Three countries in one day (on bikes)

The drive out of Vienna was easy going along flat plains of towering wind turbines. Being a weekday the road was busy with freight and the registration plates of lorries around us read like a gazetteer of Eastern Europe – Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Serbia and our next destination, Hungary.

We left the A4 shortly before the Hungarian border to stay at pretty Deutsch Jarhndorf in Austria. The village was immaculately kept and was full of terraced and colourful single storey houses fronted by neatly mowed and planted gardens. The ‘hauptstrasse’ or main street was a long half mile of houses, a bakery, a bar, a small shop, a baroque church and at the end a large farm behind which we found the aire.

Deutsch Jarhndorf aire

Old boys cycled past and older women collecting windfall fruits waved greetings. Despite being the only van on the site we had a comfortable and safe night ahead of predicted rising temperatures across Austria.

The weather duly heated up to nearly 30 degrees by mid-morning we took to the bikes and cycled to the ‘three countries corner’. Here you can stand in both Austria and Hungary or Slovakia at a point marked by a strange sculpture park.

We chose to spend the day in Slovakia and cycled on a bridge over the motorway, remarking on the Austrian police carrying out checks on passing freight, and followed a rocky path straight onto an unprotected railway crossing. Lifting the bikes across we were observed by workmen taking down the old Slovakian border building who in turn were being judiciously watched by Hungarian police.

Crossing a border rail track into Hungary

Crossing a border rail track into Hungary

The Slovakian border villages were similar in feel to ours, but with noisier, younger communities. We joined a procession of cyclists and skaters heading along a canal side cycle path to the Donau (or Dunaj here).

Once at the river we cycled along it admiring swans and herons and waving to the latest cruiser of no doubt confused Americans who were all gathering in the boat’s restaurant area ahead of an early lunch. We left them heading to the bars (and to Bratislava) and crossed the Dunaj at a huge electro-hydro dam to cycle onto a thin strip of land called the Danubiana, home to a modern art gallery.

The advertised ceramic spermatosa didn’t exactly appeal so instead we found a packed roadside bar of hot-pant wearing teenage girls and tubby tattoed men drinking pivo. We ordered a glass each. The air smelt noticeably of strong tobacco, coffee, aftershave and paprika. We were back in Eastern Europe!

Cycling back to Austria we went through vast fields of sunflowers and sugarcane. It was a very hot day and the colours of the yellow crops stood out strongly against the high blue skies, and green river and waterways. After a 25 mile round trip we were back in Deutsch Jahrndorf as the village bar opened and locals poured in. It felt churlish not to join them!

The next morning we drove a short distance through the village of Nickelsdorf to connect to the motorway. Gangs of young men were along the roadside, and at one point in the middle of it. Austrian police stopped us at the border before waving us through grimly. We later learned that a freight lorry full of tragically dead immigrants had been discovered by the very roadside which we had driven along. We were both shocked and saddened on realising this.