From Regensburg to Bratislava down the Danube.
As we leaned on a bridge in Regensburg we wondered whether if we spat in the river Danube just there, how long would it take for our spit to reach the Black Sea.The only thing we could agree on was that it would take a long time but would probably get there sooner than us.We didn’t spit in the river by the way as we didn’t think it was a very nice thing to do.
Regensburg was beautiful and we enjoyed wandering around with Martin who had rescued us the previous day from the bewildering lanes and roads to guide us swiftly and safely to our hotel. Martin became our “smiling angel “, his namesake being in the cathedral and who is quite unique as all other angels are apparently quire serious.
On leaving the city we bonded immediately with the river by sleeping on her banks and listening to the crashing of the ice as huge chunks of it flowed by in the night. We woke to sparkling mornings and blue, cloudless skies and our memories will always be of the river looking fresh and beautiful and in a thoroughly good mood for our time spent by it.
Following the Danube Cycleway or Donauradweg was a real treat after the challenges of the previous few weeks. Some of the way was icy but most was clear, smooth, flat and required little navigation. We began to feel as if we were on holiday rather than on an army assault course.There would be long periods of silence between us as the meditative swish of our tyres on the asphalt lulled us into deep thought. After one such silence Pete turned to me and asked “why are there 7 days in the week?”to which I replied ” there are sometimes more questions than answers ” which kept him quiet for a further half hour.
We found the Danube to be ever changing and always interesting. She attracts everything from habitation, industry, recreation, conservation, bridges, dykes, dams, power, construction so there was always plenty to see from the smoking steel works at Linz to the wild terrain at Studengrau where the river narrows and the water becomes swifter and choppy. Some areas had castles on every corner and others we passed apricot orchards and terraced vineyards.We constantly passed through delicious small towns like Enns,Melk,Krems and Tulln and headed for the nearest warm cafe. We were now in Austria and missing the bakeries of Germany. Here they existed but seemed a little more genteel and more expensive and we felt a bit out of place going in with our red noses and muddy shoes.
Enns. The oldest town in Austria.
The sun began to have some warmth to it and each afternoon we would stop in a sunny spot and cook a meal and be able to stay for at least an hour without getting cold.
This is Austrian dumplings on a bed of chilli con carne and fresh pasta served in a pan .
This is Pete trying to use solar power to heat up our bread. It didn’t work:
We reached grand and dramatic Vienna and the weather started to change and become wet and grey. I have to say with hand on heart that we didn’t really enjoy our sightseeing experience of Vienna . It all seemed rather grand and big and I found myself getting annoyed with the Habsburgs for being so over the top. I think we were tired and rather cold and just plain not in the mood which is a shame and maybe one day we will go back and do it justice.
All that was made up for by staying with Stefan in his beautiful – and very grand city centre apartment with marble floored entrance and wood panelled elevator with the trams vibrating the building and thundering by every few minutes.
We also enjoyed the best map shop we’ve ever been in and a wonderful bicycle cooperative run by enthusiastic and expert people who treated our bikes with loving care and attention and treated their minor injuries with skill. We then stocked up on food in the Turkish market and saw a different side to the streets lined with Guchi and Armani and the ladies in their fur coats.
We are now in Hungary after having passed very quickly through Slovakia after our first unpleasant experience of the trip so far.We had booked an apartment in the Petrzalka district of Bratislava. This is an area where, since the war there has been a massive building scheme that houses 120,000 people in over 40,000 apartments and they are still building.We managed to find ours but had difficulty finding the owners and when we did they they said the apartment wasn’t ready and needed cleaning and also that we wouldn’t be allowed to take our bikes into the building as they were too big and dirty. Considering that this discussion took place in a courtyard strewn with cigarette butts and used condoms presumably flung from the balconies above we thought they were being a little unreasonable. After an hour and a half waiting in the cold they then said we could take the bikes in if we gave them an extra 20 euros at which point we had had enough, cancelled the booking and headed out of town only to find ourselves in a rubbish dump axle deep in mud. And then as seems to be normal, along came an angel on a bicycle who guided us out of town onto the correct road and with a wave of his arm and a “go left and left again ” he disappeared. We never got his name but we called him Gabriel.We then found a small hotel that seemed to know exactly what we needed before we even asked and the bikes were placed in a disused bar and were warm and comfy as were we. Smiles all round.
We are now following The Iron Curtain Trail or Eurovelo Route 13 recommended to us by Michaella from Linz who loves all things Balkan and Eastern European and told us that Budapest would always be there and this route would be far more interesting than continuing to follow the Danube.
The route is in in celebration of the breaking down of the Iron Curtain as well as a memorial to the suffering it caused. If we have a theme to our ride regarding the futility of walls that eventually become historical monuments then this seems to fit in rather well.Yesterday though made us aware of the new barriers against the latest wave of unwanted peoples arriving in the west when we came across our first border guards.
Robert who manned this post admitted to being rather bored as it was a very desolate and quiet road but it seems his main function is to stop and arrest migrants coming through Hungary who he claimed often turn a blind eye so that Austria can deal with this “problem”.
We insisted that Robert check our passports. He wasn’t going to bother as he was eating a doughnut at the time.
This is a small bridge on the border that saw 70,000 Hungarians rush across during the Hungarian revolt in 1956.
A strange and evocative place.
Magical Moments And Musings
- Our Warm Showers host, Johannes had warned us that he was 20 kms s or so off the Donauradweg-uphill. That was fine we thought as we left the river at 4pm. After 2 hours we were still a long way from his farm and it was getting bitterly cold and windy and navigation was difficult. Spirits were low.
As we approached yet another hill and now in total darkness the moon started to rise just as it had a month ago when we were cycling towards Birdoswald. A huge red smiling ball this time saying in almost Churchillian tones “never give up” . So we didn’t and sure enough within an hour we were seated at a table loaded with food and wine having had a scalding hot shower and being welcomed into Johannes lovely home and farm.
- These last 2 days we have seen more hares than we have ever seen in our lives before. They roam the countryside like gangs of delinquent teenagers and run away from us at amazing speeds. Imagine our surprise when our hosts provided a supper of casseroled hare.It seemed strange when they appear to be so rare at home, to be eating one, but it was delicious!
- Stefan says it would take 4 weeks to cook an elephant and it would feed 3,800 people.
- Sign in a Viennese shop window:-A meal without wine is called breakfast.
I think our run of good weather has finally turned a corner. Almost literally. The easterly wind that was delivering day after day of blue sky has swung round to the west and south.But along with the cloudy days came much higher temperatures- we are now basking in 5-10 centigrade. It’s all relative though because a wet 10 degrees can feel much the same as 2 degrees in bright sunshine and I’m sure the sun feels warmer already. Two weeks ago there was definite warmth at 2pm; a couple of days ago it felt warm on our backs at 10 in the morning.
Devices, computers, phones and all things that bleep…
It is true- it’s easier to navigate on an electronic device that can be whipped out of a bar bag and that puts a little blue dot exactly where you are on the face of the planet to the degree of knowing on which side of the road you are standing. It is true that finding and contacting a Warm showers host would be virtually impossible without the devices. And it is no doubt true that summoning up a weather forecast or information about a town is very useful. So why do I dislike the electronic stuff? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s possible to have too much information? Maybe it’s an age thing? Speaking of age things and electronics, now, my first thought in a new hotel room is – are there enough recharging points?
“As an elephant never forgets,
To eat him he’d be terribly vexed,
You should eat in a diner
If you want to reach China,
But if you need food-then send me a text!”
“There was a young cyclist called Pete
Who daily had, well,frozen feet
When folks asked him “why?”
He curtly replied
They’re nothing, just look at my seat!”