Into the East
Even though we are averaging a gentle 100 kms a day, the journey seems to be going by too fast. Over the past week we whizzed through Slovakia and Hungary and have just crossed into Romania. After a fantastic rest day in Budapest, we said farewell to the pastry and coffee route along the Danube river and the Danau cycle path and, now well into the second half of the journey, we are beginning to see and experience the differences between west and east Europe. The manicured landscapes and well maintained and affluent cultures and infrastructure of France, Germany and Austria have given way to a more run down, less affluent feel in Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. By no means poverty stricken, there is a general sense of people living little a little closer to the edge. The physical and psychological scars of the communist era are visible in the run down, sometimes abandoned, ugly concrete buildings that were thrown up in and round the beautiful old cities of Bratislava, Budapest and Timisoara. And the people, while friendly and helpful, seem to be, generally, more restrained and contained. Life is harder here. And certainly hotter. Weâ€™re experiencing dry, hot temperatures of between 30 and 35 degrees most days.
I was keen to get a sense from the riders regarding their impressions of travelling through Europe so far, and asked them to share the one thing that has stood out for them…
Win: The cleanliness, scenery and lack of billboards have been outstanding.
Bill: The fact that so many old, ornate buildings in ex-communist countries survived. Interspersed with the ugly communist buildings, they stand out even more.
Phil: Having dreamed of visiting Budapest for many years, the feeling of elation at crossing the Danube from Buda into Pest.
Albert: The general openness regarding nudity in western Europe. Even old ladies sunbath topless!
Jaco: Having my first one litre sized beer in Eggelstadt!
Carl: The 3 Bâ€™s: The botel, the bridges and the beautiful girls of Bratislava!
Rita: Experiencing parts of all these countries that most tourists would not get to see on the usual touristy routes.
Mannon: Going to bed after a great day of cycling feeling physically, not mentally exhausted.
Joss: The cammaraderie, bonhomie and support of the group.
John: Riding down the Champs Elyssees pretending I was Lance Armstrong!
Liz: The people are friendly and open. The automobile drivers are courteous. Itâ€™s becoming less manicured the further east we travel.
Allan: Putting up my tent again for the first time in 20 years! Fantastic to be the road. Having a ball.
Maureen: Being led into Regensburg by a little old couple on bikes. They took us across the old bridge and led us to the hotel. It was wonderful.
Glen: The friendliness of the people. Everyone is so willing to help.
Kirby: Being able to visit museums in furtherance of my interest in conservation science.
Graeme: Being on a bike all day has brought me sleep again. Since the age of six, I have not managed more than a few hours sleep a night.
Al: The fantastic gardens of France and Germany. I look forward to implementing some of these ideas when I get back home to my garden.
Janice: The fact that biofuel is being sold as an option in regular gas stations.
Mike: Getting used to not working!
Stewart: Cycling across the old iron curtain boundary without so much as an official in site.
Karen: How people rely on their bikes here for general mobility. I saw an old woman in Hungary transporting a hoe on the back of her bike.
John Ross: Getting lost with Karen in Gyor and having the best ice cream of my life! It had espresso in it with coffee beans on the top!
Today, weâ€™re on a rest day in the Romanian town of Timisoara (tee-mee-shwa-ra) A few of us did a walk about the inner city with Sebastian, our local contact, who eloquently described what it felt like to be part of the revolution that toppled the Ceausescu regime between 15th and 25th December 1989. He whet our appetites for Bucharest, where weâ€™ll get to see some of the more bizarre and excessive manifestations of the crazed Ceausescu couple in a few days time.