Budapest

Another cool morning, another two countries, and now I am in Budapest. Here I shall depart from the Danube – I will cross it later, but at this point the river I have followed for 1000kms takes a different course to me.

Budapest is probably a good city, but I seem to be struggling to get into the mood for it. Probably because when I arrived it was getting to dusk, I was tired and covered in mud, and kept losing the trail into Budapest. I thought I was on the trail, then came up to a sign indicating no tractors, no horse-drawn carts, and no bicycles allowed. I am in the same category as agricultural vehicles.

A few white-knuckle rides on the side of very busy roads with no shoulder, and I finally got into the city itself. Major pain trying to get around in rush hour traffic to try and find somewhere to stay, but managed to find a hostel. Was thinking about only staying one night, then pushing on, but I was pretty tired (slept like a log for 9-10 hours), and I don’t have any great options for having a rest day for probably another 3 days riding, so figured I should stop for an extra night.

After being lucky with the weather for the last few weeks, things were due to turn. Fine weather cruising out of Vienna to Bratislava – I even stopped to have a nap in the sun at one point – then after stopping in with Biff things changed a bit. Not too bad, more just annoying drizzle, and plenty of spray from trucks/buses. The wind picked up yesterday though, which is more of a concern. Looks like it could be a bit of a pain for the next few days, but I think I’ll be OK with my current direction. Heading to Kecskemet, and on south across the border to Timisoara, Romania. More currencies, more languages I don’t know…was nice and comfortable with the euro and German, guess it’s time for a change.

Has been interesting to watch the changes from Austria, into Slovakia and now Hungary. You can really feel the change moving into Eastern Europe. Suddenly there are a lot of Ladas and Skodas on the road, and lots of people are on buses between cities. I will say that they do good bus stops though – perfect for a food stop on a damp day, with a seat, shelter, and a bin for my rubbish. I could have slept in some of the bus stops I’ve stopped in. Driving skills are tending downhill though, which is not so good as I’m now leaving the bike paths behind. Keys are to drive as fast as possible, and if you want to pass, don’t worry about road conditions, or what’s coming. Even got my first abuse from a truck driver. A classy touch.

Looks like some tougher road conditions coming up, with more hills too. Ah well, had enough of that easy stuff in Germany anyway…

Performance enhancing drugs

I have a confession to make. I have had to resort to taking performance enhancing drugs – specifically Pseudoephedrine Hydrochloride. I realise that this will now disqualify me from being able to take part in the (yet to be ratified) Olympic sport of bike touring, and I want to apologise to my fans and sponsors.

In the interests of helping rid global sport of this terrible phenomenon, I am prepared to name my suppliers (Boots the Chemist), and I will also say that none of my team-mates are involved. It was entirely my own decision, and not one forced by the team manager.

In Vienna now, with over 2,000kms on the clock. Had a cold for the last few days, that has made the ride from Passau much harder than it really needed to be. Not really sure why I didn’t just stop for a few days in Passau actually. Having a couple of days off here, getting some minor repairs done, picking up some more spare parts and new tyres – man those Marathon XRs are big and heavy.

I’ve been getting better the last couple of days, hopefully I’ll be more or less OK by Sunday, when I plan on setting out for Bratislava, and on to Budapest before my next rest.

Have just heard that the Iranian New Year’s period shut down goes longer than I thought, so it’s going to be cutting it fine for getting my visa without having to wait around, or backtrack. Looks like I should be able to pick it up in Erzurum though, which would be perfect, as that is not far from the border. Fingers crossed.

Crazy city

I’m now in Regensburg, in what has turned out to be a bit of a crazy city. Lots of students, lots of stuff happening. Feeling a bit slow today, after a rather late night out last night.

Ended up at a place that seemed to be like something like what a 1980’s student bar might have been like. Rammstein, AC/DC, G’n’R playing, people wearing Metallica shirts, that sort of thing. People were falling over drunk – security would come over, prop them up, then leave them to it, rather than throwing them out. I saw one guy fall over at least 4 times, all seen by the bouncer, who let him stay. Oh and did I mention that you have to push a buzzer to get let in the door? Not sure why really, but it was a good night out. Just as well I’m having a rest day though, as I didn’t get back to my hostel until 5am. Good thing it’s an independent hostel, and they don’t kick you out at 10am.

Have just been getting my guidebooks sorted out for the next couple of legs of the Danube bike path. Only about 600km from Passau to Budapest. I see there is now a book available for the last part of the Danube, Budapest to the Black Sea, but I think I will branch off the Danube before then, and aim for a more direct route to Istanbul.

And just for the hell of it, here’s a photo I took at my lunch stop the other day.

Rolling on the river

Now coming at you live and loud from Aalen, Germany. Have covered a lot of ground since my last post, passing through Luxembourg, and deep into Germany. Been on the road the last 5 days without rest, so today I’m taking it easy, and not planning on doing much.

After Namur, I pushed through the drizzle to Bastogne, along some fairly major roads, although most had a little lane on the side for me. Bit of a long tough day, and I was glad to get into the shower. From there I visited the memorial to the American forces involved in the Battle of the Bulge – I was all alone there on a cold, grey morning – just a pity it was too early in the morning to visit the Historical Center.

Through Luxembourg I mainly followed some of the nice (and unexpected) bike paths. Old railway lines are always nice, with great gradients. I tracked down along the German border, along the Sauer river, before finally crossing over the next day, and taking the Mosel river to Trier.

Yet more rain out of Trier, along the Mosel, then up and over the Hunsruckhohe, to Fischbach. I had been seeing all these signs up on the bridges, indicating what speed tanks could go over the bridge, if they were only going one way, or both ways – I didn’t really understand why they were there, until in Fischbach a Polish woman married to an American soldier told me of the huge US Army bases in the area.

I then came down out of the hills, and onto the Rhine plain, where I camped for the first time. Was good to get the tent out, and to cook a meal on my little stove. The sleeping bag was warm and toasty, and the tent well withstood the wind and rain in the morning. Luckily the wind the next day was a tailwind, and I roared across the Rhine plain to Ludwigshafen.

Germany has many bike paths, some long ones across regions, others just shorter ones across towns. It’s easy when crossing a city to get mixed up, and that’s what I proceeded to do. It took me far longer than was really necessary to cross the Rhine – I knew it was right there, but couldn’t quite see it, or work out how to get across. Eventually I worked it out though. I wanted to stop in the middle and pee into the Rhine, ala Patton, but I didn’t think the local burgers would have taken too well to it.

From Mannheim I joined the Neckar bike path, following it up to the edge of the plain at Heidelberg, and into the hills. I was riding along the path, feeling pretty tired at the end of the day, and thinking about where to stop, when I just about road into the river – the trail led to a ferry crossing. I’d missed the last one, and was faced with a choice of backtracking 10km, or heading up the narrow steep road, up out of the valley. For some foolish reason, I decided to head up the steep hill – probably took me 45 mins to get 5km up the road. From there it was a nice downhill back to the river, in the fading light, all to get perhaps 2km up the river Would have been much better back tracking, but such is hindsight. I met a nice guy the following day who often rides in the area, and he said even he sometimes misses the ferry, even though he knows the departure times – but he knew it was better to backtrack.

Further up the Neckar the following day, then I joined the Kocher path, which has taken me through to Aalen. A beautiful Sunday, the first real taste of spring, had nearly every German and his dog out on roller blades, bikes, Nordic walking, everything. So nice to see a country of active people, unlike the UK, where faced with a beautiful Sunday like that at the the start of spring, they would have driven to IKEA. My personal favourite was the pair of yummy mummies I saw on roller blades, pushing three-wheeled prams. One guy told me they’ve all had to adapt to roller-blading, since they couldn’t do any skiing this year.

So hopefully tomorrow I can reach Donauworth, then follow the Danube bike path for a fair way. Not sure exactly when I will next rest, perhaps Regensburg. Will see how the legs feel. Only my quads are sore, everything else seems OK, which is a good thing. No joint issues, only muscular soreness.

The beard is coming along well. A few days growth in France seemed to appeal to the French women, but now I seem to be attracting weirdos. Yesterday while waiting for the hostel to open, a guy came up and asked for a light. While hunting around for some matches, and talking to him, he suddenly let out this weird moan for about 20s, then resumed his conversation, as if nothing had happened. He sat down to smoke his cigarette, after fumbling with the matches, dropping most of them, and eventually throwing the pack away. He then sat there laughing to himself about nothing for a while, before shambling off.

I am enjoying being in a country where I can speak some of the language. I have had several conversations with people who don’t understand any English, which is no doubt helping my German. A lady yesterday said I spoke very good German, but I do think she was being polite.

Hope all is well out there in the world – things are great on the bike, although I am concerned about the snow forecast for later this week…