Thursday, 30 August 2007

Cycling along the Danube in Austria

After this you will be wondering what else i can do with one hand while cycling .....

Monday 28th and Tuesday 29th August (Days 41 and 42): Munich

Well here we are. Rested, full of great food, having had another art fix at the Neue Pinakotek. Old memories are following us - just glimpses of things half-remembered. Several of John's old haunts are still here: Zum Kloster, and Scheideger for example, but we can't locate the place he lived near Marianplatz. I went for a run along the Isar yesterday, and a lot of that was familar too.

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....

Sunday 27th August (Day 40): Mamming to Munich (130km)

Our longest day's cycling to date, and not too bad given that we were on the bikes for 7 hours. Set off early, and had already covered 40kms by coffee and cake time (nut roll jobbies today). The Isar remained tree-lined which meant we were shaded from the sun all the way. We gradually climbed with the river (about 300 meters altogether during the day).

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.

Saturday 26th August (Day 39): Passau (river Donau) to Mamming (river Isar) - (104 km)

Set off through the busy roads around the outskirts of Passau, and into the Bavarian countryside which has a great deal of farmsteads - mainly dairy. More 'gingerbread' style houses overflowing with red geraniums than you could shake a stick at! It was also a day for wildlife spotting: 2 deer, 2 snakes, 1 junior robin, 1 lizard, a hedgehog (deceased), and a mole.

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....

Friday 24th August (Day 38): Wilhering (Austria) to Passau (Germany) - 84km

Woke to the unusual sight of fog. Ethereally beautiful. Usual cliched dewy spiders' webs draped all around. Unfortunately, although attractive, it made everything extremely wet, and we set off in waterproofs. Luckily, though, the weather soon cleared, and we were treated to a fabulous day. The wind picked up after about 30km, but the surroundings were great. The scenery changed again with rolling, wooded hills alongside the river, and tiny immaculate villages. The change was particularly marked as we swung inland for a few kilometers, where we were constantly surrounded by the tang of overripe fruit.

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, is really worth a visit.

Thursday 23rd August (Day 37): Ybbs to Wilhering (94km)

After a very quiet night, with deep, uninterrupted sleep, we set off alongside the heavily wooded Donau. It felt as though around every corner there was a castle turret or schloss perched on a high peak overlooking the river. The wind was also following us at this point, so we were as happy as. We ended up with 30kms under our belts by 10am, and 50kms by 12 noon - including a cake stop (delicious sort of marzipan crumble cake).

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.

Wednesday 22nd August (Day 36): Krems to Ybbs (74km)

It rained intermittently during the night and showered as we got up, ate up, and packed up d'luggage. Both of us were a little snippy and crispy at the beginning of the day, but cheered up as the patches of blue grew and it turned into a fabulous day with dramatic skies.

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?

Tuesday 21st August (Day 35): Vienna to Krems (95kms)

Back on the bikes. We got started at a reasonable hour, found the post office, sent a large parcel off to NZ full of prints and posters, and then headed off. The wind was a little kinder this time, and assisted us some of the time, and made the overcast start a little more pleasant. The huge clouds gave way to a glorious sunny day and we bowled alongside the Donau on a fantastic cycle path that passed through towns with amazing, 'powerful' buildings that spoke of the wealth and priviledge around Vienna as once was....

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....

More photos

I have finally found an internet cafe that allows you to access the USB port, so here are some of our pictures.

Hazel in a medieval town called Torun. Lots of old buildings to look at and little streets to wander aound.

We took a bus trip to a nearby town famous for having an intact wall all the way around. Spelt Chelmmo, pronounched something helmno with a welsh accent. This is a picture of the facade to a church. It is only a small town and this is one of many such churches.

These two pictures were taken on the train from Torun to Krakow. There is an enormous step up to a tiny little door, which can present a few problems. Fortunately, we got on this train at its first station and left at it`s last station, so we had plenty of time to sort things out. We were helped by some friendly passangers on arrival, who passed our various bags out the window to us. A tricky we used ourselves on a later train journey.
On the train from to Krakow from Torun. Tagging is a national passtime in Poland so we thought we`d capture some of it. Torun (and Krakow) were great places, but there is a lot of poverty (and boredom, I guess) in much of Poland. It makes an interesting contrast to the posh little towns and cities we visited.

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.

Here we are safely arrived in Budapest. We spent an hour or two helping a couple put their bikes together (someone had dismantled them for the trip and they forgot to bring tools)

Some architecture from Budapaest. This is a castle in Pest full of a mix of baroque, gothic and classical styles - the guys build as the fancy takes them. The city is also full of excellent art neuveau architecure including a fantastic wooden passage - too dark for my little camera to handle.

It was raining again, and hard. At last, I had a use for the swimming goggles i have been dragging around with me. This was our first day back on the bikes heading out of Budapest.

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.

Just leaving our campsite in Hungary and about to cross the bridge in the background for a days ride through Slovakia.

And here we are in Slovakia looking at Hungary across the Danube. Cycling on this side was a good idea for this leg. It was much quieter and far less developed. We had just been for a skinny dip to cool off.

Back in Hungary again for the last few kms before Bratislava. Storks are a common sight and they put these metal platforms on top of some of the poles for the birds to nest on. They are huge, the photo doesnt really show it well. Also, you can not see the loud speaker below that is blaring out local music. I have no idea why this is done, and it only seems to be in some villages. It must drive the locals mad.

This was our last campsite in Hungary (we then headed straight to Austria). The countryside was beautiful but you had to be quick once the sun set as the mozzies were HUGE and hungry.

I left Hazel in Austria (Wolfsthal) and heading back to Bratislava for the day without luggage. It has a nice, small old town centre. This picture was taken right in the middle. Not everything is rennovated or restored, which is nice.

These are hunter`s lookouts. We would often see deer lazing in fields as we zipped by, so i guess there arent many hunters or they arent very good.

Here we are in Vienna on the balcony of our hotel room overlooking the St Stephen`s square.

A pretty little town on the Danube on the way to Linz.

A pit stop to refuel on the way to Pasau

One of the back streets in the old town of Passau

Now on the Isar, a tributary of the Danube, heading towards Munich.

In Munich, at the place where Hitler was arrested in the 1930s. Taken today in the first rain we have had for ages.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Saturday August 18th, 19th, Monday 20th (Days 32 to 34) Vienna

Old Vienna is impressive in an overdone, cramped, symetrical sort of way, whereby, for example, huge stone statues are shown holding up doorways, celings, and other weighty structures. And once you've seen one, and marvelled at the stonemasonary, the abs and the well-developed quads, you've seen them all :-)

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; 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...

Friday 17th August (Day 31) - Wolfsthal to Vienna (72 km)

What a day. It was in theoy an easy day. Somehow we had miscalculated it as an easy 55-60km day. We dallied around having an extremely relaxed breakfast, and saying goodbye to our host, Helene. Packed d'luggage on the bikes, before setting off at a leisurely pace...straight into the teeth of a ferocious head wind.

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....

Wolfsthal (Various)

Another fabulous day. We are staying at this awesome place in a little village called Wolfsthal (Villa Pannonica, Villagasse 9, 2412 Wolfsthal, with a beautiful, peaceful garden. It even has a swimming hole (with goldfish) into which we immediately plunged on arrival at the pension.

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.

Thanks.... :-)

Just a very short note to say thank you to all who have sent emails and news. I'm sure the people in various Internet cafes have worried about the mad woman with the hair cackling away in the next cubicle!!!

big love

H xxx

Thursday, 16 August 2007


A quick blog entry to keep things ticking over.

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

August 9th, 10th, and 11th (Days 23-25) Budapest

Budapest is a marvelous place. We are staying on an island in the middle of the Danube, and it is an oasis of peace and quiet apart from the music festival that is taking place on the adjacent island. I jest not! Ah well. John has been off exploring Pest and Buda, and I will leave it to him to describe. I have been drawing instead, sat in the park. It seemed the perfect opportunity to chill out.

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.

8th August (Day 22) Krakow to Budapest by train

After packing up all our stuff, we left everything in the hotel, and killed time until our train left at 10.36pm. We had run up against the incredibly unhelpful Polish train administrators. We had bought a ticket for the overnight train to Budapest, plus two bike tickets (but only to the border – she had no idea how much it would cost to buy onward tickets, or what currency was required). We then found another place that seemed to be a bit more onto it. The lady cancelled our ticket to Budapest, and booked us into a sleeping compartment…we’d been 100% clear about having bikes. However, once we’d got out of the place we realized that we probably only had a reservation now rather than a ticket. I went back in, and the lady explained that indeed we did only have a reservation, but that our ticket was paid through to the border along with our bikes. She had no idea how much we would have to pay for the Slovakian or the Hungarian leg of the trip. So, off we went to the currency office to get large amounts of the two required currencies, plus some Euros just in case. Also, we had been to see the train the night before, just to make sure that the bikes would indeed squish inside a sleeping compartment (they did – photos to follow!).

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.

7th August (Day 20) 40km cycling outside of Krakow

Went for a cycle along the river today. It was a gloriously sunny day, and it was great to get out of town and away from people. Cycling without the ‘luggage’ was excellent too, like having two different bikes. We made our way along the river, at first on good cycle paths, but then on potholed gravel paths, that finally dwindled to a track in the mud. We had a bite to eat beside a lake, disturbing the resident ducks in the process. They took off and swam around the other side of the lake, ignoring the bits of cake we were lobbing at…to…them :-)

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.

6th August (Day 20) Krakow

The hotel we booked into (not many campsites around) was noisy, and seemed to be on the main route for every vehicle with a siren in the region. Thank goodness for ear plugs is all I can say!! Krakow itself is a wonderful city. The central square is enormous, and full of buskers, tourists, horse-drawn buggies, and random other entities. Wawel Hill is like something from the Gormenghast Trilogy! Every time you turn a corner there are awe inspiring buildings – often large Gothic structures with pinnacles, spires, unusual faced-statues, and blocky, solid towers.

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.

5th August (Day 19) Torun to Krakow by train

Today we were on the train to Krakow – 6 1/2 hours. We battled with the bikes and the train, and ended up stashing them in the corridor outside of the toilet, in front of one of the doors off the train, as there was nowhere else to put them!! It meant that we had to keep leaping up and down and letting people on and off whenever there was a platform on the side of the train where my bike was bungied. The fun really started when someone else turned up with a bike, and proceeded to squeeze it on beside John’s. The Polish passengers seemed to take this all in their stride though, and seemed not to mind clambering over the bikes every time they needed to visit the WC!

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.

4th August (Saturday, Day 18) Chelmno

Took the bus into Chemno which was an experience in itself. Bought the ticket with ease as the lady spoke English. Clambered into a rickety old local bus,, and then watched at the bus driver spent on average 2 minutes per person issuing tickets to people. The trip to Chelmno took us through some rural villages which appeared to be relatively prosperous, with new houses being built.

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 :-)

31st July (Day 14 - 12 days with rain) Witnica to Drawsco: 100km

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.

30th July (Day 13 - 11 days with rain) Wulkow to Witnica (Poland)

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).

Some photos, up to 2nd August 2007

Here are some photos of the trip so date. This will not be the tidiest posting ever made as I am struggling with polish instructions (cant work out how to change the locale as everything is in Polish!).

A rather splendid church (maybe an abbey or something) in Beverley during our extra day in the UK:

Here we are just about to get on the ferry (second time around) and a self portrait on said ferry.

Here we are in Holland in a lovely little village on the way to the Hague. Lovely coffee and cake just around the corner on a different canal.

Obligatory Dutch windmill photo....

Still in Holland. A pond, a castle, and a castle with a pond (and Hazel for some foreground interest).

And now Germany, this is another self portrait just after the border. We were about to head into Gronau, which was a rather portentious start to our time in NW Germany.

After a few days of practice, the weather moved on from light rain and intermittent showers (enough to make you stop and put your waterproofs on, and then take them off, and then put them on, and so on all day), it finally got down to business and really poured.
At the time of writing the ration of wet to dry days is 12:4!

A resturant at Potsdam in E Germany. This restaurant did fantastic glalettes (the best I have eaten since zum Kloster in Munich). I am drinking a very manly larger cocktail that I purposfully ordered.

Daytrip from Potsdam to Berlin. Here's one of the last standing bits of the wall. And now a new one is being built in Palestine (or is that the occupied territories, or is it now the disputed territories) - language is a subtle tool; walls are certainly not.

Next few photos are around Potsdam in a fantastic park full of historic buildings; some impressive, others fantastically tasteless. Note the rain gear, it had just stopped raining and was about to turn into the most wonderfully lit evening. Great nipples on this lass. I just couldnt resist a tweak!

A German windmill this time, same park. Couldn't decide which picture i liked the most.

Hazel wondering through the Orangerie in the same park. It was just such a lovely evening and noone was there due to the earlier rain. Sometimes you just have to get wet.

Last picture from the park. An angel with the most delicate feet and hands, brushed shiny by people feeling them. We just don't make them like this any more.

On the road again, heading for the border to Poland. We tool the train from Potsdam to Erkner to avoid cycling through Berlin.

And here is Hazel's backside heading into Poland over the River Oder. Note the rain gear again!

Second night in poland was spent inthe wild, in a pine forest. Our trusty tent (Hilleberg), great bikes, almost indestruible panniers, and stove (with right fuel) are all on display. It was not raining when the photo was taken.

Bringing us up-to-date, a photo taken last night in Torun. Busy roads and samey countryside drove us back onto the train to cover the last few kilometers. This was a dry day, number 4 so far. The river in the picture is the Vltava (or something equally unpronouncable). This place goes on my list of top spots to visit. In fact, i am going to stop typing and walk around the town right now...

29th July (Day 12-Sunday) Potsdam to Wulkow (62 kms)

Took the train from Potsdam to Erkner to avoid navigating Berlin, and then successfully located the R1. Glowering skies dripped rain intermittently on us all day. However, the route was excellent. Signposted superbly throughout, we were able to cycle through some lovely old towns and along quite a lot of cobbled roads (not quite so good, but picturesque). Germany has got quite a few grants from Europe to develop the R1 route and as a result most of the cobbled areas have a cycle-friendly surfact alongside which makes the journey much more pleasant. The countryside was initially woodland, follwed by pretty, rural land.

The rain started to come down heavily and we 'happened' across this lovely old hotel. Well, it was meant to be. We holed up there, and sucked down a couple of hot coffees, and gigantic cakes, while upstairs our clothes steamed gently on a radiator.

28th July (Day 11) Potsdam

We spent the day in Potsdam doing exciting things like chopping up sundried tomatoes, dried mushrooms and dates, and sending post!! We also marked up the newly purchased maps with our proposed routes through Poland and Romania. It rained all day, so this was the perfect thing to do.

In the evening, we ventured out, were promptly poured on, but then, hurrah, the sun came shining through. Armed with cameras we headed for the magnificent edifices to bad taste that make up several of Potsdam's heritage, as they are crammed with statues and decoration, and gaudy painting. On the other hand, buidlings such as the Orangery speak of a different time. It hasn't been restored yet, but you could imagine strolling through the long, long building in the winter, surrounded by plants, and looking at the snow across the surrounding parkland. The light was sublime - gentle sunshine and long shadows. It was pretty deserted too because of the earlier rain and a music festival that was taking place in town - interestingly called Fasination with Water!!!

Back on the bikes the following day - looking forward to being on the move again.

25th and 26th July (Days 8/9) Train Schloss Holte to Pottdam

A little meltdown resulted in us making our way to the train station and getting on a train to Bielefeld, and then on to Pottsdam, Berlin. We arrived in Pottsdam (typically, it hadn't rained all day) in glorious sunshine, and found this divine little pension in a very peaceful back road near the park (Pension Falck, Lennstr 39,, The guy who runs it is very friendly and helpful, and does a great line of patient German and mime :-) Unfortunately, he only had a room for one night, so we then moved on to a furnished apartment for three nights. Again, peaceful, but not half as attractive. It did mean that we had the opportunity to dry our tent and gear out, and get to a laundrette. Now this was no ordinary laundrette - this is one where you can get a beer, and sit and write, or draw, or read, while your laundry does. Extremely civilised to say the least.

We hopped on the train and headed into Berlin, which is a big modern city with brand new high rises cheek by jowl with East German apartment blocks, and futhermore juxtaposed with grandiose official buildings with various mythical creatures or famous figures peering from the inevitable dome or folly-like tower. We went and had a look at the remaining fragments of 'the wall' near Fredrickstrasse. It was a thought-provoking experience which prompted us to discuss the nature of integrity, and whether it is possible to maintain your integrity and still stay alive / keep your friends and family unharmed by your stance...

24th July (Tuesday - Day 7) Munster to Schloss Holte

Managed to get up at 6.30am, and eat breakfast in the last sunshine of the day before the rain started to pour down. Other essential gear for cycle tourers include 1) good waterproof top and leggings, 2) gaiters, 3) waterproof socks, and 4) a character that can appreciate the beauty of a a rain drenched forest / field / road / town / river side!

It was actually lovely cycling through the nature reserves at the beginning where we had picked up the R1 (the famous disappearing route). There was actually a sign with the whole of the R1 route on it, with distances, and the signposts, while you are actually on the route and some idiot has not pushed the sign around to another direction / the route is not blocked by road works / the signs have not disappeared - are great.

Favourite town on the route was Warendorf which had an incredible church with intricate stone carvings, as well as a lot of original timber and stone buidlings, all prettily complemented with well-kept flower gardens. The main square was lined with old, well-preserve houses with distinctive lattice brickwork and intersecting wooden beams.

The rain continued for the rest of the day and there was an unpleasant bit of road with heavy traffic where we 'lost' the R1 again. We got a tad tired and crispy at the end of the day. Lovely quiet campsite though in the middle of the forest...

23rd July (Monday) Ruurlo-Munster (52km)

John has given a much more detailed overview of the ferry trip and events surrounding that fun time!! :-) Now I'll bring you up to date with a few more sights etc...and the rain. Hey - have a proper keyboard today!!!

After spending a night in a rather grotty b&b in Ruurlo we wandered out for breakfast, which was fine. We then sorted out boring stuff like our phone, before heading to the train station to hop on the train to Munster, which turned out to be a bus, then a train, and then another train. Any of you who have travelled with bikes and 8 heavy panniers on public transport will know that this is not a particularly pleasant option. So we decided to buy a map of the area and cycle to Munster. Oops - wrong decision!

The rain started - lots of it, torrential indeed. And the head wind, the monotonous fields of sweetcorn, and the brand new roundabouts with no sign whatsoever! (There were a lot of rather gorgeous equine establishments though, but I don't think they really floated John's boat!)

Long, rather grotty stort short (one that involves me blowing a fuse, and speeding off up a hill in an attempt to go faster than the 10km of an hour that we were currently averaging, only to arrive at the top covered in sweat, and even more peeved!!), we gave in, and got the train from Billerbeck to Munster. The lovely guardsperson at the station even held the train for us while we dashed across the platforms and manhandled our gear on board. What a star.

The campsite we ended up in was packed; there was one point where I wondered if we would actually manage to get out the door the next morning without stepping on someone else's tent, as people were still cycling in and putting up more tents at 9pm. Ear plugs are wonderful - a must for any cycle tour!

How hard is it to catch a ferry!

Finally got to an internet cafe – not easy to find if you are avoiding cities. Hazel has told you about the cycling through but the journey to Holland is also worth noting.

The start of the trip was a comedy of errors, accidents, false starts, inclement weather, and equipment failures. Here are some of the highlights:

1 – Just as we were about to leave the driveway in Telford and head to Hull for the ferry i heard someone cry for help. Outside in my sister's driveway was a poor old bloke who had tripped and fallen into the road, and was now unable to move. Went out to help him, Hazel called the ambulance, and together (old man (called Fred), his dog (also bizzarely called Fred), me, Hazel, the fast response paramedic, and the ambulance) we provided some excellent midday entertainment for an otherwise sleepy village. The best (most worrying, maybe) part was watching the ambulance driver spend 5 minutes trying to close the back door! Fortunately, Fred (the human) was OK, a bit upset and bruised but nothing boken. Fred (the dog) was loving every minute of it. After all the excitment was over we left for Hull about 2 hours late.

2 – Successful, but late, departure was shortlived as we almost immediately made a wrong turn onto the M6 and into heavy (stationary) traffic. Almost another hour later we manage to get out of traffic and backtrack to where we should have be (20 miles from where we started). On our way again.

3 – Arrived at Hull ferry port after speedy trip with one 5 minute pit stop. Remove bikes from car and assembled them. I leave hazel with the bikes and luggage and return to Hull to find the car hire office. After almost another hour driving around in circles in Hull (currently being dug up for a new shopping mall – oh how i miss Dubai already) I find the Hertz office. It had closed 20 minutes earlier!

4 – Back to Hull ferry port where we disassemble the bikes and put them back into the car. I change the ticket for tomorrow's sailing and then return to Hull to find a hotel.

5 – If you are in the Uk you will know that Hull recently suffered severe flooding. As a result, all the hotels were fully occupied with unlucky folks whose houses had been flooded. We ended up in Beverley, whichhas a rather splended church or two – apparantly it used to be an important place.

6 – Back to the ferry port, unpack, undissassemble, successfully return car and actually get on the boat. WooHoo. Smooth sailing, so plenty of sleep. The Hertz man was also wonderfully sympathetic (the story of Fred (the human) almost bought a tear to his eye) and didnt charge me for the extra day. I tried the same story during the taxi drive from Hull Hertz office to the ferry port, but the driver wasnt so soft hearted nor generous.

7 – One of the super new German panniers we bought (Ortlieb) to replace the crappy English ones (Carradice) break within 1 hour of cycle from Rotterdam! It looks like one of the important bolts has been cross threaded and is now stuck fast, but not tight in its fitting! As a result, the pannier falls of the bike when you go over a bump, which is not a useful feature. A helpful dutch bike mechanic applied a great temproary fix with a tie tag – these plastic wonders are a gift from the gods, almost if not more useful than fire. With the aid of a bungy, I have now converted the temporary fix to a permanent one. I am confident that it will last for the next few months.

8 – Stop for the first night at a lovely little dutch campsite and check out our gear again. I soon discover that i have bought the wrong gas cannisters for our little emergency stove. These are tricky things to find at times on the continent!

9 – Decided to start cooking with our trusty MSR Whisperlite stove and discover that i have bought the wrong fuel for this as well! You can burn a pint of Guiness in this stove, but i managed to bring the one thing that wont light! This is very annoying as i have used these stoves for years – pretty dumb! We ate cheese and bread that night.

After this things start to run more smoothly. I find the right fuel, the panniers are working well, we are heading in the right direction without unexpeted delays.