Well, that’s it, tomorrow we leave Vienna, albeit one of us will have to rush back by train on th’ appointed day, to collect visas. So, here’s a final photo-roll from Gideon’s pics.
A view of St Peter’s dom, hiding the bits in scaffolding or not cleaned yet.
The Belvedere, we couldn’t quite get to the purpose of; it seems to have been basically a summer house, Hapsburg-style. Compared to many of Franz Joseph’s (later) creations, it is relatively unornate.
These fine fellows’ forefathers must’ve carved a lot of the fine stonework. No call for it today. Instead, they apply a superb level of craftsmanship to Vienna’s pavements (sidewalks). You could’ve played snooker on this patch, I swear they were polishing it. Nothing like Murphy’s “hit it with the back of a shovel’n’run”.
The Kaiser/Emperor was never going to take up cycle-touring. The court was often in travelling mode, but it wasn’t choosing titanium sporks. This is how they packed the candlesticks. Actually, the final decades of the Austro-Hungarian empire did coincide with the invention of bicycle and indeed cycle touring.
The Vienna running club limbering up.
We had always planned Vienna as a substantial stop, as all embassies are here. Then, in (I think) Deggendorf, we had the most wonderful bit of luck. Clare had got chatting with Monika, a solo cycletourer going the other way, aiming to reach the North Cape over three months. We were able to pass on a few tips about Norway (such as waterproof socks, value of; old post road, steepness of), and helped load maps.me onto Monika’s tablet, as we’d found it great for finding campsites, while not online, which she’d found an issue. Then Monika offered to let us use her flat in Vienna. Wow. Thanks Monika. Much nicer than a pension, and helps a lot with the budget. And helpful neighbours Helga and Andi let us in and set us up.
So: Friday: Get up and work out what to do. Revive visa research memories, and reread recent email from helpful David at Stantours. Started revising schedule based on current performance. Decide first priority is to get Uzbekistan visa. Check process (big form) and embassy opening hours: drat, it shuts at 12, in 30 minutes, no chance. Next opening is Wednesday. We’d better be ready…
Thus, into Vienna for sightseeing, bike repairs, and a few bits.
Bike shop #1, looks promising and quite different from German bike shops. A row of sleek racers fills the front, then MTBs, then utilities. The shop looks like it’s been here for decades, resembles an old fashioned chemist, with cabinets of wooden drawers and a counter. Few parts or glitzy clothing visible, though a glass case holds Campag Record kit, like jewellery. An old gent with fine moustaches comes to the counter, then fetches & presents a drawer containing Shimano dynamo hubs, 36 hole, with alternative axles. Usable at a pinch, but basic models, draggy, heavy and needing different spokes in the spares kit. We demur, and he suggests a few 100m up the street.
Bike shop #2, we hit lucky. It’s a more modern shop, but again, ungermanish, these urban Austrians clearly skip the utility jobs in favour of drop bars and carbon everything (Well, the utilities still fill the streets, but it is a workday). And the staff are expert conversationalists in English. And, bingo!, some of the stock bikes bear SP hubs. So, a new one is ordered, it seems we can get this job done in under a week, even with a bank holiday.
Then onwards, to the bookshop (maps & phrasebooks), and a few clothing refinements. And gawping at the huge array of spectacular buildings of the imperial past. And avoiding being run over by tram or elegant horse-drawn fiacre.
Now, curiously, after all this frantic activity, we have an enforced long weekend of inactivity. Hmmm.
There are newspapers and some magazines for sale on street corners.
We’ve reached Vienna. We had a couple of full on days with headwinds but arrived before the rain set in.
White horses on the river and a bow wave breaking on the barge.
We have been stunningly fortunate to be able to stay in Monika’s flat near the center of Vienna. Monika is busy cycling to North Cape & very kindly allowed us to use her flat.
The route has been very smooth, staying quite faithfully to the bank. This has worked against us in the strong headwinds we have had these last few days as there was no shelter. Some days we could only grind out 15kph or so, and 80km days have been hard work. Sunny & warm though. The penultimate day before Vienna, there were white horses on the river, really a stiff breeze.
But the last day, weather broke, misty and dull, few drizzly showers, but less wind, and we covered 117km to Vienna without hardship. It tipped down overnight, but we were snug!
Broadly speaking, as we approached the Austrian border the Danube changed character. We took a boat trip through the famous “breakthrough” gorge section where every prominent feature was named.
This rock is called The Maiden. She looks rather pregnant to me.
The river continued with a narrow passage and steep hills either side on into Austria where it eventually wiggled round the ‘great meander’ before widening out again, as we progressed further.
There were many beautiful castles, monasteries & churches high up on the hill tops through this section commanding excellent views of the river, that can be seen from miles away.
There are a lot of ferries, many taking bikes, well, there are a lot of radfarrers following the radweg.
The radweg runs on both sides, and one day we took ferries three times, not entirely necessarily. At €2.50 each pp, it made some dent in the daily budget (Which is about €30 each per day).
We’ve been inside a number of the churches when chilling out in the town centers & they are all very spectacular. The stone carvings much more extensive and, well, floweryer, than in England. We also remarked on the changing styles of church spires.
Since France really, we have seen little evidence of local rural life. Although we have frequently passed through agricultural land we’ve seen very little activity. In Austria the crops have changed from arable into orchards and vineyards, although these are in small strips.
One older man in a leather apron was using a pitchfork to load hay onto a small cart & another was wandering across a good sized field of seedlings with a hoe but I had expected to see much more evidence of more ancient ways of life. I guess it will come as we travel further east.
My introduction to the Donau was on a day trip into Ulm. With the chores done we turned tourist & climbed up the 768 steps to the top of Munster, the largest church tower in the world which had spectacular views of the city, countryside & River Danube. Last year Ulm celebrated 150 years of completion. Cologne also celebrated the occasion whilst noting the old rivalry saying, congratulations to 150 years & 4 metres.
Approaching the last of the stairs.
One of the ancient stain glass windows in the Ulm church.
View from the Munster (Minster) in Ulm.
Reflections in the water ways through the old town in Ulm.
Both of us had expected to follow the river quite closely but having cycled many Sustrans routes in the past, where the North Sea Cycle Route goes through York in the UK, we should have known better.
Gid has had a flat tyre, in fact it’s an old one (an instant patch) that has failed after 9 months use, 6 / 1. Gid always gets the punctures, tee hee, but I have killed my down mattress by deflating it when kneeling on it. A baffle broke & the inner tent looked as if there had been a snow storm. Gid has also had gear failure on his bike, apart from the on-going shimmy, that dominates his packing proceedure and many hours of cycling, he has had a bearing brake in his front hub.
Along the route and generally scattered around are street dispensers selling inner tubes. Gid hasn’t needed to purchase one yet!
As well as the stunning views and numerous castles along the route we are notching up a list of animals we’ve seen.
So far: far more hares than rabbits, snakes, a slow worm, deer, numerous buzzards that seem to follow tractors like the seagulls in England, to name a few. There is also a frequent cacophony of frog ‘song’. Once one frog starts they all get going until it eventually quietens back down.
After parting with Dave, we headed south, leaving the castles route. Away from the river valley, it became more rolling, but still very pleasant. Ended up at a club site, tho not sure what club: ever so friendly, but alas after a long day, we’re good only for bed.
On leaving, we remarked on the rarity of a start downhill. Little did we know, after very few km, we hit a monster: 2km of 16%. Ouch! After that, rolling country, mostly little farm tracks, but well surfaced. The next site is commercial, but home it seems to a small permanent community, living in caravans that have grown roots; we often see those on German sites. One gent kindly offers us a big pot of boiled spuds n carrots, overcatered it seems. A welcome change from our endless pasta.
Shortly after leaving, the way is hastily blocked by a farmer, whose cows then come round the corner. Then off the road they trot, into a lush green buttercuppy meadow, to happy moos and a bit of gambling. He explains it’s their first time out this year. Last week there was deep snow here, the cows were still indoors. Then he invites us in for a coffee, but alas, we really need to get on. This becoming typical, so many people are so kind.
After some time over this rolling idyll, we are closing on Ulm. This is a long-planned stop, to meet up with some of Gideon’s friends from Continental. Both Melchior and Joe had offered us a bed. Joe’s location was a lot better, so to Blaustein we went. Amazingly the last 5km were flat. But Joe put in a last little really steep Street, to make us appreciate the rest.
Wonderful warm reception from Joe and Anke & daughter Anja. Melchior turned up for tea and to plot the next few days.
Weds was a welcome rest day, visiting Ulm, climbing the steps up the Munster, and replacing some broken kit. Oh, and our first real blog update… That took hours! Also got useful input on Gideon’s creaking front hub, from Joe’s favoured bike shop. But nothing can be done quickly enough, as Thursday is a bank holiday. So it’ll have to soldier on.
Many, many thanks to Joe & family for the hospitality. Besides the physical benefits, it was so nice being wrapped up in real home, and having extended conversations and joining in.
Thurs morning, we set off with Joe and Anke (nice new bike!), and RV with Melchior and Sonia at the station. Off we all go down the Donau (Danube in English) radweg.
Since the Worthing crew returned home there had been a serious change in the weather. It’s no longer shorts, t-shirt and don’t forget the sun cream. Rain and snow have given the water proofs a good testing. We’ve all now invested in Marigolds to add a waterproof layer over our gloves.
Nearby there was 30 – 40 cm of snow. Joe and Melchoir said they were thinking of sending us their studded tyres
It’s been quite interesting crossing the boarders. France was beautiful and very rural while Belgium seemed to have a more urban feel to it. My thoughts on Luxemburg are dominated by the city. Luxemburg city is stunning with many well preserved medieval ruins. We followed a signed tour of the ancient city which provided beautiful panoramic views as the city cascades from seriously high to river side with roads and buildings on many levels.
Germany is our fourth country and we’re still trying to switch bonjour for gutten Morgen.
So far we have managed to select a good balance between scenic minor roads, lanes and main roads. At times they all have some serious hills which drastically affect the mileage achieved in a day.
Mannheim, situated on the Rhine, looked beautiful as we rolled in.
Leaving Luxembourg City, we found ourselves wanting a few bike bits. A quick search whilst at the auberge showed us one bike shop in roughly the direction we wanted. Dave programmed his Garmin, which duly led is down into, then up from, another Luxembourgish ravine. Then back down again, to pitch up at Andy Schleck Cycles. But we discovered not a bike shop, but a temple to the bicycle. Sleek racing machines gleamed in every corner, and actually even the floors gleamed too.
Andy Schleck himself was there, and on hearing of our mission, offered us a goody bag of sports fuel, and a photo-op.
And we all got to shake the hand of the 2010 Tour winner.