Danube Cycle Trip - Stage 8: Bratislava to Vienna (73.0 km), 13 July 2017
Stage 8 was simply a return on the same route we had taken from Vienna to Bratislava two days before, although we were staying at somewhere else in Vienna so instead continued along the northern bank of the Danube when we arrived in Vienna, crossing the Reichsbrücke towards the city centre.
We stayed at the Hotel Praterstern, which I can only recommend you avoid as we received some terrible service from the receptionist. He was blunt, rude and lied to us. He made us pay an additional EUR 30 to store our bicycles on the basis that we had used Booking.com rather than booking directly with the hotel, despite this not being specified as a requirement for the free bicycle storage for guests by either the Hotel or Rent a Bike Passau (with whom the Hotel has an established relationship and without their recommendation as a place to leave bicycles without paying a further surchage for storage, we would have undoubtedly chosen another hotel). The room was generally fine so it was a shame the receptionist acted in such a way.
Here's a rough overview of the whole route over the eight days:
Danube Cycle Trip - Stage 7: Bratislava to Bratislava (47.3 km), 12 July 2017
Stage 7 was the only "out and back" stage of the trip. We decided to cycle into the first town in Hungary, Rajka, from Bratislava and return the same day, sleeping again at Hotel Nivy and then returning the following day (and final day with the bicycles) to Vienna.
With only one minor wrong turn, we headed out of Bratislava and stopped at a bar by the cycle path for refreshments shortly after leaving the city. The path continued on a dedicated, elevated track all the way into Hungary. We stopped for a picnic lunch off the path and I paddled in the river rather than swam, as there was some litter around and I was less confident in the cleanliness of this, less free flowing, part of the river.
There was a small Hungarian flag marking the border between Slovakia and Hungary and then a couple of kilometres further on we entered the small town of Rajka. We had a couple of different types of goulash at a restaurant - with possibly the biggest menu I have ever seen, despite so few customers - which came in good portions and was rather oily, but still tasty. The restaruant, Rákász Vendéglő, kindly allowed us to pay in Euros (we asked before ordering) and did not try to rip us off with the exchange rate from Forint.
We cycled back to Bratislava much faster than we had on any part of the trip so far, even practicing cycling in a chaingang for a bit. After taking showers at the hotel, we went for a walk to the Old Town and had big slices of pizza for EUR 2 each. We then spent EUR 10 on a taxi back to the hotel (we probably could have got one cheaper but didn't bother trying to negotiate) as it was getting late and we still had to get back to Vienna the next day.
Danube Cycle Trip - Stage 6: Vienna to Bratislava (78.2 km), 11 July 2017
Stage 6 was another international stage with a crossing into Slovakia and Bratislava towards the end of the day. However, before that we had to navigate our way out of Vienna, which, if you take a look at the route map below, we didn't manage without one or two wrong turns.
Once we passed the huge infrastructure of the Tanklager Lobau oil refinery, most of the signs of civilisation (no villages, campsites, cafes, etc.) around us disappeared and we moved into the Donau Auen National Park, which includes wetland areas rich in biodiversity. Eventually the route passes an artificial channel at Stopefenreuth (which I can only assume is used as an overflow channel when the Danube is near flood) and crosses a huge bridge (built in 1972) before entering the historic town of Hainburg an der Donau (Hainburg). I expect it would be worth visiting some of the historic sites in Hainburg but our visit was restricted to our daily dip in the Danube. The dip wasn't so much of a swim as a cautious step across jagged rocks into a fast flowing section of the river where we hung on to rocks as we cooled down before getting back on our bikes to finish the day's cycle into Slovakia and Bratislava.
There was a short hill on the route out of Hainburg followed by some downhill past fields of sunflowers and rapeseed. Wolfsthal is the final town/village in Austria before the route proceeds parallel to a highway into Slovakia. A casino is the first building you see in Slovakia and then the path winds down into Bratislava, where we crossed the famous Most SNP (or "UFO Bridge") to arrive in the Old Town.
We had booked a room at the Hotel Nivy (for EUR 60 plus EUR 1.70 city tax per person for a triple room; we got EUR 10 off the standard rate by booking through Booking.com) in Bratislava. The hotel a 45 minute walk from the Old Town and cycling around Bratislava doesn't feel quite as safe as in Vienna, largely because of the lack of cycle paths and cycle lanes. The hotel is a Soviet era hotel but the service we received was very good and the hotel had no problem with storing our bicycles in their luggage store room. Breakfast was an additional EUR 5 per person and the Soviet style dining room is worth a look!
We went out for dinner at the Avalon Restaurant, which I fully recommend! I had the Spinach Pan, which was delicious, reasonably priced, generously proportioned (and also served in an actual pan rather than on a plate!). It was accompanied with a pint of local beer (EUR 1.70 for 0.5L).
Danube Cycle Trip - Stage 5: Traismauer to Vienna (74.4 km), 10 July 2017
We had realised by the second or third day of the cycle that we would make it to Vienna well ahead of schedule. In fact, we managed to make it to Vienna on Day 5 rather than Day 8 after cycling 60-80+ km per day fairly comfortably, with plenty of stops at supermarkets, cafes, swimming spots, etc.
The scenery on Stage 5 was not quite as impressive as the previous day through the Wachau but we enjoyed the dedicated cycle path all the way into Vienna. It remained sunny for most of the day but there was a heavy rain shower in the afternoon when we stopped for a swim in the Danube and again when we arrived in Vienna it started to pour, while we took cover in a local Hofer (better known as Aldi to Germans and Brits).
The Donauradweg led us smoothly into the heart of Vienna, along the Donaukanal. We were spending the night at a friend's place on the southern side of central Vienna and managed to find it ok with some minimal assistance from Google Maps on a phone with a depleted battery and then memory from a previous visit 28 months before.
After a day of 70+ km on the Donauradweg, leaving the path and riding through the busy, tramline ridden, streets of central Vienna at dusk in the rain (to the sound of thunder) was quite an experience (but it didn't feel particularly unsafe and we had no altercations with drivers).
Danube Cycle Trip - Stage 4: Gottsdorf to Traismauer (73.3 km), 9 July 2017
Day Four started with me being paranoid that locals were calling us gypsies and wanting us to leave. Technically, wild camping with a tent is illegal in Austria and as I was snoozing early in the morning a woman walked by our tents and called repeatedly "gypsy, gypsy, gypsy". It turned out she was just walking her dog and her dog was called gypsy and she meant us no harm.
We again made good progress in the morning along the northern bank of the Danube, this time through beautiful Melk (briefly walking up to Melk Abbey, looking inside the cathedral and listening to the brass band playing outside one of the cafes), Spitz (a pricy place where we had expensive fish soup at EUR 8.50 a small bowl), the beautiful Wachau valley with its green vineyards and relatively inexpensive wineries, and on to Krems and our camping near Traismauer (note the one on maps next to the tennis courts no longer exists but there is another site a couple of km away) where we had huge portions of schnitzel and chips (fries) - great value at EUR 7.50.
Danube Cycle Trip - Stage 3: Linz to Gottsdorf (84.2 km), 8 July 2017
On the third cycling day we travelled further than any other day: 84 km. We started by travelling into Linz to get the gear changer on one of the bicycles fixed and then made good progress in the morning towards Mauthausen, a small town most well known for the murder of 110,000+ people during the Holocaust.
There is a memorial in Gusen and a memorial and museum in Mauthausen to this horrific period in history.
Today, Mauthausen is also home to a large outdoor swimming pool with diving boards, water slide and surrounding my a grassy park area.
Our cycle continued through Grein, where we continued our habit of trying the local apfelstrudel. Unfortunately, in this case the strudel was cold and uninspiring.
We pushed on from Grein, partly on dedicated cycle path and partly on the road. As darkness loomed, we started thinking about finding somewhere to pitch our tents. We were not aware of any nearby camp sites and wanted to wild camp for at least one night on the trip, so found a secluded area in a patch of forest next to the Danube and put up the tents before finishing the remaining food in our panniers and heading to bed.
Danube Cycle Trip - Stage 2: Au to Linz (62.3 km), 7 July 2017
Day Two was to be the day of ferries. We took the bicycle ferry at 9:30 AM across the Danube and would cross by ferry a further three times that day (in fact, all ferry crossings we made on whole trip were on this day).
We made good progress and arrived in Linz by mid afternoon. Linz is the hometown of Adolf Hitler but despite that unfortunate association, it is a charming small city of about 190,000 which reminded us of Lviv in western Ukraine because of the trams and architecture (but with more high street shops).
After a beer and a bratwurst, we left Linz to the sound of some amateur rappers at an outdoor concert venue by the river. We aimed to push on a bit further but Asa's gears stopped working and we had to set up the tents at the nearest camp site, which was only a short distance from where the gears stopped working and was next to a lake and had a cafe as well as showers, toilets and sockets for us to charge phones. It was a bit more expensive than the previous night, at EUR 25 for the three of us (plus EUR 0.50 for four minutes of hot water in the showers).
Danube Cycle Trip - Stage 1: Passau to Au (47.0 km), 6 July 2017
Three of us woke up in Passau after taking the train in from Munich the previous evening. We were about to embark on a multi-day long distance cycle trip, something none of us had done for years: along the Danube from Passau in Germany to Vienna in Austria, and possibly a bit further if we found we were making good progress. I took only one dedicated camera, my GoPro Hero 4 Black, as we had to pack only essentials that would fit on our bikes for the eight day/stage trip.
The first day involved a walk to the bike hire shop next to the train station to collect the bicycles we had booked for eight days. I am not going to give the bicycle hire shop a plug but the bicycles we hired from them were of good quality and, although heavy, very suitable for this type of trip along flat terrain.
After collecting the bicycles and transferring our belongings into the panniers, we set off!
We made it about two kilometres before our first stop, for some delicious al fresco dining with some traditional German cuisine and beer at Altes Bräuhaus in Passau. After being well fed, we headed off at around 2:30 PM to get some kilometres under our belts.
My first impressions of the Danuberadweg (Danube Cycle Way) were very positive. Along the north bank, east of Passau, the route was very quiet and as we moved away from Passau the traffic on the adjacent road became less and less frequent. The cycle way itself is sufficiently wide to pass other cyclists travelling in the opposite direction or to cycle two abreast when there are no oncoming cyclists.
Back to Day 1: we stopped at Lidl for some supplies (water, cold coffee drinks, cherries, bread, cheese, etc.) and tried to work out if we had entered Austria yet. Natasha asked in the question in the supermarket and everyone in the queue seemed to have an opinion (in a mix of English and German). It turns out Passau is only 4 km from the border with Austria, but on the south side of the Danube. On the north side, it is quite a bit further east before you finally enter Austria (and there is no sign to mark the occasion).
As the evening approached, the cycle path turned into a local road (with virtually no traffic) and we passed through some idyllic scenery in the border area between Germany and Austria. We stopped for apfelstrudel and most (similar to cider, but not sparkling, and a speciality in this part of Austria) at a small cafe and the lady running it explained in German about camping options, terrain and ferry times - which we partially understood. We realised we might miss the last ferry of the day across the Danube a few km downstream. The ferry was required as the terrain on the north bank became unsuitable for cycling but by the time we got to the ferry point (around 7 PM) we had missed the last crossing by around an hour. There was a B&B/rooms available and camping facilities next to this ferry point but we thought we'd press on and see if there terrain was really that bad (it was). After probably 45 minutes of struggling along a rough off road trail that required some bicycle carrying on uneven ground with a risk of falling into the river below, we made the decision to turn back to check out the B&B/camping place as darkness fell.
We were the only campers but were happy to set up our tents and make use of the toilet and shower facilities for EUR 6 each.
We went to sleep and looked forward to the second day / first full day of cycling, when we'd hopefully make good progress east along the banks of the Danube.
P.S. As you can see from the elevation profiles I'll be posting for most of these stages, the route is extremely flat (X axes are in km and Y axes are in metres).
Sun and Cycling (on a budget) - Tenerife, 13-17 May 2017
About six weeks ago I decided to book a short trip to Tenerife. The weather was great (highs around 27C and sunny) and both the outbound and return flights arrived on time. I had pretty good seats assigned: 3A on the outbound and 33C on the return (being in 33C meant I was first of the rear exit of the plane on arrival back in Edinburgh and whizzed through the eGates at passport control).
I had been looking at flights to places with direct connections from Edinburgh and saw that I could get a return to Tenerife for £59 if I travelled out on the Saturday afternoon (with Jet2) and back on the Wednesday evening (with Ryanair). I'd travel only with hand luggage to avoid baggage fees and stay in an AirBnB. The AirBnB was the most expensive part of the short trip at £39 per night (exactly half of the total trip cost; £34pn plus AirBnB fees) but it was a great little studio apartment in Los Cristianos with terrace, fridge, hob, double bed, shower, sofa, and TV.
Flight from EDI left at 1450 and arrived at 1940. The girlfriend of my AirBnB host met me at the Airport, gave me the keys to the studio and advised me which bus to get. The 111 bus runs every 30 minutes (and takes 15-20 minutes) and I must have just missed one as I waited 20-25 minutes for the bus to arrive. My cabin bag had to go in the hold of the bus but I retrieved it again quickly after I found out the bus was going north to Santa Cruz.The bus stops in the same place whether it is going to Santa Cruz or west to Los Cristianos - but if you ask for Los Cristianos and the driver isn't going there he won't sell you a ticket. The bus fare is only €3.20 (apparently a taxi to Los Cristianos is around €25). At the bus stop, I met a man from Dublin who visits Tenerife 5-6 times a year for a week at a time to get some sun and do some running. I also met an English man who had sold his house and moved out to Tenerife six weeks earlier and brought out all his carpentry tools with the intention of plying his trade in Tenerife at some point, although he indicated he'd treated those weeks as a holiday and hadn't really started looking for jobs yet.
When I arrived at the bus station/stop in Los Cristianos, I bid farewell to Dave from Dublin and looked around for taxis. I couldn't see any so typed in the address of the AirBnB in Google Maps (I was using O2 Travel so only paying £1.99 per day for mobile data when in Spain) and decided to walk in its direction for a while until I found a taxi rank). I got some Euros from an ATM and walked for 15 minutes or so without seeing any parked taxis. Google Maps was telling me the AirBnB was a good one hour walk and I wasn't even convinced it knew where the place was. I caught the attention of a passing taxi and jumped in. He didn't speak a word of English and my Spanish is close to non-existent, but I showed him the address and then where Google Maps thought it was. He wasn't sure himself and called someone to check. It was good that I hadn't continued walking/following Google Maps as he proceeded to make a U-turn and drive up a hill - we were there in no time. I paid him the fare of €3.80 plus tip and thanked him, then walked up to the 4th floor to find the studio. I caught the end of the Eurovision Song Contest and went to sleep.
I left the AirBnB a little after 10 AM to find a supermarket and stock up on some food and drink. The prices in the supermarket were very reasonable. A highlight was probably getting cans of San Miguel for €0.65 a pop, a steal in comparison with the £6 pints of Lagunitas I'd had in Edinburgh two days before. After returning to the AirBnB and doing some sunbathing with my book (Jack Kerouac's On the Road), I headed out to the Olympic sized municipal pool. Unfortunately, I found out the pool is closed on Sundays, so proceeded towards Playa Los Cristianos. I put my bag on a deck chair, got changed, and headed into the sea. I was a bit worried about someone taking my bag so didn't stay in the water too long, coming out to check on my bag once, but there were plenty of other sunbathers around so I thought the risk of theft was fairly low. I dived down to about three metres and was pleased not to experience any pain in my ears, as I had in Bali a couple of months before. The nasal spray prescribed by my GP seemed to be helping.
I went to the pool at 10 AM (which wasn't closed this time!) and swam 2.6km. After the pool, I went for a walk to Las Americas and along the coast back to Los Cristianos, past surfers and countless tourists, bars and restaurants.
I left the AirBnB just before 10 AM to get to a local bicycle hire shop, Bicisport. The shop is run by an ex Spanish pro cyclist and the prices are very reasonable. I hired a carbon bike with Ultegra gears for €33 for the day. I left the shop at 27m ASL and headed into the mountains, through San Lorenzo, San Miguel (is that where the beer takes its name from? Perhaps there are lots of San Miguels in Spain?), past the El Frontón turn off and up towards Vilaflor, the highest village in Tenerife. The average gradient on the road up to El Teide is 6%, but it reaches 11% around 1,100m and this, combined with the heat and me running out of water, led me to stop and turn around at 1,149m. I managed to get a can of Fanta and a large bottle of water at a bar in San Lorenzo on the way down but even if I had continued on to Vilaflor, I'm not sure I would have found somewhere to purchase drinks without letting my bike get out of sight. The 1,258m of ascent from 27m to 1,149m in under 25km was by far the biggest climb I've done on a bike (in 2009 I did the Bealach na Ba in the Applecross Peninsula, the greatest road climb in the UK at only 626m). The descent was magnificent, especially the first half, flying down smooth empty road for almost 25km, overtaking a pick up van at one point. Unfortunately, my phone wasn't recording the route accurately so I wasn't able to check the speeds afterwards. I hope one day I can come back and do the full cycle up to 2,325 metres from El Medano (which includes the longest continuous road incline in Europe)!
I had a nap when I got back then headed out for another 2.1km at the pool. After the pool, I went back into town and sat down at a restaurant for a pizza and a beer. After I'd ordered I realised it was actually an Italian restaurant - oh well!
My AirBnB host had kindly advised that I could leave any time, which was very convenient for my as my flight wasn't until 7 PM. I went for a job up Montana de Guaza, a 400m hill to the east of Los Cristianos with great views of the coastline and mountains. I brought only my key for the studio so no photos to report back with. After gulping down water back at the AirBnB I had a one hour nap then headed to the pool for a final swim (1.9km). I was back just in time to pack up and head out to catch the bus to the Airport. I had managed to check in online for my Ryanair flight using my phone but there was no WiFi in the AirBnB so I had to wait until I got to the Airport to download the Ryanair App to obtain an electronic boarding pass. Attempts to download this using mobile data had been futile ("5 hours remaining" followed by "download failed") but it downloaded within three minutes using the Airport WiFi. It took 2-3 minutes for the app to realise I had already checked in and show my boarding pass, but in the end it worked fine.
Airport transfers: £13.60 plus €6.40 [five buses and an Uber]
Accommodation: £156 [four nights]
Food and drinks: £7.34 plus €67.25
Bicycle hire: €33
Swimming pool entries: €6.50
Total trip cost: £312.36 (excluding about £18 on souvenirs)
The trip could have been even cheaper had I stayed in a hostel rather than the comfort of the AirBnB.
Unlike most of my trips, for this one I decided only to take my GoPro Hero 4 Black camera. This was partly due to the fact that I was only taking hand luggage but also because I didn't spend much time thinking about packing and ended up in being in a bit of a rush to get the bus to the Airport, and also because my main intention was for this to be an active short break rather than photography focused.
I managed to visit the Olympic sized outdoor pool in Los Cristianos three times, swimming a total of 6.6 km. I also fitted in a 12.35 km jog up and down Montana de Guaza on Wednesday morning and a 50 km cycle towards Vilaflor in the Tuesday heat.
Four Munros in a Weekend - Scotland, 6-7 May 2017
Three of us travelled north to hike four Munros (hills in Scotland over 3,000ft [914m]; there are 282 of them in total) over the weekend of 6-7 May. The weather was great all weekend (I think it was 22'C in Killin on Sunday afternoon).
We drove from Edinburgh, picking up a friend in Inverkeithing on the way, and stayed Saturday night at The Crainlarich Hotel. After hiking up three Munros on the Saturday (Meall Greigh, Meall Garbh & An Stuc), we headed to our hotel in Crianlarich. The Hotel must be the largest in Crianlarich and was able to accommodate our request for three single beds in our triple room. It had its own bar and restaurant which served great food. I had a generously sized and delicious main of moules frites.
On Sunday, we drove back through Killin and hiked up another Munro, Meall Ghaordaidh (1,039m; 360' panorama from the summit is shown below), a straight forward out and back route. After descending, we returned to Killin and sat on the rocks by the Falls of Dochart with coffees before heading home.
Ireland, 29 April - 1 May 2017
I travelled to Ireland with my Dad to explore the West Coast for a couple of days (Saturday afternoon until Monday morning). I booked the flights using Avios (9,000 Avios return plus £42.50 taxes each, mostly earned through purchased with my American Express card) and we hired a car for the trip. One of the benefits of Avios bookings is the included hold luggage allowance.
We flew into Knock Airport from Edinburgh and hired a diesel Ford Focus with Thrifty (pre-booked online). It only cost about £14 per day plus fuel - and we only spent EUR 27.50 on fuel, despite driving 440 km. This works out at 53.8 MPG, quite close to the Focus' advertised 56.5 MPG (combined) figure. My 2013 Nissan Qashqai's fuel economy, by comparison, is almost 20% worse than the advertised figures (around 37.5 MPG versus 45 MPG advertised).
The blue line in the map below shows the route we drove.
The YouTube video was mostly shot on my Nikon D7000 (which is now almost seven years old and which Nikon recently released a third successor to, the D7500; mostly with the 18-70mm and some with a 300mm f/4) with a few clips from the GoPro Hero 4 Black.