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.
Days seem to be split into good and bad halves as we head southwards from Slovakia to Hungary and onto the Balkan states of Croatia and Serbia.
We had a hell of a morning getting out of Gabcíkovo where all of us realized the path was no longer sign posted. I ended up completely off of the route maps taking a highway into Komárno while Tom and Woody got lost, backtracked and did for more kilometers than necessary. Somehow luck struck when we both got to our lunch destination at the same time and Tom and Woody yelled out “Anton!” from atop a bridge seconds before I went under it mistakenly.
Werner tagged along with us the latter half of that day while we took a shit off-road path to see a lackluster Roman ruin which was nothing more than a stone foundation, leaving little trace of the battle fortress that had once existed. The day really started sizzling and we think we may have driven a badger-bear nutty with our sweaty stench drifting ahead of us as some massive creature had a hole torn in its side and died teeth and claws bared in its death pose.
The basilica in Esztergom, Hungary, just on the other side of the Danube from Slovakia, turned out to be a huge carrot as we rode the last bit of a tiring day into our fourth country. Tom showed off his Italian skills as he said yes to knowing the language in order to get to our hostel. He doesn’t know the language but got the directions right.
The ride into Budapest was very pretty with forested hillsides slipping into the river. The rain started falling as we cruised into the city which made our day a little less enjoyable. I got us out of an accommodation-less stressful situation by tapping into my human GPS skills and finding the same hostel that Tom and I stayed in two and a half years ago which just happened to have three beds available. We made the most of one of Europe’s coolest cities by lounging in hot baths and drinking in the very cool Szimpla ruin bar while still finding time to check out the palaces, cathedrals, basilicas, synagogues and parliament.
Getting out of Budapest was a pain. We tried taking an unpaved route that we thought would be a short cut. It turned out to be about 10 kilometers of grassy path on top of a dike which included two young hooligans harassing us yelling and swinging their arms and rows of stone pillars with circles that looked like the security fence that keeps the smoke monster out in ‘Lost.’ I wondered whether we were on the outside or inside and figured the former based on the villages on the inside. We ended up getting back on the road and rocked the latter half of the day to Kolocsa where we chilled out alone for a bit and then had one of our best meals at a super cool beer garden shaped like a boat.
I learned a shitty lesson today. Don’t mess with something if it’s working alright already. I changed my brake pads for my disc brakes and spent most of the day trying to align them unsuccessfully, meaning I rode the 156 km today with my brakes slightly engaged. I really put us behind our normal pace and delayed our arrival in the very happening Osijek, Croatia to 19:00, making this our longest or second longest day of cycling. We made it though and push on tomorrow with a short 120 km after 306 in the last couple days. We’ll enjoy our rest in our killer apartment of accommodation with leather couches and flat-screen TVs to boot! Here’s a phone photo of Osijek’s cathedral.