Europe by bike 3: Austria, Czech republic, Poland and Hungary

Part 3 of 3

This is the last part of my travelogue from my bike tour through Europe in the summer of 2002, as republished in 2014.

Here we go.

  • Day 21: Passau – Linz

  • – 28 °C (82 °F), sunny.
  • Distance: 113 km (70 miles)
  • Time: 5:27 h (9:30 – 17:00)
  • Average speed: 20,8 km/h (12,9 mph)
  • Accomodation: Camping, 9 € (12 $)

The Danube Biketrail is totally wonderful. It felt like I was flying as I made my way through the other bicyclists. And there are plenty of them: After days of not seeing a single bike tourer, they suddenly come in hundreds.

Unfortunately almost no one of them bikes solo, like me. I started to talk to an Austrian woman on her way to Linz, but we didn’t have much in common, so I left her. I’m quite sure I don’t wanna bike alone the next time I hit the road for a bike tour.

The Danube Biketrail (Donau Radweg) – a bicyclist's paradise.

The Danube Biketrail (Donau Radweg) – a bicyclist’s paradise.

In Linz, I found Wiener strasse immediately. That’s the street where the camping should be, according to the booklet. But could it really be correct that the address of the camping was Wiener strasse 937? Because where I was, it was number 3.

Well, it was correct, I realized an hour later. The Wiener strasse was apparently very, very long and the camping was hence situated about 20 kilometers outside the city center, at a little lake called Pichlinger See. It feels a little bit off; no bicyclists, only cars and caravans.

I won’t bother going back to Linz to see more of that city. The camping is in the direction of the biketrail towards Vienna, so it doesn’t matter that I had to bike a long way out from Linz.

Fresh water to fill up the bottles!

Fresh water to fill up the bottles!

I had planned to camp in Vienna as well, but now there’s a very positive change of plans: I have just called an acquaintance of mine – actually a friend’s friend – who lives in Vienna. His name is Mischa. It was our first talk ever and he invited me to stay in his apartment for the 4 or 5 days I will stay in the Austrian capital.

That is just great! Just the vitamin injection this bike tour needed. I celebrate with a beer and read the guidebook about Vienna on the outdoor serving of the camping’s restaurant.

Today’s beer
Zipfer: 3 of 5.
  • Day 22: Linz – Melk – Krems

  • – 31 °C (88 °F), sunny.
  • Distance: 141 km (88 miles)
  • Time: 6:30 h (8:40 – 17:30)
  • Average speed: 21,7 km/h (13,5 mph)
  • Accomodation: Camping, 7 € (9,50 $)

What a flow I had today. On my way into Melk, I passed everyone at a cruising speed of 30 km/h (19 mph). A little guy tried to join me. For about five minutes he biked just behind me at the same speed. Then I slowed down a bit and we talked the last half an hour into Melk. He was a Swiss 13-yearold and part of a larger group that were going to spend the night in Melk.

Patrick, the Swiss boy.

Patrick, the Swiss boy.

I had planned to stay in Melk too, at first, but considering the flow I had, I decided to continue to Krems. On this stretch I met a Slovak solo biker on his way to Vienna from Bonn. We biked together for an hour or so, then he wanted to go slower and we parted. But not before he had invited me to his parents in Bratislava, in case I would take that way to Budapest.

The Swiss and the Slovak reminded me of my most valuable luggage: My languages. Being able to speak German with the Swiss boy and Czech with the Slovak (who of course spoke Slovak himself but those languages are quite the same) not only boosted the talks – it made them possible.

My camping neighbours in Krems, Norbert and Carola, invited me to share a bottle of wine with them. Sorry for the blurry photo!

My camping neighbours in Krems, Norbert and Carola, invited me to share a bottle of wine with them. Sorry for the blur!

The camping in Krems is nice. After coming back from my sightseeing and dinner (fried mushrooms) in this old town, I had a drink with my German camping neighbours.

I’m thinking about Budapest again. There are so many days and so little distance left. I have to come up with something here, some solution, but not right now.

  • Day 23: Krems – Vienna

  • – 29 °C (84 °F), sun, rain & thunderstorm.
  • Distance: 85 km (53 miles)
  • Time: 4:00 h (9:50 – 19:20)
  • Average speed: 21,3 km/h (13,2 mph)
  • Accomodation: My friend Micha, 0 €

Finally temperatures that reveal it’s summer – I’m not spoilt with that on this bike tour. It was 20 degrees centigrade (68 °F) as I fell asleep yesterday – I didn’t slip into my sleeping bag until I woke up at midnight. I know I have raged upon many things in this travelogue, but I must really emphasize that there is nothing better than sleeping in a tent, waking up in the night to take a pee outside, feel a little bit cold and go back to the warm sleeping bag and fall asleep the next second. Better sleep doesn’t exist.

The Danube Biketrail (Donau Radweg) not too far from Vienna.

The Danube Biketrail (Donau Radweg) not too far from Vienna.

This day has been warm too. Actually too warm, because when I was biking at the most deserted riverbank, a violent thunderstorm struck. I hid under a roof to a toolshed in a private garden that I had the courage to enter.

I didn’t have to rush today. Quite the opposite actually, since I was to meet Mischa in Vienna at 7 pm. So after the thunderstorm, I stopped by a little lake that had formed next to the Danube and took a bath. That was just before Greifenstein.

This is the lake where I bathed. It's forbidden to bath in the river Donau.

This is the lake where I bathed. It’s forbidden to bath in the river Donau.

I also stopped for a couple of hours in the little town Tulln, where I walked around and read the guidebook.

When I got closer to Vienna, I started to talk to a retired man, who guided me into the city center. From there I called Mischa, who told me which underground line to take to his place. Why aren’t you allowed to take your bike on the Stockholm underground? 20 minutes later I was there.

The older man who guided me into Vienna liked to listen to classical music while he biked. He would never listen to Tchaikovski though – ”that's way too aggressive”, as he said.

The older man who guided me into Vienna liked to listen to classical music while he biked. He would never listen to Tchaikovsky though – “that’s way too aggressive”, as he said.

I have now bought us a dinner at a restaurant, as a thanks for his letting me stay in his apartment.

Today’s beer
Egger: 3 of 5.

I have also called my friend Stefan who lives in Kraków, Poland. I’m gonna bike there after Vienna, and spend some days at his place. I don’t know exactly which way to take to Kraków, but there are plenty of days to figure that out here in Vienna. It feels good this matter is settled – now I look forward to the rest of my bike tour!

Vienna, the third capital I passed after Berlin and Prague.

Vienna, the third capital I passed after Berlin and Prague.

Micha took me to the Prater.

Mischa took me to the Prater.

I ate a langos. As you can see, I wear the same shirt as on all other photos – that's the punishment for packing really light.

I ate a langos. As you can see, I wear the same shirt as on all other photos – that’s the punishment for packing really light.

At the Prater I took a ride in something called Turbo Booster, which reaches top speeds over 100 km/h (62 mph). Mischa didn’t want to join.

Here is a video someone shot of Turbo Booster, it doesn’t look as fast as I remember it though:

But then we went in the Sling Shot together, it’s like an inverted bungee jump where you are shot 90 meters up in the air at 130 km/h (81 mph) and 6G. Here’s a video someone shot:

Note
I had 4 resting days in Vienna.
  • Day 24: Vienna – Ježov

  • – cloudy, sunny, windy.
  • Distance: 145 km (90 miles)
  • Time: 7:00 h (9:00 – 19:30)
  • Average speed: 20,8 km/h (12,9 mph)
  • Accomodation: Camping, 60 Kc (2,20 €, 3 $)

I started the day by taking the U-bahn (Underground) to the end station Kagran in northern Vienna. Immediately I found the bigger road that would take me to the Czech border. The road had quite heavy traffic, so at Gänserndorf I chose a smaller road, that also was a shortcut.

Outside Micha's place. Starting out again after 4 resting days in Vienna.

Outside Mischa’s place. Starting out again after 4 resting days in Vienna.

Yes, I have decided that my way to Kraków will go over the Czech republic, this time through the eastern part that is called Moravia (as opposed to Bohemia in the west).

Since the price difference between Austria and Czech republic is so huge, I biked as fast as I could to cross the border at Reinthal. Outside Břeclav, I sat down outside a restaurant and had the most delicious omelette with salad and the mineral water Mattoni. It cost 50 Kc (1,80 €, 2,50 $) – tip included.

The waitress told me she and her Czechoslovakian team had won the European championship in rowing four times back in the eightes. Or maybe seventies. Not exactly what you expect to stumble into in a Czech countryside restaurant! Then she complimented me on my Czech – she had thought I was Polish since I mastered the slavic word order perfectly.

In Lednice I stopped to look at the castle there and to have something to eat. I thought of staying the night at the camping, but it was only 4 pm, so I continued.

In Lednice I stopped to look at the castle there and to have something to eat. I thought of staying the night at the camping, but it was only 4 pm, so I continued.

Then I came to Ježov, where I’ve just raised my tent. The camping in Jezov was actually no camping – they only offered cottages. However, after two Slovaks and a group of Czechs arrived, all on their bikes and with tents, we were allowed to build a little tent village around the pool.

Jezov bathed in evening sun as I arrived, happily unaware of that the camping was not for tents.

Jezov bathed in evening sun as I arrived, happily unaware of that the camping was not for tents.

Our little "tent village" at the pool. (Photo by Slavomír Szabo.)

Our little “tent village” at the pool. (Photo by Slavomír Szabo.)

I’ve had a nice evening with the two Slovaks Martina and Slavomír, who are also doing a bike tour.

Today’s beer
Plzeňský prazdroj (Pilsner Urquell), bottled: 1 of 5.

Slavomír is a journalist and writes about their tour in English. Even I am featured on a photo in that travelogue, I notice as I digitize this diary, along with a story about the “guy from Sweden” who took a cold shower… (Edit 2014: Their travelogue has evaporated.)

I had a beer with the Slovaks in the evening. And yes, same shirt again...

I had a beer with the Slovaks in the evening. And yes, same shirt again…

I must say I love southeast Moravia. It’s so picturesque here, the scenery consists of wineyards, cornfields and little villages.

  • Day 25: Ježov – Rusava

  • – 27 °C (81 °F).
  • Distance: 91 km (57 miles)
  • Time: 5:15 h (10:00 – 18:00)
  • Average speed: 17,3 km/h (10,7 mph)
  • Accomodation: Camping, 30 Kc (1 €, 1,50 $)
Ready to leave Ježov.

Ready to leave Ježov. (Photo by Slavomir Szabo.)

My first stop today was Velehrad (“Great castle”), a small village with great heritage: It was planned to become the capital of the Great Moravian Empire. However, Uherské Hradiště took over that role, and thus grew bigger. I rolled into this town some hour later, took a look at the big square and rolled out again.

Velehrad, the cathedral in the village with the same name.

The cathedral in Velehrad, the forgotten village.

On my way into the central square in Uherské Hradiště.

On my way into the central square in Uherské Hradiště.

After 20 km (12 miles) on the heavily trafficed road 55, I finally reached the side road that would take me up the hills to Rusava, where I planned to stay the night. But this side road was closed for some reason, so I had to continue on road 55 for another 20 km.

I have planned my way so that there are mountains or hills on both my left and my right side. On my Michelin map, I have drawn a blue line that will guide me through valleys to the Polish border. On the sides of the blue line there are dark shadows, which means mountains. And I’m fed up with climbing – I wanna go to Kraków now!

The beautiful scenery of southeast Moravia.

The beautiful scenery of southeast Moravia.

As I write this, I’m sitting at the restaurant Obecní dům in the center – or rather fork – of the little village Rusava.

Today’s beer
Gambrinus, 10°: 3 of 5.

And yes, you got the fact sheet in the beginning right: The camping is one dollar (30 Czech crowns). (Edit 2014: The Czech crown is about one third stronger now than in 2002. Back then 30 crowns was exactly 1 dollar.)

I’m watching the European Championship in athletics on tv and having a beer. It’s quite nice.

  • Day 26: Rusava – Komorní Lhotka

  • – 21 °C (70 °F), rainy!
  • Distance: 98 km (61 miles)
  • Time: 5:15 h (10:00 – 17:30)
  • Average speed: 18,6 km/h (11,6 mph)
  • Accomodation: Hostel (penzion), 125 Kc (4,50 €, 6 $)

I don’t know why I started crying today. It might be that I’ve been out for 5 weeks now and that I’m homesick. Or it might be that I’m sick of all these rains that fall while at the same time Sweden has its warmest summer ever. Everything’s just a mess. How could I ever think, when planning this bike tour, that 8 weeks was maybe too little time?!

The weather really plays a big role in my feelings. I really enjoy the whole idea of a bike tour when the sun is shining and you’re biking on good roads.

However, I started the day by rolling down the slopes from the hills where I had spent the night. I liked the feeling of “licking” the feet of the western bi-chains of the Tatra mountains. Instead of hills, I had to put up with car drivers – they were many and violent, especially after Nový Jičín.

On the other hand, I was in a very good mood then, after having stuffed my stomach with a good meal in Nový Jičín: Bramboráky (potato pancakes) bathing in oil, a little salad, bread, juice and a chocolate croissant. Everything for 50 Czech crowns (1,80 €, 2,50 $) in a “jídelna”, i.e. a self serving restaurant.

Nový Jičín. It's apparently a very beautiful little town, but I just passed it on this big road, where I found the "jídelna".

Nový Jičín. It’s apparently a very beautiful little town, but I just passed it on this big road, where I found the “jídelna”.

Before the turning to Komorní Lhotka, where I planned to camp, I stopped by at a grocery shop to buy some breakfast for tomorrow. The lady behind the counter seemed quite bored, so I stayed for a while to talk to her. I guess I cheered her up with my amazing bike tour story. She told me there had been thieves in the shop in the night, so I thought I better watch out in the night. After a while her son and her friends came by and they all wished me good luck on the remainder of my tour.

Beautiful Moravia.

Beautiful Moravia.

On my way to the camping I passed a pension in Komorní Lhotka. I thought, why, I can always ask what it costs, after all a room would be nice. Four dollars later a big room with four beds was mine. I’ll simply never get used to the prices in the Czech republic.

I have now taken a warm shower (yesterday’s one-dollar camping only offered a cold one) in the common bathroom and eaten a big portion of fried cheese in a restaurant nearby.

Today’s beer
Radegast, 12°: 2 of 5.

I’ve got an sms from my dad and listened to a voice-mail from my mum. I guess they felt somehow I needed it – I have never appreciated their greetings more than now.

  • Day 27: Komorní Lhotka (CZ) – Kraków (PL)

  • – 21 °C (70 °F), cloudy & windy.
  • Distance: 143 km (89 miles)
  • Time: 7:09 h (9:15 – 18:30)
  • Average speed: 20,0 km/h (12,4 mph)
  • Accomodation: My friend Stefan, 0 zł

A long and hard day, since I had quite strong headwind all the time. But I had also something else: Motivation. Tonight I would meet my friend Stefan, have dinner with him and sleep at his place.

The day started with the border crossing to Poland in the town of Český Těšín, or Cieszyn as it’s called on the Polish side, which was the lucky side when the border was drawn after the second – or was it the first? – world war: It got all the old stuff that tourists want to see.

I was stupid enough to neglect my map, since the roadsigns to the border crossing were everpresent. But those roadsigns were for cars, of course! I could have crossed the border in the center instead of making this big detour.

Crossing the border with the cars also brought another unpleasant surprise: On the Polish side, the road turned into a highway, and there were no other roads to be seen! What was I supposed to do? It is illegal to bike on highways – should I stumble into the forest to look for small little forest roads? Excuse me, but no fucking way. I’ve had enough of bad roads! With that attitude I hit the highway, and what a feeling it was, having the lanes all to myself! Well, I didn’t really go in the left lane, but it felt as if the huge area of paved asphalt infront of me was all mine. And why shouldn’t you be allowed to bike on highways? I felt way more secure than on the smaller roads where cars pass you at 90 km/h (56 mph).

Not only motivation and bananas kept me going: Outside Andrychow, not on the highway anymore, another cyclist biked up to me. We took turns leading the way.

What followed was a real kick: We could talk to each other! Not perfectly of course, but he understood my Czech without problems and when he took care to speak slowly I could pick up most of his Polish. We biked together to the pope Johannes Paulus II’s birthplace Wadowice, where he showed me the center before we parted – he was gonna stay there.

My Polish bike friend in Wadowice.

My Polish bike friend in Wadowice. We parted at 3.15 pm, according to the clock on the church tower.

After Wadowice I called Stefan to prepare him for my arrival. Then I found a really idyllic little road that made me able to enjoy what was to become the last day of this bike tour. There were very few cars until Brzeźnica.

To roll into Kraków was wonderful. It was like a long, long downslope – maybe both literally and mentally – in which I kept pace with the cars. A few friendly ladies confirmed I was on the right way to the city center. A few minutes later it was obvious that I had reached the center and was just minutes from Stefan’s flat.

That’s when it happened: The gear wire broke. Except from a few screws that unscrewed themselves, this is the only casualty of the whole bike tour – I haven’t even had a flat tire – and it happened not even a kilometer from my goal. That’s what I call quality! With a touch of luck, of course.

I will now enjoy dinner with Stefan and spend I don’t know how many days in this beautiful city where I’ve never been before.

Today’s beer
Żubr: 1 of 5.
Krzyzek worked as a Catholic priest.

Krzyzek, a Catholic priest.

In front of the Maria Church in central Kraków.

In front of the Maria Church in central Kraków.

Note
I spent 7 full days in Kraków.
  • Day 28: Kraków (PL) – Budapest (HU)

  • – by train!

I’ve spent a fantastic week in Kraków. I’ve treated myself with nice dinners every night, I’ve had plenty of chats with Stefan and his friends and I have made new friends too.

I’ve also decided that Kraków will be the end of this bike tour – I will take the train to Budapest. The reason is that heavy showers have hit Central Europe and many cities – among them Passau and Prague – are flooded. My mum was not the only one to send me worried sms:es.

***

I can’t recommend travelling by train with your bike. At first message was simple: It’s impossible. But then I was allowed to stuff my bike into the corridor outside the compartment – but only in a normal wagon and I had to kiss my sleeping reservation goodbye without getting the 12 dollars back.

The night on the train was a nightmare: Every hour or so I was woken up – yes, I managed to sleep sitting – by either customs officials who wanted to see my passport, or new conductors who wanted their fair share of what I supposedly could give them for having the bike in the corridor. 5 dollars to the Polish conductor, half a dollar to the Slovakian and 5 dollars again to the Hungarian. “Czechoslovakia” really is amazing.

The first thing I did after checking in to my hostel in Budapest was to go bathing. After all, that’s what Budapest is famous for. I chose Király fürdő, a Turkish bath from the 16th century (the Turks occupied Budapest from 1541 to 1686).

What a feeling! Finally I could just relax! A sumo-like man asked if I wanted a massage, and I tell you, that was the best gift I could give to my body after all the work it has done this summer.

Finally in Budapest, the city that was my initial goal before I changed it to Kraków.

Finally in Budapest, the city that was my initial goal before I changed it to Kraków.

Like all of Central Europe, Budapest suffered heavy floods in the summer of 2002. This is how it first looked when I arrived: The road on the left is totally flooded (see the road signs?) but the trams can still go in the protected tunnel next to it.

Like all of Central Europe, Budapest suffered heavy floods in the summer of 2002. This is how it first looked when I arrived: The road on the left is totally flooded (see the road signs?) but the trams can still go in the protected tunnel next to it.

Some day later, the tram tunnel was flooded too.

Some day later, the tram tunnel was flooded too.

I met Mátyi in Budapest.

I met Mátyi in Budapest.

  • Bonus: Day trip to Visegrád

After Mátyi had got a bike and I had fixed the broken gear cable on mine we biked to the famous castle Visegrád, beautifully situated on a cliff overlooking the Danube. We visited the castle museum too.

bike_tour_2002_7_hungary_6

bike_tour_2002_7_hungary_8

Visegrád, overlooking the Danube.

View over Donau from Visegrád.

Then we continued to Kál-Kápolna, from where we took the train back to Budapest.

Kál Kápolna.

The train station in Kál Kápolna at 8 pm.

Note
I spent 8 full days in Budapest.
  • Return trip to Sweden

  • – by plane.

I had chosen Austrian Airlines (and their affiliate Tyrolean Air) to take me home because I had heard they were helpful when you travel with your bike, since they want bicyclists to go to Austria. The Austrian Airlines staff at the Budapest airport weren’t helpful at all though. The bike needs to be wrapped in plastic, but we can’t help you with that, was their message. Lucky for me, an employee at the British Airways office provided me with all the plastic and tape stuff needed.

It's Tyrolean!

Smile, it’s Tyrolean!

Finally at home! My family met me at the airport Arlanda outside Stockholm. What a nice surprise, I thought I would be on my own. Now I didn’t have to mount the bike and bike the last kilometers to Stockholm – we stuffed the bike in the car instead.

Surprise welcoming!

Surprise welcoming!