Inside the Cathedral
I haven't covered that much mileage during the past couple of weeks. That's because wherever I go, I keep bumping into great people who look after me and feed me beer. My three day stint in Budapest has now turned into a 5 day rest period as I don't wish to be charged for being drunk in charge of a bicycle!
Looking back at the past two weeks, I have travelled through some wonderful cities and countryside, cycling from Vienna in Austria to Bratislava in Slovakia and onwards to my present destination Budapest, in Hungary. I'm happy to say that the weather has dramatically improved with temperatures now in the mid 20s most days and I'm starting to develop a real cyclist's tan. Great when you're cycling but not so fashionable when going for a swim in a public bath when you look a right plonker!
It was my first time in Vienna and I was certainly not disappointed. Beautiful buildings are evident around every corner and during my stay the city was preparing for its annual marathon, so there was a real vibe everywhere. In front of the town hall on the day before the marathon people dressed
Horse and carriage trips
in traditional austrian lederhosen and dirndls, which I have to say for me personally, make the women look particularly attractive and it wasn't long before some locals invited me to join them for beers.
On the day of the marathon, I visited the famous 'Spanish School of Riding' where I watched the beautiful white stallions perform perfect trots and the two masterpieces where they rear up on their hind legs or perform the traditional bucking jump. The performance is strictly controlled by ushers who continuously walk up and down the galleries making sure no one takes a photograph, however I did manage to get away with one photo using stealth training from an era gone by.
The other highlights of Vienna were visiting Schoenbrunn palace and the gigantic cemetery where composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Strauss are buried as well as the more recent pop star Falco who performed the 'Rock me Amadeus' song in the 80s.
Leaving Vienna behind I said good bye to my hostel buddy Wang Yu, who was visiting Europe for the very first time and whose main priority throughout his visit was to obtain milk powder for all his friends'
Where the locals apparently like to hang out
children. It was also quite strange that he had never seen bread rolls before.
Only about 3 KM from the main city centre whilst cycling along the Danube, I had to do a double take when I suddenly saw a woman completely starkers laying on the banks of the river. A few minutes later there were more people in the nude sunning themselves watching the world go by. I had a little chuckle to myself and tried to imagine the same thing happening in England, one or two miles from the houses of parliament along the Thames. We might be part of the EU, but some things will just never change!
That day whilst continuing my journey towards Bratislava, I met another cyclist Sven, a great guy from Germany who was an ENT specialist with a bit of plastic surgery thrown in for good measures. We talked about how steady his hands must be when performing intricate operations around the throat or ears and agreed that when he is older and loses these refined skills he can always perform plastic surgery on other larger body parts requiring less precision but paying a whole lot more!
Coffee and cake in the afternoon
border into Slovakia, we soon came into sight with the famous UFO on top of the bridge leading into Bratislava and the beautiful old town with its castle.
The following day I took in a tour of the city and visited all the interesting sculptures scattered around the city including one of Napolean. With the sun shining gloriously, the afternoon was spent drinking cold slovakian beer overlooking the city from the top of the castle. Bratislava, despite its small size is a beautiful city with an unusually high number of women who look like they have just stepped off the catwalk!
Another activity which I witnessed but didn't participate in, was a beer spa, where you wile away the day in a jaccuzi filled with beer and you get to drink beer at the same time. Apparently, it's good for the pores!
Having spent a day and a half in Bratislava, I continued on my journey following the Danube and crossing the border into Hungary. Passing through the lovely city of Gyor I continued a further 15 miles and then started looking for a campsite. With nothing coming to my immediate attention, I stopped at a bar
Not bothering to count the calories any longer
and asked for help. The owner spoke limited German and said that I could set up my tent in his backyard. When I asked him how much he wanted, he told me not to be so ridiculous, but instead hurry up and join the rest of the locals in the bar. I obliged. None of the rest of the guys could speak any English or German, but one of them had lived in Spain so I used my limited knowledge of Spanish to get by for the rest of the evening. There was lots of hand signals pointing at my beer and spirit glasses and I took it that meant they wanted me to drink with them. After a few pints and a couple of Jaegermeisters, I politely excused myself as I told them that I had to cycle a minimum of 60 miles the next day and they gave me a real hard time for deserting them. However, I was also told to come back to the bar the following morning.
I did this the next day and as soon as I arrived an expresso was thrust into my hand. I tried to pay, but the guy wouldn't
Rescue dog demonstrations
let me and then he also said that I had
to drink a Jaegermeister before I was allowed to move on. To avoid an international incident I obliged.
As the journey proceeds further east, the dogs appear to be getting wilder and fiercer. The best thing I saw was a dog (luckily behind a fence) smash into the dustbin when he caught glimpse of me. Serves him right!
The following day I met up again with my German friend Sven and we cycled together into the city of Esztergom. Unfortunately, the campsite was shut on my arrival and the rugby club accommodation was totally full, so Sven who was only cycling to Budapest and I went our own separate ways looking for accommodation and agreed to meet up later on for some beers.
With no tourist signs immediately sticking out, I stopped a Mother and daughter and asked for help who then used the aid of their husband/father to speak to me in English and give me some directions for cheap accommodation. I followed his advice and cycled up a road where I met another girl Gabriella and asked her the whereabouts of the cheap digs. She
Vienna city centre
Fine displays everywhere
pointed to the B&B next door to her parent's home but I said that I wasn't really prepared to pay 30 Euros for the night but was looking for something around the 10-15 Euros mark. Her brother Karman shortly joined us and the lovely Gabriella then said that she would ask her parents whether they could put me up for the night. On being shown the apartment, I did not want to create any fuss and said that I would use my sleeping bag, but her mother was insistent that I slept in a newly made up bed and bottles of water and fruit were also provided for. Not only that, but then I also received an invite from Gabriella and her two brothers Karman and Tomas to join them in an old style Hungarian bar for the night where a guy played fantastic jazz tunes on his saxophone. Also, I was asked to join them for breakfast in their family home and had to try her mother's home made plum jam which was absolutely fabulous. I could not have asked for a more wonderful family who showed me enormous generosity and wonderful Hungarian hospitality.
The following day I
More beautiful buildings
cycled with Sven into Budapest on a glorious sunny day, where there was a real vibe and fantastic atmosphere around the city. Having been swindled out of 450 euros in Budapest on a previous occasion I wasn't even going to come here again, but am really glad that I did. The visit was made even so much better by the fact that I met up with an old travel companion Tymea, who lives in the capital and who really looked after me throughout the entire stay, taking me to all the non-touristy bars and restaurants and meeting up with her huge social circle of expats. Amongst them I met Renate a former advisor to the Slovakian President and Sergei a former Deputy Foreign Minister from Georgia. Amongst intellectuals was an absolute understatement! Tymea and her friends from Hungary, France, Poland and other European countries made me feel particularly welcome throughout and I am grateful for their generosity and warm welcome.
As alluded to at the beginning of this blog, I was only intending to stay in Budapest for 3 days, but this has since extended to 5 days. The visit has included a fabulous cycle tour of the city
Old street sign
and the obligatory visit to the thermal baths. A quick afternoon drink to say good bye to Tymea somehow developed into an all day session of wine and bubbly and hence I am now slowly recovering the day after, sipping coffee and preparing myself mentally for the next stage of my journey to Belgrade in Serbia. Till next time.......
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