Sultan’s trail (part 5): Istanbul & A trip on memory lane

Distance: 252km| Total: 2,004km

After 20 days in the saddle my 2000km journey from the Stephan’s dome in Vienna, via Bratislava, Budapest, Belgrade, Sofia and even a bit of Greece all the way to Istanbul is over and many fantastic memories are made.

It was not easy even though the daily distances between 60-120km are not huge as such. It is the constant moving and getting on the saddle despite sore legs (bum!) or bad weather that is the real challenge. It is a mental test, less so a physical one i think. In the end the route proved shorter than planned, as i stayed away from some of the off-road GPS track to save time and because some parts were just hard with my touring bike and ended up in pushing it.

In any case, it was amazing to travel through this part of europe, catch up with friends, meet many new people and see both nice and not so nice parts of the six countries i crossed. Cycle on!

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Heading south from Edirne

I left it late to leave Edirne (pronounced with a long E). Sleep, breakfast and not feeling in a rush. It was a cold morning. Grey. Looked like rain is on the cards sometime today. There are some 250km left to Istanbul and i figures i give myself three days to cover them.

Today i followed the highway D100 most of the way. Not to appealing judging by traffic passing by, but a good road leading straight to Istanbul. The other plus is the hard shoulder. 2m wide and thus making for a perfect cycle lane. Nice actually with many fields passing by.

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First stop was Havsa late morning. I stopped at a local tea place and found myself soon in the company of two older turkish guys (not that they bothered to ask if they could join ✌️). One was the owner. We talked about my trip and one told me of his son living in Germany. He was there too as Gastarbeiter and thus german was the chosen language. People clearly not happy with what the lira has done though seemingly in the believe the USD had gone up rather than the lira down!?! Maybe just lost in translation.

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After 4 free teas i had to move on to the town of Babeski with a little rain drizzling down. I was hungry and tried the fast food version of Döner. Dont! While cheap (€1 including coke) it was not very tasty at all. Well, fast food. I also managed to fix myself up with a local SIM card even though i understood nothing. People just speak turkish. Not even a hint of english. Much more problematic than in the other countries i have to say. Well, i got my data now. 😁

I moved on to my final destination today – Lüleburgaz some 80km into my day. First up, a place to stay. Since turkey has banned booking.com (well, it still works from abroad or with foreign SIM cards or if you use a browser with hidden VPN like puffin), i now use alternative websites and checked into a nice hotel for less than €20/night. Best to get the details online and then go there. Saved me 30%. Time for a little washing today. My bike gears smells horrible and the roof terrace is an ideal place to hang it all up. 😉

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Culture check: i have been to turkey many times though mainly in Istanbul (a different planet). So far, it feels a bit weird. Not sure why, but it seems like a different world. One thing is the language barrier that i am not used to generally anymore. The turkish language is just very different. The other thing i noticed is the tendency to do things local. Like turksih pizza, electronics, ice cream, kit at, cars at times and not to mention all the imitated clothing etc. Gives it all a bit of a copy taste to me. For me, italian pizza as well as ice cream is just better.

I actually listened to the press conference of the german national team ahead of playing france tomorrow. I think we will get killed and am not on the side of our coach. Mentally the team still needs a complete restart. Well, lets see tomorrow. I hope i am dead wrong.

I spent the evening texting with laura and frances and had some beers while watching turkish soap operas. Strange, but enjoyable. Bedtime…

Cycling to the seaside

The journey to Silivri was uneventful and mainly along the D100 again for the best part of 95km. Up and downhill went hand in hand. The wind picked up though and as you would expect not in the right direction 😐. I was getting closer to the sea.

Late afternoon i had made it and was welcomed with a nice and warm evening. I booked myself into a local hotel (€16 a night for a big room with sea view and breakfast… Cant argue with that).

I spent the evening having food and a few drinks in the seaside restaurants and reminded myself of previous times in Istanbul… By listening to turkish rapper Ceza. Fast this guy!

Istanbul – here i come

It must have been my latest start on the tour other than that rainy morning in Serbia. Only 11:30 or so i was rolling towards Istanbul. A good 70km left to my final destination. Traffic now picked up markedly and the signposts with the remaining km to Istanbul acted as a sort of count down. 60km, 40km, 20km… And suddenly i was in the big city.

Traffic was crazy as i maneuvered towards the blue mosque. About 10km were left when a cycle path (a blue cycle path) made life substantially easier. I stopped at the embankment to take in the scenery – fishermen, large vessels anchored, people taking a stroll.

And then i was done. I made it to sulthanahmet and had my memory picture taken at the blue mosque. I was pretty tired and happy to have arrived. Now time to hang out two days in this fabulous city. My sultans trail was over.

So off to the hostel and dinner with a bunch of other travellers from all over the world.

Istanbul: Conversations

I had no intention to do much sightseeing having been here before. My legs also begged for a rest. But i wanted to catch up with two people i hadn’t seen in a long while.

First up was Lale, who i worked with back at kbw on the eastern European coverage. She had since worked for a london wealth management boutique, done her MBA in paris, worked for credit suisse in wealth management and now runs the office for a turkish AI start-up. We both had our stories to tell about our lives and people we both know. It was fun.

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Second was Hasan. He used to be our local brokerage contact here in Istanbul, but more importantly he is a great guy. I remember well when i came here with aldo to launch turkish banks research, the time in istanbul meeting rooms, clubs and rooftops as well as our trip to ankara… Most notably the road trip back by car. Good times. We headed for a restaurant in taksim and talked for a few hours. Good to see you man. All the best.

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Hair transplant central

The first weird thing i saw was several guys with head bandages near the blue mosque. And i many more i counted after in the streets of Istanbul. Turns out that the city has become a prime destination for hair transplants with costs around GBP1500 vs. GBP12000 in the UK. I guess the weak lira will keep customers coming.

So now off to the airport. Got my bike box sorted albeit i was called back by the good man having paid him with a fake TL50 note apparently… Justice came quickly, as the guy at the airport burger king (yep, sorry) charged me me TL51 but gave it back to me 🤔. So we are square turkey! Time to drop off the bike af home quickly and get ready for the next trip.

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Sultan’s trail (part 4): Enough of Bulgarian mountains – off to Turkey

Distance: 480km |Total: 1,752km

My morning in Kocherinovo started bright and early in order to catch a bus to the monastery. My host told me there is one bus from the village at 7am. Well, it left ten to seven without me. Great i thought, as i was sipping away my coffee at the empty bus stop. But then things came quickly together. A bus to Rila bus station (7.20am) and from there with a smaller bus to the monastery. So here I come…

A visit to Rila Monastery

The monastery is the largest in Bulgaria and probably the most important cultural repository of the country. It was named after its founder, the hermit Ivan od Rila, who lived in a nearby cave in the 10th century. The complex measures 8800qm and reminds me a bit of Montserrat near Barcelona (though transport links for the latter are way superior).

The architecture is pretty impressive and the complex is in a good shape. The museum offers thematic overviews of its own history and overall Bulgarian culture. No fotos allowed.

When i got there i went straight to the church where people were praying and singing. I lit two candles as well to pray for two people close to my heart even though, as a protestant, i am technically in the wrong place (details, details…).

Back to my bike now…

Uphill (UP-UP-UP HILL!) to Bansko

Man i am tired. Twice my route today had me cross mountains. Must have been close to 2000m altitude gain in total. God knows. Feels like 5000 to me anyway.

First up the hills behind Blagoevgrad. All offroad that meant a lot of pushing uphill and incouded a small fall on the downhill bit (not hurt though). My bike is just not made for this kind of stuff. No grip uphill and skidding easy downhill. Leaving that aside, the views were stunning. Loads of goat herders about as well and up top these little things even caused a traffic jam. Well, three madly barking dogs convinced me to stay back anyway.

By 3pm i made it past these hills and had still 26km to go (35ish done). First up lunch that came with a surprise… The guy asked me if i speak spanish. Si señor, a veces 😉 👧🏻. He must have worked in spain for a while and told me about his views on immigration. Must be pretty bad now in germany he said and that he is not a fan of open borders anyway. I guess he joina my old serbian friend with his views. His food was brilliant though. Chicken soup and ‘bob‘ – a white bean & pork dish (the latter is his addition). His wife was probably not with him in Spain for we spoke Russian. Less of a conversation, but helped to make my order easy. I left with a full stomach and compliments for my language skills. Gracias & спасибо to that!

The second hill was better to the extent it was a road. Well, the traffic towards bansko was crazy. Maybe because it was friday and people went for a weekend into the outdoor hub. I don’t care… The way people drive here reminds me of kids games. I have the bigger car and need to go faster. Few slowed down and many blasted right past me.

My bigger worry though was the 10km uphill stretch from the the lunch place. It literally never stopped going up. Maybe 100m flat bit once every 2km. I must have used up my swear word allowance for a month. I mean seriously… Does this hill ever end. Everytime you think it has… It goes right up again. I ended up pushing again. Who cares. My legs were tight and tired from the morning already.

Naturally i missed the train i planned to take to get me back on route, as my visit to Bansko was an extra that has taken me further south than planned. Always wanted to see that bulgarian ski resort that i used to mention in my research as one of the problem spots in the real estate crash in eastern europe in 2008ff. So bansko it was for a night though i opted to get some rest instead of exploring the village. Exhausted!

Off to Dimitrovgrad – the bulgarian one

Today is a rest day on the train. Gets me back to plan having added some 200km by visiting Rila & Bansko that has taken me further south rather than east from samokov. The train is a narrow rail one that slowly moves from village to village with the mountains around Bansko slowly disappearing in the back. Great scenery.

I met a Bulgarian man who used to live in Vienna and hence spoke german pretty well. He was helpful sorting tickets and finding a place for the bike on the train (different to serbia, this train doesnt have a bike compartment). He complained that ruthless excess construction has destroyed much of the charm bansko used to have. I agree. Villages nearby are even worse. Happens when governments just look for a quick buck rather than approving only sustainable development. Next step is to further enlarge the ski area… Something the mountains cant entertain very well, the man thinks.

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I arrived in Dimitrovgrad (same name as the last bigger town on the serbian/bulgarian border) by nightfall, ate and followed another disastrous performance of 🇩🇪 losing 3:0 to 🇳🇱… Good night!!!

Touching Greece & into Turkey

It was a cold and grey morning as i got comfortable in my saddle. However, the road was kind and seemes to have a small tilt downhill all day. 120km were flying past.

It was some 50km to the border. I stopped in the last village and had a basic chat with shopkepper Maria in russian and english. She told me about the immigrants (now held off by a fence) and how hard it is to make a living around here.

My short time in greece (3 hours?) was an enjoyable ride with some good views, but other than a greek coca cola and greek potato chips offered nothing greek. Well, just passing through anyway.

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The greek/turkish border was busy esepcially into greece with the longest car queues yet. Well, i jumped the queues on my bike and was done in a heartbeat.

Soon the minarets of edirne welcomed me to turkey. The town had instantly a different feel. There was life on the street. People. And the sound of the muezzin. A stark contrast to the often deserted villages in bulgaria, serbia and hungary. Well, a look at demographics explains wonders. Fact is, turkey in the middle of en economic melt down has still more action than many of its EU 🇪🇺 conquered neighbors.

Enough for now. Tired after a decent dinner and a long day on the 🚲. But glad i am in turkey now… Home stretch on my way to Istanbul.

Sultan’s trail (part 3): Through Sofia into the Rila Mountains (Bulgaria)

Distance: 295km |Total: 1,272km

After a lengthy wait at the passport control, I enjoyed a sunny sunday afternoon back in Nis, Serbia. First up i checked if my bike was still there… All good. I was dead tired from the previous festivities and ended up back in the hostel munching away another Serbian hamburger and watching some YouTube stuff on Laos – my destination for February.

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One thing that was missing were my cycling pants. Probably still in london. So before setting off next day i quickly popped to the cycle store. Going without pants is just too cruel on my backside i figured. Gonna be enough pain anyway.

Off to Pirot

The Bulgarian border was a good 100km away on the roads – more if you avoid them and go off-road. The person in the hostel said the first 30km out of Nis are horrible on the road, so i followed the GPS tracks of the trail once more.

 

That worked well for a while until it took me uphill somewhere (generally the terrain is much more hilly now) and roads turned to dirt roads and those eventually disappeared too. I was somewhere in the forest with a GPS yet no trail. Brilliant!

Walking through these bushes would have been hard enough… But with a touring bike and panniers it was yet another challenge. I must have pushed the bike for over an hour before dirt roads reappeared. Scratches from branches all over me and half a forest somewhere stuck on my bike. Fun!

 

Eventually the road had me back and i abandoned my GPS markings for today. Initially it was a bit busy, but soon i was on a sort parallel road next to the new motorway and was in peace. Well, the sun didn’t give me much peace.

By 4.30pm i reached Pirot passing by its castle and called it a day after 80km. I booked myself into Ana Lux hotel, had a massage and a huge piece of meat for dinner. Time to relax a little more. Tomorrow i head for Sofia. The last capital city before Istanbul.

 

Sofia… Its been a while

The border to Bulgaria was some 35km away from pirot and the crossing again very straightforward – much better than at airports 😁

 

The countryside got hillier though all towns and little villages up to Sofia were little inspiring to be honest.

Even Sofia, some 60km from the border, left me unimpressed. Definitely not a great place for cyclists even with some random cycle lanes. Well, i has reached the fifth and final capital city on this trip before Istanbul.

 

After a little sightseeing and a decent sushi dinner on the main shopping street, realising that i remembered almost nothing from a business trip to see the banks years ago, i headed back to the hostel for a lengthy chat with the manager – a Bulgarian lady in her 50’s – before hitting the bed super tired.

She was very friendly yet loves gossiping about other guests behind their back’s… I wonder what she thinks about me 🤣😂 well, not really. Thanks for everything.

Pushing the bike

This days target was Samokov, a town nestled on the foot of the Rila mountains. I chose to go offroad again after leaving Sofia in what seemed an endless straight road out of town.

After a decent climb on normal roads heading for the hills i had to capitulate… Dirt roads are not made for my touring bike. A jeep would struggle on these! My back wheel just kept spinning… So pushing was on the menu all the way up. Sofia’s concrete towers slowly disappearing in the background.

 

Well, nice views compensated for all the sweat and thankfully i had plenty of water with me. The way down was better though i had to carefully maneuver rocks, gravel, sand, bushes…

On the other side, not far from a large lake, i enjoyed a great lunch. Proper chicken soup (TWO in fact) and pork shashlik’s. Delicious 😋.

 

From here it was more or less flat (it never really seems to be in Bulgaria) and by late afternoon i reached Samokov some 70km later. Tired. Even a horse carriage overtook me 😉

 

The hotel Aleks was a great place to stay. The owner is a biker as well and speaks german. Good chat about travelling. He also recommended a local restaurant just around the corner. Very traditional and, as i found out, with huge portions. Tasty though.

 

I slept early after spending a little time watching world stock markets crash (correct?)… Gladly no office for me tomorrow. 🗽💹📉

Too tired…

Aleks prepared filled pancakes this morning and told me about this plans to cycle to the Danube delta in Romania next year. All the best for you man!

It was pretty fresh outside, but i got going just after 9am. The scenery of the Rila mountains remained impressive though i opted to keep to the roads after yesterdays offroad experience.

 

Not an hour into my ride some screws decided to go over board… Again the panniers holders. Clearly due to the rather shaky downhill ride yesterday. Well, it was quickly fixed with a spare screw and cable ties. I also added a little more air to the tires and reached the town of Dupnica by lunchtime after a good 40km. Brisk (helped by a long downhill stretch 😁).

 

To get to the Rila monastery was only 40km more. But i was not at all in cycling mood and tired. So i abandoned my target for today and checked into the town of Kocherinovo to hang out for the afternoon.

Dont know why i am so tired, but my legs just feel heavy. Well, afternoon in a Bulgarian village then that has not a lot more than through traffic to the monastery. Maybe just what i need 🤔🤣😂 Tomorrow off to see the monastery allowing for a good amount of time… After all Aleks told me they keep all the Bulgarian history there. I am curious.

 

Sultan’s trail (part 2): Crossing Serbia

Distance covered: 480km | Total: 977km

My last morning in Hungary was a sunny one after small showers overnight. Still it took me a while to leave Baja, as i was busy writing up part one of the journey to Istanbul to make use of the still free roaming (in Serbia my mobile provider charges 5GBP/mb!?!).

Into Serbia

I forgot to havea breakfast and was dead hungry having fallen alseep uber tired and without dinner the previous night. It took me to the next village, the last one before the border, to locate a bistro. That one didn’t have food though other than potato chips. Well, better than nothing. I also had an early beer to fit into the landscape – the place was full with drunk old men. But they were nice and my food/drink was on the house! Off to Serbia…

My first border crossing was smooth (other than locating my so far not required passport in my panniers). Just a curious question from the Serbian border guard as to where i am headed and that was it. I was in Serbia and miles were flying past me. I stuck to the road all the way into the small town Sombor where i finally enjoyed a decent meal.

From there it was a mix of small roads and dirt tracks along corn fields that were being harvested. Quite amazing scenery be it dusty as hell at times.

J just continued to Sivac that day (80km in total) and arrived by nightfall. There were no camping or booking.com options so it was wild camping that night. I did some shopping and picked a spot using google maps satellite.

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Situated near a canal a bit off the main road, it turned out more busy than expected. It was dark so i dont know for sure, but i think a harvester broke down and the repair work was pretty noisy. I was tired enough though to fall asleep anyway after munching away my sausage and cheese sandwiches.

Cycling in the rain

I woke up to rain drumming on my tent. I wasn’t in a rush and decided to wait for a dry window and did some planning for my Jan/Feb trip in South East Asia. At least some warm thoughts. By mid day the rain stopped long enough to pack up. Once packed, it rained again. So i rode in full wet gear. It was fine. Not wet. Not cold. Loved the waterproof gloves and trousers Laura and I bought after a pretty wet day up in Aberfeldy, Scotland.

My target for today was Novi Sad. Some 80km to go. I made good progress on the wet roads. That was until i stopped for a coffee and met Miro. He is 70 years old and used to be a Gastarbeiter for 10y in Bonn. We chatted for two hours about his life and mine until we had to say goodbye. Owe him a postcard and thanks for the beer Miro!

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Off to Novi Sad

The clouds had vanished by the time i continued and the sun peeked through. Nice. A wet morning makes you appreciate warmer weather even more. Riding was smooth on little roads all the way into Novi Sad, which i reached 75km into my short day. The landscape of endless fields was magnificent and the drivers actually quite respectful towards me cyclist.

In Novi Sad it took me a while to locate my hostel. Either battery dead or no wifi around. Eventually i arrived and got myself sorted. I ended up going for a few drinks with Alexander from Gdansk. He (a lawyer) and his girlfriend (a sound engineer) were on their way back home from a hitchhiking trip through the Balkan’s.

After a beer in the more upmarket Petrus bar we went to another local place for the famous last beer. Well, that was until we met a Bosnian guy with his Serbian friend and another Serbian couple. After some lively concersation in the said bar they dragged us into another Serbian restaurant with traditional local music. It was monday night yet it felt like prime time saturday. It was mainly young people there. Very enjoyable.

Alexander checked out after another beer while i stayed out. We ended up in the appartment of the serbian fellow, a fitness instructor, and continued chatting away. The serbs take hospitality very serious and wanted to make sure i took away some good memories – well, job well done! Thanks guys.

Uphill with sleep deficit

The first people left the hostel already around 8am. Not so my polish friends who also decided to sleep in against their objective of an early start to catch a ride towards poland.

I was slow and still pretty tired when i hit the road after 10am. Worst of all, right after Novi Sad a seemingly endless climb into a smaller mountain range made me sweat. The last thing i needed that morning! Well, at least it was sunny.

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After the first 25km and a well deserved downhill stretch i found a nice restaurant in the middle of nowhere. The souo with veal was excellent, but i was dead tired. I cycled a little further and decided to take a nap in one of the fields. Now that felt great.

I must have slept two hours until traktor noise woke me up. I sat up and looked. The farmer was wondering over. Trouble ahead? Quite the opposite. He asked me if i was hungarian or german. I said the latter. He also enquired as to my route in bloody good german and asked me if i eat apples. I said yes and had to follow him to hia trailer full with boxes of fresh apples. I took five and thanked him.

With fresh vitamins in my stomach and sleep caught up the journey to Belgrade continued. Another 50km and it was already after 3pm. Thankfully no more hills, some breaks to rest and overall good speed so that i got to belgrade center before 7pm.

When my 2,500km feel suddenly so little

Once in the center, the routine kicks in. Wifi, hostel, shower… Just this time someone asked if i needed help while looking at my phone. Her name was anne (well, short version) and she is from Belgrade. She was also on her touring bike though not fully equipped. Turns out that she has been riding around europe and asia since 2011 and writes travel novels to make money.

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As you can imagine, we had a great conversation. She even invited me for a serbian hamburger (Pljeskavica) before we said goodbye. You can find her travel stories http://www.snezanaradojicic.com. Very impressive. Good luck for your panamerican journey. Am sure we’ll meet again.

A day in the white city – hello Belgrade

The first time i got excited about Belgrade was in a British airline magazine. Their is always a travel colomn which argued that Belgrade is a great destination with fantastic nightlife. Sounds just right! Years later i was finally here. Technically my schedule only had one night here, but intrinsically i had already decided to stay a biy longer and catch up one day by train. No stress.

The first night was quiet after i checked into Yolohostel – central but certainly not one of the nicer ones i been to. Well, a bed is a bed. I enjoyed breakfast on a sunny morning next day and went for a city tour as I usually do. The politics of the region, present and past, are dazzling and the city raised to the ground many a time (one other tourist mentioned 40 times). Definitely a lot of work to do to restore buildings and streets. Maybe joining europe will one day help, but there is the question of kosovo to be solved.

My last morning came quick and I headed for the train station after another breakfast to catch up with my schedule and make it to Niš.

Over to Niš

Serbian trains run very slow and so the two hundred odd kilometres were scheduled to take more than 5 hours. I got round to reading 100 years of solitude meanwhile. Close to Niš, the train crashed into a car that was a bit late on the rail wail crossing. By the time all was sorted with police we had lost two hours more. Should have gone by bike!

The day ‘n night hostel I checked into the evening was very pleasant and well thought out. I met a Turkish guy and we ended up grabbing some food, drinks and chatted away until midnight in the hostel. Great evening and an invitation to Ismir.

Next morning I managed a little sightseeing (yet another fortress) after agreeing to leave my bike in the hostel garage. Probably the safest option in town. I will find out in a week. First back home via Bratislava for a school reunion, time in London and a wedding.

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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.