For many, the highlight of this summer was easily the Olympic Games. With the nation coming together to support a select few British athletes, upon which we could hang all of our hopes for glory, and the venue being in our nation’s capital, one might ask “What more could you possibly ask for?”. With the summer swiftly drawing to a close I am more certain than ever that my response was a good one; ‘How about completing a gargantuan challenge of my own?’
This is exactly what I did, along with three other good university friends of mine. As a group we decided that this challenge would be to cycle from London, enveloped by the atmosphere of the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’, to Budapest in Hungary which was a routed distance of around 1200 miles or 2000 kilometres, carrying everything we needed on our bikes. Furthermore we decided that we would raise a target value of £1000 to be split between one large and one local charity, specifically ‘Save the Children’ and ‘The Southampton Hospital Charity’.
With the framework of our challenge set out, we cracked on with some more thorough organisation; in particular trying to find an airline which would let us return with four bicycles and organising a financial solution to suit us abroad.
So, with our panniers packed, our custom jerseys emblazoned with our newly chosen team name, Budapedal, and navigation needs solved with the aid of a GPS equipped smart-phone and an OpenCycleMaps app (and a good old fashioned road map just in case) we headed off into Europe at mid-day on the 28th of July not to return home for 33 days.
Over the course of our trip I think each one of our team members found a favourite town or city on our journey; however I think that we could all agree that the Czech Republic as a whole, and Prague in particular, was definitely high up on everybody’s list. After crossing the border into the Czech Republic, the first two border towns we saw looked considerably run down and it lowered our expectations considerably. However, things rapidly changed around though with the ‘penzions’ (Czech for ‘hostel’) we stayed in getting better and better as we cycled through. Coupling a good night’s sleep with glorious sunshine and fantastic country side scenery made these some of the best cycling conditions of the whole trip.
However it wasn’t just the cycling that the Czech Republic was good for. Many of the regions of Czech brew local beers with Pilsner from Plzen being perhaps one of the best known. Converting from the local currency, the Koruna, it transpired that many of these beers cost around 50p a pint – though I hasten to add that they were considerably better beers than Jesters! Things got even better when we spent a rest day in Prague, with fantastic architecture, great views across the city, horse and carriage tours, bar crawls, a sex museum and a beer ‘museum’. The beer ‘museum’ had over thirty different beers on tap ready for you to try, ranging from hoppy to fruity, chocolate to liquorice and award winning to indie brewery beers. There was more than enough to keep anybody entertained for the week, let alone the day off that we had given ourselves.
Hungary was also a favourite; it not only marked the end of our journey but the beginning of a six day holiday that started in Budapest, the nation’s capital. We moved south to Siofok for the beaches that surround the inland lake as well as enjoying some of the nightlife. We visited the natural spring baths similar to those found in Bath in the UK where we could rest and our weary muscles could recover with hot pools, saunas, steam rooms and massages. Our other big activity was taking part in a Free Walking Tour which lasted most of the day, and was a great way to learn about the best parts of Budapest in the short time we had. Another activity that I recommend was a visit the Museum of Terror which was set up to remind and educate people of Hungary’s terrible experience of Nazi occupation and Russian Communism which lasted until the 1990’s.
In comparison to other members of our team, I can’t say that I have ever been a particularly avid cyclist – nor am I particularly well travelled. For me this trip was a great opportunity to get out and see a part of the world I had never explored before and I could not imagine a better way to have done it.
By cycling through Europe as opposed to inter-railing or simply flying I have seen the continent in its best light, seeing parts of each country that other forms of transport would have ignored or simply missed all together. For anybody even half interested in a trip like ours I encourage you to go through with it as you won’t regret it. Europe is fantastic for cyclists and for those concerned about leaving the beaten track there is a Pan-European cycle route that takes you from Paris to Prague, which our route joined up with a couple of times during the trip. This was both well maintained and signposted but more importantly it is a fantastic challenge in its own right.
This has been a fantastic taster of Europe and I am itching to go back, but with the start of the new university term approaching I shall have to keep my travel cravings at bay for a while; I suppose there is always next summer after all!
Visit our blog for more info on our route: Budapedal.wordpress.com