You can see a video of our trip here https://vimeo.com/134128853
This summer has been a bit of a windy wash out and we decided to trade the usual trip ‘up north’ for some sunshine and warmth. On a bit of a whim we booked flights to Budapest and home from Krakow, cycle touring in between. Planning is not our forte and while you can kind of get away with it on home territory this trip required a lesson in bike mechanics, route planning and cardboard box sourcing. Oh and a nice shiny new bike for me as a special treat on the cycle to work scheme.
Having never flown with bikes before we did some research into A to B trips and the best option appeared to be a clear plastic bag. This was a bit hard to get our heads around but it seems the baggage handlers treat your bike nice and carefully if they can tell it’s a bike. Only problem was Wizz Air only accept cardboard boxes or nylon bags and I couldn’t get anyone to confirm if plastic would be accepted. Playing it safe we opted for cardboard boxes. We spent about 3 hours dismantling our trusty steeds so they would fit in cardboards boxes picked up from the LBS.
Relief when our bikes arrived in Budapest unscathed. We stayed at the Corvin Point Hostel which was perfect for building our bikes in the shaded courtyard. Three Scots arriving to 38 degrees was a shock to the system.
We had the next day to do some sightseeing and Budapest had one of it’s hottest days on record at 42 degrees so it was a pretty sweaty affair. It was pointed out that we were obviously not locals; the trainers and dress combo gave it away apparently.
Day 1: Budapest to Esztergom (79km)
Navigating through a city on the ‘wrong’ side of the road was going to be tricky but thankfully we’d got our bearings the day before and got on the cycle path that traces the Danube pretty quickly. We swung by the disappointing Margaret Island and then followed the cycle path until the sign sent us left to Sestendre. Big mistake! A lot of weaving through residential streets and a convoluted route before we spotted a family to follow. Think we should have ignored the sign and kept going along path. We ended up on a section of EuroVelo Route 6 which goes from the Atlantic to the Black Sea.
The ride into the picturesque Sestendre was lovely and Cafe Dorothea came up trumps with refreshing ginger lemonade.
The next section to Esztergom was easy going with big stretches of cycle path. As we approached the town, the spectacular domed Basilica (Hungary’s largest church) towered above us.
We camped at Gran Camping which was well set up and popular with cycle tourers.
The route we should have taken
Day 2 Esztergom to Vipnek (64km)
We crossed over the Maria Valeria Bridge into Slovakia and took the quieter road that runs north between the 76 and 564. We spent a beautiful day weaving round endless fields of sunflowers interrupted only by sleepy villages. Not much in the way of shops so make sure you have food supplies with you.
We arrived at the campsite near Vapnik (Margita-Ilona) to our first experience of Slovakian holiday makers. With no coastline, water parks are very popular. The place was packed with a mix of young families, groups of party goers and those taking life at a slightly slower pace. We headed to the restaurant a few minutes up the road and I had my first in a long list of culinary delights – ravioli stuffed with cottage cheese. Sounded promising on the menu only for it to come topped with chocolate sauce and squirty cream
Day 3: Vapnik to Pocuvadianske Jazero (43km)
Started the day off picking fresh plums from trees on the campsite and checking out the route while Tracy fixed a puncture
This was our first big hill day with a climb that was pretty much on for 40km. We were aiming for the campsite just south of Banska Stiavnika and decided to take the busier road north from Bátovce as it looked like might have ended up with a section of no road otherwise. There wasn’t much traffic as the road twisted up the hillside, passing through dense forest.
We took the turning for the campsite which lay almost on the shore of Počúvadlianske Jazero (lake). This is the largest of the tajchs, artificial lakes built in the 18th century as a source of water power for pumping water from the mines and treating ore. The campsite seemed like a bargain at €2 but like most things you get what you pay for and we got a portaloo. We did get a spectacular display from fire flies though.
Day 4: rest day…..hills around Banska Stiavnika (57km)
After the joy of our €2 camp we booked ourselves into a hotel in Stiavnika Banska, dumped our gear and headed out to explore the area on our bikes.
As a veggie I was struggling for proper food and was super excited to find avocado, mango and beetroot juice in the supermarket.
We did a circular route which started heading east of Banska Stiavnica before turning south into a clockwise loop. It was an absolute scorcher with lots of butterflies tracing our route and little opportunity for shade.
We ended up back at the lake we’d been at the previous night and had a dip to cool down. The place was a hub for recreation with SUPs, canoes and some odd looking pedalo type things. Julie tried to impress the locals with her chain grease leg and my cottage cheese.
Banská Štiavnica is a UNESCO world heritage site and when we got back, we went to check out the Calvary of Banská Štiavnica perched on the top of what was once a volcano. A cluster of chapels and churches line the path up to the top. It was built in the 18th century using individual donations and money collected by local residents. It featured in the watch list of 100 most endangered sites in the world in 2007 and is currently being restored thanks to voluntary initiatives. It really is an enchanting place and the view from the top is quite incredible.
So much for a rest day!
Day 5: Banská Štiavnica to Banská Bystrica (Tajov) (62km)
Banská Štiavnica really started to spoil me when I found a breakfast drink with chia seeds on a menu. We did a bit of sightseeing round the medieval town taking in the Old Castle and Námedtie Svätej Trojice (holy trinity square). The Holy Trinity Column has slipped 4.5m down the slope over the years but they seems to have sorted things out now.
After a steep climb out of town we had 20km of sweet downhill to take a breather. We stopped at Hronsek to have a look at the wooden church, another UNESCO site. It has a distinct Scandinavian architectural style and as a Protestant church within a Catholic country, had to be built within strict criteria such as the entrance could not be directly from the street. We couldn’t go inside the church but it was a nice lunch spot.
We’d marked a campsite at Tajov which was a few kilometres west of Banská Bystrica but Julie’s map showed one near the sports ground which was pretty central. Turns out is doesn’t exist so we headed to Tajov. The campsite was nice and peaceful with no water park in site!
Day 6: Tajov to Liptovsky Trnovec (86km)
This was going to be our biggest hill day with two pretty big climbs. Out came the Chemical Brothers to get me up the first one which was fairly brutal. Although part of it was dual carriage way and there were a few trucks around, the road was pretty good and there was often enough space to ride on the verge. Thankfully it was overcast this day or would definitely have had heat stroke. I managed to get into a rhythm and keep plodding along until reaching the ski resort of Donovaly. This was a great spot for lunch but without doing any research into Slovakia, I had no idea we’d be pedalling through ski resorts. It had an alpine feel to it.
We missed the turning at Liptovská Osada which would had taken us over the second mountain pass and only realised when it was too late to turn back. I was a bit disappointed after getting myself psyched up but it was probably for the best as we had a fairly flat route to our campsite at Liptovsky Trnovec on the shore of Liptovská Mara. The campsite was well set up and in a beautiful setting, nestled amongst the mountains.
Day 7: Liptovsky Trnovec to Oravice (42km)
We had a wee bit of flat passing by poppies before a big windy climb. Couple of roadies passed on their light carbon bikes while I was chugging away on my loaded up steel frame.
It started to rain just as I got over the pass and had to dig out my waterproof on the fast descent. Stopped for a snack at another alpine style restaurant and while the others tucked into some tasty looking bean soup I had to opt for the veggie option of garlic soup. Another culinary highlight on the trip
We had a wee climb to get to Oravice and after getting the tents pitched headed straight to the thermal pools for some relaxation and muscle treatment. The place was packed and at €5 reckon that was the tourist rate. A really picturesque spot amongst the mountains.
This was the veggie options in the only restaurant in town, thankfully they rustled up scrambled eggs and retro crinkly chips
Day 8: Oravice to Zakopane (51km)
Is was a weird feeling setting off on our last day riding. My cycle legs had kicked in and I just wanted to keep going.
We had a lovely stretch along the side of a river (first cycle path in a while) as we set off for the Polish border.
The countryside was really nice – rolling farmland with the Tatra mountains as the backdrop.
As we approached Zakopane, the road was lined with Alpine chalets geared up for the ski season.
I’d heard from a Polish colleague that Zakopane was very touristy and while it was, it was also full of people returning from a day hiking or cycling in the mountains.
We rolled into the campsite 8 miles short of 300 miles for the trip so me being me, ditched the gear and set off for a wee loop to make it to the 300 mile.
After trying to find a route from Zakopane to Kraków we settled on the train to avoid any disasters on a busy dual carriageway with trucks.
First job for Kraków was picking up cardboard boxes for the flight home. Luckily a chum had been here a few days before and sorted out with a bike shop so it saved a day of trekking round in the heat
We had a day taking in some of the sites and soaking up the sun before heading back to Scotland
This was an amazing trip. The freedom that comes with cycle touring and the time to take everything in makes it such a special way to travel. We really went into this trip blind and everything was a nice surprise.
I definitely have the bug and would love to undertake a bigger trip. Do I just dream about these things or take the jump?