We set off from Vienna for Bratislava, from the capital of Austria to the capital of Slovakia. We were on our bikes and ready to leave at 9:30 and already the sun was beating down mercilessly. With no clouds spotted since the Czech border, the day was only going to get hotter.
We cycled back through Vienna and clocked almost 10 miles before we hit the city border.
The cycle underbridge connecting the suburbs to the central business district. As it was Sunday (or what we call Cycleday), the entire place was completely deserted.
We joined onto the River Danube and we found all the Austrian people cycling, (as it was cycle day after all). The paths following the river were littered with small cafés and restaurants. We even passed a line drag wake boarding centre.
After the restaurants ended we entered the Grill Zone, where the paths split into a high road, for cyclists and other cycleday goers, and a low road – the Grill Zone – for BBQs and picnics. Feeling a bit adventurous I decided to enter the Grill Zone. Mainly because I strangely missed the rolling hills of Czech, I felt darting in and out of the GZ area would liven up my day. This stretch of the river lasted miles and miles, rammed with Austrians cooking up a Cycleday flunch (like lunch, but it’s flunch). After a few of these little detour excursions I managed to get Martin to join me, weaving to and from lanes along the river. When we saw an odd sign in German Martin was at first skeptical, but I was not deterred for a second and managed to eventually convince good old Mart by shouting “Follow me for shenanigans”… and my, did shenanigans follow. We cycled for a good 100 or so meters and saw an old couple sunbathing naked next to the river. We cycled past and didn’t think too much of it, it is Europe after all, not very pleasant but we still had a little bit of a chuckle. Then we passed another five or six couples that were nude… the penny dropped. All the signs we passed in German refered to the nudist section of the Danube, and there was probably a minimum age limit as mostly everyone we passed would have no problem qualifying for a free bus pass. This was made eye seeringly clear when we past hundreds after hundreds of all these naked retired Austrians. It was all starting to get really awkward, but it just made it all the more funny. Martin and I agreed at this point, we should really start to get a move on, and get off this path as soon as possible. However, this was not the case we looked for an exit, but there wasn’t one… it was just one straight path along the river and it just didn’t end. The further we got the weirder and more densely populated it became. Old naked creatures consisting of bones wrapped in sagging leather, lackadaisical swaying side to side in a zombie like fashion as they searched for a good spot along the river (don’t read too much into this sentence please). At times I forgot these creatures were once human like us. We endeavoured to find another path away from the slowly thickening horde of OAPs. We looked either side of the path, hoping to find a route to escape up the bank of the river, but it was futile, only waves and waves of more nude newspaper reading pensioners. Now flocks of them were emerging through the trees, filtering down towards the riverside from the car parks, already naked, and ready to swing freely.
We traveled in so far we hit the epicentre; when we reached a group of naked men so large it blocked the entire path. At this point Martin and I were travelling at incredible speeds, due to all the strange glares we were getting on our bikes, so we had to brake sharply. What appeared to be the alpha male of the group stretched out his arms and legs in either an attempt to block us or possibly embrace us. Judging by his angry German tone, he was as pleased to see us as I was pleased to see his….yea…. After a final flurry of leather, Martin and I emerged at the other end of the path back up to the river overpass. After a good 2 miles of nothing but skin we were physically exhausted and mentally scared. I’ve never seen Martin travel uphill so fast since.
Martin and I waited at the top of the exit for the Nude Zone for Fergus and Tom. When they arrived we explained our horror story which was all very funny. However at this point we were a bit lost as the signs for the Danube cycle path had stopped and the only other route might inflict more nudity. As we stood about deliberating our choices to press on or backtrack, some Italian cyclists asked if we were lost. They explained the cycle path should cross a yellow bridge at some point, but they were not 100% sure where the bridge was. It was either back the way we came, or into the unknown. I was eager to press on and try the path of unknowity. After we saw lots of cyclists come from this unknown path we gained new confidence that it was the right direction. So we pressed on. After about 100 metres the path opened up into an expanse of naked sunbathing elderlies slowly melting in the sun. Before we could react, a naked man started shouting and waving at us to stop. However, if I wanted to stop it would be at a safe visual range, unfortunately the path didn’t extend to moon. But the naked man was persistent and managed to flag down Martin.
The naked man explained the path we were searching for was back the way we came. Martin was trying his best to keep a straight face and keep his eyes from wandering…
We continued backwards down the path and met a crossroad. Again we debated on new heading and was overheard by a fellow cyclist. This man was quite pale and as a result had a staggering amount of suncream on. He explained how he also cycled miles down the wrong path until he reached the naked man who instructed him to turn around. As he was also cycling to Bratislava we decided to cycle with him, one more Budapedaler! We shook hands and introduced ourselves, rather fittingly his name was Vlad and he was cycling back to his home country of Romania.
We continued to chat to him while following the Danube cycleway which was an incredibly straight flat road which ran parallel with the river. This path continued for at least 15 or so miles in the same fashion, without a single bend or change of scenery. The seer vastness was immense, as you looked ahead and behind you all you could see was the road continuing straight. However, it was incredibly boring after the first 20 minutes.
The first flat tyre is awarded to our honorary Budapedaler Vlad.
We lunched in Hainburg. We found a small restaurant which was reasonably priced and had an outside area shaded by a grapevine canopy. The waiter seemed quite displeased to see 4 sweaty English cyclists and a vampire sitting down in his restaurant and it became apparent in the way he treated us. He was the Austrian cousin of his relative Mateyboy and, if I recall correctly, his name was Waityboy. The best example of Waityboy’s bad waiting was when Vlad found an insect embedded in his soup bread, it was almost a classic “waiter waiter” situation. Vlad held up the tainted bread and said: “There is a fly in my bread”, Waityboy, who was standing across the table, didn’t bat an eye and replied “No, is not fly”, In which Vlad then retorted: “Yes, there is a fly here” and Waityboy insisted “No. Is no fly there”. This continued for another few times until he actually properly inspected the bread rather than just disregarding whatever Vlad said. He realised he was in the wrong, took the bread from Vlad and pulled a face as if to say, “oops”. With his credibility as a waiter lost, he scurried away back into the kitchen.
We arrived in Bratislava not a moment too late with the temperature in the shade averaging 34°C and still no clouds to shield the assault of the sun. We bid farewell to Vlad at the city centre and continued to the hostel fatigued and dehydrated. When we arrived at the hostel we were given a complimentary Slovakian drink, Borovička. Which they insisted was an incredibly refreshing drink. I expected some sort of thirst quenching lemon cocktail but it turned out to be a shot of neat Gin. Martin wasn’t terribly pleased. While we were waiting to be served a small toddler made his way into the bar and started raiding the fridges. The people behind the bar, preoccupied with our order, didn’t seem to take any notice. After a few attempts the baby returned triumphantly with a can of Red Bull and promptly exited the bar to what I presumed was his father. The dad smiled and gave the child a pat on his head as if to say “That’s my Boy!” and sent him back in for another. You get all sorts at hostels.