields of Poppies is always specialAs we reached the outskirts of Tata Richard noticed that he had a slow puncture, but instead of changing it he pumped it up which would get him the last kilometer into.
The stop gave the lads a chance to practice either their synchronized crop circle making or their version of Swan Lake, not sure which one though !!!Once we reached Tata we stopped at a supermarket and Damian and I went in to buy a picnic lunch while Richard changed his tube.
When we came out, Richard, like any good school principal, had found somebody else to do the work for him. The only problem was that the guy was the local wino, and he had obviously already had a few !!!!
To be fair to Richard, I think that the guy was more of a hindrance than a help but he couldn’t get rid of him.
Once he had finished we all set off in unison to get into the medieval festival, or I thought we did.
The entrance was just across the street from the supermarket but when I arrived the lads were nowhere to be seen. I gave them 5 minutes and without them reappearing I phoned Richard.
It turned out that when we set off they had lost sight of me and then seen a ‘guy’ in a blue t-shirt cycling off into the distance. They gave chase but when they caught the ‘guy’ up it was a woman cycling her shopping back to her house !!!
Once we had met up again we paid the fee for the entrance and crossed the moat into the Medieval Festival, which was based in the grounds of castle with a lake.
As it was now past lunchtime the first job was to get some food and so we found a place to park the bikes to eat our picnic.
Damian and Richard had smelt the food at one of the stallsAnd decided to have a hot lunch instead.
I was happy with the picnicIt was then time to have a look around the festival.
There were lots of people dressed up ‘acting’ their part in making it a traditional festival
This person was probably the best that I saw
Apart from the traditional craftsmen an area had been set aside where kids were able to play traditional gamesNo electricity or internet connection needed to keep the kids entertained here.
There was lots of snacking options available, some more ‘traditional’ than others
Perhaps the most impressive were the ‘Hungarian chimneys’ (or ‘Slovakian chimneys’ depending on which country you are from)Their actual name is Kurtoskalacs and since when cooked fresh the steaming cake, in the shape of a truncated cone, has steam coming out of it then it resembles a smoking chimney. (watch video below for better idea of what I mean)
There was also an area set apart where timetabled battles were re-enacted but the next one was just getting ready to start when we were leavingHere is a 3 minute video to give you a better idea of the amazing atmosphere at the medieval festival:
As we were going to be heading back into the forest Damian nearly bought himself some protection just in case we encountered a bear on the way home.
After a great couple of hours at the festival it was time for a quick coffee to get the blood pumpingbefore it was time to get back on the bikes and continue out cycle west.Instead of cycling back to the main road and continuing along the EV6 my map showed that there were tracks that we could follow that kept us away from the highway. Although, from the map I knew the tracks were there I never actually know what they will be like until I start cycling them. Sometimes they are in good condition other times not, but that is the adventure of tour cycling.
It was time to go and find out and hey, even if they were shockingly bad, then it would still be better than cycling on the road.
We picked the tracks up on the outskirts of the town and they at first took us across farmers fields
Before taking us through areas of woodland
And then back to farmers’ fields
This was tour cycling at its best – never knowing what was around the corner with no roads to follow or traffic to fight with.
I think that the wino who had helped Richard fix his puncture earlier had definitely been a hindrance as he was soon fixing another oneThe tracks eventually led us to the town of Komarom where we stopped for a well-earned ice cream and a coffee.
At Komarom there is a bridge across the River Danube into Slovakia, but we had already booked a hotel for the night on this side of the river in Hungary at a town another 25km away.
We could either get there on the main road or keep using tracks. No choice really, so when we set off we were once again following tracks.
On the way out of Komarom we tried to visit its castle but it was sadly closed for a ‘facelift’ Once we hit the tracks it was back to more adventure riding
This was where we came to our only road block of the day – an unbridged river crossing that hadn’t been used for a while.When cycling off road, rivers seeing a river on a map is always a gamble and I try to avoid them when following tracks as often there is no way across apart from wading, or even swimming across, carrying your bike.
If we didn’t cross the river we would need to detour for a good 10km so I took my shoes and socks off and started to cross. As I reached the middle although the water was shallow the mud was deep and getting deeper. (and it really stank).
If I had been on my own I would have pushed on through, but the lads weren’t looking too convinced so I turned back and we looked for another way across the river.
We followed the river for another kilometer to see if there was a crossing further upIt looked like his one we could have crossed but looking at the map the track on the other side would not have taken us in the direction we needed to go, so given that we didn’t want to endure the mud we had to detour around the river back to the main highway.
Still, the lads were smiling (just)It was now starting to get dark and once we reached the main road the cars were zipping along at easily in excess of 70kmph. Not ideal, so we headed back into the farmers fields and followed tracks parallel to the roadEverybody was very quiet which meant one thing – the energy levels were starting to flag.
It was time for a ‘magic pill’ Banana sandwiches – take 1 bread roll and 1 banana and you have the best energy boost imaginable.
This would get us over the last 16km which was probably my moto for the day as it didn’t matter where we were that day as the next stop always seemed to be 16km away.
Richard had now passed 100km for the day, and despite his ‘bottom’ issues (watch the 1 minute video below), he was still smilingFor a guy who didn’t regularly cycle completing a +100km road, especially as most of it was off road, was a fantastic achievement.
As darkness fell we reached the town of Gonyu and thought that we had found the hotel we had booked. We had the right place, and although the doors were open we couldn’t find anybody inside, and the hotel looked like it was shut down.
I had booked the hotel over the phone the night before as this way if we didn’t manage to get this far then we wouldn’t of had to pay for the hotel like we would if we had booked it online.
I phoned the number that I had for the owner and it turned out that they had two places in Gonyu – a restaurant and hotel on the main street and this place by the river that they opened only during summer months.
The owner, Daniel, offered to come and pick us up but as we had our bikes it would be easier to cycle the extra couple of kilometers to the other hotel and restaurant.
Once we arrived, we put our bikes in their shed for the night and then there was only one thing to doAfter some great food and another couple of beers it was time for bed.The next morning it was time for us to say goodbye to Richard as he was cycling to Gyor, to catch a train back to his car, and Damian and I were continuing our ride towards Bratislava.
Looking at the map it looked like we would need to ride with Richard all the way to Gyor before we reached a bridge where we could cross the River Danube into Slovakia.
Over breakfast Damian had spoken with the owner and he had phoned a friend who could give us a lift in his boat across the river.This would save us a 20km detour to Gyor.
Overnight there had been a huge storm, full of thunder and lightning, but that morning when we set off the sun was shining and the sky was blueAfter 5km it was time to say our goodbyes Richard was continuing down the cycle path towards Gyor to catch a train back to his carwhile Damian and I cycled into the woods in search of the River Danube and hopefully a fisherman with a boat
We took the right track and came out on the bank of the river where the fisherman was sat in his boat in the middle of the river waiting for us to appearWhen he saw us he shouted over and came to pick us up The guy was a very happy chap and even though he only seemed to have 1 tooth left in his mouth he was very ‘smiley’.
Once the bikes were on board we set off for the other side of the river
This was a much easier way to cross the riverThe short boat ride had saved us a good 20km detour and we were now on a long thin island in the middle of the River Danube. All we had to do was to follow the island west until we came to a bridge which would take us across into Slovakia.
There was a sealed road, and this would have been the fastest way, but the wind was howling and so we decided to take tracks where there were trees to try and protect us from the wind
We eventually found the bridge crossing but there didn’t seem to be anyway to get upto the road from where we were in the forestWe pushed on through the thick vegetationUntil we found a set of stairs that we could use to get onto the bridge
This was the border crossing between Hungary and SlovakiaAnd as we cycled to the other side of the bridge we entered SlovakiaThere were no border controls between the two countries as both are ‘Schengen’ countries.
The Schengen Agreement, signed in 1985, covers 26 European countries and operates very much like a single state for international travel purposes with no internal border controls, only external ones for travellers entering and exiting the area.
Now Damian was back on ‘home turf’ he could speak the language which made communication much easier.
After a quick coffee stop it was time to cycle the last 80km along the banks of the River Danube to Bratislava. Like when we left Budapest on day 1, this should have been another ‘champagne’ riding day – no hills, smooth paths as we followed the curves of the river west.
We set off along the levees which line the river to stop it flooding
The only problem was that the wind was blowing hard from the north, and without any tree cover on this side of the river we were getting battered.
Where we would normally be able to roll along at nearly 20kmph we were finding it really tough to get into double figures the wind was that strong.
After 10km we came to a hydro-electric dam which also acted as a way to cross the river back to the other side We now had to look at other options as cycling along the exposed top of the levee for the next 70km was not going to be any fun given the strength of the wind. Our options were to eithercross the river to the other side and cross back again at Bratislava, or to stay on this side but get off the banks of the river.
Looking at the map there were tracks on our side of the river that ran pretty much parallel to the river but more inland so we opted to take these. Now that we had trees to our right it gave us some protection from the windWhere the trees ran out we were back to cycling at 8kmphAs it was approaching lunchtime we stopped in the best names town that I have come across so far on this tripWhat a great name for a town.
As it was Sunday, all of the shops in the village were closed and the only bar, sad to say, never quite fulfilled its billing as it seemed more of a football pub than anything else. They also didn’t serve food but at least they had beer.Damian was doing his best Slovakian bar tender face as they never seemed to smile.
After a refreshing pint and a pack of nuts we pressed on as 15km further up the river there was a larger town where we should be able to get something to eat.
For most of this section we were forced to ride along the tops of the leveeswhich was energy sapping, and we were sooooo happy to finally make it to the town of Samorin where we found a place to eatThe restaurant was part of a hotel complex
And as the lunch crowd had left we largely had the place to ourselves. We got the best waiter, in a funny kind of way, – think Basel Fawlty being rude to his customers in the programme Fawlty Towers).
Still, my Slovakian goulash and dumplings was really tastyPerhaps not the most ideal food for lunch when I had to get back on the bike, but as we were literally just grinding our way into the wind I was happy for the extra energy.
When we left Samorin we had just over 20km left to pedal and for the most part we were able to stay among the tress and get out of the windAs we reached the outskirts of Bratislava we followed the railway line into the cityAnd after nearly 9 hours of cycling into the wind to cover just over 100km we finally made it into central Budapest to enjoy a pint at one of the many bars which line the side of the River Danube.
Now this was a much better way to enjoy the view of the river.
To give you a better idea of our cycling journey from Budapest to Bratislava here is a video I shot along the way:
Our day’s cycling was not over though as Damian needed to get back home as he had work in the morning. Where he lived with his wife Karen, another of my old bosses, was in a village called Pernek As it was about a 3 hour cycle north of Bratislava at the foot of the mountains our plan was to catch a train for 40km to the town of Malacky and then cycle the last 10km to their house.
After enjoying a few pints, well if you watched the video you will see that I did at least, we cycled to the train station to catch a trainThere were 2 types of train which run on this line – new modern double decker carriages, or more romantic rolling stock from the 1950’s which still had 6 seat cabin type seating. Our train was the second type, and as it didn’t have any spaces for bikes we had no option but to completely block the corridor with our bikes. Once we reached Malacky it was a quick 10km dash through the forest to their house where Karen was waiting for us (forgot to take a pic so here is one I took a couple of days later in their local pub)The last 3 days had been brilliant cycling as we covered the 300km from Budapest to Bratislava along the River Danube. It had been a fantastic ride with great company, and now that we had finally reached Bratislava I would be putting my feet up for a few days and doing a bit of sightseeing.