Sultan’s trail (part 1): Austria – Slovakia – Hungary

Distance covered: 497km (to go: c2000km)

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Having recovered from the long hike in Scotland for a week in London, i took myself and my bike 🚲 over to Vienna to ride the Sultan’s trail. The route takes me some 2,500km from Vienna to Istanbul. In total 7 countries lie on my way (Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey). Fingers crossed the bike and rider can keep it all together. After all the only long distance cycling experience i have was one day in Russia last year…

The sultans trail… On Ottoman footsteps 👳 ⚔

The ottoman empire under suleiman the magnificent tried to take austria twice in the 15th century. Both attempts failed. The route now follows the path the sultan took to reach vienna with the Stephansdom, whose bells are made from melted turkish cannons, as one starting point (the other being istanbul of course).

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For planning and orientation purposes i mainly used the detailed routes from a dutch couple taking care of developing and promoting the trail (link). Dank je wel! I will follow parts of this route that takes you away from busy roads and passes by many landmarks, but partly will revert to faster/shorter options to keep on track.

Getting to Vienna

After a weekend with last-minute fixes to the bike, I loaded my panniers with a full set of kit including repair stuff, camping/cooking equipment, rain gear and lots of other stuff. Turned out pretty heavy at close to 50km including the bike. Good training i guess! First i needed to get all stuff this to vienna though. A quick 6km morning cycle from home to London victoria, where i put the bike in a carton transport box for bus and plane transport purposes (it’s actually quite hard to travel with a non-folding bike in london!).

On the other end i reassembled it all and cycled 20km into vienna (almost ending up on the motorway initially). For the first night i had booked a hostel near the center booked and enjoyed a fun evening out with other travellers from italy, canada and spain. We were in bed early though. I needed some sleep after a short night with laura who left for colombia early doors ✈👸🏻 🇨🇴.

Day 1: Vienna to Bratislava

I got up first in my hostel room and had breakfast just after 7am. The cathedral was only 10mins ride away through a slowly waking Vienna and soon i had reached the ‘trail head’. From here a bit of city traffic and past the belvedere palace with its stunning architecture and views over the city.

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From there i quickly hit the countryside. The route was generally quite different from i thought. Rather than simply following the (paved) Danube cycle path along the river, i was mainly on dirt roads. In fact, the first time i spotted the river was an hour before bratislava. The weather was kind and at times blatantly hot. Quite a change from Scottish summer.

On the way the route passed through many villages including Haydn’s birthplace, a former coliseum /roman training camp and loads of fields and forests.

Early afternoon the first glitch – lost a screw for one of the pannier holders. I have spares and it was quickly fixed.

By the time i got to the hostel it wa night and i had covered 105km. Time for a shower and the nice vegan curry that was offered as a communal meal.

Even though i knew i shouldn’t, i signed up for the pub crawl. After the first pub disaster stuck, as i received a message that some idiot had burgled my flat in london. In the end it turned out not too bad. Just some tech stuff and my wooden figure from papua-new Guinea gone. All replaceable i guess and no-one hurt. I guess a few more drinks were in order now…

Day 2: Bratislava to Zlatna na Ostrove

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My day started with a slight hangover and all a bit late. Sleeping in was also not an option as one of the girls (sharing her bed with her girlfriend) was snoring. So i left Bratislava after 10am. The road conditions were kinder now as the GPS tracks took me along the official cycle path for quite some time under the blazing sun. Early afternoon the switched to the left (northern) embankment again and was back on dirt road mainly along a danube dam.

After 90 km arrived at the small village of xxx again by nightfall and was lucky to catch last orders in the hotel. Delicious and cheap. Great combination. Outside a group of slovakians were drinking wine and singing traditional songs including one my uncle Jon used to play at family parties. Memories…

Day 3: Zlatna na Ostrove to Budapest

I left well rested and reasonably early. Following the road for a while speeded things up in order to make my dinner appointment with my good old friend Raul in Budapest. Sun was brutal yet again and i felt a sunburn is not far away now. The route was pretty flat throughout… Until i hit the final stretch where initially i followed uphill roads and eventually steep forest trails. The reward was a very long stretch downhill into budapest… Everyone out of my way! … Cycling like a 🚀! After 115km i had reached the capital of Hungary.

I met raul in his chic apartment. We had loads to catch up not having met for 5-6 years. Italian dinner was also welcome. Thanks for the great hospitality Mr Costa.

Day 4: Budapest to Dunaföldvar

The GPS tracks suggested 160km for the next leg initially on the west of the river and than back to the east side. Not for me today. I just followed the river straight south headed for the serbian border in 2 days time. No time to waste.

Once out of Budapest i was initially again on the road. Not too nice. Soon i found a nice cycle path along the river, be it dirt roads at times. Very pleasant cycling through villages and the great southern plain. 97km after leaving Budapest i called it a day.

I camped first time in Dunaföldvar in some seemingly deserted place. But they had hot water and given no one was at reception either at night or in the morning, it was free. In the village they had some sort party on with load rock music blasting from the stage. I was only interested in food (sausage, goulash), sampled a hungarian Pinot noir and went to bed. Exhausted.

Local youth sadly use the campground as meeting place… So 2 hours more loud music unwillingly before i finally managed to rest.

Day 5: Dunaföldvar to Baja

The sky was covered in clouds this morning. So jacket on for the first time. The path was again south towards Baja – the last bigger town before the serbian border. I began on offroad tracks and on a dam along the river, then roads. It was saturday and not very busy on route 51.

My breakfast was a tasty goulash followed by pizza volcano for lunch. One is so hungry on the bike. All the time!

While heading for the town of Kalocsa i bumped into another cyclist. A german as it turns out who decided to offload his weird life story and views on me. Glad he had to stop in town as it was not enjoyable to be honest.

Once in baja i headed for the camping again. I had covered 90km and that was it for me. I was tired. So i guess it was not surprising in hindsight that after a shower i fell asleep at 6pm. No sightseeing for me in baja beyond the ride through town before putting up camp.

Tomorrow the first border crossing awaits. Off to serbia. The first and only country on my tour i have never been to.

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