Easy Riding

` Friday June 7th

We leave Passau on a bike path alongside a busy road and by midday we arrive at the Schlogen loop. When the river was forming it came up against a hard granite wall which it was unable to erode and so was forced to double back on itself. We stay at the Donauschlinge hotel at the apex of the loop.

River cruise ship at dusk
The ferry serving our Schlogen hotel

Sitting on the hotel’s broad deck one can see all the river traffic approaching, rounding the 90 degree bend and departing. That night I am awoken by a howling east wind and on looking out see one of the longest crocodile-like hotel boats gingerly rounding the loop; they must be difficult to steer under such conditions. The next morning dawns clear and calm as though nothing happened a few hours earlier.

Saturday June 8th

The day starts with a large buffet style breakfast and then a short ferry crossing to the north bank. A kilometer further we take another ferry back to the south bank as we cannot pass through the nature reserve on the north side, and the boat that bypasses it, we learn, won’t leave for an hour and one-half. The only sign of the storm are innumerable small branches littering the path. For the first time on this trip we see a lot of fishermen on the banks. They are well set up with cosy tents equipped with tables, chairs and small stoves. None, though, appear to be catching anything so I suppose its just a pleasant way to spend a weekend. There is a lot more bicycle traffic than we have seen to date. Most people are on Ebikes and there are charging stations at regular intervals. We stop for a coffee break at 10 and to my surprise the table of cyclists next to us are drinking large tankards of beer. I am wobbly enough without consuming alchohol but this lot jump on their bikes with aplomb and peddle off … to the next beer garden I suppose! On our way to Linz we make a detour to visit a Cistercian monastery and church in Wilhering. The Cistercian order is quite austere and the few Cistercian monasteries and churches I have visited in France and Italy were beautiful in their simplicity of Romanesque architecture and lack of ornamentation. David opens the door to the church and I am quite speechless and succumb almost immediately to vertigo! The whole church … walls, ceilings, everywhere are decorated in a rococo Baroque style gone mad. Really I cannot stand it and have to leave. Next to the entrance to the church is a small room with a whitewashed vaulted ceiling and whitewashed walls whose sole ornament is a simple cross. I can only assume the monks come here to recuperate after visiting their church.

Wilhering abbey church
Ceiling of Cistercian church
White chapel in Cistertian church

We arrive in Linz a little later. David has been here 25 years ago and has been quite disparaging about the city but today it is very different, no cars in the center, coffeeshops and young people everywhere and expensive looking shops. We eat wonderfully well in the Crocodil Metro and I am sorry that we haven’t left more time to explore the city.

Stiegelbräu brew pub, Linz
Family dinner at Krokodil Restaurant, with living plant curtains
Linz cafe with wine bottle chandelier

Sunday June 9th

Early Sunday morning and no traffic in the city … I can actually ride my bike from our hotel, over the bridge and onto the bike path without getting off! It’s a shaded path with wide green areas on either side where walkers are letting their dogs run free and runners, cyclists and roller bladers are on the path … everyone like us taking advantage of the cool morning. Later that morning we reach a town and I dismount as there is a lot of traffic.

Typical town along the Austrian Danube

A German woman cuts in front of me, slide slips on the curb and crashes onto the pavement, landing with her bike on top of her. « Allés ist gut! » she keeps saying as I try to help. She doesn’t look particularly « gut », blood is everywhere, and I am thankful when her husband appears. Rather shaken I join David further up the road, he has ridden through the town, with my policy of dismounting in traffic further enforced. The rest of the ride to Grein, a very pretty town on the banks of the river, is without further incident.

Bikers cafe along the north bank path to Grein
Our waitress in a Grein cafe

Monday 11th June

The morning starts with a ferry crossing to the south bank.

In Grein, bicycle ferry arriving (to go to south bank bike path)
On bicycle ferry, leaving Grein

As we ride along the shaded road twenty or so tractors pass by festooned with ribbons and flags … there must be a tractor festival somewhere. It’s an easy ride, mercifully mostly in shade, and by midday we arrive at Weitenegg where we will spend the night at a gasthaus next to the river. The heat is increasing and I am thankful David decided to stop here and to take a taxi to Melk and its famous monastery on the other bank. This is a must visit place on the river boat hotels’ itinerary and the courtyard is swarming with tourists. Monks no longer live here and the ticket seller tells us that every cent made from the visitors is ploughed back into the upkeep of the monastery and its buildings. Indeed it sparkles, the exhibits in the museum are beautifully displayed and visitors follow a marked route that prevents too much crowding. The church is ornate, but not overly so and not vertigo inducing! Chairs and music stands are being set up and apparently many concerts are held here throughout the year.

Abbey church, Melk
Library, Melk Abbey
I would regret if I had not been here – Maria Theresa 1743
View of Melk from abbey

After the visit to the church we head to the garden and its pavilion for much needed bottles of water.

Pavilion café
Directions how to use the toilet, Melk Abbey Pavilion ladies room

Back at the gasthaus we eat our first schnitzels of the trip washed down by a couple of pints of a local Pilsner. I am not much of a beer drinker but wine is out of the question in this heat.

Tuesday 12th June

At breakfast beside a doorway we notice a series of plaques that show the high water marks of the Danube floods since 1899. The last major flood which comes up to my nose was in 2013. The owner who speaks good English tells us that the gästhaus has been in her family for four generations. »The floods are terrible » she says. « We have to move everything from this floor … all the dining room furniture, all the kitchen stuff, everything! » And looking at how much there is it must have taken a long time to get everything upstairs. She tells us that the walls are painted with a whitewash that does not allow the water to be trapped and thereby causing mold. « We can cope with a flood every ten years, but more frequently … » she shakes her head.

Highly decorated dining room of our Melk guest house
Tessa and the Danube flood levels at our guest house
Before the gästhaus, morning check of bikes

Today’s ride takes us through the picturesque wine country of the Wachau region.

Bike path through a wine village
Vineyard and village, Wachau wine region

We pass the castle in Dürnstein where Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned for offending Leopold the Virtuous during the Crusades, then pedal through Stein, a lovely medieval town that adjoins Krems. Before attempting to find our hotel we stop at the new Karikatur Museum on the outskirts of the town. It is the only museum in Austria that exhibits satirical art and the work of the featured artist, Manfred Deix, is very powerful.

Karikatur Museum: What might have been.
At the Karikatur Museum, Krems
Karikatur Museum restaurant

Next door is the museum’s restaurant, thankfully air conditioned as today is the hottest day yet, and we enjoy a good lunch and several bottles of water. David was bitten by an insect a few days earlier and his arm is still swollen. He stops at a pharmacy to buy some ointment but the pharmacist suggests that he visit the only doctor in town who is seeing patients that day. So much of our afternoon is spent sitting in a waiting room along with a screaming child, a couple of heavily tattooed overweight young women and several elderly people. When eventually we see the doctor she says the bite is not serious and writes a prescription for an ointment that David was going to buy in the first place! I am more than thankful when we finally get to the gasthaus where we are staying! The evening cools a little and we walk back into the old town to an Austrian restaurant. The couple at the adjoining table strike up a conversation in good English. He is an oncologist specializing in radiation treatment. « In Krems we have the most up to date equipment. It cost several million euros. Would a town of similar size (25,000) in USA have such equipment? I don’t think so! » He says proudly and we have to agree. He is also a cyclist and during the summer months rides everyday. « In winter, » he laments, « I become pregnant as the weather is too bad to ride a bike! » His wife, a high school teacher, is much more interested in music than in cycling and describes how almost every town in the country hosts open-air concerts throughout the summer and how they will frequently spend a weekend in another part of Austria just to attend a particular concert or opera. We return late to our hotel.

The Golden Angel, our guest house in Krems

David writing:

We have arrived in Vienna! A Greek dinner just up the street to celebrate. Bikes are being boxed by a nearby shop. In four days we are in Magagnosc. An air conditioned room, thank God, as the temperatures keep rising! Tessa has a list of museum exhibitions and I will revisit Charlemagne’s regalia, now 1200 years old. We will see the Spanish Riding School’s famous horse show.

If I were writing yesterday, I would have lauded the Austrian bike paths. The German ones were a helter-skelter linkage of local bike paths, often improvised to avoid new construction; in Austria they were perfectly signed everywhere, always well paved, a major tourist attraction. So I would have said yesterday. The last stage was anything but. There was not a single sign for leaving Krems, but with map and questions we eventually. Found the path. Next we had to ride on an entirely torn up 3 km gravel and stone section (presumably to be a new road). Much later the bike path had been entirely rerouted, thankfully with small signs saying Eurovelo 6 “Umleitung” (Detour).

Approaching Tulin by a detour our map was unhelpful, but there were scattered roadside maps with red dots for our locations. Nonetheless we became lost in a park. We waved down an older rider who spoke no English and asked the way to the railway station. (Why, you might wonder, were we taking the train for the last 40 kilometers?: 95 degrees with 20 mph headwinds gusting to 30.) “Which train line?,” he asked. And after no response from my part, “The Franz Joseph Railway?” “Ja”. He indicated “follow me”, and thank goodness again, because it took 15 minutes and we would have taken hours to find it by ourselves. Leaving us at the ticket machine inside a tunnel, he rode off, barely accepting thanks.

Tessa’s summary:

As there were many more sections on gravel paths particularly in Germany the riding was harder. Slightly wider tires would have made me feel more secure. However I enjoyed the first week in Germany enormously; there were fewer cyclists (most tours start from Passau) and the countryside was beautiful. And, as in previous years, everyone we encountered along the way whether we were lost or not was helpful and friendly. I am proud we made it to Vienna without serious incident … it was a long way to cycle in such hot weather!

David’s summary:

Looking back, because of the German climate data and the forecast I carried no summer shirts. We carried extensive rain gear but it never rained. We know now that in June the further east one goes, the hotter and less rainy the weather becomes. And also, while rainy weather brings westerlies, fair weather brings winds from the east or southeast. Thus we faced unexpected headwinds, sometimes light, sometimes heavy, on all but two of our riding days.

This year we rode 729 kilometers and covered 77 more by boat and train, a total of 846 (about 510 miles). Since we set out, three riding years ago, from the Atlantic Ocean, we have covered 2,393 kms (1,426 miles). We are more than half-way from the Atlantic to the Black Sea, but what the future brings remains to be seen. Stay tuned next year.

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