We leave the Rosengarten hotel full of energy thanks to the breakfast and most of all the inspiring conversation we had with the owners. It's still raining but the road is supposed to be flat as of now ... hum! The fist day is the most interesting of the German part, the Danube goes through some very nice gorges. We are a bit disappointed, it's very small (we are 30km from its spring) and it's not blue! It is a holiday week in Germany, we see a lot of families on bicycles. We meet a very friendly family, they are travelling with an english friend. Her son built the boat for Expedition 360, a round-the-world trip without motorised means.
We have lunch in a typical inn. The lady is from Alsatia, she is happy to be able to speak some french!
The Sigmaringen campsite is full of families ... very sportive holidays, there is a father and his 2 children on bicycles, a father and his 2 sons travelling on a canoe and another family of cyclists whom we meet again a few days after in Ulm.
The next day we do 2 speed records: 47 km/h for Sylvie and 52 for Ben, there is an advantage in carrying a heavier load :o) The road is not great, we cycle between fields, the wind is still blowing and the sky still grey ... Most of the time we don't even see the Danube! We want to do another record, 70 km in a day and sleep in Ulm but there are no campsites and the youth hostel is quite expensive. So we stop 30 km before ... except that the campsite promoted on the leaflet is not actually built yet! Another ghost campsite in less than a week, that's a lot! A cyclist helps us, he takes his mobile phone ... we look at each other with Ben, sure he is calling his wife and asking her if it's ok to have to dripping cyclists for the night ... Oooooh no, he was just checking that there is a campsite 5 km back ... we are bit depressed that evening: it's raining, the showers are dirty and the stove doesn't work very well so we eat cold!
The week ends positivitely with the visit of Carole (Ben's sister) and Sophie (a cousin). They arrive with a car full of food, beers and wine, wouaaaaaah .... There is even some homemade chocolate mousse kept in a portable freezer! We spent 2 relaxing days, eating and visiting Ulm with the girls ... On Sunday we say goodbye and realise we won't see anyone we know for a very long time ...
Dillingen - Au ... 26/05/08 - 01/06/08
At the campsite that evening we make a great encounter: we meet Benoit, a Quebecois who is also cycling around the world (Cyclo-nomade) ... except he goes a little bit faster than us. When we ask the usual question: how many km today? He answers: 180 ... We are so taken aback that he smiles and says: do I need to repeat? He has been doing bike trips for 20 years so we spend the night talking and benifiting from his experience. The 2 main principles are leaving early and being organised so there is only a minimum to pack on the morning. The next day, we get up a 7 and at 9 we leave with Benoit who has kindly waited for us. He leaves us behind after 1/2 hour together ... and we have the good surprise of seeing him again that evening. The campsite at 150 km was closed ... We hope to meet again on June 2009 to cross Canada together!
This week has been very important for us and the trip: we now get up at 6h30, we reorganise our panniers to have a minimum to pack in the morning ... and it works, we do 20 to 30 km more every day! It is very motivating to stop for lunch having already done 30 km!
We also meet a french couple, Mireille and Roger, both retired. They are a good example for us as they are doing 80 to 100 km! They are cycling to the Black Sea too. Very friendly, we meet them a few times in the same campsites and spend some good moments together. We lost sight of them after Passau, they go faster than us and we have to take a rest day after all these km!
The countryside is still boring but the cities are very nice: Neuburg, Ingolstadt ...
We cross the austrian border about 20 km after Passau and there, at last, the views change! The river gets bigger and goes through a lush valley. We stop in a small and quiet campsite right on the bank of the Danube, in Inzell. We spend the day relaxing, doing the laundry and cleaning the bikes ...
We see a lot of boats on the Danube: heavy loaded barges mostly from Romania, luxurious cruise ships, small wooden boats who cross the river with pedestrians or cyclists and a lot of small motor boats ...
Au - Vienna ... 02/06/08 - 07/06/08
We leave Inzell with some regrets, it was so quiet! Once again we are cycling on a Sunday, hard to find something to eat, all shops are closed! We usually buy some stuff in supermarkets during the week but on Sundays it has to be bakeries or pizzerias (very good value for money!).
Here it's weird, sandwiches are very small and cakes are big ... welll we don't mind that much actually! Another strange thing is the eis cafes or ice cream cafes ... some Germans and Austrians seem to eat only ice creams for lunch!
We meet a German cyclist (Heribert) who impresses us: he is 71 and manages to do the same distances as us in much less time ... what's wrong with us? He used to be an engineer on tankers ships and has travelled all over the world.
We also meet a French guy who wanted to cycle alone to Turkey but he has found it too difficult and has decided to do the journey only until Vienna. That`s where we realise we are really lucky to be 2, it makes things much easier. It's better for safety too: when we go shopping, one of us stays outside with the bikes. We always have a look at the trolleys and hope that the one who is shopping will think of taking one of these yoghurts that look so yummy!
In Vienna, the campsites are quite far, 10 km so we stay in a hostel (hostel Ruthensteiner), too bad! :o)
We spend most of the 2 days shopping: finding a spare pole for the tent (it has already broken without any wind!), a Palm Pilot to give you more regular news (we find one but it's all in German, we get a dictionary :o). We also go to Baden (40 km from Vienna) to change the suspension on Sylvie's bike. It's making a weird noise, better to change it now. A big thank you to Andreas from Zwei plus zwei , he has taken the time to answer all our questions. A big thank you also to HP Velotechnik who has replaced the suspension and another small part for free!
We manage to find some time to visit Vienna, a bit disappointed because a lot of the monuments are hidden by the installations for the Euro 2008 ... and Ben is already talking of stopping only in campsites with TV!
Vienna - Budapest ... 07/06/08 - 16/06/08
At last we have updated the website, we can now leave Vienna! Stopping for lunch in the Prater (a big park in Vienna), we meet Peter. He has travelled a lot by bicycle, lately in Azerbaidjan. He invites to the film festival for cycling ... see you in 2 years then!
In Petronnell-Carnuntum, we meet Blue and Tricia, 2 Aussies who are going to Budapest by bike. We have so much fun together that we decide to take our time and stop with them in Dunakiliti.
In Bratislava we are surrounded by a group of French people who has seen our flag. They look impressed when we tell them we have travelled from Marseille and horrified when they learn we are going to China ... it's good we didn't tell them we plan to go around the world!
Bratislava is quite small, at least the centre, but very charming. We then pass into Hungary where we look for a camping together with Blue and Tricia. Ben and Blue then manage to find a bar open even though it's Sunday!
The next day we ride separately but have already decided to stop in Gyor and meet at the pub there ... On the way we stop in Mosonmagyarovar, a small and nice city (most villages are actually not so nice, houses look like cubes!). We meet a French couple and discover they are here because dental treatments are much cheaper here ...
In Gyor, there are 2 campgrounds ... we stop in a lovely mini-camping and Ben goes to find Blue and Tricia ... they are already coming back, the other campsite is awful! Ben and Blue then have a beer while watching France play ... Ben is in paradise, he's got a mate, a beer and a TV!
The next day we say goodbye to Blue and Tricia, next time we see them should be in Brisbane, at their home! We ride through the city when Ben hears a loud Bang! The opened door of a car has just ran into Sylvie (or is it the other way round?). The lady hasn't paid attention but she is so scared she probably will in the future! Not a big deal after all but Sylvie's right hand is so swollen she can't close it so, too bad! we have to turn round and spend another day with Blue and Tricia who are delighted to see us back (or so we think :o). Ben is sure Sylvie has done it on purpose to stay another day ...
The next day we ride to Komarom, quite a lot of traffic on the road, we are not used to it after Germany and Austria cycle paths. Cycle paths here are unpaved and go through the forests ... a lot of big puddles and mosquitoes ... Komarom's architecture is not worth seeing, big cubes of concrete and the campings are very expensive (about 15 euros) just because of the thermal baths. A belgian couple tells us they have been coming here for 20 years but the prices have been multiplied by 6 in 3 years! The next day, big treat for Ben, the Belgian offers him some real coffee ... nice change from the Nescafe!
We stop in Esztergom which has a beautiful basilica and that night we are 8: the 2 Aussies and a Dutch and German couple we met in Gyor ... who said we were crazy to travel by bike?
Sylvie hasn1t eaten enough at breakfast so we stop a bit before Budapest in Romai Furdos but the camping is awful and so expensive (20 euros!) we ride into town the next day.
We run into everyone while we visit the city, even Blue and Tricia, they wanted a Sundae at McDonalds just at the same time as us!! We end up in a pub and then realise we haven't had time to go on internet for the website and the visas for Iran ... we have to stay another day!
Budapest is a beautiful city, probably more beautiful than Vienna. The view from the castle on the river is breathtaking and the Parliament building is beuatiful, right on the bank of the Danube.
Budapest - Belgrade ... 17/06/08 - 24/06/08
We also meet two young french guys at the camping: Ben and Matthieu, they are hitch-hiking and walking through Europe and hope to reach Istanbul. We spend our evenings and mornings together, especially since they have real coffee and Ben is dying for one. Hopefully we meet them again in Istanbul.
We spend 2 hours at the public baths with Blue and Tricia. It's great, 38C bath and a big outdoor swimming pool with loads of bubbles for Ben. We say goodbye to Blue and Tricia who we really hope to meet again in Australia.
Going out of Budapest is quite hard due to the heavy traffic. We cycle on the pavement to be on the safe side. The weather is getting really bad in the afternoon so we decide to speed up, we reach 24km/h on a flat surface and manage to do 100km which is great for us! Unfortunately, no time to celebrate, we have to put up the tent and quickly prepare the soup, the storm is already on us.
At the camping we also meet Paul, a 53 years old german cyclist who is going to the Black sea. We decide to do a little bit of the route together.
The next day we pass into Serbia. We reach the border at around 16h30, just enough time to reach the first city, Bezdan, and change some cash. We meet Michel, a 62 years old Belgian who is going to Jerusalem by foot (see, I told you Belgians travelled too :op ). He is delighted to speak french with us, unfortunately we are not going at the same speed and we have to carry on.
In Serbia, campings are getting very rare and we only have 2 options: camping rough or cheap pensions. We find a great pension in Backi Monostor. We are very lucky to meet the owners Delan and his wife Zdenka, they are about the same age as us and are full of energy. They and some friends have created a small association that includes several pensions and an eco-recreational centre. We spend a great evening with them and their friends. We also realise that the village is very active: 20 bars & shops and 3 discos! Nearly as good as London eheh!
We leave with great regrets, this was a very pleasant place to stay. Sylvie wants to go back there after the trip is finished.
The road on the serbian side is lovely, we often stop to pick some fruits and Paul swims in the Danube. We stop in the small town of Apatin where they make the great Jelen Pivo (Serbian beer). During lunch we meet a french teacher and her students (we are flattered, we didn't know Serbians were learning french!), and a friendly serbian cyclist that the owner of the restaurant has called as soon as we have stepped in. But this is not unusual for us. Everywhere we go, people suffer from neck pain, staring at our bikes, taking pictures and desperately trying to understand which way these machines work !!! We cross the border into Croatia and soon get into Vukovar. Buildings damaged by the war have been kept as a memorial. It is probably a good thing but the town looks quite gloomy ... Nevertheless, the Croatians look like they love to party especially as tonight they are playing Turkey. Unfortunately they lose the game.
Once again we are lucky, we meet Cedric, a French guy who has been traveling by bike for 4 years. He and a Croatian friend show us a place to sleep ... rough camping in the ruins! We are alone on the bank of the Danube. Ok, we can't have a shower after a very warm day but the view is really beautiful!
The next day we get back to Serbia (so many stamps in the passport!) and stop in Beocin, before Novi Sad. We meet Mladan, an 18-year old Serbian, who shows us where to camp. It is kind of organised: outdoor showers and toilets but it's free. The families are very nice: a woman lends us some table and chairs when she sees us preparing dinner and a man offers us 2 T-shirts Jelen Pivo! We stay an extra day, this is such a nice place for relaxing.
The next day we reach Belgrade (or Beograd), the capital. The route is uphill for 6 km and we left a bit late so we cycle the hardest part under a burning sun: 37C! But at least we didn't push the bikes!
Belgrade - Vidin ... 25/06/08 - 30/06/08
Belgrade or Beograde doesn't look very appealing to us at first, a bit dirty, noisy and a lot of traffic but as we visit the city, the bohemian quarter, the pedestrian roads and we see how lively the city is, we start to like it! The centre is full of cafes and restaurants, the Serbs really like going out.
Back to the camping, a tent pole breaks again, we have to fix it in the dark. After visiting a few shops on the way, we cannot find a new pole and, as we stop to decide our options, Ben sees the hotel Holiday Inn across the street and asks Sylvie '' But don't you have points with Holiday Inn?'', 15 min later we are checked-in into the Holiday Inn. The staff is extremely friendly with us and makes sure the bikes are safe. Besides the hotel is beautiful.
We finally find a new pole, unfortunately in fibre glass which means much heavier (but who cares, Sylvie is carrying it :o) ). But at least we have a spare.
We spend a quiet evening in front of the TV (Ben is delighted). Ben finds a scale in the room and decides to weigh himself, he has lost 10kg yes yes yes! Sylvie decides to have a go (bad idea), she hasn't lost a kilo, oups!!! Ben will spend the rest of the evening trying to comfort her: ''But it's great, it means your metabolism is very stable etc. etc.''. All the guys reading this will know that, at this stage, there is nothing I can do to comfort her anyway and I will have to deal with it for the next 3 or 4 days.
We leave Belgrade, it's warm, dusty and, my gosh what a traffic! It's even worse than when we tried to get out of Budapest! The track on our map is very bad and it takes much more time than we thought to reach to first village. But in the evening, as we look for a camping, our dream comes true. A car stops, it is Biljana and her 2 children, Djura and Aleksandra. They lived in France for a long time and just moved back to Serbia. She invites us at her mother-in-law's house; she gives us the address before leaving to drop her son at his football training.
The mother in law welcomes us with some great Turkish coffee. We try to talk, it's very funny, we use our hands, a chalk board and Ben's russian is actually very helpful! We spend the evening with the whole family and the neighbours who have decided to join. Biljana tells us that the whole village is talking about us and our weird bicycles! Later in the evening we go to Kovin, a bigger city, to have a drink, it's midnight but everybody is out having a drink.
We leave Biljana and her familly with regrets but what a great welcome we had! There is a lot of wind this morning and nothing is more frustrating for a cyclist than wind, even when you go down, you struggle. We meet a lot of people today: a family of musicians from Quebec cycling to Budapest, a very friendly bike shop owner and a photographer from GTZ, the company that supports cycling routes development. They also make maps and road signs to the Black sea. He is very happy to see that we are using their map and takes a lot of pictures of us; who knows maybe we will be on the front page of one of the maps next year :o)
We enter the Danube gorges, it's beautiful with the sun going down. We stop at the camping a few km further. It's a lovely camping right on the Danube. Unfortunately there is a huge storm, the lightnings are striking only a couple of hundred meters away, very scary. No need for our flash lights!!! The wind is blowing like hell and with the tent poles breaking all the time, we are not feeling very safe. Fortunately, the lady from the camping opens a bungalow for us. We pack everything in the middle of the storm and put it inside the bungalow. We sleep like logs while the storm is raging outside. The next day the lady refuses that we pay for the bungalow, once again a proof of the Serbs friendliness.
The gorges remain one of the highlights of this trip, apart from some hills. Beautiful views of the Danube and the Carpathes. We also had some major frights when crossing the 21 tunnels, some of them 300m-long, pitch black, with trucks coming in both directions at full speed. Standard flash lights are not strong enough, you do need some special ones! The best way is to walk on the pavement with the bicycle.
In the evening, we reach Tekija and decide to look for a ''pension''. Once again we are very lucky, we find the best pension ever! Lovely little room with our own terrace over-looking the Danube and as you would have guessed, the lady is extremely nice, welcoming us with some great Turkish coffee and apricots. We enjoy a nice ''aperitif'' on the terrace at sunset.
We leave Tekija well rested, we would have stayed in that paradise one more day with pleasure! We cycle only 50km to reach a camping as we are a bit tired. It is pretty bad but at least they have a TV to watch the Euro 2008 final. We leave "early" around 8h, (we know that one day we will have to wake up at 5h! Ben is already freaking out at the idea), but we are already sweating like hell.
In Mihailovac, a small village down a 12% descent (we love those), a young man calls us from across the street, he wants to make sure that we are going in the right direction and that we have enough water. Nice! The path follows the Danube and passes through some very small villages.
"Bas, is it you?" shouts a man at Ben in Negotin! A few years ago a Dutch guy passed by the same village with a similar bike. Apparently Ben looks like him, we are sorry to disappoint him!
We are starving but are struggling with the menu, all in Serbian. Luckily, a Serbian woman who actually leaves in Paris and is on vacation helps us. She also explains that the massive houses we saw on the way belong to Serbian people working in the West and who thought it would be interesting to invest in Serbia. Unfortunately it’s not really working and thousands of those houses are now on sale.
15 km further we enter our 9th country: Bulgaria. We will miss Serbia; the people were so good to us!
The first city/village after the border, Bregovo is not very attractive: empty, with huge buildings falling apart, it just looks like Russia in 1990 says Ben, nearly delighted!
The road winds through some big sunflower, corn, and wheat fields and passes through some very poor villages, everything looks so peaceful.
We change our mind quite quickly when reaching Vidin. The town is ugly and looks like some bad & scary suburb of Paris (actually we saw several cities like this along the Danube in Bulgaria, the cities looks much better inland). It’s 20h and the camping where we wanted to camp doesn’t exist. Panic! We ask a policeman who directs us towards a beautiful hotel, a little paradise with a swimming pool in the middle of this strange city. It’s such a nice place we decide to stay an extra day. We are surprised to find a lot of expats, they are building a bridge between Bulgaria and Romania (it will be the second one).
Vidin - Istanbul ... 30/06/08 - 06/07/08
As we stop for water, an old man offers us some apricots. We have to stop him otherwise he would give us his whole box of 5kg.
As we reach Lom, 60km further, for lunch we see the same awful rough areas, but we manage to get some food. As we leave, a lovely 10% uphill slope is waiting for us and, to make it more fun, it’s cobbled and the temperature reaches 35C! But for every uphill there is a downhill slope and that one is great, except the huge potholes!
The motel where we want to stay is way too expensive and the lady refuses that we put our tent in her garden even though it’s nearly 20h and there is nothing around. We start looking for a spot where we could camp but everything is already taken by either fishermen or gypsies. We decide to push an extra 10km to the border town of Orjahovo, this is a new record for us: 134km! Unfortunately the hotel is full. Seeing our disappointment, the lady lets us camp on the floor of the reception. She even gives us mattresses and sheets and we can use the showers. But, bad luck again, as we go to sleep, the room fills up with cockroaches and the disco next door starts playing loud music. We decide to put up the tent to be safe from the cockroaches, not easy with a non self-standing tent.
We cross the border to Romania with the ferry. The sailors are very friendly and they offer us coffee. They ask a lot of questions about the trip and are appalled to learn we have no sex because we are too tired in the evening. They immediately give us a huge watermelon "Bulgarian viagra" they say! We spend the rest of the trip explaining that it would be difficult for us to bring it along on the bike ...
In Romania there are more horse-drawn carriages than cars and eh eh we go faster than most vehicles here. The population is divided between white Romanians and Gypsies. The roads are pretty bad, a lot of potholes. We can go around them but the most dangerous things are the cars, the drivers go way off their path onto the side of the road or even worse, on the opposite lane: scary! We also notice that there are no speed limit signs and cars tend to cross villages at 100km/h.
The hotel is too expensive and we decide to ask the locals for a spot in their garden. We stop near a house where a car with Spanish plates is parked. Unfortunately they are not Spanish but Gypsies. Ten minutes later the police arrives, they are concerned about our safety. We explain that we are looking for a place to camp, one of the policeman has an idea and they decide to escort us to the next village. We realise that he is offering us to sleep in his parents vegetables plot, we will be safe here, he guarantees! It’s a beautiful garden full of vegetables, fruits and even beehives. The father and the local priest are having a drink, some sort of homemade "eau de vie". Ben has a go, it’s quite good, great for a good night sleep.
This is the last leg before we take the train to Istanbul. We stop at the border in Giurgiu in a scruffy motel, but we don’t really care as we are looking forward to Istanbul.
We cross the border to Bulgaria once again and go directly to the train station in Ruse. Ben manages to convince the lady at the ticket office and the train manager that we can put the bicycles in the train by paying 2 extra beds. It takes time but we manage, our compartment is completely full with all the panniers, trailer and even my bike fits in. Sylvie’s is at the back, secured with ropes. We don’t sleep very well between the borders checks and the ticket controls but we don’t care. So to all of those who were asking if it is possible to take the train to Istanbul with a bike, the answer is yes, buy a second ticket for the bike and be convincing and patient.