Tuesday, 30 May – The expected front came through during the night, while I was translating in the hostel. With beautiful sunshine and a full extra day available, I decided to take a quick ride out to the Schönbrunn Palace to visit the gardens. Daniel had recommended that to me after coming back from the Vienna Philharmonic concert there last week. It was worth it, even with the dust kicked up by the hundreds of tourists shuffling behind their group leaders. I got back with plenty of time to finish the translation. The next morning, I did the final revision and delivery before packing out and hitting the road.
Wednesday was a sunny, pleasant day, the kind where the air is comfortably cool, but the sun keeps you warm. The first half of the trip was familiar, a repeat of the run on Sunday to Kloster Neuberg.
The sky began darkening as the river turned west. By the time I passed the first dam and lock upstream from Vienna, I could tell that a serious squall was coming. I remembered to put the shower cap on my saddle when I stopped for lunch at Riese & Partners for an open-air lunch. The storm hit while I watched from the covered terrace. It moved quickly away, and I spent the afternoon noticing the fields, and the details of the freight barges and cruises ships moving up and down the great river. I was impressed by the number of Dutch and Belgian flags I saw, which reminded me of the great DMR (Donau-Main-Rhein) canal, which connects the Atlantic to the Black Sea.
More rain was forecast for that night, but ending in the dark hours, with two days of sunshine after that. I expected to be tucked into my tent before the rain arrived, and the tent would dry before I had to leave. By 1700, I was settled into a plot on the municipal campgrounds in Zentendorf. I rigged my clothesline in case I needed it for the tent in the morning. The big restaurant near the campsite was closed for renovations, so I rode to the Billa supermarket in the next town for breakfast fixings. I had supper at a restaurant on the main street, featuring ample bicycle parking, and whimsical statuary in the garden. When I got back, a pair of German cyclists had set up nearby, and appropriated my clothesline. I hadn’t put my name on it, so they probably figured that it went with the campsite.
There is nothing happening at the upstream end of Zwentendorf. I fell asleep to the sound of rain on the tent and an occasional ship chugging up the river.
On Thursday, the two Germans were up and out before the town employee showed up to collect our camping fees. As planned, the tent finished drying while I ate breakfast. As I rode up the river, the topography began to change. The broad fields of the floodplain gave way to mountains, pressing in from both sides.
I never stopped marveling at the excellent condition of this long bicycle superhighway, and the clear, frequent marking. One does not need a map to make this trip.
The campsite at Melk sits on a spit pointed downstream in a lovely park at the edge of town. The Melker Fahrhaus was everything I could ask for in a European campground: quiet, clean, well-furnished, with blazing WiFi. I had supper on the restaurant terrace, watching the river life pass by. I stayed to work as I finished my beer. The campsite was quiet, because the nearest motor vehicles were so far away.
Friday featured headwinds and heat. Not the enervating, summer heat that lies ahead, but simply the warmest day this week.
I took a gamble on my OsmAnd software and lost. It showed me a shorter way up the river past where the Donau Radweg turned inland through a series of villages, including a very steep climb into Erla. I stayed in the river until it was too far to turn back – and the path ended. Abruptly. Not just turned to dirt, but stopped.
I walked my bike over to the forest road and made my way over dirt roads through the woods to find the highway north of Erla. OsmAnd was set to avoid unpaved roads, but every once in a while, it forgets that. In any case, the dirt roads were little used and well-groomed, and the “mistake” did bypass the ridge where Erla sits. Rather than go for another campground, I booked a room in the Landgasthof Winklehener in Sankt Pantaleon, a small village north of Erla. It had been a pleasant 78-km day, but the adventure left me tired. Supper and a shower felt so good. So did the comfortable bed. The old church outside my window rang every quarter-hour, but I slept through it until dawn the next day.
Saturday morning, I crossed from Lower Austria into Upper Austria. Nothing marked this event, but, looking back, I realized that the gorges had become seriously steep. Now I often found that the Donau Radweg favoured one side or the other, rather than running up both banks. I crossed to the left bank (the north shore) shortly after leaving Sankt Pantaleon. This put me close by the river, where I could ride among trees and see the industrial facilities of Linz from afar. I also noticed that the road on the right bank often had to climb steep places where the mountains plunged into the river. Along the way, I admired the swans, which prosper on the Danube. After about 50-60 km, I crossed back to the right bank at Asbach au Donau for the last 7 km ride to my destination, the campground at Kaiserau. The Kaiserhof operation owns this bend in the river, across from Untermühl: campgrounds, Landgasthof, summer cabins, restaurant, and even the little Radfähre (bicycle ferry) that runs to town across the river.
As I got ready to pitch my tent, I noticed that the couple next door were wearing matching Tour de Nice jerseys and speaking French. They had moved one over from where the monolingual worker had pointed. I liked their old spot, so I asked if they planned to set up where they were. They welcomed me to their old spot. After setting up, I went up to the restaurant terrace for a beer and to check my email. The French couple showed up, and we had pre-dinner drinks and conversation. They spoke only French. Henri and Marie Nöel live on Mont Ventoux, arguably the toughest stage of the Tour de France. With corded muscles like steel, and fit and tanned complexions, I was not surprised that they were covering more than 100 km each day.
They were riding from Mont Ventoux to Vienna for their 40th wedding anniversary, and they had been riding together for 36 years of their marriage. (I guess the first four years produced the three children.) I thoroughly enjoyed an evening in French after weeks of struggling with pieces of Hungarian and German. They warned me that the German parts of the Donau Radweg were not as nice as what I was enjoying in Austria, but that the unpaved sections should not be a problem for my 32-mm tyres. Henri insisted on paying the tab. They left to fix supper in their campsite. The cuisine along the road was not up to their standards, something I could appreciate. I went into the restaurant for goulash and salad.
Not knowing what to expect for my first ferry ride on the Danube, and worried about the ferry not running on Sunday, I was up early. The tent was perfectly dry, not even any nighttime condensation. My bicycle was waiting on the ramp when the ferryman walked up. The staff at the Kaiserhof had explained that I should by a Kombi-ticket for both ferry rides that I would need to get to Au. The path from Untermühl to the landing at the end of the road took me under a thick tree cover. The path on the other side turned inland, up into the mountains. At the landing in the middle of nowhere (actually, it’s called Grafenau), I saw a buzzer and a speakerphone. A press of the button rang the ferryman’s mobile phone. He said that he would be there in a few minutes. I was impressed by the pontoon catamaran Radfähre, powered by a pair of powerful Honda outboards.
The ferryman explained that he had built it just this last winter, and the speedy craft is a big success. He can move twice as many bikes and bikers per day as before, without having to build a bigger craft (above 12 passengers, he would need onerous licensing and paperwork). He wants to build a diesel model, because he won’t get many years from the outboards in heavy daily use (I figured three years; he agreed). The ride to Au on the left bank took us around two bends in the river with no road or bike path on them.
From Au, I made my way up the left bank. Taking this side put me into Germany 18 km sooner than I expected, because the river runs between the two countries from Uferhaüs to Passau (the Inn River becomes the border at Passau).
The passage from Austria to Bavaria was as clear and dramatic as passing from Tuscany into Emilia Romagna. The pavement turned into a potholed mess right at the line. After two kilometres, the road became decent again, but never as smooth as the Austrian roads and bike paths. I also noticed that about 40% of the Donau Radweg in Germany is unpaved. However, as the French couple told me, the surface is groomed, and the dirt path is smooth. The Germans are serious about not allowing motor vehicles on the Radweg, and that helps prevent potholes and ruts. There are benches along the Radweg, well-used by cyclists of all shapes, sizes and ages. Hundreds passed me, almost all in the opposite (downstream) direction. I had been warned about riding upstream by the guidebooks, and it certainly proved true on the weekend.
Passau was a beautiful town, with a long history of independence and influence. Built by the Romans, it sits at the confluence of three big rivers: the Danube, the Inn, and the Ilz. In effect, it has controlled access between the Black Sea and Central Europe for centuries. I booked a room in what looked like a cute hotel right on the Donau Radweg. The Rotel Inn was designed to look like a river cruise ship, and it works. The rooms are tiny, like staterooms, but very efficiently laid out. I enjoyed the feeling of being at sea without the price! On the recommendation of the receptionist, I walked to the Bayersiche Löwe Restaurant for supper.
My timing could have been better for Passau. Not only did I arrive on Pentecost, but Pentecost Monday is celebrated as an official holiday in Bavaria. Museums, stores, etc. were all closed. I would have liked to hear the world’s largest organ at the Cathedral of Saint Stephen (17,974 pipes and 233 stops), but the daily concerts (1200 and 2000) are not played on holidays. Nevertheless, I enjoyed walking around downtown, and retiring to my cozy stateroom for the night.
I had left Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, and Austria behind. I would be in Germany for the next few weeks.
Smooth roads and tailwinds,