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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Family ski holiday in Austria: Ups & Downs

It has been our tradition to go skiing with my family for 5y now. Last year we were in Kirchberg (see here the blog on my winter ascent) and this year not far away from Wildschoenau. The chalet wasn’t as luxurious (no wifi, not very clean etc), but on the flip side there were other houses in our village ‘almdorf’ allowing Alex to meet new friends such as Linus from Aschaffenburg and the snow-white family dog Lillyfe. With the kids busy, we enjoyed talking to the parents Tanja & Rene – perfect. 

Message to Almdorf Wildschoenau: Hey guys … the wifi & heating (to dry clothes!?!) need fixing. Ahh yes, and take a look under the beds. Needs some cleaning too. And a toaster per house would be great too. Otherwise, we enjoyed our stay. 

Here a great clip of the trip … thanks go to my sister for this one!

Weather wise we were not very fortunate. after a full week of sunshine in 2017, we only had one really brilliant day though generally good snow conditions and beautiful white coated forests everywhere around us.

 

Ski arena Wildschoenau: the ski area couldn’t quite compare to kirchberg/kitzbuehel. In particular it lacks good blue runs for the parents we felt. Also apres ski was pretty muted, as the area is mainly frequented by families that don’t go much more crazy than a few drinks at the end of the day.

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Project igloo – well, an open air one anyway: alex loves playing in the snow. With plenty of snow around he suggested we build an igloo. Well, we tried but just didn’t have the skills to fit a roof. Still, great effort and fun building it together. The ferraro rocher that alex has hidden somewhere inside is still there – bon appetit to whoever finds it!

 

Progress report – Mum taking second place in her first race: Alex went to ski school as usual. He is still struggling with  parallel skiing at times, but fearless and enjoying every moment. Mum also went on a course again in her second year and ski’s really well by now. Her efforts were awarded with a stunning 2nd place finish (out of 9) in Thursdays slalom race. We had bets running where she’d come out. Frances was spot on while we others all expected a worse outcome (Bodo #4, Ronny #6, Alex #8). The ceremony happened at Hotel Harfenwirt and rounded off our evening out. Fun. 

 

Carneval @ home: this years winter holiday coincided with the carneval week. We had brought costumes and celebrated in the chalet. Alex went as dragon, sister as indian, dad as captain, mum as something and i as some hula hula girl from Hawaii (though with a strong ladyboy touch judging by the pictures / feedback … well, i am just back from Thailand after all). Alex’ friend linus and his parents joined us for the evening. to our surprise, all of us being really tired from sport & fresh air all day, we chatted to almost 10pm and laughed a lot. Great evening. 

 

German  carneval & its origins – see here for a really good source

I guess a good way of understnading the origins are to look into the three typical terms for carneval – carneval itself, fastnacht & fasching (depending on the region). Historically it was a celebration ahead of a ‘fasting’ period beginning ash Wednesday and lasting about 6w to Easter Sunday.

The word Fasching dates back to the 13th century and is derived from the Germanic word vaschanc or vaschang, in modern German: Fastenschank = the last serving of alcoholic beverages before Lent. In olden times the 40-day Lenten period of fasting was strictly observed. People refrained from drinking alcohol or eating meat, milk products and eggs. The English word “fast” (to refrain from eating) is related to German fasten.

Karneval, on the other hand, is a newer, much more recent (17th century), Latin-based word borrowed from French and Italian. The true origin of the word is uncertain, but it probably comes from Latin carne levare (“away with meat”) > carnelevale > Karneval or Carnival. In earlier times, the German word was even written with a C rather than today’s K-spelling. (Some German carnival associations still use the Carneval spelling in their names.)

The third common term for carnival in German, Fastnacht, refers to the Swabian-Alemannic carnival, which differs in some ways from Fasching and Karneval, and is found in Baden-Württemberg, Franconia (northern Bavaria), Hesse and much of Switzerland. Although this word looks like it comes from the German for the “eve of Lent,” in fact it is based on the Old German word fasen (“to be foolish, silly, wild”). Thus the word, sometimes spelled Fasnacht (without the t) actually means something like “night of being wild and foolish.” You can learn more about Fastnacht below.

Slap in the face (with a hammer): Not all was fun for me last week. I had to deal with some surprisingly rude treatment from someone who I value very much and thought vice versa. How wrong I was. I skip the myriad of details here. Such things happen in life – both on the giving & receiving end – and one gets over it.  But then it always hurts when someone essentially slaps you in the face unexpectedly and with brute force. Especially if it is someone that you helped a great deal in life. Sometimes these things are interpersonal, cultural, to protect the other person, influenced by third parties, out of fear, because of difficult family situations, due to lack of maturity or sometimes because it’s just hard to speak the truth … god only knows (but he kept it to himself for now). Cut. Next take. Get ready to shoot. Sound rolling. Camera rolling. Action!

It’s funny how sometimes the people you’d take a bullet for are the ones behind the trigger.

Finishing off in Munich – as usual: It’s never good to finish on a bad note after a challenging week. Nor should I. Good news is that there are so many good people in life, first and foremost my sister. As we have done in so many years, once again we enjoyed a good time in Munich. Alex had right a go at the Schweinehaxe in the Hofbraeuhaus … impressive how much he liked to nibble on this big piece of pork. German after all.

Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs; the ones who accept who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile & who love you no matter what.

 

Family winter holiday in Kirchberg: Video log

Other than my winter ascent (Winter ascent & bivouac Totenkirchl, Austria (2,190m)) in preparation for Nepal (Lhotse summit success: Climbing up (includes 3D video of ascent) we had loads of fun as a family … thanks go to my lovely sister for producing this clip of our Kirchberg week in Feb’17.

Winter ascent & bivouac Totenkirchl, Austria (2,190m)

‘The adventure starts where experience ends’

(Paul Koller, Austrian Mountain Guide)

I wanted to use some of my time on family ski holiday to prepare for Lhotse, pick up some new skills and expand my comfort zone somewhat. I turned to the Austrian alpine guides and ended up on a two-day tour with a very seasoned, local guide Paul Koller. He had been on Broad Peak, Cho Oyu and Everest (3 of 14 8,000m peaks) and completed the 7 summit series (several peaks multiple times). Born and bred in the Kaiser-mountain range he took me to his favorite peak – Totenkirchl (100+ ascents and has ascended & descended from Stripsenjochhaus top summit in one hour). The trip left no wishes open …

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We set out from his home after checking the gear. From my original pack I left my soft shell trousers, ridgerest and one of the axes behind … but added a tent instead. Best guess about 20kg were waiting to be carried up the hill. The starting point of the route is the ‘Griesneralm’ at about 1,000m (leaving 1,200 to climb). We used snow shoes throughout the first day (make MSR are best in Paul’s view … funny enough Irish made though US origin … as was the stove & tent of the same brand – https://www.msrgear.com/ie/). Its great walking in these with their broad step and spikes though it took me a while to get fully used to them. Particularly some steep sections required some trust in the gear, as I was tempted to swap snowshoes & ski poles for crampons & axe.

The hike took us about 3,5hours for 2.2km until we reached our ‘camping ground’ right underneath the guide fingers at 4pm. There was, however, a lack of snow leaving too small a platform to put the tent. We enlarged it manually by shovelling more snow from above. Once the tent was up the usual procedure of melting snow, re-hydrate and eat began. I was terribly hungry and it felt that I ate most of my provisions including a pack for two of Tortelloni. By 6pm it was getting dark and we began to prepare for the night. Paul took some great pics of our orange shelter glowing in the night.

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Next morning we started neither too early nor too late though seemingly a bit behind Paul’s agenda. By 7.30am we were walking. This time equipped with crampons and axe to maneuver the steep terrain and the technical climbing beyond (i.e. we would definitely need it). It would turn into a hard, but fulfilling day that certainly expanded my comfort zone significantly. Be it to trust the frozen snow, climbing with crampons on rock, abseiling. What Paul lead-climbed looked spectacular to say the least and left me feeling comfortable all the time.

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We reached the peak at around 1pm. An hour behind schedule. The views were spectacular and together with a bit of sun made for a nice resting place. We also entered our names into the summit book. The last entry was from 30 October 2016 making this the first winter ascent of the season. Then came the abseiling. It has been a while since I did this with crampons (takes me back to Mt. Blanc I believe), but slowly I got the hang of it. We abseiled down the steep rock, but Paul also showed me a light version of abseiling used to descent from high camps quicker than walking the zig-zag in crampons. The whole trip took us 8h 30mins. Once back at the Alm, we enjoyed a good meal, beer and an ‘Obstler’ on the house.

… and here the go pro cut … bit shaky at times, but some good footage too! Enjoy.

Thank you Paul. Hopefully we meet again soon and I can pick up a few more skills after a really good session on Totenkirchl. There is plenty to catch up after all ;o)