Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Danube Bike Trail

So, in late June I got an old Peugeot road bike that I bought fairly cheaply from some guy on Bazos.sk, which is kind of like the Slovak craigslist. I'm truly a sucker for those vintage, classic frames, and these old Peugeots are pretty sturdy and reliable. But I also wanted something that wasn't particularly special so that I wouldn't cry if something bad happened to it. I've dated the bike to 1980-81, and it was an entry-level model, nothing fancy. I had the brake and shifting cables replaced, and it needs a bit more work - could use a new crankset (I'd like to switch it to a triple), and maybe a new front derailleur, and at some point down the road some new wheels might be in order. But this bike fits well, it's a good solid frame, and it offers a pleasantly smooth ride. And this thing is fast!

So, given that most of Bratislava's streets resemble the pockmarked and pitted face of an acned teen, and as such are probably more conducive to the thicker tires of a hybrid or mountain bike (not to mention, Bratislava in general is not particularly bike friendly, i.e., no bike lanes, tight narrow roads, etc.), what the hell am I doing with a road bike, you might ask?

Well, there are bike paths along the Danube, going in both directions, and (at some points) on both sides of the river. Known as the Danube Bike Trail (or Dunajská cyklistická cesta in Slovak), it's actually part of a long bike path that runs along the Danube (obviously), which starts in Passau, Germany, goes through Austria and Vienna, and eventually meanders down the river to Budapest. For the most part, the paths are well paved and smooth, free of potholes, broken glass, and crazy Slovak drivers, and are generally quite flat. I've been riding the trail in either direction 3-4 times per week.

The part of the Danube bike trail that goes from Vienna to Budapest.

My friend Wade and his son rode from Budapest to Vienna a couple of years ago, and while I don't intend to make that kind of trek anytime soon (at least not with my bike in its current state), I do ride these paths as often as I can.

For the southeasterly path, I cross the Danube and head down the right bank. The path goes from Petržalka down through Čunovo and past the Danubiana modern art museum, and continues on down the river, well into Hungary. I usually get about 20-25 miles (maybe somewhere halfway between the Danubiana and the dam that crosses the river to Gabčíkovo) before turning around and heading back. My goal is to make it all the way to the dam by Gabčíkovo, cross the river into said town, and head back up the path on the left bank. But that would be about 80 miles round trip, and I'm not quite there yet, stamina-wise.

At any rate, the south/eastward path is well maintained and super smooth. Locals seem to love the stretch that goes from Petržalka to Čunovo, along which there are actually two parallel paths that run on both sides of a canal. The scenery does get a bit samey and slightly tedious at times, but there are stretches where it's fairly nice. The biggest challenge is the damn headwind. Often times, the wind blows downstream, so I'll fly down the path only to turn around and find myself having to downshift because I'm riding right into a formidable wind the whole way back. I suppose the headwind kind of makes up for the lack of hills?

Between Petržalka and Čunovo there are several outdoor pubs located roughly every few miles, and on hot weekend afternoons they're usually pretty bustling, not to mention a bit tempting.

Cyclists have to contend with a good number of in-line skaters, especially on weekends. They tend to sway side to side as they're cruising along, sometimes taking up the entire width of the path, seemingly oblivious to the fact that there are cyclists trying to pass them on their left. On hot days you typically see the female skaters totally oiled up and basically wearing nothing but bikinis and the men wearing only shorts. Some of them really haul ass, pretty much always without elbow and knee pads. I'd sure hate to see one of them eat it.

At one point you pass a small, picturesque lake that's on the outskirts of a village called Rusovce, which on hot days is swarming with people. But I've noticed that on weekday mornings one of the lake's shores is sometimes taken over by a clan of nudists who are, of course, all in their 60s and pretty out of shape.

On really hot weekend afternoons, this lake is teeming with people. The day I took this photo  obviously wasn't one of those days. 

Once you reach Čunovo, the path veers left and you cross a lengthy modern dam that passes over a section of the Danube that is so wide that it almost resembles a lake. The dam doesn't cross the entire river, but it takes you to a peninsula, the northern tip of which is home to the Danubiana modern art musuem. It's a nice gallery that hosts exhibitions of contemporary modern art and has a cool, offbeat outdoor sculpture garden (and strangely, at the time of writing, the impossibly clueless and/or totally callous lunkheads who run the museum still have the Asma al-Assad page up on their website. What the hell?).

The Danubiana, lovers of both modern art and the wives of brutal, murderous dictators

After passing the Danubiana, the path looks like this (below) for miles and miles (and miles), and you practically have the road to yourself. The scenery becomes mind numbingly repetitive, and I kind of suspect it more or less stays that way until you get down to the picturesque area in the north of Hungary known as the Danube Bend, which begins after you pass the Hungarian border town Esztergom. But that is probably about 100 miles away.

Getting to Gabčíkovo would be nice, although someday I'd like to try to make it all the way down to Komárno, a town straddling the Danube (and the Slovak-Hungarian border) apparently named for its healthy mosquito population, but which is known for its massive historical military fortification. It's pretty far, though (maybe 60-ish miles from Bratislava) so I can picture myself having to take the train back.

Next up: riding the Danube bike trail into Austria!

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