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 7 and 8 – three countries in two days

    Posted: July 27th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: travel | Tags: , , | No Comments »

    Day 7 – Vienna to Bratislava

    Today was the day we separated the tourists from the real cyclists. I am definitely a tourist.

    Arriving in Vienna in the late afternoon after a scorching day of riding (see day 6) we had a few hours to ourselves to explore the city… which as you can imagine isn’t nearly enough time for a city like Vienna. Our hotel was a short walk away from the ring road, nothing special just a basic hotel tucked in on the first floor of a big, old building.

    I spent my free time doing a typically Darren thing, searching for an electronics store to replace my “lost” headphones. A nice pair of purple AKG buds and 50euro later, I wandered back through Vienna, found a bar with free wifi and enjoyed a cold beer while writing the last blog post. Just as I was finishing up, the rain started, just light drops as I walked back to the hotel.

    We woke up to rain, lots and lots of rain, alternating between a steady drizzle and downpour, it was wet.

    We really did try to make the best of it. The original plan for today was to ride from the hotel in Vienna directly to the hotel in Bratislava, starting with a bicycle tour of the main sights in Vienna. We tried, but it was really wet, the cobble stones were slippery, and stopping to be rained on and look up at majestic buildings wasn’t really on anyone’s list of things to do.

    After 10 minutes of trying the tour we decided to do the next part of the itinerary, which was to ride out of Vienna and meet the bus just outside the city and decide then whether to continue. Twenty kilometers later we were all soaked through and the rain hadn’t let up.

    Matej made the executive decision to cancel the ride for the remainder as there was a thunderstorm warning and the upcoming terrain was flat and exposed, and he didn’t want anyone to get struck by lightening. Also he, and several others in the group, had a pretty bad cough. Also we were all pretty wet. A few hardy souls, unsurprisingly all from the land of constant rain (aka the United Kingdom), really wanted to do the whole route regardless of the rain. After signing a waiver and getting the route details from Matej the four real cyclists were off to do the remaining 50km in the rain.

    The rest of us, sodden and miserable, but with palpable relief to be inside the relatively dry (but now very steamy) bus, started on our way to Bratislava. The mood improved significantly when Christina from Norway broke out a genuine bottle of Norwegian Aquavit, which went a long way to warming us all up.

    As we drove toward Bratislava the weather gradually improved outside and we all began to feel a bit silly for giving in, and when the sunshine broke through it was enough that most of us wanted to get back on our bikes.

    Matej was very accommodating, one person was too soaked and getting sick to continue on the bikes and she got a lift in the bus to Bratislava while the rest of us piled out of the bus, slightly damp, to do the last 20km of the ride into Bratislava.

    As for the ride, it was flat, the rain held off, and it was a simple enough route to navigate without having to stop to gather the whole group all the time. All in all a good compromise day, with everyone getting exactly what they wanted in the end.

    Bratislava to Somewhere in Hungary

    The biggest problem with this trip is that there is so little time to explore the bigger cities we visit, by the time we arrive in Bratislava, check in and shower it’s already evening add in time to have dinner and you’re left with at most an hour or three of usable time before it’s time to go to sleep to be ready for another days ride the next day. I think I would have liked to have a full rest day in Bratislava, it was just the kind of city I like to visit, lively but not too big. Tons of restaurants and bars, a well maintained historic city centre but also a newly developed area with lots of people out and about.

    That digression aside, we set out the next day directly from the hotel heading out of Slovakia and towards Hungary. We stopped for lunch right near the Hungarian border and ate lunch at a restaurant full of Slovakian construction workers, it was busy and the last thing the harried waiter wanted was 15 english speaking tourists to deal with. He was properly grumpy but in the end we got served and had a tasty meal of fried chicken, boiled potatoes and soup, all for less than 4 euro.

    Moving on from lunch, we crossed the border into Hungary and were introduced to our first “Hungarian Gentleman” – Matej’s name for the roads we were following as we make our way to Budapest. As the name implies, it was a flat, gentle ride with no hills to speak of and we even lucked out and had a tail wind for some of it.

    Our intended destination for this day, according to the initial trip notes from Exodus, was Halaszi, but apparently there was a problem with the hotel there during the last trip so instead we had to take a transfer to – hold on let me figure out how to spell it – Mosonmagyarovar. There was some grumbling about this, as it was only about 5km between Halaszi and Mosonmagyarovar and just about everyone would have preferred to ride it rather than sit in the super hot minibus, but by the time we realized what was happening it was too late to stage a proper mutiny 🙂

    For my part, after heading out to dinner in the town square a big weather front started rolling in and gave me a blinding pressure headache, so I retired to my hotel bed early, which is why this post is slightly off my goal “post every two days”. The next post should cover the last two days of cycling for this trip, and then I’ll try to sum up my thoughts on the whole trip in some kind of trip review post.

    Day 5 and 6 – Znomjo to Vienna

    Posted: July 24th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: travel | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

    Day 5 – Sunshine, flat roads, and wine

    Today I woke up to sunshine and an itinerary that promised mostly flat terrain and a wine tasting 5km from the end of the ride, and best of all no transfers on the bus.

    Sunshine, wine tastings, and flat terrain need no explanation, but let me tell you why no transfers (meaning we travel by bus for a portion of the route) is such a great thing. There are 15 people taking this trip, plus the guide that makes 16 people, plus the driver, so 17. Each of us has luggage, some… have big suitcases. We have a bicycle for each of us, plus a pannier to go on the back of the bicycle. We also have a couple spare bicycles, so let’s call it 18 bicycles. To carry all this humanity, luggage, and bicycle we have a mini-bus which seats 18 plus driver, but the front passenger seat isn’t bolted into the floor so whomever sits there is really taking their life into their hands so generally it’s unoccupied. There is room in the minibus for the tour guide and drivers stuff, and us. Attached to the minibus is a trailer, big enough to carry all the bicycles and the luggage, provided that it is packed with care and by someone who generally wins at tetris. In short, getting everyone off their bikes, onto the bus, all the luggage and bicycles packed away carefully takes time… and because the minibus trailer combination is such an unwieldly beast to drive it we always seem to be doing it in scenic parking lots by abandoned buildings.

    I digress, no transfers today, sunshine, flat terrain, and wine tasting – a perfect day.

    The day went mostly according to plan, except someone thought it appropriate to order up a strong headwind along the whole route. By the end of the day, despite liberally applying sunscreen, my nose was beet red from the wind.

    On the plus side I’m learning all sorts of useful cycling techniques like drafting (riding close behind someone else so that they break the wind for you making your ride easier). I’m only slightly thick, it didn’t take too many kilometers for me to figure out how this whole drafting thing worked… I noticed (eventually) that for some reason I was in front of the pack, with the whole glorious road open in front of me, just labouring over the pedals and working through the wind I eventually glanced behind me and see all the strongest cyclists lined up right behind me enjoying the convenient wind break I was providing.

    At the next stop I made sure I didn’t start out first 🙂

    It takes some practice but even as the largest person in the group I can still take a little bit of a break cycling behind another and escape the relentless wind.

    Other than the wind it was flat terrain as promised, and the wine tasting was tasty.. however that extra stop was enough to kill the battery on my phone so I couldn’t map the last 5 km or so of our route. The wine itself was pretty decent, the south moravia region of the Czech Republic makes a good reisling, with climate and soil similar to Ontario I think, but their reds were really flat (except for one straight out of the barrel, still needs another few years to be bottled, sample, which was good if a bit rough around the edges).

    Tomorrow we leave the Czech Republic and enter Austria. Czech has been great, with good cheap beer and friendly people, but I’m out of Czech crowns so it’s time to move back into Euro denominated countries.

    Day 6 – Crossing the border

    We started out today riding directly out of the hotel parking and made our way to a bicycle path right away, and for pretty much all day we spent our time off of main roads and enjoyed the quiet of cross-country cycle paths.

    Still in Czech republic we navigated rough paved/gravel paths along the former no-mans land of the iron curtain, with plaques (all in Czech unfortunately) about various aspects of the challenges facing anyone seeking to cross from east to west, and past guard stations where the soldiers had shoot to kill orders for anyone seeking passage. Matej, our Slovakian guide, told us some personal anecdotes about his family and their struggles to cross over during the cold-war. It was pretty solemn stuff, and it felt a bit weird feeling so damn good bicycling along it. The headwind from yesterday was gone, it was sunny, and in some small way I think it’s probably better to enjoy the natural beauty and peacefulness of spot of such former suffering.

    Around 11am we reached the former border checkpoint between Austria and Czech and had the opportunity to visit a museum that lives in the former Czech border station (photos to be uploaded eventually), then we had a picnic at the border and with no cermony, no stamping of passports, and not even a nod from anyone we passed into Austria.

    The most noticible change, from the perspective of the long distance cyclist, was that the pavement got better. Good pavement, rolling hills (nothing like the first couple days riding, these were long gentle hills) covered with majestic wind turbines. I really don’t understand people who claim that wind power ruins landscapes, I personally think they look beautiful turning on the hills. Obviously the Austrians think the same because the things were everywhere. Out bicycle path wound through the hills surrounded by the things.

    It did get pretty hot today, going up to 30C with not a cloud in the sky, which made the uphills a bit challenging even if they were comparatively gentle, but the nice long downhills that followed made up for it. We all made it though, with Matej continually reminding all of us to drink water and avoid dehydration.

    We ended the day about 60km away from Vienna, and took a transfer to Vienna arriving around 4:30pm. Tomorrow we start the day with a cycle tour of downtown Vienna and ride all the way to our hotel in Bratislava, it’s about 70km but supposedly it’s super flat so it shouldn’t be too challenging (fingers crossed).


    By request 🙂

    Nobody on this trip brought their own bicycle, we’re all using the exodus provided 24 speed hybrid bicycles. They’re aluminium frames (I think) with all the standard bells and whistles, nothing super fancy.

    Before I left Canada I bought a couple pairs of padded cycling shorts at MEC, but other than that I had no gear… so before the trip started while still in Prague I searched out a sporting goods store and got the bare minimum. I tried to get a Czech cycling jersey, but when I asked for one he pulled up the Canada Jersey and said “Typical Czech jersey” which made me laugh so I bought it. I also got a fancy German cycling helmet much better than the one I have at home and some gloves. If I was only doing this trip I would probably bring 3 or 4 of each (shorts and cycling jersey) but as this is only a small bit of a larger trip I’m making due with one jersey by washing it every night in the hotel sink.