The Adventures of BJ and Tony Morris
Biking from Vienna to Budapest
Let me apologize in advance for the length of this travelogue! Seven days is a particularly long trip for us and Austria, Slovakia and Hungary seemed to warrant a lot of description!
Time was ripe for another adventure trip. This one was to be a bicycle trip from
Tony prepared for the trip by bringing our antiquated stationary bike up from the basement and sitting on it while he watched TV for a couple of weeks preceding the trip. I decided to hope that my boot camp and hard core exercise classes would carry me through.
The group jelled at four. The dates fluctuated a bit, finally becoming a Friday to Friday outing, longer than many of our trips, but since our route would take us around 200 miles, we might need the extra time.
We followed our own packing guidelines, being
very strict about what we allowed ourselves to carry.
My backpack weighed 19 pounds and held only essential toiletries and quick
dry nylon clothing. Tonys pack was slightly heavier because of the technology he
carries (GPS, Internet Tablet, Battery Charger, etc.)
At the last minute, we threw in some battery operated fans because it was
uncharacteristically hot in
Business Class on the newly reconfigured 767 was wonderful. They've even started handing out noise canceling headphones now. How did we ever live without these?
I chuckled as I watched Wild Hogs,
thinking of my boss who was riding across country on his Hawg at the time. We got a decent nights sleep and felt ready
to roll when we hit the ground in
Of course, we stopped at the airport grocery
store for some sports water bottles (and some quintessential Diet Cokes) before boarding
the train (~$60 for four) to
The bike shop (Pedal Power) was easy to find, and on the way I got
to see the giant Ferris wheel that we missed when we were in
The bike rental was 90 per bike plus a 35 fee to drop them off in
The proprietor raised his eyebrows when he saw our backpacks. We had told him that we would not need panniers. We had tried panniers on a previous trip and while they were handy on the bicycle, they were completely unwieldy for carrying without a bicycle.
He was intrigued by Tonys latest invention which, when attached to the rack on the back of the bike provided excellent stabilization for the backpacks. What do you call that?, he asked. A cutting board, came our answer. Ah, he exclaimed, from Wal-Mart. We used cable-ties to connect the cutting boards to the bicycles and then strapped our backpacks on. The invention turned out to be incredible! On previous trips, the backpacks were precariously balanced on the narrow bicycle rack and frequently shifted and needed to be readjusted. Not so, on this trip. Once strapped on, even if the bicycles fell over (which they occasionally did), the backpacks stayed put!
We got instructions on how to get to the
bicycle path then asked if there were any special landmarks we needed to look for where we
might get confused. Oh no, came
the answer, you cant possibly get lost. It
is like a tunnel from here to
We followed the directions, crossing the bridge and immediately losing our way; so much for the tunnel. We all commented on how unstable our bicycles seemed to be. There was a tremendous cross-wind, nearly knocking us off of our bicycles. We finally figured out that the wind, combined with the huge advertising disks woven into the front spokes of our bicycles, was causing the instability. Things returned to normal as soon as we took out the disks.
Our ride started along the river for about two miles, and we opted to stop at the first opportunity for refreshment at the Vienna City Beach Club.
Just beyond the beach club, we rode through a large nude sunbathing area. The Austrians are very comfortable with their nudity. There was a naked man standing in the middle of the bike path and another one standing in line at a concession stand. These werent young buff looking fellows, mind you. They were old and fat and wrinkled (not that theres anything wrong with that).
Just after the nekkid people, we
came upon a detour. Hmm
There was entertainment at the next bridge we came to; an area for skiers and wake boarders, with a Ski Rixen and a giant sliding board. We watched a jump before cycling on.
We stopped for a short break at the Gasthaus Binder in Orth.
Back on the trail, we pedaled hard for Bad Deutsch-Altenburg where we planned to spend the first night. It was a fairly boring ride, atop a high bank with forest on both sides. Finally, we crossed a huge scary bridge and entered Bad Deutsch-Altenburg.
We were a little worried because several of
the websites that we had visited had warned that accommodations might be difficult to find
during high season. We stopped at the first pension we saw, the ParkPension Bichler
to inquire about a room. No one answered the
door, but another guest tried to phone the owner for us.
He spoke no English but was intent on helping us. He indicated that we should wait
in the garden for what we think he said would be 20 minutes.
Tony and I sat where he wanted us to while the others rode into town with a
walkie-talkie to look for other accommodations. They
soon radioed back that they had found rooms at the Fremdenzimmer Weinbau Madle for 25 per person.
We continued on
We found the Gasthof Stöckl, a 300 year old hotel and restaurant with lots of personality. If we had found it first, we might have stayed here.
We were surprised that almost all of the
restaurants on our route had menus translated into both English and German, but we
discovered that one must be careful about trusting the English translation. The Hungarian word for greasy, deep
fried must translate into baked. Needless
to say, our health-nut was not overwhelmed with her meal tonight. We had an entertaining conversation with the owner
who spoke English and had traveled to the
After dinner, the group wandered back to our hotel and finished the evening over a glass of delicious Austrian red wine. We were in bed by , tired from our 32 mile ride. Not bad for arrival day.
Breakfast was hard rolls with butter, cheese, salami, jelly, liver spread and coffee.
As I was preparing my coffee, I realized that during yesterdays ride, I had lost my little survival pack that I keep in my purse that contains my Sweet-n-Low and my McDonalds salt! I knew just when I had lost it. It was when I pulled my camera out of my fanny pack to take a picture while we were riding. I made a note to keep the camera in my handle bar bag after that. I had to make do with real sugar in my coffee for the rest of the trip (yuck).
Our route out of Bad Deutsch-Altenburg was downhill for several miles through beautiful countryside. There was field after field of sunflowers, with the occasional wheat or cornfield (the guide book called it maize but we knew it was corn) mixed in.
The path paralleled the railroad tracks for a
short while before reaching the Slovakian border. Since
we didnt plan to spend the night in
We had some refreshments at the little restaurant at the border, but if we do it again, we will wait until we get a few more miles down the road to a more scenic area to stop for refreshments.
Our guidebook instructed that this part of the
ride would be through the wasteland along the
We skirted Bratislava and kept riding toward
We spent the rest of our Korunas so we were
ready to get back into
At the border we got our first Hungarian stamp in our passport. Just inside the country, we stopped at an ATM and took the opportunity to apply more sunscreen.
Several of the small towns we cycled through had this friendly policeman posted at the edge of town warning travelers to slow down. We had fun with our new friend, but just couldnt coax a smile out of him.
We took one last break in Feketeerdo, practicing our Hungarian toast, Egészségedre (EH-gehs-sheh-geh-dreh) before arriving in Mosonmagyaróvár. We rode down the bumpy walking street looking for accommodations and finally struck gold when we found the 4 star Hotel Lajta Park.
It appeared to be still under construction, so
even though their price sheet showed 73 for a double room, they offered us a discount room rate of 55 without our even having to ask.
High season, schmigh season... Payment in Hungary was very confusing because prices
were often quoted in Euro, but charged in Forints. We
had a large suite and the hotel offered a number of reasonably priced services like
massages and manicures. I wish we could have
stayed there for several days!
We had read in Rick Steves guidebook
that clinking your beer glass is a no-no in The restaurant was next to the beautiful Szent Gotthárd Parish
Church on Szent Lásló Square.
The restaurant was next to the beautiful Szent Gotthárd Parish Church on Szent Lásló Square.
Today was a 42 mile day. Not bad for a bunch of old far uh, folks.
I got up early the next morning to hit the grocery store to get a fix for my Diet Coke addicted friends. Bad news; this was a Pepsi town. They graciously pretended to drink their Diet Pepsis, but I knew they werent happy.
Over the elaborate breakfast buffet, our travel companions broke the news that somehow the glass table in their room had gotten broken the night before. When we settled the bill for the rooms, the charge for the broken table was 3000 Forints (~$17).
When we retrieved our bikes from the
hotels basement garage, Tonys helmet was mysteriously missing its cover. We were pretty sure we would have noticed it
missing since the helmet had been bright white and was now a dull charcoal color. Tony wanted to ditch the defective helmet but I
wouldnt allow it, having dealt with one too many head injuries already in
this lifetime. We rode through Halászi,
stopping to admire another field of sunflowers.
We rode through Halászi, stopping to admire another field of sunflowers.
Lunch was at the Kreszia Ház Étterem Restaurant where we ran into a couple from
Our guidebook warned that the exit from
Once out of
A very nice man with a cute little girl drew us a map that got us to the railroad. We passed a horse and buggy on our way out of Gyorszentivan.
My knee, which had been a little cranky up until now, started to hurt in earnest, making it difficult to pedal. It was very slow going, as I was only able to apply pressure with my left leg and I couldnt pedal standing up any more. This was a problem since my rear was hurting from sitting on the bicycle seat. I couldnt stand and I couldnt sit. We passed through Nagyhegy, Gyorgyhaza, Szolohegy and Bonyretalap before taking a soft drink break in Bana. Bábolna, our destination for the night was a bit of a disappointment. When we rolled into town, we saw only one hotel and one restaurant. My knee was throbbing, so I found a park bench and parked myself while the others went out in search of accommodations.
Just beyond the round about, the girls found the Imperial Hotel which was on the property of a Stud Farm (the horse kind). The hotel was 7700 Forints per room (~$42). We thought it was supposed to include breakfast, but apparently we misunderstood because we had to pay separately for breakfast the next morning. Breakfast for the four of us was 4500 Forints (~$25). We were buzzed through the imposing front doors with our bicycles into the garden where we found the hotel in the center of the property surrounded by stables full of horses.
The rooms were pretty basic and really HOT. The hotel seemed to be practically empty. We only saw one other family. High season, you say?
We were just
getting cleaned up when the girls knocked at our door to say that they thought the only
restaurant in town closed in a half hour. We
hurried down to the desk. Most people in
We went in the restaurant across the street, but it was deserted. We called out but got no response. We even went into the kitchen, but couldnt locate anyone. It was clean and deserted. We were starting to think we would have to go to bed without supper, but we walked back into town and to our relief, found a little Italian restaurant (Gustaiolo Étterem) that was open.
The waitress spoke no English and very little German, but we were able to communicate our order. We dined on the patio until a storm drove us inside. We stayed until the rain subsided and then walked back to our hotel. The rain cooled things off significantly and I was wishing I had worn a jacket. That night, we had a nightcap in the hotel and then retired to our rooms. I woke myself (and Tony) up in the middle of the night screaming, imagining that a large man was in our room, standing over my bed. What I had imagined to be a large man was really a big wooden chest. It had been a 50 mile day on the bikes. Maybe that is what I was really screaming about.
It rained all night and was very cool when we went out for breakfast. We went back to the same restaurant where we had tried to go for dinner the night before. Three of us ordered cheese plates and ended up with about 2 pounds of cheese. We wrapped it up to take with us in case we needed a snack later.
We explored the stud farm a little and learned about Shagya, the grandfather of this Arabian horse breed.
We had targeted Esztergom (we called it Estrogen) as
our destination for the night. Studying the
map showed us that we had several choices. We
could either cross the river into
As we left Bábolna, we took a detour by the foal farm to see the adorable foals frolicking in the pasture.
We cycled the short distance to Ács and then stopped at the Garas Kocsma for a beverage. I commented to the other girls that I might not have used the restroom here if they had not been here. There was a large locking mechanism on the OUTSIDE of the ladies room, making me a bit frightened of getting locked inside.
As we were passing through Ács, we received directions from several different people, wanting us to make a left turn to get to the main road. Their directions did not agree with our map, so we kept following our map. Each person that we passed, pointed us back to the turn, but we kept riding. We were really glad that we had the Danube Cycle Way book because it described the route perfectly. The town straggles along the road for some distance but where the houses finish the road surface turns to compacted soil (or mud, depending on the weather) and sets off across farmland. For several kilometres now cycling is difficult, with deep ruts and overhanging branches to contend with
We didnt find the going to be so difficult, but the baying of what sounded like a large number of hounds was a little bit disconcerting. There were a number of giant escargots on the trail as well. We tried to avoid crunching our tires on the little houses they carried on their backs.
Before long, we emerged on tarmac and made our way on the country lane to Komárom.
The Tourist Information office was closed, so we opted for lunch at Vasmacska Étterem across the street. We had Chicken Paprika, Gulaschsuppe, Cheese Kroquetten and an interesting Chicken/Peach/Cheese dish.
While the others finished up, I bravely went across the street and attempted to get a train schedule from the lady at the Tourist Information office who spoke very little English. I tried saying Choo choo and gesturing and finally got the needed information. Unfortunately it would be a couple of hours before the next train so we would not arrive as early as we had hoped.
We made our way to the train station, bought our tickets (900 Forints [~$5] each for us and 225 Forints [~$1.25] each for our bikes) and settled in to wait.
Tony went to the restroom and quickly came back, telling us that a man had followed him inside, wanting to have sex with him. After being told no, the man still reached for Tonys privates. The next time he went back, one of the girls stood guard outside the door. We all went to the bathroom in pairs after that. I had my trusty deck of cards to pass the time.
We took our backpacks off of the bikes to make sure that we could get them on and off of the train quickly and easily.
It was a very slow train ride, stopping in Szony, Almafuzito-Felso, Almafuzito, Dunaalmás, Neszmély, Sütto, Piszke, Lábatlan, Eternitgyar, Nyergesújfalu, Tat, Tokod, Esztergom- Kertváros and two unnamed stops before arriving in Esztergom, only about 34 miles.
Tony helped get all of the bicycles off of the train and onto the narrow platform. My bike was in the back. As I was about to push my bike away, I noticed Tonys helmet on the train, so I put the kickstand down on my bike and jumped back on the train to get the helmet. Just after I had boarded the train, I heard a clatter as my bike fell over under the train. The others turned around to see what the clatter was about and saw only the wheels of my bicycle sticking out from under the train. They thought I had fallen under the train. I got off of the train with Tonys helmet and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
For lodging, we took the recommendation of one of the guided bike tour itineraries we had printed. We found the Alabárdos Panzió by following the tourist map just outside of the train station. We were greeted by Gigolo (or Cheekalo we werent exactly sure what they were saying), a HUGE very FRIENDLY dog. We think he was a Caucasian Ovtcharka.
The owner spoke only a few words of English, but we were able to negotiate an apartment for the four of us for 20000 Forints (~$112). We think we understood that other than the apartment, the hotel was full. Maybe this is high season after all. We decided to skip breakfast the next day since it was not included in the rate and we still had the cheese from the day before.
The apartment was amazing! There were two upstairs bedrooms with a view of the Basilica and a full bath with tub, shower and a washing machine. Halfway down the steps built into the side of the hill was a strange stone room with a half bath.
Downstairs was a full kitchen with a refrigerator so cold that it slushed the drinks we put in it! There was a sitting area with a TV and an area outside where we could lock our bikes.
We were tired and dirty again. (Even with the train ride, we still did 17 miles on the bikes.) But after freshening up again, we hurried out to do some sightseeing.
Dinner was at the Mély Tányér, around the corner from our apartment.
We had the best dish of the trip here; the Hortobágyi Palacsinta, a crepe filled with ground *veal and swimming in a paprika cream sauce. *Another translation problem here. The English translation on the menu lists this ingredient as vegal ragout, leading us to believe it was a vegetarian dish.
Back at the apartment, we took some pictures in the curious stone room, and then retired to the den area for a glass of wine. The Basilica looked very pretty out our bedroom window.
We had taken bread from the restaurant the night before, so we breakfasted on cheese toast and slushy Diet Cokes. After saying our goodbyes to Gigolo, we bicycled out of town along the river, past the Basilica.
The guide book gave an option for a shorter route that required climbing (we dont like that word) out of Esztergom. We chose, instead to stay along the river to Bubanatvolgy and then follow the road toward Pilismarót, peeling off at the left turn to the ferry dock.
At the ferry dock, we encountered a couple
The ferry was 320 Forints ($1.80) for each person and 320 Forints ($1.80) for each bicycle. Someone comes around to collect the payment on the ferry.
Thinking that the river was the dividing line
Since wed stopped here, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Maros Étterem. The HUGE veggie pizza had maize on it. For future reference, one pizza is plenty for two or three people. I had a wonderful Greek chicken salad.
The bike path continued along the river, so we decided to follow along rather than taking the ferry to Visegrad. It was a beautiful day and a gorgeous ride.
We rode on to
Vác before taking the ferry across to
Tahitótfalu on the
The people on the island seemed somewhat less friendly than some of the other areas. We stopped for refreshments at Napsugár Sörözo but didnt feel particularly welcome.
My knee was hurting again so Tony hung back with me while the others rode ahead. We agreed to meet at the next ferry dock. As we approached Szigetmonostor, I thought I could see the girls ahead of us but we couldnt raise them on the walkie-talkies so we made the turn to the ferry dock. When they werent at the ferry dock, we tried to contact them again; still no response. As a last resort, we used our cell phone to contact them. They had missed the turn and bumped through the town on the cobblestone streets causing the jostling to turn the volume down on the walkie-talkie. Tony rode back up to the turn off and led them back to the ferry.
I took advantage of the waiting time to study our Rick Steves guide for accommodations in the next town. The cost of this ferry was 200 Forints (~$1.15) for each person and 200 Forints (~$1.15) for each bike. The ferry took us from Szigetmonostor to Pismany and then it was a short ride to Szentendre where I immediately spotted Ricks two recommendations. We chose the Corner Panzió mainly because of Ricks description of the rooms as six cozy, woody rooms. They just happened to have two rooms left! I guess we got lucky - high season here could have been a problem. The price was 40 per room (we actually paid in Euro this time because we didnt have enough Forints left). The rooms had air conditioners but they seemed to be on a timer and didnt run long enough to get the rooms very cool. There was only one remote control for the air conditioners that was kept on the bookcase in the common area.
At the hotel, we met a dentist from
We had dinner at Új Muvész where we tried their version of Hortobágyi Palacsinta. It was good, but different. The crepe was filled with something that was the consistency of stew. The 10% tip was included on our bill, something we had not encountered in the smaller, less touristy towns.
We wandered around after dinner and who should we find but the Swiss couple again! The husband said something to his wife and she translated that he did not recognize us because we had changed clothes.
Back at our hotel, we shared a glass of wine
and some travel stories with the
We agreed to meet early the next morning to
ride the short distance to the train station (we wanted to catch an early train so we
could get to Budapest in time to do some
sightseeing.) We had been told by numerous
people that it was not advisable to try to ride our bicycles into
We got a few more Forints from the ATM at the train station. Our train tickets cost 480 Forints (~$2.70) for each person and 230 Forints (~$1.25) for each bike. There was a bicycle painted on the train platform. When the train pulled up, the door where the painted bicycle was had a wide opening so we decided it would not be necessary to take the backpacks off of the bicycles. I put my bike on the train and then turned around to help the others. I wasnt much help since my bike fell over behind me causing me to trip and fall. We finally got the bikes loaded and settled into our seats. There was a sign showing that the bicycle car would only allow 4 bikes. Something to keep in mind for future trips when our group might be larger.
We were riding to the end of the line, so we knew we would have plenty of time to unload the bikes. Once off of the train, we noted that there was no bike ramp out of the station. There were only two options. Carry the bikes up the stairs or ride up the escalator with them. We chose the escalator. Tony went up first, followed by one of the girls. I waited until they were almost to the top and then stepped on, holding the bicycle brakes. The backpack made the back of the bike so heavy that I couldnt keep it from rolling backward, taking me with it. Im not sure exactly what happened, but I think the front wheel turned and came off of the ground, knocking me down. It seemed like I tumbled forever, in slow motion. Somehow the bike got on top of me. I could hear one of the girls screaming, OH MY GOD! and I thought I must be dying. Finally a little Hungarian man pressed the emergency stop button and leapt over the handrail. He lifted the bike up enough for me to get out from under it. By then, Tony had made it back down and helped me get up the steps. We were all pretty shaken up by the experience and I had a few battle scars but was not hurt badly. I thanked my Hungarian Hero and we went on our way.
The first thing we saw was the impressive Parliament building.
Next, we passed a beautiful church.
Just across the chain bridge, we spotted our refuge for the night, the Intercontinental Hotel. It was a bit of a splurge for us, but was worth it after riding bikes all week. This was the only hotel reservation we had for the entire trip - we decided that it would be nice to have a "known" for the last night of this adventure.
Each room had a wonderful view overlooking the
We dropped our bags and took the bikes to the Yellow Zebra to turn them in. The Yellow Zebra and Pedal Power have reciprocal agreements so that you can rent from one and return to the other (for an additional fee). The Yellow Zebra recommended a nice restaurant for lunch, the Belvárosi Lugas Étterem. I had roasted vegetables and grilled cheese.
There was a beautiful church across the street from the restaurant.
We stopped in to take a look at the lobby of the Opera and then went to the House of Terror, a museum showing the horrendous treatment by the Nazis and later, the Communists.
Afterwards, we walked down to Heroes Square where there were statues
While we were gawking at the statues we were
approached by a local television crew and asked about our opinion of the public restrooms
Next, we took the Metro back to the river. The same tickets work for the Metro, trams and buses. At the Metro station you can buy a variety of ticket types. A single ticket is 230 Forints (~$1.25). A short ride of 3 stops or less on the Metro is slightly cheaper, and a ticket that includes a transfer is slightly more expensive. Unlimited ride tickets are available at the main Metro stops. The Metro stations were very fancy, decorated with tile, oak and brass.
It started to rain so we found a place to sit under an umbrella at Habana Cafe Grill and enjoy a glass of wine when who should happen by but our friends, the Swiss couple! They commented that it really IS a small world.
Tony stayed in
We didn't make it up the hill in time to go into the church, but there was lots to see on top of the hill.
We took time to do a little shopping. This lady reminded my friend of her Hungarian grandmother.
We headed back across the bridge into Pest (pronounced Pescht).
We met back
at the hotel and took the tram to Ráday Utca,
We caught the last Metro train back to the hotel. We had been warned to validate our tickets to avoid being fined. I validated mine, but misplaced it during the train ride. On the way out of the station Tony was stopped twice for a ticket inspection but I breezed right by with no questions!
Budapest at night was very pretty, all lit up.
Tony and I usually prefer public transportation but were talked into taking a taxi back to the airport. The cost was very reasonable at 6500 Forints (~$35) for the four of us, but we felt like we were on Mr. Toads Wild Ride!
At the airport, we used our last few Forints to get a snack before our flight.
The time on the flight home passed quickly as
I watched 3 movies, Blades of Glory (very silly), Premonition (very strange), and
something else (not very memorable). In
Take a shortened extension cord for the
airplane. The reconfigured planes have a 110 outlet, but large plugs (like the iGO)
wont fit in the space.
And the most important lesson?
By the way, our total miles ridden on this trip was 175.