After three nights of German beer, artisan coffee and some great times with Jack and Gus the sun finally reappeared in the sky over Berlin and it was time to continue my journey south. Despite being well rested, bike thoroughly cleaned and fettled by the local bike emporium (shop being too small a word for Stadler in Berlin, Google it) and a place to stay in Vienna the following week it was still tough to leave good friends.
I think to cycle across Europe without dropping in on the many friends I have made whilst working in London or volunteering in Romania would have been a great shame. But already at this point I was reflecting on how difficult it would be to settle in a place for a few nights with a good friend, before setting off once more into the unknown. In effect it was like a series of fresh starts, with emotions felt almost as strongly as the initial jolt out of my London orbit. An experience far removed from that of spending the night in the kitchen or garden of a complete stranger at the end of the day.
Nevertheless that was the option I had chosen and I set off to pick my way through the bike lanes of hipster friendly east Berlin which eventually spill over into the beautiful green countryside beyond. For the next three days I was met head on by a savage wind, but I was rewarded by a covert mission to explore some coal freight trains by the side of the road on the second day and some beautiful spots to camp. The first night I read my Dervla Murphy book whilst watching a fly fishermen plying his craft and the second night I was pitched next to a small sailing lake as the sunset between pine trees on the far shoreline.
Approaching the border with the Czech Republic the hills which I had so far avoided since leaving the UK started to make there presence felt. Little did I know that as I cycled across Moravia in the eastern part of the country that the hills were here to stay. It is as though the landscape of the Czech Republic was created by spreading a range of different sized balls across a flat surface at random and then draping a stunning cloak of greenery over the top. The result being a never ending series of medium size hills, laid out in such a fashion that the road ahead is perennially obscured by those undulations lying closer on the horizon. Stirring up uncertainty and intrigue in equal measure as to what the road ahead would bring. The natural tendency to start building settlements close to a water source meant that entering a town usually meant a precipitous descent into a valley, crossing a river and then wrestling the bike up and over an absurdly steep ascent on the far side.
Fortunately the climbs tended to top out at around 450m, a comparatively gentle introduction to propelling my bike uphill compared to the sterner tests which I knew lay ahead. The friendly people and comparatively low prices kept my spirits high as I skirted south and east, opting to leave Prague for another adventure and sticking to a more rural track. On the second night in the country I was searching for somewhere to put my tent for the night and seeing a woman stood outside her house in one village I decided to try my luck.
Within about ten seconds of her reading the short note I had translated into Czech a broad smile had spread across her face and she was ushering me into her yard. No questions ask. Here I was faced by her two enormous dogs, each of them weighing easily as much as me and curious about my arrival to say the least. This turned out to be just the start of her animal collection, which would more accurately be described as a zoo. Goats, chickens and a Shetland pony living outside and no end of snakes,spiders, lizards and even a giant tortoise were inside the house. I was more than a little nervous when her five year old daughter presented me with a lizard to hold, she took more than a little delight in my very obvious discomfort. I don’t blame her!
It was my favourite over night stop of the trip up to that point and I was only a couple of days away from the Austrian border when I resumed the following morning. The almost never ending series of short sharp climbs finally petered out as I arrived at the border, giving way to vast swathes of gently rolling arable farmland. On my first night camping in Austria I found a spot in a park on the edge of a village which I was sure would be nice and quiet after dark once the local kids had finished playing football. I hadn’t anticipated that there would be a large frog population in the small pond in the park, which seemed to set about rampantly procreating just as I was slipping out of consciousness. My goodness me what a raucous bunch.
I awoke the following morning after a somewhat disturbed night in high spirits, after another 8 days on the move I would arrive in Vienna by the end of the day – on time and in one piece. The warmer conditions and my burgeoning confidence were making the travelling lifestyle more liveable and it felt great. I spotted the option of a sinuous climb into Vienna via Königstetten which was almost alpine in style and after some graft I was rewarded with a great view across the city, before finally descending into the suburbs.