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.
Our first beer garden stop that included all three of us came about 9 klicks before finishing out first day of riding in Sigmarigen. After a day of cycling the valley floor of a forested limestone canyon cut by the Danube– truly European with castles atop the most picturesque cliffs– we crossed a bridge for radlers at a stop just on the other side of the Danube.
Woody ordered us three of the snake sounding drinks. I’d never heard of such a thing but it was meant to be quite refreshing: a mixture of beer and soda pop. Strange sounding like a mixture of too much carbonation. Ours was a lemon lime pop with a bit of beer. The drink quenched the thirst quick and lived up to it’s early afternoon hype.
The youth we’d seen canoeing down the river throughout the day, yelling at us not to take photos and wishing to trade modes of transportation seemed to be disembarking at the beer garden.
They’d paddle up to the shore, pull their canoes out of the water onto the grassy embankments and get a sausage from the waitress to put on the big barbecue underneath a wooden gazebo. Every so often the waitress would stoke the fire and add another log to the flame. The kids were childish as expected, giggling, teasing each other and monkey housing.
We quite enjoyed the first drink by the river and felt ready for the last push of our first day when we sipped up our last drop. I even continued imbibing such stuff with a twist last night in Ulm with a cola-weissen: a mixture of Coca-Cola and hefeweissen beer. As bad looking as it sounds but very tasty.