After almost two weeks of wwoofing at Frantiskas farm near Pribram, CZ Kathrin and I went for a great weekend camping trip to Karlstejn with Frantiskas old mountainbike. Spring has definitely arrived, all trees are vivid green, the meadows blossom. The fortress of Karlstejn is very impressive.
I take the train back to Bavaria, where Georg helps me to assemble my new bicycle. Thanks a lot for your generous donations - I'm very happy with the bike and its handling, weight and look!
Meanwhile Kathrin cycled on towards Vienna with the bulk of our equipment. Two days later I follow her. I beam through green hills and valleys, see many old stone sculptures of saints beside the roads, rush through Marianske Lazny. Clingggg - a broken spoke on the cassette side of my old rear wheel shortly after. Get it fixed in Plzen and head towards Pisek on small hilly backdoor roads. Great forests, meadows, crop fields and tiny villages with barking dogs. Few road signs, no traffic. Blood sweat and tears on the slopes. I have a rest during the rain in Blatna, and a quick rush to Pisek on the main road that wasn't too bad in terms of traffic. Sight seeing beside searching a guesthouse in the last light of the day. One more racing day - 100 miles to Bitov to catch up with Kathrin again.
Rest day - a walk to the scenic castle over the water reservoir. The campground is great. Finally we tent together, cook our meals and coffees on the little stove as we intended. On the way to Bratislava we briefly cross into Austria to visit the castle of Hardegg in the Thaya valley national park. On the way back to Czech republic, the cycle route leads through a forest of mighty oak trees. I'm taken by the beauty of the Czech nature. The fragance of blooming whitethorn and holder make the cycling incredibly pleasant.
We stay a night in Znojmo, visit the historical town center and the vast system of man-made catacombs under the city. The guided tour is funny, full of history and fairy tales. The catacombs have been dug since the 12th century for food storage and shelter during war periods for hundreds of years. Then, they were abandoned and forgotten until the bombings of World War II revealed strange holes under the ruins of some old houses.
Looking forward for plain roads from here, we face a tough day of head wind through the crop fields and wind parks in Northeast Austria. Eventually we reach the river March (Morava) at Angeren and take a ferry to Slowakia. The Iron Curtain trail leads us further South towards Bratislava, through beautiful stretches of big willow and cottonwood trees.
A night of wild camping on a lake with a marvelous sunset between storm clouds and millions of mosquitoes. At 6AM the transportation bands of the quarry pond start to rattle.
A few hours later we arrive in the pouring rain at the ruins of of Devin castle, towering on a big rock over the merging Morave. Utterly soaked we enter Bratislava, and eventually find a hostel after an hour of criss crossing the Danube. Without the rain, I would have appreciated the big balcony of our room and view to the castle a lot. Yet at the time, the gray 1970ies soviet style Hotel Kiev dominates the view, and my mood. There is a Slovak cooking session in the evening. Paula teaches us some lentil soup recipe, and even better, some Fanky sweet dough fried in oil. Yummie! The following day we join a free walking tour around Bratislava and learn a lot about the Slovak history. Kathrin get herself a pink tablet and I feel a little abandoned afterwards.
Sunshine on the following day, time to take off again. A nice tailwind blows us down the Eurovelo 6 cyclist highway along the Danube river (which we hardly see), and by lunchtime we are already in Hungary. Red poppy flowers and storks beside the road, red cherries on the trees in the villages - if we just knew how to ask the owners at the fence for a few. We reach the town of Györ and a nice cafe just before a heavy rain shower, and continue towards Komarom afterwards. But the Eurovelo route is difficult to find, and the road we would have taken is forbidden for cyclists. After we pass the Audi factory and some single trails in the woods, we eventually get back on track, and find the camp site we wanted. A 100 k's, that's descent!
We have lots of opportunities to see the rising levels of the mighty Danube on the way to Esztergom. There is floods in Germany and Austria, and apparently Hungary will get its share in the next days too. However, for today we can still camp at the riverside in Esztergom, which is most famous for its Basilica on a rocky hill over the river. We take the small cat stairs in the old town uphill, marvel about the view over the river and the mighty marble sculpture of a crowning ceremony. The sky glows in vibrant colors. When we get to the basilica, I'm taken away by the scale of the eight columns at the entrance portal and the mighty green door compared to the visitors. A high priest and his servants celebrate a ceremony, sing and pray and walk to several altars outside the Basilica. Kids stray flowers on the cobblestones between them and the worshipers. We are at the heart of the Hungarian catholic church.
In Szentendre we can stay for two nights in a bungalow on piles on Papsziget island in the river. In the neat old town, people prepare flood walls to protect the old town center. Others would cut the gras on their premises. Surprisingly, everyone is calm, no one seems to be too concerned as we talk to them. Almost all German discounter chains are omnipresent in Hungary, with similar low profile. We watch the Danube rising from our hut, and wonder which direction to take after Budapest. To stay near the flood is probably not very wise.
30 more kilometers to the Hungarian capital. Bicycle trails are partly flooded. Tomasz, a young army student we meet on the way kindly escorts us into town with his bike, and gets somewhat lost too. Eventually we reach the Varosliget city park with the hero square, make some photos with a nice Indian family. The nearby Vajdahunyad castle somewhat looks Disneyland, yet was build around 1900 for the Millennium celebrations of the Hungarian state. Budapest is charming - its history reflected in buildings, the bridges over the mighty stream. When crossing the chain bridge to see the great Parliament building from the Buda side of town, we watch a young man escape an ambulance car and jump over fences into the river. Hmm.
Good news for cyclists: there are many bicycle tracks in the city centre. And the people here like their bikes - they like it fancy and fast. You may see pink racer bikes with pink tires and the cyclist with pink hair too. As well, there is a significant portion of fixies in town.
A great surprise is the Greenbird guesthouse we booked. Not a noisy hostel, but a fully equipped flat near the Parliament building - with our own kitchen, bath. In the basement - we hope the water level won't rise too much. After a long day visiting the Buda hills, we spoil ourselfes with an incredible organ concert in the St. Stephens cathedral. The following day we venture to the traditional Gellert thermal bath, get sunburned and crown the day with a visit to the Belvarosi Festival in the park next to our flat.
Here are some pictures from Budapest: