Once again, Budapest
It is wonderful to reach some distant part of the world with only a bicycle, a tent and a means of cooking a meal. This is the sort of freedom Iív been lucky enough to enjoy most of my life.† There is also another kind of cycling bliss Ė the familiar.† Now, almost every day I try to get out and enjoy the same 42km.† Itís a sort of replacement, now I am retired, for the commute.† Unlike driving a car, it always provides a stress-free start to the day.
Another familiar ride takes a little longer.† Starting in the late 1990ís, while teaching in Budapest, I started to experiment with finding what I still considered to be the most enjoyable route between Budapest and the UK, and for me, one of the most enjoyable cycle rides anywhere in the world.† It has evolved into a regular indulgence, and I have now ridden this latest route more than 20 times.
Long before the bicycle, the great rivers of Europe were the principal transport systems as well as being the demarcation boundaries between peoples. The Romans used the Rhine and Danube as a border between the Roman Empire and the ĎBarbariansí. While kings and nobles may have travelled in oceangoing vessels to the Crusades, the ordinary soldiers and peasant armies swarmed alongside the great rivers on their way to Jerusalem.
With the invention of the bicycle came a great freedom to wander along these ancient trails, and gradually a network of cycle pathways evolved over many years, with inputs from generations of cyclists. The modern cyclist reaps the benefit of this past effort, and considerable recent investment, so is able to follow well-marked routes
My preferred route takes me along these major river routes, as well as some less well known smaller ones. It skirts major cities - although I can and do visit some of Europe's most cultivated and historically important places on route. The real joy is riding along a network of ever-changing, often stunningly attractive, cyclist friendly, easy to follow pathways.
Both this year and last (2014/15), there were early season floods on the Danube, and this year on the Rhine too. This is not new, many Danube building show hundreds of years of flooding.
Sometimes in the Netherlands the route might spend a short time alongside the road.
At the Mariaweiler lake campsite (just off the Rur route) it is usually full of non-camping visitors.
Putting up the tent alongside the Rhine
Close to this photograph, Hattersheim has some wonderful 13th century bildings.
Budapest, the destination of this ride, is in one sense an ancient city with its Roman ruins, and it's part in battles between the Ottoman Empire and the Christian West; but it is also a product of the Victorian age, when a Scottish engineer, Adam Clark, joined the cities of Obuda, Buda and Pest with a bridge, to form the modern city and provide the name we know it by today.
Every part of this ride is along well signposted trails that vary from the most perfectly designed cycle ways over tarmac, to dirt, gravel, limestone, tiles and cobbles.† Over the last 15 years or so, millions of Euros have been spent updating these ancient trails, yet the character and shear joy of riding them is still there.
Tauberbischofheim Ė one of those wonderful places along the Tauber.
Around the Altmuhlsee
The Altmuhl trails follow both the rivers valley floor and forested hillsides.
The old Danube bridge Ė Regensburg
At the campsite near Rajka (Hungary) there are exercise toys for grown ups!
Cycle camping is the best way of keeping costs down, and if camp cooking is also an option, a truly economic journey to Budapest can be achieved. But I camp because I enjoy camping, and although about once a week I also enjoy the local food, I do tend to live on the basic food Iív cooked myself, backed up with lots of fruit and visits to the bakers. Many campsites are open from early April until late October. Very few B&Bs but some hotels are open all year round, but numbers are greatly reduced in the winter.
Last year, in a desire to stress that almost any bike will do as long as it is well maintained, my ride to Budapest took place on my second-hand1952 Hetchins.† It was 1952, that as an eleven year old, I first started cycling, but not on a Hetchins - that was well out of my price range! This year I was back on my made to measure Sondec touring cycle, which is only 20 years old.† Both have a decent B17 saddle, otherwise they have little in common, however, the two rides took exactly the same time to cover the 2,000km Ė 19 days.
Camping in the Netherlands with the 1952 Hetchins in the background.
A daily hydrofoil runs between Budapest and Vienna in the summer months.
Along the route there are many railway stations, so getting home isnít a major problem if I was to run out of time. Once or twice, some time ago, I even travelled by boat for small sections along the major rivers.† In more recent times I have been a glutton for pleasure, and after a few days in Budapest, turn around and ride back using the opposite banks of the larger rivers.