HFH Cyclist Walter Muir and his wife Liz decided that 2015 was the year they take to two wheels! Having chosen the popular Danube Cycle Path, Wal sent us his daily cycling diary so we could find out all about his journey. Here’s how they got on…
Thursday 23rd: London, Vienna to Schärding
Up at 10 to 4, ate some fruit, in a cab at 5am to Paddington Station, train out to Heathrow, bit of brekkie, and left at 10 to 8, pretty much on time. Uneventful flight (aren’t they the best ones?) and landed in Vienna a few minutes early.
We bought tickets for the fast train to the city centre (CAT) and headed down to the correct (bright green) platform. Everything to do with the CAT is green. Even the guy who sold us the tickets was dressed in green! Not too attractive, except to either his mother or another giant caterpillar! Train came in, we hopped on, and were sitting there, feeling quite pleased with ourselves at the organisation when a lass, sitting a few seats away, told us that this wasn’t the CAT, but another one, and that this one didn’t go to Vienna at all! Arggg! Grabbed the bags, dashed back onto the station and sat quietly waiting for the next train in the hope that it might be the one we want. A few minutes later, a giant, bright green caterpillar train pulled in with “CAT” along the side. This time we hopped on with the same bravado we had hopped on the first train, but with the self confidence that goes with KNOWING that we were on the correct train!
Eventually arrived in Vienna at the train station on the city centre, and then took a cab to our meeting place for the start of the cycling trip. It was at the hotel we will be staying in once we arrive back in Vienna in a week’s time. We left our luggage there and headed up the road to get some lunch. Found a quiet courtyard bar (there are plenty to choose from) and had some food.
There were lots of people cycling along the busy and not so busy roads. Plenty of bike paths, too. The traffic seem to give lots of room for the cyclists, and I am happy to see that, as we will be sharing some roads with cars and trucks over the next week, although much of our ride will be on the bike path which runs along the Danube.
Obligatory Sunset over the Inn River
We were picked up at 2:30, and joined by two others, Austrian ladies who were starting the ride in Passau. The trip took three hours and the driver dropped us off at our hotel in Schärding, which is 20 kilometres from Passau. A little extra riding will be required tomorrow….
Once organised in the hotel, we walked into the centre of town (a solid block away) and had a beer while discussing where to eat for dinner. We eventually found a nice looking Greek waiter..ahem…restaurant and Liz decided that we would eat there. The food was fine, the waiter attentive and the prices reasonable. Then it was time for bed, set the alarm for 6:30 so that we could have breakfast at 7am, call the office at 8 and then be on the road soon thereafter.
Friday 24th: Schärding to Schlögen
This was a big, big day. We got going around 10am, all biked up. The guys picked us up at 9am to take us up to the office to collect the bikes and final instructions and details. Did we have any questions? This was her opening line. Didn’t really know what questions to ask, as we hadn’t done this trip before. Still, we had our bikes, so off we went.
Danube bike path
Liz had espied a practical set of sandals in a shop in the town last night, so once back in town, she headed up to purchase some. That successful, we headed down along the bank of the Inn River to where it meets the Danube at Passau.
The track from Schärding to Passau was mainly gravel. By the time we got to Passau, it was noon, and time for a coffee and some minor vittles. The coffee was just what the doctor ordered, and we enjoyed the break.
Beside the track, fields of corn, wheat and beans were interspersed with apple and pear trees. Much of the wheat had been harvested already although there were still a few fields ripe for the machines. The corn still had some way to go before harvest, and the bees and other insects were busy doing their thing. Beans still had time to go also, and although some apples and pears were ripe, most weren’t and seemed to have another month or so at least before picking.
Coffee stop at Passau
Passau passed, and we headed down the mighty Danube (or Donau as it is called here). Our path is clearly signed R1 in green with “Donauweg” or Danube Path on the sign as well. Mind you, in some of the towns, Passau being one of them, the correct path required some measure of intuition, which is fine if you have been taught to think as an Austrian, and can also speak the lingo, but as I fail on both those counts, it did fool us a couple of times.
There is a path on both sides of the river, mostly. It was suggested to us that we focus on the northern bank, as the roads there are quieter. Good advice, and taken. The path itself was bitumen (hooray!) which meant that the speed at which we could ride was much improved.
The banks of the river rise steeply several hundred metres and are thickly wooded. There is little arable land here as the river wends its way through the gorge country. There are small patches of flat land occasionally which are used for villages and crops but these are rare.
We were mostly riding in the shade of the trees which line the banks or the river which was a good thing, as the day became warmer and warmer as the afternoon progressed. By the time we had ambled down the river and were approaching Schlögen, our refuge for the night, the temperature had climbed into the thirties, our bums were sore and we were looking forward to a cold one, and a chance to drink it standing at the bar!!
Yay! At last we espied what looked like a very large and fancy hotel on the other bank, sitting on a sharp corner of the river. This, at last, was our goal for the night, achieved at last. Although there was no bridge to allow us to get to the other side, we had been assured that there was a ferry which took all the cyclists across to the other bank so the hotel. Ahoy!! There it was, chugging across just to pick us (and a shedload of other fools on bikes) up and save us from swimming for that beer!
Soon enough, the travails of the day, the chafed bum and the Schärding gravel were forgotten in the midst of first a hot shower and then some food and drink. Lovely! We ate on the terrace overlooking the river, and watched the sun go down over the river and the hills. Large boats filled with lazy (but perhaps smarter?) tourists waved to us, also with drinks in hand. Ahhh! The camaraderie of tourists abroad!
Saturday 25th Schlögen to Linz
Ahhh! Another big day. I get the feeling that they are all going to be big on this trip. We rose early at 6:30 in order that we might get an early breakfast and be on our way. Apparently it is best to ride on the north side of the river for the next stretch, so we need to take the ferry back over and continue down the river.
However, having eaten a hearty early breakfast, packed our bags and left them in the designated spot for pickup and deposition at our next place of stay, and collected the bikes, we found that there was no ferry in sight on either side of the river! The ferryman was supposed to start at 8am, and usually stuff in this part of the world can be used to set watches, but not this morning. So, after a quick look at the maps, it was ascertained that we could ride for quite some distance on the South bank and then switch further downriver. So, off we went.
The first thing I espied was a huge carved wooden fish (see photo). It was beside a big descriptive piece with pictures of the fish you can catch in the river. We saw a number of fishermen both yesterday and today trying their luck. Some of the fish seem to be large, and I mean over a metre in length!
We rode down the river around 17 kilometres and came to a spot where there was a ferry full of bikes and riders about to pull into the bank. This was one place where the Donauweg ceases to exist on the northern bank, and so they were changing to the southern one. So, on we hopped and settled back to head downstream.
Once we alighted, it was back to pedalling. The day had dawned with a few clouds, the remnants of a storm which had growled and flashed its way past at around 3am. I’m not used to storms at that time. Woke me up! It was cool riding in the early morning, and we made quite good time eventually scoring a coffee at Oberlandshaag. Not before time!
We eventually got to a marina just before Ottensheim where we lunched. We were both starving by then. This is a place where they have built a sculling reach by extending and improving a natural groin of the river to make a course which is at least 2.5 kilometres long. Where we had lunch is at the finish line, with tiered seating down the bank and all the bells and whistles.
Lunch was anything but small (see photo) and was typically Austrian. Sausages with cheese inside, wrapped in bacon with chips. Fabulous! Certainly hit the spot.
Sunday 26th: Linz to Grein
Woke this morning to another cloudless day. We have been truly blessed with the weather on the entire trip thus far. Long may it continue!
Got away just after 8:30 and headed into Linz to re-join the Donauradweg, also called the R1. A little about the R1. This is one of the most used bike tracks in Europe. While riding it, you are rarely out of sight of other riders, in both directions. Many are, like us, carrying panniers, some with considerable camping gear as well. The track we have been following is largely flat, often shaded and generally (but not always) in sight of the river. It passes through many towns and villages of varying sizes. The signposting is excellent and it is difficult to take a wrong turn.
The river is wide here and getting wider as we move downstream and out of the gorge and into the flatlands. It is a busy river, with working barges, tourist boats, speed boats and kayaks aplenty. There are locks every twenty kilometres or so, and large (long) so that they can take the long barges and tourist ships. Where the locks are built, they use the water’s head to produce hydro-electricity. The river is also used to irrigate crops on the lower reaches where the floodplains are wider. East of Linz, the river flats widened and there were expanses of crops as far as the eye could see. Corn, Lucerne, beans, spinach, wheat and tomatoes, to name a few we saw along the path. The steep-sided gorge is gone, and the river flats have taken over.
We rode for about an hour or so and decided that it was time for morning tea. The place we stopped at served gipfeli (croissants) but the waitress told us we’d have to wait for ten minutes as they made them fresh. Was that a problem? Not on our account!! Happy to wait. And the wait was worth it. Pity I am unable to email the smell of the warm gipfeli to you to savour, but I’m not completely up with the Apple13 technology at this point in time. A photo will have to suffice.
We eventually arrived in Grein, our chosen village for the night. The directions to the Gasthof zur Traube were clearly marked on the edge of the bike path, so we had no problems in finding the place. After we were refreshed, it was time to find somewhere to eat, so we wandered into town to see what we could find. The town centre was simple, with a small fountain topped by the usual statue. The buildings surrounding the square were old, beautiful and immaculately kept. They dated back to 1593 with a grain silo transformed into a theatre in 1791. It is still a theatre today! The central square was cobbled, as they all are, and the whole place had the feel of still being in the 17th Century.
Monday 27th: Grein to Emmersdorf
Today we had to cross the river by ferry first, as the bike path on the northern bank uses the edge of a busy road, with buses and trucks as well as cars. The southern side is recommended for this stretch, and it was there we headed.
Once on the road, jackets on, we headed into the drizzle (seems we’d spoken too soon about the weather!) While persistent, it was not heavy and didn’t really pose and issues for riding. In the cool of the morning, we ambled through the forest which lines the path. The country had changed again. Gone were the open fields we saw for the past couple of days, and the steep sided hills lining the river were back. They are not as high here as in the reaches from Passau to Linz, but are just as thickly wooded, dense and quiet.
Tuesday 28th: Emmersdorf to Traismauer
Today we move on to discover the famous Wachau, the premier wine growing region of Austria. The vines are grown on terraces cut into the hillsides. The rocks here are granites and intruded metamorphics. The northern side of the river has hillsides which are less steep than those on the southern side, and so the terraces are mainly on the northern side from Spitz to Dürnstein.
The ruins of the castle have been sitting there, ruined, since the completion of the so called 30 Years War (1618-1648). Richard The Lionheart (1157-1199) was captured near here in 1193 and ransomed in 1194. He was held at Dürnstein Castle while waiting to be ransomed. (Todays piece of useless trivia!)
The rest of Dürnstein was also worth seeing, with its cobbled streets, medieval buildings and the backdrop of the castle ruins.
Wednesday 29th: Traismauer to Vienna
So, today was the last cycling day and it proved to be the longest one of the trip – just short of 70 kilometres. We just took it easy, working our way down river from town to town, café to café taking in the ambience.
One town we passed through and indeed lunched in was Tulln. This is known as the Garden Town of the Danube, and one can see why. There were gardens covering every spare piece of land from the river to the HauptPlatz. We walked the bikes through a couple of narrow lanes which led to the central square. This square was large, probably 300m by 100m and festooned with flowers in beds, pots and other arrangements. The platz had several fountains which amused the children no end, but then children are always attracted to playing in water!
Eventually we arrived in the outskirts of Vienna, and found the route which took us to our hotel. This was the hotel which we had been picked up from last week at the start of the trip. It was a pleasure to again de-bike, settle in, shower and set off to find somewhere for dinner.
So, how was the trip all up? It was long, without being over the top, although Liz found that riding for 60+ kilometres a day a little daunting at first. However, she quickly got into the swing of things, and did really well. It was flat, with no hills to speak of. It followed the river for the most part, and thus continued at a gentle slope downhill.
The wooded areas of the ride, and those were probably the majority, were cool and quiet. There were very few places where we were required to ride on busy roads – just a couple of stretches in a couple of towns.
The organisation was generally first rate. The bikes worked, were in good repair, were designed for this kind of riding and had decent panniers. Our gear was always waiting for us at the hotel, and the hotels were always expecting us to arrive.
The language barrier was not an issue of any note. In most places we found someone who we could converse with, particularly in all the hotels. In the little cafes, we could always point, order coffee etc without a problem.