Saturday, 1 June 2013
Black Sea or Bust - Day 15 - Vienna to Bratislava (67 km)
With a heavy heart I leave Vienna. In the best early morning weather of the trip Doris and I find our way around the Ringstrasse to the Prater Park where I stop to take a photo of the Riesenrad, the Big Wheel, a symbol of Vienna since 1897, when it was built by a British Naval engineer Walter Bassett Bassett. I return to the river after a gap of two days, the Danube canal is all that runs through the centre of Vienna itself. The city authorities, at some point in the nineteenth century, decided that the Danube itself, with all its related flood issues, was more trouble than it was worth and diverted only a controlled portion of it through the city centre.
The Danube Path takes us to the left bank past the suburbs of Aspern and Essling and onto Lobau Island. It was here in 1809 that Napoleon and the Austrians fought an inconclusive battle, though military historians have concluded that Napoleon came off worst, his first significant setback. The French, who had occupied Vienna, were trying to cross to the east using Lobau Island as a staging post. Day and night French engineers battled with the current to build pontoon bridges to get the army across. To make things worse the Austrians were busy upstream heaving massive tree trunks and barges into the river which smashed into the fragile bridges. At times artillery could be hauled across, at times a single column of infantry could tiptoe over and there were times when Lobau was completely cut off from the west bank. The French managed to hold the villages of Aspern and Essling but only because the Austrians failed to press home their attack. After two days the battle ended due to the sheer exhaustion of both sides. It's a sunny morning and Lobau Island is a peaceful nature reserve but, being a romantic old fool, in my head I can hear the trumpets and the drumbeat of the Imperial Guard.
After Lobau Island the path runs along the top of a dyke that runs dead straight for 24 km. The scenery on either side, woodland, never changes and after a while it becomes hard to maintain one's concentration in the face of such tedium. Worse, as the morning wears on a head wind gets up which gets stronger and stronger. It feels as though I am pedalling up an endless hill. The warm weather brings one compensation, for the first time there dragonflies in the air, the most impressive being rather fat and pale blue. The life cycle of dragonflies is, like most insect's life cycles, remarkable. From egg to larval nymph, which gram for gram is one of the ferocious predators in the animal kingdom, to spectacular and equally carnivorous adulthood. In human terms Mum and Dad have sex in midair, Mum drops a load of eggs into a pond, they hatch and grow into Great White sharks which eventually drag themselves out of the water, split down the back and Rita Hayworth steps out. I also see the first lizard of the trip which scuttles across the path ahead of me.
The only other distraction is that I have a puncture. I settle down on the grass by the side of the path to change the inner tube which takes about ten minutes. I know that 'Anxious' of Guildford, who seems to believe that I am a totally incompetent cyclist, will be reassured to hear this.
Despite the sunshine the ride to Bratislava into the wind with a couple of steep climbs near the border is a grind. The border itself is completely unmarked and the only clue is that the language of the advertising hoardings on road next to the path change from German to
Slovak. I cross the bridge into Bratislava which is unfortunate in having a dual-carriageway built slap through the middle which cuts tho historic old town off from the commercial centre. I am welcomed at my hotel by two very pretty and cheerful girls and joy of joys there is a bath, the first that I have seen since leaving England. Showers are good but when you have been in the saddle all day a bath is what you want. I luxuriate for over an hour.
Bratislava has many beautiful buildings but at the end of World War Two the city was heavily bombed so the gems, many of which are in need of restoration, are interspersed with concrete office blocks. I have dinner at a table on an upper gallery in an old fashioned restaurant where they are having a 'Tango' night. Maybe in Slovak 'Tango' means dull third rate music and there was certainly nothing Argentinian about the evening. I order Fish, Zander (perch) with Paprika sauce and it was delicious.