Well I’ve just reached Passau, the end of the Danube in Germany, on my last leg from Dillingen. Nine days cycling with no rest days (only one 50km half day), all camping bar one night in a hostel and I must say I am weary! Whilst I am significantly fitter than I was when I left I’ve found that gradually, when cycling everyday, I still seem to build up fatigue. At the start of the 9 days I slept 7 hours a night, at the end I am up to around 12. I think I may be pushing too hard but it’s good to learn what I am capable of whilst still in the safe surroundings of western europe. Anyway on with a quick summary of riding this leg.
The ride from Dillingen to Ingolstadt wasn’t the most interesting of days although a couple of sections cycling through wildlife sanctuaries and woods were nice, I also crossed paths with a couple whose bikes were loaded up with way more gear than mine! Should really start stopping to chat with people but when you and they are both in the flow it’s very easy to just fly past each other with a quick wave and then regret it later.
One interesting sight during the day, on the eastern outskirts of the city of Neuburg on Donau, was the huge Grunau Hunting Palace. I guess it was once some Bavarian princes equivalent to the British Queens Balmoral estate up in Scotland. I never understand big palatial hunting facilities as, despite not being a fun of hunting for pleasure, I always imagined the appeal of it would be to go back to nature. Either way it was quite an impressive building.
Another 15km or so and I was in Ingolstadt trying to find my way into the centre as I’d arrived quite early. As I was waiting off to the side of a cycle path staring at my map an old german guy pulled up next to me and asked if he could help. I said I’m trying to find the route to the centre and he offered to show me, giving me a little history lesson on the cities fortifications along the way! I stopped into the centre for a coffee and noticed some free WiFi and desperately bought the second half of Nelson Mandelas autobiography on my Kindle, a fantastic pair of books if you’re looking for something to read. I also quickly published the blog post that proceeds this (that I’d written on the road) and then went in search of my campsite.
Once I’d checked in and setup I realised there was a little bar in a tent next to where I was. I walked over and a guy was scooping the contents out of some coconuts, he tried to explain what he was doing despite me saying I couldn’t speak German (he did what I thought was a uniquely British phenomenon and proceeded to talk slower and louder in German, and probably with an English accent to completely mimic our bit!). Anyway he seemed friendly enough and I asked if I could get a Weissbier (Bavarian White beer, bit of an acquired taste but it’s really grown on me) and I was delighted to find out they were only 1.50 EUR (£1.30) for half a litre.
I whipped up some dinner, devoured about a quarter of my new Nelson Mandela book and then realised it was Friday night (worryingly easy to lose track of days when you don’t work…) I promptly went back over to the beer tent, had a couple more Weissbiers before succumbing to the days cycling and the brutal effect alcohol has when one is already worn out.
Again the next day was due to be fairly tame except for a very interesting section in the middle just south west of the town/city of Kelheim. The official Danube cycle path actually boards a boat here to ride through a gorge for about 5km and the map I have recommends taking this as the alternative route is “a steep climb with very heavy traffic”. Being that this trip is more of a personal challenge than a cycling holiday I want to cycle everything I can unless I really have to take an alternative (so far the English channel and the ferry to get across the Rhine being the only deviations). I threw the guidebooks recommendation to the wind and headed on up the climb.
It was steep, but the traffic really not that bad, but I noticed a bike route sign pulling off to the left saying “Kelheim”, the destination of my detour, so decided that that might make more sense than sticking to this main road. Wrong. This bike path started as a gravel climb up into the woods but quickly became a mountain bike trail through them, really not the sort of thing you want to ride a heavy touring bike on. Despite this, having already done the climb and not wanting to descend and re-climb on the road, I pressed on. What I should have considered in advance was what descending on this trail would be like. The combination of slippery autumn leaves on the ground and a heavy bike with powerful disc brakes equals wheel lock and a hair rising ride down the hill into town. Halfway down I saw a way off the track onto the main road and rejoined it flying down the hill with much more control! Lesson learnt.
Kelheim itself is fairly pretty but it’s skyline is dominated by the Hall of Liberation overlooking the town from the west which was built by King Ludwig I (and designed by Leo von Klenze) to celebrate Germany’s liberation from Napoleon. Remember those two as they have another huge monument I passed further down this blog post.
The rest of the day was fairly smooth sailing (apart from the lingering tiredness from the mountain bike trail experience) and I reached a camp on the Western outskirts of Regensberg with the plan of seeing a bit of the city in the morning. (As a note I can’t stop calling this city Reagens-burg after the US president).
This campsite turned out to be a bit of fun as the main occupants seemed to be a load of rabbits which I attempted to get a descent photo of (no luck). Also this was the first time I’d seen someone else camping in a tent (I’m not the only crazy autumn camper!) Unfortunately it was a hiker who seemed to have no interest in even responding to my “Hallo!”
Again the camp had a bar with cheap Weissbier and I rationalised it was a Saturday night. Turned out they had a private function on (the bar staff all dressed up in Liederhosen) but one of them said it was still ok to drink out on the patio. (Note: This member of bar staff paid a terrifying resemblance to the actor in the role of Hannibal Lecter in the prequel “Hannibal Rising”, hairstyle included. The Liederhosen just made it weird.) Fine with me I guess, I’ll sit on the patio, but I seemed to illicit some funny stares sat in cycling shorts and flip flops when it’s 5 degrees Celsius (my only footwear apart from cycling shoes is a pair of flip flops to save weight). Genuinely though I think being outside 95% of the time has made me feel the cold a lot less than normal.
As a side note this reminds me of when I saw an obese Japanese man, wearing Liederhosen and the accompanying hat, smoking a cigarette outside Oslo airport as I was about to fly to Svalbard in the Arctic. I gave him a questioning look and he stared back quite aggressively. Only later did I realise that it was Oktoberfest and he was probably on a flight to Munich. Still, even with the context, it was an odd sight.
Back to the cycling.
The next morning I went to check out the city. Again very pretty and has an impressive cathedral but I can’t help but think a lot of the towns on this river follow a very similar format. As I was rolling back down a cobble stone street to the river a big group of US tourists were getting a lecture on the area whilst I stopped by them at a set of lights. The tour guide pointed to a building saying “This is the oldest Wursthouse (German sausage restaurant) in the world!”, everyone promptly whipping out their cameras and took a picture. I was struck by how odd it was that this many people had travelled 4,000 miles or so to a city I’d only heard of a few days ago when I was looking at my route ahead, maybe there is more to the place than I thought?
Anyway I left the city looking forward to what I hope would be a highlight of the area, I’d read about a full size replica of the Parthenon that had been built by King Ludwig I (and designed by Leo von Klenze, the same pair as above) with the intention of housing busts of notable Germans. King Ludwig decided to name this building “Walhalla” after the Viking paradise. Two hits of cultural misappropriation in one building. Either way it is a spectacular sight both from the river and walking around it close up (despite the steep climb up to it). I got a quick glimpse inside (and a photo) but wasn’t willing to stump up the entrance fee to see a collection of busts.
On the way down the hill from Walhalla I passed a weird looking structure sign posted as the “Chinese Tower”, I should probably look up the context of it but it had a quite interestingly styled Dragon painted onto it. I got a bit excited thinking about what it’ll be like cycling through some traditional Chinese towns if I finally make it there!
After 30km uneventful riding I stopped for lunch and realised I had almost no food left. Not a problem, I ate what I had and decided to deviate into the next town to find a supermarket. I got to Straubing and found a Netto. Closed. Ok? Found a Lidl. Also closed. Everything looks closed? What day is it? Sunday. Bugger. Does everything shut in Germany on a Sunday? Quick look at the opening hours and it looks like that’s a big fat yes.
I cycled around the town and found a petrol station and, very hungry at this point, shelled out 5 Euros for a cold Schnitzel sandwich and a bottle of Fanta. Nothing makes grim food worse than being ripped off buying it. I also vowed to not let this be my only Schnitzel experience in Germany, I must have a proper one on my day off in Passau. Whilst dejectedly eating my “food” it began to rain heavily. Feeling a bit low I noticed that I’d marked a hostel in this town as costing only 17 EUR when I was doing my research into accommodation. I’d been planning to do another 20km today but came very close to saying sod it but after berating myself enough (with words I won’t repeat here) I carried on.
5km down the road and my rear tyre goes flat. In heavy rain. This is one of those moments where you tell yourself this is “Character building”. I get the luggage off the bike. Flip it over. Remove the rear wheel. Remove the tyre and tube. Pump the tube up a little and spot the problem immediately. The massive hole in the tube I’d fixed with a puncture repair kit from when the tyre sidewall blew out the previous week was leaking due to how large the hole was. I was actually quite relieved as this meant there was no new problem, just me carrying out an over optimistic repair (to be fair that tube did carry me 450km in that state). I put in a new tube and set about the difficult task of reseating my still fairly new, and thus rigid, Schwalbe tyre. To my delight I got it back on in a few minutes using a combination of the techniques the retired French bike mechanic in Rocroi had shown me and the German bike mechanic just east of Freiburg had. Feeling quite chuffed with myself I loaded the bike back up and powered on to a camp I’d found in Kleinschwarzach just west of the city of Deggendorf.
When I reached the camp in this little hamlet I pulled up outside a farmhouse with a big sign that read “Camping”. Sounds good right? The only activity I could see was what looked like a big family dinner inside where all the participants were silently staring at me. I decided staring back looking confused might illicit some help. Sure enough an old lady came out and the conservation went along the lines of:
Me: “Hallo, spracken ze English?”
Me: “Errr, Ein Nacht campingplatz?” (One night campsite?, whilst awkwardly making the shape of a tent with my hands)
She points to a patch of grass and then to a building saying “Toilet” and then “Euro. Morgen.”. I guess that’s all the info I need, sleep there, go to the toilet there and pay in the morning.
About an hour later someone who turned out to be a differant member of staff came over, saw my bike, and started asking me questions. When I asked if he spoke English he quickly put 2+2 together and asked if I’d cycled form England. I said yes and I guess this is the distance (about 900 miles) where people start think you’ve come a long way! He furnished me with a spare chair so I didn’t have to sit on my tarp on the ground, gave me some free apples from his apple tree (delicious!) and then drew me a map around a huge set of road blocks in Deggendorf down the road (as I’ve said before for some reason they don’t seem to divert road blocks in Germany, they just let you figure it out yourself.)
I had a lie in the next morning, as I said at the start the fatigue was really building up at this my last day of my 9 day stint. I was only going to do 65km today and the hostel didn’t open til 4pm so I relaxed and then did some maintenance on my bike. When cycling 7 hours a day, everyday, you’d be surprised how much more has to be done than when just commuting. I normally tighten up all the bolts on the bike, pump up the tubes a bit more, add some chain oil if needed and then adjust my brakes (which seem to need adjusting a hell of a lot.)
The next days ride into Passau was yet another fairly tame day (despite 3 undiverted road blocks: One which the directions I’d got in camp got me around, one I solved myself and another where two local cyclists showed me the way) but a highlight was just as I rolled into Passau looking forward to spending a night in hostel (and a real bed!).
About halfway to Passau, on the approach to Vishofen, there is a really cool scale model of the solar system built along the bike path. I only realised what was going on when I reached Jupiter (a shame as the Saturn model would’ve been cool);
About a mile from the hostel I saw a cyclist approaching with a fully laden bike covered in dust. I waved, he waved and then signalled to stop. We quickly got chatting and he was at the end of an epic cycling trip (Berlin to the Danube and then to Ukraine (Through Transnistria!), Boat to Russia and cycle to Kazhakstan, train across Kazhakstan cycle down to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, fly to Istanbul then cycle to Spain). We had a big nerdy chat about getting visas for Central Asia (And the difficulty of getting Chinese visas east of Istanbul) and then I realised he’d cycled the Pamir Highway! He said it was the highlight of Central Asia making me reaffirm my ambition of cycling it (As it stands it is an optional detour on my trip I’d love to take).
We said our goodbyes, I gave him directions to a Netto I’d seen earlier, and then I headed on to the hostel. Passau is very scenic where the three rivers join (It is yet another city claiming to be the venice of the north) but when I reached the final street to the hostel I was greeted by a 25% incline. Unreal, this shouldn’t be allowed to be a road and this hostel shouldn’t market itself to cycle tourists (it’s mentioned in the Danube bike trail guide). After the nearly killing myself pushing the bike up to the hostel I am shocked to find it is in a castle. My third unintentional castle of the trip. Sweet. I Skype family at home, get two Weissbiers to take to my room and hammer out this blog post. Not a bad end to a tough 9 days.
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I also want to divert the interest this trip generates towards helping out a charity that made a big differance to some friends of mine. Samuels Children Charity are a Lewes based charity providing support to families throughout the UK who are currently affected by childhood cancer. I hope to raise the sum of £5,000 from people who hear about this trip to help them continue their work, and to also keep me motivated throughout the challenges this trip will provide! If you’d like to see how the fundraising is going (or even better would like too donate!) then click here.