From September 1st to 20th we did our first tour in Europe to test our equipment and ourselves. We followed the Danube from Passau (border Germany/Austrian) to Belgrade (Serbia). The experience was enriching both on a cultural level (crossing 5 countries) and on the organizational level (the rhythm of life on the bike, the use of public transport by bike – a total of 45 hours in the bus was very stressful).
The first part of our tour led us from west to east through Austria. When we arrived in Passau early in the morning after a night on the bus, we decided to stop at a bakery for breakfast. It was raining too, so we hoped that this would change during breakfast. 1 hour later it was still raining, but we are motivated to finally get on our bikes – a little tour through Passau and off we go! It’s easy, we just have to follow the river. One hour later we arrive in Schärding. Katrin starts asking herself questions: since when is Schärding on the Danube? Short check on the map, Schärding is actually not on the Danube. We followed the wrong river for 1h, we cycled along the Inn towards the south and not towards the east along the Danube… In order not to lose any more time, we decide to take the main road and drive across the countryside to reach the Danube further east. 30 km and many altitude meters later (we didn’t see on the map that it goes so much up and down) we finally see the Danube! Since it still rained and we were soaked, we comfort ourselves with a coffee/hot chocolate break and cake to warm up. We continue, this time (still in the rain but no longer on the main road) along the banks of the Danube to reach Linz and Katrin’s sister in the evening. Result: The first day was much more difficult than expected and it rained the whole time (118 km long).
Katrin’s sister and her boyfriend took care of us (thank you!), the next day we leave in a much better mood and under the sun. The day is much more easy, only 78 kilometers to Katrin’s childhood house, where we stay a few days to say goodbye to Katrin’s family and friends.
After 2 relaxing days we continue towards Vienna. Katrin knows these routes by heart, she often rode her bike here with her parents during her childhood. Arrived in Spitz, half way to Vienna, we decided to look for a place to camp for the night. Weatherpreview announced a lot of rain for the night and the next day, a well roofed campground would be nice. The football court with changing rooms and roofing would be just right. In front of the clubhouse a man cuts wood, we could simply ask… He says, there is no problem to camp in front of the changing rooms, and we may even use the toilets and showers, it is our lucky day!
After a good coffee, which is offered to us by the same man the next morning (thank you!), we drive on in light rain towards Vienna. We pass Krems, Tulln, Korneuburg and several small villages. But we don’t stop, the rain is not inviting to stay longer. We only stop in Vienna, our destination of the day. A relative of Katrin and his girlfriend are our hosts. Again we were warmly welcomed and have the possibility to sleep in a very comfortable bed!
After breakfast we start the last stage in Austria. We want to cross the border today, so unfortunately there is no time for a walk through Vienna (we’ll come back, that’s for sure!). We cross the Donauauen National Park to Hainburg and reach the Slovakian border in the afternoon. The crossing of Austria was a success!
We start our stay in Slovakia with a visit to Bratislava, the capital, just a few kilometres from the Austrian border. The old town is beautiful and the castle over the Danube is an impressive sight. But it is not a very big city, our tour is done quickly. We drive a little further before we look for a camping site for the night. On the Danube cycle path there are many runners and cyclists, it is difficult to settle down in peace somewhere for the night. We drink a Radler (beer with lemon juice, very popular in Slovakia) while we wait for the sunset. A few kilometres later we land a lucky hit: a small quiet hut on the edge of the cycle path, specially designed for cyclists. It is the ideal shelter for the night, especially as thunderstorms have been predicted!
After a difficult night (violent storms and a busy road right next to our hut) we realize our mistake: We didn’t plan anything for breakfast, so we decide to go to the next village, 15 km away. According to Google Maps there is a supermarket, but unfortunately it’s closed… Fortunately we find a gas station a little further away, we won’t starve! But the suspicious glances that the regular guests at the gas station throw at us don’t invite us to stay very long. In this small remote village of Slovakia they probably don’t see very often 2 tourists by bicycle having breakfast at a gas station. We continue along the Danube, which looks more like a lake at this point, and then cross it at Slovakia’s largest dam power station. In a village a little further away we finally find an open supermarket to replenish our food supplies. At the same time we enjoy a picnic on a bench in front of the school. Some of the children greet us on the way out, they are well educated! In the afternoon the city of Komárno seduced us with a very pretty old town. A few more km before the sun goes down, and there is the moment when we pass by a beautiful lonely beach. This will be our campsite for the night! The nature offers us one of the most beautiful sunsets of the trip, while we eat comfortably on the beach. These are the pleasures of living in a tent!
The next day we were forced to drive long distances on the main road, the edge of the Danube is unfortunately inaccessible. We found out that the Slovaks are really dangerous by car! They drove past us like crazy people, and the number of dead animals on the road is very disturbing. Fortunately, there were no cyclists among them! In Štúrovo, a town on the border with Hungary, we decide to eat in a restaurant to try the Slovak cuisine. We were not disappointed, it was very tasty!
We start by crossing the town of Esztergom with its magnificent basilica visible from afar. A little further on we take the ferry to follow the Eurovélo on the other riverbank. Very good, because this route leads us to Vàc, with a beautiful old town. And then the icing on the cake, a great place for camping on the Danube bank.
In the morning Matthieu starts the day with a bath in the Danube (you have to make yourself beautiful, we want to go to Budapest on this day). For Katrin; the water is a bit too cold and she prefers to wait for the hot shower in the hotel. Arrived in Budapest, we try a typical Hungarian dish, Langosh. With new strength we visit the city of Budapest, from Buda to Pest 🙂
We stay another 2 days in Hungary, which are rather monotonous regarding the landscape: Fields as far as the eye can see. But the cities and their inhabitants seem to be nice. We test a Hungarian pepperoni that we freshly picked from a field (very hot!!), and we even find a beach with fine white sand (we thought, we arrived in the Caribbeans). We can say that we liked Hungary very much!
The time we spent in Croatia was very short, even too short (only about 24 hours). We arrived in the evening, and as the sun was setting, we decided to pitch our tent between the apple trees a little further away from a small town, and keep our fingers crossed that the farmer would not pass by on a walk….. We woke up early, and while we had breakfast, 3 men looked at the fields behind us. We were sure that they have seen us, so we hurry to pack our luggage before they come towards us. We continued to Vukovar, the capital of the region. It’s nice, but we won’t stay long. We want to return to Serbia before lunch because we have no Croatian currency and almost no water left. The last town before the border, Ilok, is a pleasant surprise. In the courtyard of the old fortress we find a drinking water fountain and a place to relax. We stay for a while before we return to Serbia.
The last country on our warm-up tour: Serbia. From the beginning we were impressed by the hospitality of the Serbs. We have so often heard “Hello my friends, welcome to Serbia” that it has become very warm around our hearts.
However, it was more difficult to find nice sleeping places. The first night is already there, we still don’t know where to camp. There is a small forest, a road that penetrates into it, grass that grows on the way, we are sure that nobody will pass here anymore… At least that’s what we thought, but we didn’t expect the wild boars, hunters and their dogs! It was a night of worst nightmares, when we heard hunters screaming in Serbian and dogs barking from all sides, we landed in the middle of a boar hunt, luckily we got away unharmed.
The next day was difficult, with the little sleep we had, nevertheless the town of Sombor enchants us with its beautiful centre.
We spend the night on the banks of the Danube, in the distance we already saw the lights of Novi Sad. Besides, it is full moon, it was like a fairy tale from 1001 nights. The next day we are still thrilled while walking through Novi Sad. The streets are full of bars and restaurants, which all look inviting. And on the other side of the Danube, a castle on a hill offers an incredible view of the city.
Another day on the bike before arriving in Belgrade, our final destination. On long, endless straights we have the feeling of not getting any further. In the end, Belgrade did not enchant us as much as for example Novi Sad. Perhaps the expectations were too high? Of course, the grey sky that hung all the time over the city didn’t help. On the first day we visit the fortress and the city centre, and we have a meal in a restaurant to celebrate our arrival at the final destination. On the second day we make a bicycle tour in Novi Grad, New Belgrade, with a very Soviet architecture. We are happy when the bus finally arrives.
The return journey was very eventful, but mostly in the negative sense of the word. In order not to end up on a bad note, we leave it at that. In the end we are very satisfied with our experience, which allowed us to test our equipment and ourselves on the road. We can’t wait to continue our journey in South America!
Countries crossed: 5
Days on the bike: 13
Altitude: unknown, but since we drove along the Danube, certainly not much
Flat tyres: 0