Exodus MVZ Review

Posted: August 2nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: travel | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

It’s been a few days since finishing the Exodus cycling trip from Prague to Budapest, and I think I can organize my thoughts into some sort of cohesive review.

First, all the trip notes for those who are interested in more detail:

    • Photos at the bottom of this post

    The Good

    The route was extremely interesting, covering territory I definitely would never had visited on my own. There’s something extremely special about riding a bicycle up a hill and coasting as fast as possible down the other side, when you get to do that in Czech Canada National Forest it’s glorious. Crossing national boundaries by bicycle is something I’ve never done before, and it’s somehow extremely satisfying, especially crossing over the former Iron Curtain and visiting the museum setup on the Czech/Austrian border showing artifacts from that time. The contrast between our relaxed bicycle ride over the unmanned border posts and the extreme measures that were in place less than 30 years ago is haunting and gives me some measure of hope for the world.

    You really get a chance to see how real people live on this trip, visiting small towns and seeing real life up close and trying to buy lunch in places and from people who don’t generally see lots of English speaking tourists.

    The cycling itself was terrific. Challenging, seriously challenging especially during the first three days where we were going through the quite hilly part of the Czech Republic, but that challenge was a very effective training regime for the rest of the trip making it quite easy to knock off the 40 – 50km rides during the final days of the trip, in fact most of us wanted more distance during those final days where the terrain was flat and gentle. As a 30 something, somewhat out of shape and only ever really used to cycling my single speed in downtown toronto traffic it was educational and I’m pretty sure that when this big trip is done I’ll be out shopping for a proper bicycle (Jeff M. expect a call for help when the time comes).

    The bad

    I don’t really want to harp too much on the bad, but I’ll sum it up like this: we beta tested this trip for Exodus. We were the second ever group to be taken along this route, and it showed. Lots of little details weren’t quite figured out, hotels didn’t ever seem really ready for us and many of the vehicle transfer portions of the trip make sense on paper but don’t really work in real life. For example, after cycling some 40km to the town of Gyor (a nice looking town) in 35C weather, 16 sweaty and hot cyclists are piled into a minibus with barely working AC for a 2.5 hour drive to Esztergom (a not so nice looking town). I don’t know why it was planned like this, but I can’t help but think that Exodus needs a Hungarian to help plan the last few days of the trip next year.

    Most of the gripes on this trip I think can be summed up by the fact that we were beta testing this trip, but I think I have to mention that some other members of the group were seriously unhappy, but for my part I tried to take the bumps with a zen attitude… but then again I’m a person who runs a hacked operating system on his phone and generally is pretty tolerant of the bugs and am inherently sympathetic to anyone who is trying to build something new.


    Despite some chaos on the planning front, I would recommend this trip to anyone considering a cycle tour that’s a bit different from the cycling through France or Spain options that are already well developed with multiple companies offering options. This tour has real potential, and I think it will get better with each year it is offered as relationships with local providers are established and strengthened, just remember that you’re travelling through central and eastern Europe, so don’t expect western Europe service and standards. 

    Exodus MVZ – final days

    Posted: July 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: deardiary | Tags: , , | No Comments »

    Well the cycling is over and it’s been a pretty hectic last few days so I didn’t really write detailed notes on each day as I had in the past, so what follows is from memory a couple days past.

    Day 9 – Getting to Gyor

    Even though our hotel was less than 5km from our planned starting point in Halaszi we had to take the transfer there rather than biking, which was something of an annoyance for the group, especially since we only had 40km of cycling planned and by this point everyone could knock that distance off in no time. Exodus policy against adding distance to the published itinerary was the quoted reason, but some flexibility probably would have served them better as the act of loading everyone on the bus, driving, then unloading the bikes takes time and just frustrates the clients.

    So after this rather pointless song and dance we were again travelling along a “Hungarian Gentleman”, and it was as promised… flat, gentle, and easy to ride although swelteringly hot.

    After our relatively brief ride, it only took about two and a half hours for even the slowest members of the group we had arrived in Gyor, which seemed like a nice little city with a big square full of children playing in water jets which were installed in the square itself. Unfortunately it was way too hot to explore as we had arrived at the peak of the day and I did nothing in Gyor other than find a patio, a cold beer, and afterwards on my way back to the mini-bus I enjoyed an ice-cream, which I’m happy to report the Hungarians really know a thing or two about making.

    The trip itinerary then called for a transfer to a place called Esztergom, so we then spent a sweltering two hours in the mini-bus driving there.

    Day 10 – The last day

    Esztergom was apparently the old capital of hungary, many many years ago, and sports a huge Basilica on the top of a hill. Unfortunately it doesn’t really look like there has been much effort to maintain anything other than the Basilica, and while there is a certain charm in the faded glory of the past reflected in the buildings, after the other towns we had passed through where so much care has been taken to keep the buildings in good repair it was somewhat depressing.

    Thankfully we left Esztergom without needing to take a transfer, starting our ride along an extremely pleasant bicycle path right along the Danube. It was a pity when that path ended, going for a mere 10km, as after that we rode along what became a progressively busier road. We were obviously making our way through suburbs of Budapest, and our previous pattern of “Meet at the start of the next village” broke down as the villages were closer and closer together. Finally it became a little too silly to stop all the time and we all rode the last 10km to Szentendre at our own pace, which was good because you didn’t notice the heat so much when you were moving but as soon as you stopped it was like stepping into an oven.

    Arriving in Szentendre at about 1:30pm we were given the option of waiting until 5pm for a ferry down the Danube or taking a transfer to Budapest, riding into Budapest was not an option and likely could be classified as suicidal given the behaviour of drivers as we got closer to the city. I opted for the transfer as it was too damned hot to hang out for 3 hours and I really wanted a shower.

    Day 11 – postscript

    And that’s it! I added up all the kilometers measured by the app on my phone and we did about 420km, while those who elected to ride in the rain out of Vienna probably did about 30km more, so all in we were supposed to do 450km.

    I’m going to put together my overall thoughts about the trip, as well as links to all the data I collected (maps, spreadsheets with km’s, elevations, etc) in the next post to sum everything up. I have mixed feelings about this trip, but I’ll try to put it all into writing soon.

    Day 3 & 4 – Exodus Prague to Budapest bicycle ride

    Posted: July 22nd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: travel | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

    Day 3 – More Hills

    We started the day with a 5km climb of around 100m of elevation, a slow, painful climb first thing on setting out, it was quite the warm-up. We were all given the option of taking the van up to the top and waiting for the group, only one person took up the offer but I’m pretty sure a few wished they had by around 2.5km. It was brutal, especially for me as I’m really not in condition. From there on in we were up and down hills until lunch at around the 30km mark.

    As I have never really done the distance cycling thing (riding from downtown to exhibition place in Toronto being my previous idea of a long ride) I’m managing to keep up ok, I’m solidly in the middle of the pack. Except on good long down-hill stretches, then I’m able to use my body weight + physics to sometimes even get out in front of everyone. I think my motorcycle experience is helping me on the downhill stretches, as I’m more comfortable judging the curves at speed than others. Of course my body weight + physics makes the up hill stretches killer, but thankfully the up and down parts are roughly even.

    The weather today was overcast and high teens/low twenties, which I guess is ideal cycling weather, but it does feel weird that July is ending and I still haven’t really had warm weather, people in Europe are telling me it’s the summer without a summer, so it’s not normal weather. I’m just happy it didn’t rain on us while cycling, it held off until approximately 30 minutes after we were done.

    As for the trip/group I think that some people probably should have paid a little more attention to the definition of “Moderate” in the exodus literature, there are a few people for whom this is a really challenging ride. To be fair to them the Exodus literature needs to be read pretty closely to understand that you need to be not only in good physical shape but also comfortable on a touring bike and know how to use it properly, plus understand what doing a 5km uphill climb might be like. We’ve got a running joke in the group that these aren’t hills but rather what Exodus calls “Undulating” landscape.

    We’ve been having frequent stops to keep the group together, this helps the stragglers keep up but also aids in the navigation, there are lots of turn offs in little, poorly signed, villages in the South Bohemia region of Czech. It’s somewhat frustrating though, especially when we have to stop at the bottom of a hill and lose all that precious momentum. But it’s for a reason, Matt our tour leader let us go through a village on our own after some of us complained (ok, I complained about the constant stopping) and unsurprisingly someone got lost and we all had to stand around for 30 or so minutes waiting for it to get sorted.

    All in all I’m enjoying myself, it’s a huge challenge for me but achievable and a welcome change from staying in hostels and walking around european city centres visting museums. We’re seeing lots of interesting Czech countryside that doesn’t really get lots of tourists and generally having a good time. I’m pretty tired by the end of the night though, so I’m not really doing lots of sight seeing in the town we’re stopping at.

    Supposedly tomorrow is the hardest day of the whole trip – it’s hard to imagine it being harder than today but we’ll see.

    Day 4 – Hills on top of hills

    It’s a bad sign when the tour leader, a svelt, fit 24 year old university student who loves cycling, elects to take the van for a portion of the route. I thought yesterday was hilly, it was really just training for today.

    We started with hills, ended with hills, and had some hills thrown in into the middle just for fun. I used every single gear on my 24 speed bicycle, something I never thought possible. I would ride up a long hill struggling in the lowest gears, barely moving but pedaling like mad, get to the top, and be greeted with a slight decline for about 500 meters and then another huge hill behind it. I tried my best to gain momentum on the frustratingly rare downhill stretches, but unfortunately we were plagued by a wicked momentum stealing headwind for most of the day so I wasn’t able to capitalize on my downhill speed to help me up the hills. Oh, and it was wicked cold, like top temperature of 15C but for most of the day we were at maybe 10C if we were lucky.

    Despite (or because of) the cold and wind we made pretty good time, finishing 60km in less time than we did 50km the day before. I think the group members who were having serious difficulty using their bicycles are learning the tricks, and those of us (myself included) who are out of condition are gaining stamina. I think the group is split 50/50 between those that think Day 3 was harder vs those that think Day 4 was harder, I’m in the Day 4 was harder camp. The hills were steeper on Day 3, but today there were more of them and there was no corresponding downhill for most of the hills, the reward for finishing a hill was simply to climb another hill.

    Tomorrow is supposed to be flatlands and wine tasting, I can tell you we’re all very excited by the prospect of a day without mega-hills… also the wine 🙂

    I’m hoping we’re going to get a little bit of sun, and I’ll try to take some pictures, including one of me and my bicycle. I’ll post that, and perhaps a little something about the gear next post.