It was the first day riding alongside the Danube and I have never been so happy to have been sunburnt. After some difficult days of winter riding throughout the preceding weeks, as soon as I hit the bank of Europe’s second longest river it was as if someone flipped a switch that bypassed the intermittent spring weather and went straight to summer. Over the next week I flew to Budapest through Austria and Slovakia underneath blue skies and with the merciful assistance of tailwinds. It has been some of the best riding of this trip so far and it made the average 100km daily distances seem effortless.
Leaving Germany, however, was a sad thing to do. It had been an absolute joy to ride through due to its well signposted, traffic-free cycle network that linked the towns and cities, each once brewing their own “best beer in Germany”.
Cycling along the Danube is a two-sided experience. First, there is the epic side of it and the reason why this is one of the most popular cycle routes in Europe. On these sections of river, particularly between Passau and Vienna but also in parts of Hungary north of Budapest, the water meanders through a steep valley as castles look down upon the rivers and tiny villages cling on to the steep banks.
The sheer scale of it all reminded me of cycling through Scotland’s Lochs but with nicer weather and vinyards instead of pine trees. This route apparently gets overrun during the summer months so, for the first time, felt that leaving the UK in March had been advantageous as I had this amazing scenery to myself. The quiet proved useful when, in the heat of the afternoon, you were able to find a nice quiet, sandy river bank to have a quick (very quick) dip in the river and a powernap.
Then there are the bits in between and these are certainly less epic. The hills disappear and the land opens out into vast flood plains. There’s a lot less to see on these and often the river runs completely straight. Here’s a case in point:
However, as the traffic-free cycle lanes mostly continued as I crossed into Slovakia and Hungary, these sections simply allowed me to just put some headphones in and zone out. Cycling Zen. Plus on these bits, there’s plenty of land on either side of the river to camp on – I was able to set up my tent at the bottom of the flood levy in a way that it would be unseen to anyone on top – a spot for a wild camp hidden in plain sight.
It’s been a pretty cycling-intensive week that was reminiscent of my big John-O-Groats to Lands End trip last summer. A routine of early mornings, long days on the saddle, and time to think meant that it all went rather fast and all went rather splendidly. However, I think have had my fill of this sort of riding for a while and I now have the luxury of being a lot further than I thought I would be by this time. As such, the next couple of weeks are going to be slower-pased, with less emphasis on ‘getting somewhere’ and more on taking detours and taking half-days off the saddle as I press on towards Romania and Bulgaria. As a result, I’m sure I’ll have some more stories to tell other than just riding a bike.