Danube Bike Tour Day 32: Komarom to Esztergom

by Cassie, December 8th, 2009 | No Comments

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Distance: 56km

Originally, we were planning to continue on the Hungarian side of the Danube and go through Tata on the way to Esztergom. However, after reviewing the bike route, we would have to ride along busy roads for most of the way. We checked out the bike route on the Slovakian side of the Danube, and the ride seemed much more pleasant with more of the route along bike paths and quieter roads. As we were about to cross the Danube to the Slovakian side, we saw an enormous store that looked like a Super Wal-Mart. We stopped to check it out, and it was huge and just like a Super Wal-Mart! We were surprised to such a large store since the other stores we had seen were much smaller, so we thought Europe had escaped from big Wal-Marts shutting down small shops. But, apparently, there were Super Wal-Marts in Europe, too.

Tesco, the Super Wal-Mart of Europe

Tesco, the Super Wal-Mart of Europe

As we crossed the Danube to enter Komarno, Slovakia, there was another border checkpoint that was no longer in use. However, this border checkpoint was not vandalized like the other border checkpoint we passed. There was a money changing station still open at the border checkpoint, but it will no longer have any function once Hungary switches to the euro. We were impressed how prosperous Komarno was. Slovakia’s economy is transforming the fastest in the EU, and it seemed to us that in several years it will look like the other countries in Western Europe.

Europa Square in Komarno, Slovakia

Europa Square in Komarno, Slovakia

We enjoyed the bike ride today. Most of the ride was on a gravel bike path along a dike by the river.  We had to ride along busy roads for a few short stretches, but it wasn’t too bad. As we were riding, we passed these wonderful artistic creations made out of hay bales. For one of them, they used hay bales to create a witch with a broomstick made out of a cornstalk.

We reached Sturovo, Slovakia and crossed the Danube River to get to Esztergom, Hungary. The Maria Valeria bridge we crossed over the Danube was blown up by retreating German troops in WWII on December 26, 1944. However, due poor relations between Czechoslovakia and Hungary after WWII, the bridge was not reconstructed for over 50 years, and the bridge was not reopened until 2001. Esztergom was known for its basilica as it was the Roman Catholic church’s capital in Hungary. There is great view of the basilica form the Maria Valeria bridge.

Esztergom Basilica

Esztergom Basilica

We tried to stay at the campground in Esztergom, but it was closed for the season. After a couple tries, we found a pension for the night.  The room was really nice, and they had a computer where we could use the Internet for free!

Now that we had reached Esztergom, we were only 70-75km from Budapest! When we first started on our bike tour, Budapest seemed so far away, so it was amazing that we were so close to reaching our final destination.

Danube Bike Tour Day 31: The woods outside Gyor to Komarom

by Cassie, December 7th, 2009 | No Comments

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

We had a fun day of riding through rural Hungary. The official bike route followed a busy road for part of the way, and it wasn’t much fun riding along it. As we were riding along the busy road, we saw a Danube bike route sign that directed us to turn off the main road onto a quieter secondary road. We checked our map, and the bike route sign did not match the route on our map. But, we were tired of riding along the busy road, so we decided to try it. That was the last bike route sign we saw, so we had an adventure finding our way back to the official bike route. We rode on dirt roads through tiny farm towns. We passed people in the towns, and they stared at us like we were from outer space. It didn’t seem like they got many bike tourists. The dirt road was surprisingly well maintained, and we realized the reason was the building of a new wind turbine.

Riding through rural Hungary

Riding through rural Hungary

Wind turbine in rural Hungary

Wind turbine in rural Hungary

Once we passed the wind turbine, the road degenerated into something that could not be called a road. It was mud track that was used by tractors to get to their fields. Fortunately, we had our mountain bikes because it was bumpy, rough ride. But, we had a lot of fun going through it! It was more exciting that riding along a paved bike path. :) We made our way to Acs, and we joined the official bike route again. However, the roads weren’t much better once we were on the official bike route. I would recommend riding a mountain bike if you plan to do bike touring in Hungary. :)

Riding along muddy, dirt road on official bike route

Riding along muddy, dirt road on official bike route

We reached Komarom by 2pm, and it was another 20km along busy roads to reach Tata.We didn’t want to get into the same situation as last night, so we decided to stop for the night in Komarom. We actually found a campground in Tata that was still open for the season! The campground was next to the thermal baths, so we could use the baths as part of our camping fee. We spent a couple hours relaxing at the thermal baths in the evening. The thermal bath complex was huge! There were several rooms with pools with different water temperatures. We spent most of our time in a wonderfully hot outdoor pool. The thermal baths were a popular place, and they were packed with people.

Campsite at Komarom

Campsite at Komarom

Danube Bike Tour Day 30: Lipot to the woods outside Gyor

by Cassie, December 7th, 2009 | No Comments

Monday, October 26, 2009

Distance: 34 km

Today turned out to be more of an adventure than we expected!  When we left Bratislava, the clocks were pushed ahead one hour, so it got dark at about 5pm now. We made it to Gyor by noon, and we spent a couple hours exploring Gyor. It was neat city with a large pedestrian area in the city center.

Gyor City Hall

Gyor City Hall

We also got our favorite food for lunch: kebab!

We love kebab!

We love kebab!

By the time we got groceries and checked the Internet, it was mid-afternoon when we left Gyor.  Normally, this wouldn’t have been a problem, but it was a nightmare to get out of Gyor. It took us longer to get out of Gyor than it did to get out of Vienna! There were no bike route signs, and our map was not detailed enough to find our way out of the city easily. The other problem was that once you left the city center, there was a lot of traffic, and we also rode through a big industrial area.  We felt awful from breathing in the exhaust from the cars and the pollution from the factories. We were really ready to get out of Gyor, and we managed to find our way out of the city. By the time we got out of the city, it was already 4pm, and there were no places to stay for another 20km. We passed by a sign for a pension in the first town outside of Gyor, and we stopped there. However, they didn’t have any rooms available. We didn’t want to continue riding to get to the next place to stay since it would be getting dark soon, and we would have to ride along a busy road. We also didn’t want to go through the hassle of riding back into Gyor. Instead, we decided to camp in the woods we passed along the bike path. We actually found a great spot! The woods next to the bike path were actually a tree farm, and the trees were planted in rows spaced to fit our tent perfectly. Also, the ground was really level for putting up the tent. Fortunately, our tent was camouflaged to blend in with the woods. Jonathan went to the bike path to see if he could see the tent from the path, and he couldn’t see it. The night went really well, and we weren’t not bothered at all by someone kicking us out. We got up at first light in the morning and packed up, and no one knew we were even there. :)

Camping in the woods!

Camping in the woods!

Can you see our tent in the woods from the bike path? Were well camouflaged. :)

Can you see our tent in the woods from the bike path? We're well camouflaged. :)

Danube Bike Tour Day 29: Bratislava, Slovakia to Lipot, Hungary

by Cassie, December 6th, 2009 | No Comments

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Distance: 55km

Today, we woke up to a beautiful, sunny day!  I actually was wearing my sunglasses all day long!  As we were getting ready to leave the hostel, we met Ken Roberts from England, and he is doing a 4-year bike tour around the world. He biked along the length of the Danube bike tour like us, so it was fun to hear about his experiences. Check out Ken’s blog to follow his adventures as he bikes around the world.

The ride out of Bratislava was really nice.  We rode along a dedicated bike path the entire way, and the bike path was full of people out enjoying the beautiful day. As we approached the border between Slovakia and Hungary, we turned off the main, busy road to a secondary road.  We were able to cross the border without a problem, and there was just a beat-up sign announcing we were entering Hungary.

Border crossing between Slovakia and Hungary

Border crossing between Slovakia and Hungary

At the border, we met Steve from the University of Arizona who was also out for a bike ride. He was the first American we had met while biking!  He was studying in Bratislava for a semester as an exchange program. We talked to him about studying in Bratislava, and it was much different from our experience at Grinnell.  He said masters students don’t show up for the first couple weeks of class.  Some people only go to class a few times a semester, and they still manage to pass. He had been at school for a couple months, and there had been a few lectures, no assignments, and no tests.  He said it’s a great way to have lots of time to travel and see the country!  We bypassed the main border checkpoint by turning off the main road, and Steve suggested we check out the abandoned border checkpoint.  We decided to check it out, and it was crazy! It was strange that they didn’t board up the windows when the checkpoint was shutdown.  All the windows were broken, and people had gone in and completely trashed the place. It was strange walking inside the building because some things had been left there since the closing of the checkpoint.  They still had a calendar up in one of the offices, and there were old documents that were scattered all over the floor.

Abandoned border checkpoint between Slovakian and Hungary

Abandoned border checkpoint between Slovakian and Hungary

Smashed windows inside border checkpoint

Smashed windows inside border checkpoint

Trashed room at border checkpoint

Trashed room at border checkpoint

We had a wonderful day riding through the Hungarian countryside. They had harvested the fields, and they had pyramids of straw bales stacked in the field. The funniest part of the day was getting ice cream from an ice cream truck.  The truck was playing music like an ice cream truck, and it stopped on the side of the road for us. However, when we reached it, it looked more like a frozen food delivery truck than an ice cream truck. But, they opened up the back of the truck, and it had a big, picture menu with all their items, which included ice cream. :)  This was an adventure for us because this was our first day in Hungary, and we didn’t know any Hungarian. Also, Hungary was part of the EU, but they had not switched to the euro yet.  So, we also were dealing with a new currency and had to pay in Hungarian forints.  The men in the ice cream truck didn’t speak English, but they did speak German. We managed to get ice cream and pay for it in forints. This was my first time getting ice cream from an ice cream truck, so it was really funny that it was in rural Hungary. :)

Hungary was a whole different experience for us. It was clear that Eastern Europe was not as economically advanced as Western Europe. As we were riding, we passed several wagons that were being pulled by mules, and we only saw tractors when we were riding through the countryside in Western Europe.

When we reached Lipot, it was such a nice day that we tried to camp at the campground. Unfortunately, it was closed for the season, so we got a room for the night instead. There were also thermal baths at the place we stayed for the night, so we spent the evening relaxing in the baths.  The thermal baths were really nice after weeks on the bikes. :)

Danube Bike Tour Day 28: Petronell-Carnuntum, Austria to Bratislava, Slovakia

by Cassie, December 3rd, 2009 | No Comments

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Distance: 26km

In contrast to yesterday’s nice weather, today was a cold, gray, wet day.  Last night, the sky was so clear that I was surprised to wake up to the sound of rain on the tent.  Jonathan had a pretty miserable night because his Thermarest was punctured last night when he sat on the pot holder that was lying on it.  He patched his Thermarest, but it still leaked air.  It was cold last night, so he didn’t have much insulation between him and the cold, hard ground.  This morning, Jonathan tried re-patching the Thermarest.  However, after he re-patched it, it was still leaking air. It was really frustrating, and we wouldn’t be able to camp again if his Thermarest was busted.  Then, Jonathan realized that the Thermarest had been punctured through to the other side. He only patched one side, so air was still leaking out the other side.  However, we had used up all the patches for the Thermarest.  But, we still had lots of bike patches, and he was able to patch the Thermarest with them.  His Thermarest seemed to be fixed, so we would still be able to camp. :)

We got a late start with Jonathan fixing his Thermarest.  Petronell-Carnuntum had a large archaeological park with Roman Ruins, but we didn’t have time to check them out.  Instead, we rode by the Roman Heidentor (Heathen’s Gate) on the way out of town.  It was not actually a gate, but one of the four entrances to a victory monument for Caesar Constantine II around 354-361 AD.

Heidentor at Carnuntum

Heidentor at Carnuntum

We had a wet, cold ride to Bratislava.  We experienced the most defined border crossing of the trip between Austria and Slovakia.  There was a large border checkpoint, but it was no longer in use since Slovakia joined the European Union.

Border checkpoint between Austria and Slovakia

Border checkpoint between Austria and Slovakia

Originally, we were planning on continuing on to Hungary today, but it was such a miserable day that we decided to stop for the night in Bratislava. We found a great hostel near the city center.  The hostel was run by Hostelling International, but it was much different from the Hosteling International places in Germany and Austria. The hostel was located in an old building with lots of character, and it was conveniently located. We got a large double room with high ceilings, and it even had a balcony!

Our awesome room with a balcony!

Our awesome room with a balcony!

We were really glad that we decided to stop in Bratislava.  The old city was really neat, and it was closed off to cars! It was fun to walk around, and there were a lot of other tourists. I didn’t think that Bratislava was big tourist destination, but it may be a tourist stop because of its proximity to Vienna.  We got roasted chestnuts from a stand in one of the squares.  I had never had roasted chestnuts before, and they were really good.

Bratislava old city

The old city of Bratislava was really neat, but the rest of the city was not so nice. Once we left the city center, we encountered the dull, gray, ugly Soviet apartment buildings. Slovakia was the first Eastern European country we visited, and it was a whole different experience from Western Europe.

Abandoned Soviet apartment building

Abandoned Soviet apartment building

However, in the midst of all these dull, concrete apartment buildings, we found a beautiful, blue church. I think it was my favorite church we visited on the trip.  The design of the building was very unusual, and it reminded me of the buildings that Hundertwasser designed.

We also went to the observation tower on the New Bridge.  It is called the UFO because of its shape.  It looked similar to the Space Needle in Seattle.  We had a great view of the city from the tower.  It was so windy at the top of the tower that I felt like I was going to be blown over!

UFO on New Bridge

UFO on New Bridge

View of Bratislava from UFO

View of Bratislava from UFO

Petrzalka was the city across the river from Bratislava, and there were Soviet apartment buildings as far as you could see.  A guy we met told us that Petrzalka had one the highest concentrations of Soviet apartment buildings in Eastern Europe.

Petrzalka

Petrzalka

I was worried about going to Slovakia when we didn’t speak any Slovakian. We were only going to be in Slovakia for a day, so it didn’t make sense to try to learn the language. Fortunately, it was not a problem at all!  Everyone spoke English really well, and a lot of the signs were in English, too.

Danube Bike Tour Day 27: Vienna to Petronell-Carnuntum

by Cassie, December 3rd, 2009 | No Comments

Friday, October 23, 2009

Distance: 53km

Today was the first nice day we had in a long time.  When we left Vienna, the sun was shining!  We rode out of Vienna through Prater Park.  When we had walked around Prater Park last night, we only explored a small part of the enormous park.  It took a long time to ride through the huge park!

Riding through Prater Park

Riding through Prater Park

Just as we got out of Vienna, I got a flat tire.  When I took the tire off, I found a big shard of metal that had pierced through the tire.  There was a big gash in the inner tube that was really easy to spot.  This was only our second flat tire of the trip caused by a puncture, so our Kevlar tires did a good job of preventing flat tires.

We rode along the Danube once we left Vienna.  Since it was a nice day, there were people hanging out at the park by the river.  I saw an old man that appeared to be sun bathing in the nude, but I did not want to check to be certain. :)  We left the river to ride through a chemical plant with big tanks, but after we passed the chemical plant, we ran into road construction that completely blocked the road.  We had an adventure riding on gravel roads to get around the construction.  We were so close the first time we made it back to the main bike route, but the road was still blocked off for the construction.  But, we finally made it back to the bike route! The bike route went through the Danube National Park, and it was really pretty riding through the forest along the river. The bike path was absolutely straight, and it reminded us of driving down I-88 in Illinois on the way to Chicago. :)

Absolutely straight bike path!

Absolutely straight bike path!

When we arrived in Hainburg, it was so nice outside that we decided to take a detour and go to Petronell-Carnuntum where there was a campground.  We had not been able to camp for about two weeks, so it was exciting to have weather nice enough to camp! We had some trouble finding the campground.  We went to where the campground was marked on the map, but all that was there was a big field.  We were about to ride into town to stay at a guesthouse when we saw a sign for the campground. We found the campground, and we realized that it was not marked correctly on the map.  The campground was together with a restaurant and indoor tennis courts, which was an interesting combination. :)

Tennis and Camping - a fun combination!

Tennis and Camping - a fun combination!