Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Day 73 Turkey 30/11/2010, Istanbul. Had to take a ferry to find the sights today!

The parcel is on its way, my little sis has been a star getting it organised for us, thanks Elsa. We may be able to get back on the road by the end of the week. Anyone sensing that we are running out of things to do is probably correct, but we need to wait for the parcel containing Matt's new credit card and some decent maps of Syria, Jordan and Egypt. We have discovered that outside of Western Europe you will struggle to get anything other than a tourist road map.

Decided to go to Kadikoy today and the Asian side of Istanbul. According to the guidebook there is a huge Tuesday market and a very well respected produce market.


The ferry ride to Kadikoy was good with excellent views of the city and at 1.75TL (about 40p) very cheap. After getting our bearings we found the produce market which although good didn't seem as large as the guide book suggested. Nevertheless the fish, olives, fruit and vegetables, cheeses and meats on offer all looked lovely.

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From the produce market we headed towards the Tuesday market site only to discover a car park and the back of Fenerbahçe football stadium. We re-checked our directions but to no avail, the market was not there.

Somewhat dejectedly we went back to the produce market, bought some food, had a çay in a nearby café and then went back to the ferry.

A bit of research later and I discovered that the market moved in 2008 to a new site out of the town centre. Bearing in mind that the Lonely Planet guide we are using was updated in April 2010, you might think that they would have corrected their information. I guess they rely on people telling them though, so perhaps I better get on the case!


While Debs had a rest, I had a stroll along the waterfront and had several entertaining conversations with friendly Turkish men (carpet sellers) who all thought that what we really needed was a nice Persian rug to go with our tent. Unsatisfied with the answer that I couldn't carry it or wouldn't be going home for a while, they all kindly offered to ship it home for me (at my expense obviously). Interestingly none of them seemed that interested in actually showing me a carpet. Clearly they are so confident in their sale skills that there is no need for me to actually see the product.

Tried a different kebab restaurant for variety last night, I am starting to miss cooking on the stove!

Day 72 Turkey 29/11/2010, Istanbul. Still finding sights to see!

We loosely followed a 'Lonely Planet' walking tour today through the mosques and markets. Starting at the Grand Bazaar we continued through to the book bazaar and then on to Süleymaniye Mosque (my personal favourite of the Istanbul Mosques) via Istanbul University. Unfortunately due to a restoration project going on, the gardens of Süleymaniye mosque are currently closed. Still it was nice to see again.

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Following on from the mosque we had çay (tea) at Lale Bahçesi Cafe and then headed down the hill towards the spice bazaar and docks.


The Christmas stalls were in abundance, so Debs got some tinsel for her bike. Although I had to draw the line at the huge inflatable Father Christmas!

Back at the docks I had one of Istanbul's food institutions, the 'fish sandwich' cooked freshly on the very ornate and very rocky boats. Anti-fish eater Debs looked on in disgust. I couldn't even tempt her with some very sticky doughnuts for desert.

A quick visit to Yeni Cami (new mosque) capped off a pretty full day.

Oops forgot to mention the kebabs we had for dinner!

Monday, 29 November 2010

Day 71 Turkey 28/11/2010, Istanbul. Yet more sight seeing!

Headed to the enormous Topkapi Palace today and spent a pleasant few hours wandering round the beautifully decorated rooms. The amount and size of the jewels on display in the treasure rooms are quite staggering, especially the 86 carat 'Spoonmaker's diamond'; so called because it was originally found on a rubbish dump and purchased by a pedlar for three spoons. Maybe all those people who hang around the local tips are on to something!

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While in the palace we also went into the Harem which was very beautiful. It is a shame though that they don't include it in the entrance price of the palace, although it does make it quieter.

We spent the rest of the day visiting the Blue Mosque and you guessed it, dining on kebabs!
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Sunday, 28 November 2010

Day 70 Turkey 27/11/2010 Istanbul. Still seeing the sights.

Decided to just amble and take in the sights today. We went inside the beautiful Basilica Cistern and had a look at the carved Medusa head columns.

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Afterwards we spent some time in the park outside of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, where we had a frankly horrible corn on the cob each. By the amount of half eaten ones in the bin near us, we were not alone!

Perhaps you can spot a pattern here, but dinner definitely involved some kind of kebab!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Day 69 Turkey 26/11/2010, Istanbul. Seeing the sights.

Decided to put the disappointment of the Syrian visas behind us today and get down to some sightseeing.

As the skies weren't too overcast we decided to go up the Galata tower for a panoramic view of Istanbul.


The tower is one of the oldest in the world although it has been rebuilt several times. Amazingly they had the technology to install a lift, cafeteria and a night club. Which goes some way to explaining the somewhat steep entrance fee of 10TL (£5). Still the view was nice.

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Crossing over the Galata bridge, we watched the throngs of fisherman all vying for the best spot and headed onwards towards the spice bazaar.

The spice bazaar is our favourite market in Istanbul; the stalls are lined with piles of every spice and herb imaginable. Plus there was a man with a cat on his hat, what more could you ask!

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Dinner as you can probably imagined involved a kebab!

Friday, 26 November 2010

Day 68 Turkey 25/11/2010, Istanbul. Could be here for a while!

The hunt for a Syrian visa continued and this time concluded with failure. The Consulate are only allowed to issue visas for Turkish nationals, so we have no choice but to chance it at the border. Of course we could have found this out yesterday, if they hadn't ignored us when all I wanted to do was ask a question!

Slightly dejectedly we headed back into the city, had a welcome coffee and then went to walk round the very touristy Grand Bazaar.


We met up with Justin and Emma in the evening and had a good evening chatting over a few beers and some delicious mezes in the Flower passage area just off Istiklal street. We will hopefully meet up again before we leave.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Day 67 Turkey, 24/11/2010 Istanbul. Just hanging out in Istanbul while we regroup and wait for some important post.

The hunt for a Syrian Visa began and ended abruptly when we arrived just after the Consulate's 2 hour long working day ended! Of course they were still there but unable to answer any questions. Oh well we got a form at least, just a shame it was such a long walk. Spent the rest of the day ambling down Istiklal street (Istanbul's main shopping and eating street) and the roads around Sultanahmet.


Contacted Justin and Emma from rolling-tales.com to see if they fancied meeting for a drink. They are wintering in Istanbul before setting off again on their travels in April. Hopefully we can get some insider information on cycling in Turkey!

Dined heartily on a Tavuk şiş (chicken kebab) washed down with an Efes or two!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Day 65 & 66 Serbia/Bulgaria & eventually Turkey 22/11/2010 & 23/11/2010. A very long train journey and a little bit of cycling!

Still unsure how we were going to get our bikes on the train to Turkey, we thought it prudent to get to the station very early. The train was already on the platform when we arrived at just after 7am in the rain. The first problem that we could see was that there wasn't a guards van. After asking a few people who we thought were conductors, we were eventually pointed to a Turkish attendant who introduced himself as Izmir. In somewhat broken English he explained that we would be able to put the bikes in one of the sleeping cars but we would have to pay for two more couchettes (hope this is spelt correctly the computer has suggested courgette, which I am fairly certain is not what we had to buy. Although it was very early!).

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Parting with $30, which was swiftly pocketed, we had our bikes safely stowed away and were shown to the next door cabin. According to Izmir all we had to be concerned about was whether the Serbian or Bulgarian conductors would want some money as well! It is very true what we had been told 'in Serbia nothing is possible until money is shown and then everything is possible'; this holds true in most of eastern Europe it seems.

The journey to Istanbul was due to take 23hrs and as the train left the platform at walking pace we could see why. Within a few kilometres we had got up to a gentle jog, just in time to pull into the next station! Slowly but surely we did pick up speed and wended our way towards the Serbian/Bulgarian border.

Never having crossed a border by train we weren't sure what to expect. First we stopped and had our passports inspected by the Serbian officials. Then Bulgarian customs came on board and set about, with the help of a screwdriver and some brute force, taking the train apart. Mysteriously they never searched any luggage, so I would guess if you are a smuggler, hiding it there is the way to go! It should be noted that although keen to take things apart, they seemed less inclined to put anything back together. It was with a slightly more dismantled train that we passed through the Bulgarian border bound for Sofia.

Shortly before we arrived in Sofia we had another ticket inspection and were suddenly confronted with demands for a ticket for our bicycles. Bearing in mind that it is impossible to buy a ticket for a bicycle in Serbia, where we were supposed to get one from was anyone's guess! With some help from Izmir, €10 was mentioned as was Sofia and the conductors left. Unsure whether this meant we had to go and buy a ticket in Sofia or that we needed to just give them €10, we decided to put it out of our minds for the time being. At least us and the bikes were still on the train, for now!

Having researched the train a bit before we booked we knew that there would be no dining car on board. This seems something of an oversight on a 23hr journey. Fortunately as we were forewarned we had brought quite a lot of food with us, nevertheless we were glad to arrive in Sofia with a bit of time to spare. A cold drink and some more water certainly wouldn't go amiss.

We should have known that the friendly attendant who showed us where to change money and get snacks from was only after cash. Fortunately the small amount I did give him was enough for him to point us back in the direction of our train. Which was just as well, as while we had been gone it had moved and looked somehow different. Climbing on board what was clearly a different carriage we had a moment of panic that our bikes and gear had disappeared off into the night! Fortunately after some confusion, we found out that the train had been joined by some Bulgarian sleeper carriages, which in the dark we had confused for our own. Feeling a little bit foolish and more than a touch relieved, we found the correct carriage and were reunited with our bikes and gear.

Settling back down in our compartment for some sleep before we reached the Turkish border at approx 1:30am, we were rudely awaken by yet another ticket inspection. This time I had my €10 ready for the bikes and to our surprise we were issued with a ticket. What wasn't so encouraging was that it was only issued for the stage until the Turkish border. We could be going through the whole thing again in the next few hours.

Sleep overcame us and we eventually arrived at the border nearer 3am instead of the scheduled 1:30am. The Turkish customs man was a lot more jovial than his Eastern European counterparts and only wanted to know what we had in all our bags. When I told him clothes, sleeping bags and a tent, he seemed amused and wished us 'good roads'. All we had to do now was get off the train, buy our visa and queue up to get it stamped.

Back on the train any thoughts of sleep were ended by another passport inspection before we were allowed to get under way. We had made it into Turkey, all we needed to do now was get some rest before we arrived in Istanbul.

Before leaving Belgrade Debs had read that this journey often took nearer 30hrs and after all of the customs delays we can see why. We arrived at Sirkeci station in Istanbul at 11am, three hours later than scheduled, which according to Izmir was not too bad.

Unloading took a bit of time, but we were soon packed up and out into the madness of the Istanbul traffic. With a combination of riding, pushing and a lot of navigational assistance we made it to our first choice hotel. We then had one of those moments when we wished we had booked. The hotel was dearer than we had seen it advertised for and they only had a room for two days. The hunt for a hotel would have to continue, which is not so much fun on steep, narrow, traffic clogged streets with heavy bikes.

By a bit of luck we managed to find the area that we had stayed in last time we were here. Trying several hotels, the first available room we found was €40 a night which was more than we wanted to pay. Running out of options we tried a nearby hostel and were shown a more reasonable €30 a night room. The problem was that it was not that nice, plus it was on the fourth floor.

Continuing the search, we were called over by a hotelier as we passed his hotel and offered a much nicer room than we had seen at the hostel for €30. The shower is unfortunately rubbish, but the room is comfortable and we can call it home for the next week while we plan our next move.

We did venture out for a while that afternoon and get some food and a beer (well it would have been rude not to!). But the rest of the day was all about catching up on sleep from the train journey.

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Sunday, 21 November 2010

Day 64 Serbia 21/11/2010 Belgrade. All on foot.

We both woke up with heavy heads this morning. Just as well we didn't really have any plans other than sorting photos, blogs and gear.

We did venture out for a while and the walk did us good as did the coffee and lunchtime baguette.
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All we have to do now is somehow stash all our gear so we can carry it on to the train!

Assuming all goes to plan, today will be our last full day in Europe. Asia here we come!!

Day 63 Serbia 20/11/2010 Belgrade All on foot.

For a while now we have been discussing the weather and the cost of staying in Europe and considering our options for getting to Turkey. The weather has been very kind to us so far, but we are aware that winter is fast approaching. With possibly about 1000km still to go and some unavoidable hills to get through, we have decided to investigate the train from Belgrade to Istanbul. It would be great to finish the Danube route and the next 150kms are supposed to be very pretty. However possibly jeopardising the trip further down the line for the sake of a bit of Europe would be a shame. We do after all have a very long way still to go and we have already covered over 3000kms through Europe.

Asking at the international ticket office we hit our first potential snag, taking the bikes on the train was going to be down to the conductor. Buying tickets when you don't know if you can take the bikes is a bit of a gamble. Trying again at the 'Wasteels' travel agency, we got a rather more positive answer. The woman seemed to think that we would be able to take the bikes, but Serbian rail doesn't have a ticket for such a thing. It would be up to the Conductor how much it would cost to take them. She seemed to think possibly €10, we left the station with much to think about.

Heading back into the city we strolled through what is the most western city, in terms of shops and facilities, we have encountered since leaving Vienna. The majority of the plentiful book shops have a well stocked English section and there are cafés and restaurants everywhere.

Perhaps it is just that we have visited so many cities, but Belgrade doesn't really appear to have that much to offer in sights.

The Fortress and surrounding Kalemegdan park is very pleasant, but we could think of several other cities that are nicer. I think Belgrade is one of those places that are more about the friendliness of the people aswell as the bar and restaurant culture. It also appears to have a huge amount of clubs and a thriving night life.

During our walk round the Kalemegdan park we made the decision to buy the train tickets to Istanbul. It will be sad to say goodbye to Europe but it seems like the right time to leave. We will worry about the bikes on Monday morning when we get on the train!

Tickets in hand we stopped at the supermarket, got some food for dinner, the obligatory huge bottle of beer and went back to the hostel.

After dinner we got talking to the other hostel guests and consumed rather a lot of beer and šljivovica (plum brandy) in the company of a nice bunch of people. We also had one of those small world moments when it turned out that one of the guests, Paul, comes from Norwich!

Later still, we all left the Hostel (Debs wisely went to bed) in search of bars and clubs. Finding all of the bars closed and not fancying the clubs I had a rather extended tour of Belgrade with two of the others. We eventually got back to the hostel sometime around 2:30am no more inebriated but better for the walk.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Day 62 Serbia 19/11/2010 Novi Sad – Sremski Karlovci – Indija – Belgrade. 48.7miles/78.83km, 4hr38minutes, Av 10.8mph.

Terrific! First it was Debs feeling unwell and this morning it was me. Obviously my man flu was far worse than anything she had been suffering from! The decision to take the shorter road route rather than the meandering Eurovelo route was sounding like a good one.

Our first stop along the road was the very pretty Sremski Karlovci, home of Serbia's oldest grammar school and an attractive main square.
Of course all this attractiveness was wasted on grumpy me. Finding out that my rear light had decided to fall apart along the way als
o didn't help.

Leaving the town we encountered our first hill for a long time. The 8% gradient may have not been that great but it continued steadily upwards for 6km. While taking a rest on the hill we looked back down at the traffic and spotted a fully laden cyclist coming up! This was the first cycle tourer we had seen since we left. Stopping to say hello, we met Julian from England and found out he wasn't alone. We were soon joined by Sash, also from England and travelling with Julian, and Matthias from France, who they had met along the way.

Julian and Sash are heading for Kathmandu and have a very entertaining blog which I have put a link to in the 'my blog list'

If we made a bit of a spectacle with just the two of us, heaven knows what the locals thought when there was five of us riding in convoy! The beeping of horns and waves continued, Serbia is a really friendly place.

With about 25km left to Belgrade we waved goodbye to the others and continued on our way. We will try and meet up in Belgrade for a beer, but if we don't good luck on your travels lads, we will follow your blog with interest.

The last 20 kilometres was spent in heavy traffic and the urban sprawl of Belgrade. When we finally picked up a cycle route along the river it was with some relief. All we had to do then was locate the hostel with no map! While it was great to meet some other cyclists, all of the chatting had put us a bit behind for the day. Even by 3pm the light was starting to fade so we wanted to get to the hostel as quickly as possible.

The only directions we had were from the main train station which we couldn't find. The fact that our street names were in the Roman alphabet and all the signs were in Cyrillic certainly didn't help. After asking a few people we were pointed in roughly the right direction which we followed, only to get lost again! Giving up on finding the station, we asked a woman if she knew where St Mark's church was, which we knew was close to the hostel. In a moment of kindness she explained that she knew where it was but couldn't explain how to get there, so she led us through the streets eventually coming out directly opposite 'Hostel Manga'. Without her help we would have struggled to get there so we are both very grateful.

The hostel seems really nice and the staff are very friendly and helpful. I had started to feel better during the day, but the traffic, noise and pollution had made me feel a bit rough again so it was good to have a shower and a rest. Exploring Belgrade today was off the agenda, instead we settled for dinner and an early night.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Day 61 Serbia 18/11/2010 Novi Sad. All on foot.

Having seen quite a lot of the city centre yesterday, we had an early breakfast and set off across the Danube to have a look around the Petrovaradin fortress. Perhaps we shouldn't have left quite so early as the whole city was shrouded in mist, so much so that the Danube was almost entirely obscured. Nevertheless we continued on across the Danube and up the slope to the Fortress grounds.

The Fortress was built between 1692 and 1790 and covers an area of 112 hectares. For those in the know it is also the venue for the 'Exit' music festival, which is probably worth a visit. I cant think of another festival held in such an interesting venue. We can only assume that they put up lots of safety barriers as there are lots of places for a cheerfully drunk person to fall off and into the river.

The main buildings within the upper level of the fortress include a hotel, a museum, several art galleries and apparently some overpriced restaurants. Of the more interesting sights are the clock tower that has its hands reversed (the hour hand is the larger) so that fishermen could tell the time from the Danube and a heavily painted tree stump near the art studios. As the morning mist lifted we finally got a view across the river and the headed back to the city, passing through the old streets that make up the Petrovaradin side of the river.

Feeling like we had just about exhausted the sights of Novi Sad, we bought some groceries from the market and spent the rest of the day resting.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Day 60 Serbia 17/11/2010 Bač–Tovariševo–Čelarevo–Futog–Novi Sad. 41.72miles/67.61km, 3hr27minutes, Av 12.1mph.

With no breakfast on offer in the hotel, we had food in our room and then set off for Novi Sad. Today was to be another trip along the now much busier main road.

Passing through the village of Tovariševo we were surprised to see an old aeroplane nestled beside a supermarket and a kids play area. Doing some research later it turns out it belonged to a pilot, Mileta Protic, who was born in the village. I am sorry to say that although it looks familiar I am at a loss to what kind of aircraft it was. If you take a look at the flickr pictures and happen to know what it is, I will put it in the description.

Back on the road we received several more waves, greetings and friendly horn blasts. Possibly the odd not so friendly ones as well. We are pleased to say that it is the same here as it is at home, the flasher the car the less space you give to cyclists when you pass. We can understand when there is traffic coming the other way, but when the road ahead is clear what's the problem with giving a bit more space. I am now convinced that BMW and Mercedes drivers especially, are compensating for something!

The closer we got to Novi Sad the heavier the traffic got and with it came fumes that made us feel quite nauseous. Among the worst offenders appear to be the buses that seem to pass in a cloud of exhaust fumes. I don't imagine the huge amount of dilapidated Yugos are particularly green either. Still it certainly isn't on a par with India!

Just as we entered Futog we passed the 3000km mark and stopped for the obligatory photo.
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It is amazing how far we have come, but somewhat daunting how far we still have to go.

We have christened Futog 'Cabbage town' as everyone seemed to have huge trailers full of cabbages parked outside their houses. The whole place had a cabbagey aroma about it, who it was that was going to buy all of them is anybodies guess. You would think that at least one of them would have branched out into carrots or something!

Out of nowhere a cycle path appeared and we said a fond farewell to the busy road for almost all the way into Novi Sad. Using the trusty city guide I had picked up in Bač we navigated our way first time, to the Hostel. Without the map it could have been difficult as our Eurovelo maps aren't exactly brilliant for city navigation.

At the hostel we were greeted by a rather large Newfoundland dog called Boba, who immediately took a liking to biting the backside of Debs' cycling pants. So much so that the Hostel owner had to come and rescue her. I would have helped but I am afraid I was laughing too much! The dog seemed strangely nippy for a Newfoundland, but then we found out that it is still only a puppy. A puppy that weighs 47kg (as much as our laden bikes!) that is.

With Debs safely in the house we were checked into our lovely room. The 'Hostel Podbara' is more like a home stay and we are currently the only ones here.

While having the paperwork done for our stay we learned what could have been a costly lesson. When you enter Serbia you are supposed to register with the police within 12 hours; this is done automatically when you stay in a hotel/guest-house. You are handed a piece of paper which is your confirmation of stay when you get your passport back. You have to keep at least one of these to show to the officials or be subject to a large fine upon leaving the country. You are also supposed to keep one handy if a policeman stops you. This was all news to us! Thank goodness our host spoke excellent English and explained it to us. I guess if we had free camped all the while, we would never have known and had to pay the fine.

After a shower and a rest, we went to have a look at the city. The hostel was a short 10 minute walk from the heart of the old town, where just about everything there is to see is housed. Fortunately Ivana our host had given us a map and some idea of the sights, because the tourist office once again proved to be useless. We are beginning to suspect that Serbia doesn't get a huge amount of western tourists.
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After having a look at the Cathedral, Serbian Orthodox Church and very attractive town square we went to see if we could locate a restaurant that had been recommended for later. Navigation around the city is aided because it is in quite a compact area, but made tricky by the fact that some of the street names are only in Cyrillic script. With some guesswork and Debs' excellent map reading skills we found the restaurant and then decided to head back to the hostel for a rest before dinner.

The rain that had been forecast for the day started as we ventured out for dinner. Rather foolishly we decided it would pass and left our waterproofs back at the hostel. It was two very wet people who turned up at the restaurant and two wetter people who went in search of a different restaurant when we didn't like the look of the first. Perhaps we should have stayed where we were, because Hotel/Restaurant Fontana was rubbish. Almost inedible over seasoned food and an indifferent waiter. Plus the beer was the same price for a small one as we had been paying for a large. We ate up and paid the bill in as much of a hurry as we could bearing in mind the inattentiveness of the waiter. Grabbing a huge bottle of beer for the princely sum of £1.60 from a shop we decided to head back to the Hostel and give up on a night on the town.

More sightseeing tomorrow!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Day 59 Serbia 16/11/2010 Sombor–Doroslovo–Odžaci–Bač. 33.10miles/53.6km, 2hr53minutes, Av 11.4mph.

Debs managed to eat a bit of dinner last night and had some breakfast this morning, so is on the road to recovery. Rather than put in a long day straight to Novi Sad, we decided to break the journey in two to give Debs a greater chance of getting better.

With thanks to google maps we navigated our way out of Sombor with ease along the A18(?) Our intention was to again take the road route rather than make a 20km detour back to the Danube. The traffic was not too bad although there did seem to be a huge amount of lorries on the road. Most drivers gave us a wide berth, but the odd one or two seemed to pass very close. The police made a habit of beeping at us as they drove past, hopefully in a friendly way. We had a discussion as we rode along as to whether you could beep your horn in a variety of manners and decided that you could!

Making good progress and with a not so tired Debs we arrived in Bač at about 12:30pm. All we had to do now was find a hotel, which proved remarkably difficult for such a small town. Firstly the tourist office was closed and then twice we were pointed in the direction of the hotel and still couldn't find it. If only we had realised that it would have no sign and you had to go into a restaurant to ask about a room then it would have been simple. Using my almost non existent Serbian and a trusty phrase book we managed to check into what turned out to be a really nice room. All we had to do was get our bikes into the lobby. There then followed, what I am ashamed to say, was a moment of male competitiveness. After the hotelier grabbed Debs' fully laden bike and lifted it up the flight of steps and into the lobby, I had no choice but to follow suit. It was a case of 'step aside Debs man stuff is occurring'. I would like it noted that I came out as the alpha male as my laden bike is heavier!

While Debs rested I went for a walk around the town. The tourist office was now open and although they didn't have a map, I did manage to pick up an out of date guide to Novi Sad. Getting directions to the Fort, I set off to have a look around, passing the remains of an old Turkish hammam (baths) on the way. Although mainly ruins the fort was well worth a look as was the rest of the town. I don't imagine many tourists stop here, but it is certainly worth an afternoon of anyone’s time.

After my sightseeing I went to get some supplies from the most poorly stocked supermarket we have been to yet. At least they had some beer and yoghurts or it would have been a total waste of time!

For anyone wishing to visit Bač we stayed at the Hotel 'Central Lux', you will know you have found it by the total lack of a sign or any indication that it is a hotel. It also has a 300 seater restaurant (260 of those seats are stacked in the lobby) which at least while we were there was closed.

Heaven knows what we will be doing for dinner tonight, Eastern Europe is definitely an adventure!


Phrase book in hand we went down to the Hotel restaurant which was obviously closed. Using our phrase book we showed the young guy behind the bar/reception that we wanted to go to a restaurant. A brief look of understanding flashed on his face and he called his friend over from the back of the room. We assumed his friend spoke English, this however was not the case. They had a brief conversation, his friend got his coat and we were instructed to follow him. He then set off at break neck speed down the street with two bemused tourists trying to follow behind. When we started to head out of the town, we began to wonder where he was taking us to. Eventually he stopped outside a restaurant shook my hand and rushed back to the hotel. We rather tentatively went inside expecting to have to rely once again on the phrase book. Fortunately the waitress spoke English and we had a very nice meal. Debs recovery continued as she ate loads of dinner for the first time since she fell ill.

Heading back to the hotel at a more leisurely pace, we passed a bar full of what looked like hardened youths all glued to the TV showing 'Spongebob Squarepants'. It rather summed up a fun but strange evening!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Day 58 Hungary/Serbia 15/11/2010 Baja–Nagybaracska–Bački Breg–Bački Monoštor–Sombor. 40.98miles/66.42km, 3hr54minutes, Av 10.5mph.

Debs said that she was feeling a bit better this morning and decided that she would like to try and move on. After breakfast we got loaded up and set off out of the town.

To save Debs some effort and because we were fed up with muddy exposed cycle tracks, we planned to take the main road to the Serbian border. We had already followed route 51 before and although a large road, the traffic hadn't been too bad. The same could definitely be said for today, we only encountered light traffic that mainly gave us a wide berth when overtaking. Funnily enough we received more waves and greetings than we had done when sticking to the Danube route. Perhaps it's because it largely avoids all the villages and towns in this part of Hungary.

Take note Eurovelo organisation, there is no point describing this part of the route thus 'The Danube below Budapest is much less well known to cycle tourists than the Austrian and German sections of the river. Although the countryside is less spectacular, the welcome you will be given in the rural towns and villages is unforgettable. You will see a different facet of a warm and hospitable rural Europe' if you sign post the route to avoid the towns and villages!

Just before the Serbian border we stopped at a petrol station and spent the last of our Hungarian Florins and prepared for our first real border crossing. Our first stamp! Having been so used to pedalling straight through abandoned borders it was quite a novelty to have to stop. It must have been rush hour when we turned up, because we were joined by a local on a bike and a man in a car, all waiting to enter Serbia! I have to confess I floundered a little when the border official asked where we were going to. South Africa sounds like a bit of a silly answer so Debs prompted me to say Turkey. He seemed generally amused either way.

Although clearly very tired and not feeling 100% Debs managed really well. The beautiful weather, no head wind, and flat terrain helped a lot as well.

Our first opinion of Serbia is how friendly everyone is. Most people shouted greetings or waved and the villages and towns seem more bustling than we have seen for a while. Even the roads were good, or at least they were until we opted for the quieter route into Sombor along the Eurovelo 6 route. First we went though a large landfill/fly tipping area and then the road surface started to look like a pot hole that someone put a road through. With an increasingly tired Debs we made it to Bački Monoštor where we stopped for a bit of lunch. The final 15kms into Sombor were fine, the road had improved and Debs had regained a little strength.

Arriving in the town centre at about 1:30pm we set about looking for somewhere to stay. The only information I had was about a pizza restaurant that was also a hotel, where a fellow blogger had stayed. The tourism office proved useless when we eventually found it. I say useless but that would mean I actually got to see someone. The office when I found it via only Cyrillic signs was like the Marie Celeste, although I could hear voices. Perhaps they were hiding in case I asked a difficult question like 'do you have a map'!

Fortunately we were approached by a local gallery owner who spoke excellent English and knew of the pizza hotel. Heading in roughly the right direction we discovered another tourist office and I went in to see if they had a map of the town. A lot of opening of cabinets and shuffling of papers then ensued before I was told that they didn't have a map. They did give me a leaflet of all the restaurants and hotels in the area and point me in the right direction for the Pizzeria/Hotel though. My first Serbian tourist information office experience has been entertaining, if not entirely useful.

We eventually found the hotel and got checked in. After a brief rest and much needed shower I dragged Debs out for a look around the town. We had a pleasant stroll around the pretty and quite vibrant streets. Obviously without a map and information we can't tell you what we actually looked at, but there were some very grand buildings. I preferred the less restored more dilapidated buildings off the main streets though.

With Debs getting tired again we went back to the hotel. Hopefully after some much needed rest and some food she will be back to her old self.

Day 57 Hungary 14/11/2010 Baja Caring for an ill Debs.

Poor Debs was ill all last night, she eventually fell asleep exhausted at about 3am. We had no choice but to stay put today and we will see about tomorrow. She is definitely feeling better and she has been eating which is good news.

I think she has just picked up a 24hr bug or food poisoning, either way it has certainly knocked her for six. Hopefully there will be some more news from the road soon.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Day 56 Hungary 13/11/2010 Kalocsa–Baja. 28.59miles/47.07km, 3hr06minutes, Av 9.1mph quite a bit of pushing was involved!

Drama! Last night I discovered that I had lost one of my credit cards, fortunately not my main account one though. Retracing my steps proved fruitless so I will have to get it cancelled. To make matters more annoying I had used it for the first time yesterday at a nearby ATM. Being Saturday the bank was closed so it may have been handed in, I just couldn't find out. Oh well at least I didn't lose a bike!

Today was our shortest day for a while. We left Kalocsa along the main road and then turned off to rejoin the Danube route. Unfortunately that turn, off the main road, led to a track. That track then led to a swamp, or at least that's what it resembled. Approx 1km of pushing the bikes through mud wasn't the ideal start to the day. Rather amazingly having thought that I had taken us down the wrong road, it turned out that we were on the one marked on the map. Getting back onto the cycle path came as something of a relief, even if it was an unsealed road.

Our old friend the headwind was back although not as strong as yesterday. A supposedly short easy day was rapidly becoming tougher than it should be. For the next 30kms we headed more or less in a straight line south, until we reached Baja.

By the time we got into the town the temperature had risen dramatically and Debs spotted a sign that read 26°C, in November?!

The town was blessed with hotels, so the task of finding somewhere to stay didn't look too arduous. They did all look quite expensive though. Trying the nearest to us the 'Kaiser Hotel' I found reception closed, not a good start as it was about 1pm. Pressing the intercom outside and having to revert to my entirely exhaustible German, I was told to wait 5 minutes. Not sure what I was waiting for I was shortly greeted by a slightly mad German/Hungarian on a bicycle. Still not sure what was happening, he beckoned us to follow him and we set off on a chase through the town and ended up in another hotel with the same name.

It turned out that he was the owner of both hotels and the family were celebrating his sons 19th Birthday (possibly? it may have been his ninth!). For some reason this hotel was better than the other one, or maybe there was a better place to leave the bikes. Either way we had to have a glass of Vodka with him and we then checked into a lovely room. Which was rather more expensive than we had planned. Never mind it is our last night in Hungary, may as well go out in style!

I got my card cancelled so no harm done, just have to arrange to get the replacement sent out to me. The question is where?

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Day 55 Hungary 12/11/2010 Dunavecse–Solt–Dunapataj–Uszód–Kalocsa. 36.63miles/59.31km, 3hr34minutes, Av 10.2mph.

We survived the night and weren't rudely awaken by any walkers, or more importantly police officers (free camping is technically illegal in Hungary). Today's route was to be a straightforward ride south to Kalocsa, where hopefully we would find somewhere to stay.

Within a short while we knew the day was going to be tougher than we had thought. Although the temperature was still mild, a strong head wind had got up and that's the way it stayed for the next 60km. Spending 40km of the day on a piece of raised, so we got the full effect of the wind, disused road didn't help matters either.

We had really been looking forward to our journey through Eastern Europe, but days like today really put a damper on things. Fortunately there were enough friendly waves to make up for some of the lack of scenery.

Looking at the map the rest of the route to Belgrade doesn't look too inspiring either. We will travel through another two countries over the next week though, so things may improve.

Arriving in Kalocsa we found a hotel and got checked in. The hotel is nothing special and I would have to say quite expensive for what we have got. The main thing is that it is open and we haven't had to cycle on in the faint hope of finding somewhere else.

Hopefully the weather settles a bit tomorrow and we haven't pushed our luck with the European winter.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Day 54 Hungary 11/11/2010 Budapest–Ráckeve–Dömsöd–Dunavecse. 56.7miles/91.89km, 5hr21minutes, Av 10.5mph.

We woke up to our last morning in Budapest feeling refreshed and ready for a day in the saddle. After a hearty breakfast, I set about trying to get our bikes out of the basement. This proved to be tougher than expected as the girl on reception didn't have any idea about the basement, I couldn't remember exactly what door they had gone through and the porter wasn't sure which key opened the doors. We did get there in the end but not before it rather delayed our early start. It is worth mentioning that Debs knew exactly what door they had gone through. If only we had asked her!

Expecting a tricky journey to find the cycle route out of Budapest, we were pleasantly surprised. We managed to avoid most of the traffic and got onto the correct path first time. It was even signed; we were expecting good things from today!

According to our map, accommodation opportunities were a bit thin on the ground during this section. My plan for the day was to not go too far, find somewhere to stay in Dömsöd and then have a longer run tomorrow.

The best laid plans have a habit of going wrong. First Debs took another tumble, this time on a muddy track and banged her shin quite badly. I got her up and dusted her off and she bravely continued. In her defence the track was very slippery and our semi slick tyres that were fine for Western Europe are probably not the best thing for the current conditions. If the roads continue to deteriorate we may be changing to the expedition tyres sooner than Turkey. Continuing on our way we passed through the town of Ráckeve which was if anything, over blessed with hotels and guest-houses. As we had only gone 50km at this point it seemed silly to stop so early, so we pressed on, which turned out to be a mistake. Of the guest-houses in Dömsöd, one we couldn't find and the other was very much closed. With no choice but to continue we started to discuss the idea of free camping, which rather required us to be in an area where it might be possible.

As the day wore on and the kilometres racked up we failed miserably to find anywhere to stay. Even a motel on a main road with a big highway advertising sign was closed down. With the next town marked as having a hotel being 30km away and the daylight fading, we found ourselves in a bit of a dilemma. In a bit of desperation we made a turn off the main cycle route towards a bit of parkland next door to the Danube. We were getting to the stage where we just had to put a tent up. Fortunately off the park was a quiet path leading to the river and we found a secluded spot in some woodland, where we only have mosquitoes for company!

Despite the earlier disasters today became a day of firsts, our first free camp, our first over 90km and with only river water to drink, the first use of the water filter.

We have both had quite enough of today so after a hasty dinner it's off to bed at 5:40pm. We will definitely be stopping when we find a hotel tomorrow though!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Day 53 Hungary 10/11/2010 Budapest Trams, Metro and on foot.

We had another good sleep followed by a leisurely breakfast. It's good to make the most of these as they don't happen too often on the road.

The plan today was to visit a bike shop and get some inner tubes to replace the ones that I had punctured. In this we were successful which was a 100% improvement on yesterday's shopping attempts. From the shop we visited the Parliament building and then took a tram along the river to the central market. The market was very good and had we been in a position to buy lots of things I am sure we could have filled our bags. Not least with honey, paprika and some very nice looking sausages and salamis. Upstairs Debs had a lemon and sugar pancake and I filled myself up with a rather more traditional Lángos (a deep fried flat bread topped with your choice of filling).

From the market we made another attempt to find swimming shorts and then gave up and returned to the hostel. It has to be said that we did find some shorts, but I didn't want to pay nearly £30 and although smaller I still won't fit into an XS size.

With the weather overcast and rainy we decided to spend the afternoon at the Szechenyi baths. The Szechenyi baths are the biggest in Budapest / Europe and the first built on the Pest side. With three outdoor pools and twelve indoor, not to mention several saunas we were spoilt for choice. For me personally the 38°C outdoor pool was the best. It was nice to be sitting in the warm water, breathing fresh air in beautiful surroundings as the sun set on our last day in Budapest.

We will be spending a bit of the evening re-packing as our, or at least my bags, have rather exploded all over the room. There also appears to be a wine tasting on this evening in the hostel so Cheers or Egészségedre for now!

Not sure where we are going tomorrow other than south, hopefully the weather and roads will be kind!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Day 52 Hungary 9/11/2010 Budapest. The metro and on foot.

We both had a good nights sleep and were ready to face a day of sightseeing. We had decided to do a free walking tour in the morning, which would hopefully give us a good idea of what there was to see in the city.

The 'All free walks Budapest' tour set off from Vörösmarty square at 10:30am. Our guide and helper were excellent and the information we were given were both entertaining and informative. The free tour is basically an orientation guide to the city and it's attractions. It also covered the potential pitfalls and rip-offs that we might encounter if we were not careful. Starting in the Pest side of the city we had a brief introduction to Hungary's pre and post Communist past. From Pest we crossed over the 'Chain bridge' into Buda and up the hill to visit the Var (castle) area. As an added bonus after the tour, which lasted for 2½hrs, we were taken to a local canteen restaurant where we had a lovely and cheap traditional Hungarian meal. We have been on poorer paid tours than this one and would recommend it to anyone. Bare in mind that a tip is expected if you enjoyed the tour.

After the tour and lunch we returned to Pest and visited St István's Basilica. We were however too tight to pay to illuminate the mummified hand on display and no one else seemed willing to pay either. We had to content ourselves with the sights of the very ornate interior instead.

The afternoon became a bit of a marathon shopping trip as I wanted to buy some new swimming shorts to wear at the spa. I feel fit and healthy but the weight loss is paying havoc with my wardrobe! Needless to say we failed miserably at the purchase of shorts and had no success at the purchase of some Bikeline books that would cover the rest of our route through Europe. We have maps so it is not a disaster, but the moral is buy them when you see them!

By the time we got back we were both thoroughly worn out, so it was dinner and a few beers and then bed.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Day 51 Hungary 8/11/2010 Esztergom–Visegrad–Szentendre–Budapest. 46.17miles/74.62km, 4hr20minutes, Av 10.6mph.

We slept well and then had a rather strange breakfast sitting in the guest-house owners house while the owner did a crossword. After eating our fill we loaded the bikes said our goodbyes and set off bound for Budapest.

We rode out of Esztergom straight into a strong headwind. Not exactly what we needed first thing in the morning! With Debbie tucked in behind me, we pushed onwards along a decent cycle path.

According to the map, our route today would be mainly along cycle paths and quiet roads. The cycle signs pointed to some different routes, but as these required the use of a ferry which wasn't running there seemed little point in following them.

The route along the road didn't turn out to be quite as quiet as we had expected with a large proportion of it being along a main 'A' road. Even more annoyingly was the tendency of a Eurovelo sign to appear on the other side of the road pointing towards a cycle path. This would have been fine if there had been any warning and if it was possible to get across the traffic and the high curbs to join it. Several times we got trapped along the main road when there was a quieter alternative.

Fortunately the early strong winds that we had encountered died down and we started to get along well. Maybe our thoughts were on getting to Budapest and having a few days off because the route held very little interest. Sometimes you seem to have one of those just cycling days, usually when you are approaching a large city. The final part of the route took us along a bit of dirt track and then a very poorly paved cycle path and then finally into the city. We went a bit wrong somewhere along the way into Budapest and ended up along a very busy road running along the Danube. We eventually found a cycle path but then encountered some major roadworks which seemed to divert us over a bridge. With only a narrow path and lots of pedestrians we ended up pushing our bikes over the bridge, not quite the glamorous entry into Budapest we had hoped for.

Finally across the bridge we got back on our bikes and rode into the city to find our hostel. Finding the hostel would have been easier if we were on the right road! With all the road works I had got confused and we had crossed the wrong bridge! You would think that getting back to the river and along would be easy, but they seem to have dug up all of Budapest in one go! Nevertheless after a near miss with a tram, a few wrong turns and a bit of getting off and pushing, we made it to the hostel.

The Maverick hostel is lovely, situated in a former royal mansion built by the Habsburg dynasty. Our bikes also have to be the safest they have been, locked behind several doors in the cellars.

With a couple of days here it was good to get some laundry done and have a re-sort of our bags. We didn't bother going out last night, instead settling for a hostel cooked meal and some beers from the local supermarket.

Sightseeing tomorrow so night all!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Day 50 Slovakia/Hungary 7/11/2010 Komárom–Komárno–Kravany–Stúrovo–Esztergom. 37.6miles/60.78km, 3hr32minutes, Av 10.6mph.

We had quite a good nights sleep in the tent and woke up to a bright but colder day than the previous few have been. A bit out of practice having not camped for a while we still managed to get back on the road by 8:45am.

Today we headed back across the border into Slovakia onto what was a less hilly route than the Hungarian equivalent. Across the river we found a sign post that pointed to the correct route and never saw another one for the next 55km! To be fair we were mainly following the Danube so it didn't take much working out.

In Kravany we were stopped by a very helpful man who told us that the road we were on was closed further ahead and that we would be better off on another route. He told us that he had had the same conversation with an Australian cyclist the week before. We obviously never did find out if the road was closed but are very thankful for his help. It could have been a long detour for us to get back on the correct route.

With no signs to follow, we decided to stick to the main road. The traffic was light and apart from a strong headwind that had sapped our strength all day we made it into Stúrovo. Stopping for a brief look at the impressive Citadel of Esztergom across the Danube we then set about crossing the river back into Hungary.

Drama!!! Debs fell off her bike in the middle of two countries! She was fortunately unhurt, but she does have a damaged pannier and a bit of bruised pride! We will address the pannier when we get to Budapest. Toad survived the incident from the safety of his bar bag!

As the main road route had shortened our distance for the day, we checked into a lovely guest-house, got sorted and then went for an explore. Esztergom came as a very pleasant surprise to us. The Citadel is very impressive and as it stands on a hill, the views from the top are great. Back down in the town the streets are very pretty, with many old buildings painted in mainly yellow hues.

So far Hungarian towns have been very pretty, we are really looking forward to having a proper look around Budapest when we get there tomorrow.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Day 49 Hungary 6/11/2010 Györ–Bönyrétalap–Ács–Komárom. 35.64miles/57.76km, 3hr18minutes, Av 10.8mph.

With a shorter day ahead of us, we had a hearty breakfast at the hotel and set off. Getting out of Györ proved to be a bit more difficult than we had anticipated. Not least because the Eurovelo people have changed the route from the one on our map. We can't complain about the change because it is shorter and more direct. However as they still haven't produced any maps for this area it is a bit unnerving when you follow the marked route and the signs stop at a junction, leaving you clueless as to which way to turn. We did find a sign around the corner, but it gave us a little consternation.

From Györ onwards the route was well marked and we made good progress until we were leaving Bönyrétalap. Not far out of the village we encountered a Eurolvelo sign telling us to go left. As this time our map covered the area of the change we continued on with some confidence. This confidence may have been somewhat misplaced as when we did find another sign it pointed us towards what looked more like a ploughed field than a track. Interestingly enough this ploughed field was marked as an A road on our map. A1 to be precise. We decided it would be best to ignore the sign and go searching for a better road, when none became available we had no choice but to go back to the marked route. The only alternative was a 10km detour back the way we came to rejoin the route we had in our map book. The dirt track did improve after about 6km, but not until we had tried to ride through mud-filled tyre tracks, some so deep that our panniers were clipping the edges.

We eventually made it to Acs and rejoined the route we would have been on if we hadn't paid attention to the Eurovelo sign. I am sure whoever put the sign up had our best interests at heart, but changing a mapped route when you haven't produced new maps yourself is a little unfair!

We encountered another diversion just outside Acs, but this time we ignored it and stuck to the main road route. Eventually we arrived in Komárom, located the camp-site and got set up. As usual we caused quite a stir when we turned up, you would think it was the first time anyone had camped!

The camp-site was right outside some thermal baths, so we quickly got our swimmers on and went for a relax in the hot mineral waters. Note that this time we were allowed to keep our clothes on! Easier said than done, as with my weight loss my board shorts are a little on the large side; will definitely have to buy some new ones.

The trusty camping stove got some use again tonight after we had picked up supplies from Tesco's. It was nice to be cooking again, although you quickly forget how dark and cold it gets outside after you have been staying in hostels/guesthouses. We had a nice warming dinner and then settled down for an early night. Back to Slovakia tomorrow and then back across the border to Esztergom.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Day 48 Slovakia & Hungary 5/11/2010 Bratislava–Dunakiliti–Püski–Györ. 54.8miles/88.6km, 5hr02minutes, Av 10.8mph.

It is probably not the hostel's fault, but after a night in 'Hostel Blues' I couldn't say I would stay there again. The dorms are in apartments with a central section which people hang about in. The occupants of our room came in, in the middle of the night and assumed we all wanted to hear their long conversation. Then when we went down to breakfast the kitchen sinks were full of dirty dishes and someone had scrawled offensive graffiti all over the blackboards. I know we are older, but sometimes you think you are sharing with a bunch of five year olds.

Heading out we did some shopping in Tescos (yes they are in Slovakia as well!) and then set off for the Hungarian border. The signposting couldn't be described as brilliant, we made it out of Bratislava without any trouble along an old main road, which was excellent. It was afterwards that I took us on a little detour. To be fair the Slovakians probably want you to stay in Slovakia, whereas we wanted to go to Hungary. The sign pointing towards Hungary was in a peculiar position only visible from the opposite direction. It has to be said though that if I had paid more attention to the map then we wouldn't have missed it. I was just too excited at actually seeing a direction sign.

Unsure what we were to expect at the Hungarian border, we stuck to the official crossing point. We may as well have not bothered as like every border before, it was abandoned. Which was a shame as we could have saved ourselves some distance by going another way.

Making our way along the main road, we managed to get ourselves on the right route and almost immediately came across a Eurovelo sign. Thankful to see a route sign we followed it and immediately started heading north west. Now our geography may not be brilliant, but we were fairly sure we wanted to be going south east. On a plus point we saw our first horse and cart of eastern Europe. Giving up on the sign we went back the way we had come and trusted to our map and compass.

We travelled through several small villages and only missed a few turnings along the way. Having had no faith in the signs so far it was with some trepidation that we were directed onto an off road section. For a while the signs were fine, but it was only our trusty compass and some guess work that got us back on to the road.

As soon as we reached the spa town of Lipot the signing was excellent and we followed a well marked route all the way to Györ. Debs had found us an excellent hotel to stay in which was right on our route in to town.

Hotel Révész is cyclist friendly and the girl on reception couldn't do enough to help us. She even helped carry our many bags up to the room, plus she spoke excellent English.

A quick shower later and we walked into the town centre to have a look around before the light faded. If we had to pick a first Hungarian town to stop in we couldn't have picked a nicer one. The streets are full of lovely buildings and it had a pleasant vibrant atmosphere. The only shame was that our map and guide book that we had been given was only in Hungarian. Had we more time we would probably have visited the local thermal baths but as we are planning to camp beside some tomorrow we gave them a miss.

Back at the hotel we had a nice meal in the restaurant and then settled in for an early night.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Day 47 Austria & Slovakia 4/11/2010 Vienna–Hainburg–Bratislava. 49.27miles/79.63km, 4hr33minutes, Av 10.8mph

After yesterday's overcast skies we woke up to a bright sunny morning. Having really enjoyed our time in Vienna we set off once again for pastures new.

The ride out of the city had to be the longest we have yet done. Admittedly we wanted to see a few more sights on the way out, but we had done nearly10 miles by the time we reached the outskirts. The Hunderwasser house is without a doubt one of Vienna's stranger buildings, almost Gaudi-esque in appearance. Built as a social housing project, it must be a more interesting place to live than an ordinary tower block.

Our final bit of the journey out of the city was through the Prater, Vienna's giant park. We must have been looking a little puzzled at the map, because two cyclists stopped to help. One of them led us out of the park, across the Danube and on to the correct route. We were a bit concerned about being able to keep up as he was on a racer, but he slowed down for us!

Safely on the right road we carried on along the Danube until Lobau, where there is quite a long diversion. The diversion is fine but sharing the road with convoys of quarry lorries all kicking up dust and grit isn't much fun. It was probably good practice for the African trucks that we will encounter later on though.

The next section was a bit tedious as we predominantly rode in a straight line for 20 kms, until we reached Hainburg. We have come to prefer the routes that lead through the local villages.

Shortly after Hainburg we finally waved goodbye to Austria and entered into Slovakia. So far so good, the cycle path still existed and there were even some signs. We weren't really sure what to expect as we entered into Eastern Europe. What we didn't expect was a huge logging lorry coming towards us on what we thought was a cycle path as we neared Bratislava. All of the signs pointed to it being a cycle path; a narrow road with two lanes and paintings of bicycles on the tarmac. For all we know it was just a handy short cut for the driver!

Following the route without any further incident we crossed the Danube into Bratislava. Our hostel was not too far from the river and unlike our epic ride through Vienna we quickly arrived at our destination. The 'Hostel Blues', although quite pleasant is a bit of a comedown after our last stop. We do still have wifi though and the reception staff are really helpful.

After a quick shower we had a rapid tour of what turned out to be quite a picturesque little city. The many quirky bronze statues situated around the streets are of special note. With the light fading we returned to the hostel for a rest and then went back out for dinner. The Slovak pub was recommended to us by the hostel staff and turned out to be really good. I had two traditional Slovakian dishes: Small dumplings with sheep's milk cheese and sausage and then more dumplings stuffed with plum and coated in cocoa and rather strangely cheese. Debs opted for the safer, although apparently delicious Goulash. After all the dumplings Debs had to practically roll me back to the hostel.

We leave Slovakia for the time being tomorrow and head into Hungary.

The ease of the Euro zone has come to an end!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Day 46 Austria 3/11/2010 Vienna. Trains and on foot.

We decided to stay for one more day, Bratislava will have to wait. Discussing with Harlan where to visit the previous evening we saw that there is a hidden Vienna tour every Wednesday. With the promise of seeing some of Vienna's underground passages it looked like a good plan.

What turned out to be less of a good plan was the haircut in the morning. The Turkish non English speaking barber even showed me the numbers on the clippers before he started. How I came to end up with what looks like a grade one all over is beyond me. Still I wont have to get it done again for a while. Debs still hasn't stopped laughing.

We were glad we did most of our sightseeing yesterday as we stepped out to a light rain and a much colder day. We spent the morning contemplating buying an e-reader for Debs but eventually weren't happy with the selection on offer. We would really like an Amazon Kindle, but getting one when you are on the road is difficult.

The tour was due to start at 1:30pm, so we went into the city centre and had a walk around the shopping streets before it started. The tour was very interesting, especially the crypt of St Michaels complete with human bones and mummified bodies. We were joined on the tour by most of the people we had been drinking with last night, plus Harlan the Barman.

The tour lasted rather longer than we had thought, so a relaxing day became a somewhat more tiring.

A few beers tonight and then bed, we leave Austria behind tomorrow and head to Slovakia.

Day 45 Austria 2/11/2010 Vienna. Underground trains and on foot.

Debs didn't think I would get up this morning and to be fair it wasn't easy, but we were on the underground to the city by 8:30am. After two coffees I even felt a little better, how I looked was a different matter!

We arrived at the Spanish riding school early to get tickets for the morning practise. We had not been early enough last time we were here, so Debs was really keen to go. It was just as well that we got there early as the queues later on were quite long, plus we got a seat in the main arena. We were lucky enough to see the horses performing some of their famous jumps, which according to the leaflet was quite rare during practise. This of course may be a bit of clever marketing but then I am a little cynical!

Debs really enjoyed seeing the Lipizzaners in action and probably could have been there for the full 2½ hours. After about an hour the practise starts to repeat itself though.

From the riding school we headed through the Hofburg to see all of the vast buildings. Vienna really is a very beautiful city, plus the weather was warm and sunny. From the Hofburg we visited the Parlament and the Rathaus and then climbed the tower at St Stephans for a view of the city. With hindsight going to the Palace Schonbrun and its huge park as well was probably a step too far. By then we had been on our feet all day and the light was starting to fade. It was a very tired Debs that I brought back to the hostel!

While Debs rested I went out to get some food for dinner and managed to get a larger rear sprocket for Debs Rohloff hub. Hopefully when I get round to putting it on this will help her with the hills.

After a rather large dinner we spent a pleasant evening in the company of Harlan the Kiwi barman and some American students. Today has been a very good if somewhat tiring day.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Day 44 Austria 1/11/2010 Ybbs–Pöchlarn–Spitz–Krems–Vienna. 42.61miles/69.02km, 4hrs15minutes, Av 10mph.

Another morning waking up in a warm bed. If it wasn't for the additional cost we could seriously get used to guest-housing!

Leaving Ybbs we followed the southern bank of the Danube as far as Pöchlarn and then crossed over to the northern side. The wind had got up during the morning and as we crossed the Danube we were faced with a strong head wind. With Debs tucked in behind me we slowly made our way along.

The scenery on this section of the river was beautiful as we had entered a narrow valley and were coming into the wine region of Wachau. The small villages of the region were beautiful with painted houses, narrow cobbled streets and many wineries. The town of Dürnstein is especially pretty and on a warm November bank holiday was quite crowded with tourists.

We arrived in Krems through the pretty Stein a.d. Donau at about 1pm and stopped to plan our next move. Franz had told us that the last section into Vienna was not particularly interesting and that we should probably put the bikes on a train on the outskirts to avoid the busy roads.

Faced with an expensive guest-house in Krems we inquired at the train station as to the cost of getting us and our bikes the 79km to Vienna. As it was possible to get our bikes on the train we decided to head for Vienna a day early where there was the promise of a cheaper hostel. Getting the bikes on the train turned out to be not too much of a chore as we could leave them fully loaded. The only slight difficulty we had was getting the bikes from one platform to the other at the station. Going down the provided cycle slope was easy but pushing them back up required both of us on one bike. After we got over the feeling that we were cheating, the one hour train ride to Vienna was a pleasant diversion.

Arriving at Franz Josef station we pushed our bikes off the train and straight out of the station. It took us a while to orientate ourselves as to what direction we should be heading in. Vienna certainly seemed like the busiest city we have cycled through so far. Fortunately the main road that we thought we would have to ride along, had a central cycle lane that went almost all the way to our destination. Nevertheless we were still glad when we located the hostel.

Hostel Ruthensteiner is really nice, the laundry is reasonable and they have a kitchen so we could self cater. Plus the bar and barmen are great, as I found out rather excessively that night!

Off to the Spanish riding school tomorrow and the sights of Vienna.