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.
The bright morning light shined through the balcony windows, waking us up bright and early. We yanked our tight black cycling shorts up our legs, Tom baring all his glory in denying to wear athletic shorts over the top. “Hot Bond” was born, a cycling super hero by day and a beer garden connoisseur by night.
Elastics still digging their first imprints into our thighs, our friendly hostess climbed the trophy hunting stairs with a serving tray full of tea, coffee, meats, cheeses and rolls for our first fueling before taking on the river. We ate with the bright sunlight shining over us in the absolutely fabulous room, laughing with anticipation to get on the road.
The road felt great as we coasted down our first hill, the air incredibly chilly. Our first bit of steady ground came and Woody was yelling at Tom to stop. Some clinking and clambering he heard. Self-trained mechanical skills kicked in and he got the screw driver out to make some adjustments to the rear derailer. Like I said earlier, only the slightest set backs. We rode on through the centre of Donaueschingen, up to the palace aside the headwaters of the Donaus!
The bikes needed a carrying down the stairs to the sunken spring: a turquoise emerald pool with bubbles floating up from the sands and vegetation below. A neoclassical statue of curvy goddesses and a baby looked over the spring. The signage: “Bis zum Meere 2840 Kilometer” and “Uber dem Meere 678 Meter.” No problemo! We climbed those stairs and started to make it all disappear.
Since arriving in Berlin and procuring what was I assume a completely legally obtained bike from a friendly second hand dealer in a local flea market I’ve come to regard it as a proverbial pedalists paradise. Well, in contrast to previous glass strewn bike lanes of Scouseland anyway. No more must I be on the watch out for taxi drivers who consider the fact that the cycle lane does not contain a speed bump to be an open invitation to get thoroughly involved. Cycling routes snake across the city making it possible to navigate from A to B (or as the Germans would say A nach B) whilst avoiding unnecessary games of chicken with assorted BMW, Audi or Volkswagen. Given my penchant for accidental dissembarkments, bonnet surfing and my head’s seemingly uncontrollable gravitational force towards objects much harder than itself, this is nothing but a good thing. And everybody cycles here, only the other day I noticed what looked like an Octogenarian passing in the other direction and given she was rocking at a fair old pace the face tuck provided by the wind probably knocked 20 years off the old dear.
A few curious things have cropped whilst on pedal power around the German capital that I thought I’d throw my 2 cents in to the ring for. One thing that i genuinely can’t get my head around is that it is illegal here to cycle without a bloody dynamo light attached to your bike. As if my puny twiglet legs aren’t issue enough I’m supposed to attach a third break to my front wheel that sounds like an asthmatic donkey and has the illumination powers of a damp candle in a stiff breeze. I’ll take my chances with an LED light thanks all the same…and whilst the asthetics of legally requiring a working bell to your bike appeal more I’m yet to find one that doesn’t sound camper than Christmas to further tarnishing my already heavily damaged macho reputation.
One curious habit I’ve noticed of the old Deutschlanders is that waiting at a traffic light appears to offer up a chance to partake in some role playing, most people taking the guise of a famous native F1 driver and getting involved in some dodgy overtaking manoeuvres. Quite happily perched at a red light its apparently commonplace for some good old fashioned jostling for position prior to getting the nod from the jovial green man. This would be fine aside from the fact that it appears approach velocity to the lights is not considered for this starting grid line up and the old, infirm and obese will quite happily plonk themselves in front of you prior to the off. Thus ensues a slow moving pelaton away from the lights until this sort themselves out just in time for the next red man, and don’t consider jumping that light, a €130 fine awaits if you do. (On that note I find it curious Berliners continually float various laws such as the smoking ban yet rarely will you find someone who dares to cross the red man of justice at the lights.)
That said Berlin is great for cycling and providing a fruitful training area for the Eurotrip ahead