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Category: Europe Cycling 2015

Holiday cycling in Europe – Dresden to Orpington

Slovakian Broadcasting

Slovakian Broadcasting

There is the strange phenomenon of speakers that are mounted on telephone an power poles in Slovakian towns and cities.
When I first saw and heard them it reminded me of as fantasy game I once played (a game called Twinsen).
We saw a women with her baby in a pram standing still under a telephone pole listening to a broadcast.
Some sources say the Soviets used them as a propaganda tool. A tourist information agent said they are used for sports and weather warnings.
Can this broadcasting network be broadcasting on hidden frequencies? Do the soviets still have back-door access to the Slovak broadcasting network? We are getting earplugs so we can monitor the behaviour of people around us during the broadcasts.


Friday 29 May – over the Tatra Mountains

Friday 29 May – over the Tatra Mountains

Today was probably the most physically demanding ride so far, as we are passing through the Slovakian mountains (the Tatra range). It is an incredibly beautiful area, and organised in terms of road signs for the visitor (no getting lost here).

We headed out of town along the highway to connect onto route 72. It was a relief to be off the main road and the traffic was not too bad, aside from a number of passing log trucks.

The start of our ride was a nice meander through green fields and mountains, the sun was even shining for the first time in a while.

Then we began climbing and we just climbed and climbed, around 1000 metres over 10 km. There were some great views along the way. Imagine very green meadows fringed by forests, with snow capped peaks in the distance and the odd little village nestled in a valley. The whole pass was engineered to be at a steady incline, with a few long s-bends to get to the top. An endurance test.

Here is a photo (my camera cannot do it justice) – you can see the road at the bottom that we climbed up from, and this wasn’t at the top yet.

climb     climb2

Then came an even steeper run downwards – so much so that I had to stop a couple of times as my hands were aching from holding on to the brakes.

We turned off route 72 to the left heading to Bresno and meandered on little country road again – noticed another ski field – could have been a beginner slope as much lower down.

When we reached Brezno it was bizarre to ride past a slum type area on the outskirts, including a transvestite and little children playing near the traffic. The people looked different, with darker skin.

In the centre of town there was loud music, children’s carnival rides, miniature horses and stalls. Went to tourist office and found out that it was the 750 year anniversary celebration for the town.

carnival1      carnival2


We discussed accommodation in Cierny Balog, our intended destination about 8km away – all that there seemed to be was cabins on the side of the road. We bought enough food and wine for dinner, as we expected there wouldn’t be much at our accommodation. When got there the cabins were right beside a railway line and the town didn’t look very appealing. We decided to press onto the next town, only 12km away to look for something better.

We started up a hill with steady gradient through a forest – the whole time we felt that we must be coming to the end of the hill, but it actually climbed for about 10km – which we did very slowly as we were already tired (took more than an hour). There were some good views through the trees.

treeview      neartop

When we reached the next towns they were idyllic, but there was no accommodation. Kris stopped and asked for some water from a lady at a nearby house. We saw a shepherd up on the hill bringing his sheep in.


We pressed on. Thankfully we were on a long long downhill, which was spectacular. We sailed along for next 10km, coming back alongside the river.


We passed a large water reservoir and then into the town of Hrinova. On the outskirts there were large factories, and then we heard the loudspeakers again making announcements and playing music. We found the main town square and stopped for an ice cream and directions to the pension. The Pension Anka was not far away, set alongside groups of residential apartment blocks. We had done 94km, a lot of uphill, and were worn out, so we treated ourselves to the large suite (EUR50).


Saturday 30 May – into Hungary

Saturday 30 May – into Hungary

Our ride today was a little more manageable at 77km and took us to Szecseny, just on the other side of the border in Hungary.

The first part of the trip relatively flat (thankfully) and took us on route 526 out of Hrinova. We were surprised to see a train passing not far out of town with heaps of tanks on it (no clues where they were coming from or going to).


The route turns off and becomes a quieter at Podkrivan – we had a bit of an uphill climb through a rural area, but no too bad compared to the previous day. There was not much traffic at all on this road and it was pleasant cycling.

We took a detour from the 526 road onto a little farm road to the left, which was very potholed, with green fields on either sides dotted with spring flowers and rolling hills all around.

countryroad    badroad

When we got to Abelova, we saw some evidence of real poverty – a run down building with the ground floor empty and people living above – and ill kept looking kids playing outside. The road out of town was just as bad as the road in – even worse as it had a 16 degree down gradient.

Our route then took us through Sula, Hor. Strehova, Dolna Strehova, Mula, Nógrádszakál. I was interested to see a storks nesting on top of a power pole in one of the towns just before the border. At first I thought it was an ornament, as it was standing so still. Then at the next town I saw three in one street.


It was a hot Saturday afternoon and we saw a number of people lying around outside their houses in the sun as Kris looked for a border crossing. We found ourselves going through a slum area near the river and a small boy began to throw stones at us but quickly backed of when Kris reacted. We didn’t hang around there long.

Kris found a border crossing at Nógrádszakáli that was basically a footbridge with a muddy track through a paddock on the other side. When we reached the other side we exchanged a few words with our first Hungarian family – the father was shirtless and was slim and sinewy, the mother had teeth missing in the front of her mouth, a small girl was carrying a young kitten and the little toddler was cute and wide eyed. They were very good natured and excited to exchange a few words in English. From there it was only around 10km ride to our destination town of Szecseny.

crossing     crossing2

Szecseny was was also buzzing with celebrations when we arrived, evidently “childrens day”. It felt like a friendly town, with some well kept historical buildings and a small castle. A couple from Budapest helped us find out hotel by looking it up on their smart phone. Our accommodation was a bit on the outskirts of town and hard to spot (no signage) – but a nice room and good value. We headed back into town thinking we could have something to eat and drink – however none of the pubs or cafes serving proper food were open. So we bought some food from the supermarket, had an ice cream and watched part of the folk dancing display.


Monday 1 June – Budapest sightseeing

Monday 1 June – Budapest sightseeing

Today we had a full day sightseeing around Budapest on our bicycles. Kris had a challenge to find our way out of Ujpest to the central city on bike paths.


I really enjoyed the entry to the city from the North, via the island in the middle of the Danube (Margaret Island). In the morning there were lots of joggers. In the late afternoon when we left the island was full of families with small children and lots of people lying tanning in the sun. The island is a huge park which includes the ruins of a mediaval cloister, cafes, swimming baths, musical fountains and a small zoo.

cloister    margaretI


musical fountain

For our sightseeing around the city we picked up a map advertising a hop on – hop off tourist bus route and followed that route with our bikes – as it picks up on all the main sights.

Budapest is large, cosmopolitan and has a surfeit of fantastical old buildings. We were glad to have our bicycles as it is spread over a large area. There is a large bicycle hire infrastructure in Budapest with many distributed lock in points. There is also many shopping areas with lots of posh shops. There are a number of bridges crossing the Danube and we managed to cross at each one of them.





budapest                  budapest2


budapest3                  budapest4

It was a hot day, so we were happy to find a craft beer pub, on the river front in an ultra modern shopping centre on the river front. The local brew was good. I see they also sell bottled BrewDog (Irish craft beer which we also get in Wellington pubs).

craftpub1   craftpub2


Tuesday 2 June – Eurovelo 6

Tuesday 2 June – Eurovelo 6

Today we joined the Eurovelo 6, one of the most popular European cycle routes that crosses the continent from the Atlantic to the Black Sea. We followed large parts of the route in France in 2012, most notably along the Loire Valley.


We expected to find route information in Budapest, as this it is a prominent start/end point for many cyclists on the route. However the tourist information offices that we consulted were universally ignorant about the route, so we are flying a little blind without an official maps.

The best information we got was actually from the barman in the craft beer pub, who helped us confirm that we should exit on the southern bank of the Danube to pick up the route.

We crossed the Danube at the magnificent Megyeri Bridge – a long cable stay bridge built in 2008. There are totally separated cycling/ pedestrian lanes on both sides of the bridge. Some commercial barges passed by on the river while we were crossing.


cablestaybridge1            cablestaybridge2

Directly after crossing the bridge the beautiful cycle route deteriorated into a bumpy broken tar road. Luckily that didn’t last too long and soon signs for the Eurovelo 6 route became visible. The route was great in lots of places, off road and directly alongside the Danube, with just houses on the other side. It must be wonderful to have a house on the Danube banks with only a bike route between you and the river. In other places the bike route signs directed us back onto the road.

nicepath    town1

Visegrad was one of the most interesting towns we passed through. It has an old castle high on a hill above the Danube, and a lower castle, in ruins in the village below. There were hundreds of schoolchildren around the lower castle – a big school outing.

It was a hot day, with lots of flying white fluffy seeds in the air that can be quite irritating when they get into your nose or mouth. We bought some strawberries at roadside stall and ate them and some cookies alongside the river. Then we had ice cream at another small village.


We arrived fairly early at Esztergom and spent some time looking for a tourist office. We went up and down the town asking directions and being directed in circles. We would have done better just riding around and checking out the accommodation ourselves. Finally we found out that there was no office, but that we could get accommodation help from the foreign exchange office. She recommended the apartments we had already identified on the internet (but couldn’t find on the town maps displayed around the place) and provided us with a printout map. They are about five minutes out of town by bike. The reception caused us to have serious misgivings about these apartments (slow receptionist, odd people milling around, not quite like a hotel). Thankfully they turned out very good – large and self contained with a kitchenette.

Estergom is notable for it’s magnificent basilica and beautiful buildings. 



The basilica is HUGE – according to Wikipedia it is the largest building in Hungary. It sits up on the hill over the town and dominates the town – there are panoramic river views from up there. However the rest of the down town area is a little run down, maybe the economy here is not so good and it is not attracting tourists to stay in the town.




In all it was an easy day – only 68km including all the riding around the town.


Wednesday 3 June – Heatwave on the Danube

Wednesday 3 June – Heatwave on the Danube

Today was our shortest ride yet, only 56km. We are slowing down a bit to savour this journey along the Danube.

We crossed over the river into Slovakia again this morning, travelling back on the north of the Danube. We crossed at an attractive old bridge and admired the view of Estergom from across the river.

leavingbridge    leaving

The first part of the journey took us a bit away from the river, over flat fields fringed with poppies. There were also some fields that were just poppy’s, an amazing red display.


We bought watermelon at a roadside shop – which was wonderfully refreshing in the oppressive heat. They agreed to sell us half a watermelon and cut that into quarters for us, and we managed the rest with Kris’s pocket knife.

There were a few other cycle tourists, all coming the other way (it seems most people go from Germany or Vienna to Budapest and then take a train back).

The last stretch of the ride was around ten km along the stop bank – it was lovely riding side by side without any traffic, but also very hot (no shade).

A point of interest along this section was the ruins of an old Roman fort (called Celemantia) – clearly visible from the cycle path with an information board (unfortunately not in English). You can make out parts of the main gate from the ruins.

ruins1  ruins2

When we came off the stopbank near Komarno (at around midday) we saw a pub with people sitting outside in the shade and stopped for a drink. The heat was stifling. When it gets this hot many of the men here take their shirts off to cool down and two of the men were sitting shirtless. They also had a (cute) dog with them.


We crossed a bridge and found the Komarno town centre (still on Slovakian side). As we rode in looking for accommodation, the proprietor of the Hubert Varga Pension and Restaurant saw us and ran out to offer us a room. We were drawn in and the room is great value for money – larger than the standard hotel room with a little sofa, fridge, kettle and computer. Kris didn’t like all the stuffed animals hanging on the stairs and passageway (there is a large stuffed hare just outside our door) – but I would recommend the place for value and customer service. The restaurant specialises in venison and the owner seems to have a passion for hunting. There is also a zebra skin on the stairwell with a photo of him and freshly shot zebra!


We had plenty of time looking around Komarno, which is actually two towns spanning the Danube – one in Slovakia and one in Hungary. The Slovakian side is much prettier. 

We went to a large Teskos on the Hungarian to try to spend our remaining Hungarian currency – Kris got a replacement bike helmet and I got some replacement shoes (my old shoes were pinching my toes). We had a couple of ice creams and some beer at a pub with spray misters outside for the heat. We finally returned to our pension and had a meal in the restaurant (not venison), which was very hearty and good.

It is incredibly hot into the evening, only beginning to cool down after 10pm.

Thursday 4 June – Slovakian flats

Thursday 4 June – Slovakian flats

Today we departed a bit from the standard Eurovelo 6 route, which requires you to cross over again to Hungary on your way to Bratislava.

Our first 20km was along the Eurovelo route and was a gravel road on top of the Danube stop bank. We stuck with this for about 20km but it was slow going.


We decided to leave the trail and go inland and north at Veľké Kosihy along tertiary roads. (our original plan was to overnight at Gabčíkovo and then cross over to the Hungarian side, however we suspected that this part of the river would not be very scenic in any case due to industrialisation).

The roads were good and the countryside is very flat, productive farmland. There are many wheat fields, and also some corn.


We passed through a number of small towns. It was very hot again and we stopped for some ice cream at a small outdoor bar/cafe in one of the towns. Three worn men were sitting outside drinking beer and chasers (at 11am), another arrived by bicycle with his little grandson as we were leaving.

A headwind came up after lunch and I rode in Kris’s slipstream so that we could make good progress.

At one town we stopped to eat some cherries from a tree at the side of the road (they were nice and tart).

The first things you see when approaching Dunajska Streda are high rise (Soviet style) apartment blocks and stacks of shipping containers. It seems that this may be a midway point for transporting goods.

The main attraction for tourists is evidently a big spa and pool complex.

We found our way to the centre of town just after 1pm and began looking for hotels. This time we found the tourist office without looking (we just rode past it in the centre). They recommended the pension Villa Archa. We had to wait for the owner to arrive so had a quick picnic in the park opposite. It was very hot.

The Villa Archa turned out great. We are the only people in the house (the owner just showed us around, gave us the keys and left) and it is very smartly furnished – so as well as our room with en suite and huge shower, we have the private use of a kitchen and living area. This is only EUR35. It almost seems that the accommodation gets better in inverse proportion to what we pay.


Later in the afternoon we had a ride around town, did some shopping and ate at a nearby pizzaria. Then we had a couple of beers at a outdoor beer garden near our pension – one half is a children’s playground and the other half is a kiosk where you can buy beer, cold drink or ice cream. There are tables where you can sit under the trees and drink. Lots of the patrons were also smoking and most seemed to know each other. They were a very sociable bunch, greeting each other as they came and went.


Friday – 5 June – Bratislava

Friday – 5 June – Bratislava

Today was the first day we had to do some maintenance on our bicycles after about 1,400km, and it was not a broken spoke! Luckily the problem was solved without too much pain.

We had an early start and a relatively fast 43km ride to reach Bratislava along route E575, arriving before 11am. The road was very flat but had lots of cracks running across the tarmac (maybe worse for fast cars than bicycles) and there was a bit of traffic.

Our first views of the city were of soviet style apartment blocks. We struggled a bit to find the the river bike paths to enter the city. Kris’s chain began slipping, and he thought it was probably the chain but worried it could be the sprocket, so we needed to find a bike repair shop as a first priority. We negotiated around road repairs and traffic in the center to find the tourist information office and they gave us a map with locations of a couple of bike shops. Luckily the first shop confirmed that his chain had stretched after measuring it, and could replace it right away.

After that we rode around a bit looking for accommodation. Bratislava is not an easy city to navigate around with on bike. There are lots of curbs and crossings to negotiate, plus some streets have trams running down them (lethal if you get your bike wheel stuck in the tram track). They have however begun to make an effort with some bike lanes at least and there are clearly some cycling enthusiasts around. We met one of them (who runs a website called warm showers where individuals host touring cyclists). He recommended a local pub frequented by cyclists and we went and had a beer there (it was very hot). Eventually we went back to the tourist office to get a recommendation for overnight accommodation and were advised of a “very cheap” 4 star hotel. It was the most expensive place we have been in so far. It was good however, the best thing about it being the breakfast (which included apple strudel).

We rode around in the evening, which was more pleasant once it began to cool down. The main tourist site is the castle, there are some great views of the city and the river from up there. If you look in one direction you see the beautiful old town, in another direction the soviet style apartment blocks, then industrial chimneys and again soviet style apartment blocks. There is also a fancy bridge which has a restaurant built over the top of it.





We had some street food in the old city, but felt it was a bit of a tourist rip off place. There are some quirky statues there that all the tourists stop to photograph.

statuesnail      manatwork


We ended up doing a bit of a pub crawl – including a craft beer pub near the bridge restaurant that had an interesting dark IPA. Then we went to a tourist cafe next to the Danube and then back to the cyclists pub – which has good beer, was buzzing with locals and cyclists and has a view of the castle, even though it is near a motorway.


Saturday – 6 June – Bratislava to Vienna

Saturday – 6 June – Bratislava to Vienna

We were back on the Eurovelo 6 today, with a fair number of other touring cyclists. The start of the route was alongside the river and periodically through wheat fields. We watched the Hainburg castle up on a hill coming closer and closer.

castle1      castle2

As we passed through Hainburg Kris realised we were in Austria. We hadn’t noticed a border – but the road signs were different and the cars had mostly Austrian number plates.

We also noticed an increase in the quality of bike path signs – with a number of routes referred to in detail.


Just outside of town, we were surprised by a long snake (at least 1m in length) lying sunning itself on the bike path. Some local cyclists (young sporty ones in lycra) coming the other way also stopped and turned to take a look, but it had slithered into the grass before I could take a photo.

We stopped to talk with a cycle touring German couple who had been riding in our direction for the past 10km or so. They had left their car in Vienna, toured to Budapest on one side of the river and were coming back on the other. They advised that we could do a side trip to see old Roman ruins if we stayed on the south side of the river instead of crossing over to the north side as per the usual Eurovelo route. So we decided to see the ruins.

There is an old amphitheatre in Petronell, built in the first half of the 2nd century, which was well worth seeing. The Austrians still put shows on in the theatre.

amphitheater                   plays

There is also the ancient city of Carnuntum which extends over an area of 10km2 – only part is visible today.


We had thought we could continue along in the same direction on the south of the river, but after a bit of to and fro discovered that we had to turn back and cross the Danube at at Bernstein Straße bridge – so that added about 20km onto our journey, extending it to a 98km day. The bridge is amazingly long (1.88km) and has a good cycle track on both sides.

The rest of track was along the stop bank, which had no shade and was very hot in the sun. An outdoor cyclists pub near the end of this stretch was a welcome sight, as we were running low on water.


We stopped for a beer and a conversation with a Viennese cyclist who we had passed on the track a few times. He told us how Vienna is numbered in an onion-like structure, with district one in the middle and 23 radiating outwards. Once we had cooled down and refilled our water bottles we set off again. Unfortunately we didnt look at the signs closely as we came out of the pub, so set off on a secondary path trough natural parks. We were feeling light-headed from the beer and the heat (a legal high) – so we ate lots of chocolate. The road eventually dumped us somewhere on the outskirts of Donaustadt. From there we made our way into the Vienna central city and eventually found the tourist info at around 4pm. We stopped at several hotels along the way and asked for tariffs and they were surprisingly expensive or full (we were discovering that Austria is comparatively expensive). We were happy when the tourist info could provide a booking for a reasonably priced place 5km from the centre (in district 7). It took quite a while to navigate there – the city is so big that the map they give you only names every fifth street or so.

Vienna is a huge city with amazing buildings throughout. It is so large that you cannot cover all the sights in a day – even on a bicycle.

We rode around in the evening a bit.

vienna2        vienna1      roof


monument      monument2     vienna3

Kris spoke to some people at an open source stand at a Vegan fair. We had a pizza and found the night life along the Danube canal. There was a football match on and lots of fans watching and cheering periodically. No more cheap beer here – they cost around EUR3.80 each, compared EUR1.20 in Slovakia. The prices for food are similar to what we would pay in Wellington. There were lots of young people sitting along the banks of the canal. Here is a photo of me sitting on the canal and drinking a beer.


canal1     canal2

Sunday 7 June – Exploring Vienna

Sunday 7 June – Exploring Vienna

We had a full day to explore Vienna today. First we went to the Shonbrunn Palace – about 5km from our hotel and a bit out of the centre. This used to be the Emperor’s summer residence and is huge. It was already too hot to walk around the gardens at 9.30am in the morning. I admired the Japanese tourists enthusiasm as they gamely snapped photos and rushed around in the sun (many with sun umbrellas). When we were leaving hundreds of tourists were streaming in the gates.

palace1    palacefountain

palace3     palace2

We decided to escape to the Danube island – about 6km across the city – a favourite spot for the Viennese on a Sunday. It is a long skinny island (21km long) in the middle of the river. As we made our way there on the bike paths, we noticed many other bikes heading in the same direction – people with summer clothes, mats and small small children attached to their bikes. The island is only accessible by bicycle, on foot or roller skating. Once we were there we saw lots of people swimming and sunbathing (also topless) all along the banks – you are allowed to swim anywhere. There is also a big children’s playground with paddling pool. There is a water ski lift, which we had never seen before – it pulls people along on ski boards through a pulley system. The pulley system is in a large square with the track elevated about 10 metres above the water. There are markers, a ramp and a few other items on the track. Some of them could do tricks, such as jumping into the air or going over ramps.

skiing     skiing2

It was incredibly hot so we found or own little stretch of river and had a quick dip – wonderfully cool. The bottom was squishy but the water was so clear that you could see your feet. There was also a curious swan which didn’t seem to like the people swimming on the next cove but left us alone.

swimming1    swimming2


We headed back down town in a cooler state (wet underclothes) to the tourist info taking in some of the fabulous architecture on the way (and also this cool boat on the canal which has a swimming pool on it).



 sights1       sights2

Soon we were too hot again, so we went for a beer at a cafe on the university campus.


Then back to the hotel to rest out of the sun. In the evening we emerged again to walk around. It is still hot at 10 pm.