Germany via river bike paths, radlers and ice cream

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Small roads and bike paths through Baveria

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.

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Beer break in Passau

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Bike traffic lights!

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.

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Our camp spot right on the Danube

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Sunset. An otter swam right by us here

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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!!

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Bikes and beer!

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Taking a break

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Heading towards Donaustauf

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The Danube

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Hans and Ingrid our wonderful hosts.

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.

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Exploring Regensburg

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Knodel and sauerkraut plus beer. Yum

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Hans in a wealth of knowledge

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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.

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Scrabble in Prague

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Prague never fails to impress me

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Stunning

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And some more

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Beer in a medieval tavern

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.

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Brandenburger Tor. I simply love Berlin.

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The wall

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Ampel man says stop!

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Scrabble in Berlin

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.

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More scrabble and wine

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Scrabble takes concentration! And beer in the park.

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.

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Bike tube vending machine.

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Vari and I heading along the Danube path

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Just another amazing castle

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Upside down swam. They completely crack Astrid and I up

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Very civilised. A campground for Vari’s first night.

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Preparing pesto pasta

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.

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Seemingly endless quaint towns

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My old i phone needs to be charged all the time. How cool is this free charger?! Also for electric bikes!!

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Forest camp. Free camping is so easy in Germany.

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Another perfect summers day

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A stone bridge, many hundreds of years old.

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Cycling in the evening when it gets cooler is often the best time

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Another lovely forest camp

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!!

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Medieval Rotenburg Ob der Tauber

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More Rotenburg

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This creeper had tar poured through his mouth onto attacking enemies, Rotenburg Ob der Tauber.

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Rotenburg is so well preserved

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Fields of wheat in the heat

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Vari is tough! Coping amazingly well in the summer heat.

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.

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Cute village overload!

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Looking good!

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Beware frogs!

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Schloss Aschaffenburg

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More schloss action

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Super impressive

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.

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It’s hot!!

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The long flat road

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.

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Mainz, where the Main and the Rhine meet

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Crossing the Rhine

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Flowers!

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.

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Views from the Rhine

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Swimming in the Rhine

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Vineyards and castles!

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Beer o clock

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Camping along the Rhine

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And there is rain. Heading towards Belgium

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In the National park

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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.

Awesome Austria

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The Tunnel to Austria

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We reached Austria through a tunnel built in the 1940’s by Nazi prisoners of war. It was rather sobering. The ruins of the buildings that housed the prisoners were still just visible not far away and we walked through the area grateful that Europe is now a very different place. The deserted border post between Slovenia and Austria was another sign about how the times have changed. I hope there is never a time when that border post needs to be used again.

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Deserted border post

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What remains of the prisoners camp

From the forest we dropped into a river valley and then followed a bike path. At a lake we stopped for a swim and it seemed that everyone was out and about. At first we thought – wow Austrians must have a great work/life balance but later we found out it was a religious holiday. I didn’t know what to expect from Austrians but their super friendliness surprised me. Wherever we went people wanted to know our story, sometimes take our photo and invite us for ice cream or drinks. This interaction was enhanced by the fact that I could speak German and Austrians at least in theory also speak German. They often speak in a dialect, especially the area we were initially cycling through and this can be challenging for me to understand.

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Bike paths! Loving Austria

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Swim time!

Our first day in Austria was full of good surprises. In the afternoon we accidentally crashed a church event, looking for food and somewhere to charge our phone. The ladies immediately rustled up some delicious left overs and a young guy bought us beers and then helped us navigated out of town. Oh and his mum made us sandwiches to take with us. In the evening after a beer at a very cute pub I asked if there was anywhere in the area we could put up our tent for the night. The owner offered up his pristine lawn and insisted we come for buffet breakfast in the morning. Austria you are rather amazing.

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Being given food

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Beer!

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The garden in which we were allowed to pitch our tent

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The buffet breakfast we were given the next day

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Outside the place where we were treated so kindly

The next day we stumbled on the Heindrich Harrer museum – the guy who the film Seven Years in Tibet was based on. Turns out it was the village where he had lived (Huttenberg) and that the Dalai Lhama had visited many times. While eating lunch in the square the supermarket attendant was so excited by our story that he bought us an ice cream and then before too long the whole village knew our story and we were invited in for beer by a friendly guy and his wife. I think we spent about 4 hours in that one village.

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These guys invited us in for drinks

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Lunch time!

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BlondVieh! (blond cattle)

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Castles

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Loving the valley and bike path

Our route took us through valleys where we often stumbled on bike paths, up into the mountains where in the distance we could still see snow on the peaks and through beautiful villages. We drank refreshing radlers and I had many conversations with locals. At one point we realised that the climb ahead would be our last decent ascent of the trip. It was all river valleys from then on. We took a moment at the top to reflect on all the amazing passes we had climbed over the last 2 years. I am going to miss the big climbs.

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Climbing up

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Austrian’s are very kind. Here we were invited in for tea

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Villages nestled in the valley

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The top of the last climb

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Loving the mountains

After our last mountain we descended into another river valley and began to follow the Enns bike path. It’s an on and off road cycle way that follows the Enns river. It’s very beautiful and we thoroughly enjoyed it, especially when some Germans on bicycles invited us to join them for a side trip. This involved putting our bikes in a trailer and driving to the top of a hill and then following a disused rail way path down, through forest and tunnels. So much fun!

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The Enns

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The surrounding mountains

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More Enns

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Radler break!

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Forest camp

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Bikes get a trailer ride to the top

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20km of down hill!

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The tunnels were impressive

The weather had been quite humid and hot with the occasional thunderstorm that rumbled and crashed through the landscape. Usually we had the tent up before it rained but one night we got caught out in a town, chatting to some guys who had bought us beers once they learnt about our story. Usually, being in a town as night is falling is not where you want to be. It’s better to stop before or go through a town if you are looking to free camp. On this night we got caught in a town and a thunderstorm. Of course my phones battery went flat and we were struggling to navigate through the heavy rain and suburban landscape. It’s one of those moments you wonder if you are going to have to succumb to paying for somewhere to stay. Luckily we found a town park and in the almost darkness were able to pitch our tent easily, stuff down some pasta and climb into our shelter.

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Pedalling through town

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Don’t head butt cars

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Gorgeous clock towers

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Towards the Danube!

Our last days in Austria had us reach the Danube. This was the river we had originally been planning to take almost from the Black Sea across Europe. However, over time our plans had changed (I am so glad they did) and at one point we didn’t think we would make it to the Danube at all. Now they had changed again to incorporate a small section and we were quite excited to have reached it. We took a moment to take it in. Then, along with every European over 60 we cycled towards Linz. Seriously, the Danube river path is full of older groups on bikes. It’s great to see.

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Danube!

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Made it to the Danube!!

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Linz

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So many bikes in the square in Linz. Lots of people cycling the Danube trail

At Linz we had organised to stay with a host. We arrived early and hung around the city, before heading to Daniel and Vesela’s place. The apartment was lovely and huge and we met two Korean’s on a cycle tour of Europe and a Brit cyclist who were also staying there. We made food and enjoyed the long summer evening in the garden together.

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Rest day breakfast!

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Don’t drive into the river!

The next day Astrid and I only left the house once to go shopping. We briefly thought about leaving to make the next day’s cycle easier but just couldn’t face it. Sometimes you just need total time out to reset.

We felt much better the next day – ready for Germany!

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Along the Danube into Germany

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River bike paths are hard work. Must stop for a beer.

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Approaching the German border