THE DANUBE CYCLEWAY VOLUME 2
FROM BUDAPEST TO THE BLACK SEA
Author: Mike Wells
Whilst the terrain encountered on the lower Danube will not challenge many cyclists - there are few undulating sections, with the hilliest part of the route on the corniche road along The Iron Gates, where there are also tunnels - Mike Wells’ companion to Volume 1 most definitely opens the door on an adventure.
The 1717km of route leave behind the well-developed tourist facilities of Germany, Austria and Budapest, heading across the less-frequented Hungarian Plain, into countries which were, within the memory of many of us, pitted in a brutal civil war, and thence through rural Bulgaria and Romania; in all of the latter tourism is much less developed. Even though you are still on the European map, it will be a less familiar Europe to journey through.
Not that there is anything to fear; the author points out that the welcome is warm and language - alphabets, too - is no barrier to getting along nicely. It is just that you should not expect every town or village to provide for all your cycle-touring needs or many people in rural areas to understand any other language than their own.
That is, of course, partly, the point of having a guide with you. As ever, all you need to know is here. By the sounds of things, as more people head further east along the Danube, there will be further developments as tourism will aid economic growth. As ever, there is a webpage for the book with a section for updated information from travellers.
A guidebook can, however, work on another level. I do not imagine I am in a minority amongst UK cyclists when I declare that I have no knowledge of cycling in Romania, Croatia, Serbia and Hungary. A good guide - and this is one - makes a good, if rather formulaic read.
The formula in question is tried and tested; an introduction covering accommodation, navigation, languages, food and drink, an overview of culture, history, nature and geography, gear and getting there and back. Detailed descriptions of the route, stage by stage, follow. Generally, Mike Wells aims for about fifty miles a stage - though stage length becomes more dependent on availability accommodation the further east one progresses. After the detail comes a series of appendices; charts to show distances, contacts, a glossary and, usefully,in this case, a pronunciation chart for the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet.
The languages that may come in handy along this route are illustrative of the regions history. There’s nothing quite like Hungarian, Serbian and Croatian are very close relatives with different alphabets and Rumanian is reminiscent of Latin and Italian. This is a region where nations have had their borders drawn and redrawn, where national and ethnic groups have been friends, neighbours and enemies, where Turkish influence can still be seen and that once had large German communities. The history of the region is fascinating, relatively recent events along the Serbian-Croatian Danube frontier, are painfully visible with some towns still below their pre-civil war populations, but there is much, much more.
As ever, there is an explanation of what the cycle-tourist might see along the way, though the complexity and richness of much of it will require additional reading by the inquisitive rider. however, there is also some truly wonderful information to stand alongside the grandeur of the Roman, Ottoman and Hapsburg Empires, the bright bunches of drying paprika, the great delta of Europe’s second longest river, the gorges of the Iron Gates, the great city of Belgrade which was once the gateway to the orient, and the tragic tales of invasion and flight; page 71 “The red and white electricity pylon which takes cables across the Danube is Hungary’s tallest pylon at 138m.”
God bless Cicerone for another fine guide that will, hopefully, encourage folk like me to venture further east in Europe.
Reviewed by Steve Dyster
REVIEW PUBLISHED MARCH 2016