Sore Arse Chronicles #5: Germany and Austria

Day 27, July 9th, Konstanz to Lindau, 69km

My first full day of riding in Germany has been one that promised a lot but turned out to be pretty crap. I had envisaged a leisurely ride along the shore of Lake Constance, sunlight twinkling on the gentle azure waters with a majestic Alpine vista stretching across the horizon.
What I got instead was gloomy overcast weather obscuring the views, drizzle that gradually intensified into a downpour, a cycle route that barely touched the shore, and droves of other cyclists and pedestrians clogging the few nice parts. There were some stretches on busy roads, and for the second day in a row I added a few miles to my journey by going off in completely the wrong direction. By the time I reached Lindau, apparently a really nice little city, I couldn’t really be arsed to see it.

 

So now, I’m on a train for a second time- in one sense I’m cheating and should really be cycling this route, but the city I’m heading to is actually slightly further from my final destination than the one I left from!

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8:09pm – Well, I’ve had a quick look around Ulm, and I got my first glimpse of the Danube. Wow, I thought, this little river I see here stretches all the way to Moldova and Ukraine. It will swell ever wider until it measure miles across, and yet here it is, maybe 60m from one side to the other. I reckon I could almost throw a stone from shore to shore- I should try that tomorrow!..

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A wonky house in Ulm. Einstein was born in this city, y’know

Day 28, July 10th, Ulm to Neuburg, 130km

Well, today was pretty disastrous. Somehow or other, I managed to lose one of the panniers- the large bags strapped to the side of the bike- during the course of the afternoon. This is somewhat mystifying, since they are clipped on quite tightly, and it’s hard to see how such a big, heavy item could just fall from the bike without me noticing. And I now find myself totally without any camping gear. All the stuff I’d amassed before leaving on this journey, the tent, sleeping bag, fly net, pannier covers, backpack, water containers, etc… Looks like I’ll need to replace it all.

It had been a long but fairly unremarkable day riding through the countryside, and while at times I’d been cheerful enough and in a good rhythm, after 100km I was looking forward to getting off the bike. The most exciting moments were probably two brief thunderstorms in the mid afternoon, but the rest of the journey largely passed without incident.

I remember a ridiculously bumpy dirt section near the end of the route… Could that have knocked it off?.. On the off road sections I tend to have both earphones in, so I probably wouldn’t have heard it, and with all the bumps perhaps I have been oblivious to the feeling of something falling off. The other theory I have is that it was stolen, but it just seems unlikely. When I arrived at the campsite I went to the bathroom for five minutes, and it’s not implausible that someone might have opportunistically grabbed it. But… in a quiet part of a small city like Neuburg, how many thieves are on the prowl? Would anyone take that risk for a random bag? And why not take the whole bike instead?

God knows what tomorrow and the coming days have in store. One moment I’m feeling glad I’m not geting too overwhelmed by this situation, and I’m learning to deal with adversity, but the next I’m regretting doing this trip. Certainly, this type of life is stressful and complicated, and that’s not even considering the physical challenge of the cycling itself. So much can go wrong, and the combination of a lost bag and a smashed phone in recent days has been pretty tough to take.

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The one good thing I’ll remember Neuburg for is this lovely view!

Day 29, July 11th, Neuburg, 25km

Well… I got my pannier back. Let me tell you the story…

My late appeal for couchsurfing hosts in Neuburg the previous night had mercifully put me in touch with a couple of locals, and one of them, Camilla, offered to come and meet me. She had brought her car, so she drove me back to a town where I thought the bag might have fallen from the bike. From there I cycled back to town the same route I’d taken he previous day, but there was nothing to be found…

I met Camilla back at her place and she tried a few more options to see if it could be located. Nothing worked, and I had sank into a self pitying despondency, slumped on the settee wondering why so many things had to go wrong. Her final idea was to put up a message on a Facebook page used by locals. By this stage I had pretty much accepted it was gone and wasn’t expecting anything.

And yet, a few minutes later Camilla excitedly announced she’d received a message from someone at the local tourist information centre, who’d been handed a bag. We went along right away, and sure enough it was mine. It was an emotional moment, akin to the scene in Home Alone when the mother is reunited with Kevin. I clasped it to my bosom and solemnly promised that never again would it leave my side.

The pannier had lain there for 24 hours, and someone had apparently helped themselves to the backpack that was inside, so unfortunately I can’t see it as a total triumph of humanity. But I’m extremely grateful to Camilla and the guy who brought it to the town- between them they saved me an awful lot of trouble and money.

Day 30, July 12th, Neuburg to Regensburg, 116km

I write this from my tent in a campsite just outside Regensburg, listening to the bloke in the tent next to mine snoring. It’s only my second night in a tent on this trip, which is pretty surprising. This thing is a bit too small for me to get comfortable in. But hey, I should be grateful just to have it after the events of the last couple of days!

After the smashed phones and lost bags of the previous days, it wasn’t too surprising when something else went wrong. This time the bike itself was in trouble, so I took it to a local bike shop to seek help. The language barrier made things difficult. I gestured to the back wheel, rotated my hands in circles, and tried to mimick the noise of the problem: gadump, gadump, gadump. The mechanic took a look at the tyre and said a few words. It’s amazing how badly I remember the three years of German I learnt at school, but I certainly retained enough of a vocabulary to register the word “kaputt”.

15 minutes later and €50 worse off, I set off with my new rear tyre on the long road to Regensburg. For a few hours it was pretty good. I passed through some nice towns and cities, including Ingolstadt of Audi fame, took an accidental detour past a vineyard, pedalled through villages full of whitewashed houses, and saw the cliffs that line the river around the town of Kelheim.

Day 31, July 13th, Regensburg to Deggendorf, 108km

There are some days on the bike where I’m having a lovely old time, and then are others where I’m just not in the right frame of mind. Today was definitely one from the latter category.

Really, there wasn’t that much reason to be in a bad mood. The sub was shining, the scenery was pleasant, it was for the most part a traffic free route, there were no big hills, and it was a rare trouble-free day I’d had in a while. And yet I just didn’t enjoy it very much at all. I pedalled on and on, counting down the kilometres to each new town, looking forward to the end of the day almost as soon as it began.

Lots of minor things bothered me unduly. Getting lost trying to get out of Regensburg was a bad start. Some ambiguous signage left me grumbling. Brief gravel tracks felt like an unbearable ordeal. Difficulty locating a supermarket left me feeling the world was against me. I suppose we all have those days where we get up on the wrong side of bed, so I hope that tomorrow will be a better day.

Day 32, July 14th, Deggendorf to Passau, 58km (2006km overall)

Not much to report here. I arrived in Passau and finished relatively early at 3pm, after passing a big flood gate and locks complex. Apparently there was a canal there connecting the Danube to the Main and the Rhine. A ship entering the Danube at the mouth in Romania can thus sail all the way through Europe to Rotterdam, which is a cool thought.

For the next two nights I’ll be couchsurfing in a student house with a few locals. It’s a place with a lot of character, very dirty and untidy, with walls covered with posters, jokes and pictures, including some of the former occupants. The disorder would drive me crazy for I had to live there permanently, but for a couple of nights it’ll do fine. Besides, anywhere is preferable to my tiny tent!

Day 33, July 15th, Passau

Today was a rest day and I was very grateful for it! I had a walk through the city, and discovered quite how beautiful it is! It’s not really a famous name, but for me it’s as nice a historic town as any I’ve seen previously in Europe, particularly due to the relatively small number of visitors.

I love how the old town is squashed in between the two rivers on a little peninsula- I always appreciate a city with a good geography! One of the rivers carries clear water while the other is a murky brown, creating a brief section before the waters merge where the channel is divided down the middle into two colours.

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Day 34, July 16th, Passau to Linz, 115km

This was really quite a straightforward day. I left Passau in the morning, went down to the river, and cycled right alongside it for the next 100km on traffic free routes through some lovely scenery right into Austria! The river valley became very steep sided, flanked on both sides by forested hillsides, which made a nice change from the Bavarian flatlands.

But generally there isn’t that much to differentiate Bavaria and Austria. The language didn’t change, the towns look much the same with similarly pretty colourful panted buildings, and the onion domed Catholic churches remain a frequent sight.

Linz itself seemed pretty nice. Wikivoyage described it as an industrial town and thus not one of Austria’s prettiest, but even an ugly Austrian town would be a jewel in the crown in the UK! I didn’t spend much time there because I had to camp a few miles down the road, but as I was passing through I came across a march commemorating the anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, full of Bosnians. Apparently, the second largest ethnic group after Austrians in the city are Bosnians, as many fled there after the war in the 1990s.

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Day 35, July 17th, Linz to Melk, 111km

I had a bad night’s sleep last night, in my shitty tent with its shitty deflating air mat, and I put me in a unpleasant mood for the rest of the day. Sometimes I overcame it and cheered up, enjoying more pleasant scenery and easy riding, but for much of the day I just wasn’t feeling in the mood for cycling. I do appreciate the ease of cycling in Austria with its flat roads and separate cycle paths, but it can become a bit dull sometimes.

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I’ve passed plenty of castles overlooking the river, but this one has to be the most picturesque so far

Day 36, July 18th, Melk to Vienna, 112km

Today I cycled 112km, yet it felt like so much more. The whole day was a battle against a persistent headwind unlike any I’ve experienced on the journey so far. Perhaps it was relatively tame in the overall scheme of things, and it certainly wasn’t the tail end or a hurricane or anything. But it certainly seemed to slow me down and probably added an hour or two to my time.

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Bridges across the Danube have to be loooong

The scenery was nice as usual, with another long section through a steep-sided valley. This Austrian section of the Danube is definitely more beautiful than the bit that preceded it in Germany, and probably much of the later stages too. Besides the rural views, I found it interesting to see the industrial side of the river, with lots of factories, shipping containers, cranes, and industrial port facilities along the shore, as well as the long narrow container boats carrying freight up and down the waterway.

Also notable were all the nudey sunbathers- mainly middle aged men, not that I was paying much attention- strewn along the river on the final stretch leading up to Vienna. I assumed that kind of a behaviour was more a German thing, but it would appear the Austrians share more than just a language with their northern neighbours. First they gave us Hitler, now this- what next?

Overall, though, it was quite a nice day. Not particularly different to the previous day’s cycling, and yet I felt quite a bit better. I wish I understood why my mood fluctuates like that!..

Day 37 and 38, July 19th- 20th, Vienna, 57km

Wow, so I cycled 57km in two days in Vienna- so much for time off the bike! It has been so much more enjoyable without the bags and without any need to hurry, though. I really enjoyed cruising along the bike lanes gazing at all the lovely sights, and particularly a bit of late night riding. Everything is more fun in the dark, that’s a fact.

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Vienna’s a really nice city, and another place I’ve visited that I reckon would be a great place to live. When I like a city, I often struggle to find the words to describe why, at least without resorting to the usual clichés. So I’ll just blurt out a few vague ideas and you can paint your own picture: Lively streets. Very bike friendly streets. Fancy architecture. Canals and rivers. Youthful, Berlin-like area daubed with a kaleidoscope of graffiti. Vibrant bar scene (damn, still stumbled into a cliché). Relaxed feel despite its size. Trams trundling along. Street musicians. Outdoors drinking. People lounging on the grass. How’s that for top notch travel writing?

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Off to Bratislava tomorrow. My time in the German linguosphere (if that’s not a word it should be) is almost at an end, after several weeks in three countries. It’ll be weird to suddenly find myself in the Slavic world, with all the cultural and linguistic difficulties that will entail. I know it’s been almost three decades since the Iron Curtain fell, but I’m definitely expecting things to be a bit more complicated…

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