As Tom and Anton have both below covered most of the good and the great of the 22 days cycling across Eastern Europe I’ll just give my brief (ahem, expert) opinion on some of the beer gardens we frequented along the way, barely a duffer amongst them…
Whilst my German is still pigeon at best even I could sniff out the “biergartens” on offer in south Germany and Austria, and they didn’t disappoint. Whether it be on an Island on the Danube with a Cathedral view in Ulm, supping with the Gods in a monastery on the banks of the river or a traditional Bavarian spot with enough lederhosen floating around to make any nearby cows run a mile it’s safe to say we enjoyed this leg of the trip. Drinking like Kings in a beer garden in a Castle up a massive hill in Passau also passed the time, beat that.
Budapest threw up a contender for beer garden of the trip in the fantastically eclectic Szimpla bar. From a band playing what could loosely be described as “music” to the buzzing atmosphere and paraphernalia dotted around the place we knew this would be hard to beat. Whilst the midnight hour striking sent us packing for a much needed rest I for one will return to this place in the future to do it justice. Venturing south in Hungary and expecting little from the small town of Kalocsa we were confronted by a beer garden of biblical proportions. Biblical in the sense it could have doubled as Noahs legendary Ark, apart from the midges flying in two by two this was an absolute winner with top notch food and cracking decor in the attached pub to boot.
Croatian beer gardens offered nothing spectacular to write home about but the locals were friendlier than a bunch of keen Jehovah’s witnesses and they definitely knew how to pepper a waterside with decent drinking establishments. Serbia was a country none of us knew that much about but came out top of the trumps with the holy trinity of good beer gardens, friendly locals and cracking scenery. Novi Sad proved the exception to prove the rule that many mainland European countries shut down on a Sunday with one street in particular transforming into a 100m long, 10 bar, beer garden deluxe that was still rocking when I managed to drag Anton away around midnight whilst he was still tying the laces on his dancing shoes. Belgrade went along the more traditional route with some baritone singers providing the sound track to several enjoyable beverages before we discovered the joys of shots of Rakia, nice.
The final leg skirting along the borders of Romania and Bulgaria started slow with some Romanian towns that offered little in the way of aesthetic wonderment but beers that danced their way down my throat showing a larger can indeed be “all that”. We were then lead on a merry dance by our lovely hotel receptionist Veneta in the Bulgarian town of Svistov who like the Pied Piper showed us to a hidden gem of a beer garden, the Meghana Bai Ganio, complete with a water wheel, squawking parots, Bulgarian paraphernalia adorning the walls and many a great beer.
After about 2500km we were sure we’d found our winner and so it proved with only some nice if unspectacular beer gardens to finish the tour to the Black Sea. However stumbling across a gangster hideout / lair that doubled as a beer garden/swimming retreat was welcome relief from the heat of the day. And don’t get me wrong, supping frosty beer after frosty beer on the beach at the black sea whilst the sun went down was good and all, just gets a little samey after a while. Jealous some? Fantastic trip and thanks for all those who’ve sponsored us on our merry way. And to Tom and Anton, don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much in 3 weeks. Apologies for the daily lubeing ritual.
School’s out, summer is here, everything is booked and we’re under the three week countdown. I’ve been exploring the Vienna cycle paths with some frustration at the numerous one way streets and lethal tram ways and feel very ready and very fit and healthy. Whether or not the bikes will hold is another question. The Danube paths around Vienna are dotted with cobbles! The very word sends shivers down my spine. Cobbles brings to mind a very vivid image of the tandem rocking up and down and us being covered the a rain of silver spokes. I have a feeling cobbles could be one of our biggest enemies, second only to the almighty wind that Woody mentioned in a previous post. I’ve been praying. Every day I’ve cycled on the Danube I’ve had the wind at my back going east. Let’s hope it stays like that because going back really is like cycling through butter with a trailer of bricks dragging behind.
Our choice of route has become particularly apt to me in the last few weeks. It turns out that Austria (my home at the moment) is busy with numerous projects and cooperatives betweens the areas affected financially and environmentally by Europe’s second biggest river. At the end of this post I’ve put a link to a description of the current initiatives. It makes interesting reading and I hope to use this blog to mix in some stories of life along the Danube, the people we meet and how the river affects their lives.
One particular comment made me laugh (and shiver with fearful premonition). Unfortunately it’s not on the newspaper’s website but the gist went like this – through future projects and cooperation with the countries linked to the Danube river, they hope to make it possible in the future to cycle all the way to the Black Sea from Vienna! Personally, I’m hoping it’s already possible. The route certainly veers away from Central Europeans well signed and well maintained cycle paths but I guess we won’t be able to judge the state of our route (or the amount of cobbles) until we’re truddling along it with the vague hope of proving that comment wrong and making it all the way to the Black Sea.