Two beautiful capital cities just 60km apart, and with the prospect of long chats with old friends it was going to be a fantastically relaxed week as I became more of a sightseeing tourist than a cyclist.After cycling 300km in 3 days along the River Danube, Damian and I had arrived the evening before at his house in Bratislava. Well, as you can probably tell from the picture below it wasn’t quite in the centre of Bratislava, more in the hills about 40km to the north of the city. That morning, Damian and his wife Karen, my old boss from the school I worked at in Vietnam, had left the house to go to work whilst I was still asleep.
When I woke the first job after breakfast was to get my washing done as the last time my clothes had seen a washing machine was in Bucharest about 3 weeks earlier.Where Karen and Damian lived was in a beautiful part of Slovakia and with the sun was shining I just sat in the garden and enjoyed my breakfast.
Here is a 1 minute video to how you just how beautiful a spot it is:
Not one to sit on my hands I decided to go for a hike in the forest. I messaged Karen at work to ask for any recommendations and she said that there was a lovely restaurant about 5km away on top of one of the hills that overlooked their house.
That sounded perfect and off I went through the village in search of the track through the forest that my map showed should lead me to the restaurant.For some reason outside one of the village pubs there was a very large concrete headOnce I found the right track I was soon lost in the amazing smells of the forestI was glad that I had left my bike at the house, and hadn’t tried to cycle up to the top of the hill, as in parts it was one hell of a steep climb. There were lots of deer in the forest and as the wind was blowing into my face I was able to get fairly close to them before they twigged I was there and ran.
I wasn’t quick enough to get a good picture of them. The sunbathing snake however was less fastIn fact, I thought it was dead until I gave it’s tail a quick flick and it kind of turned around as if to say ‘may I help you’ before returning to its sunbathing.
It was so nice to be walking through the forest rather than sweating my way up the hills on a bike.
Once I reached the top I found the restaurant that Karen had recommended and went in to get lunch.In this part of the world, Slovakian and German are the predominate languages and as I spoke neither nor the staff english the menus made little sense to me.
The staff suggested a couple of dishes and I went with their recommendation – Cernohorsky RezenAfter enjoying a great lunch I continued my hike through the forest and at about 5pm I followed a stream back down the hill to catch up with Damian and Karen as they returned home from work.They were already home when I got there and that night we had a great night catching up on my trip and what each of us had been doing in the last 3 years since Karen and I had last seen each other.
Dinner was a curry that Karen had cooked for us the night before but as we had been delayed by wind we had arrived so late we hadn’t eatenPersonally, I think that curry always tastes better the following day once everything has had a chance to absorb the flavours and spices.
The next day Karen had left for work and Damian was busy mowing the hillier part of the lawn by the time I got up. For the flatter sections of lawn they have an ‘automatic’ lawn mower. Al week it sits on it’s charger and every Tuesday morning it ‘wakes up’ and starts mowing the lawn to a pre-set pattern.
When the battery gets low it automatically returns to it’s charging station and when charged resumes mowing. A brilliant invention. (Check out this link for more info – automatic lawnmowers) http://www.independent.co.uk/extras/indybest/house-garden/gardening/best-robot-lawn-mowers-review-uk-value-budget-rated-a7672036.html Apparently, for some of them you can even download an app and start it mowing from your phone. What a great invention !!!
While Damian was busy cutting the grass that the automatic mower couldn’t reach my schedule for the day was to go into Bratislava and be a tourist.
After breakfast I walked into the village to catch a bus to the train station in Malacky. The bus stop was opposite a pub, and as I had 20 minutes to kill before the bus arrived I popped in to get a coffeeThey had a Nespreso coffee machine behind the counter but apparently it was only for decoration and they only served beer. Even for me, it was a bit early so I gave it a miss and went and sat and waited for the bus.
It arrived on time, and 15 minutes later I was at the train station. I bought my ticket and had a 40 minute wait so walked into the town to get a coffeeThe train arrived on time and was a modern double decker type rather than the 1950’s rolling stock that Damian and I had caught out of Bratislava a couple of days beforePersonally, I preferred the other train but for locals who have to regularly travel on the trains I’m sure they preferred this one.
40 minutes later I arrived in Bratislava and it was time to be a tourist. First thing to do was to try and work out how the local transport worked. I asked at the station and the staff told me to buy a day ticket from the yellow machine outsideFor just 1.50 GBP I now had unlimited bus and tram travel anywhere in the city.
From the train station there were two trams which run and even though I wasn’t sure where they went I just jumped on the first one that arrived figuring that with a population of arounfd just 400,000 Bratislava wasn’t that big.I never made it very far as no sooner were we away from the station, like a Magpie, I saw something ‘shiny’ and jumped off the tram at the next stop.
This was the Grassalkovich Palace and the residence of the president of Slovakia. The gates were locked though so not sure if there are times when you can visit the palace or not.
I jumped another tram and was once again soon off itThe building was an 18th century Baroque style church and the ‘antique’ bus in front was a tourist bus which would take you on a guided tour of the city.
From here I could see Bratislava’s main tourist draw sitting proudly on top of the hill – Bratislava CastleInstead of walking I decided to see if I could get there by tram and so jumped a tram that seemed to be heading in the right direction.It started out okay as the tram started to climb the hill towards the castle but instead of continuing up to the entrance of the castle it went through a tunnel underneath it.
When the tram reappeared on the other side of the hill and I got off at the first stop I was now much further away than when I had started.
I crossed over the tram line and caught the next tram back through the tunnel to the stop that I had been at 10 minutes earlierThere was only one thing for it, to stop being lazy and walk.
Where I started walking from was within the old fortified part of the city. The easiest way to get to the castle was out of the west entrance gate
Today, there is a walkway over the busy duel carriageway that gives you a perfect view of the old fortificationsOnce over the footbridge I was at the base of the castle and there was a short climb through narrow streets and up a series of steps to the castle walls
The castle has a long and distinguished history and the hill top that it sits had been inhabited since the stoneage.
In the 16th Century, the castle became the seat of Hungarian Monarchs, and under the reign of Maria Teresa the castle was transformed into a baroque residence.
In 1811, the castle was burnt down, and it was only in 1953 that the construction of the present castle building began.
Today, the castle building houses the Slovak National Museum, and I must say the view of it \ from the outside was far more impressive than its inner courtyard. Maybe it’s just me, but it looked like a block of flats!!!
Once I saw the beautiful uninterrupted views over the city and River Danube I could see why the hilltop had been inhabited for so long.
There were plenty of beautiful statues in the manicured grounds of the castle
After wandering around I hiked back down the hill and went for a walk around the old city.
I had last visited Bratislava nearly 10 years ago with Deirbhle, and if anything it was looking even more beautiful now
The one place that I passed on my walk that I really wanted to give a try but was closed was a virtual reality barI have never seen one before and it would have been so much fun if it had of been open. As it was closed I went for a beer insteadThat evening I had arranged to meet up with Karen and Damian at a restaurant in the city for dinner, and so at 6pm I headed back into the very centre of old town to where the bars and restaurants were located
Joining us for dinner was Paul who was an old colleague from they lived in China. He had just flown in for an interview at the school in Bucharest where Karen was now principal.
After another great evening of beer, food and chat (forgot to take any pics) Karen drove us back out to their house in Pernek.
The next day, I once again had the house to myself as everybody had gone to school by the time I surfaced. This was to be my last day in Slovakia as my plan was to cross the border into Austria and to cycle to Vienna the following morning.
As I had now cycled nearly 1500km through Europe since I last stripped the bike down my plan for the day was to take my bike apart and give everything a good greasing.
First, I washed the bikeThen degreased it to get rid of all the built up ‘muck’The easiest way to degrease a bike is apparently with petrol. Derek, one of the warmshowers hosts that I stayed with in New Zealand, owned a bike shop and he showed me that you don’t need to buy expensive cans of degreaser when all you need is a few sponges and a can of petrol.
Once I had degreased and cleaned the mech, chain and derailleur it was time to strip the brakes and cables. Once the whole bike was clean, everything got a good oiling.
Hopefully, this would be the last service before I reached my final destination in Venice Italy in a few weeks’ time.
With nothing else to do, I cracked open a beer and went and sat in the garden and waited for the guys to come back from work.
That night we went down to the local pub for a couple of beers and a bite to eat.
We gave the nose on the ‘head’ a quick tickle on our way inInside was slightly more traditionaland the food was really good (the fourth person in the picture above is Paul who was also staying at the house)It was another great night and it had been fantastic seeing Karen again.
I just wish that I could have stayed longer but the next day it was time to get back on the bike and cycle for the border with Austria. In this part of the country the River Morava forms the border between Austria and Slovakia. Even though, the river was only about 20km from Pernek there was no bridge across the river.
The nearest crossing point was in the town of Devinska Nova Ves, and so that morning when I left Pernek I headed back through the forest in search of the bridge.By the time I reached Devinska Nova Ves the weather had taken a turn for the worse and I could feel the first drops of rain
The bridge across the river was only for pedestrians and bikes
Cars would have to drive the extra 15km into Bratislava and cross the River Danube before being able to drive into Austria.
As both Austria and Slovakia are both ‘Schengan’ countries (see my previous Budapest to Bratislava post for explanation) PUT LINK then there was no border control.
Thankfully, the rain that had started to fall soon stopped and I was soon enjoying my ride through the Austrian countryside.
As I said, my destination that day was Vienna, Austria’s capital city, and as it was only 50km from the border it was going to be an easy day on the bike.
As it was going to be a short day on the bike I soon pulled over for a coffee.When I set off again it seemed from the signs that I was passing that in Austria there was a plethora of cycle paths to choose fromAs there was so much choice I just cycled west without really following any one track.
The quickest way would have been to follow the Eurovelo 6 (the bike path that we had cycled on for part of the ride from Budapest to Bratislava).As it once again just followed the levees along the River Danube I tried to avoid it for more fun alternatives.
As long as the track was heading west I didn’t care.
Along the way there were a number of beautiful palaces and castles to stop at, like the beautiful Habsburg Palace
Sadly, this was the closest that I got to it as now I was out of Eastern Europe and in cycling through Austria every place that I tried to visit on my way to Vienna had an entry fee of between 10 and 15 GBP.
As that is roughly my daily budget for this trip I couldn’t see myself visiting many castles during my ride through Austria.
Still, the beautiful scenery along the tracks I was following certainly made up for it
Around lunchtime I pulled over at a café for a beer and my first taste of Austrian food
Refreshed, it was time to finish the short ride to Vienna and headed back to find the River Danube
I needed to get to the historical centre of Vienna and as it lay on the other side of the river my first job was to find a way across. From the map, it looked like my best option was to continue on the EV6 all the way into the city and use one of the 4 main bridges to cross.
As I cycled back next to the river I saw a floating cycle bridge that wasn’t on my mapThis would do but instead of taking me all the way across the river it only took me half way as once I had crossed I soon came to another river and it was then that I realised that I was actually on an island in the middle of the river.
Up ahead I could see a flood barrier and damand when I reached it there was a cycle path over the top of it, which I used to finish my crossing of the river.
Now that I was cycling on the exposed banks of the river the wind was doing it’s best to slow me down so I used the numerous cyclists along the path as wind breaksAs I didn’t have a SIM card for Austria just before I reached the historic centre I stopped at a hotelto use their wifi to and sent Cate and Pete, who I would be staying with in Vienna, a message to let them know I was about 20 minutes away.
As Cate and Pete’s flat was just to the west of the historic centre the ride there was pretty stunning
Like Karen and Damian, Cate and Pete were both ex-colleagues from the school I worked at in Vietnam before starting this cycle ride. Cate had worked in the same department as me, and Pete was a Design and Technology teacher. They had left before me and it was 5 years since I had last seen them. It was great to see them again after so long.
I had arrived on a Thursday, and as they had work the next morning that night we just went out to a bar near to their flat to get a couple of beers and a bite to eat.
The next day while they were at work I cycled my way around what is probably one of the most picturesque cities in the world.
As the city has a fantastic network of cycle paths I just spent the day aimlessly cycling around without any real plan
All of the city is not old and in among the beautiful architecture have been woven buildings with a more youthful and funky feel.
The day literally flew past and before I knew it it was 6pm and time to cycle back to the flat to meet up with Pete and Cate.
As they didn’t have to work the next day that night we walked into the old part of the city and went to a few bars before going for dinner Cate and Pete were soon to depart Vienna for pastures new as they both have new jobs in Hong Kong. As they only have a couple of weeks left before their move they were up early the next day to go to the ‘flea’ markets to see if anything took their fancy. (Pete is a bit of collector of World War 2 memorabilia)
By the time they came back just before midday I was still getting myself sorted and so once I had showered we walked into the city for a coffeeI then cycled off with the plan of visiting parts of the city that I had not visited the day before.
At 5ish I cycled back to their flat. As I would be leaving in the morning that night Cate cooked at home, and for the rest of the evening we just sat around chatting. A fantastic end to my mini ‘British International School’ staff tour!!!
The next morning when I cycled out of Vienna I had exactly one month left on the bike. My plan for the final 4 weeks was to cycle south through Austria and into Slovenia. After visiting beautiful Ljubljana I would continue riding south where I would finish my year on the bike in Venice, Italy.