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1999 Biking East Europe

Diary: 3 September 1999 through 25 September 1999

Friday, September 3 – Samorin, Slovakia – Mrs Lindtner, 600Sk
Distance cycled: 79.3 – Maximum speed: 40 – Average speed: 16
Exchange rate: +-30 Slovakian koruna (crowns) : $1

Samorin is a small town on the northern bank of the Danube. An uneasy mix of housing-project flats, newer smaller more attractive apartment blocks freshly and brightly painted, and the old town with its dilapidated buildings and a shady square. Here young couples and moms with kids were beginning to congregate when Charl and I arrived exhausted and irritable after our long first day on the road. I was desperate to get off my saddle which had managed to embed itself in my butt and my irritation got the better of me soon after this when my tyre came a little loose and started to rub against the brake. I took it out on poor Charl, asking, he later said, in the worst possible terms, whether or not he was capable of doing the job of reassembling / looking after the bikes or whether we should employ someone who knew what he was doing. Oops.

We had an inauspicious start to our sojourn in Eastern Europe. We had little or no sleep on the plane (in my case the usual uncomfortable difficulty of fitting a too large butt into a too small seat); unpacked our bikes at Vie International to find my front brakes had been broken somehow and that Charl’s South African flag – bought especially to fly from the back of his bike – had fallen out somewhere along the line; only hit the road a long two hours after disembarking (one hour later than hoped, but only about 30 minutes later than anticipated); into whisper-gentle rain that soon soaked us both.

We followed initially the Austrian tourist association’s email suggestion (take the B9 east toward Fischamend and Maria Ellend south of the Danube, cross the river using the bridge near the church, turn right onto the cycle path to the border and Bratislava) but at Maria Ellend were told there was no bridge over the Danube! Decided then to stick instead to the B9 (which runs from Vienna to the Slovakian border and on to Bratislava) as the road surface was great, there was a narrow shoulder and, although the traffic was relatively heavy, everyone was very polite and patient and gave us as much room as possible. All of which made our first taste of cycling on the right most manageable.

Along the 45kms we cycled through pristine, slightly sterile Austria, we encountered odd reminders of home: Mandela’s name on a wall, the words Toi Toi on a telephone booth, and election posters depicting aliens “stealing” jobs from locals. We lunched in pretty walled Hainburg before crossing the border into Slovakia. There was quite a long queue at the crossing, but we ignored this and handed our passports to the nonchalant officials while standing astride our bikes – and were stamped in without much ado.

We had no clear idea of where to go next knowing only that we wanted to cross the Danube and cycle on its northern bank. We basically followed our noses onto a very busy Friday afternoon motorway from which we got our first sighting of the romantic blue Danube – which turns out to be, at the southern industrialised end of Bratislava at any rate, neither romantic nor blue! Our noisy motorway dropped us after a while onto a cycle path which took us all the way to Samorin.

Once we left the outskirts of Bratislava the cycle path was a pleasure – except that we were weary. It runs flat and straight for kilometres with the wide brown Danube on our right (later with dozens of swans and other birds thereon) and a narrow canal on our left. The path is built above the flood plain and is in really good nick. We often found ourselves cycling totally alone – with not a car or truck to be seen or heard. With lots of pretty flowers alongside the path, reminiscent of the UK in summer.

On the outskirts of the city we saw small lush gardens obviously used by those with gardenless flats in the city. Bratislava is ugly from a distance – all Cape Flats type blocks, a hangover, we assume, from the communist era housing projects.

There is little English spoken in Samorin which is not mentioned at all in my Lonely Planet guide book – as we discovered sitting exhausted on a bench in the faded, shaded charm of the old town square soon after our arrival. After hunting unsuccessfully for a place to sleep we popped into a small clothing shop looking for someone who might speak English, and met there Gabriella, a sexy young mother (Charl says she “oozes”), who very kindly made some enquiries by phone and then directed us to 34 Alistov and Mrs Lindtner. Where we have a room in a garden with a bathroom en suite for 600Sk (Slovakian koruna) – about  $10 each.

We both fell immediately into a deep and much-needed sleep from which we awakened an hour or so later stiff from our journey but in considerably better humour. We showered long and hot, and walked to the hotel nearby for a delicious meal. It took us some time to decipher the lengthy menu but thanks to the German translation we got more or less what we thought we had ordered – bean soup followed by a meaty main meal.

When we arrived at the hotel it was to find Gabriella, her husband, her baby and a friend sitting on the stoep having a drink. We took the opportunity to thank her and tell her our room was fine and then sat nearby for our first drink. I suggested that Charl initiate a conversation with her as it seemed to me she had come especially to see us. So we got out the map and Charl started by asking Gabriella about the cycle path. From there it was a short step to discovering that she owns the clothing shop, that her husband exports air conditioners, and that they have travelled to the UK and the Netherlands – although she thinks home is best. She told us her German was better than her English – saying (wrongly) that her English was “catastrophic”!

Between Vienna and Samorin
Between Vienna and Samorin
Between Vienna and Samorin
Between Vienna and Samorin
Between Vienna and Samorin
Between Vienna and Samorin
Between Vienna and Samorin
Between Vienna and Samorin
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