Leaving Vienna we immediately stumbled across their nudist community who apparently like to sunbathe along the Danube. An unexpected way to start the next stage of our journey!
It was one of those days where you have everything set out, it's going to be a nice day, flat along the river an easy 65km to Bratislava with a nice early start. And then the adventure potatoes remind you that no matter your planning they are in fact in control. On this day it came in the form of closed roads, 30 degree heat and two punctures (for Lou and Aram). To top it off when we reached Bratislava our airbnb was up a massive hill (why are they always up hills?!). But we made it and Bratislava turned out to be one of the most pleasant surprises of the trip so far.
It is quite are small city with a beautiful Old Town area where everyone is selling icecream and there are statues All around which make for great photo opportunities (James is obviously rubbing off on me😊).
I could feel the full weight of my bike and panniers straining to get away from me as we started down the hill that led into Budapest. Night had arrived and both mine and Charlie's brakes had given up choosing to sack off their main function for the evening, and we were still a few kilometers away from our airbnb (a treat after camping in hot, mosquito infested fields). Progress was slow and my muscles ached from controlling the bike as I made a mental list of all the maintenance I needed to do: replace brake pads, buy new tyres, clean and oil chain, fix cycle computer. My mind was so full of bicycle logistics that it had skipped my attention that we were about to enter one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The rattling of a tram made me look up and I realised we were back by a river, the Danube, and on the other bank rose a magnificent imposing building lit up against the darknight. My heart skipped a beat. The aches and heat and sweat of the day faded and i felt excitement bubble up. The lights were becoming brighter and my excitement grew making me squirm as we wove around pedestrians in summer dresses and shorts.
As we cycled into budapest I giggled with excitement and, with no other way to express my joy at finally reaching the city at 10.30pm, I sang along loudly to my headphones (alanis morisset, thank you - my new go to kareoke song). The bright lights of the city, stunning buildings and general hum of liveliness was so refreshing and so full of opportunity that all three of us couldn't help grinning back and forth at each other. Three days of spas, sight seeing, good food, shower, beer and relaxing awaited us. Hot, sweaty and tired we had made it! I'll never forget the feeling of cycling in that day.
We visited the castle on top of the hill which told us about history of the castle and Bratislava and had an apparently interesting exhibit on Charelmaigne and Europe but was presented and written so confusingly that honestly the only thing I can tell you about him is that he had a nice crown with dangly things on! We spent the evening reading about Ig Nobel prize winners in a Spanish bar (because they sold cider!). Overall a great city to have a break in:)
Leaving Bratislava we headed into Hungary and country number 6! It took us three days to reach Budapest and they were three of the hottest days we've had so far, it was hitting 36 degrees each day which made for some very sweaty cycling! We quickly learned that the best way to handle this kind of heat was to take
Once leaving Venice we've had all sorts of highs and lows: Lows:
Uncyclable, never ending gravel paths.
Insanely persistent mosquitos
Leaving Bratislava and being high fived by kids on a school trip.
Half a dozen kind, non-english speaking people direct us back on track
Camping in a water theme park with slides (when was the last time you went on a slide?)
super long lunches (preferably involving icecream obvs) to avoid the heat of the day:)
With Hungary also came a new adversary... mosquitos! We were cycling along a really tough sandy/gravel path (and when I say cycling I mean pushing because pedalling was impossible!) and we were literally having to bat the mozzies away from our faces. I could feel them attacking my back and biting through my clothes. We were all absolutely covered in bites by the end of the day despite dousing ourselves in deet at every opportunity.
The Eurovelo route we had been following from Passau starts to get less well sign posted from here and the path doesn't always stick to the river so we were back to using Google maps and street signs to get around. Coming off the river also has the unfortunate side effect of not necessarily being flat. Anyone who has been to Budapest will know that the Buda side of the river is hilly where as the Pest is completely flat... We came in from the Buda side.
It was here we sadly said goodbye to Aram who had made us a cycling trio since Passau in Germany. He had put up with 7 hours solid cycling to get a sandwich on his second day, jumping into many chilly lakes/pools, cycling further on errands than on the actual route and our terrible camp cooking skills. But without him we wouldn't have a cycle sign-language sign for "ooh look over there at that mildly interesting thing!".
Budapest was also really exciting for me as it represented a departure from the start of the trip through western Europe where most people spoke English, the cycle paths were well sign posted, flat and relatively easy. This is where the adventure truely begins, where conditions will get harder and the roads more demanding. Western europe was a beautiful introduction to cycle touring, but now I'm ready for something more exotic, more challenging and more demanding. From here on in the roads will be tougher, the language barrier bigger and the cultures more diverse. I can't wait.
It felt like we spent rhe whole day going up in the heat which is not my favourite combination and it seemed to suck away all of my energy. Despite drinking lots I was still feeling dehydrated and headachy so Aram gave me one of his rehydration packets which did the trick but my gosh it tastes disgusting! If that's not a good reason to stay hydrated I don't know what is!
We made it to our airbnb at nearly 11pm making it our longest day cycling yet. But it was so totally worth it! Budapest is wonderful and has shot straight to the top of all of our favourite cities list:) We packed a lot into our two days there, a walking tour, thermal spa (soooo good!), parliment, holocaust and 1956 memorials, going to a ruin bar and sadly seeing Hungary loose its place in the Euros. But my highlight was definatly walking up to the Liberty statue to watch the sun set over the city and see all the building lights come on. It was magical:)
Overall Hungary has been pretty great, the countryside is lovely, the food is amazing (goulash every day!) but if it could be a bit less hot that would be wonderful (sorry to everyone in Manchester where I hear it's been raining all summer ;p).
We have a few more days in Hungary before we dip into Croatia and country number 7! But Aram is leaving to head back to America and his next adventure which sounds really exciting! It's been wonderful having him with us these past two weeks and will be really strange without him.