Tom Cleary – 2018
I can’t say why I decided that I wanted to take this particular journey on but I have a recollection of digging through my mothers record collection as a child and playing Strauss’s Blue Danube Waltz. My mother then explained what the Danube was and the Danube has forever since held my fascination. Years later I left school with the intention of cycle-touring in France but starting work the following September meant I never got to go to France … unfinished business. I cycled for four glorious days earlier this year in Cork, Kerry and Clare and just had to have more, the time had come. EuroVelo Route 6 would have ticked all the boxes but I decided I would do just a section of the route – the Danube to the Black sea. In my head I figured I could do between 120 km and 150 km per day so gave myself 3 weeks from start to finish, I was well aware of the challenge I had set myself.
If I ever get the chance to do a similar cycle again I will give myself more time. The simple challenges of finding food, accommodation etc. are increased greatly by trying to cover more distance. I’m sure there’s a happy medium somewhere.
After a light breakfast with some of the Reservoir Cogs, I cycled with the group as far as the Donard turn off. From now on I’ll be travelling alone. I continued to Rosslare for an overnight airbnb stay.
26th and 27th August (Wexford to Paris)
At 1 pm I boarded the “Jonathan Swift” ferry for the next leg of the journey. I sat back and enjoyed the passage to Cherbourg. I arrived safely in Cherbourg on the 27th where I made my way to the station and boarded a train bound for Paris and after a very comfortable four hour journey I arrived in Paris. I had approximately 4 hours to complete the next 10 km before picking up the bus that would bring my bike and me to Vienna where my real journey would begin. I had programmed this cross-city ride of 10 k into my Garmin Tourer and would take in some of of the sights and some good coffee. Finally at around 8 pm, my bike was strapped to the bike carrier on the rear of a double-decker Flixbus … bike and I Vienna bound.
28th August (Vienna)
After nearly 20 hours in what was a very comfortable bus, I nevertheless remembered why I didn’t like travelling on busses. In the scramble to get myself, my bike (which had managed to puncture on the carrier) and bags off the bus I managed to leave my helmet on board and the bus was already on route to Budapest when I realized this. Welcome to Vienna! First task was to find a bike shop, purchase a helmet, eat and find a place to stay for the night.
I had time for a quick tour of Vienna, it’s a beautiful city, well worth a city break. Campsite and sleep required to recharge.
The campsite , just on the edge of the city, bordered on one side by motorway and a busy rail line on the other was not a great place to sleep!
Cycling proper begins tomorrow.
29th August Day 1 (Vienna to Mosonmagyarovar)
First day cycling included Austria, Slovakia briefly and Hungary. Nothing much to report. I covered about 110 km today. My progress was slower than anticipated. Bit of a headwind and not all roads were paved. It was enjoyable nevertheless.
Passed some nice places on the way, Hainberg is particularly nice. Bratislava, just like any another city….
From the Campsite tonight I can hear Hungarian music playing from the local bar. I catered for myself tonight. Full as a tick heading to my sleeping bag. Slept really well.
30th August Day 2 (Mosonmagyarovar to Esztergom)
When packing up camp this morning, I met a German couple who invited me to join them for breakfast. I declined and we chatted for a while as I ate a peach, the final part of my breakfast. To say I felt sick after looking down and seeing a worm on the half eaten peach is an understatement. The sickening realization that I had eaten two of the three peaches purchased the previous night in the dark lasted a lot longer and was a vivid reminder that I was leaving our western way of life behind.
Today was all about Hungary. Saw it from so many sides. Started the day with another puncture, only noticed it after I had the bike loaded. C’est la vie.
Things improved from there. I visited Gyor – a really beautiful town. I had to have some goulash soup and a beer on the way. Going better today no headwinds but got every single type of trail. Well worse than the temporary trails yesterday. I passed one or two reminders from the past. 150 km today and 50 km to Budapest approx. This is the life!
31st August Day 3 (Esztergom to Szigetszentmiklos)
A busy day today. Set out on the 80 km (not 50 km as I thought) from Esztergom to Budapest. Ferry crossings both ways to add variety. I met some Brits over doing day trips on hired bikes. Very busy and slow routes nearer Budapest. I really liked Budapest, a really beautiful city. It’s full of life and great river life. A weekend wouldn’t be enough. Stopped to take it all in but I was caught for daylight so decided I’d book a hotel for the night. 28 yoyos including breakfast! Prices generally very low in Hungary. 120 km today and puncture 3 tonight.
It’s approx 500 Km to Belgrade from here and 1300 Km to the Black Sea. From tomorrow I need to start putting in about 150 Km a day. That’s the afternoon beers knocked on the head – great fluid and very easy to intake but doesn’t help the cycling!
1st September Day 4 (Szigetszentmiklos to Baja)
Tonight will be my last night in Hungary. I’m in Baja, 35 km from the Croatian border. I cycled through a very rural part of Hungary today. Away from the cities the roads were quite deserted, only saw one other cycle tourist. Different vegetation and the smells that go with that. Paprika is a specialty here, fields of the stuff. Oppressive heat all day – around 34 degrees max. and a really hot wind, haven’t experienced that before. Thunderstorms are lighting up the sky here as I’m eating. 165 km – tough day today. Another new version of an unpaved route.??? If I was going again I’d consider leaving the tent and cooking gear at home. Tonight, I have a room on my own in a hostel for a 10er. Shared a toilet and shower but it was clean and better than a campsite anyway. Bike in the room for security. I may not always be lucky but this type of service seems readily available so far. Just about on schedule but might not get the option of a rest day. Hard to get the balance right and not overdo it before the following day. Some thunder here tonight. Glad it wasn’t during the day, riding on top of the dykes.
2nd September Day 5 (Baja to Vukovar)
My legs weren’t great this morning. But fortune favoured and surfaces were super all day. Passed through Osijek, a strategic stronghold going back to the time of the Ottoman empire. Manned checkpoint on the Hungarian Croatian border. It seems strange as both are EU. Made it to Vukovar, scene of lots of fighting during the civil war. They’ve left one or two reminders. 155km today.
3rd September Day 6 (Vukovar to Belgrade)
This is a long one. Left Croatia this morning after my short visit and crossed into Serbia. Loved what little I saw of Croatia, people were friendly and a good feel to the place. After passports checked lots of welcoming signs entering Serbia and started cycling along. No cycle paths available so cycling on the road felt less than safe. Speedy, busy and reckless driving. I was glad to get on the cycle path eventually despite a very poor surface. Nearing a town I noticed a pack of wild dogs roaming. That explained the two dog carcasses left rotting on the roadside earlier! The place was generally filthy with rubbish scattered everywhere. I reached Novi Sad, decided to eat and maybe follow the guide books advice and get a train rather than cycle due to the danger of traffic. Really great buzz about the city though and great grub. 4.50 for myself and the bike, modern train, good decision! Thunderstorms followed shortly, even better decision! Train reached Belgrade in darkness and rain and the station is nothing more than a series of platforms well out of the city. To get to the road I had to go down 3 flights of steps carrying the bike in what was effectively a dark tunnel with lots of poor and homeless standing either side sheltering from the rain, all this to emerge in an underpass covered in graffiti and temporary shelters. Avoiding any eye contact, I’m not afraid to say I was planking myself. 5.6km to my Airbnb across the city on a dark wet night in a city that isn’t bike friendly with crazy traffic was torture. All that said my hosts couldn’t have been nicer. Hopefully tomorrow will bring a bright day and I might warm to the place a bit more. 175 Km today. 110 Km on bike and the rest by train.
4th September Day 7 (Belgrade to Banatska Palanka)
Nothing nearly as exciting to report today. Finally got out of Belgrade, the place is a traffic nightmare and in no way bike friendly. Exiting the city requires crossing a very busy but narrow bridge over the Danube, with no bikepath available you’re sharing with trucks and cars passing within inches as you travel the bridge. It felt like one of the longest bridge crossings I’ve ever experienced. Met a young German couple also heading to the Black Sea and cycled with them for a while. They’re hoping to finish their trip in Azerbaijan.
The roads improved as the day went on and I’ve warmed to the rural side of Serbia. I encountered nothing but very helpful people. I was hoping to get a passage through the iron gates into Romania, body could do with a day’s rest and also nice to avoid the climbing that’s coming but it’s not possible unfortunately. I’m sitting less than a kilometer from the Romanian border tonight, can follow on the Serbian or Romanian side, much of a muchness. Still undecided. Little over 900 Km from Vienna. Rooms cost 10 euro per night so it’s not worth the hassle of camping. Camping is ok till you have to gather it all up in the morning.
5th September Day 8 (Banatska Palanka to Kladavo)
I took a ferry ride first thing this morning and met again with some more cycle tourists. A French guy called Pierre with his dog in a trailer trying to survive on 5 euro a day. I decided to remain on the Serbian side and this was so far the nicest, most scenic part of the route. Day didn’t go without a hitch – a tunnel overlooking the iron gate gorge was blocked by an overturned tanker. Cyclists were the only ones allowed through thankfully. Good day 155 km. Should be in Bulgaria tomorrow.
6th September Day 9 (Kladavo to Piscu Vechi)
I said farewell to Serbia today and crossed through the northwest corner of Bulgaria into Romania. I have to say my first impression of Romania wasn’t good. I found myself in the backstreets of a large town surrounded by a combination of squalid looking dwellings, people, dogs and horses. The place was filthy and it felt like every set of eyes were staring at me. In my rush to exit the town I was chased by three dogs (not wild) as I was leaving – doesn’t bode well for the rest of the day. I cycled until darkness fell, got another puncture and I’ve also run out of luck getting accommodation. Its wild camping for me tonight.
I think this leg of the journey may require more planning than before. Great starry sky and the sound of dogs barking in the village nearby. 140 km today.
7th September Day 10 (Piscu Vechi to Turnu Magurele)
Last night’s wild camping was a mixed bag. I was awoken at 2 am by a car stopping nearby. The cops saying Hello was nothing to worry about except that now it was clear that I was visible from the road. End of a good night’s sleep. Radar was now on for the rest of the night.
Anyway at about 5.30 am I started to hear the sound of horses going by and it sounded like they were pulling carts. Yes, that’s what it was. 30 or 40 must have passed in the next two hours. Unbelievable reliance on this form of transport for the peasant farmers here, and there’s lots of them.
Did I say I had a puncture the previous night, well I awoke this morning to two more. Each tyre must have had about 10 to 20 small thorns from the previous days ride. Puncture and tyre repair for the next hour.
Anyway, for a day that started badly, I had a beautiful days cycling. The wind was at my back all day and I still arrived in time for my Airbnb traditional Romanian dinner. Delicious! 150 km and 23.5 km/h average. A good day.
8th September Day 11 (Turnu Magurele to Giurgui)
Another day on the bike, another puncture! Little piece of steel this time. Got help from the family who’s house I stopped beside and then had to go in and join them in some of their local food. I didn’t get a choice in the matter – related to waking a dead grandfather – long story. Unbelievable hospitality! On the other hand, as soon as you stop in a large town you’re surrounded by young kids on the make. Contrasts and contradictions!
I’ve decided to end my cycling journey when I reach the Black Sea at Constanta. I may try to visit the delta by other means, train or car, whatever. That means two more cycling days to look forward to (all things going well), some sightseeing and then try to find a way home. The legs will be glad of the break at this stage. 115 km today. In Giurgiu tonight, thunderstorms looming.
9th September Day 12 (Giurgui to Calarasi)
Romanian Sunday mornings are a bit slow to start, a bit like home. At 8.30 am at the restaurant there was still no sign of the Kitchen opening and coffee alone just doesn’t do it. Bought orange juice, bread, jam, yogurt and had breakfast in the local park with a French chef I had already met on the road and who had unknowingly shared the same hotel the night before. A good start!
We parted company along the way as he was heading to Bulgaria. Later I met again with another fellow German traveler, we looked for a place to have lunch and were pointed in the direction of what can only be described as an oasis in the middle of nowhere. Great lunch (spent too long) and chat and headed on our ways, I was going farther.
My luck finally ran out, got caught in a thunderstorm and the beautiful day became a misery. Eventually I sheltered from the wind and rain and lost more time. I wound up getting a taxi for the last 35 km of the route today to get shelter from the storm. I didn’t want to sleep rough in the rain and there were no campsites or hotels any closer and it was way too dangerous to cycle in the dark. 100 km cycled. A good day nonetheless.
11th September Day 13 (Calarasi to Constanta)
Final day on the road started with a ferry crossing to the Bulgarian side and then back into Romania again. This part of Romania was vastly different to what I have been through for the last few days. It was far more like Western Europe. Apart from the hills the land was well managed and housing much better than before. Contrasts again.
Later in the day I crossed the Danube Canal, instigated by Stalin during the communist era and led to thousands of Romanians losing their lives in forced labour camps. Completed much later by Ceausescu costing billions – we all know what happened to him! Finally, I arrived in Constanta. The “Marea Neagra”, end of the road.
The body is tired, 13 days and approx. 1800 km of cycling. I’m just going to chill for a few days before coming back. 146 km today, another very good day. Over and out!
After several days of rest in Constanta, I packed my bike into a cardboard bike box and took a plane to Paris. Sleepy Sundays in France meant that connecting trains were a rarity so I hired a car and drove to Cherbourg where I boarded the ferry back to Wexford. With my bike still boxed I took a pre-arranged lift back home to Blessington. Back again in what were comfortable western surroundings.
Will I do something similar again sometime? Absolutely…… planning it already!