The border between Austria and Germany was just a sign saying we had entered the state of Bavaria. Nothing else really changed, except maybe the number plates of the cars now had more D’s than A’s. Due to our rest day in Linz, we had two big days in front of us in order to reach Donaustauf. This was okay with us. Often we feel that a full rest day is worth the long riding days. Plus we have the sun on our side now. It stays light until 10pm. Amazing.
We pushed on along the Danube bike path for the next two days with seemingly the entire population of over 60’s from Austria and Germany. The path took us through a picturesque narrow valley, passed fields of wheat and through beautiful old towns. Our first night camping in the most populous country in Europe we scored one of the best free camps of the trip. Right on the banks of the Danube, hidden by bushes from the bike path and with views of church spires and the pink hues of the setting sun. We even had an otter swim right by us.
The days were hot and long and by the time we reached Donaustauf we were both quite exhausted. We were welcomed with open arms by Barbara’s (a friend from Melbourne) parents Ingrid and Hans. We were wined and dined and then taken up to the ‘Walhalla’ to enjoy the views and the balmy summer evening. Life really felt perfect. Summer is here!!
The next day we made a tour of Regensburg with Hans and Ingrid (with me badly translating from German into English for Astrid). We also took our bikes to Feine Fahrrader, a bike shop thankfully familiar with our kind of bikes. They replaced my front light (not working since western China) and checked my dynamo. Astrid’s rohloff was sent away to be replaced (free) and the bike shop rebuilt her wheel for a fee. For anyone on touring bikes, I would recommend this shop.
After our brief stay in Donaustauf it was time to head to Prague to meet my sister. Although we had initially planned to cycle there, this didn’t work out. Mainly because the flange failure meant that it was more sensible to go to Germany first and get it fixed. It’s always a bit difficult to make medium distance plans when travelling by bike.
We spent a wonderful 10 days with my sister in Prague and Berlin. The cities were familiar to all three of us and we revisited favourites sites, discovered a few new ones and played a lot of scrabble. It was a delightful, relaxing period, more about spending time together than rushing around to look at the sites.
Then, before too long it was time to say goodbye to Mish. It was hard, but I know it won’t be so long before she is on this side of the world again. Astrid and I also packed out bags and headed back on the bus to Donaustauf. Our short life as backpackers was over.
Arriving back at Donaustauf felt like home (it’s funny how quickly this happens on the road!) and it was wonderful to return to Hans and Ingrid. A day and a half later Vari arrived pumped for another adventure with us. We went out and helped him choose a bike from a bicycle mega store that even had a practice track. Then we with our repaired and replaced parts and Vari with his brand new bike, were ready to face the bike paths of Germany.
We hugged and kissed Ingrid and Han’s farewell (as well as the extended family). What utterly wonderful hosts they have been. The time we shared was so warm and heartfelt, it was difficult to leave. It’s funny how in this cycling life people we have never met reach out to us and treat us with such kindness and acceptance. It’s something I will never forget.
The next few days we followed the German Rivers of the Danube, Altmuhl and Tauber. It was lovely riding, along bike paths that took us through fields, forest, small villages and medieval towns. We slept sometimes in campgrounds, but often in the forest and found it surprisingly easy and picturesque to free camp. Sometimes we saw deer, we picked wild strawberries and swam in lakes. In the mornings we stopped for coffees, in the afternoon for radlers (beer with lemonade, don’t laugh!). It’s refreshing and delicious. Night fell late, around 10pm and the best cycling was before 8am and after 7pm because of the heat. It grew hotter and hotter until we were having consecutive days of over 35 degrees Celsius. It felt like Melbourne!!
At one point I made the decision to split from our little group of three in order to make it to my very good friends birthday party (Janne who visited us in Istanbul) as well as visit my uncle and aunty. In a way I was excited about travelling alone, but also sad. Astrid and I have hardly spent anytime alone since beginning this trip. This is actually why a solo leg was probably a good idea. It’s important to do things alone every now and then.
I set off from our river campground at 5.30am and meandered along the undulating Tauber River cycle path. It was gorgeous with steep wooded hills rising up from the valley floor, which at this point was quite narrow. The air was fresh and cool, with a little mist still rising from the water. Astrid and Vari would follow me a few hours later and continue on this path until it reached the Main River. I on the other hand turned off after only around 15km on a short cut that took me through hilly countryside that meandered through fields and woods, alongside freeways and finally into the Main River valley. By the time I reached the Main it was mid afternoon and over 37 degrees. I didn’t realise the toughest was yet to come. From the Main I climbed for over 10km in the blazing sun. At one point I crawled into a pub, dripping and bright red. I gulped down a radler and continued, knowing I still had a way to go. Finally I reached the Spessart, a Bavarian forest I had once visited as I child. It was a little cooler and sweet down hill followed. Unfortunately this was followed by unrelenting undulations that almost reduced me to tears.
Finally exhausted and starving I rolled into Aschaffenburg 12 hours after setting off. It was pretty close to being one of my toughest days. I was welcomed with open arms by my uncle and aunty who I had not spent time with since I was 17. We spent a wonderful evening and morning together and I felt like the big push had been well worth it.
Another scorching day dawned and I limped by way along the Main River towards Frankfurt. From there I caught a train to Bad Nauheim and rode the remaining kilometres to Janne’s mum’s house. I was greeted with open arms, handed a glass of champagne and told to put my feet in a bucket of cold water. I had once spent a wonderful lazy summer almost exclusively in Bad Nauheim eight years ago. It was magnificent to be back and felt like almost no time had passed.
The following day an exhausted and overheated Astrid and Vari rolled into Bad Nauheim. Jutta (Janne’s mum) and Janne coaxed them back to life with food and cold drinks. In the evening, when the worst of the heat had dissipated we sat on the balcony and enjoyed cool crisp white wine and conversation. It was really special for me to be back here and to share it with Astrid.
It was not long before we needed to leave again, although I don’t think it will be eight years between visits this time! The three of us retraced our steps back to the Main river on the train and then continued where we had left off. The Main eventually flows into the Rhine which is flanked by bike paths and train lines on both sides. We followed this route, enjoying views of castles, icecream stops, picnics on the river bank and very civilized camping. It really was rather idyllic but also a little dull. I came to the realisation that river bike paths are not for me. Well, not for weeks anyway. After coming through the countries we have with the challenges of high passes, bad roads, weird food, and unfamiliar culture, somehow bike paths along rivers seem a little tame. And a little too easy. Once the novelty of being away from cars and being able to stop in cute towns and drink a radler every 10km had worn off I longed for something more. So, Europe I think when I next tour though you I will search out the mountains and your more wild places.
A few days of Rhine cycle path and then much to our relief and perhaps Vari’s horror we turned off it and climbed out of the valley. I cannot tell you how good it felt to climb! Astrid and I were both extremely happy with the change of scenery. We crossed through farmland and forest and finally into the Eifel National Park which borders Belgium. It was gorgeous cycling along forest paths and then along this picturesque narrow valley towards the Belgium border.
Germany really has been a pleasure to cycle in. Their infrastructure for cyclists and the attitude of the car drivers is the best we have experienced so far. It is a country I am fond of and hope to get to know better in the coming years when I no longer live so far away from it.