Having arrived in Vienna, and thoroughly showered, I set off to see the sights. The town is admittedly beautiful, and far edgier and more characterful than I had perhaps expected. Furthermore, unlike in cities such as Belgrade and Budapest, the city doesn’t face in dramatic style onto the main course of the Danube, being situated to its south side instead, with reams. of modern development characterising the river banks – the exception perhaps, from what I saw riding in and out, being along stretches of the Danube canal where ubiquitous quasi-boroque apartment buildings amass.
From where I was staying, a short walk bought me in, along a fashionable shopping street, to the centre of the old city and to St. Stephen’s Cathedral – a lavish and overcrowded medieval amalgam of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, dramatically lit within in abstract dapples cast by the geometric stained glass windows.
From there I proceeded on a short circuit through richly adorned streets of highfalutin stock and designer shops, past the famous Vienna Opera House (where, I belatedly found out, one can watch the opera live for free projected on a screen to the building’s south side), and through the Hofburg Palace and its associated grounds, and back for a very necessary nap, beer, and bit of socialising.
The following day I packed, climbed, feasted, and set out late to camp around 20 miles east of the city with the bounds of Danube-Auen National Park.
The National Park was created in the 1980s following an outcry against plans to dam the region, one of only two remaining freeflowing sections of the river in Austria, and one of the last remaining areas of wetland habitat in central Europe. The park is only visible in narrow vistas from the cycle path, as breaks in the trees reveal wetland laneways; strips of clear water lined with reeds, the tortured forms of willow, sinuous split-skin rows of white poplar, and the occasional beaver dam. The air on my ride through the park, particularly late in the evening, and early the following morning as I headed on to Bratislava, veritably shimmered, with cottony billows of pollen, and the reflected glance and glisten of white willow and the poplar.
From the National Park the way gradually opened out, swinging me south across the river and into Slovakia, and eventually Bratislava. I had been forwarned that the city would be slightly underwhelming, but, gladly, stopped in for a brief tour-by-bicycle – which revealed a pleasant historic town, with a number of interesting buildings, worth an hour or two’s attention if nothing else.
Hoping to battle on through another 110 miles or so from Bratislava to Budapest that same day, I put my head down for the next few miles – taking advantage of a light northwesterly tail wind. After a couple of hours I was feeling hopeful (energetic and setting a good pace) around which time the cycle path on the Slovakian side of the Danube Way (as opposed to its parallel Hungarian section) deteriorated rapidly; from paved path, to two metalled car tracks, to an even worse deeply gravelled farm track. After battling on for some 40 minutes in the deep gravel, the bike’s rear wheel yawing away in my wake, I detoured northeasterly along a farmer’s track to a main road – to once again make good time, arriving into Komárno by 4.30ish. Realising I would now not be making it through to Budapest as planned, I visited an exotic supermarket known as Tesco; to buy extra food and water. I crossed onto the Hungarian side of the river, and the headed eastward along the Highway 1, picking up signs for the Danube Way once more (clearly it dispensed with being a cycle path in Hungary), to camp on a beach by the river near Süttö.
This morning I rode the last stretch, around 40 miles, along Highway 10, over and down into Budapest. Considering the cheapness of accommodation (€5 a night) here I decided to stay and see the sites I had missed when I was last in the city (around 5 years ago).
Today proved to be very pleasant, taking in the parliament, St. Stephen’s Basilica, the Fisherman’s Bastion, and the Castle District – the latter including the city museum with a disappointingly haphazard temporary exhibition on the city’s archaeological discoveries (disappointing in structure and narrative more than actual content).
P.s. sorry for glare ridden photos – nearly every interesting ‘thing’ occurs between 10am and 5pm it would seem… Woe be to the golden hours.