Reflections on our Tour de …!

Yes, you should do it. Yes, everyone who can cycle a kilometre should do at least some of Véloroute 6. Yes, the best part is probably from Regensburg to Vienna. Just go!

Don’t think that you need much preparation. I had only cycled once in the full year leading up to this trip, for no particular reason as I like cycling. Just once in February with Caroline and the club in Sligo, (which I’ll join when I go back). I was reasonably fit before the trip, from walking a lot, (in the great company of Strandhill Walkers in Sligo, Katie and Mary in Sonoma and of course my new friend Audible), from running 5k about 3-4 times per week with Denis and from sometimes swimming. Our bikes were pretty standard, nothing extra special. Our saddles were very ordinary, we were a bit saddle sore the first week but then our saddles got used to us! Our cycling clothes were good. Our panniers were clapped out and we replaced them after the trip – gone all posh at the 12th hour!

Things we would do differently, pack even less, I didn’t use a lot what I’d brought. We had neither bells nor stands for our bikes and missed both. More 12th hour additions! Another thing I’d do is bring a separate camera. That way I wouldn’t see messages on the phone when taking photographs. Plus the phone on the camera isn’t good at long-distance shots. We’ll also get fluorescent coloured helmets instead of our black ones to make sure that drivers have every opportunity to see us well ahead.

Though we agree on lots of aspects of cycling, Denis would like to have camped en route, I would have hated it – I loved that comfortable bed and hot bath/shower every evening. We met a number of people who were camping. Denis was envious, I felt very sorry for them.

In 5,998 kilometres we never had to fix a puncture, pump a wheel, use any of the first-aid kit. (We both took the odd tumble but nothing that really necessitated taking out that first-aid kit). Our friend Derek reckoned it would have happened had we gone two more kilometres!

Denis asked me at one stage was I careful of my front wheel when going over bumps, I replied I was only ever thinking of myself, not the bike. He reminded me of the Flann O’Brien story that bike and cyclist were becoming one!

One day while cycling along, I thought – I never feel so alive as when cycling – it’s very physical and you’re taking in from all the senses. Coming out of Vienna, we were cycling behind two girls. One was cycling along, hands off the bars and twirling her arms wildly in the air, almost like a ballet dancer. Later, this time with hands on the bars and she all crouched down, she sped off ahead as fast as she could. I loved watching her enjoying cycling freedom!

Denis asked me at one stage on our cycle – did I ever think we mightn’t be able to do it. My answer was I never ever thought about it either way – whether we would or wouldn’t  – I just figured we would keep the wheels turning. I’m never afraid of challenges that involve work/effort, I’m only afraid of challenges that involve something I have a genuine fear of. But the cycling never really felt like work or effort. The times I found it hard were e.g., where our hotels were at a height at the end of a long cycle, (only for Denis I would never have made it to our hotel in Sancerre. I just wanted to curl up on the side of the road that day). Or when our hotel was a long way into the city e.g., Vienna. Or where Hungarian drivers did an excellent job of frightening me.

There was a good bit of daily organising. We never really decided who would do what – it just happened. We both looked after our own gear, navigating (mostly Denis), washing out gear (mostly me while Denis was out running though he mostly wrung them out, he was far better at that), booking hotels every day (one paid the lunch bill while the other was on Booking.com on the phone), having enough snack food for the road (mostly me).

Speaking of food, I found I could only really get two hours cycling before I would need to fuel up. If food was petrol, my tank was down to zero after €20. Denis had a tank that could give out €100 worth of fuel. I found that I needed small amounts of food frequently. We ate very healthily on the trip. We carried a big bag of snack food which included; yogurts, granola or just plain porridge oatlets, fresh fruit, (in France we were also able to get tubs of various stewed fruits) and finally a mixture of dried fruits, nuts and seeds, We always made sure to drink plenty of water. Some days particularly in the heat, we were drinking up to four litres.

Over the weeks we evolved into a diet which worked very well for both of us. For breakfast porridge oats, yogurt and fresh fruit and then some form of eggs. We were able to get this in most places where we stayed, if they didn’t have porridge oats, then we had our own. For morning break, we had coffee and Denis generally had a pastry whereas I had something from our snack box. For lunch we mostly had a main course type meal or I might have a salad, always with a protein source but I’d also ask for potatoes with it. And then maybe a dessert. Afternoon was a soft drink or ice–cream or both. And then dinner every night.

Yes we both probably lost fat but gained muscle. After this trip I now better understand more how the body uses food. It was interesting if/when the tank ran down to empty, how quickly eating something restored energy.

Over the cycle one could really appreciate how big a part religion played in the development of European civilisation, the sight of a steeple marking the approaching village or town. (I wonder have we in Ireland succumbed to the God of commercialism – the out of town retail park is almost the best sign of approaching habitation.)

Farming didn’t really change as we crossed countries. We were staying at more or less same latitude and following river valleys where the soil was generally good. The only real change we saw was when we gained significant elevation, where it was more forested. Jared Diamond in his book Guns, Germs and Steel explained the spread of civilisation as driven by the spread of agriculture – agriculture spread easily in an east-west or west-east direction in Europe and Asia. Crops and animals which were domesticated in a region could easily spread east or west as the climate remained generally the same. However, this could not happen on the American continent – particularly central America since crops suited to one area would not be so further north or south. An interesting barrier to the spread of civilisation.

We followed the river route across Europe. The rivers played a very important part in the development of civilisation in Europe. For example the Rhine and Danube were important northern borders for the Roman Empire. Had we followed a different route, we wouldn’t have been cycling what seemed like from cathedral to cathedral and seeing so many beautiful medieval towns and cities.

Though we crossed six countries thanks to Schengen we only had one passport check – coming off the ferry from Ireland. (Ireland and Britain are not members of Schengen.) Everywhere used Euros except Switzerland with its Swiss Francs and Hungary with its Forint. At roughly 300 Forint to the Euro, there’s an awful lot of zeros to get used to in Hungary.

I’m already thinking where to next year. Denis has convinced me that we need to be choosy about where we go – I originally suggested finishing Véloroute 6 to the Black sea or across America. He pointed out that what made this trip so enjoyable was the short distance between towns and villages where nice food and accommodation is available and that this might not be so easily found everywhere.

As I mentioned I will try to keep the blog going. I won’t post every day, probably about twice a week. (Feel free to unsubscribe if you don’t want to keep getting posts, I won’t be offended.)

And finally, in true Joni Mitchell spirit I’ll try to remember my en route life lesson … from the days when the Véloroute disappeared, when the wifi was cold, when …

Don’t it always seem to go

That you don’t know what you’ve got

‘Till it’s gone

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Day 43 Sunday – The end of the cycle, arriving into Budapest

We left on the Cork to Roscoff ferry on 3rd June. After cycling 2,999 km in 34 days of our 43 day trip, today we arrived into Budapest.

(If Dunnes Stores did cycle trips, they too would cycle that distance!)Screen Shot 2017-07-17 at 08.59.20

Day 0, Willie and Theresa dropped us to the ferry in Cork.

Our adventures for 43 days.

Day 43 crossing Margit Hid (bridge) into Budapest with Parliament buildings in the background.

Thanks for the messages when we arrived. Now that we’ve finished the trip, I’ll post a reflective piece during the week.

I’ve enjoyed keeping a diary of our adventures and your company along the way. Now that I’ve got back into blogging, I’ll probably continue writing tales of “life, the universe and everything” here once or twice weekly.

 

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Day 42 Saturday – Esztergom to Vác

Today we cycled a short roughly 46 km from Esztergom to Vác. We had planned to stay another day in Esztergom but our hotel last night wasn’t great so we decided to cycle half way and see Vác and then continue to Budapest, our endpoint tomorrow! We really have been taking it easy this week. I won’t bother putting in a map today as we’re nearly there.

Over the trip I’m not sure exactly how many hotels/guesthouses we have stayed in. Some were outstanding and I’d highly recommend, some were perfectly fine, thankfully only two were bad, last night being one of those two, (the other being very early on in the trip).

With all the places that we have stayed there’s been an awful lot of packing plus checking that we left nothing behind. It helps that we have so little with us.

The timing of our trip was good, (not an accident), in that up to now it was easy to book accommodation, availability was good. Last night we just had to take what was available. It was great to do the trip when tourists were fewer, from now on with school holidays in most countries, that won’t be the case.

With only a short cycle today, we had plenty of time to see Esztergom. To give an idea of its size, it has a population of 28,500. Esztergom is the seat of the Roman Catholic church in Hungary. According to Wikipedia, in a 2011 census, the Roman Catholic religion was the biggest (37.1%) of those declaring religious belief in Hungary, (almost half were non-religious, atheists or undeclared.)

We first cycled across Mária Valéria Bridge, connecting Esztergom with the Slovakian city of Štúrovo. The bridge was destroyed during WWII and only reopened in 2002. I took this photograph of the bridge from the Basilica on Castle Hill, our next stop. We’re looking across the bridge from the Hungarian side to Slovakia. A sign on the bridge said that its rebuilding was supported by EU funds as well as by the two governments.IMG_5929

Then it was on to the Basilica. The Basilica is the largest church in Hungary and is situated on Castle Hill, we could see its dome long before we ever reached Esztergom when cycling yesterday. unnamed-4

The building of this present church began in 1822 on the site of its 12th-century counterpart, which was destroyed by the Turks. The Basilica was consecrated in 1856 with a sung Mass composed by Liszt, the Hungarian composer. IMG_5928

The inscription reads Caput, Mater et Magistra Ecclesiarum Hungariae, meaning The Head, The Mother and The Teacher of the Church of Hungary. I was pleased to see Mother getting the mention in a patriarchal church! IMG_5940

The green in the dome is only some nettingIMG_5948 (1)

A close-up of the beautiful altar detailIMG_5943

And its organIMG_5954

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To give you an idea of scale, Denis dwarfed by its back door. (Interesting to see weeds allowed to grow here!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

We spent a while looking for Esztergom’s Plague Column erected by the town as its way of giving thanks when a plague epidemic passed it by. We’ve seen plague monuments in different cities/towns. We bumped into a French couple, whom we had met before while cycling. As well as the Basilica, they enquired what they should see in Esztergom. We told we were looking for the Plague monument. She replied that she wasn’t interested in plague columns as they’re common. Denis mentioned – not to us as being an island nation, the plague never reached us. We looked but couldn’t find Esztergom’s Plague Column.

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We set off on what seemed like a holiday, (it being so short), cycle to Vác. The Gods must have felt sorry for us because the Véloroute from Esztergom to Vác started as a lovely cycle path. Yesterday was too fresh in my mind for me not to take time to really appreciate it. And then it was gone again. We were left with sharing the road for a couple of kilometres.

With apologies to our dear Hungarian friends, we have found Hungarian drivers to be by far the worst to share the road with while cycling on this trip. Countries up to now have really accommodated cyclists. Hungarians behave as if cyclists don’t exist. They drive very fast, they overtake (in both directions) on narrow roads at the exact point where cyclists are on the road i.e. they don’t wait until they have passed the cyclists. I’ve watched them overtaking coming into blind corners and feared they would come to grief. But before you think I’m wasting energy worrying about them, I’m not. I’m keeping my energy for self-preservation. 

Yesterday we had few sightings of the Danube, today we were very close to it.IMG_5959.jpg

We passed the small castle town of Visegrád.IMG_5990 This town was made famous by the term – the Visegrád Group, a cultural and political grouping of the four Central European states – the Czeck Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia for the purposes of furthering their integration within Europe and working closer together with each other. (The group used to be occasionally referred to as the Visegrád Triangle, due to the fact that it was originally an alliance of the three states before the dissolution of Czechoslovakia into the Czeck Republic and Slovakia.) Visegrád is only a very small place  – it only has a population of 2,000 people. Mind you it is at such a height that it appears very imposing! Interestingly both the name of the group and where they actually met, follows on from a meeting of the rulers of those same counties – Bohemian (Czeck), Polish and Hungarian in Visegrád in 1335.

We had commented though there are no snakes in Ireland, we hadn’t seen any on this trip and then we passed this (dead) fellow along the road.unnamed

We had lovely accommodation in Vác looking out on the Danube and a stone’s throw from the Véloroute. So for our final night, we end up looking out on the Danube AND the Véloroute, it seemed fitting. Below was the view outside our front door.IMG_6043

Vác, slightly bigger than Esztergom, is on the Danube just below where the river changes course and flows south. Whilst the change in direction looks significant on the map, in reality cycling along beside it, we didn’t really notice it.

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We didn’t bother going to see the cathedral in Vác, but we did go to see its beautiful baroque city centre.

 

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And its 18th-century arch of triumph. I don’t have a 100% reliable source for this story but it goes that in 1764, the Vác patriarchs built this arch monument to welcome the empress, Maria Theresa, to the town.  As luck, fate, poor planning or whatever would have it, Maria Theresa’s group traveled down the other (aka “wrong”) side of the river so the empress missed the opportunity to parade through the welcome arch.

 

 

And then Sunday morning it was onto the final leg of our journey!

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Day 41 Friday – Györ to Esztergom

And today we cycled 93 km from Györ to Esztergom.

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Today I was reminded that I do things the wrong way round in cycling,

And maybe in life.

On Monday I moaned about the headwind but never mentioned that we had no trucks to contend with. I moaned about the weather forecast but never praised the hot wifi. So today before I mention any negative, I’ll first mention the positives. And although today is our second last day, I’ll try and learn this lesson for life!

Today we had no wind, no hills, no bad surfaces, no rain. Now that I’ve mentioned pluses, can I moan just a tiny bit?

Today I looked at my phone in the afternoon and considered how far it would be to walk to Esztergom – 5 hours 24 minutes. I thought seriously about it. I also wondered if there was a bus service between the middle of nowhere and Esztergom.

Yes today Véloroute 6 very much fell down on the job. For about 30 km we shared a narrow road with absolutely no margin with many, big trucks and buses and cars. I felt I was taking my life in my hands cycling beside these monsters, (monsters when you’re looking up from two wheels.) Big trucks whooooose past and I’ve to stay steady on the bike, not to allow the length and whooooose cause me to topple. Yes it’s Friday and the road is ultra-busy.

For about 25 km before and after lunch we cycled like this and then suddenly a cycle route magically appeared in front of us. Yiiiiippppeeeeeee!

But the Gods must have felt I didn’t thank them enough because after another few kilometres it suddenly disappeared again. At this stage I was only begging for a dirt track to appear as a Véloroute, just to be separated from the traffic. By the time we arrived into Esztergom, a proper cycle route hadn’t yet reappeared. By the time we arrived into Esztergom, I was utterly exhausted from all the concentrating. By the time we arrived into Esztergom, I realised if this was a typical day’s cycling on Véloroute 6, I would have given up long ago.

And then my second (very minor by comparison) woe, after a great run of hot wifi, tonight’s was freezing cold.

Life lesson – never take any positives for granted.

Some photos from the day

In all the countries we passed through, I wondered what must people who live in quiet areas think of all the cyclists passing their front doors – Here the Véloroute passing these Hungarian houses.

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In Neszmély we enquired re lunch in what looked like a restaurant but it only served coffee/drinks. We briefly cIMG_5877hatted with a Hungarian customer who spoke good English, he recommended a restaurant further down the street. As we got back on our bikes he came out and said make sure you have the Tárkonyos vadraguleves soup. He typed it into my phone. We found the restaurant and both ordered the soup – it was  a spicy tarragon soup full of vegetables and some meat. We weren’t really sure what we were really eating and it doesn’t look great, but trust me, it tasted gorgeous.

A World War I memorial in Nyergesújfalu with the inscription Pro Patria.IMG_5885 (1)

The words of Wilfred Owen’s poem come to mind; Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori – it is sweet and right to die for your country. In other words, it is a wonderful and great honour to fight and die for your country. As we saw in France, in Germany and now in Hungary, the young men were all dying – just for different countries. Senseless!

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Small detail, I’ve noticed in a few toilets in rural Hungary – that there’s no cisterns, just a tap that one turns 90 deg. So you just basically turn on and off the tap.

 

 

I’m also noticed on our cycling so far in Hungary that we’re meeting farmland but very little, if any industry, though we did pass two big cement works.

Denis has always been very interested in the Tour de France so following it has become his new relaxation, when we get in from our cycle, (that’s before he goes for his run). Dan Martin, (nephew of Stephen Roche a previous Irish Tour winner), is doing very well, he’s in sixth position after today’s stage. He’s writing a tour diary in the Irish Times, here is his latest account.

Below are this year’s Tour de France stages.

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On the Tour, they cycle 3,500 km with severe mountain stages and at incredible speeds over three weeks. By the time we finish tomorrow, we’ll have cycled 3,000 km in six weeks with some hills, but at leisure, taking lots of photographs as we cycle.

The Tour de France is some grind! Well they have youth on their side 🙂

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Day 40 Thursday – Györ

We have been visiting Hungary for over twenty years, mostly to Budapest. Our connection with Budapest started when Tommy aged one and a half first went to the Peto Institute for treatment. That started our relationship with Conductive Education and later with Szilvia, a Peto Institute conductor, (A practitioner of Conductive Education, trained at the Peto Institute, is known as a Conductor). Szilvia is still a great friend of the family and we will meet her shortly in Budapest.

The whole family drove overland to Budapest for that first visit in February 1996 and we stayed for three weeks. A few years later we again drove to Budapest for Szilvia’s wedding, this time with our caravan and we stayed at a great campsite outside Budapest. On that visit, we also travelled down to south Hungary to visit Szilvia’s family.

Later Denis developed business interests in Budapest and he has been coming regularly since. We have made great friends in Budapest and the family have often often visited Budapest with Denis.

It goes without saying that this is the first time we have come to Budapest on bikes and it is our first time seeing the western side of the country.

Well it was just as well we took the rest day today. I’d seen the wind symbol on the weather app and boy was this morning windy! Had we been cycling today we would have been cycling right into it. Thankfully it will have died down by tomorrow. Oh, but that’s according to the weather forecast and my faith in forecasts has been a little dented of late. We shall see. We shall hope!

I’ll get this out early. Though Györ is another beautiful medieval city, I won’t test its wifi, nor you, the reader, by uploading lots of pictures. In the spirit of An rud is annamh is iontach, (What’s rare is wonderful) I’ll only mention the rare 🙂

The tourist office had a very good self-directed walking tour of the old city and using it, I saw many of the main sights. Trust me, Györ has some lovely old buildings, its castle, its Cathedral, plenty of monuments … Once again the old part of the city was pedestrianised, with a number of big open plazas. Lovely weather meant lots of people eating outdoors. It did not seem over-touristy. Györ seems to have done a great job of combining new and old. I’ve allowed myself to mention just three Györ sights

Firstly, the Cathedral was undergoing renovation so I couldn’t go in but my notes said – Its northern aisle features the Weeping Madonna painting, which was rescued from Ireland in 1655. On 17th March 1697, St Patrick’s Day, the painting wept blood. I later researched the painting and found an interesting back story here on the Donnycarney church website. Apparently during Cromwellian times, when Catholic bishops were being persecuted and exiled to Europe, a bishop took it with him and on his death he bequeathed it to Györ Cathedral. IMG_5561

I enquired and found that the painting was being stored nearby while restoration is underway. I went and the security guard took me over to see it. He allowed me take a photo without flash.IMG_5640

My second Györ sight is the Benedictine buildings, built by the Jesuits in the 17th century, which line one side of Széchenyi square a lovely open square where we had lunch.IMG_5656.jpgThe Church is situated between the school (left of church) and the monastery (on the right). The church is in baroque style.  Within the walls of the monastery is a Pharmacy, also decorated in baroque style, and still a fully-functioning pharmacy! It was the pharmacy that I found fascinating.

The beautiful ceiling of the pharmacyIMG_5620

When no one was there the pharmacist showed me around. The beautiful wooden drawers behind were still in use to store medicines being dispensed. Look at how the drawer sizes decrease, the higher they go on the wall. The drawer mechanism was just so beautifully smooth.

An old water dispenser in the middle of the shop.IMG_5665

Display cabinets for old pharmacy artefacts and a chair in the ‘museum’, a little room beside the pharmacy. The whole thing is a fabulous living museum!

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Apparently the silver gastric stapler on the left was a local invention.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My final sight from Györ is this Pulse sculpture which allows one to see the entire city panorama on each side.Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 16.04.23

 

Györ has plenty of nice restaurants. We had a lovely dinner both nights in the same restaurant – here are photos of one. Foie gras is very popular in Hungary. The other starter was beautifully flavoured sliced courgette.IMG_5490

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Mangalica pork for himself. (The Mangalica is a Hungarian breed of pig.)

 

 

 

 

 

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And lamb for herself

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And lovely ice-creams to finish on our way home.

 

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Day 39 Wednesday – Bratislava to Györ

80 km today from …

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A few thoughts before I finally put Bratislava to bed. The number of Japanese tourists in Bratislava was very noticeable – at our hotel and generally around the city. Yes the internet was available everywhere and very fast.

Food in Bratislava was excellent. Generally I dislike restaurant picture food – where restaurants have menus that include photographs of the dishes. Here in Bratislava it was very common in their good restaurants. I thought about it. Given Slovak is the language spoken, and most tourists don’t speak that language, photographs help understanding. We met some Slovakians here in the capital who spoke English but not everyone. Below are photographs of the gorgeous food we had for dinner last night. (Maybe, I should have taken photographs of the picture fooded menu!)

And

Back to today’s trip! Today’s cycle was one of the flattest to date. We had an elevation gain of only 224 metres – you’d nearly get that going up the stairs a few times in the day!

No hills, no head-wind, no heat, no rain, generally good surface, (more on that shortly). Generally a no filled day!

Today’s cycle had many long straight stretches which can be somewhat less interesting but good for getting kilometres covered fast. IMG_5888

We crossed the border from Slovakia to Hungary early on in the cycle.

We had a funny incident at one stage where we lost the Véloroute signs. Denis took out Google Maps to continue navigating. Google Maps sees headlands in fields/pathways through fields as cycle-able – so we were suddenly reduced to those. IMG_5479IMG_5480

Early on in this detour we met an English family who were in doubt like us. Denis spoke confidently that it was possible to get back to the Véloroute through the fields. They followed for a little but then I noticed that they had turned back, their English sensibilities wouldn’t allow them brave it on. Our Irish adventurous spirit kept us going. The “cycle path” at some points was so potholed that we had to keep looking down to avoid flying out over the handle-bars. At one stage I looked up and there I was in the middle of fields with no sign of the Navigator ahead. Given how remote it was I doubted that I would have signal and even if I did would the Navigator hear his phone, (he often has it on silent.) I was lucky, neither fear was realised. I got through to him – he had assumed I was following as he took a right turn.

After about five kilometres of cross-country, (seemed like much longer but let’s not exaggerate here),  we arrived back on the Véloroute! The navigator deserved to feel slightly smug 🙂

Rajka, one of the early Hungarian villages we came throughScreen Shot 2017-07-13 at 10.01.44

Windmills in the distanceIMG_5875

We arrived into Györ, our stop for the night. Again we had booked a hotel in the old part of the city.IMG_5889 IMG_5890IMG_5893IMG_5895I was amazed how beautiful Györ is, I had no idea. Györ is roughly halfway between Vienna and Budapest. Given that it is situated on the Danube once again this was a very important factor in its development. It has a population of 130,000 and is the sixth most important city in Hungary.

In true Eagles style we are now relaxing and taking it easy on the final part into Budapest, though I’m not sure about the next line –

Take it easy, take it easy
Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy

We will spend tomorrow in Györ and cycle on from there the following day.

 

 

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Day 38 Tuesday – A day in Bratislava

Today was a wonderful day in Bratislava. At the weekend I was delighted to spend time in Vienna and get to know it better but I already had a feel for that city having been there briefly a few times. Bratislava and Slovakia were a whole different ball game for me – totally new and I didn’t know what to expect.

As you can see from the map, like a lot of central European countries Slovakia is totally landlocked, with borders with five countries; Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, and Hungary. Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 20.16.11I always imagine these countries like a group of children elbowing each other – borders going back and forward over the years.

Slovakia is a very mountainous country and has ski resorts. It also has lots of caves, apparently more than 2,000.

The population of Slovakia is the same as Ireland, about 5 million and comprises mostly ethnic Slovaks. Slovak is the language spoken. I made great use of google translate when getting my hair cut this morning.

I did a quick revision of Slovakia’s history for myself and here are some important dates/events:

  • From the 11th century, what is now modern day Slovakia was incorporated into the Kingdom of Hungary, until 1918, when the Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed.
  • The 18th century was a period of great prosperity for Bratislava as the most important town in the Hungarian Kingdom. Maria Theresa reigned from 1740 – 1780.
  • In 1918, during the chaos following the break-up of Austria-Hungary, Czechoslovakia was formed. In 1919 Bratislava joined Czechoslovakia.
  • In 1939 Bratislava became the capital of the Nazi satellite Slovak state
  • After World War II, Czechoslovakia was reconstituted
  • 1947-48 the Communist era began
  • 1989 the Velvet Revolution contributes to fall of communism
  • 1993 Bratislava becomes the capital of newly-established Slovak Republic. (The full and official designation for Slovakia is the Slovak Republic and hence both terms refer to the same nation-state)
  • 2004 Slovakia joins EU
  • 2009 Slovakia joins Eurozone

I hadn’t realised that Slovakia is a high-income advanced economy with a very high standard of living and performs very favourably in measurements of civil liberties, press freedom, internet freedom, democratic governance and peacefulness. Slovakians have universal health care, free education – I checked and third-level is free, no fees. Though after 26 one has to pay fees because people were becoming eternal students! Slovakia has one of the longest paid maternity leave in the OECD – I asked the guy cutting my hair this morning how long paid maternity leave is here – it’s 3 years with decreasing percentage of your salary.

According to the World Economic Forum, (February 2016),  Slovakia was the 7th fastest growing European economy at 3.2%, (behind Ireland in 1st position at 4.5%). 90% of citizens own their own home.

Interestingly Slovakia is the world’s largest per-capita car producer and the car industry represents 43% of Slovakia’s industrial output and a quarter of its exports. I checked up and brands manufactured here include Volkswagen, Skoda, SEAT, Audi, Porche, Peugeot, Citroen, Kia. A lot!

Bratislava has lots of medieval towers, palaces and grand 20th-century buildings. Apparently it has the world’s highest per capital number of castles and chateau – what a boast! It underwent a construction boom since 2000. Now, it’s beginning to sound a bit like Ireland!

The old town of Bratislava is really interesting, it’s totally pedestrianised, full of cafés and lots of young people. With the beautiful weather and people sitting outside, it had a lovely feel.Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 20.03.41

I took a walking tour of the old city. Uploading these photos was fast – their wifi is hot!

Primatial’s Palace on Primatial Square. (They use the term palace for any big, significant house.) During reconstruction of this palace in the early 20th century, six important, very valuable tapestries from London were found behind the wallpaper! 

One side of the old Town Hall, I love the coloured roof

A medieval well uncovered in the seventies.

Main (and Primatial) Square served as a market place.

Note the detail on both sides of the entrance shown in the two photos below – on the extreme left is a knife – knifes weren’t allowed to be longer than than this one, otherwise they were weapons. On both sides of the entrance are length measures.

A mark on the wall showing the Danube water level in 1850.Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 21.29.56

The other side of the Town Hall, (see earlier photograph) on Main Square. It’s interesting the different styles side by side in this building built in different periods.

A protestant church beside the Town Hall, (Note no steeple. The steeple to the right is on a building in the background.)

A modern statue of Napoleon

Behind the fountain, a building in the Secessionist style. (There are a few more buildings in this style in the city.)

Like Vienna, Bratislava had a rich music tradition. (I forgot to cover that in my Vienna post!) Plaques showing buildings with connections with Mozart and Lizst. Beethoven was a music teacher for a girl who lived in the corner house below.

A glimpse of Bratislava Castle in the distance. (There is also another castle – Devin Castle about 10km from Bratislava.)IMG_5431

Michael’s Gate, (a northern gate), is the only gate that has been preserved from the medieval fortifications and it ranks among the oldest of the town’s buildings.IMG_5427

The places where the other three gates were are marked by a suspended gate and bronze plaques in the ground.IMG_5458

This building housed a pharmacy. (I was so near it, I couldn’t get a shot of the full building.) IMG_5440

Note the signs on the pharmacy building in three languages, the languages in order Hungarian, Slovakian and German. Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 18.07.29.pngApparently until the mid 20th century, many people spoke all three languages. When we were doing up our house in Sligo, the builder had two great guys working for him – a Pole and a Slovak. Though neither spoke the other’s language they could understand each other and had worked out a common language which they spoke together.

St Martin’s Cathedral under renovation. This was the city’s most important Cathedral as it was where coronations took place when Bratislava was the capital of Hungary.IMG_5439

The bronze plaques mark the procession after a coronation – there are about 200 of these  in the city.

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 18.12.29

A memorial to the Jews who died during the HolocaustIMG_5446

Some old walls visible near the former Jewish Quarter.  The Jewish Quarter was largely destroyed in communist times for the building of a road in the city.IMG_5444

A large open air chess board with a plaque in the centre to Wolfgang Kempelelen (1734 – 1804), the Slovak author and inventor, known for his chess-playing “automaton” also called Mechanical Turk or The Turk. It was later found to be a hoax – there was a chess player hiding inside the machine.  But that was long after it had beaten many famous people.IMG_5450

It was no surprise that Bratislava developed as an important city. Located on the Danube, it was also on important ancient trade routes – the Amber road and the Danubian road, part of the Silk Road.

I was chatting with our lovely guide afterwards, she remembered the Communist era with the quintessential description – grey. She remembered people behaving in a hypocritical manner, afraid to speak their opinions too loudly. She remembered that the borders opened for a few months in 1968 and people left but couldn’t re-enter after they quickly closed again.

Finally, a note important subject of food. Food in Bratislava was gorgeous for example we had a lovely mezze lunch.IMG_5379

Ice cream parlours abound with sometimes long queues and the ice-cream is divine.IMG_5370.jpg

I’m off to get ice-cream!

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