We’ve had our rest day in Zagreb, after cycling the Balkans from Athens. On Christmas Eve it is the start of our penultimate leg in the journey home. It is also the start of the Rapha #Festive500. Whilst our family are sending us pictures of all they will be eating and everything they will be enjoying, we’re going to be cycling. The thought of getting home is inspiration enough. The #Festive500 challenge will ensure we keep pushing.
I imagine for most people joining in the Rapha #Festive500, it is a healthy challenge to complete between family festivities and stuffing of faces full of delicious food.
Our challenge is to get as far as we can, crossing countries, pitching our tent or finding a hotel at the end of each day. Each day of pedalling these heavy steel bikes, loaded up with our temporary home and everything we need to live. There is no guarantee of a mince pie and glass of brandy at the end of each day, only the excitement that we are getting closer and closer to home.
It’s going to be a different kind of festive this year.
Zagreb (Croatia) to Lenti (Hungary)
The escape from the city was so much better than the arrival. Early on Christmas Eve, the air still frosty with sub zero temperatures, and the roads were almost empty, we made our dash towards the border. The first of which will be into Slovenia.
The landscape was again very different to the rest of Croatia, here was flatter and predominantly farm land, interspersed with the occasional town, selling last minute Christmas decorations and trees – who’s buying them a day before the big event?!
A usual coffee stop in a bus stop, and a young lad who got off the bus asked us where we are from and where we’re going. He was getting home just for Christmas, and had a bag full of wrapped presents. Another reminder that our festive season will be a little bit abnormal.
We had a quick look at Slovenia as we cycled through 12km of the country, before getting into Hungary.
Lenti to Beled camp
Merry Christmas – our present was a cold frosty morning, at least the sun was making an appearance. As the sun warmed things up steam was evaporating up and wafting through the forests, it was a beautiful crisp morning and perfect for a Christmas cycle. The sun was lovely but it never really warmed up and we stayed layered up for the whole day.
A stop in the small town of Beled, we filled our water bottles up and found a quiet spot to pitch our tent just out of the town in amongst some trees and ended our weird Xmas day.
Beled to Bratislava
The tent was frozen solid, and even the tent poles were frozen together which made collapsing the tent a little tricky.
Today there was no sun at all, just a frosty festive fog. Ice was forming on our jackets and on our panniers, the wind chill just adding to the icy bitterness. We saw more dogs than people; maybe the cold makes everyone disappear in the winter in Hungary?
The scenery was also a bit flat and boring, but that made it easy to get into Slovakia, and follow the Danube to it’s capital, Bratislava.
We found a cosy apartment, and walked around the city: it was quiet and empty. It was Boxing Day and almost everywhere was closed. Luckily one restaurant was open so we could enjoy some festive food and wine, with a view to the beautifully lit Bratislava castle.
Bratislava to Vienna
A thick fog covered the city as we started our journey north up the Danube. At 2800km in length it is the 2nd largest river in Europe. It flows from Germany through 10 countries into the Black Sea. We would only be cycling a small stretch up river into Germany.
Parts of the cycle path were closed which meant a few detours through some small villages, and we really didn’t see much of the river at all until we got into Austria and near Vienna. With its amazing array of cycle paths we easily got through the city and found our apartment for the night.
Vienna to Tulln
The rain was pouring down and the wind was howling – it seems to be the norm for us recently. We waited an hour or so before leaving and then negotiated the beautiful buildings of Vienna. Apparently not all the buildings are original as a lot were destroyed in the world wars. Since then though the city has been rebuilt in the same style so even the newer buildings still look like they were built in the Baroque era. Everywhere you go though, there are stunning buildings.
We wound our way back onto the Danube cycle path, the Euro Velo 6.
It crossed the river in a few places, and wound its way through wetlands and forests, the trees all carrying big bunches of mistletoe, very festive!
The wind slowed us down quite a lot, and the open stretches along the big river allowed the wind to hit us face on. It turns out that Europe is a windy place in winter!
We stopped at the small village of Tulln, but decided to try for another town about 35km away. After leaving the town the road was into open fields, so nowhere to hide from the wind. It was tiring, and we decided to turn back to Tulln, where the only hotel available was The Diamond City Hotel – a bit fancy for us but it was warm, comfortable, hid us from the wind and came with a brilliant buffet breakfast.
We also happily completed the Rapha #Festive500 challenge. 5 days, 5 countries, 500km. The day ended well.
Tulln to Pochlarn
Cycle paths are often annoying, as they seem to take ridiculous routes that add on many miles to the journey, and the Euro Velo 6 is no different. It wound through some industrial areas, took us away from the river, and was generally a bit annoying sometimes.
Once past the town of Krems though, it was easier to follow and kept close to the river. The small villages along the route were beautiful quiet country villages, with orchards all around. In the summer we could imagine this would be full of things growing and become a hive of activity. For the moment, we pretty much had the river to ourselves.
Pochlarn to Linz
We woke to a white scene outside, surprised to see so much snow. Today this would do its best to slow us down, but at least there was no wind!
The snow did add a little bit of fun, especially as my tyres resembled slicks now, so a few slides here and there kept it exciting.
The last stretch into Linz we lost the cycle path and went on the road instead. It appeared that Austrian motorists don’t like cyclists and we got a few beeps of the horn – and not like a happy Asian beep of the horn. We were soon accompanied by a police car, he pulled up alongside us, wound down his window and told us politely we weren’t actually allowed on this road. Ah, maybe that’s why we got a few beeps. In retrospect, Austrian motorists seem tolerable of cyclists as we did only get a few beeps – or at least they are tolerable of idiot tourists.
We got to Linz and were greeted by a big ugly industrial steel works. Linz was once a small town but Hitler then created the big steel works to build his weapons.
Linz to Passau
This morning the cycle route took us past flat farmland with short stints by the river. At Aschach-an-der-Donau we crossed onto the south side of the river. Soon the scenery changed to a steep sided valley. It was probably the most beautiful stretch of the Danube from Bratislava. Small villages next to the river, the sun started to make an appearance and a mist rose from the ground and roofs of the houses as the sun warmed up the snow.
We entered our 6th country since leaving Zagreb, and finished the festive week in the The Three Rivers City, Passau. It is the confluence of the black Ilz from the north, the green Inn from the south and the blue Danube from the west, which has also given the town the name ‘Bavarian Venice’.
Tomorrow will be a new year, and more importantly it will be the year we get home!
Happy New Year!