The Mouse family did a bike trip from Passau, in the southeastern part of Germany, to Vienna, about seven years ago (Passau, Germany to Vienna, Austria), and we decided to do the next section of the tour, from Vienna to Budapest, this year (2014). We put out the word, got a few yeses and maybes, but due to various issues everyone else had to bail so it was just the three of us—Second Mouse, Mrs. Mouse and Minnie Mouse. My photographic skills seem to have deteriorated even further in the last few years, so again, apologies.
This time we rented bikes from PedalPower. Hybrids, like the last trip, with rear panniers. I brought a handlebar bag that wasn’t quite wide enough to hold the Bikeline map and guide. The folks at PedalPower were very nice, the bikes were cheaper than the TopBicycle bikes we used last trip and they were almost adequate. These didn’t come with computers, handlebar bags (which are very handy), and they didn’t give us water bottles. In fact, the girls’ bikes weren’t even drilled for water bottle mounts, which seemed kind of lame, given what we were doing with them. I’d definitely spend the extra dough and go with TopBicycle next time. These bikes also had a goofy, laminated cardboard disc inside the front spokes for advertising.
We started out where we ended last time, in front of the Rathaus, appropriately enough for a bunch of mice.
It was easy enough to get out of Vienna, well-marked bike lanes and not too much traffic.
A nice ride through the Praterhauptallee, a car-free street through Vienna’s “Prater”, which is sort of like New York’s Central Park, only less developed. Then we were onto and back off of the Donauinsel (Danube Island) that runs down the middle of the river. As we rode down the left bank of the river, right away we started to see some naked sunbathers, which I’d read about in other accounts of this trip. I watched carefully for the turnoff from the river and we ended up going through an area of oil storage tanks toward Hainburg. If you miss the turnoff, I’m told you’re subjected to more naked sunbathers, most of whom appear to have been doing this for, oh, 70+ years or so.
The beautiful-and-yet-dorky Minnie Mouse, at our lunch stop in Hainburg. Second Mouse got a flat (the only one of the trip) just before Hainburg. It ended up being an uneventful trip, that way. The pump they gave us could only get the pressure up to maybe 40 psi, so the rest of the trip was pretty cushy/squishy, and I didn’t make the effort to find a decent pump or compressor.
We ended up a bit later in Bratislava. Our first choice hotel was full, but we got a nice spot at Penzion Gremium, then hiked up to the castle for the view, followed by dinner.
The “dinner for two” would probably feed about six serious carnivores. Bratislava is a lot of fun, in a very touristy way.
The 2nd day found us on our way to Győr. We passed this Adventure Park way out in the sticks, not far from Rajka. There's a guy sitting up there painting or gluing things back together or something. Pretty sure you wouldn’t need to sign a waiver or anything.
Our map and guide was invaluable and everyone raves about it. But it wasn't always entirely accurate. Ours was copyrighted 2012, so in the last couple of years a very nice bike lane must have been added right next to the first part of the road between Bezenye and Mosonmagyaróvár. The map wants you to take a big detour around this section and add about 8 km. Just stay on the path next to the road and you'll be fine.
This section of the trail is a little...how you say...dull? It's very flat, mostly along grain fields and while the towns are interesting, it can make for a long day. Many straight, flat paths.
In a town called Hédervár, I snapped a bad photo of a great looking church or house or something. Turns out it’s the Hedervary Castle, now a pretty posh hotel. When our ship comes in, maybe we’ll head back there and spend a few nights. It’s a very pretty, small town, lots of trees and shade.
Ended up the day in Győr, and checked into the Révész Hotel. This place gets great recommendations in various blogs and online reviews, it's right on the left side of the road just as you're getting into town and it doesn't disappoint. Tiny room for the three of us but perfectly functional and clean. We had probably the best dinner of the whole trip there, while watching a couple of World Cup soccer (futbol) games on a big screen they had out on the patio. It rained hard for about 10 minutes just as we were checking into the hotel, but apart from a few drops earlier in the day, that was all the rain we had during the trip.
Two long days in the saddle were starting to wear on us, so I attempted to walk into town but couldn’t quite get my bearings, lost my enthusiasm and went back to the hotel for more World Cup futbol and sleep.
I got us horribly lost as we were leaving Győr the next day, and it was a big disappointment. I’ve seen photos of “downtown” Győr, and it looks like great fun. Unfortunately, I took us across the wrong bridge, and after a half hour or so of wandering around, looking confused and swearing at the map, a very nice man stopped and asked us what was wrong. He spoke no English (and we speak one word of Hungarian—“thanks”), so he finally gestured to us to follow him in his car and he got us far enough so we could pick up the trail again, but we did miss the good parts of Győr. We ran into nice people like this regularly. I must be pretty good at that “deer in the headlights” look, because people were stopping to try and help us all the time.
The original plan on Day 3 was to go from Győr to Komárom and spend the night there. Other than initially getting lost, the day started out well. We’d had a couple of very long days, though and after a section of good, quiet roads, the “trail” started to deteriorate rapidly.
This was the worst section, kind of a jeep road that lasted for a few km, right after the turnoff at Nagyszentjános. If you end up doing this trip, I would suggest trying to find an alternative. If it’s raining, don’t even try this part of the “trail”. There are ruts all along the road from where trucks or tractors have gotten stuck when it’s wet. This wasn’t the worst of the road, just the worst I could manage to get a photo of without bouncing off the bike. Just outside of Bratislava, we had met a French couple with their two kids in a trailer and a Trail-a-Bike, and I hope they found a way around this section. Just part of the adventure, I guess.
Some of it ended up being kind of pretty, actually, once it smoothed out and got into the shade. Still slow going and rough, though. We continued on to Komárom, which didn’t really make a great impression on us (we probably missed the good parts of the town), so we had lunch and continued on to…
The Hilltop Winehotel and Restaurant. We were pretty tired at the end of Day 3, so we kind of figured we owed it to ourselves. Apart from the steep, winding road up to the hotel, the room, dinner, swimming pool, etc., were a treat.
Minnie Mouse strikes an artistic pose in the pool.
It was the first time for a while we’d been able to get a good view of the Danube, and the views from the hotel were wonderful. Their triple room was booked, so we ended up spending more money than we wanted to, but I wasn’t about to ride back down the road and start looking for budget accommodations. Pretty sure the girls would have killed me, justifiably, if I’d made the suggestion. It was a great break and much needed.
Day 4 eventually found us in Esztergom, pretty shelled. Kind of a neat town, with an interesting butcher shop. I was thinking we could either get to Esztergom and stay there for the night, followed by a long Day 5, or we could push on to Nagymaros/ Visegrád, stay there and cut down on the length of the last day’s ride. The more prudent members of our group thought we should take a train from Esztergom to Vác, so we went across the bridge from Esztergom to Štúrovo, on the Slovakian side of the river and got a train to Vác. Kind of a shame, since it’s where the ride gets pretty again, but it was much the best choice under the circumstances, since we were all pooped.
Staggered into Vác (the train trip was 3.90 euros/person, 7 euros/bike), and wandered around for a bit until we found Fónagy & Walter’s guesthouse. It’s usually described as quirky or kitschy. I loved it. The girls were a little put off by the stuffed fox right outside our bedroom window, but these guys were so nice, and they fed us a serious breakfast the next morning. With coffee. More than just one tiny cup of coffee, too. See if you can get them to take you down into the wine cellar. Really nice folks.
It occurred to me that we tend not to skimp on meals when we travel, and the end of Day 4 was no exception. A nice restaurant, Revkapu Kavehaz, I think, just up the street from the river.
On Day 5, we were pretty eager to get back to Budapest, since we were flying out early the next morning, so we hopped on the ferry and started down the right side of the river.
Pretty good, sometimes narrow and a bit crowded, sometimes gravel, bike path from Vác into Budapest. This would have been a good section to dawdle along if we’d planned for more time.
We passed several boat houses like this one. It seems rowing is pretty popular on this section, although we didn’t see a lot of these shells out on the water.
Back in Budapest, lunch across the river from the parliament building and we’re all done. We took the bikes back to a bike rental shop/bookstore by the Opera building and that’s about it.
We needed to add a day or two to the trip so we’d have more time to stop and see the sights. I’d also consider taking a train from Bratislava to Esztergom and cutting out the Hungarian Plains, but there is a lot of stuff in that section that has some appeal, so long as you don’t mind some long, sometimes rough, stretches of road. I’d probably stop more frequently at the roadside stands and chat with the other cyclists, too. The conversations we had with those folks were good fun. I don’t think we met anyone else from the U.S.—Australians, Canadians, French, British mostly, during the ride.
Mrs. Mouse and I found that the upright position of these hybrid bikes put pressure on different parts of our posteriors than the road bikes we’re used to riding. I found myself sliding around, looking for a comfortable position and often couldn’t find one. Not excruciating, just uncomfortable.
If we were to add a day or two to the trip, that would smooth things out nicely. We noticed a lot of the other cyclists were on more organized trips, so they only had very small bags and the tour companies would take their big bags from one hotel to another, but we kind of prefer to be able to change plans if we want. Smaller loads and lighter bikes did have tremendous appeal on this trip, though.
Being kind of a whiner, I’ve probably made the bike trip sound less fun than it was. We were just kind of tuckered out by the middle of the trip, so that part of it was tough. We really had a good time though. Minnie and Mrs. Mouse were great sports and a pleasure to travel with, although Minnie isn’t too eager to jump back on a bike right away.
We spent about 6 days in Budapest before and after the bike trip. If you get a chance, it’s an amazing place.
If you could only do one trip which section would you recommend? (Passau-Vienna or Vienna-Budapest)
I'd choose the Passau-to-Vienna trip. While we had a good time this year, it seems like we had more fun on the Passau-Vienna section. The trail was in better shape more consistently, stayed closer to the river, was a bit more scenic (except for the Danube Bend section of Vienna-Budapest) and there were more places to stop for snacks and hotels and to see the sights.
We had some challenges but didn't have huge problems with the language barriers on either trip and were lucky with the weather both times.
If you have specific questions about either section, I'd be happy to ramble on about them.