Biking Danube: Vienna to Budapest

Austria – Slovakia – Hungary
28/10-01/11/2017

Life is full of surprises. When we unexpectedly got a chance to get away for few days and do something, we very soon ended up with a fun plan: biking a part of EuroVelo route No 6 from Vienna to Budapest. We had 5 days which had to include travelling so the challenge seemed to be quite crazy. Not to mention that at that moment we didn’t have bikes, nor did we think that autumn in other countries is harsher than in Spain. But being crazy enough, we first bought the flight tickets and then started resolving everything else.
The day before the trip nervous laugh was interchanging with panic attacks that we will not make it on time. Last night packing included some extreme moments of not having the right tools (thank you dear friend for saving us!!!), a bike that doesn’t fit the IBERIA box, no time for eating and only 2,5 hours of sleep. Once we’ve arrived at the airport we got caught by surprise that one box was broken on the way and has a part of the wheel sticking out!! Of course, airport staff was not very willing to help and only kept repeating that we have like 10 minutes to resolve this or else they won’t accept the bikes (boarding starts). Thank god for the wrapping services that fixed this issue and we got on the plane last minute.

Day 1

A challenging start

After landing in Vienna we were anxiously waiting for the bikes to arrive, hoping they survived the trip. The boxes arrived with only light bruises – what a relief! We opened them up and mounted back the bikes right next to belt at the airport. Was quite a good decision as it was warm and fairly free space to do that. Mounting back the bikes (surprisingly) took more than an hour, then another half an hour to make the navigation work and around 2 pm we finally hit the road. Kind of time for lunch, but food is overrated…
The weather was more or less what we expected – cloudy, windy, cold, threatening with the rain, but after few minutes on the bike you stop freezing. The challenge of the first day was to find the way from the airport to the original EuroVelo route and thank god we didn’t have to go on the highway. We had a bit of everything – car roads, bike roads, off-roads, villages… The nicest part of course was the off-road, with so many fallen and wet leaves that biking on them was a bit scary in the beginning (can be more slippery than snow!!!). The colors of autumn were simply enchanting.

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Already on the first day we noticed how many wind mills there are in the fields (apparently for a reason) making a nice scenery on quite flat terrain. We biked with only technical stops (to study the map, fix some bike problems or quickly eat an energy bar), but the early autumn sunsets made us reach Bratislava already in full darkness. The castle of the city was well lighted and visible from almost 10 km, which made a nice approach towards the city.

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When planning this trip, we pre-booked all nights in small hotels or other types of overnight stay to avoid biking wet and cold + sleeping wet and cold too. Kind of thought the first part will be enough, no need to get back home with pneumonia. Even though the weather wasn’t as bad as we expected after seeing the forecast, it was nice to sleep warm and comfortable at the end of a long biking day.
After settling in our room in Bratislava and greeting the Pope in the corridor, we took a stroll to the old town in search for a nice meal (after 24 hours with barely any sleep or food we got a bit hungry). The dinner in Pilsner Urquell bar was big and nice, but be careful with the draft beer, might affect you more than expected!!!

Day route:
Vienna airport – Bratislava, 56 km, 5 hours

day 1

Day 2

Blown with the wind

Day 2 greeted us with non-surprising pains that you get after biking longer distance (especially without any pre-training) and with the very very wet views through the window. No need to mention how slow we were in getting ready for a new biking day – the pouring rain outside didn’t look appealing. Yet, once out in the wet I always wonder why I was so anxious about it while still inside. It is cold. It is wet. But it is also fun fun fun. Sometimes hysterical fun when you know that you have at least 80 km ahead of you…
When we were crossing the bridge leaving Bratislava I realized, that the weather might actually be our friend today as the wind is definitely the right direction and will be blowing to our backs. With this thought I try to find the turn towards Gyor direction as soon as possible and prepare myself to be blown with the wind. Right after this turn in a few minutes we find a huge tree on the road, clearly freshly fallen and it gets slightly uncomfortable. The rain stopped in less than an hour and in couple of hours more we even got some sun, but the wind and broken trees were following us all day, one of them breaking right between the two of us (luckily not a huge one and without any accident).

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The road today was nice and easy, mainly good biking roads, though we didn’t see much of the river again. When choosing the route, we expected it to be much closer to the river, but reality showed it is impossible, as the floods here are very extensive and would sink any road that is closer to Danube. Nevertheless, the views of autumn trees and fields were nice to see throughout the day and we had a short glimpse of the wide spread Danube too.

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We stopped in Halászi to have lunch (not that easy to find a working restaurant in small villages on low season). It was amazingly nice to eat hot meal on such a cold day, yet extremely difficult to put our lazy bodies back on bikes afterwards! Very soon after lunch darkness caught us by surprise – it came one hour earlier due to daylight savings changes and after turning on our lights we realized that they were running out of battery. Barely seeing the road, we finally reached Gyor. It was a long day, but we were incredibly lucky with the wind which was very strong but most of the time helping us. I can’t imagine doing this route against such a wind.

Day route:
Bratislava – Gyor, 81,7 km, 7,5 hours

day 2

Day 3

Profound Hungary

When arriving to Gyor, I made a comment that Bratislava was small, so Gyor will be tiny. Oh, how wrong I was!! I realized it only when we were leaving it this morning. It took 15 km to finally get out of the city!!! The road itself was full of surprises: super good bike road interchanging with mud road or car road or a very very old and bumpy bike road that threatens you to lose your teeth. Or bike roads simply ending in the middle of nowhere, leaving you to wonder if this is really the way to go. Thank god navigation was working without bigger issues so we did manage to find our way even in tricky places, sometimes with some help from very persistent locals, trying to direct us to the way which doesn’t really look like a EuroVelo route. But it is in these contrasts that you get distracted and amused on the otherwise quite boring part of the route.
One of such amusements was a local bar in Bony. As we had a fairly early start of the day and a shorter route than yesterday, we decided to take it easy and have a break once we find any place to sit down and have a coffee or Coke. Most of the places we were crossing looked quite empty and to find a working bar/restaurant/cafeteria wasn’t as easy as we would expect. We finally saw one open and decided to try our luck in there. We parked our bikes, took valuables and went inside. On the second we opened the door we got everyone’s eyes on us. Those were very old, very local, and very smelly men… carried with inertia we entered inside, but I don’t think we spent more than 15 seconds in there. No coffee today.

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The road continued on a car road so once we saw a turn to one with less traffic, we took a chance. Finally, we saw some nice fields and windmills again. However, windmills mean wind. And it is not always on the direction you want… First, it seemed to be fun to fight the natural force, but after two km I was wondering if it would be faster to simply walk with the bike. With every kilometer I was thanking the biker’s gods for having mercy on us yesterday.
After few km we finally had a turn and a relief from the awful wind, again on the off-road. In less than 10 minutes Pedro got his foot soaking – not a very lucky try to cross a mud pond. Oh well, refreshing and fun. We follow the EuroVelo mud slalom road for next 10 km or so. These slalom parts were my favorite by far, definitely not boring and keeping you on adrenaline trying not to get (more) wet.

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Once we reached the civilization again, we grabbed some snacks in the shop, not trying to risk with another creepy bar, had a quick lunch in the parking lot and hopped back on our bikes. The rest of the road went without bigger surprises and we reached Komarno still with the daylight. It is a small village, but rich in its history and has some interesting places to see. Yet, we spent most of the afternoon in bed, trying to warm up after a cold day and resolve something that we didn’t think of before leaving – how the hell do we pack our bikes on the way back from Budapest airport. It was our first biking trip involving flights, so we had no experience and clearly not enough information on this. After analyzing all possible options, calling airport and airlines, we decide that we should cut our route in Visegrad and not risk missing our return flight with unpacked bikes. The situation was complicated by the fact that 1st of November is a bank holiday and no shops will be working, therefor our initial idea to pack bikes in a bike shop was not going to happen. Having made this painful decision, we realized it was getting late, so we got dressed and went out for a walk in search for dinner. Even though the village seemed to be quite interesting and tourist orientated it was deadly empty. On the way back from dinner (which was only around 9:30 pm) we saw 3 people and 2 dogs. Spooky…

Day route:
Gyor – Komarno, 59,6 km, 5,5 hours.

day 3

Day 4

The long day

Keeping in mind that we have approx. 90 km waiting for us today, we rise early and set off right after quick breakfast, hoping to minimize or avoid biking in darkness. Navigation was persistently showing to keep on the left side of the river, but we crossed the river back to Hungarian side as I knew EuroVelo goes there. Difficult to say if it was a mistake not knowing exactly what the route was in the opposite side, but Hungarian side was definitely far from what we would expect. Major parts of the route were on a car road with quite heavy traffic, yet not many options to avoid it as going away from the road would mean a bunch of extra kilometers and a climb through some mountains. It didn’t sound appealing.
Route marking was quite scattered, often only one tiny sign in 10+ km. But I guess when you bike on a car road there is no need for much signs. Once in a while we hopped off the main road to have small entertainment in dirt roads, sometimes ending unexpectedly: with a dead-end fence forcing us to jump over it and get bikes too or a flooded river cutting off our trail and forcing us to turn back. However, you can clearly see from the photos that off-road parts were our favorite ones, giving some adventure and slalom action, yet not that easy to bike fast so we ended up arriving Visegrad in darkness again (a very nice lunch in Esztergom Mediterranean restaurant stole a couple of hours too).

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It was a long day in all senses: many kilometers, big parts of boring and quite dangerous car roads, pain in the knee that started before we reached half of the route… In the evening I was so tired that I had no willingness to walk around Visegrad even though the castle on the hill on Halloween night seemed to be very tempting. We spent the evening calm in the hotel, enjoying sauna and relaxing our tired bodies after 4 days of extensive exercise.

Day route:
Komarno – Visegrad, 87 km, 8,5 hours.

day 4

Day 5

Lessons learnt

Being rational, we take a shuttle from Visegrad directly to the airport though in theory we had enough time to bike there too. A bit sad to finish the route earlier, we reached the airport with our dirty bikes and tried to find a way to pack them. The only feasible option was to use the wrap up services at the airport, even though it doesn’t protect bikes very much and costs the same (if not more) than a card paper box. It took us almost 2 hours to do that!! Not as easy as one could expect. Finally, around 12 we have them ready and still have enough time left before the flight, thus, we leave bikes at the airport and hop on a bus to Budapest – at least we will see it this way.
Budapest surprised with the size, nice architecture and vivid life (quite a difference after ghostly empty last days). We took a stroll in the center, had and amazingly smelling and hands warming cinnamon towers and hop back on the airport bus.

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A very short but intensive trip was over… Our bodies required some time to stop complaining and bikes remained with some scars, yet it was a good experience of biking trips giving some first-hand knowledge and valuable lessons for the future:

  1. Choose the way to pack and transport bikes wisely and in advance.
  2. Arrive to the airport at least 2 or even 3 hours before the flight. We know it is written in any airport info, but who on earth believes them? Well, with bikes you should…
  3. Know where you are going. Even though overall idea of biking from Vienna to Budapest was fun, some parts of the route were quite boring and didn’t give the views we expected.
  4. Some training before the challenging trip should also be considered.

And for now, I’ll keep dreaming of our next adventure. Airplane tickets are already on the table!

2 Replies to “Biking Danube: Vienna to Budapest”

    1. If you like city and cultural objects you would find what to see on the way for sure. Apart from connecting 3 capital cities this route has some nice small towns on the way too that we didn’t explore much. But if you are more into nature travel… then I would suggest to choose other destinations as this route is really not very exciting from this perspective.

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