My initial idea for this summer was to ride our own little Brompton Tour de France, but since I expected France to be too hot and crowded during the first three weeks of July, I had to come up with something equally cool and fun. And let me assure you ladies and gents, good times were had on our trip from Berlin to Budapest.
Berlin Budapest Baby
Now why on earth does one ride from Berlin to Budapest I hear you think. Well for starters… because we can! A trip from Prague to Vienna already had a nice ring to it, but much like last summer’s adventure, I just kept throwing new cities in the mix. That’s me, sometimes I just get overexcited. So let’s visit Bratislava, Berlin and while we’re relatively close by Budapest. Why not! Five different countries, five capital cities… we were absolutely stoked to get on our bikes and get going!
Planes, trains and auto-buses
Before we could start our journey, we had to get to Berlin first. We thought about flying but quickly ruled it out because it was too much hassle. The timing wasn’t all that, checking in takes forever and let’s be honest, it’s also the most expensive way to travel. Since a couple of years there are no more direct (night)trains from Brussels to Berlin so it was FlixBus to the rescue for us.
I found a ride that left Antwerp at ten ‘o clock at night, which was actually perfect for us. In the afternoon we unfolded our bikes, mounted our gear and pedaled 50 some kilometers to Antwerp where we had a quick bite and some drinks.
Once on the bus Ann started reading a book and I had Netflix to entertain me until it was naptime. Not the best of sleep was had, but we woke up in Berlin so it was all good! The bus set us back a mere 58 Euro, but we had one less night to book at the hotel in Berlin so… a win-win situation, right?
Berlin – Dresden, 2 stages (233.92 km)
After spending three days in Berlin, we were totally pumped to start our tour. I plotted the two first stages that would get us from Berlin over Lübennau to Dresden. While getting out of bustling Berlin took nothing more than 3 turns, two stoplights and one bridge, the ride soon turned into an adventurous rollercoaster with loads of gravel roads, sandy forest paths and a forbidden military domain.
I should work on my route building skills, really. Then again, we’re not shy of an adventure now are we. Before setting sail to the Czech republic we did a quick city ride in Dresden.
Dresden – Prague, 2 stages (239.78 km)
We cycled from Dresden to Prague over the ‘Elberadweg’, a cycling path that follows the banks of the Elbe river. After the two first crazy days on the bike, this was a relaxing ride on smooth asphalt with only mild rolling hills, something we can well highly recommend. In the morning we considered cycling to Bad Schandau and taking the train there, but the sun was out and we had great legs so we cycled all the way to our first stop Ustí nad Labem. We arrived just in time to watch the Belgian Red Devils beat Brazil so obviously we were buzzing.
From Ustí nad Labem we scheduled to ride 50 to 60 kilometers – we already did 3 +100 km rides in as many days – but once again Ann surprised me by saying we could (easily) ride to Prague. Which we did!
After 133.5 kilometers, a bit of sightseeing with our Czech friend Ivo Petrous (who was kind enough to take us out for diner and beers) and several hefty cobbled climbs we reached our hotel, totally knackered. Luckily for us, we had a day off to wander around in Prague the next day. Ideal to sleep in, have a late brunch and do some touristy things. Well-deserved I’d say!
Prague – Vienna, 5 stages (318.73 km)
We enjoyed our day off in Prague and our batteries were fully loaded to hit the road again. The only thing we had to do was seek out a point in Prague where we could join the Prague Vienna Greenways. Can’t be that hard, right? Well, as it turned out, it wasn’t all that easy either. We were 5 kilometers out, working our way on a steep climb when I noticed a tiny yet indispensable part of my Brompton was missing. So I walked back for 2 kilometers or so to find that darn bit that holds the rear fender and brakes in place but just couldn’t find it. We zip-tied the everything together and made the wise decision to double back and find a shop that could help us out. And if all that wasn’t bad enough, Ann also stepped in poo. I’m telling you, not the best way to start the day.
Probably too many cobbles to handle for one little bike. Then again, that’s hard to believe since the bike survived Paris Roubaix without any problems.
So we lost a couple of hours due to the minor mechanical breakdown, and simply getting out of Prague was more difficult than expected as I said before. We missed (or misinterpreted) a couple of signposts here and there which obviously means extra mileage.
After 85 kilometers (and with 30 km’s to go) we called it quits and made a local youth call us a cab to get to us to lovely Tabor, our destination of the day. On the plus side, this gave us the opportunity to have a relaxed diner on the terrace of a nice restaurant.
The next morning we were so keen to ride, we forgot to check the road book and just kept following a certain trail (11 instead of 32 I believe) that once again got us sidetracked. And ooh, we had to seek shelter for some heavy showers too. We waited it out and decided to take the bus after 20 some kilometers in order to keep our feet dry, and to make sure we didn’t miss the World Cup semifinal against France (which we unfortunately lost).
If there was one thing we learned from the last two days, it was to check the road book properly to avoid mistakes. We checked and double checked and the next rides went super smooth. Nice rolling hills, a couple of steeper climbs, forest roads and dirt tracks, an unexpectedly large marijuana field, vineyards where you could taste wine… Yep, the Prague Vienna Greenways where definitely growing on us.
Upon arrival in Vienna, we planned to spend the next morning in the city and then cycle to Bratislava, but since the Belgian Red Devils were playing an early match (B Final, which we won), we had to leave the city earlier than expected. So on the 5th day from Prague to Vienna we shortened our ride after we crossed the Czech / Austrian border, took the train in Mistelbach (after 43 km) in order to spend the late afternoon in Vienna.
Vienna – Budapest, 4 stages (332.56 km)
Before our trip, we bought a decent, travel friendly guide to help us on our way from Vienna to Budapest. Well, said guide was the only thing we forgot at home so we had to purchase it again in Vienna. Glad we did by the way, because it definitely helped us plan and prepare for the last 4 days on the bike. Always good to know when you have to take a ferry, where the rough stretches are and how long they would last for example.
On our way from Vienna to Bratislava we didn’t actually cycle that much next to the Danube as we expected. Nevertheless, this was a fairly easy ride. We had a day off in Bratislava, where we enjoyed a late brunch, some cocktails and a light diner in the marvelous old city center. Yep, on days when we don’t cycle, we tend to fill our bellies up well. If you’re ever in Vienna for a couple of days, try to take the train and visit Bratislava, even if it’s just for one day, you’ll love it. We know we did!
The ride from Bratislava to Komarnó was all smooth sailing on grade A asphalt, except for the last 20 kilometers or so. We like gravel – love it actually – but 20 kilometers of 5 centimeter deep gravel tracks was just too much. Seriously Slovakia? Our last stop before Budapest was Esztergom, also known as the Rome of Hungaria, thanks to the nice basilica that rises above the city. We tried to spot the basilica from afar and… drumrolls…. I won!
On our final ride we had a lot of time to contemplate. It surprised us how smooth it all went, not taken into account two lesser days. We hopped on and off two ferries to cross the Danube and after 85 kilometers we arrived in Budapest where it started raining. Some say it were the tears of baby Jesus, crying because our trip ended. They might just have been right.
On the remaining two days, we had time to discover the city, visit one of the popular baths and also had a fair share of breakfast pancakes and poached eggs, Mexican food, beers and cocktails. After all, we cycled all the way from Berlin to Budapest… on Brompton folding bikes.
Brussels – home, 1 stage (79.33 km)
Regardless of the places we booked to spend the night and a football match or three, our only real deadline was our flight back from Budapest to Brussels. One guess what we did when we arrived in Brussels National Airport? Yep, we cycled 79 kilometers home. As a conclusion we cycled 1289.5 kilometers and hit 6 countries (Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Belgium) and their capital cities (Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Brussels). That’s it for now, but new adventures await!