Goodbye Germany

Tomorrow (Saturday) will see us leaving Germany and entering Austria, the fifth country of our trip if you count the UK.  Our time here has confirmed our love of the country -the excellent cycling infrastructure, the friendly people, the pretty towns and villages, the good food and drink. What’s not to like?

The chilly weather of Wednesday encouraged Stephen to get his winter cycling jacket (that of AS Bellinzago, the Italian cycling club of which he is a member courtesy of his friend and former colleague Stefano). This naturally led to the return of the sun and warmer weather!

The morning was uneventful apart from the main street of one of the villages being impassable due to roadworks and the diversion being up a steep hill. The river wound its way along the broad floodplain appearing to flow fast considering the gentle gradient suggesting that it was swollen by the recent rains. This was confirmed  by how close the river came to the path at times and trees appearing to be growing several metres out in the water.

Around the middle of the afternoon as we  neared Passau, the countryside began to take on a different feel that, remarkably, we both noticed at the same time. The hills started to close in and the cycle path was squeezed closer to the river. Also the surface improved being asphalt almost all the time, with the gravel thankfully much less prevalent, and things seemed more tourist orientated with greater numbers of hotels, restaurants, information boards, etc.

We stopped at the last campsite in Germany,  about 10 km before Passau, and were pleased that it was the cheapest we had come across in the country at a very reasonable €13 including free Internet access – particularly as we planned to spend two nights there so that we could look round Passau.

It was a beautiful morning on Friday and cycling into town without all the heavy luggage was bliss! We came to Passau in 2000 when we cycled the next stretch of the route to Vienna on our first holiday with the children but without the car. Our memories were hazy as we only had an evening there – and it was 15 years ago!

The approach into town along the Danube was pretty drab it must be said but we did use an impressive old dam/hydroelectric power station to cross to the southern bank.  It is known as the town of the three rivers as it is at the confluence of the Danube, the Inn (as in Innsbruck, and almost as big as the Danube) and the Ilz. It is at the start of an extremely popular stretch of the river for both cyclists and people on the luxury river cruises to Vienna and Budapest. We both remarked that the boats looked much more appealing than the monsters that ply the Mediterranean and Caribbean -something for when we are too old to cycle?!

It is very pretty with the location setting off some lovely buildings, although the marks on the side of the town hall showing the height of floodwaters did emphasise the perils of the location as well. (Just take a look at the photo with Steve as a reference point -when they get uploaded!) The second highest of the marks was in June 2013. We were both impressed at how well the place had recovered from what must have been a horrific mess and grateful that we were not attempting this trip 2 years ago when it would probably have been (a) impossible and (b) very unpleasant if the rains were falling around here rather than miles upstream!

We also used our visit to town to get a fix of “yer aktual kulture” with a lunchtime concert on the largest cathedral organ in the world. St Stephen’s cathedral was  overwhelming – impossibly ornate in its Catholic finery that was very reminiscent of Italy at its most ostentatious – especially compared to the Lutheran austerity of Ulm.

BTW.  Ominous weather forecast for tonight (Friday) with thunderstorms and hail predicted. Wish us luck (even though it will have happened by the time you read this! )

Forty Days and Forty Nights

(This is being written on Wednesday offline because we are without Internet again!)

After the rain of Monday evening and night, Tuesday looked more promising with patches of blue sky when we woke that seemed to be increasing. We had a leisurely breakfast to allow the tent to dry before setting off through Regensburg on a mixture of cycle paths, painted lanes on quiet streets and separate cycle ways beside busier roads. Crossing the river we were soon back in the countryside and heading in a south easterly direction.

After about 10 km we arrived at one of the few cultural attractions that was definitely on the To Do list – Walhalla which we had both first heard of (in this context) when listening to a series of BBC radio podcasts about German c. It is a “temple” on top of a hill overlooking the Danube valley (a stunning view) containing busts of Germanic speakers who have made significant contributions to world history such as Mozart, Beethoven, Goethe, Catherine the Great and Einstein. Also there was Alaric, the king of the Visigoths who sacked Rome and was the inspiration for the name of our son (it’s a long story involving the bump, a weekend in Exeter and a Michael Woods book!).

A short afternoon’s ride (in keeping with the new slow regime) took us to Wörth an der Donau (not to be confused with Donauwörth where we stayed about a week ago) where we found a very reasonable and comfortable hotel that offered (wonder of wonders!) WiFi. We spent 3 or 4 hours acting like teenagers hunched over screens with Christine sorting out photos on Facebook and Flickr and Stephen getting his new phone set up like his old one.

The next morning saw us undertaking a shopping expedition for food, wedding anniversary cards and stamps for upcoming family events (not the food of course – that was for our lunch and dinner!) before setting off again. Initially it felt quite warm with the sun trying to break through the clouds but it seemed to get chillier as the day went on. Perhaps it was the north westerly wind for which we were very grateful despite the old as it was very helpfully behind us for most of the day and made for very easy cycling.

The first part of the route was not up to the usual peaceful standard that we have come to expect as it was away from the river and beside a motorway/autobahn but after about 10 km “normal service” was resumed thank goodness. As time was not pressing we took the longer of two options on the route into Straubing as the town got a good write up in the guidebook – justifiably so – and we stopped for Kaffee und Küchen (or, in Christine’s case, hot chocolate and cake!) to warm up a little.

The afternoon proceeded pleasantly and quickly with the tailwind and by 4 o’clock we had done nearly 70 km without really trying and reached our most optimistic target for the day of the campsite in Degendorf. However, it was rather scruffy and nobody was manning reception (closed from 12.00 to 15.00 allegedly) so we decided to try to find a cheap hotel in town similar to the previous night. It was not to be! There were two nice looking hotels out of our price range and a couple of unappealing B&Bs that were thankfully full. So, with the wind pushing us along we set out for the next couple of villages beside our “old friend” the autobahn and soon found a gasthaus that fitted the bill – apart from the lack of WiFi! (We are very much creatures of the 21st century I’m afraid!)

The Most Northerly Point on the Danube

As posted briefly on Sunday, we reached Regensburg which is where the Danube stops heading north east and starts heading in a south easterly direction towards Austria, Slovakia, etc.

By the way, for the next couple of weeks we will be going even slower as our eldest, Alaric, and his girlfriend, Annabelle, are to visit Vienna. So the intention is to meet up with them. 

But back to where we left off in the last full blog post from last Thursday which saw us at the canoe club in Donauwörth. We decided that a leisurely start to Friday was called for and walked into town for breakfast and a quick inspection of what the town had to offer.  It was yet another typical pretty town with a long main street full of nice buildings and a little island in the middle of the river which was the siteof the original town.  After striking camp it was nearly midday when we got going and faced some small climbs as the route left the river briefly. By mid afternoon we were back down by the water and following unmade wooded tracks into Ingolstadt. The campsite here was a busy one and also expensive at €27.50 for 2 people and a small tent without WiFi.

Saturday morning saw another leisurely start as we cycled back into town to buy lunch and a coffee. As we made our way through the busy streets we came across an oompah band doing its thing, some people in traditional bavarian costume and 2 brewer’s drays. It looked as though there was a parade to celebrate the local football team’s promotion.

Because Regensburg was more than a day’s ride away and we wanted to spend some time there we had an easy day of less than 40 km ending in Neustadt an der Donau.  However, this was not without incident as Stephen went ahead (as often is the case) and missed the turning away from the river. He carried on for more than a kilometre and then stopped to wait for Christine. When she didn’t turn up after 10 minutes he turned back to see what the problem was. Reaching the turning he saw the sign he had previously missed and made his way to the campsite where Christine had checked in and was waiting for the tent to arrive!

After the evening meal (pasta with ham and tomato sauce AGAIN! ) we walked into town to see what time the church service was the next day. It turned out that it was the local Volksfest that weekend with a small fair and the main street given over to market stalls selling cheap sunglasses and leather goods.

While Christine went to church the next morning, Stephen packed the campsite up and read his book while guarding the various electrical gadgets being recharged at a convenient power point in the (very smart new) toilet and shower block. (There was a sort of sitting area so he didn’t look too suspicious!)

Not long after we started cycling we were faced with another climb – about a kilometre at approx 5%. – followed immediately by a similar descent.  Frustrating!  The official route then had another climb and descent away from the river but the guidebook suggested a boat trip down the gorge cut by the river through the Franconian Jurassic as it is one of the prettiest sections of the Danube in Germany.  Some people might call it cheating but we decided that we had earned the ride and we combined it with a lunch break! And it was beautiful.

The boat dropped us in Kelheim and then it was an easy 25 km alongside the river into Regensburg. For once the campsite was on the way into town rather than on the far side. This was another site run by the same people as the expensive one in Ingolstadt but this was even dearer at €28.50. WiFi was available but at a price! €3 for an hour or €7 for 5 hours. And of course only one device could get on at a time.

When it came to locking the bikes for the evening Stephen realised that his keys were missing. A phone call to the previous night’s campsite revealed that he had left them there so it was decided that he would take train ride back to Neustadt while Christine explored Regensburg.

In the afternoon we looked around the city (yet another pretty place! with a nice cathedral) before returning to the campsite for a spot of bike  maintenance (Stephen) and and photo editing/cataloguing (Christine).

And then the heavens opened! We retreated to the tent and ventured out for ‘comfort breaks’ in the brief lulls between heavy showers.

Quick Post From Sunday 24 May

Still having difficulties getting on t’internet in any sustained manner! We reached Regensburg this evening and have brief/expensive access so two blogs that were written in draft have been posted without review and the map updated. Only 150 km left to do in Germany but we’re having a rest day tomorrow while Stephen takes the train back to the previous night’s campsite to pick up the keys he left there! Oops!

A Month on the Road!

Apologies for the sparsity of updates recently. This is due to Stephen’s phone dying (it refuses to accept a charge) and poor WiFi access. This post covers three days (Monday to Wednesday, 18 to 20 May).

 

Now where were we? Sigmaringen, I think. We had a realtively relaxed start to the day (Monday) with a shopping expedition around a vast supermarket nearby to buy breakfast and lunch before setting off at aboyt 19.30.

The cycling did not get off to a great start as, not far out of town, there was a barrier across the cycle path saying “Closed. Diversion via xxxx” and xxxx didn’t appear on our maps!

 

We could, however, see a road that was sort of parallel for a while and then there was a track that looked as though it rejoined the cycle path. Unfortunately the road went up and up and up. And as soon as it reaches the top there was the track (a muddy, gravelly one) which went down and down and down.  It was “horrible” to quote Christine! But at least it got us back on track and around the cause if the diversion.

 

From there, the countryside opened up into a wide plain with only low hills in the distance – such a contrast to the closeness of the cliff faces on the day before. Everywhere was much more pastoral with many hay meadows and lots of fields planted with baby sweetcorn.

 

The villages and towns were again picture postcard pretty and we took time out to wander around one if the larger ones, Riedlingen, enjoying an ice cream before setting off again.

 

As we had camped for the previous 9 nights and as it was exactly a month since we set out we decided to treat ourselves to a reasonable hotel and a celebratory meal. We had seen on an information board that there was a place that sounded potentially OK in a village 10 km further on but it turned out that Monday was their “ruhetag” (day off).

 

Slightly deflated we set off again to hit a hill which had a double arrow on the map signifying it was steep. It was “only” 20%! Even Stephen had to push from halfway up after he took a breather and was unable to get started again! Christine had no qualms about getting off as soon as the hill started!

 

Amazingly, at the top the kind people of the village had established a shaded area with seats and tables as well as a drinks fountain, soap and paper towels for the benefit of cyclists!

 

There was a short, not so steep, downhill before another double arrowed uphill (thankfully nowhere near as steep) before a long gentle downhill into Obermarchtal where there was a very comfortable gasthof and excellent restaurant which suited admirably. And at least we didn’t have to face that 20% hill first thing in the morning!

 

The forecast for Tuesday was not promising with rain expected in the afternoon after a dry start. So we set off trying to cover as much distancry as we could early on. This plan was a little stymied when Stephen had the first puncture of the trip – but that was not bad for a combined total of 3,000 km of cycling.

 

The rain arrived earlier than expected but fortunately wasn’t too heavy so we pressed on. As we arrived in Ulm, a potential point for taking shelter for the night if the weather was bad, the rain abated and so we continued for another 20km to Leipheim. For the fans of cycle racing we are guessing that this is where Levi (Leipheimer)’s ancestors came from.

 

We managed to get to the campsite, set up camp and cook and eat a meal before the rain returned in a more serious manner.

 

Ulm was somewhere we wanted to spend a little time as the guidebook said there was a pretty old town section but it came a little early the previous day and doesn’t have campsite. Fortunately Leipheim has a rail connection to the city so the plan was to use that.

 

The best laid plans of mice and men……. are disrupted by German traindrivers going on strike!

 

Plan B was to use the bus which was less frequent and took 45 minutes because it had a roundabout route (compared to 15 minutes on the train).

 

It was still raining in the morning so it was not a particularly pleasant 2km ride into town to catch the bus. The old town was only OK – there were some pretty and interesting old buildings but it didn’t really inspire us for some reason and we were soon taking shelter in a café enjoying coffee and cake and catching up on some reading.

 

Emerging we were surprised to find that the rain had stopped and the roads were ready half dry even though it was quite chilly for the time of year (about 10°). A quick look round the cathedral (which apparently has the highest steeple in the world at 166 metres)  was followed by a trawl round phone shops to buy a new phone for Stephen and then it was time to catch the bus “home”.

What a Difference a Day Makes

Not long after we closed the tent down for the night on Thursday evening the rain started. It continued throughout Friday so we remained holed up for the day reading and snoozing. This was fine – but it is a small tent and there was no “common room” as there had been at previous campsites where we had dodged the rain. Stephen, in particular, was finding it rather cramped by the time the rain eased up around 5 o’clock. The prospect of two consecutive such days does not hold much appeal!

Speaking of reading, we have both been very enjoying having the time to read more than in recent years. Stephen finished his 8th book in less than 4 weeks while Christine has been taking herself back to her student days by reading books in French and German (but without the requirement to write essays afterwards!) This has only been made practical on a cycling expedition by our Kindles which reduce bulk and weight enormously.

Friday dawned very misty but this soon cleared as the sun rose and it turned into a beautiful morning. The Danube starts (or rather ends as it is the only river on Europe where km 0 is at the sea “end”) where two other rivers, the Brigach and the Brega, join. It is unclear to us why one of them is not the Danube but hey ho! At least it means we do not have to go higher into the Black Forest to start at the source.

Leaving the tent to dry and the panniers in the tent, we made our way upstream into the town of Donaueschingen and the confluence of the two rivers so that we can say we actually started at the beginning with photos to prove it.

The niceties being sorted, we set off downstream, picking up the tent and the panniers on the way of course. It was a lovely ride! The route followed made up paths pretty much all the way with only the occasional diversion onto quiet oads, generally in the towns and villages. These were, almost without exception, picture postcard pretty although the route did often seem to make a point of going past the local sewage works as well!

As we entered one village we heard a brass band strike up and saw a group of people smartly dressed walking along the road behind the band. As we caught up with them, we saw a bride and (presumably) her father walking at their head on the way to church.

In our destination for the night, Tuttlingen, we followed the signs to the campsite but initially sailed past it as there was only a patch of grass surrounded by a hedge next to the public toilets in the middle of a large public park/sports ground. It transpired that this was it though and so, somewhat apprehensively, we set up camp. At least it is free according to a small notice that we had missed initially! We didn’t feel confident that our belongings would be safe left there so we took it in turns to explore the town (not hugely exciting it has to be said) while one of us kept guard. Although this is a designated campsite we are counting it as “wild camping”.

It’s Downhill All the Way From Here….

….as we have crossed the Rhine/Danube watershed today (Thursday) so it is DOWN the Danube from here.

(We don’t really believe that!)

After the rest day in Basle we set off by crossing the Rhine to Germany by the footbridge close to the campsite. We crossed into Switzerland almost immediately, without Stephen noticing, and then made our way, in a haphazard fashion, back to the river after it had made its 90° turn to the east (as you head upstream).

We continued on the German side for a while which, while not exactly pretty, looked better than the Swiss side as we had been told. We were following signs showing EuroVelo15 (the route that appears to follow the Rhine from source to sea) rather than our target EV6 which was on the other side. However, all of a sudden they indicated a right turn and we found ourselves on a bridge with signs saying “CH”. “Oh well” we thought. After a short stretch walking through a pretty Swiss town we were on an undulating track through the woods that was hard going because of the loose surface. Even the arch Swissophile (Christine) got fed up with that pretty quickly and when the opportunity to go back to the German side presented itself we were there!

We both half-remembered the next section from a holiday more than 10 years ago – the last one with all 3 of the children – when we cycled around Lake Constance and then up the Rhine to Basle.

With the weather similar to the previous two days (i.e. hot) we progressed slowly but eventually arrived at our destination of Waldshut (Germany) and checked in to the campsite. Stephen was a little narked by the relatively high price of €17, not including showers (€1 a time) or WiFi (€3). But it has to be said that the facilities were of a higher standard than any of the French sites (including toilet seats and paper!!)

The weather forecast had promised overnight showers and after dinner the clouds started gathering. There was an hour of thunder and lightning – quite spectacular when you are in a tent! – rolling around the surrounding mountains before just a few spots of rain arrived but that was all there was. We read the next day about people being injured by giant hailstones further into southern Germany so I guess we were lucky to avoid the worst of it.

On Thursday we left early because more rain was forecast (but thankfully didn’t materialise) and headed away from the Rhine as Christine had spotted a “convenient” river valley heading in the direction of Donaueschingen (the start of the Danube). Initially the climb was relatively gentle albeitv a little steeper than the climbs alongside the French canals and rivers. However, we then hit a couple of steep ones, the second of which was 2 km at up 14%. We were mollified by the fact that the map indicated that the second of these was the watershed referred to earlier. We started descending, but then had to endure some further shorter climbs before reaching a point where the land fell away on all sides and we could enjoy a prolonged downhill section.

Arriving at another smart German campsite (an admittedly limited sample of two earning a definite thumbs up!) we celebrated the day’s achievements (climbing 600 metres) with a treat of dinner in the site’s restaurant -schnitzel all round!

Hot, Hot, Hot

Somebody turned the temperature up over the last two days (Monday and Tuesday) as it has been over 30 – not bad for the first half of May.

The trip back to the canal from Altkirch was a pleasure being the reverse of the previous evening’s climb. We then sauntered into Mulhouse along the canal before losing the EV6 signs somewhere around the station. We followed our noses through the suburbs even though it involved some climbing (grr! Wish we’d stayed on the towpath.) before refinding the canal as it made its way through a large forested area.

Soon we had our first sight of the Rhine itself with a large barge steaming towards the sea. A trip along the disused Canal de Huningue took us past a “planet path” (always good fun and jaw dropping to see how small the planets are in relation to the distances between them – particularly the outer ones). This took us into Huningue, a suburb of Basle but in France, where there is a small but well equipped (I.e. loo seats and WiFi!) campsite right on the banks of the Rhine.

Tuesday was the designated rest day and so we took a bus into Basle to see the sights. As expected everything in Switzerland was prohibitively expensive – almost £8 for an iced americano and a bottle of water in Starbuck’s. But we did get our own back on the (alleged) tax avoider by making the drinks last a couple of hours while we recharged phones, Kindles, iPads and Garmins!

We move on tomorrow along the Rhine – on the German side because (a) it will be cheaper and (b) a Canadian couple on the campsite tild us that it is much nicer than the almost continuous industrial estate on the Swiss side.

Hello Alsace, my Old Friend

(With apologies to Simon & Garfunkel.)

The last two days (Saturday and Sunday) have been wonderful cycling and seen us into Alsace, a region of France that we have been to many times over the years. Indeed, Christine first came here as an Assistant as part of her languages degree more years ago than she cares to remember!

Saturday was overcast but warm as we set out from Besançon up the Doubs valley. If anything, the scenery was even more beautiful than the day before as the sides of the gorge got higher. The canal was increasingly sporadic and was sometimes only a lock gate to let boats past a weir.

Eventually the valley opened up and the countryside became more pastoral as we approached the night’s stop at the campsite in L’Isle-sur-le-Doubs.

We went looking for a church service for Christine for the next morning. In a town of 25,000 souls there was a Catholic church where there was a mass every other week (and we were there in the “off” week of course) and a protestant church with every sign of having been defunct for many years. It transpired that it was operational when we went past the next morning on the other aide of the canal but by then it was too late – we were under way.

The campsite was another one that was popular with cyclists, there being 6 sets including the young German family and an English couple who we had met in Decize. This was almost certainly because there no other sites for 20 or 30 km in either direction on the EV6.

Sunday dawned with barely a cloud in the sky and the forecast rain for the previous night had stayed away thankfully. Slapping on the suncream we set off continuing the gentle climb alongside the river/canal and enjoying the best weather of the trip so far.

Leaving the Doubs river which we had been following for more than 2 days but still beside the Rhône-Rhine canal we headed for Alsace. Christine was a little disappointed that the entry was low key – no marching bands or greetings from the local mayor, not even a sign saying “Welcome to Alsace”! But she soon perked up when she caught sight of the Vosges mountains and, a little later and even further away, the Black Forest.

We then started descending having crossed the watershed between the Rhône and the Rhine. As previously, the descent was much steeper than the ascent had been and we swiftly lost all the height we had gained earlier in the day (but it was only 90 metres! Not bad for more than 40 km of cycling.)

We soon reached the road where we were to leave the canal briefly to visit Altkirch, the town where Christine had spent 8 months teaching French school kids all those years ago. Unfortunately, it involved a bit of a climb, particularly as the campsite is situated on the hill above the town. Christine used her desire to rekindle memories as an explanation for her walking through the town. It had nothing to do with the upward slope of the road of course! Not surprisingly after ** years it all looks very different.

Tomorrow will be our last day of cycling in France as we will be heading to Basel and the Rhine. The campsite is (just) in France but all of the interesting stuff is on the Swiss side of the border. We are expecting to take another rest day although Swiss prices and the exchange rate after last December’s revaluation of the franc may cramp our style.