Kate Roff encounters obstacles on the bike trail from Austria to Slovakia.
When a friend suggested we bike ride from Vienna, in Austria, to Bratislava, in Slovakia, I thought it sounded a grand idea. It seemed like an ideal way to spend a Saturday — riding along the picturesque Danube, taking in the country side, picnicking along the way — what could possibly go wrong?
We planned to ride the estimated five hours at a leisurely pace, arriving in the afternoon in Bratislava, in time for some sightseeing and dinner, before taking the train back to Vienna.
Right there, I should have spotted a couple of flaws in our itinerary. To begin with, I hadn't ridden a bike for that long since . . . well, ever. Nevertheless I was up for an adventure and when half a dozen of us gathered at the bike hire place in the morning we were in high spirits.
An hour later, my spirit, and my legs, were beginning to quaver — this was going to be tougher than I thought. It had nothing to do with the terrain — the path was smooth and level, which meant the fault was solely with my endurance.
At the two-hour mark, we veered closer to the river and promptly hit a dead end — we had chosen the wrong fork in the road, 20 minutes back. According to a friendly fisherman (whom we questioned in broken German), there was nothing to be done but return and take the high road. No harm done, just a slight detour, and we considered ourselves lucky that we hadn't gone too far on the wrong path.
Another hour of cycling and we spotted a couple sunbathing along the river, which seemed innocuous enough, but there was something not quite right about the whole picture. Then we realised that they were sunbathing nude. Attributing it to a more liberal part of the world, we shrugged and rode on. Then we saw a group of people picnicking in the buff. Liberal, indeed. It finally dawned on us this was a nudist zone. Abashed, we sped up, not knowing where to look as we zoomed past groups chatting, barbecuing, and even dining at a cafe in the nude.
Comic relief aside, we continued on the ride through the Danube-Auen National Park, admiring the Monet-esque lily ponds and sprawling green fields along the river. We stopped for a delicious lunch in the shade — taking advantage of the region's fine cheeses and artisan breads we had packed earlier. The summer sun was starting to fatigue me and we realised we hadn't brought enough water — there aren't many places to refill along the way. So a couple of the more enthusiastic members of our party back-tracked to a side road with a small shop, replenishing us for the rest of the journey.
When we crossed the Danube into Slovakia we were enchanted with the lush vineyards and shaded lanes, but I was wearing out — our five hours had turned into seven and when we finally arrived in Bratislava I was hardly in the mood to tour the charming city.
Thankfully we stumbled across a cheap local restaurant and dined on a feast of meaty goulash and potatoes, washed down with strong Slovak beer. We were having so much fun we lost track of time, and when we did wheel our bikes into the train station we discovered we had missed the last train to Vienna by five minutes.
Someone had the bright idea of staying up the rest of the night and catching the first train back at 5am — a suggestion that only seems wise after making the most of the price of drinks in Bratislava. So, bleary-eyed and worse for wear, we finally boarded the dawn train home, with a great adventure behind us — albeit one for which I probably should have trained.
Bike hire is reasonably priced from Vienna at the start of the trail. Get your wheels from Radsport Nussdorf.
Private rental apartments in Vienna can be found at hauseins.com