Sunday, 3 June 2012

Day 13 - Challenging preconceptions

Vienna - Bratislava (using
 Perhaps not surprisingly, I did not sleep well. There were noises outside from the roads and the trains and noises in my head about getting back to work, completing my Open University assignment and other reality stuff.

So I felt rather dozy when I climbed out of my tent and started to pack my bags. Doziness turned to irritation when I discovered a flat front tyre. With all the noise around me it proved impossible to find a puncture, so I put in the tube that I had taken out way back in Eindhoven.

I set off at about 9:30. At least I was on the right side of Vienna, and soon found my way out along the Radweg. The path was surrounded by big trees, lagoons with a cacophony of frogs and the very occasional bicycle. Near the village of Schonau I found a little cafe and sat there for coffee and toast. As often happened at these places, I cycled for miles without seeing another cyclist but as soon as I stopped at a cafe dozens appeared.

Revived by my breakfast, I set off along the empty Radweg embankment. After a while I fell in with three French cyclists, who had cycled from Lyon, through Basle and Donauschingen and were heading for Budapest. We chatted for a while in French which was very satisfying. We both commented on the German fashion for butterfly handlebars and an upright riding position as opposed to our more classic drop handlebar, touring bike style.

Eventually I drifted behind them as I stopped to make some adjustments to the bike but caught up again with them in Hainburg, the last town of any size in Austria. I did some shopping in the local Lidl, and as I crested the hill outside of the town caught my first glimpse of the tower blocks of Bratislava in the distance.

It actually says "Budapest"!
Vienna to Budapest was about 200 miles, which I felt was too much to do in two days, so I had decided to have a short day and get to Bratislava, a mere 40 miles. The sophistication of the Austrian Donau Radweg ends at the border, but the path has been improved considerably on the Slovakian side and it was an easy ride into the city. I had always had a bad impression of Bratislava, probably because Hungarians regard Slovakia with some distaste, and Bratislava itself has a reputation of being an unattractive, somewhat decrepit city. I felt I should visit just to clear my mind of my own preconceptions.
Another border crossed
It was clear on arriving that Slovakia is considerably less wealthy than Austria. Graffiti, potholes, the way people dress, all of those things reminded me of Hungary and eastern Europe as opposed to the wealthier west. I made my way to the city tourist office and a helpful lady there set me up with a cheap room in the City Hostel. I pushed my bike through the pleasant city centre streets feeling exhausted, perhaps because of the 28° temperature, perhaps because I was letting my adrenaline levels fall.

I unpacked my bicycle and settled myself into the room and then went out for a wander. Bratislava is not a large city and has the feel of a big town. It felt relaxed, slow, quiet. The city centre, the touristy area, has obviously had a good makeover in recent years and it felt a very nice place to walk around.

Hvidezdoslavova Square, Bratislava
 I made my way to Hvidezdoslavova Square, in front of the national theatre and found a cafe to sit in front of.
Very nice way to spend a few hours
 I ordered a Krusovice beer, wrote my diary, studied my maps and watched people walk up and down. I repeated this with another beer and then some food and then a smaller beer. I realised that for 12 consecutive days I had not stopped at all. I had been continually on the move looking at the world race past me at 12 to 15 mph. This afternoon, for the first time in days I was able to stop and stare. And it felt great.

By 6:30 I knew that I had had enough to eat and drink and decided to walk back through the pleasant evening sunshine to my hotel, where I promptly fell fast asleep until 10 o'clock.

I managed to make a couple of telephone calls and repair the punctured inner tube and then drifted off to sleep.

I was really glad to have visited Bratislava as I enjoyed my few hours there. The people I met were friendly and helpful, the city was calm and relaxing and I felt I could leave with my negative preconceptions expunged.

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