I passed over the Rhine on an overcast morning and into Germany. I was almost instantly struck by two features that were to define my journey through Germany: the overwhelming quality of the cycle network, and the friendliness and openness of the people. No sooner would I stop, my brow furrowed, looking confused at my map (I was probably even holding it upside down), than someone would stop and ask (quickly reverting to often flawless English upon my further evident confusion) if I needed directions. Fantastic!
I followed the stunningly beautiful Kunzig valley cycle path deep into the heart of the Black Forest. Early the next day, having creaked and groaned my way up the final forested hills, I found my route steadily meandering downhill into an ever widening valley. To my right was a small trickle of brown water, no larger than a small drainage ditch, which would ultimately become the mighty river Danube (or Donau, as it’s called locally), the second largest river in Europe!
The Danube cycle path begins a few miles further down the valley in the town of Donaueschingen. I met three German cyclists in the town who, like me, where looking for the start of the cycle path. We eventually found it, and I rode with them for the next two or three days. It was a joy to have company on my ride, after too many lonely days across the north of France, where touring cyclists, and English speakers, were a rare occurrence. Stephan, Christian, and Martin, it was a pleasure to ride with you all.
The river widened vastly over the coming days, and the dirty brown trickle high in the hills of the Black Forest was soon a distant memory. Since Donaueschingen the volume of other cyclists on the route had been steadily increasing. I soon found myself riding with Darren (an Aussie who’s slightly erratic round-the-world ride has seen him cycling through New Zealand, and a fair part of Europe – visit his blog here) and Laura, who is cycling from Ireland to India, and a true modern day Dervla Murphy! I enjoyed their company and was sad to see them skip out part of the route by getting a train to Vienna to meet some friends, after only a couple of days.
On Monday I reached Passau, the city of three rivers; the last city in Germany on my route, and the point at which the blue Danube is joined by the rivers Inn and Ilz. The water, which had been clear and blue, and a great utility for cooking and bathing for me over the pervious days, had become more of a cloudy chalky white. The river meandered its way through increasingly high-sided forested valleys, where it formed the boundary between Germany and Austria.
I crossed the Danube on a small ferry with an increasing host of other cyclists from all over Europe, and into Austria – country number four on my route.
The route through Austria has probably been the most stunning of my journey so far! The well surfaced asphalt cycle path hugs the riverbank for many miles as the river meanders majestically through the Austrian hills, thickly forested and littered with beautiful little villages and tempting little cafes (I only succumbed to temptation once, and swiftly ate my way through the best part of a day’s budget!)
I rolled into Vienna on Thursday afternoon and met my CouchSurfing host Martin (not the one I rode with in Germany) at Vienna’s Bike Kitchen, a not-for-profit cooperative where people can use tools and borrow the expertise of some of the more experienced, to fix and maintain their bicycles, and a truly fantastic institution! One recent example of their combined creativity was a stationary bicycle which could be used to power a washing machine! Pure genius!
I’m enjoying a day of rest today in Vienna, and will push on into Slovakia tomorrow, as I enter Eastern Europe!