Saturday, 28 April 2012

27 April Stage 18 Komarom - Budapest

Dep 915     Arr 6.00     Dist 99.5 km     Total 1972.7 km

I didn’t sleep well at all. Maybe I just went to bed too early or maybe the indecision about the digs in Budapest was on my mind. I was taking ages getting organised but then received a call from Ray saying he couldn’t find any hostels or anything decent so we could stay in his brother’s flat. This lifted my spirits and I eventually got going, again in the warm sunshine, this time with my jacket and gloves on. Some bits had got a bit red the day before but there was no discomfort.

I was riding on the old main route from Vienna to Budapest. There is now a motorway. It was a decent road, busy in places and again I had a slight wind against. There was a counting down distance sign along the side of the route which was a nuisance because I couldn’t avoid looking at it. It was quite flat at first and the little towns came and went. I then felt as if I had hit a brick wall. I just couldn’t seem to make any progress and was really struggling. I thought I had eaten enough. Maybe the heat was getting to me. Maybe this was the how it would be from now on. I then started to speed up and realised I had been climbing for the last five miles. I bombed down the other side and then met another hill. There must have been five or six similar hills as I neared Budapest but I managed. The last 5km into the city was murder. I kept expecting to see a bridge but the road just went on for ever. I eventually asked a cycling couple and they told me to follow them. They took me along a route I would never have been able to follow if they hadn’t been there and after what seemed like ages, I eventually got to the part of town I was to meet Ray and Orsolya. This is a big beautiful city. After a bit of the usual FARTING AROUND I found them in the Caledonian pub where we had a drink and got to know each other.

Ray told me to where to cycle to and he followed on the tram. He walked with me to the place and it was fabulous. I started to run a bath, yes, a bath, and my phone buzzed. It was a text from Daniel “landed”. As I undressed another text, “on route” and then just about to step into the bath, “outside”. I got my pants on and there they were. We were soon out having a drink on a beautiful avenue of small bars and colourful restaurants.

Today's Route

26 April Stage 17 Nickelsdorf - Komarom

Dep 10.10     Arr 5.30     Dist 100.2 km     Total 1882.7 km

A few weeks before I left England (sounds weird?) I sent emails to the Cycling Federations of Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria informing them of my visit and suggesting that any cyclists in their respective countries may wish to ride with me for some of the way. I received replies from Hungary and Bulgaria, saying they would forward my email to their members. I then received another email for a chap named Ray, a fellow Liverpool supporter in Budapest, who was the partner of the Secretary of their Federation. He told me not to book accommodation and for me to ring when I was near. Being two days away was near enough so I rang Ray soon after I got organised and he said he now had my number and he would sort something out for me and let me know by text or phone.

The lady announced it would be 30 degrees today which I thought was good news. I waited for her to bring in the breakfast and then realised it was already there. It consisted of two cobs with a dollop of jam and a miniscule sachet of pate. I had expected better. I was then finishing off my packing when the little lady came into the room. She looked at the bed and tutted because the other side of the bed had been disturbed. I informed her that I had only sat there on one occasion to put my socks on. I then informed her that there was no curtain and that the sun had woken me at 6 o’clock. She soon scuttled off and I finished packing and went outside. I was loading the bags onto the bike while she and her even smaller husband were packing the car. They were in a hurry so I went through the gate then remembered I had no water. I turned back and asked her if she could fill my bottles but she said she had already closed the door. I said never mind and got going with a different opinion about the nice lady. It is only a business to these people after all.

It was a beautiful sunny day as I passed through the now deserted border control into Hungary. How different that would have been in the old days? I decided to dispense with my cycling jacket and gloves and rode along in a polo shirt with a vest under, which left my arms and hands exposed. The cycle paths were brilliant, at first, but then disappeared so I went onto the road. Then, in the middle of nowhere, the sign appeared, a bike in a red circle. There was nowhere else to go so I stayed on the road and nobody seemed to bother. I got money from an ATM in a small town and was amazed to find it was still the old currency, forints. I had expected euros. The lady in the bank kindly filled my bottles for me and I stuck to the planned route, with a slight wind against most of the day, reaching the campsite at Komarom in good time. There was a swimming pool on the campsite which was almost exclusively German, so I went and had a splash around with my cycling shorts on. I had a packet of German noodles for tea and rang Ray in Budapest. There was no answer so I texted him and had an early night.

Today's Route

25 April Stage 16 Tulln - Nickelsdorf

Dep 10.00     Arr 8.00     Dist 110.2 km     Total 1782.5 km

I had a great breakfast in this beautiful hostel and set off quite late in warm sunshine. I rode through the tall buildings and turned right onto the river with trepidation, wondering what wind would I have to contend with along the river for the first part of the day. I felt the occasional gust and wasn’t sure what kind of day I was going to have. I then noticed that cyclists coming towards me were grimacing slightly and realised the wind was in my favour for once.
There had been times on other days when things were going well when I thought, “Just a couple of hours like this and I’ll be halfway there”. Before, that is , someone ‘played the double nine’ and I had to get off the road. No, not this time. I bombed along and reached the outskirts of Vienna by mid-day. I missed the track along the Danube and followed a canal into the city, which wasn’t a bad thing. I came across a cycle shop and bought a front light. The other one had fallen off on day 1 in Oldham because some pillock hadn’t fitted it properly. I then saw an internet cafe and spent the next couple of hours updating the blog and checking my route over the next couple of days. It was a tiny place but it was even smaller with my bike inside.
I had a bite to eat and got going again in mid-afternoon hoping to get to Hungary that night. The wind turned against me and I knew I wouldn’t make it to Mosonmagyarovar which was just over the border. I was going through some small towns and wasn’t confident about finding a bed so was checking out the landscape for a stealth camp. I then saw a few ‘zimmer’ signs and enquired at one advertised at an Italian restaurant. He wanted 40 euros which was ridiculous. I kept on with my shadow stretching out for miles in front of me and got to Nickelsdorf where a very small and seemingly nice lady put me up for 30 euros.
It was very late but I got settled and wandered out to find some grub. I walked past a small restaurant which was empty and looked a bit posh. The other side of the establishment, though, was full of chaps watching Bayern v Real Madrid so I joined them. I asked about food and got the nod. The menu of the day was minestrone soup with goulash main course. The soup nearly filled me up and the main course was fabulous, all for less than a fiver. I had a couple of beers and wandered back. I had a text from Daniel confirming that he and Ben would be coming to Budapest, arriving at 1925. I replied saying I would text them the address of the accommodation and crashed out.

Today's Route

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

24 April Stage 15 Grein - Tulln

Dep 8.15     Arr 5.45     Dist 123.1 km     Total 1672.3 km

I didn't sleep well at all. The traffic was really noisy all night. It didn't say that in the brochure. I was tired before I started but had felt that way before and got better as the day went on. One massive bonus was that I was straight onto the track without any of the FARTING AROUND I had been doing when leaving towns or cities. The slim nature of my prospects of decent progress became obvious after only a couple of minutes when I felt the breeze in my face. I would be heading East all day with only minor diversions and it looked like I would have to contend with this wind all day. This is much worse than hills. At least you have the relief of freewheeling down the other side after climbing up. I had the brilliant map of the cycle path to follow, which was nothing like my planned route using the toaster website, but wasn't much longer and would certainly be flat.

Cycling is a major source of income to the villages along the Danube. There are lots of houses advertising "zimmer frei" and cafes specifically aimed at cyclists. There were lots of smiling cyclists coming the other way. They would be smiling with the wind behind while I was battling against the elements. I stopped occasionally to chat to them, mainly to give myself a rest. The map showed a cycle path both sides of the river and I decided to cross at Melk where the other side may be more sheltered and should be shorter being on a smaller radius as the river turned. The path left the Danube a few times but there was always the confidence of knowing the river was there not far away and you couldn't really go far wrong. I saw a middle-aged couple walking hand in hand along the path at the edge of one of the many villages. they had a pretty little dog and called it over as I came near. I thanked them and they smiled gracefully back. I then turned a corner and saw an old man in distress. His bike was on the grass at the side of the track and he was crouching forward. As I got closer I noticed his kecks were round his ankles and he was having a crap. This was confirmed when I rode past and he grunted and strained and farted at the same time. I chuckled a bit and then burst out laughing thinking about the sight awaiting the respectable middle-aged couple walking their dog.

Progress was difficult and I knew I hadn't eaten enough. I called at a Spar in one of the detours and got some muesli, biscuits, bananas, milk and orange juice. I was stopping every half hour or so and eating but there was just no energy. I was determined to get to Vienna but my fate was sealed on a long straight road outside Tulln where the wind was in my face and stronger than earlier. That finished me off and I decided to look for a campsite or digs in Tulln. I sat under a tree and consulted the kindle which found me a hostel 5 minutes away. It was a beautiful place, a bit dearer than others I've stayed in but I had a room to myself and, to be honest, would have paid anything, the state I was in. I had paid for an evening meal as well so, after a shower and a little lie down I went to fill my belly, and my boots. It was mainly pizza (again) and salad, buffet style so, basically, all you can eat. The young lady said "beer?" and I said "go on then" only to find it was included in the price. I ate as much as I could and took some more up to the room for later. I tried to do some blogging on the kindle with limited success. There was a computer there but it was painfully slow. I went out for a walk looking for a telly to watch some football but there was nothing doing so I went back to plan the next few days travelling.

Today's Route

Monday, 23 April 2012

23 April Stage 14 Engelhartszell - Grein

Dep 8.50     Arr 5.00     Dist 120.2 km     Total 1539.2 km

I looked out of the window first thing and could only see mist on the mountainside just above the roof level of the house. I had been listening to the church bells for a while as I dozed and had worked out the code so didn't need to look at my phone for the time. Breakfast was AT 8.00 the old lady had said. Not FROM 8.00 or UNTIL 8.00, so I emerged into the breakfast room at exactly 8.00 to see the smiling face of the old lady's daughter greeting me. I had a thimbleful of orange juice and only one cup of coffee and a few cheese and ham sandwiches. I also made some butties for later while she wasn't looking. She was very nice and told me the weather was going to be very nice.

I made my way down the river with spectacular views again although I was taking it for granted now. The Danube bike route is VERY well signposted with very little chance of going wrong because there is always a river there alongside. If you go off track you know the general direction needed to get back. This idea had given me confidence in following the cycle path and so it went until the track stopped at the river bank and indicated a ferry to be taken to the other side. The ferry was at the other side of the river, about a quarter of a mile away and with no sign of moving in the near future. I decided to try my luck on the road which looked quite major but quiet. There was then a sign for a detour for cars and some indication that the road was closed at 5km ahead. I did the usual, took a chance and went on the road. As expected there were roadworks about 5km up the road but the lorry drivers and machine operators let me go past with a bit of mumbling but no real trouble until I turned a corner and there were two guys up a huge cherry-picker lopping braches off trees alongside the road. There was another chap on the ground who went spare when he saw me. All the ranting and raving went on again but then I explained that there was no other way for me to go. Amazingly he seemed to understand but wanted to make me wait. He said fifteen mintes. I said thank you. He then shouted up to the others to stop and I walked past. I said Danke again but he didn't say Bitte, which meant I was not welcome.

It got a bit sunny later on and I thought I should give my arms half an hour in the sun. I took my gloves off as well. They are more for cushioning than for warmth anyway, and I knew I couldn't be wearing them all day in the warmer weather I would come up against further South. It got cooler an hour or so later and I reached round to the back of my jacket but couldn't feel my gloves there. Disaster! I got off the bike and there they were balanced on top of the pannier. They could have fallen off, or been blown off, at any time but no, there they were. I felt as if I was being looked after. Spooky.

The road then met the cycle path again but after a while the river did a sharp left turn and the path followed it around a large radius. The map showed a straight road which followed a river valley which joined the river later so I had a go at this. I realised later that there was a reason the river had turned. There was a mountain in its way! Also, the river valley I was following would have been ok but the river was coming downwards, and pretty quick too which meant I was going upwards, and quite steep. It was in the Saddleworth category which I have dealt with before and managed ok this time. I really enjoyed coming down the other side though, standing up out of the saddle for about ten minutes.

I then had to contend with Linz which is a major city with traffic lights all over the place. Traffic lights where the average time you stand there is two minutes or so. After Linz I crossed the river again and was soon bowling along the Donau Radweg. This is the name of the cycle track which follows the Danube for miles and miles. All along the route there are Radstations, which are like motorway services with information areas and cafes specifically for cyclists. There was one which had a spring where you could fill your bottles and I saw a woman there filling crates of bottles with labels on. Now there is a businesswoman.

I made it To the campsite in Grein which was run by a very nice Rumanian chap. I mentioned guides and maps and he gave me a tremendous little book showing all I would need to follow the Danube cycle trail to Vienna. I also mentioned wireless access and he said he would give me wireless access if I "liked" his campsite on facebook. It took me all my time getting onto facebook on my kindle and the wireless was useless anyway but we had a laugh. I had a wiener schnitzel for tea and a beer. I had a long trip in prospect the next day to Vienna so turned in early.

Today's Route

Sunday, 22 April 2012

22 April Stage 13 Mamming - Engelhartszell

Dep 900     Arr 430     Dist 103.5 km     Total 1429 km

I never thought I could get fed up with silence apart from the sound of small free birds singing. I lay in the tent wishing the little creatures all sorts of harm but they woke me up and got me going. Without them I may still be there. It was very cold when I emerged and although it warmed up a bit as the day went on, there was a definite chill in the air.

For planning the route I have used a website named bikeroutetoaster. You click on one place and then another and it gives you the best route between them by bike. It has got a few things wrong in Germany but only a few. You can then look at the profile and see how hilly it is and make adjustments and you can check out camping places and hostels and make further adjustments etc. For this next stage I had it starting at Dingolfing which is the other side of the river Isar which I would have to cross later. I decided to take a chance, not go back to Dingolfing, but stay this side and use the cycle track and see where it took me. It seemed to be in the right direction. You know what's coming don't you? Wrongggg. Before long I saw a sign for Osterhofen which was on the original planned route and a lot earlier than I would have been as well. I got back on track and followed the chosen route and was soon back on the Danube. The skies were looking threatening but they had done a number of times previously without rain coming. Not this time. the heavens opened and I just had time to get my cape on and my waterproof boottees before it started. I was in the middle of nowhere with no shelter and panicking, yes me panicking, but got to a single isolated tree by the roadside before the heavens opened. I stood there like a lemon, literally until the rain eased and I set off again.

Soon after Passau I was actually in Austria. I then saw a funny thing, a cat. I don't remember seeing a cat in Germany. Dogs rule there ok. The scenery began to become spectacular with a steep forested hill on the opposite bank, mountains in the distance and the wide river bending with barges and tourist boats sliding by. I was pedalling along enjoying the views but wanting to get my belly filled and head down. As I got nearer to Engelhartszell there were lots of houses advertising "zimmer" which means room, but I knew there was a good campsite here. I eventually found it but again, it was closed. I decided to look for a zimmer nearer to the centre of the town but I soon found I was going out of the town which consisted of about 20 houses. I settled on, and then settled in, a pension in a really old house with a really old lady only just capable of opening the massive door to let me in. She asked if I wanted the heating on. I said yes and she nodded. There was no visible sign of heating anywhere but the room soon got warm. I threw my stuff around the room, lay on the bed and slept immediately. I then had a shower, washed some of my clothes in the sink and and went for a walk, or that should be, went for a limp, to find some food. I realised that I must have cycled 100 times more than I had walked over the last week or so and had got out of the habit of pĆ¼tting one foot in front of the other. I soon got used to it again but again the town was desolate, except, again for an Italian restaurant. I had a pizza again and a couple of beers. The chap said a few things in German which I didn't understand so I told him I was English. He then told me he was Italian, which was pretty obvious to me but maybe not to him. I suppose you could say it was a conversation after all. I got back to the room and did some blogging by kindle and had to stop because I was falling asleep in the chair.

Today's Route

21 April Stage 12 Ingolstadt -Mamming

Dep 1020     Arr 730     Dist 132.9 km     Total 1325.5 km

I only had four pints! I felt rough when I woke up in the hostel. I didn't know what time it was and didn't really care. I woke again for a bathroom call so had to get up and it was 7.20. I gratefully got back in bed again and eventually surfaced for breakfast at 8.45. It was a lovely sunny day so I put my lenses in and donned my sexy cycling goggles.

I got out of the town ok and made good progress considering how I was feeling. Then came the dreaded sign of a car in a blue square, which I know now means motor vehicles only. I got off and zig-zagged across from village to village ending up on a straight cycle path which looked like it would get me back on course. It went through a forest but it was dead straight. What could go wrong? Remember Hansel and Gretel? Well, every now and then there would be a fork on the road. One track went at 20 degrees, the other went at 21 degrees. One was 8ft wide, the other was 8ft 1 inch. I made a number of decisions and I think was on course and I came to a clearing with a little monument to the loggers of old who were logging on and off before we were born. There were a number of tracks branching off, one being the obvious choice, but there was a red and white plastic barrier across it from tree to tree. I could hear lumberjack work going on further down this track. Surely they would let me through. I had a sit down and something to eat while I pondered my next move. I decided to walk to where the work was happening and there were tree fellers chatting (sorry). One big fat lump, and that's being kind, with a grizzly beard flew at me ranting and raving while the other two just looked on. I calmly apologised and explained my situation and asked if there was another way. The answer was an emphatic no with more ranting. Basically they couldn't be arsed explaining. I turned and walked back with Bluto shouting after me. I knew what I was going to do. I had another snack and took off my high-viz jacket and then saw the fat guy in his van coming up the hill to the clearing. He's going, I thought. No, he just turned round and went back. Maybe it's the only place he can turn and he's going the other way. Anyway, I set off walking down the forbidden track which was quite muddy with lots of branches about. Fortunately, it was downhill so I got on and started pedalling. I went round a bend and saw his van. OK Tom let's go. I tried to accelerate but got stuck in the mud. Just then a twig got caught in my front wheel and started making more noise than all the chainsaws in the forest. As I slowly and noisily went past the van I expected the worst but it was empty and I rode away into the clear and with the welcome sight of a village ahead. I had to chuckle to myself. Here am I, a pillar of society in my own country, acting like a naughty schoolkid, or, better still, like popeye, and without the spinach. Back to Hansel and Gretel and other fairy stories. Weren't the woodcutters always the heroes who rescued people?

I got back on course but the day was dragging on a bit. One of my lenses was giving me a bit of jip and I was on a long straight road with a slight headwind. I had run out of water and felt the need to get to the campsite at Mamming before 8.00, which is when the receptions tend to shut. I got to Dingolfing and experienced verbal abuse for the first time from some teenage kids. I then asked another kid the way to Mamming and he deliberately tried to send me on the wrong side of the river. A cyclist put me right. He said the cycle path will take you straight to the camp. I set off, thirsty and hungry with my eye watering, getting close to the 8.00 cut off time. I made it to the camp before 8.00 but not only was the reception shut, the camp was shut. It was a sort of activity centre for kids but the website said it did cater for individual campers with tents. There was nothing else to do but set up camp in a quiet corner. I went into the village to ask for water and got a take-away pizza from the only place with a bit of life. The chap filled my bottles for me and I went back to the camp and enjoyed my evening meal and settled down for the night.

Today's Route