The Danube’s own version of the French Riviera is officially over.
Soon after Vienna, a long straight road fades away from the cheerful restaurants along the river, hordes of locals and tourists strolling, the occasional nudist beach, and the thousands of cyclists. The buzzing atmosphere quietly dies down the closer you get to the Slovakian border, and a blue, rusty old gate – a physical residue of the historic Iron Curtain – seems to mark the entrance into a new world. The resemblance of an era that seems to be still alive is further enhanced by the second official Slovakian sight – a war time bunker, 500m past the aforementioned blue gate.
From the EuroVelo 6, our cycling lane across Europe, we can already admire the Capitols’ old castle sitting on top of the hill. On entering the city, we are welcomed by buskers singing, people drinking and socialising on what seems to be just another normal weekend in downtown Bratislava.
We spend our day off in the Old Town, we have a full Melbournian breakfast – aka toast with avocado and poached eggs, accompanied by freshly squeezed orange juice and espresso – and we are off exploring. The city is very touristy but still pleasant to walk through. The super cheap beer and food – actually anything is affordable when you have come from Austria! – infinitely increase the positive vibes Bratislava is emanating. That night we are off to bed very early as the habit of doing so has already kicked in, although I am sure the city’s nightlife would not have disappointed.
In the morning, we set off on our bikes to the Hungarian border via a lush cycling highway – unexpected yet also very welcome. But the sight of cycle tourers is officially over too. And I keep wandering – where are they?
The roads are empty – is it the questionable quality of the roads themselves or the fact that such roads are mainly dedicated to the fun sport of “high speed driving on potholes”? The Eurovelo has nowhere near as much dominance as in Germany and Austria, and the European culture of coffees and pastries seems to have vanished too. The sense of desolation is, sometimes, unavoidable and the occasional sight of somebody on their bike, fully loaded, gives us the hope that we are not as foolish as Hungary has made us feel from time to time.
On the positive side, we are really enjoying the empty campgrounds. They are definitely less frequent and less equipped than the Western European ones. But they gain on hospitality and rural charm. Decaying villages may lack in cafes and the infrastructures we have been spoilt with so far – including safe bike lanes – but it is a change we will need to get used to. We won’t even be seeing our dear Liz rolling into campground exclaiming “Did anybody say microbrewery?”, but we are confident it will happen again – soon enough and somewhere else in the world.
In the meantime, we enjoy another quiet setting for the night – this time on a white sandy beach along the Danube.
The legitimacy of the camping spot itself is very questionable, but the German couple in a caravan next to us seems not to mind. We decide not to mind either, as all of a sudden, we all seem to have happily adapted to the blasé Hungarian way of living.