Five week anniversary today!
Still enjoying the hospitality of Milans, we have a typically dignified start to the day. I stroll to the shops for breakfast and afterwards enjoy another shower. Packing up slowly, we are disappointed to find Milans is not around for us to say goodbye. Fortunately, he returns home just as we are about to leave. We give him a lift moving a 250 year old wardrobe from one room to another. Then it's thank yous and goodbyes and we're on our way.
Leaving the city is mildly frustrating. For the first time in a while we find ourselves slogging away into a headwind. Then, a little light relief. It appears the north bank of the river out of town is an area frequented by nudists. The sun is scorching and I'd quite like to join everyone for a splash in the river. But aware that I seem to have forgotten about my sun cream in recent days I decide it's best not to (really!).
Back on the proper Donau Radweg we are making a good pace. Then we encounter a stretch of path on the way to Bratislava that is dead straight. It must be 10km long. Cool to look at but it doesn't take long before the riding gets dull. Cue the iPod. Shuffle lets me down with a torrent of slow blues burners so I assert my will upon it by once again selecting the acoustic grooves of Martin Harley.
We cross the bridge and enter Bratislava - my first time in Slovakia. It's not long before I notice that Slovakian women are strikingly beautiful and I wonder at how such things occur. Can crossing a border really change appearance all that much? Not so sure. It's definitely changed the style of the graffiti though:
Mihailo has been told by friends that there isn't much to see in Slovakia. I have no such contacts so have developed my own system. It's an awful way to judge things but to figure out if it's worth hanging around, I often look at postcards. If the quality is good and the variety is huge, then I tend to figure there is much to see (weak I know). My first impression is that Bratislava is a place of opposites:
By early evening, we reach the centre of Bratislava. The food prices in Slovakia are known to drop distinctly so several days ago, Mihailo and I decided that while here, we would allow ourselves to eat in a restaurant just once. Suitable venue chosen, we eat well for around 7 euros and I take a humongous glass of Hogarden. An ice cream each wraps up the feast and we make our way out of town. Just before we get back to the Danube, I spot something which gives me an idea for my next holiday with Jess:
Heading east, the cycle path is the busiest I've seen. Active pastimes are clearly very popular here, especially when you consider that it's just a Thursday evening. Perhaps this is the reason why many of the people we've encountered are so slim? Cyclists, walkers, runners and Rollerbladers swarm along the path which is dotted with bars every kilometer or so. I'd love to stop for a few beers but sadly our time constraints don't allow us the luxury. To be more truthful, it's probably much safer for us to continue. Given the combination of sun, beer and music ... and the display of half dressed Lycra-clad Rollerbladers before me, I realise that if I lingered longer this time, I wouldn't ever leave!
As we ride through the hours, the bars drift by and we watch the crowds disperse. I suspect the revellers are now probably too drunk to roll on to the next bar. Wouldn't pub crawls back home be so much more fun if done on Rollerblades?
We leave and rejoin the Danube bank many times. I'm starting to weary but am well aware that the more ground we cover today, the easier our ride into Budapest will be tomorrow. Once back with the the river, the path ahead of us takes a long, gradual sweep to the left and this seems to go on forever. Once again, it's great to see - but as with the stretch into Bratislava, the riding is always harder when you can see for miles ahead.
I'm ready to pitch for the night but as yet we haven't come across anywhere suitable. Then, just as we're passing 115km for the day, one side of of the cycle path gradually drops away to reveal an open expanse of reasonably short grass. This is too good an opportunity to miss.
The mossies smell us coming so we unpack and get setup quickly. I decide to skip food and take a walk down the bank in the dark, thinking that it might pacify my protesting knee a little. I sit on the riverbank and stare up at the stars for a while. This is my first and last Slovakian sky (for now at least).
Back at camp, I stumble down the grassy bank. Mihailo is already asleep. Another good day. I climb into my sleeping bag. Instant oblivion.