2,500km and three months in and it seems like a good time to assess the merits of some of our gear.

Our bikes (which are currently enjoying a well deserved rest on the balcony of our rented Budapest apartment) and accessories have stood up extraordinarily well to the test of long distance daily use over all kinds of surfaces, laden down with us and all of our gear. Barring countless punctures on the trailers and a few minor adjustments to gears, brakes and the like, the bikes have been no trouble at all. We got most of our cycling stuff in Cloughjordan Cycles and they certainly know their stuff when it comes to touring gear.

In particular, the following stand out:
Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires - as puncture proof as they claim, only 1 puncture thus far and that was due to me cycling over a fishing hook in Brittany.... if only we had them for the trailers too
Brooks B17 saddle - a wonderfully comfortable leather saddle, well worth the price tag and the breaking in period
Ortlieb bags - be it a handlebar bag, pannier or trailer rack-pack, all of which we have, we've found Ortlieb bags to be completely waterproof and incredibly durable
Cycle Star handlebar mirrors - we didn't have them when we left, but wouldn't feel safe cycling without them now
Chariot Cougar - a fantastic child's trailer-cum-buggy that Luca can spend hours in and be comfortable, safe and entertained as it has plenty of room for his toys. It also rolls along behind the bike well

Marmot sleeping bags - wonderfully comfortable and cosy, we look forward to getting into them each night we're camping
Thermarest camping chairs - they're not heavy but they're an awkward shape and we really don't use them that often. When we do, they're very comfortable but they're a hassle to root out and assemble, so we probably wouldn't bother with these again
MSR mealkits - contain pretty much all you need to eat a meal when camping
After watching a pair of German cyclists setting up their tent and then cooking a meal - an exercise in orderliness and exactitude! - we were inspired to buy two things.....
1) A proper bottle opener. The Leatherman corkscrew just isn't long enough and occasionally breaks the cork. A nuisance when endeavouring to open a nice bottle of claret!
2) A camping mallet. One might think it a ridiculously heavy and bulky item to carry on a bike, but it has been well worth it. Cursing at dry, hard ground and bent pegs are a thing of the past. Thank you German cyclists!

Having said all that, we haven't been camping much lately, as it's been too cold at night to brave a tent with a two year old, so we've been lugging all the camping gear around needlessly. Tales from other cyclists we've met along the route, of dogs sniffing around their tents and freezing conditions haven't exactly made us miss camping! Not camping has put strain on our finances though, which is why we're having to consider a reroute. But, as the missus said, more on that anon.


Autumn and harvest time in Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary

I've just re-read my posts from France, which now seem an age ago, and have wondered how I could possibly encapsulate all we have seen since into a post (I know I covered Germany but only cities and towns you may recall?) ?

And then I realised that there is one theme which encompasses our cycling experiences through  Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary; autumn. One really experiences how marked the change in season when outdoors most of the day coupled with having limited clothes stock due to limited carrying capacity; you are completely at the mercy of the weather.

In our neck of the woods autumn has now well and truly arrived and, in fact, winter has even begun to creep in.
With that change I now truly note, more than ever before,  how autumn gives nature its beautiful due...

Cycling through the German countryside I couldn't help but recall the small town Kansas depicted in Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood". As we cycled through the rural residential areas the surroundings conjured up images of wholesome living in small, close knit communites where apple pies (or rather apfel strudel) lay steaming, waiting to cool, on window sills. I didn't actually see any such steaming apple pies, you understand,  but they were all the time suggested by the neat, well tended gardens and the laden orchards housed therein. Even the cycle path was apple strewn....rendering it unavoidable to cycle over the windfallen ones at times. What a pleasure!

It was in Germany that Luca first fell in love with the timeless children's autumnal game of collecting chestnuts. We were breakfasting on a picnic table in the campsite we were staying in outside Regensburg and chestnuts were literally showering down on us from the trees above helped by the squirrels jumping overhead. Gleefully and carefully they were gathered, examined, laid out in a line and counted by him. Over and over again.    

Having had our appetites for apples whetted in Germany we finally got an opportunity, in Austria, to sample the tantalising red variety we'd witnessed ripen over the preceeding weeks. There were lots of wild apple trees alongside the cycle track in Austria some of which were within picking reach and which we all thoroughly enjoyed on inpromptu stops. But the place which provided the biggest bounty of reachable fresh fruit ripe for the picking was the stunning Wachau wine region in Austria where there were tasty wild plums and apples aplenty. The Wachau was by far one of the highlights of our cycle trip, not just through Austria, but possibly thus far. It was a place untouched by time and progress, in a good way, where quaint, old villages lie intermittently through the vast expanses of  vineyards. As far as the eye can see there are sloping terraces of vines which, we were informed by one wine maker, mean that machines can't be used so all of the wine picking etc. is carried out by hand in the old style. We witnessed this harvesting ourselves by people of all ages,  as we cycled through on our last day there,  against a backdrop of smoking old vines on hilltops. It is a special place which would be wonderful to visit in all seasons. In spring the apricot blossoms are abloom which is meant to be a stunning sight and in winter it would make for very a romantic, snowy and old world setting. But autumn brought the fertile earth there and its keepers' labours into their own.

Slovakia and Hungary:
I am categorising these two countries together merely because we seem to be cycling one minute in one and the next in the other and so, for the purposes of countryside cycling, they have melded together in my mind. Vicous dogs barking and snarling from every second gate (literally) as we cycle, poor cycle tracks and some grey weather have made the cycling at times very hard going here. We got lost, for the first time on this trip,  two days ago and found ourselves in very remote and agrarian surroundings. The kind that time seemed to have forgotten but not necessarily in a good way. Phil and I both had concerns that darkness would fall before we found our way once again. But it all worked out fine in the end thanks to Phil's great navigation.

Little old ladies in head scarves peeking their heads over gates, small self-sufficient holdings and old men on bicycles  - some of them with saws in their front baskets (possibly coming from work)  - these are images of rural Hungary and Slovakia which will stay with me. But also the image of autumn leaves falling as we cycle and cycling over carpets of them.

I love autumn and have loved seeing it evolve from our bicycle seats in so many different countries and manifest itself in so many different ways. But it has made me think of home. With some longing but also with some sadness. The latter because the rest of Europe seems, to me, to be enjoying their harvests while Ireland is experiencing very fallow years. Now I know, of course, other countries have suffered from the recession but Germany, for example, is now prospering twenty years post re-unification. The longing stems from memories of autumns past at home. Lovely walks kicking up leaves, the Farmleigh markets, the Sunday market in The People's Park and sitting at the al fresco cafe in Killiney Hill enjoying a hot chocolate. I think that, perhaps, I am starting to miss "a home" as opposed to home. We reach Budapest shortly and will assess our options going forward but both Phil and I are starting to think that a re-direction of some sort may be in order. More anon once we reach Budapest and reflect. For now - back on the bikes and back to those carpets of leaves.



Bill Bryson said, according to my sister anyway, that if a Martian were to land on Earth, it would assume that Vienna was the capital of the world. Going by the number and density of grand and very impressive buildings, he's certainly right. The architecture in Vienna is amazing, as are the numerous museums and the Viennese cafes.... and the delicious cakes they serve. One could spend weeks there and not take in everything there is to see. And we couldn't be so close and not take a train out for another glimpse of the beautiful Wachau wine region! We had a great few days in Vienna and it was fantastic to meet up with family, for us and for Luca. It made us miss family and home life a bit though...... we're three months on the road this week and it's starting to feel like an eternity since we left. Perhaps it's more a permanent base that we're missing, as opposed to home.

We left Vienna yesterday and crossed the border into Slovakia (and Eastern Europe) today. We're going to spend a day or two in Bratislava, which we've loved so far. We arrived this afternoon and spotted, amongst the throngs of the old town, a suspicious number of green jerseys. Unbeknownst to us, there seems to be a soccer match on here tomorrow night between Ireland and Slovakia, which we knew nothing about.... we wouldn't have known anymore about it had we been at home. The Irish flag on the bikes stood out a mile and drew them in, so we were forced to spend some time explaining to teetering Irish soccer fans that yes, we had really cycled here and no, we hadn't done so simply to watch a match. Thankfully, it seems that they're all leaving Bratislava in the morning to head to the match in the north of Slovakia, so we might have some peace and quiet. It's a beautiful city and has a very different feel to the towns and cities of neighbouring Austria. Dare I say it's more vibrant? But more on Bratislava anon, once we have a chance to explore it without the hordes.



We've spent the last few days cycling at a very leisurely pace through the beautiful Wachau wine region. We had heard that it was one of the highlights of the whole Danube route and it didn't disappoint. It's stunning. The vines are set along steep hillside terraces, the little towns dotted throughout the region are picture perfect and the wine was delicious! As were the plums and apples we picked along the way.

We also happened to be there during the first weekend of the grape harvest so every little town had a harvest festival, where brass bands played, pigs were roasted on spits and Sturm - a sweet, cloudy wine made from the first grapes of the season - was flowing. We met Linda's sister, Fran, there and spent a very enjoyable few days pottering around.

We're only a day from Vienna now, where we're meeting my parents and chilling out for five days. From there, it's on toward Bratislava and Budapest.