Krems to Debrecen (long one this guys - sorry!)

Trip Start Jun 30, 2010
Trip End Sep 09, 2010

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Where I stayed
Student accomodation come Youth Hostel

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Sunday 25th July. Krems an der Donau to Vienna (92 km)  

We actually woke early today, although there was a good reason for this as the hostel breakfast only lasted till nine. So we filled our boots as usual and prepared ourselves a little sandwich for lunch and parted with our new friend Martin to head along the Danube to the Austrian capital. The path was again naturally beautiful with us both loving the fact the wind was in our favour, meaning we could ensure we were on time for appointment in Vienna. This also meant we could stop for a cold beer on the bank of the Danube, naturally. Our progress though seemed somewhat short lived as the heavy rain the days prior had resulted in a certain section of the cycle path being flooded and impassable. Not though for the daring duo, socks and shoes off, we waded through the Danube with our trusty waterproof panniers to the other side.

We hit the outskirts of Vienna late afternoon and navigated our way through the poorly marked cycle paths to the other side of the city, where our important rendezvous awaited us.

"Good evening Mr Ambassador"....... So then to backtrack somewhat this was no chance encounter as this arrangement had stemmed from a half-time World Cup conversation in Maastricht. Jim had got chatting to a couple of German girls (who were also couchsurfing at Tom's place) who promised to help us in providing the most scenic route through Germany and it just so happened on of these girls’ father was the German Ambassador in Vienna. After a few emails and networking she managed to hook us up with her parents and arrange for us to stay at theirs for two nights. Thanks a million Kristina, it was that our paths just crossed in Vienna. Viva Paul Lambert!

So we arrived at the Ambassadors in a rather nice part of the city to say the least, where we were greeted with the most warming reception and our own floor of the house, a right touch you could say. The wife of the ambassador Agnes was really enthusiastic and excited about cooking for us starving English cyclists, so naturally we accepted her invitation. This was one of the best decisions of the trip as the rack of lamb we had that night will live long in the memories of the two of us, absolutely cracking. We chatted for a good few hours with the Ambassador and his family over a bottle of wine and eventually retired to bed. Although apprehensive about meeting someone in a somewhat prestigious position we were both touched at how down to earth he and his family were great people and great hosts!

Today’s arrival in Vienna marked the end of a seven day marathon slog from Nuremburg in which we covered a total of 626 km. Pretty happy with ourselves and some much need rest and exploration days ahead with three capital cities to come in quick succession.  

Monday 26th July. Vienna

We awoke early for a lovely breakfast with Agnes where Jim discovered the sheer beauty of muesli, yoghurt and homemade Jam all mixed together. A proper breakfast in preparation for a long day sightseeing in one of Europe’s most famous cities, neither of us had visited before.

We decided to leave the bikes in the Ambassador’s garage (bigger than both of our houses) for the day so we took public transport into the city. We both agreed that Vienna was totally beautiful with area around the Town Hall and the Hofburg being a particular highlight. We also both agreed however that the city seemed to lack a certain edge and dynamism that we had become so accustomed to on this trip. After a schnitzel for lunch and the worst bowl of soup ever (fact) we retired back to the Ambassador’s to do some blogging!

The Ambassador and Agnes went out for dinner and left us with firm instructions to help ourselves to the fridge, we kindly obliged and polished off the lion-share of the leftovers from an Ambassador function held at the house shortly before we had arrived - we toasted every sip of wine a and every tiger prawn to Berlin! Another early night followed. 


Tuesday 27th July. Vienna to Bratislava (Slovakia) (82 km)

We arose early to bid farewell to the Ambassador and his wife and had another cracking breakfast. After packing our bags and loading the bikes (a process that can sometimes take up to an hour) we said ciao to the maid and her daughter, we then headed into Vienna to see the remaining sights and to begin out journey to the Dark Side (Eastern Europe). Unfortunately we were not allowed to take our bikes in the Castle’s gardens but we were able to cycle out of Vienna through some lovely city parks, something that Vienna has in abundance.

We located the cycle path in between the Danube and the Danube Canal, the path was very straight and flat and we were soon at the Slovakian border for our token border-crossing photo courtesy of Jim’s mini tri-pod. The cycle path offered some typically Communistic views of Bratislava with tower blocks aplenty, however as we entered the Old Town from the South over the UFO Bridge the city instantly became more appealing. We quickly (I say quickly, we got lost) located our hostel, unpacked and made friends with two German dudes called Kris and Eric.

We all headed out for a couple of beers and a cracking Goulash and after a bit of bar hopping we went to the Alligator Rock Club, where there was a decent covers band who played some great versions of Duran Duran’s Hungary Like the Wolf and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ underplayed Aeroplane. We stayed there until 3 am but the German dudes decided to venture to a different kind of establishment, enough said!     

Wednesday 28th July. Bratislava

This was a very lazy day, but a justified lazy day! Jim arose early to ensure that we both had a 'proper breakfast’ and some coffee in us before our radio interview at 10:40 GMT. The interview went very well, especially considering as we conducted it from the dank stairwell of Slovakian communist block of flats where our hostel was located. We hope to be able to partake in another radio interview later on in the trip. We then had our first (maybe second) afternoon snooze of the trip!

At 5pm we attended a free tour of Bratislava which was conducted by a brilliant young Australian chap, who although not local knew so much about the city and delivered the information with such enthusiasm that we were encapsulated from start to finish. Bratislava is a city and Slovakia is a country with a very interesting past. We then went for dinner at the sister restaurant of where we had eaten the night previous and had another cracking goulash, cracking! We ate dinner with another two German dudes we had met at the hostel, one a student tap dancer called Claudio from Wurzborg and another a very well travelled young hitchhiking student called Johannes from somewhere else in Germany! We have planned to meet these guys in Budapest where we have something special planned!

After dinner we all walked up to the castle on top of the hill for some nice views over Bratislava and the Danube. The castle looked awesome light up at night but as it was late we could unfortunately not go inside and explore further. After a beer in a little bar on the hill next to the castle where a large family were doing some floorless acoustic jamming with notable covers of The Cranberries’ Zombie and The Eagles’ Hotel California we retired to bed at 11pm.

We both agreed that Bratislava was a wonderful city with a nice vibe (thanks god we didn’t witness any weekend stag parties) which had very much to offer, despite being not the most beautiful city of the trip thanks mainly to the deplorable influence of the Communists in the later part of the 20th century. It was also very cheap, amazing really considering its close proximity to the overpriced Vienna. It feels nice to finally be in Eastern Europe. 

Thursday 29th July. Bratislava to Gyorujfalu (81 km)

The day began with us both being hurried out of the hostel by the French member of staff as we had again over slept a little, meaning another late start cycling. We finally got going and made it out of the city reasonably quickly given our previous track record but again this joy was short lived, Jim’s bike again suffered its usual collection of flat tyres. After a relativally quick fix and Linton plummeting Jim with plums from the side of the road to display his annoyance at the hold up, we made it to the Hungarian border. Here we met our friend Johannes (the German hitchhiker) who helped us with our proof of entry photo; it was also good to see him get picked up as we left. Good work Johannes, Auf wiedersehen.

After plenty of rain, some busy Hungarian roads and the amazement at the Hungarian storks nesting on top of lamp posts everywhere, we arrived at our Hungarian friend “Daniel’s” family home. Even though we were a little late Daniels family treated us to an amazing traditional Hungarian dinner, which was even more amazing when we found out the meat we were eating was rabbit, Jim’s face was a picture. After telling the story of how as a child he had two rabbits as his beloved pets, he then polished his plate and even returned for seconds. The homemade wallies (gherkins) were also good! Beaten from the days cycling we settled for an early night in the front room of Daniel’s house just outside of Gyor.

Three countries in three days by bicycle feel pretty good!

Friday 30th July. Gyorujfalu to Tata (82 km)

We awoke early for a traditional Hungarian breakfast courtesy of Daniel’s father Fritz. We then had a little exploration of his garden and took some photos of the adorable kittens and the family dog. Jim also discovered a couple of empty rabbit hutches, we hope no sacrifices were made for our enjoyment, however if any sacrifices were made, they were definitely not in vain! After a photo with the family we headed into Gyor for a mini tour by Daniel. It was lovely to be shown the pretty little city by someone who was so enthusiastic and proud of his hometown. Great work again Daniel – well done on your cycles and fundraising.

We then began the cycle towards Esztergom on a fairly busy road. Progress was going well and we were cycling quick, especially through the forest East of Gonyu where Daniel had recently been chased by wild dogs. We entered the forest fully energised and armed with our trusty Swiss Army Climber knives, a lighter and our respective cans of anti-perspirant only for protection, thankfully they were not required, we are still unsure if Daniel was winding us up or not.

Soon after this Jim’s back tyre struck again and any ideas of us reaching Esztergom that night were dashed. Three flat tyres later and with Estergom written off we were just able to roll into the town of Tata where the wheel completely gave up. Thankfully, as we were enquiring about a campsite and a bike shop for the following morning Linton started speaking to some friendly mountain-bike cyclists. Danesh offered us to help fix Jim’s bike in his workshop, on the walk to his place we bumped into his English tutor, an extravagant Scottish ex-pat called Don and his daughter. With the bike fixed and the question asked – “Danesh, is there any possibility we can erect our tent in your garden?” we cycled with Don and Yolly to get a take away pizza from a local establishment. The pizza was awesome!

When we returned to Danesh’s place we sat with his cool friends and Don (who was completely mental but nice a pie) for a couple of hours drinking beers and homemade ‘strong as hell’ palinka until midnight, time for sleep!        

Saturday 31st July. Tata to Budapest (75 km)

We awoke reasonably early in order to get to Budapest at a reasonable hour; Danesh meanwhile had been busy buying us breakfast. As we took down the tent Danesh got busy in the kitchen and conjured up an awesome Hungarian style omelette with some traditional spicy sausage. Hunger a thing of the past we decided to neglect Dons advice and took the main road to Budapest (Sorry Don). We motored along the main road with only a brief lunch stop halfway, the hills though didn’t seem to dictate pace to much as we were both excited about our return to our favourite European city. We got to Budapest mid afternoon where we were greeted by our good Australian friend Felix (we met in Belgrade last year) at the hostel where he works. The English brew Felix made on our arrival was a lovely touch.

Showered and refreshed we headed in search of food and settled for Felix’s recommendation of an all you can eat and drink (including alcohol) restaurant. Although the food was average to say the least we got more than our money’s worth with the beers and red wine, not a vintage though it must be said. After a good refill we headed off with Felix and his friend Alan to another hostel Felix worked in as he had to work that night. I say work loosely though as his job was to take the travellers who were staying there out on a bar crawl, naturally we tagged along. The night was spent in some really cool bars that Budapest has in abundance and a vibrant after-hours club, needless to say it was a good session as we stumbled back to the hostel in broad daylight.

Sunday 1st August. Budapest

We arose fairly late and still feeling a little under the weather from the night previous. Jim went to the shop to buy a light continental team breakfast which he hoped might get Linton motivated for a day of exploration, yeah right! At mid afternoon and after numerous cups of tea Jim left Linton in bed and cycled around the Pest side of Budapest. Despite this being my sixth visit to the marvellous city, a fair proportion of the city had remained unseen and it was nice to visit the Puskas Stadium, City Park and all its lovely buildings and to cycle down Andarassy Utca which connects Heroes Square to the Octagon and the famous Chain Bridge over the River Danube. After travelling as a pair for so long and constantly meeting new people it is sometimes nice to just explore and be on your own for a while, I’m sure Linton will agree with this.

We all met back at the amazing Loft Hostel at 7pm and ordered the biggest pizza with Felix and the hungover Brazilian Lucas, it must have been big for Jim to be happy with one pizza between four! We then went for a couple of chilled-out drinks in an outside bar in the middle of what used to be Stalin Square with Felix, Laura the Parisian lawyer and our Swiss friend Martin whom we met in Austria. This was a pretty cool evening and Felix the Australian Raconteur was on top form telling story after story! We returned back to the hostel at 2am for some much needed sleep.      

Monday 2nd August. Budapest

Today was the day we had set aside for much needed bike repairs, so we got an early start and found a bike shop near to our hostel. Here we got ridiculously good deals on our respective bike issues that were much needed, so feeling a sense of accomplishment we decided to meet Felix and go for a tour of one of the islands in Budapest named Margaret Island. The Island was beautiful with a series of parks and cafes running through the middle, so Linton decided to stay put with Felix and relax while Jim left to go on a tour about the Communist era in Hungary and how it affected Budapest. Jim felt the tour was really insightful as he had relatively little knowledge on the subject and the fact the woman taking the tour grew up in the Communist years meant she knew exactly what it was like in the city at this time. Linton though had a slightly different day as he and Felix made the decision to visit a petting zoo on the island. Here there was a massive eagle, the biggest rabbit seen by man, huge storks and some ponies and yes he is 26. This was not the only thing Linton saw on the island though, as he and Felix snuck into the grandstand by the swimming pool that had been erected for the European swimming championships in Budapest the following weekend. They sat for some time watching the French synchronised swimming team run through their rehearsals, in Linton’s words “they were bloody awesome”.

After our varied afternoons we were reunited at the hostel where we met with Martin and some Portuguese girls and headed for some much needed food. Felix recommended a traditional Hungarian restaurant where Jim and Felix proceeded to eat a meat platter for two which could’ve fed five. Jim being Jim announced he would comfortably get through the pile of food even if he was there all night. Unsurprisingly he astonished everyone at the table by literally licking the dish clean which prompted rapturous applause and photos by all, Erin you must be so proud. Linton thought he was an idiot and was highly amused as we went for drinks after that Jim could hardly move as he sat slumped in his chair. After a few more beers at this bar Jim became somewhat livelier so we hit the outdoor clubs of Budapest till the early hours. The night turned out to be a cracker with a decent crowd from the hostel and some quality music, which we had been craving, our best night out so far.

Tuesday 3rd August. Budapest to Vecses (20 km)

We both awoke on the sofas in the best common room at around noon after four or so hours sleep and both feeling pretty rough. Jim went to get breakfast (a massive chicken burger) from the food market with Martin and the Portuguese girls whilst Linton proceeded to sit and mumble descriptions of how hungover he was. At 3pm Jim went to collect his bike and was very pleased with the work conducted, two new Shimano v-brakes fitted and two new heavy duty tyres fitted for 15,000 Forints, about 45, so pretty damn good. It feels good to have finally disposed of the unreliable and high maintenance disc brakes, v-brakes are far better suited for cycle touring. Jim is ready for Romania!

At 6pm and with another storm brewing we briefly considered the possibility of staying at the hostel for one extra night but we made the correct decision and begun to cycle out of Budapest with Martin. We arrived in Vecses just outside of the city limits and located somewhere to wild camp but with another agenda in mind. We found somewhere to eat dinner and begun to be awfully nice to our waiter and the owner of the establishment Gabor. When paying our bill and with the storm active we asked the question, “is there any possibility that we can sleep in the shelter seating area of your restaurant”? The answer after a few minutes of deliberation was a resounding yes, so after the last guests had left we set up our beds and got our heads down in the strangest of circumstances. Cracking!

Even though we had only cycled 20km it was good to get and the city and the omens were good for the following day, if the storm held out!

It was also awesome to Martin the fence-sitting Swiss Gentleman on board and we hope he will stay with us for the majority of Romania. His final destination is Moldova where he will undertake some mandatory Swiss National social service but he has plenty of time to get there so he is more than welcome to stay with us for as long as he can put up with the Essex Boys!

Wednesday 4th August. Vecses to Sarud (153 km, yes 153 km)

The day started rather strangely as we were woke by the owner of the restaurant at 6:30am as we laid in our sleeping bags on the restaurant floor. Slightly annoyed by the early wakeup call we got packed up relatively quickly and bid farewell to our slightly surreal accommodation. Tired and in need of coffee we made our way to the next town around 10 km away and refuelled at a local Tesco, meaning we were on the road much earlier than usual. We made our way across the Hungarian Plains broken up by small villages where the region was certainly the poorest we had witnessed meaning some interesting sights. Including a guy on a bike with a trailer carrying a large sow, a father and son with massive logs strode across bicycles and a number of horse and carts. Progress was impressive with us covering 80km by lunch due to the unbelievably flat Hungarian landscape; we sat at the side of the road where Martin prepared a feast. This was no ordinary lunch as this was Martins turn to impress us with his cooking abilities with a traditional Swiss dish. The dish itself was called “aelpermagronae” that was a carbohydrate fuelled dish made with potato, pasta, ham, cheese, onion and cream, continuing with our usual theme it was once again “cracking”.

Full as pigs we ventured back into the wilderness of the Hungarian plains, again motoring our way along taking in the sights as we cycled. As the day drew to a close we made the decision to break the 150km barrier and we set a target of a campsite in a village called Sarud to get our heads down for the night. Just before we arrived in Sapud though, the scariest and most dangerous part of the trip occurred as we were confronted by three wild dogs by the side of the road. Jim cycling in front was taken by surprise as they attacked him from out of nowhere narrowly escaping as they chased him up the road, Linton and Martin then had to run the gauntlet. Approaching cautiously and cycling on the opposite side of the road they made their approach, the dogs though sets their sights on the pair and attacked them viscously. Martin removed his pepper spray as they surrounded them but thankfully the dogs eventually gave way and let them cycle free, we were all relieved to escape unharmed.

Reaching our campsite slightly shaken and ridiculously tired we went for a quick dinner and a beer and settled for an early night, an eventful day that could’ve been a lot worse. In Debrecen we will purchase an anti-dog whistle!

Thursday 5th August. Sarud to Poroszlo (18 km)

After yesterday’s antics the Essex Boys had a decent lye-in whilst Martin arose early from his bivvy-bag to do his washing, he’ll soon become accustomed to our ways! After a couple of coffees and some blogging we left the campsite at noon to cycle to the next town to get breakfast, with Debrecen as our target for the day. We took the cycle path for about 6 km around the lake to the Poroszlo where we had a breakfast of museli, fresh apricots and milk, nice to have some cereal for a change. Over breakfast was when Linton suggested that maybe we should spend a day at the lake, Jim agreed once he realised that this meant that they’d be in the city of Debrecen on Friday night therefore increasing his chances of finding somewhere to watch the Norwich season opener on Sky Sports! Martin being Swiss agreed to whatever!

Having found a new campsite we headed to the beached area of the lake where we continued to blog and began to study the maps and guidebooks of Romania to try and instigate both a route and a time scale that fit best with both ours and Martin’s respective final destinations. The lake was nice but not a patch on the gargantuan Lake Balaton which we cycled in Hungary last summer.

Before we knew it it was gone 5 pm and we were all very hungry (in Hungary). After weighing up the pros and cons of a meal out, a BBQ and cooking a curry we decided on a BBQ. However these thoughts were dashed when we saw the strange array of dead animals on offer in the local supermarket’s deli. Alas we headed back to the campsite to make a ruby on the trusty gas stoves – turned out there was a kitchen at our disposal!

We subsidised dinner with a couple of beers and although the cuisine was good the mosquitoes turned the night in to a chore. Seriously, what purpose do these God forsaken creatures serve other than to annoy happy campers in Hungary? The mosies drove us to bed early which is no bad thing as an early start is planned for tomorrow to get to Debrecen for lunch. 

Friday 6th August. Poroszlo to Debrecen (98 km)

We arose early in order to partake in a quick table-tennis tournament at the campsite. With a typically over dramatic Linton swept aside Jim went on to beat Roger Federer leaving the final game of the tournament as a mere second place play off – Linton lost that as well! To Linton’s credit though his claims that the table was wonky, he’d had too much coffee, the net was dodgy, it was windy and he had a dodgy bat, all valid excuses I think you’ll agree!

After a bag of choccy milk for breaky we hit the main road to Debrecen. We decided to take the slightly longer less busy route through the Hortobagy National Park, this was the heart of the Great Hungarian Plains and there were plenty of ranches and scary looking bulls with massive horns! After making good progress and nearing our first town in 25 km the clouds thickened and very quickly developed in to the biggest storm any of us had ever witnessed, let alone cycled through. The wind was howling from the South and trees had fallen onto the road, the rain became so hard and fast it felt like hail stones. We somehow managed to cycle on for 4 km to the next town where we took shelter in a horrible fly-ridden bar and bought a beer each to calm down. The storm was a real spectacle and we were lucky to all come though it unscathed.

The worst of the storm passed quickly and we cycled the final 25 km to Debrecen in the rain in about one hour. Feeling relieved to have arrived we quickly found refuge in some very cheap student accommodation and went for dinner in a fast food cafe. Jim then managed to find the Norwich game on in a local bar on Hungarian TV to everyone’s surprise – they lost 3 – 2 but it was a decent game and we were both glad that the football season had started again! After a couple of bars we went to a club to the early hours where we danced for about three hours, so we feel tired again today!  
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