2013 Cycle Prague to Budapest

Monday night 19 August 2013 and Tues 20 August 2013
Hotel Kampa Gardens, Prague

We arrived safely in Prague, with the bikes coming off the plane right as they should. Olin reassembled them, and we quickly found the bike route leading out of the airport to Prague. Then, equally quickly, we lost it.

My bike was injured coming home last year and after the long and rough ride in the airplane the rear derailleur started acting up and making strange noises. We reached a short but steep hill and when I switched into a low gear it popped into my wheel and down I went. After having a look, our initial impression was bad and although we were about 6 km from Prague, as far as we were concerned, we were in the middle of nowhere as there were few houses around.

We hailed a fellow going by on his mountain bike, and he tried to arrange a taxi to come and pick us up. No taxi came. The dark skies then opened up and it started to rain. Olin phoned the hotel and they sent a car that did, reasonably promptly show up, but, the driver said that his car was too small (read nice and clean) for my bike and he just left us there.

After about an hour in the rain, we did what we should have done in the first place – Olin pried the derailleur bracket back into approximately the right position and managed to shift it into a middle gear in the back sprocket and then we together, me with 3-speeds, into the city. The ride proved reasonably easy as it was mainly downhill. The GPS directed us to our hotel area, and after one false start we finally arrived at the Hotel Kampa Gardens.

The next day we took the bike to a shop in Revolution Street, where a young fellow who spoke reasonably good English devoted his day to fixing it. He did not have a replacement bracket but managed to reshape the bent one and then install a new derailleur, although this one worked in reverse to the destroyed one. Very fortunate outcome. We spent the rest of the day and evening in Prague, walking up the hill to tour the church and castle at the top. We walked over the Charles Bridge around 3:30pm and it was FULL of people, so many tour groups you could hardly move. Had a delicious dinner then a good nights sleep.

Wednesday 21 August 2013
Hotel Florian, Sedlcany
77 km, 8.00 am – 3.30 pm
4 hrs 50 mins cycling; 16 kph;
up 890m, down 656m

We got an early start but slow trying to stay on the bike route. Getting out of Prague was very easy. We took an early morning ride across the Charles Bridge (no tourists except for four wedding parties with the brides in full regalia having photo shoots in the morning light) and then we followed the A2 bike route south along the east side of river. Too bad we had taken the other side of the river into Prague 3 years ago as it was much less inviting. We’re following, more or less, the Prague to Vienna Greenway route. (Friends we met en route made the mistake of taking the Greenway advice to start in Central Park via the subway – it took them hours to get out of the city as they could not find the start of the trail system.)

After the Barrandovsky bridge, we picked up the A22 going east. We made our first mistake almost immediately, going onto a side route into the woods (staying on the A22) instead of staying on main route to Pruhonice. Thus we lost the route shortly into the days ride. No more woods. Picked up A11 a little later, and did combo of A11 and country roads for the rest of the day. It turns out there were lots of hills today, not really long or nasty but just a lot of up and down.

We had lunch at Nova Hospoda, an intersection in the road; originally we stopped for coffee but we followed that with goulash soup and bread rolls (very delicious and cheap at 19 crowns each bowl) for lunch.

There were no places to stay right in Nevklov so we ventured on to Sedlcany, and found the Hotel Florian. We met a walking couple from Calgary here on a long multiple week walk from Prague to Vienna. We cycle round the world…they walk.

Thurs 22 August 2013
Hotel Concertino, Jindrichuv Hradec, S Bohemia
86.2 km; 1008 m up; 889 m down; 4hrs 40 mins
8.30 – 4.30
Beautiful riding through prosperous farms and ski country… ie many hills although the ski areas we pass are not big which is a good thing as we don’t have to ride up mountains. We’re not far from Prague and suspect the new homes being built in the country are for weekends and skiing.

There is a reasonable tourist infrastructure here for walkers and cyclists. Every tiny hamlet has a picnic bench and a way-finding sign. All the bike routes are numbered. The walking routes are signed by coloured flashes on the trees. Our hotel last night had 4 rooms booked: 2 sets of cyclists and 1 walkers, 1 other room of random people.

Coffee in Borotin, lattes and shortcake, in outdoor café.

We stopped at Tabor for a donar kebab which was delicious and drink to see us through the afternoon. Town is above the river, we took the hard way down (carried our bikes down a staircase) to the perfect newly paved bike path by the river. There’s an easier way, we just didn’t take it. The path south goes through multiple fields and sports down by the river.

JH is a small but pretty city with cafes, walking streets, a castle and a river. We walked through the castle/ chateau. Buildings closed for day (our usual story) but the grounds were open.

My dinner was trout, Olin has been turning his nose up at the ponds as we go by. But the little trout was delicious. We sat in an outdoor café where the ivy rained down berries on my head. Far too comfortable to move an inch.

Friday 23 August 2013
Pension Domino, Uhercice, S Czech near Austrian border
70 km, 9.15 – 3.30; 4 hrs cycling; 726 up, 768 down

It was a beautiful morning and made our departure from JH. The town was waking up – things start late here. A lady was putting her café chairs onto the street. The morning sun bathed the castle, lake and town square in a wonderful light.

We continued on the combo greenway/ roads route, generally following the Prague to Vienna greenway. One piece of perfect riding was through Prirodni Park and consisted of a paved path, for cyclists and walkers only (although we did not encounter any walkers).

We stopped for cappuccinos and cucumber salad in Nova Bystrice at a very pleasant outdoor cafe. I went into the Drogarie for some ibuprofen (sore knee), but needed the Apothocary.

We had lunch in Slavonice, in the beautiful town square which was full of cyclists. We’ve seen hundreds today, far more than any other trip we’ve been on.

Towards the end of the day we began to look for a place to stay. The first little town, Vratenin, was quite pretty but had no accommodation. The next, Uhercice, was tiny and run down, but a brand new pensione was available. We were the only guests. The young proprietress had to be telephoned, and came with her baby to look after us.

We ate in the only restaurant in town, neither Olin nor I dared to look in the kitchen or think too much about our food prep. We spent our time there swatting flies which there seemed to be an endless supply of.

No internet. No books. No cards. No New Yorker. Just Olin (on computer) and me (with notebook).

Saturday 24 August 2013
Retz Austria, Hotel Althof
40 km, 9 – 1 pm

Our hostess brought us her two beautiful children and a ham and cheese breakfast which started us off down the road running along the border with Austria. Olin has been watching the overgrown pillboxes from the cold war. We turned off at the tiny border hamlet, taking a rough track about 1km to the border, meeting the paved Austrian road from Regersberg.

Our first Austrian, right at the border, recommended the local castle so off we went, adding a huge hill into our day as we visited Hardegg, a spectacular remote site. Hard to imagine why it was strategically important but it must have been.

South then to Retz, where the friendly lady at the tourist information persuaded us to stay the night after a mere 40km of cycling rather than ride on to Hellabrun.

The Althof is in rebuilt old buildings and has made itself into a very pretty country hotel, in the middle of wine country. We walked through vineyards and the town and it was all very pleasant. We drank a bottle of local wine, we met the owner of the winery earlier in the day, on our patio in a very nice hotel. We had a delicious meal: Suzanne enjoyed her “boiled rump of grazing cattle” which was perfect.

We have finished our riding in the Czech Republic and have now entered Austria…tomorrow we ride into Vienna where we will stay two days. Czech was very wild, hilly and backward in many ways…they are still finding their way in the new world. It was fascinating to ride on the Czech side of the border with Austria and spot the pillbox observation posts every 500 meters or so….what a part of the world this must have been during the cold war. There are a million bike paths here and when there isn’t a path, the country roads are good and hardly any cars.

Sunday 25 August 2013 and Monday 26 August (rest day)
Vienna, Austria
85.5 km, 4 hrs 40 mins
8.45 – 2.00 pm, cycling the whole way without a real stop, trying to stay ahead of the rain

We got up early and pedaled into Vienna, down the valley at first along country roads but then onto bike paths as the car traffic increased. We took a road across the Danube on top of a dam and then rode along the Donauradweg – a bike path all along the Danube river. We pedaled hard and straight through as the weather forecast was not good and indeed, the last 10 Kms or so it started to rain, only lightly luckily. The GPS directed us to a Hotel that a fellow Suzanne knows referred us to and we are here – it is very very very expensive but nice…2 nights, so this is our 33rd anniversary treat. Had a nice hot bath and now we are going out to see the town – with umbrellas though as it raining and is supposed to do tomorrow.

We were good tourists, went to the Leopold Museum, the Sisi Museum (how did the Hapsburgs lose it all?), and took in a “Mozart” performance at the Opera House.

Tuesday 27 August 2013
Hotel Carlson Radisson, Bratislava Slovakia
74km, 3.55 hrs, 9.30 – 4.20

All the hard cycling is over as one of the features of following a river is the there are generally no hills. We rode along the dikes and floodways to east of Vienna. No hills at all. But rain… everyday the weather is worse than the forecast, and today was the wettest of all. We’ve yet to have a really sunny day on this trip.

Bratislava is small with a very nice center of town but the outskirts are sketchy communist era buildings – we took a tram to the outer part of town and had two beer (half liters) for $4 in an outdoor pub. It is much poorer than other cities we’ve been in, but has a wonderful walking area in the old part of town with multiple outdoor restaurants. Many old buildings of which we visited exactly none.

We met a German family (a father and 2 daughters) along the path today that Olin had seen peddle through Uhercice late at night and we met them in the town for a drink and caught up on recent German/ EU history, travelling by bike, and election predictions. Very nice people, very good English – he is a psychiatrist.

The weather was, and continues to be poor, with lots of rain forcing us to pull over in whatever shelter we can find.

Wednesday 28 August 2013
Gyor Hungary
85 km, 4hrs 16 mins, 10 – 5, 20 kph

We left Bratislava and met up with our German pals almost immediately, travelled together along the dikes to the art museum at Danubiana, the Meulensteen Art Museum. It’s in the middle of nowhere, out on a point at the front end of the massive flood control/ power project on that part of the Danube.

Then with the wind at our backs we flew down the dikes about 20 km to the big dam at ______. We had a good time watching the locks lower a couple of barges 32m to the lower river.

We crossed the river at the dam, then down the dikes on the east side of the river. We stopped for lunch at Sap, quite good. It turned out to be quite a long but annoying stop…. It started to rain and we waited a long time for it to stop. At a lull in the rain, we jumped on the bikes again, and took the fairly complicated but accurate directions in our guidebook across the border into Hungary and reached the town of Gyor, taking a room in a little panzio across the tracks from the main part of town. It had a very pleasant pub in the basement where we had a refreshing drink before going into town for dinner.

Gyor was pretty quiet but had some beautiful old buildings and walking streets. We ate as locals, in a small café off Hungarian only menus – fortunately there were pictures.

Thursday 29 August 2013
Panzio Alabardos, Esztergom Hungary
109 km, 5 hrs 56 mins, 9 – 5

Suzanne and I got up early from the pension in Gyor and had a good Hungarian breakfast to clear skies…the first time in ages that we were able to see that the sky is blue. We set off with two options, the first a 55 Km ride to Komarom or to press on if the riding was ok to Esztergom, which in the end we did. The riding was mixed today. Some empty country roads, some trails, some very muddy backroads, some interesting towns and about 4 Km of heavy traffic which was not nice…about the only time we have had that actually. And to make matters worse, it started to rain the last 10 Km. In fact it rained so hard, we had to pull over and take shelter beside a building where we watched the rain pelt down and almost back up the storm drains. It finally stopped and we made it in to town where we found a nice pension to stay in with a view of the largest church in all of Hungary which happens to be about 200 meters away from here.

We had some drinks in a local pub where the waitress seemed more interested in talking on the phone then in serving us. We then decided to search out a restaurant, which we found near out pension. We sat down to a Transylvanian feast for 2, which really could have fed 4 people, which it almost did do in fact as our German friends showed up at the same restaurant so we had a good time chatting with them. We also ran into a family of 6 – a husband and wife, two young boys ages 6 and 8, and two dogs. We had seen them the previous day crossing the dam with the big locks and they had camped along the way, then started late in the day to arrive here. They could not find a place to stay as the hotels/pensions either don’t want children or dogs, so they were going to camp again…such an amazingly tolerant pair of children and cheery parents.

Later we spoke to some Israeli boys who took 3 hours to find their way out of Gyor. We’ve been following Eurovelo #6, and the signs are not always where they should be. Luckily we were able to figure the route out quite easily. But is had its drama: muddy tracks through fields and woods made it slow going and challenging cycling.

Friday 30 August 2013
Budapest Hungary
70 km, 4 hrs 6 mins, 11 – 4.30
Well we have finished riding and are sitting on the patio of the Sofitel Hotel in downtown Budapest on the banks of the Danube drinking a bottle of Hungarian sparkling wine. Overall it was an easy trip this year except for the weather.

The ride today was on both sides of the Danube, taking ferries across and looking for the best route. The Danube bend is spectacular, with castles and old town of Visegard. Coming into Budapest we would have been better to stick to the main road. The sidewalk was an ok bike route which improved nearer the city. Instead we took the Eurovelo #6, which took a circuitous and muddy route along the river, and likely an hour longer than it needed to.

But here we are in lovely Budapest. Will have dinner with our German friends and spend a few days being tourists. There is a lot to see in this city, with such a long and interesting history. We toured the castle area and hospital in the hill in Buda, and the National Gallery, the market and many other sights in Pest. The nights are amazing as the streets turn into party zones with groups of kids sitting in the parks and wherever it grabs them to sit and share a bottle of wine or some beer. Open drinking is common. There are so many outdoor café areas and streets. These people seem to enjoy life. Suzanne fell in love with the famous pastry shop/café just down the street from our hotel and seemed to find her way there at least twice a day for breakfast, a coffee, or a sweet. The weather has improved, but it still cool and very windy. We also took a dinner cruise up and down the Danube – the meal was forgettable but the scenery was first class, as the sun set and the lights of the city started to shine.

Olin found some bike boxes and packaged our bikes up for the trip home…the first time we have done that as we have either used Air Canada bags or wrap, so we will see if this works. I took a lot of dismantling to get Suzannes bike into the small box.

Guadalajara to Madrid

Tuesday 4 September 2012
Hotel Melia Barajas (Madrid airport), Madrid Spain
57.06km, 2hrs 52 mins, 19.82kph,
1478 km total
7189 m rise in Spain

Ascent 505, Descent 600m
Route: Local roads to the N320, NW to nnn, SW to Paracuellos, tunnel under airport, to Barajas

We are here! Hurray!

We had our doubts a few days ago – a long way and hard riding. But we slowed down to more bite-sized pieces and have arrived.

Getting from Guadalajara to Madrid is a little tricky – you have to go north as there are no local roads which go all the way through, only the motorway.

Riding was hard at first – strong winds in our face, but when we turned south it helped push us to our destination. At Paracuellos, there’s a small turn in the road at the top of a long hill – and there’s the airport and the city in front of you.

After the hill, you enter the “bikes prohibited” tunnel (were we to ride across the runways??), which was a little disconcerting. It has quite a wide shoulder and is lit, but there were black holes, the traffic was fast and heavy, and our only light is a little blinking red light on my bike, so Olin was pretty invisible except for his reflectors on his packs. It’s 2500m, a long way, kept thinking some authorities might come and growl at us, but no one did and there’s other bike tracks so we were not that unusual.

After the tunnel we were in Barajas, where we had booked an airport hotel.

Into Madrid to see the spectacular city, go to the Prado, and celebrate with champagne in the garden of the Ritz Hotel.

Done!

Galve de Sorba to Guadalajara, Castille-LaMancha, Spain

Monday 3 September 2012
Hotel Espana, Guadalajara, Castilla – la Mancha, Spain
90.9km, 4hrs 8mins, 23.6kph, 0900 – 1430

Ascent 810m, descent 1490m, elevation 695

Route: Road 1001 and 101 all the way into Guadalajara

Some days you cycle through molasses, some days through air. Today was an air day.

The morning started with yet another climb, about 200m, up to our highest pass yet at 1530m, unmarked and unnamed. We could see a long way south, and pick out some of the route ahead. We were back in pine forests, mostly planted as part of the fairly active forest industry in this part of Spain.

A series of swooping descents followed each time by another ascent brought us out of the mountains to the small town of nnn. The roads are fantastic to ride on – well engineered (good work again Spanish road engineers!) and with virtually no traffic they are perfect for cycling.

We passed several tiny villages in the mountains, all very beautiful but you have to wonder what keeps them going because they are so remote.

We also keep passing EU signs as having funded various things far from anywhere. Whose money? No wonder the EU is in trouble.

From Cogolludo (lunch) to Guadalajara is probably the fastest 40km we have ever ridden. With gentle downward grade and strong wind at our backs Team Anton was flying at over 40kph for long stretches.

Guadalajara is a bit in the dumps – closed stores, dull fashions in the windows, and not many people in the streets. For some reason not many older buildings in the city. There are some interesting heritage buildings, but most of the city seems to have been built in the last 60 years. It’s the only city we’ve been in which does not have a central plaza.

Dinner at a nearby restaurant, which is unlikely to have changed its menu since 1962. OK, but we have yet to have a meal in Spain which is particularly good, except for the tapas and copos de cava in Logrono.

San Estaban de Gormaz to Galve de Sorbe, Guadalajara, Spain

Sunday 2 September 2012
Pension Nuestra Senora del Pinar, Galve de Sorbe, Guadalajara, Spain
52.7km, 3hrs 39mins, 14.43kph, 0945 – 1500hrs

Rise: 980m; elevation 1350m

Route today: S on country roads through Morcuera, Liceras, Noviales, Villacadima, Galve de Sorbe

Aside from the climbing, the roads are perfect in every other way. The scenery is stunning and the traffic completely minimal – very few cars.

In the morning we climbed up out of the Duero River Valley heading towards a wind farm far in the distance.  Slow going as we had to stop and take photos of the plains of Spain, and the view backwards towards San Estaban. We then climbed up, over and down several substantial ridges, the most spectacular being just after Liceras, with red sandstone cliffs carved into fantastic shapes. We’ve cycled many places but few with this drama.

Liceras is another tiny perfect town in the middle of nowhere, so we had a quick coffee there and a chat with the locals. At least, they chatted and we tried to pick up a word or two, our Spanish being negligible. Then up high again to Noviales, after which we crossed into Segovia province, then Guadalajara soon after. The advertised dirt road has now been paved so the going was smooth with almost no cars at all.

But the road went up – and up and up. It was a long way to the 1400m pass not even marked on the map. The pass is in the middle of the wind farm, 100s of massive windmills doing their job.

Surely it must all be downhill after that – but it was not, with several smaller downhills and climbs on the way into Galve de Sorbe. The last few kms, the valley opened out and our road flowed down in front of us, with beautiful scenery and beautiful cycling. We saw 2 foxes.

Up in the high hills, there aren’t many trees, you can see and hear for miles. It is completely quiet.

Galve de Sorbe is a small village, and it’s hard to know what keeps it going. A lot of new construction is underway, in the traditional stone style. We had a good time in the bar watching Ronaldo score 2 goals for Real Madrid.

Quintanar de la Sierra to San Estaban de Gormaz, Soria, Spain

Saturday 1 September 2012
Convento San Estaban, San Estaban de Gormaz, Soria
67.44km, 3hrs 50 mins, 17.57kph, 1000 – 1600hrs

Rise: 700m, elevation is 725m

Route: Country roads through: Vilviestre de Pinar, San Leonardo de Yague, Sta Maria de las Hoyas, Rejas, Berzosa, dirt road to Matanza de Soria, then to San Estaban

The 100km day being way too long, we’ve cut our expectations somewhat. I always think if you can’t do 20kph, you’re not getting anywhere. But on this trip it’s impossible for us to do 20 – so much climbing and slow roads. We also stop at most intersections to make sure of our route, so the days become much longer than we are used to.

We dropped down a little coming out of Quintana, but then climbed again to another unnamed pass at 1100m, high up in the scented pine forests. The area is park, and the road curves through the park and the pine trees, with little streams coming in and out of view. It’s a stunning ride.

Quick coffee and some food supplies at San Leonardo, then up high again to Sta Maria de las Hoyas. I stopped to take a photo of  the beautiful little church (Sta Maria of the Holes??) and took a tumble instead. Big ouch, but scraped up and dignity wounded was the worst.

After Berzosa, took the dirt road towards San Estaban – more direct but in poor condition.

Arrived in San Estaban not too late, Olin scouted us the very excellent Convento, in an old church building. San Estaban has a castle, very old churches (11th century) and homes built into the red stone of the hillside. Actually what we though might be tiny little houses turn out to be mostly wine cellars.

Logrono to Quintanar de la Sierra

Friday 31 August 2012
Posada Las Mayas, Quintanar de la Sierra, Spain
104km, 16.1kph, 0915 – 1800 hrs, 6hrs 28mins

Rise 1484m, elevation 1000m

Route: Camino out of Logrono for 10k, combo of camino and roads until turned S on 136 about 5 km east of Najera, S on L133 to Villavelayo, S to Neila, over the Puerto del Collado to Quintanar de la Sierra

We’re now using the book, Cycle Touring in Spain (Cicerone), which gives a route from Madrid to Bilbao, and which we started following when we turned south. The route is country roads and purports to avoid the mountains, saying it is for “those who are happy with hills but prefer to cycle between mountains rather than over them.”  Now, the last time I was in Spain was 30 years ago and in a car so have zero recollection of the country. It is all hills and mountains. My one complaint about the guide is that is constantly understates how much climbing is involved.

(BTW the Tour de Spain is on at the moment – no wonder the Spanish are good cyclists.)

So, in detail: Getting out of Logrono is hard on a bike because the autoroute has absorbed the local road and there is nowhere for cyclists to go except on the camino. Not a bad option, but very slow. We followed it until we could get onto the roads, even then went back and forth as seemed most efficient. But it was slow and with our goal of 100km today, it ate up a lot of time.

Once we turned south, we essentially went uphill for the next 80km. Fairly steady most of the time, good job, Spanish road engineers!

From Anguiano, the scenery was spectacular. Anguiano itself is stunning, with an old church up high, with an old stone bridge across the Najerilla River. From there we followed the Najerilla up the canyon for nearly 20km, beautiful riding, not too hard uphill and endless beauty of river and woods and canyon. Then 15km along the dammed lake (stopped to look at the dam of course), water is low, and though there are some homes there and tourism efforts, it seemed very remote.

Not as remote as the next stage though – the 12 km up to Neila took an hour, following the Neila River though its canyon. In that hour we were passed by exactly 2 cars, and felt like we were in our own spaghetti western – the rocks and trees and river were wild and stunning. But it was hard.

The tiny perfect village of Neila would have been good to stay in but the only hotel is closed for renos. Someone’s put a lot of money into the town, with a museum and visitor centre and streets with new pavers looking very tidy.

We stopped for a quick tea, then went even further uphill, quite hard this time, to the Puerto El Collado, which at 1400m is the highest I’ve ever been on a bike.

Quick downhill after that to Quintana de la Sierra about which I can tell you nothing because I was too tired! Olin wasn’t too impressed in his walk around. Very beautiful posada we are in, and we are the only guests. Couldn’t figure out who their customers are.

Pamplona to Logrono

Thursday 30 August 2012
Hotel Husa los Bracos, Logrono, Spain
102.37km, 6hrs 5 mins, 16.8kph, 0900 – 1645

Rise: 1360 up, 1420 down

Route: Pilgrims’ route out of town, N6000 to Puente la Reina; N111 to Logrono

To get out of the city centre, follow the pilgrims route, marked about every 4 feet so the peregrinos don’t stray. However we did stray, getting onto the N6000 instead of the N111. That cost us 8 km but avoided going over the high ridge of the main route.

Stopped at the Eunate church outside Puente la Reina, 12th century, for coffee at Puente, and quick lunch near Estella. Otherwise spent the whole day in the saddle pushing through the heavy winds and high hills.

Spectacular scenery all day, beautiful riding, we’re finding our legs.

Dinner in Spain starts at 9.00 and in the cities we’ve been in, dinner is tapas at the bars. So tonight we got with the program, had our anniversary dinner at multiple establishments, but started and finished at the Torro. Younger guys, newer food, and large copas de cava (local champagne).

Thirty two years and we’re still pushing up the hills together.

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