Friday, 5 October 2007
We cycled into Vitré and had a look around. What an awesome place; tiny medieval streets, a huge chateau and myriad other little features and adornments that make the place fascinating. Set off pedalling on a route that would have been fairly challenging if the wind was not blowing in the right direction.
We've seen the soil rocks change from limestone, to chalk, to slate, and now it is a mixture of granite and sandstone (which affects the look of the houses and walls, giving everything a slightly greyer, more angular look). Brittany houses tend to be solid, square and pragmatic with less florid gardens. There is still an incredible attractiveness about the place though, and some of the churches are incredible.
Wednesday, 3 October 2007
Went down to a lovely breakfast served by our gracious hosts. We were joined about half way through by this fascinating couple from Berlin. They now have a small lifestyle block about 60km outside of Pottsdam, but previously he was from East Germany and she from the West. They told us about their lives at the time around the wall was built, as well as talking about their professions (he was a physicist in the area of R&D around the effects of welding on various materials and joints). It was all fascinating and we prolonged breakfast until nearly 10am chatting with them.
Today's cycling was in warm sunshing with, at long last, a following wind. Undulating roads wound around and through ancient farmland peppered with manor houses, chateaux, and impressive looking farm estates. Also passed through an area famous for its horses, especially thoroughbreds, and have been treated to a fine display of equines. Le Lion de Angers had a huge race course - nearly cycled into several passing cars as I gaped at the set up there while pedalling past.
A slight miscalculation meant that we did 90km today but it was not too bad due to the friendly breeze and the glorious day. Spoke to Linda last night - am really looking forward to seeing friends and family again.
|St Malo Marina|
1 Polish haircut (very short)
147 mosquito bites
4 snake sightings
8 major rivers
3 Romanian hunnies rollerblading in bikinis (i nearly fell off my bike)
1 foot massage
36 rainy days
75 days in total
50 days in the saddle
1 great journey ....
Woke at 8.30 which meant a bit of a slow but very relaxed start. We'd done most of the packing the day before, and, to our pleasant surprise, the sky was blue - although there was a brisk breeze in our faces as we set off! Said goodbye to the splendid proprietor of the hotel and set off along the river, both of us celebrating how good our legs felt after a rest.
As we cycled along we got to thinking about some of the people we've met along the way, some that are truly inspirational. For example, Bruce, the 81 year old Canadian who regularly cycle tours around Italy, France, Spain and Germany with some friends. He was in Saumur on holiday with his daughter and son-in-law, and they had just spent the day cycling 40 odd kms around the vineyards. He looked as fresh as a daisy!! Today we also met an English couple, he a keen cycling enthusiast (60 to 65+), with hiswife who, after 40 years had just decided that cycling wasn't so bad after all! He was chuffed to bits, and they both looked incredibly happy and fit.
The cycling today took us out of the more touristy regions of the Loire and toward places where huge sand banks stretch along the river, often lined with great flocks of migrating birds. The villages are tucked in at the base of sheer chalky walls for some of this route, often with caves burrowed into the rock.
After lunch we said our goodbyes to the Loire and headed north; still into a rolicking head wind. Passed through some delightful rolling farmland full of stone mansions, working farms and late flowers. Skirted Angers as big cities are a nightmare to navigate and despite the wind, thoroughly enjoyed the undulating road and surroundings.
|La CROIX d' ÉTAIN|
The day was made extra peachy by our first adventure into staying at gites (avoided until now because of our awful French). John bravely rang the bell and our gracious host and hostess were patient, kind, and very helpful. The house is an old mansion, and has gorgeous gardens...one of the best places we stayed: La CROIX d' ÉTAIN (http://www.anjou-et-loire.com/croix ; Jacqueline & Auguste BAHUAUD; 2 Rue de l'écluse - F - 49220 GREZ NEUVILLE Tel. : +33 (o) 241 956 849 - fax : +33 (o) 241 180 272; firstname.lastname@example.org).
Friday, 28 September 2007
We've thoroughly enjoyed some R&R in preparation for our final leg up to Saint Malo where we are catching the ferry to Portsmouth on 3rd of October.
Following the cycle route we then headed away from the Cher (yes, John did all the jokes and the singing) and the Indre, back to the Loire. Next was a 14 percent climb (which we managed to cycle up) followed by an 18 percent climb - which we pushed our bikes up. Yes, both of these are indeed on the official cycle route. Gorgeous view from the top; crap decent into Saumur.
We managed to get out by 10am including getting fuel for the stove. First we climbed the hill out of the town then turned the corner into the howling head wind. It was going to be a somewhat challenging day! We actually changed direction 3 times, and each time the wind remained in our faces. Initially we had 20km across a plateau with little to shelter us. We then headed off on our detour to detour Tours, and were peeved when we ended up doing a detour of the detour as a brand new (ie no cars yet) road had been built across some of the little roads we were planning to use.
Lunch was not picturesque - eaten by a large grain storage barn so that we were able to shelter from the wind and the rain, it wasn't our best to date :-)
There were high points to the day though such as cycling over the brow of a hill to see an incredible cloud scape towering above us, or pqssing through what was obviously very old oak forest.
Great campsite at Savonnières though with an uninterrupted view of the river. Had a glass while watching the sun set.
Lunch was taken on a rather elegant bench overlooking the Chateau Chambord with its collection of ornate, lofty chimneys perched on grey-tiled towers. All is supported on a huge white stone edifice (shown in one of the pictures on this Blog). Amazing, especially as it was such a folly. The surrounding parkland is partially a wildlife reserve and is open to the public; Great for walking and cycling. After our picnic we headed off toward Chiteau and 'made it up', bowling along forest roads surrounded by the sound of falling acorns.
We pedalled into Chaumont, and because John had an infected gnat bite we decided to call it a day. We popped the tent up in the pretty camp site beside the river qnd then mooched up the hill to see the local chateau and the splendid view from the top.
Thursday, 27 September 2007
There was intially pleasant cycling along the levee alongside the river. The trees have gone pqst autumnal russets to dark browns and many are totally leafless. The smell of late autumn is everywhere, and now, instead of harvesters, there are tractors ploughing.
We followed the somewhat confusing and annoying Loire Valley Cycle Route for the first part of the day. It's a route full of surprises - sometimes you can be bowling along and suddenly the route ends - no warning. Or there's a bridge missing (and there may or may not be diversion signs!), or the surface disintegrates so much that it is actually easier to cycle on the grass. On the whole though, the concept and the opportunities it will offer are excellent.
As the rain came down and we skirted the numerous potholes on the path John sang a medley of rain themed songs. Even when I begged and pointed out that it was in fact raining all the harder, he continued to warble...by the end of it I was howling with laughter!
We cycled into Orleans (made easy by following the cycle route) and were lucky to stumble across the Festival of the Loire. It was perfectly timed for lunch so we stopped and sampled the many gorgeous cheeses, and filled up on hot food. We met with further encouaqgement for our endeavours, and left with wishes thqt all our hills be down from hereon in.
We cycled on through Meung-sur-Loire (scenic and with an engaging town centre complete will little, steep, cobbled streets). I was feeling a bit under the weather so we just cycled on to Beaugency where we booked into the expensive, but very helpful, L'Ecu de Bretagne. Had an awesome meal at a little restaurant in town and discovered the joys of the set menu. Strolled back through the medieval streets and enjoyed the lights reflectected in the rain laced cobbles.
We finally set off at 10am and puffed up the hill back into town. Looked into the 12th century Romanesque church (Saint Etienne) later embellished with Gothic extras, before pedalling off into the hills.
The route we hqd chosen basically followed the route of the Loire meandering through towns and villages. We were often taken aback as we crested hills to see a fantastical chateau looming on the horizon. Sully-sur-le-Loire was particulqrly memorable.
We finally got going, and began to thaw out on the bikes as we headed out of Nevers. We passed by ore picturesque villqges, often with a grand old chateau thrown if for good measure. Lunch was idyllic. Stopped on a grqssy gnoll in the sunshine beside an apple tree. We lay in the sun for our repast, entertaining a couple of guys who drove past. Motorists were again friendly and encouraging giving friendly waves or tootles as they drove past.
We had a quick cycle around the pretty little town of decize which seems to have incorporated the ancient city wall into a lot of the buildings and houses. Had a quick coffee and thawed out our toes and fingers before setting off into brilliant sunshine. It was an easy 40km to Nevers with winding roads through lovely country villages, and the head wind, although making itself present, was not too bad.
We stopped to look at a 12th century chapel in the middle of a cow paddock! Wonderfully simple and peacful inside, but with a turbulent history.
Spent the evening in the tent listening to owls serenade each other. Nevers was disappointing; overrun with traffic and with no atmosphere. The campsite is splendid though with an uninterrupted view of the river and the cathedral.
Met a great Dutch couple who were cycle touring from across the Pyrenees bqck to Holland on a tandem.
The sun made a couple of guest appearances, and lunch was by the Loire. We bumped our way down a steep little track to the river bank where there was a wooden platform jutting out into the water. A perfect spot to relax. After pushing our bikes back up the hill (doh) the rest of the ride from thence on was just hard work with one of us cycling in front for about 10kms each, with the other drafting, swap positions...repeat. Decize finally hove into view, and the riverside campsite was a gem. Celebrated cycling over 3,000kms.
We hoped on the Green Route along the Canale Centrale. Saw a huge luxury barge complete with swimming pool and staff negotiate a lock...hmmmm. The day was very still qnd the route that we took allowed us to enjoy the mesmerising reflection of the autumn trees and passing countryside. Saw a lot of wildlife too including lizards, herons, a shrew, birds of prey, and multiple insects. Also saw a couple of chateaux. One in particular had slate grey ogee topped cylindrical towers and was situqted in manicured gardens. Of interest too were the mining and canal communities that we passed through.
Almost killed myself on a slippery corner - lost the back wheel, nearly lost the front, righted everything, and continued with shaky legs and a pounding heart; John was in front and did not witness this near catastrophe :-)
John suffered his second puncture in as many days so we decied to change the inner and the tyre. Efficiently he changed the necessary while I mended the puncture, qnd kept us fed with fresh hazelnuts from the tree under which we were working;
The final part of the day turned into a sprint to try to outrun the rain. We failed miserably. The thunder clouds caught us and made locating the campsite in Paray le Monial a bit of a mission. Lovely campsite though; peaceful and well-equipped.
It has been blissful. John cycled off into the village for croissants for breakfast (just needed the beret...) and returned with a big smile and lots of pastries. Sitting in the sun having made coffee on our rather splendid stovetop coffee pot watching the long morning shadows on the hills was just blissful. After breakfast we dawdled our way up to the local windmill. There just happened to be one of the gys who looks after the windmill (built in the early 1800s) up there, and he very kindly gave us a guided tour and run down (in French) of how the grain is milled. Amazing how much you can understand from context, a patient speaker of the language, and a smattering of appropriate voacabulary.
Once back at the campsite John set up a shade. A Dutch couple watched this until the bike that was holding the tarp up fell on my head, and then came over with some tent poles that they leant us for the afternoon. I spent the afternoon sketching the hills, while John does what he really enjoys - snoozing, reading, and eating.
Today we encountered a lot of encouragement from other cyclists qnd from motorists ranging from friendly waves to fanfares of car horns;
We are now in a fantastic campsite. Santenay is a pleasant village from which the smell of apples and wine emanates and stone buildings are surrounded by flowers and old wine presses. The view from the tent is fabulous with hills covered in vines. I am now off to sample the produce of said hills :-)
We woke to light fog that mean that everything was dripping wet, especially the tent. The failure of us to locate a supermarket yesterday also meant that breakfast was a little meagre, although Tobiqs kindly shared his bread with us. He decided to accompqny us as far as Dole, and then continue on from there.
The cycle was mainly along the canal on a sunny day that was almost perfect except for the head wind. Headed into town stopping at a place zith a fascinqting blocky church with one of the multi-coloured tiled rooves that are fmous in this region. Dole was a wonderful surpise. Chalky grey stone buildings built on a steep hill, narrow alleyways, and all topped with a cathedral. The campsite was a lovely place on its own island and we could see the whole town right out of the tent doorway.
People have been friendly and helpful in France in the last three days - they are lovely! Had a delightful meal in town by way of a change, and, clutching our phrase book, managed to do all the choosing etc in French!
Doing what we do best, eating cake.
On the Loire. The river is dotted with mediaeval (never could spell that word) towns with great bridges. Most of them had lovely little campsites by the river looking up at the castle/chateau/cathedral.
Rain in Orleans. Looking happy despite the weather.
Chateau Chambord. An absolute folly built by Luis or Phillipe the something-or-other as a hunting lodge. It has hundereds of rooms ands was supposedly designed with the help of Leo DaVinci. The guy who built it stayed there for less than 50 days in total.
From here we head north and into britany for the last few days of the trip. The next posting will probably be made from the ferry as we return to the UK. Booo.
The hills were sometimes steep but never uncycleable with a load, and a lot were edged with great avenues of plane trees covered in vines just on the turn and coloured russet, red, burnt umber, and yellow. The villages we passed through were 'real' old farm houses with chooks charging around the yards, while others are colourfully painted. A couple of ladies sat with baskets of fresh walnts, relaxing in the sun. Many of the trees were rustling wildly as we cycled by as people attempted to dislodge various nuts and fruit. At the camp site in the evening the lovely lady there came up and gave us a couple of huge handfulls of fresh walnuts - delicious.
Tobias found us at our coffee stop and joined us for the day's cycling. We cycled into Besçancon (busy, trqffic-filled, but with interesting narrow streets ad great tarte au citron) qnd then cycled out onto a cycle route beside the river Doubs. The campsite, apart fro, its close proximity to a gravel pit, was restful and, after a chilly dip in the lake, we cooked up on the picnic benches while watching the sun set.
The sun was out in full glory as we threaded our way out of the city and over the border. The architecture gradually changed as we set off on some of the best cycling we have done to date. Mainly quiet, or almost deserted, , rural roads wound their way through countryside with many copses, fields of assorted crops, and paddocks with doe-eyed white cows. The hills were rolling, and the wind followed us, making what would have been a very tough day a little less demanding. The climb from Basel was, overall, gradual and we were helped by the many things to look at, as well as the fact that the temperature got up to aournd 25°!
Flowers seem to qbound in the tiny villages we cycled through, spilling out of window boxes, over fences, lining bridges, and hung in great clumps from baskets. Lots of small brooks gugled through the centre of villages and this delectable kitchiness was complemented by the sight of a couple of immense eagles very close by.
The campsite was huge, well8equipped, by the Doubs, and just about dark enough to look at the stars. Our 'neighbour' is a friendly German chemistry student called Tobias and who is cycling to meet his mates.
On Monday we sought out the maps that we need for France and marked our route on them. We also hopped on a tram out to the local hypermarket to pick up some white gas, and some of the excellent handle-less Sigg thermal mugs that we have been searching for ever since we saw them in Pottsdam.
In the evening we went to Basel's vegetarian restaurant, before heading back to a heavenly little wine bar just behind our hotel. We chatted about the future; our dreams and aspirations, and how undertaking the sort of journey that we currently are is so good for removing you from day-to-day "white noise" and giving you the time and space to really think what you hope for in life. Wine bars of this ilk seem condusive to such discussions :-)
Tuesday we decided on a together/apart day where we both go off and do our own thing and then meet up to talk about what we have just done. John headed off to one of the local art galleries (and to do some other chores), while I found a bench beside the fast-flowinfg Rhine in the sunlight and hooked out my sketch pad to try and capture a sense of the jumble of diffent buildings of different heights, widths, colours, and styles.
Wednesday, 26 September 2007
Fun was also to be had with the number of other cyclists who were out and about on a "Ride the Rhine" event. A fully laden touring bike is quite formidable, especiqlly at full pelt, but a couple of guys still nearly tried to run us off the track. The trick is to hold your line while the dogs whine and scatter, children cycle screaming to their parents, qnd old ladies throw themselves into the verges (I am joking, really I am).
We worked well together even though the 70km flat day turned out to be an 88km undulqting day. Basel, as indicated in all the guide books is an amazing place. Quite lqrge and set on two sides of the river, architecturally it looks like the sort of Medieval town a cartoonist might draw; it has real character. There was also a festival underway, so we soaked up some culture strolling alongside the river listening to African drumming, a particularly good funk band and soaking up the carnival atmosphere. We ended up at a superb little restaurant where we enjoyed some excellent galettes, and discussed some of the issues in the book that John is reading called The God Delusion. Got pretty heated at times....
I think we are going to stay a couple of days in Basel to rechqrge the batteries a bit, and also do justice to the great chocolate shops that are all over Basel.
We had discussed the idea of dropping on to the more demanding Route 3, but due to a bit of a late start, when it came to the point to make the turn off (or not) we decided to return to the Rhine on Route 18. As such we had a mixed day of cycling, including one 17percent ascent over & and a half kms; Lung bursting and leg quaking. The countryside at the top was superb though. More rolling hills qnd the suggestion of the magnificent Alps etched into the surrouding clouds. A scenic cake stop for sure, although if nature had seen fit to open up a little of the cloud cover, that would hqve been even better.
We skirted Zurich taking in the sights, sounds and smells of q very large quarry, Zurich airport, and a sewerage works. At times we knew not where we were or where we were heading, but we finally found our tun toward the Rhine, and headed off. Time for dinner now....
Monday, 17 September 2007
The houses are distinctly different and there is a definite sense of industriousness in the fields and orchards.
The route climbs quite seeply at first, but then levels off, although there was a pretty steep climb on gravel at one point. Love the place, people, route, and cycling though...
Thursday 6th September (Day 51): Lindau to Arbon (Germany, to Austria, to Switzerland in a day (57km)
While pedaling along today we discussed a few top tips/observations and will be posting them soon (rather tongue in cheek, but based on experience).
We made the transition into Austria (welcome back cycle route signs), and then again into Switzerland. Oh my - do these guys know how to sign a cycle route!! Place names, distances, reassurance markers, the whole lot, and on big signs you can even spot if you are myopic.
The camp site we rocked up to is fantastic. There is an area set apart just for tents, right beside Bodensee, and in spite of being beside a railway track, there is no major motorway, or a halogen lamp burning down on the tents. We had a superb evening sitting by the lake, scaring the ducks, being scared by the swans, and watching the sun go down.
Complicated route finding on the way to Bad Tolz at the foot of the Alps in Germany
When not drinking beer on rafts, Bavarians spend their spare time painting murals house fronts. Mostly religious, but this one has a more contemporary theme. Sadly, we did not find a Harry Potter house, but i am sure one exists.
The Alps. We only got close enough to look. Maybe next time, when our bags are lighter, we will go over them.
Why do we do this? The only reason i can think of is so that we can eat as many cakes as we like. This was taken in Switzerland. The trip from Germany through Switzerland poduced some of he worst weather so far, including hail and temperatures of 9 deg!
As far as i can see, the country is actually designed for cycling. Great little roads through glorious countryside with hardly any traffic. Any drivers that you do encounter are courtious to cyclists. Campsites are great and they are among the cheapest we have found on route so far. Also, the French are great fun. I recommend this country to anyone - based on 4 days experience...
Wednesday, 12 September 2007
Our route through France is, roughly, Basel > Dijon > Orleans > Angers > St Malo > Roscoff. Wiggling along rivers to cross East to West then heading North into Brittany.
France is relatively unknown to me so I am looking forward to this bit. Sadly, though, i dont think the cakes will be the same as the carbo loaded confectionary heart attacks we have been enjoying for the past few weeks.
Thursday, 6 September 2007
This afternoon, John replaced the brake blocks on all four brakes on our bikes while I came and updated the Blog and checked emails. There was a brilliant email from SJS Cycles from whom we bought our bikes and most of our gear. They are being extremely proactive in helping us with pannier failures and problems. Really chuffed.
We also bought a book of bike routes across Switzerland and are planning to follow the highly recommended route 5. Tomorrow we are heading around Lake Bodensee (Constance) toward Switzerland...let´s hope the rain goes, and the temperature rises.
Tuesday 4th Septmber (not December-thanks Aniket!!) 2007 (Day 49): Rettenberg to Lindau (83km, average temperature 9° centigrade)
We were, however, dressed in our rather splendid waterproofs (North Face trousers, Sprayway jacket, Goretex gaiters (can´t remember the make) and Sealskin waterproof socks). As such, we were warm and feeling rather rufty tufty, although the extremeties were somewhat chilly. The wickedly steep hill (not shown) did provide an opportunity to warm our feet up, though, when we ended up pushing the bikes as the surface was fine, `skiddy' gravel.
Between downpours we had a couple of heavenly, sunny moments to enjoy the landscape and our surroundings. The mountains were looking their best, with tendrils of clouds shot through with sunshine twining around the slopes and peaks.
The final few kilometers into Lindau were a bit of a mystery tour as there was no sight of the lake or the town until we were alomst there. Lindau is another of those fascinating Medieval towns with houses built topsy turvy beside each other, tiny alleyways, and frescoes beautifully restored on many of the buildings.
There was no dissent between us when it was suggested that we book into a guest house. After trying a few places we found a superb´`Bett und Bike' place called Hotel Schreier (Fabergasse 2, D-88131 Lindau, Bodensee, email@example.com, http://www.hotel-schreier/) where we even have a mini sauna in the room, something we made immediate use of. The staff are friendly and helpful too. No cycling tomorrow!
We had a couple of fabulous hours climbing through steep sided valleys with tiny well-kept villages, all with the wooden chalets, red geraniums galore spilling over balconies, cow byres, and neatly stacked wood-piles, all with a mountain backdrop. Coffee and cake (a large, seed-filled pastry, with a light custard filling) was indulged in overlooking these self-same misty mountains..´sigh´...
At the beginning of the day we had said goodbye and thank you to our cycling expert friends from Denmark and had another chat about cycle touring with Brompton folding bikes. One of the guys had just bought himself a Thorn bike (like ours), and is hoping to drum up more interest in them in Denmark as an ultimate touring machine. We had nothing but praise for the bikes, apart from a couple of tiny quirky points, most of which were with the Rohlof hubs.
Our luck was in. The first town of the day had a cycle shop (Martin´s Cycles) which stocked spokes of the correct length for my rear wheel. So, no longer did we face a marathon push to try to get to a bigger town to get spares. There was also an excellent bakery around the corner where we were able to pick up lunch and other refuelling necessities! (By the way, we don´t survive entirely on pastries and bread, there is a healthy amount of salad, cheese and fruit consumed alongside, but the former is much more interesting.)
There was a splendid 12th century wooden church with an onion shaped dome in one of the little villages on the route. Rather weathered but very different to the white, square-towered churches prevalent in this region.
After our second cake stop, and another climb back up to ski-lift height, we decided to look for a guest house, especially as there were huge, bruised rain clouds heading our way. The rain started with a vengeance just as we got into Rettenberg. After booking into a rather non-descript pension, we showered snoozed, and headed out for käse späetzler (sp?) - potato noodles and cheese - a salad, and a couple of beers. The landlady informed us that the rain was going to continue the next day, that the temperature would remain below 10°, and that there would be snow...we thought she was joking!!
An excellent cycle through woodland, was followed by farmland with huge green pastures, which gave away to trees and then mountains covered with chasing cloud shadows. Lunch was in a picturesque stop where we watched paragliders throw themselves off the tops of the mountains, put to shame only by the eagle that was also soaring on the thermals.
We were both pleased to realise that the castle that we could see on a distant crag was Neueschwanstein, a startling folly of turrets, towers, and crenellations.
The campsite had amazing views of the lake surrounded by mountains. It made John´s job of replacing yet more of my spokes a heap more pleasant. It also just happened that a couple of guys who cycled in after us were bike journalists and mechanics, so they very helpfully checked John´s handy work, and gave us a top tip for cycling in Switzerland. They had just been to a huge bike expo (Euro Bike I think it was called), and one of the guys (Torben Finn Laursen) has his own Web site (http://www.cykelportalen.dk/) which is in Danish but has some excellent links on it. The other guy who helped us with the wheel - I´m afraid his name escapes me, but I would like to say thanks anyhow. The bike has been great so far...fingers crossed.
We found a pleasant spot for coffee and cake beside a water meadow covered in reeds and daisies. It wasn´t raining! We then wound our way along country tracks dotted with wooden hay barns. (I was particularly impressed with one equine set up that had a great, brand new cross-country course!)
Headed into countryside where you almost expected Heidi (attired in a suitable waterproofs of course) to come skipping down with a couple of goats. All the livestock around here wear bells, so cycling is accompanied with musical accompaniment.
The 5km climb up into Bad Kohlgrb was fine until the last 1km where it was incredibly steep. We decided that we needed a little bit of pampering and booked into a lovely guest house (balcony with a view of the hills) - Gästehaus Bauer, Schmiedgasse 3, 82433 Bad Kohlgrub, firstname.lastname@example.org - run by a friendly, very helpful guy.
The cycle route took us up through some heavily wooded areas (Grünwald) and we started the first real climbs and decents of our journey, and on a fairly demanding surface too. The surface meant that while twiddling up the steeper sections, pebbles and rocks piong out from under your wheel, and either bruise the person cycling beside you, or set the steering off to one side or another at the most inappropriate moments - also making decents slow. It did however, warm us up (the 16-18° menat that we wore fleeces to cycle in for most of the day, poor weeds that we now are after spending so long in Dubai).
The route skirted most of the towns, often taking us along delightful lanes where streams ran totally clear and clean. During our coffee and cake stop a reef of rafts loaded with beer kegs, Bavarians (some in traditional dress), bands, and brezels floated by on the river beside us. It was superb, if a little odd.
Bad Tolz was very pretty, but even better was the landscape which is beginning to look and feel quite alpine. The hills now climb steeply around vibrant green pastures full of cows wearing bells. Some of the tracks we were cycling on were more suitable for mountain biking, but, they were certainly peaceful and we saw very few other people.
We camped in a site outside of Bad Tolz, inexplicably located by a huge main road (again!). Another ear plug night. The folding stools that we picked up in Munich are awesome, and keep our backsides dry while cooking.
Thursday, 30 August 2007
We are sharing the hotel with the Kiwi rowing team and their supporters! It's the world champs in Munich at the moment, so we had some excellent craic chatting with them the other evening. Salt of the earth guys from Dunedin, Christchurch, and other areas around (mainly) the South Island. Odd collision of two familiar, but up until that point in time, separate worlds as we hadn't emigrated to NZ until after John had been to Munich.
Quite disorientating. We have celebrated John's birthday with a cake (with candles), and some mainly edible gifts (what DO you get for a man on a bike who already has a lot of luggage?). We are now off to pop a bottle of bubbles, and to expore some of the gastronomic delights of the city....
We decided to take breaks every 20 km after the intial stop to refuel. Had lunch in the shade of a large tree on the river bank. It was difficult to break from lunch having already cycled for 3 hours, and knowing that we still had a long way to go.
The Isar is a much different river to the Donau. The Donau appears unhurried and stately, whereas the Isar has clear, fast-running shallows with white water sections. Finally, Munich's suburbs hove into vie, Friesing and Iching near the airport were familiar names, and our spirits were bolstered. We put on a bit of a spurt of speed around the 100km mark, and finally made our way through the Englischer Garten to Mariaplatz where we are staying at the Holiday Inn. We have decided to stay a few days, partly to enjoy not being a human fly-paper / mosquito feast / horsefly meal, and also to celebrate John's birthday (29th August) in a bit of style.
We said goodbye to the Donau and cycled around 30km across country (including a couple of vertiginous climbs) before dropping onto the path beside the Isar, and old friend from 12 years ago when John spent some time working in Munich. The Isar was delightfully shaded with willows and we cycled happily to a campsite at Mamming that was not half as bad as we expected, located beside a gravel pit and between 2 major roads as it is....
We travelled across from Austria tp Gemany, and instantly the excellent cycle path signage disappeared. Also, we ended up doing about 20km along a busy road again. The sight of Passau though was a real treat, as we hadn't expected anywhere quite so awesome. Found a simple, but comfortable guest house for the night, and spent the evenign exploring the narrow alley-ways and many-coloured buildings. If you get the chance to visit Passau, go...it is really worth a visit.
Gradually we headed into farmland and away from the river. Loads of apple, prear, and plum trees as well as elderberry bushes in abundance. The ubiquitous fields of sweetcorn were broken up into small, odd-shaped fields surrounded by small copses or hedged with poplars. Idyllic - except for the now head winds which meant pedalling was rather hard work.
We crossed the bridge at Mauthausen (bad idea as I will explain in a moment) instead of taking the ycle bridge at Abwinden. The bridge across to Mauthausen is vusy, has a very narrow path (not god with wide luggage), and has steps down to the cycle path. Luckily we didn't spot the steps, and hurtled down onto the busy road. We then spotted the cycle path through a hedge and decided on some cross-country adventure which meant bashing through some trees and a ditch with our bikes. All in all, easier than getting our bikes down the steps. Our cockiness lessened as we set off through uninspiring new villages and towns, often alongside or on busy roads. Worse was to come though, as, when we popped out of dullsville, we were faced with something resembling Middle Earth (also known as Linz). If you happen to be over this way, avoid it like the plague. Huge chimney stacks deposit acrid smoke into the air making your eyes sting and your throat feel scoured. Other cyclists we met complained of headaches and respiratory problems. Huge piles of ore, coal, and gravel and pushed around, while machinery calnks and hisses. We almost expected Orcs to come bursting out to push us off the bikes! We quickly decided to jetison the plan to camp near Linz, and pushed on 25km toWilhering.
Alas, the 25km were mostly on a cycle path beside a busy main road. But we just pushed on, and were rewarded with a lovely ferry ride, and a peaceful little campsite for the night.
We headed into Krems first to have a look around. What a gorgeous old town. Winding cobbled streets under archways, old frescoes painted on walls often built in around 1800, and a dramatic castle that overlooks the town on a distant hill.
The day continued in this idyllic vein, wending through vinyards, under rocky outcrops, and through excellently preserved villages. Dürnstein in particular was tremendous, although rather full of tourists. After Dürnstein we had coffee and cake in Weissenkirchen. The walnut cake was a masterpiece. Moist, filled with walnuts, and topped with whipped cream it melted in the mouth and promised a heart attack at a later date. Sublime. The warmed apricot only paled in comparison with the excellence of the walnut creation.
We passed through and photographed manz of the villages in this famous wine making region, and had lunch in a shady tree outside of Marbach before heading across the river at Presenberg. The hills were now almost vertical, and were covered with trees, ferns, and delicate mosses. We found the campsite (the best yet - John is just putting a picture up as I type) just outside of Ybbs. It was right beside the river; only us and one other set of cycle tourers, and a marvellous sunset. What more could we have asked for?
The variety of people who cycle around here is superb. Ages range from 5 years old or younger on their own bikes (some with panniers that are approximately the same size as ours'!!) racing up and down the hills all day long. Others were are younger still and sit in trailers, or on 'helper' bikes. At the other end of the continuum there are the 'oldsters' who spend the whole day out on the bike, often in packs of 20 plus - it's excellent to see!!
The route took us along willow-lined paths, flower meadows and woodland galdes, all backset with huge cumulus clouds - all very picturesque. On the other hand, campsites were proving somewhat of a problem. The first was only 30km away, the second didn't exist anymore (it was now a mini-golf place), and the third was a rather vile 'city' of cabins built about 6mm apart from each other. As such, we ended up cycling another 20km to end up at the site at Krems (expertly found by John) which was squeezed between a main road and the caravans on the site, and cost the rather large sum of 32 euros (it only costs about 34 euros each to stay in a B&B). We did meet a lovely zech guy there though, and had a chat to him in an eclectic mix of English, German and Czech (all aided by the phrase book).
It was also a day for gear failure. John's Ortlieb rear pannier needed the tag tie on the replaced to make sure that it does not fall off; the front Carradice pannier lining has started to come away at the top; 2 spokes on my rear wheel snapped; our MSR spatula snapped, John's sunglasses gave up the ghost when the arm snapped off; and the John's sleeping bag stuff bag split at the seams. John, ace mecahnic :-) mended my spokes, and my mission was to mend all the stuff that could be sewn up. I'm also going to be sending some letters to various manufacturers and suppliers. I mean, some of the stuff is only a few weeks old. Ah well....
Chilling out in Krakow. An absolutely lovely place with plenty to see and do, and lots of cracking little restaurants and bars.This is Wawel Castle in Krakow, the seat of the Austro Hungary empire. There is a legend about a Hindu god ( i think) creating 7 stones, on of which lies under this hill. Apparently Nehru (first Indian PM after thez booted the brits out) came here specifically because of this. Anyway, it is a peaceful place.
The bikes and Hazel squeezed into a sleeper compartment on a train from Krakow to Budapest. I only had to remove the front wheel from my bike, and that is because it is a bit bigger than most. The guard was not happy, but being an idiot tourist lets you get away with a lot.
We were going to cycle this bit, but getting any details on the route proved impossible while on the road. Eventually, we got details for a route through Hungary, which I will post, but i still have nothing about the Czech section. After the roads in Poland, I didnt want to spend more days on scary roads, so we took the train.
Cycling out og Budapest we had a lot of ferry crossings on our first day. This is the last one of the day (and the last sailing as well) and we very nearly missed it. It was overcast (not raining any more) and late so we had to really push hard to cover the remaining 10 kms. A long day.
Tuesday, 28 August 2007
On Saturday, we took a tram to the Belverdere palace to get a bit of a culture 'fix'. The art exhibition there was excellent, especially the Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt collections (including "The Kiss"). A little irritated by there prevelance of some people to take pictures of the art, of have pictures taken of themselves in front of the art, rather than actually looking at it. Hey ho.
Bizarre event of the day: John and I were sat in the coffee shop afterwards (great apple strudel) doing the 'discussion of the art' thing that you do when all of a sudden a lady approaches the table. She looks a little sheepish and embarrassed, and asks if she could take my picture as I was a spot on likeness for a couple of Klimt's Secession works (and that this was a compliment - although John did suggest afterwards which works she may have been referring to, and he wasn't being nice!!). After blushing profusely, I agreed and then had to pretend she wasn't there while she snapped a shot or two....
The afternoon was spent meandering around the center of old Vienna avoiding the crowds. We lucked in when we found an awesome map shop near the Spanish Riding School (Freytag and Berndt; http://www.freytagberndt.com/) which had all the maps we needed to complete the routes in Austria and Germany, as well as information about cycling in France which is where we are heading next.
Sunday was another culture-filled day, with a trip to the Leopald Museaum to see more Schiele and Klimt, as well as some work by Paul Rotterdam, Adolf Hölzel and Kolo Moser. I won't go into too many details, but it was a sublime morning.
Exhausted, we staggreed from the gallery and lunched before plotting the rest of the afternoon. More wandering, and then I went for a run along the Donau Kanal, while John went on a search for art prints and posters. That evening, we had an entertaining watching a diablo artist 'juggling' - wow. He was extremely talented - I would have ended up knitting the strings, and making a general mess, but he managed to juggle 3 without dropping them, and remember which was going where at what time.
Monday, I went to the Spanish Riding School, while John headed out to the Albertina for another art injection. I relished immersing myself in a totally equine experience for a couple of hours, watching, reading, and generally absorbing. I, of course, purchased the DVD which I can use to torture John at a later date!! :-)
We 'picnicked' on the balcony overlooking the cathedral, and drank a toast to everyone with a bottle of bubbly. Off on our bikes again tomorrow, which will be excellent, although there is the promise of rain...
It wasn't raining, however, and the route was quiet and pleasant. We cycled about 20km before grabbing a coffe, cake and supplies from a little town called Bad Deutsch Altenburg, and then headed out of town over the 2km bridge across the Donau and surrounding flood plains. After that it was 50km along an almost perfectly straight flood defence - beautifully signposted and surfaced, but with no protection from the wind. As a result we both had to grind away for the whole day with no respite (except for the coffee and cake, and lunch stop of course :-) ).
We couldn't hang around either as it was Friday, in the peak holiday time, and 1) we didn't know what time the tourist info place in Vienna closed on a Friday, 2) we had no accommodation booked, and no idea where to go, and 3) the cycle path signs always disappear in big cities, and you end up looking at the map for ages working out where to go next. A diversion on the cycle route took us about 5km out of our way (through some lovely forest, but at a difficult time to appreaciate it), before we actually caught sight of Vienna; I was beginning to think it didn't exist!!
I was actually bitterly disappointed initially (HERE BEGINS A RANT) at how ugly the outskirts of Vienna are. Industrial, covered in tagging, with utliltarian apartment blocks, big roads, and few green spaces. You would think that, given all the supposed progress in construction techniques and materials, that aesthetically pleasing living areas could be designed that equalled, if not surpassed those of the past. (HERE ENDS THE SOMEWHAT CURTAILED RANT).
Things perked up once we got onto Prater Hauptllee through an enormous park and finally into the impressive classical and baroqu architecture for which Vienna is famous. John naviagated masterfully, and we arrived at the tourist info place with time to spare. We ended up in an extremely comfortable, renovated hotel called Hotel am Stephansplatz, with a balcony that overlooked the immense cathedral. Couldn't quite believe it, especially the next morning when I awoke at 6.30am, stood on the balcony, and watched the city gradully wake up....
John disappeared off to Bratislava for the day after breakfast, while I went for a run in the nearby forest and along the Donau. I followed the cycle route initially and then into the trees (it was about 35° so I needed to stay in the shade). The beech forest was heaven, and the leaves are just beginning to turn so there is a scattering of yellow and brown on all the paths as you trot through. It was windy too, so you often got showered with leaves, and were surrounded with the gentle sussaration of all that vegetation blowing around! I made up a route, and popping around one corner spied a doe and stag in a clearing. They spotted me at the same moment and bounded out of sight. Ran to the Danube and then followed a track almost back to the Slovakian border before heading back.
Another dip was followed by chores, and John arrived back soon after bearing fizz, and good things to eat for a picnic on the balcony. We spent most of the evening chatting about all the possibilities of things to do once we have headed back to NZ.... Off on the bikes again tomorrow - Vienna here we come.
Thursday, 16 August 2007
We have made our way along the Danube into Austria and i have just popped back over the border to have a look at Bratislave and make this posting. The cycling in Hungary from Gyor towards Austria has been fantastic, as have the few excursions into Slovakia. The weather is being kinder to us and we are now on our third day of uninterrupted sunshine. The route is a bit fiddly at times, and you need to be guided by the force at times in big cities, but we have never been truely lost (a difficult thing to do when you are following a river the size of the Danube!). Scenery has covered the range from soviet concrete catastrophies and industrial skylines to isolated river beaches and forests in the early stages of fall (fantastic colours). Add in a few medeaval (can never spell that word) towns and castles of every style and age, as well as hundreds of small rural village, and you have an idea of what we cycle through.
From here we are going to head along the Danube to Vienna and then head to Cesky Krumov (Czech Rep), Salzburg, and Munich, although i am not sure in which order. After that we are heading further into Austria and then maybe over to Italy before going through Switzerland and into France. This is a bit different from the original plan, but you
Hazel will be back on line in a few days time to give a more detailed account and i will pop some pictures here as well.
I will post some details on our gear, which is working out really well and may interest someone.
Time to check out the sights of Bratislava .....
BTW - update on my backside. I have toughened up and can now walk more like a man and less like a gibbon.
Sunday, 12 August 2007
A bizarre thing happened while I was drawing yesterday. There am I., minding my own business when a guy on a bike (taking his dog for a walk) suddenly screeches to a halt beside me and points at my foot. He then proceeds to get off the bike and sit down. The next thing I know, he is massaging my feet!!! (Only for the brave I can tell you). He only spoke Hungarian, and I only spoke English and about 10 words of Polish so I haven’t a clue why he was doing this!! There were loads of other people around so I wasn’t too concerned, but on a scale of 1 to 10 of strange and odd things to happen this had to be a 15!!! John was depressed as no one had hijacked his feet while he had been out :-)
Better go and see what he has been up to today. New pictures to follow soon. We are off on the bikes again tomorrow, following the Danube.
Needless to say, we trotted up with our ‘tickets’ only to meet with an officious no (in Polish) and an explanation why we weren’t even going to be allowed on the train (in Polish). Well, John by now is apoplectic with rage. So, I point out, again, and again, and again that we had indeed bought our tickets, and had been sold our tickets, and this in fact should allow us to get on the train. I then followed the guy around while he went to see his colleagues to discuss the problem (after all, we had been sold the tickets thus not our fault). We also had all the currencies that were required. Finally, he caved. Furious, when I asked one last time if we could get on, he spat through gritted teeth the word “tak”! Hurrah –we were on. The bikes were unceremoniously manhandled through the narrow corridor and by dint of wheel removal and the turning of handlebars, we did indeed get both of them in the compartment. The train official did calm down, and was quite cheery by the end. We did manage some sleep – in between hammering on the door by passport officials at regular intervals as we sped across borders.
On the way back we blatted up a hill to a monastery that is in the process of being done up. Glorious views of the surrounding countryside. Then it was back to Krakow to plan our exit from Poland to Budapest.
There are a lot of other places to wander around, and Kazimierz is the area where a lot of Jewish Poles lived before WWII. It is full of galleries and little cafes now; very bohemian feel to the place. We had a blissful hour drinking coffee in a tree-lined courtyard, in a divine little garden.
The countryside that we passed through was lovely, with vast tracts of pine and birch forests, as well as small villages with a range of agriculture.
Once we arrived in Krakow it was time to use the ‘elbow’ tricks we’d learned off the little old Polish ladies, and we managed to get the bikes off before the people crushed past. The panniers, however, were a different story. We couldn’t get back on to get them off! Luckily a very kind (and strong) lady who had been sharing our compartment lugged all of the panniers out of the window for us, bless her. The random kindness of strangers – never fails to amaze me.
Chelmno itself is described as a Mediaeval town with one of the most complete town walls in the country. It was indeed an impressive place. There are some excellent churches and a nunnery. One church in particular (photos to follow) had about twelve separate towers in a ‘v’ shape, towering up into the sky. Some peaceful parks too, and we chose one of these to have lunch while watching a pretty little fountain. It was also the day for weddings, and we watched a few groups having their photos taken in their finery. Stunning day with wall to wall sunshine, and little fluffy clouds.
Had a bit of difficulty working our where the bus back to Torun left from, but figured it out with a large amount of gesticulation, and a helpful bus driver. The trip back was long, bumpy, and lasted 45 minutes longer than the trip there. The route was more scenic though.
Tomorrow we are off to Krakow on the train…with bikes…facing the terror of the three-steps up and associated stresses.
Friday, 3 August 2007
1st to 3rd August (Days 16 - 18 - 13 days with rain) Drawsko to Pila (100km) and then by train to Torun
After feeling refreshed after wild camping, we hit the road again, initially on the 181 which was fairly quiet and had a good surface all the way to Czarnkow. Some beautiful countryside and woodland (although most of it is under pines). The sun came out long enough for us to don sun glasses and suncream!
After Czarnakow we got on to the 178 - aka hell on wheels. Miserable, very dangerous cycling. We muscled our way through Trzcianka and on to the 180 to Pila. There was slighly less traffic, and quite a lot of climbing. We found the R1 again in Pila (which subsequently petered out having taken us a pointless cicle through the back streets). Found a hotel - the Gromada - over-priced and under-facilitated :-) Had a good meal out though, and discussed our options as neither of us were enjoying the cycling in Poland, nor the places that we were passing through (no coffee and cake for a start!! :-) )
We decided to hop on the train to Torun which meant buying tickets for us and the bikes in Polish (handy phrase book, and a helpful lady who happened to be queuing behind us), and then the next day turning up at the station, checking in Polish if we were in the correct place waiting for the correct train, and then, joy, manhandling the bikes on to trains that had three steps and five feet between the platform and the train itself. Not easy.
Once the train got going we were able to relax a bit. John helped a nun with her bags :-) At Torun, the fun and games began again - all the panniers were off the bikes because it was impossible to get the whole lot up that height at one go. Some, lovely Polish students helped us carry our bikes and bags off the train, while the old Polish ladies who were trying to get on, cursed us as we were trying to get off!!
It wasn't raining, but the first thing we hit was road works which meant that we had to cycle on the busy road across the bridge into the old town. The information center was extremely helpful, but because it is a busy time we have ended up in a tiny room overlooking a road that has a pedestrian crossing that beeps every one and a half minutes, very loudly! Ah well - it's dry.
It's now the 3rd of August and time to reasses our plans. I think because the cycling is so awful we are going to catch a train to Kracow and then cycle out onto the Donau (Danube)...we'll let you know in the next rain-sodden adventure from the Owen cycle tour :-)
It was 14.5 degrees when we got up this morning, overcast and blowing a gale. The first 10km of the cycle were through pine forests on very quiet roads, and then we popped back on the 138 toward Gracow - a busy road with lots of traffic, and no viable work arounds. Intially there was a cycle path, but this abruptly ended, and that is pretty much the last we have seen of cycle paths. The surface of the roads are potholed, the drivers are maniacs, and there is little or no respect shown to cyclists. Gracow is a grim, busy, industrial town, with road works which made it difficult to naviagate on to the 185. The 185, when we did find it, was nigh on a motorway, and it was a case of head down and peddle. Everywhere we stopped to rest, there was rubbish, even in places that were supposed to be pretty. The towns themselves have little to recommend them, and there is a lot of staring, and little smiling from the locals. We did have one road cyclist smile and wave, but that was pretty much it...
Decided to wild camp, which was wonderful. Peaceful, in the middle of a pine forest, and finally away from the traffic.
Had a slowish start today. Lovely, quiet breakfast in the conservatory, and then we set off in to...yes, sunshine. Alas, 'twas short lived, and soon we were reaching for the waterproofs again. The buildings in the towns were very different to the ones that we had been cycling through earlier, and there was a generally a different 'feel' to places. Took a few photos and then set off for the border!
Of course, we managed to the lost the R1, and ended up going a fair way out of our way, but once we got to the River Oder we were fine. A following wind saw us fair flying along the top of the river embankment, bing dive-bombed by swifts who were snacking on the insects that were disturbed by our passing wheels. John's knee was pretty sore today, so it was good that we weren't slogging into the wind, and up hills.
At last we sighted Poland across the river. The wild flowers were something else! Gorgeous. The border crossing was a little scarey, with guys who would not speak to you even when you tried out your best rudimentary Polish (yes we have been doing our home work! :-) ). The border town had that cynical, unwelcoming ambience of most border towns. The road surface was atrocious, no cycle paths, and very fast inconsiderate drivers....Did not bode well.
Managed to get out of town and find a camp site (having successfully got something at the local chemists through dint of bad Polish, a phrase book, and lots of miming!!). John got us a place for our tent through similar means, and we settled down for the night as the temperature hit 13 degrees centigrade).