Well, everything's packed up and I think I'm ready to go. The weather outside looks fine and sunny, but the temperature's taken a turn for the autumnal. I can cope with that, with the last-minute addition of a pair of long-fingered gloves to my clothes pannier. Also, for the first time since about March, I'm not wearing shorts to ride. What a shame. That means my carefully-acquired cyclist's tan line will start to fade.
This bit is like waiting for an exam to start. My travel plans are in the hands of assorted railway and ferry companies until I get to Calais, from which point everything will be my fault. I hope I've allowed enough time for the connections, and nothing's been replaced by a "special bus service". Especially the channel crossing.
And we're off! Train from cambridge has left on time and the sun is still shining. Marvellous.
Well, that was an exciting dash across london to get the Dover train! Loaded with luggage i'm not very nimble in fast traffic!
Diary This is all getting rather surreal. I've just cycled through the maze of roadways in the port of dover, normally used only by cars, lorries and buses. My bike feels so small sandwiched in the queue between two coaaches. It's as if I might fall through the cracks and get lost somewhere in the English Channel. The ferry staff are most reassuring, but my fellow passengers look on thoroughly bemused.
We'll be boarding in half an hour or so. I just hope it doesn't start to rain before then. I seem to be the only person here without a motor vehicle to hide in!
Doh! It's raining!
Here we are in France in a town called Ardres with the world's least useful tourist office. Onwards, I think.
I'm on the ferry now, so the day's risky logistics are over. The rest is up to me. The painted steel car deck turns out to be a treacherously slippery place to cycle, but I managed not to end up under the wheels of the bus in front.
Exchanged pleasantries with a couple of French motorcyclists who thought my luggage looked heavy. I suspect I'll be thinking the same before too long.
I've found a campsite in a place called Tournehem to stop for the night. Even though it was advertised along the side of the N43 road for at least 4km, the local tourist office knew nothing about it. Or at least, it didn't feature in their suspiciously glossy accommodation guide. I suspect some sort of "cash for campers" scandal is behind this, but I won't bother pursuing it through the courts.
The only thing of note in Tournehem is a cacophonous little fair in the central square, with four rides trying to out-eurohit each other. Still, it provided me with a hot dog for dinner. Must remember to stop at a supermarket tomorrow.
The weather is completely random. I've had everything from calm sunshine to horizontal rain to deal with. The landscape round here is distinctly East Anglian, which probably accounts for the vicious north wind which threatens to dump me in the ditch every time a lorry goes past.
Today's mileage: 30, not including the bits on trains and boats.
Today seems to be dawning quite promisingly. Although I don't feel like I've slept very well, the sun is definitely trying to break through. It's rained a few times in the night and the tent's flysheet is absolutely soaking. But it's done its job and the inner is dry.
Today will be the first full day of riding. Having looked at the map, I think I'm going to basically follow the N43 and see how far I get. First stop will probably be in St Omer for breakfast.
Covered a fair amount of ground this morning although it was hard work with a brisk north-easterly wind. Gradually getting used to French signposting, although escaping from towns is proving difficult. St Omer's one-way system caused several false starts. This afternoon's route looks quite heavily built up: I think the landscape is changing from agricultural to industrial. The sun is still shining, though. With a bit of luck I might make it to Cambrai this afternoon.
Made it! An unremarkable afternoon's riding, mostly through the coal mining landscape around Lens. The town itself reminded me of somewhere like Mansfield, except that the one active mine I saw looked extremely smart! A series of happy navigational accidents took me through the suburbs and back to the flat agricultural landscape of this morning. It's clearly the time of year for harvesting sugar beet - there were tractors everywhere towing trailers full of it. They made quite convenient windbreaks, and at their leisurely pace it was possible to keep up with them for a fair distance. At one point I formed part of a very odd convoy fronted by one of these tractors and a hearse! There was a noticeable absence of signs for accommodation all afternoon, until we started approaching Cambrai. It's clearly not an area geared up for tourists. I'm now safely installed in a youth hostel where I've been allowed to put my bike in the room - what luxury! Now it's time to see what food Cambrai can offer.
Today's mileage: 84 Riding time: 6:26
A thought struck me last night while I was sitting eating a pizza in a little restaurant opposite the cathedral. What if you were to draw a map like a mobile phone coverage map, but showing the places you could get a pizza delivered to instead? What would it look like? What would it tell you? It would make a great arbitrary economic growth statistic, especially if applied to the whole planet. Its metric would be based on some delightfully bogus assumptions: that the whole world eats pizza, for a start, and that they're also too lazy to go and get it. Hopefully that will be reason enough for pizza coverage never to reach 100%.
Today's ride looks straightforward enough on the map, but on closer inspection I think it's goinq to be all uphill! It heads towards the Ardennes forest, which should be fun. The obvious direct route to Vienna goes straight on through Charleville-Mezieres, but I think I'll detour to the north into the hills where there are a couple of promising-looking campsites marked on the map. That's all after lunch, though. First there's a 60km slog along the N43 to contend with.
Here's a landmark: I'm now on my second Michelin map, sheet 241
3:21pm, Bourg-Fidele I came over all hungry, so I've stopped to eat one of the pains au chocolat I bought this morning. I think this would be a rather scenic spot if it wasn't so foggy. This is definitely the Ardennes forest proper now. I'm heading for Montherme which seems to be the centre of things and apparently has an elegant sufficiency of campsites to stop at.
I wish I'd gone straight to Charleville-Mezieres. Everything here is shut, and it's raining. I'm cold, wet, tired and am having serious trouble finding anywhere to stay. My current highest hope is a B&B on whose doorstep I am currently sitting waiting for the owner to turn up. I've called his mobile number, helpfully displayed on the house, and apparently he'll be back within half an hour. If he's not, then I'll be reduced to freelance camping in one of the closed campsites, and remaining cold & wet until morning. Hopefully it won't come to that.
It's been raining all day, on and off, but it hasn't troubled me until I've stopped moving. I'm beginning to wonder if the whole of this part of France shuts when it rains. I stopped in a town called Hirson for lunch and that was all shut too. All I could get was a couple of Croque-Monsieurs in a little cafe which closed as soon as I'd finished eating! I passed a McDonald's on the way out of town, which would actually have been a more satisfying gastronomic experience. I never thought I'd say that whilst travelling in France.
The B&B has come up trumps, which is a blessing. I think this is going to be quite a comic experience after all: it turns out that the chap who normally runs it has gone into hospital to have his knee done, and this couple are standing in for him. Even better, this is their first night, so they have no idea where anything is! They've managed to switch the heating on, which is the main thing. And I can eat here tonight, which saves trudging the mile back into town (or even setting up the camping stove in my room). Now for a hot shower.
It's been a funny sort of day: drizzle and monotonous straight roads made up for by a gentle tailwind, cold, damp despair compensated for by what turns out to be an excellent B&B. Due to the domestic chaos resulting from it being my hosts' first day, the evening meal consisted of leftovers, but what leftovers! 5 courses including homemade vegetable soup and homemade paté de sanglier (which I think is wild boar, judging by the stuffed head over the mantlepiece). It was fun spending the evening in the company of Real French People
asked about the local area and it seems it's very like the forest of dean at home: hills, trees and industrial archaeology. Apparently it's very scenic when the weather's not rubbish like it was today. The forecast on the TV promised better for tomorrow morning, so we'll see.
Today's mileage: 88 (although the last 7 were fiddling around in Monthermé looking at closed things)
Riding time: 6:20
7:25 I've just looked out of the window and it's still raining. Hm. At least my kit has dried overnight.
Montherme, 8.40am My destination today is Metz. My hosts reckon it's possible, but the first bit up to Charleville is a serious climb. I think that's what I'll call my warmup. We've philosophically christened the rain "soleil qui tombe en morceaux" - sunshine which falls in pieces! Maybe, if there's enough of it, it'll conglomerate into conventional sunshine. Who knows.
It's actually stopped raining and I'm starting to dry out. I've just stocked up on pain au chocolat, my staple energy food at the moment. I'm noticing a change in the people round here. Up until now almost no-one has returned my cheery bonjours as I cycle past: they just stare as if I'm some sort of apparition, but now they are taking more of an interest, which is nice.
Soon I'll be back on the N43 having bypassed the tangle of motorways around Charleville via lots of country roads. I'm certain that the scenery was lovely, but I couldn't see much of it through the mist and rain!
Only about 30km to Metz now. Phew!
Made it to Metz! More later
That was a loooong day. There was a long period in the middle where it didn't feel like I was getting anywhere, and then a sting in the tail when there was another range of hills to cross just when I thought it was all downhill.
After I wrote this morning, it started raining again with a vengeance. I plodded on, past a lot of signs which always seemed to indicate that I was still absolutely miles from Metz. I took a little detour to visit the Maginot Line fort at Villy-La Ferté. As ever with these things, it was raining and it was closed. Apparently it opens on alternate blue moons in July and August.
My morale was saved by a number of things towards the end of the day. Firstly there was the chip van in Longuyon. Mmmm, chips. Then at 4pm it had stopped raining and I saw a patch of blue sky which lifted my spirits enough to feel that a sign saying Metz 60km meant it wasn't very far at all. That's quite some spirit-lifting, I'm sure you'll agree. Finally I crested a hill and was confronted with a view down on to what was clearly a lower plateau. Yay, downhill for the rest of the day! Well, not quite: between Briey and Metz there was another range of hills, including the day's highest point at 390m. Not what you need, really.
The relief I felt at entering the city of Metz was sweet but short-lived. A combination of maps in bus shelters and fortuitous signposts led me to the campsite. There seemed to be lots of people about, so I thought my luck was in. No way. It was closed for some special event. In spite of my pleadings, they wouldn't let me camp there "for insurance reasons". Hearing that made me want to give them some serious insurance problems, but I calmed down and went to the youth hostel nearby. You're probably a step ahead of me here: it was full. Again pleading exhaustion/hunger/heroism had no effect. However, there turned out to be another youth hostel. Just when I was beginning to wonder why the French government hasn't put a sign up at Calais saying "Complet - Fermé", they found space for me. So here I am, wondering whether it's possible to make it to Strasbourg tomorrow. Tune in again to find out.
I must say thankyou to all those fine folk who've taken the trouble to send texts of encouragement. It's much appreciated.
Today's mileage: 107, very hilly
Riding time 8:10
Metz 0700 It looks dry outside. Hooray!
I wonder what today will bring. My primary worry is my right knee: it was exhibiting mild, but worryingly familiar, symptoms when I got up this morning. I'll see how it goes, reinforced with Ibuprofen. At least we're into Alsace now so there are plenty of places to stop and stay if it all starts to go horribly wrong. I'm determined to make it through France under my own steam, even if it's not today. The weather looks fairly good too: dry, still, overcast and cool.
Today's route is going to have to cross the Vosges at some point, which will hopefully be scenic if strenuous. The trusty Route Nationale 43 has run out now: it's going to be superceded in my route plans by the N3 towards Strasbourg, I think.
Stopped for a snack, and in the vain hope of finding tourist information who might help me find somewhere for tonight. No luck there, but it's only about 25km to Phalsbourg where there is at least a youth hostel. Knee is holding out OK - I've plotted a reasonably flat cross-country route for most of today which has helped. I'm not going to try & get to Strasbourg, though. That would be tempting fate.
This area is getting more and more German. Everything is noticeably more neat and tidy, and the place names look German too. There are still fortifications standing in the fields like giant concrete blancmanges, which hint at the number of times Alsace has been fought over.
Dilemma! There are two Youth Hostels in the running for tonight's accommodation: one here and one 10km downhill away in Saverne. The one here has space, but the one in Saverne doesn't open until 17:00. I'm not going to chance it because it's Friday night and so likely to be busy, and I really don't fancy pedalling 10km uphill if it's full! There's a campsite there but they're not answering the phone.
15:55 problem solved - the Saverne place has phoned back to say there's space. Bon. It'll be easy to get there by 5pm.
Found it. The 10km was indeed all downhill, apart from the 100m climb up to the Col de Saverne! Oh well, I'll forgive the guy since he was so good about sorting the booking out.
Saverne looks like a nice place - it has quite a bustling centre, which makes a change from all the closed places I've been through. The sky is brightening and even turning blue, so I really ought to go and find the campsite but I don't have the energy now. I'll sit here munching Babybel and Baguette (this morning's, getting a bit tough now - why does it go off so quickly?) instead. The hostel seems to be housed in one end of an amazing Chateau - remind me to take a photo tomorrow morning when the light's on it.
Saverne is the first Really Nice Place I've been through/stopped in/had chance to enjoy on this trip. I realised tonight was my last chance for a proper French meal, so I've just returned from a restaurant which did a great set menu.
Today's been good, on balance: it only rained about 20% of the time, my knee didn't explode, and this hostel is excellent. Right in the centre of town with a great view, and a single room for the princely sum of 11 euros including breakfast. And it has the coolest bike shed ever: what appears to be the chateau's dungeon! Naturally, I had a good explore but didn't find anything more macabre than some old furniture.
Tomorrow I cross the border into Germany, about 45km from here. I've had a good look at the map, and I reckon the best way across the black forest will be to follow the railway to Donaueschingen and then the river Danube. My reasoning is that railways and rivers have fairly gentle gradients, although in this case the railway does seem to get alarmingly curly near Triberg. We'll see!
Today's mileage 79
Riding time 5:53
I'm in Germany - just crossed the Rhine
Date: Sat, 28 Sep 2002 11:07:45 +0100
I was awakened this morning by the sun streaming in through the window, just before the bells of the church next door started ringing. It made me feel like I was on holiday!
Today I'm cycling to Germany: how exciting does that sound?
Just stopped for an early lunch before heading towards the Black Forest. It's been a very tranguil morning's riding along the banks of the Rhine-Marne canal. There's an excellent bike path all the way, and for several km the canal, railway and bike path run side by side - possibly the ultimate eco-transport corridor!
The sun is still shining, which makes a welcome change. I've also started encountering other cyclists, including a guy from San Diego in the hostel this morning. I think he was finding the climate here a bit of a shock compared with Southern California!
Well, that was another epic day. I wasn't sure how far I'd get, but the weather was so nice it seemed a shame to stop. My knee has given up complaining, too, which is reassuring.
The riding today has been full of contrasts: from the flat towpath this morning, to the huge scenery of the Black Forest this afternoon. Cycling in Germany seems so different to cycling in France. I've spent most of this afternoon gliding along manicured cycle paths through immaculate villages which look like they've been lifted straight from Disneyland. It's almost as if someone has purposely designed the whole experience and put a DIN standard on it. Well, I'm not complaining. Even the hill (there was only one, albeit 900m high) was well designed: it went up on one side, and down the other. No heartbreaking false summits here. Just a nice constant gradient, smooth tarmac, trees, streams and cows with those bells on. Oh, and cuckoo clocks - including what claimed to be the world's largest, which I had to take a photo of, naturally.
I've got further than I expected to today. Pfohren is along the Danube from Donaueschingen, where said river starts. Most of tomorrow's ride will be along the Danube cycle path. Since it goes to Vienna, although not terribly directly, I could theoretically do the rest of the journey by boat.
It's getting dark now, so I'd better cook my dinner. I love German campsites: I think I'm the only person here without a satellite dish!
Today's mileage: 110
Riding time: 8:05
I think it was rather cold last night. There's a good thick layer of frost on the outside of the tent, and my watch is saying that the temperature inside is just over 4 degrees. I guess that's what comes of being 700m high. My sleeping bag/wooly hat combination has kept me toasty warm, though.
Today I'll be following the river Danube as far as I can. If I can get to Ulm that'll be excellent, but I'm not sure how twisty the path is. Following the river should result in another DIN-standard cycling experience. If it isn't scenic enough, or there are any uphill bits, I shall be forced to complain to the authorities.
Hausen im Tal, 12:55
The path along the Danube valley is almost disgracefully scenic, especially in this sunshine. It's also very well kitted out for tourists, with cafes and hotels every few kilometres, one of which I've stopped at for lunch. However, progress seems slow: there's a significant headwind and a lot of the path is undulating forest tracks rather than tarmac. I'm not too bothered how far I get today, though. Maybe it's because it's Sunday, but my body seems to be asking for a bit of a rest, not surprisingly after the week it's had. We'll see what this afternoon's like.
Yesterday's exertions have definitely caught up with me. The last 15 miles or so have been torture: flat and smooth, but fighting a fierce headwind. The Danube valley has opened out from a cosy gorge into a broad, windswept flood plain - and you can guess which way the wind is sweeping!
I followed an accommodation sign which led me to a natty little castle on top of a hill. Naturally it was full but they've kindly phoned around and found a space in a guest house in Riedlingen nearby. I'm now sitting in the sun (which I've decided must be over the yardarm) drinking a celebratory beer before starting the 3km trek to Riedlingen.
Ahhhh, that's better. I'm now safely installed in the Gasthaus and have just enjoyed a huge meal - with two main courses, much to the amusement of the other residents. They are, in the main, also following the Danube cycle route, and so we had a proper cyclists' discussion about today's headwind and the best places to get cakes en route!
There's something strangely homely about this part of Germany, even though I was last here seven years ago. The food (cholesterol-packed), the beer (excellent - and noticeably cheaper than in the UK) and even the local accent (the German equivalent of geordie) are all more familiar than I thought they'd be.
There are now five cycling days left to Vienna. I have to admit now that there's no way I could ride the whole way in that time and ever want to see a bike ever again, so I've come up with a plan. Tomorrow I'm goinq to have an easy day to compensate for today's lack of progress: cycle to Ulm (about 60km) and then take the train to Munich. From then on I reckon the rest is possible in 4 days, but my main goals are to arrive in Austria by bike, arrive in Vienna by bike, and enjoy the bits in between.
Today's mileage 77 (against the wind)
Riding time 6:07
Well on the way to Ulm now. I've just stopped here to stock up on cake and pretzels (which have replaced pain au chocolat as staple energy snacks). The weather today is almost wintry: warm sunshine with cold air, and another frost this morning. It's skiing weather really. I looked at the TV this morning, and the Austrian channels were showing live pictures from mountaintop cameras (to the accompaniment of cheesy Alpenmusik). The mountains were surprisingly snowy - I'm not sure what to expect in Austria now.
I'm now on the final leg of my journey to Munich. It's involved chanqing trains twice with very tight connections, but - shock horror! - the connections were held! Also surprisingly, there's been ample space for the bike even though the trains are crowded (with guite a lot of people clad amusingly in Lederhosen on their way to the Oktoberfest).
I'm now camped on the World's Stoniest Campsite in Thalkirchen. Given that it's Oktoberfest time, it's probably about the only option in the city. The sun is shining so it's also a pleasant option (so far - we'll see how much sleep I get!). I'm off now to look around town and maybe, just maybe, pop into the Oktoberfest if it happens to be on the way, like.
I was wandering along the street, as you do, and found an EasyEverything place so I thought I'd look at my own site. Something peculiar seems to have happened to the page so that everything before Wednesday has disappeared. I suspect I know why, but it'll have to wait till I get back before it gets fixed. There are also a whole bunch of text messages which turned up all at once because I mis-typed the address on my phone, but the people who run the SMS service I'm using (clunky.net)corrected it manually!
I've also bought a new Platypus bladder to replace the one I've got which has started leaking. I'll tackle them on the lifetime warranty back in the UK.
And now to the Oktoberfest...
Like Las Vegas, the Oktoberfest is everything you expect it to be and more. More German, especially. It's fun done on an industrial scale. A festival of excess, but not too much excess. An enormous fairground, every ride checked and tested for your safety, every flashing light and pounding sound system in perfect working order. Half a dozen cavernous beer halls, full of beer, music, dancing and laughter - what the Germans call gemütlichkeit, in huge quantities. But you try and get hold of a beer without sitting at a table. It can't be done. It's not in the rules. Naturally, I decided it was best to conform and took a place at one of the tables in the (heated) beer garden, where a group of young Germans immediately offered me a beer voucher at a discount price. Should I accept? Is this allowed? I did, and it was. But that little frisson of risk gives this particular litre of pils that little bit extra gemütlichkeit. Zum wohl, as they say.
today's mileage 40
riding time 3:10
The campsite was pretty noisy last night, with people returning from their evening's festivities and then continuing them. Eventually I came up with a solution: Babybel-rind earplugs. No camper should be without them!
Having slept adequately I now just need to wait for the sun to rise high enough to thaw the tent out.
The sun's getting nice and warm now, so it'll soon be time to set off. Today I'm going to head for Chiemsee, a lake at the foot of the Alps which I've only seen from the Autobahn before. I'm now on the final map, which covers Austria but also goes as far as Munich in sufficient detail for me to use the back roads, once I've escaped from the city.
Bad Aibling, 13:30
This is how cycling's supposed to be: humming along through the rolling Bavarian countryside in the sun, with the Alps looming ever closer as a backdrop. I've stopped for lunch in a cafe here. I've ordered the lasagne, which is apparently home-made. The proprietor seems very proud of it, so I'm expecting great things.
This morning hasn't been without its trials, though. It took an age to achieve escape velocity from Munich without ending up on the Autobahn, and on the way into Bad Aibling one of my panniers jumped off when I hit a pothole. Fortunately the bus which was behind at the time managed a quick evasive manoevre!
The lasagne was excellent, by the way, as was the plum crumble which followed it :-)
Prien an der Chiemsee, 18:15
I can see why people come here. With the evening light catching the snow on the mountains and the fish making their little splashes on the blue-gold surface of the lake, it would be a tranquil idyll if it wasn't for the roar of the traffic on the Autobahn. I'm camping again tonight, in a lovely spot overlooking the lake. I did wonder about finding a Gasthaus but there was a lot of muttering about prices going on amongst the other customers in the tourist information office, so I'm probably glad I didn't look.
Today's ride was another shortish one, but all the better for it. Tomorrow's will probably be a bit longer: I'm going to go round the southern shore of the lake and join the Deutsche Alpenstrasse, which should take me on a scenic and not insanely hilly route to Salzburg via Berchtesgaden. According to some stuff I've seen on the web (so it must be true) it's a route well worth doing so I'll do it while I'm here. The only slight problem is that it'll leave me in Salzburg with two days' cycling time left and about 400km to cover. That's not going to happen without some assistance from the Oestereichische Bundesbahn. I'll see if I can pick the nicest bit to ride - it'll probably end up being the final stretch along the Danube, at least.
There just happens to be a popular fish restaurant round the corner from the campsite. The food has been great, but one of the regulars has really made the evening. Flickerl, the house cat, has just spent the last half hour curled up on my lap, making this table a star attraction for all the children present. She's now decided that I'm not going to feed her and is waiting expectantly by the kitchen door instead.
today's mileage 60
riding time 4:34
The way this lake wakes up in the morning is amazing. As I've sat here on the beach eating breakfast, I've watched the mist on the surface of the water all suddenly lift off and start drifting across Bavaria, temporarily blocking out the sun but slowly revealing the opposite shore of the lake.
Just stopped for a cake to celebrate getting to the Deutsche Alpenstrasse. It's been very hilly so far this morning but this main road looks a bit flatter. Famous last words! Berchtesgaden is 45km away. Up, up and away.
Well, the "not too hilly" Deutsche Alpenstrasse turned out to have an 868m pass on it, which was strenuous but worth it. Up here in the valley every corner you turn reveals another breathtakingly chocolate-box view of green pastures, snug little houses, and forested, snow-capped mountains. Not to mention the blue sky and sunshine. I'm sure the drivers rushing over the pass in their powerful German cars don't appreciate it half as much. In theory it's all downhill from here to Berchtesgaden and Salzburg, but I'll believe that when it happens! Anyhow, I've got to finish this ice cream first.
Just crossed the Austrian border 15:15
It really was downhill (or at least flat, which I count as downhill in these parts) all the way. I looked at Berchtesgaden on the way past: it looks like there's a lot to see there. I had wondered about taking a trip up to the Kehlsteinhaus, Hitler's famous retreat, but really couldn't face the 1300m climb up there! Never mind. One day when I grow up and become a fascist dictator I'll have a retreat in the Alps too.
I've decided that Salzburg is a city worthy of more than a flying visit, so I'm booked in at the youth hostel for two nights and will have a bike-free day tomorrow, the first on this trip. I've got a train ticket to take me to St Pölten on Friday morning, and will cycle the rest of the way from there mostly along the Danube. It was great fun at the Bahnhof negotiating the ticket: the lady behind the counter was most amused that I wanted a ticket to somewhere about 100km from Vienna but wasn't bothered exactly where!
Bizarre Thing Of The Day: there's a huge marquee outside the railway station called "pumpkin world". It's full of pumpkins, pumpkin products, and pumpkin accessories. Marvellous.
Today's mileage 65
Riding time 4:48
I haven't done much in the way of progress reports today because I quite deliberately haven't gone anywhere. I've been enjoying wandering around Salzburg, whose primary features are baroque art/music/architecture/gardens, Mozart, and The Sound Of Music. It seems that everywhere you go there's something that was used in the film: I've just walked past the pavilion where the Trapp family apparently sang "Sixteen going on Seventeen", for example. I'm just about to go on a tour of the trick fountains at Hellbrunn which, judging by the screams I've heard coming from behind the hedge, sounds like it's either wet or painful or both!
Salzburg Hbf, 9:00
I'M ON THE TRAIN. Having dealt with Salzburg's rush-hour traffic and figured out how to put my bike on the train, we're about to set off from Salzburg. In about two and a half hours' time I'll be embarking on the final 100km (ish) cycling leg of the journey. I'm looking forward to it - hopefully it'll have stopped drizzling by then.
Salzburg was fun, although it was quite clearly on the backpacking circuit and so crammed with tourists. Oh, hang on, I was one of them. Oops. A note to future travellers to Salzburg: if you're staying in the youth hostel on Josef-Preis-Allee, don't try eating dinner there. I made that mistake last night, and neither I nor anyone else on my table could figure out what the food was. Afterwards I had to go out and get a kebab to settle my stomach!
It's interesting watching the landscape change as this train rolls across the country at a leisurely pace. Here, just half an hour outside Salzburg, it's already less mountainous. I'm not sure what to expect at the other end!
Just arrived in St Poelten and grabbing a bite to eat before setting off
I'm now sitting on the banks of the Danube, having rejoined the cycle path I last used in Ulm several days and several hundred kilometres ago. The river's a lot bigger now, but I'm much the same size.
The 25 miles or so from St Pöten went incredibly quickly due to a monster tailwind, in spite of some "short cuts" which turned out not to be. My speed rarely dropped below 18-20mph, thanks in part to the flat, well-surfaced road. The scenery reminded me of the Pas de Calais but in better condition!
This is where the home straight really begins. Just follow the river: it should be hard to lose, being so wide. I hope this tailwind carries on. Next stop Vienna!
The tailwind did carry on, and in spite of a pannier/back wheel incident somewhere north of Klosterneuburg, I got to the "official" end point of the trip, the Stephansdom in Vienna, at about 4pm. After a commemorative photo Joe led me on the U-Bahn back to his flat for a long-awaited cup of tea. Got here!
Today's mileage 55
Riding time 3:35
What a busy day it's been. Starting with a traditional, and leisurely, Viennese breakfast at the Cafe Dommayer, at which apparently one of the assorted Strausses premiered great works. Sadly the excellent fare didn't inspire any baroque compositions, so it was on to the Schönbrunn palace and its gardens. Very large, very baroque. The centre of Vienna is an architectural feast, especially when seen from an electric rickshaw. Yes, really. For some reason a fleet of these unusal but entertaining vehicles was plying the streets drumming up trade by not charging any money. The pilot of ours had little idea where he was, where he was going, or how his machine worked, but it was a great way to travel. Eventually he found his was to the Stephansdom where we climbed the tower and were treated to an air raid siren rehearsal whilst admiring the view. We can confirm that the siren is in working order, and very loud.
There followed a quick shopping trip for some bicycle tyres and, unusually, some jubilee clips of which more later. While I was fitting the bike tyres (replacing the road ones which had brought me all the way from England puncture-free) I discovered that my luggage rack had in fact snapped about 20km from Vienna. I had wondered what the clanking noise was.
With the last couple of hours of daylight, Joe led me on a tour of some of the very fine local singletrack. The bike trails stretch off into the hills seemingly in endless directions, but are starting to get a little damp and slippery in places which led to some amusing spills. For those who hadn't just bought new tyres, anyway :-) We only scratched the surface of the available riding, and I'm looking forward to exploring more of it.
And so to the jubilee clips. After an ample dinner, it was time to fix the washing machine. It only had a foot missing, but previous attempts to reattach it using bicycle bearings (yes, really) had frustratingly failed. This time, however, we were victorious. With enough bits of old packing crate, wood glue, nails, screws, bent bits of metal and jubilee clips, anything can be fixed. But only because we didn't have any duct tape. We have to wait till tomorrow, when the glue's set, to find out whether it works.
Today's mileage: 16 (off-road and hilly)
riding time 1:40
Today, Joe and I went on a little Sunday bike ride. In this part of the world, a quick spin along the Roman Road doesn't really do the trick: there's a convenient Alp a short train ride away which Joe hadn't explored yet. What better venue for today's ride?
The mountain in question is the Schneeberg, which measures 2068m high or thereabouts. We were up early to catch the 9:05 train (which turned out to be on its way to Venice and, unusually, had nowhere official to put bikes so we stood with them in the corridor). We changed to a little branch line which would take us to the foot of the Schneeberg although the gradient of the line seemed such that it would drop us off half way up the mountain.
After the inevitable, and welcome, Kaffee und Kuchen in an almost deserted Puchberg village we started the climb. And what a climb. Bottom gear, just keep winding your way up the hill. All very ridable, though, so we made amazingly fast progress. At about 1300m things got somewhat more challenging: the vehicle track petered out into a rocky hairpin scramble through the trees, so it was a case of carrying the bikes for about 450m of vertical ascent, basically until the trees ran out. It was at about this time that I started feeling really tired: a combination of altitude, fatigue and not enough cakes started catching up with me. Egged on by Joe we carried on until the track became mostly ridable again, just beyond the third (!) Hütte (combined mountain shelter/cafe/pub/restaurant). Now the trek was becoming truly alpine: a challenging rocky track rising into a freezing cloud. We were excited to encounter the first snow on the track at about 1900m, and from that point it just got thicker until we were riding between walls of snow all the way to the notional summit at 2061m, the Fischer Hütte. Inside, the hot chocolate and soup were very welcome, but the time had to come to start the descent. Stepping outside into blowing snow I was a little confused not to be clicking into skis but getting onto a bike!
The downhill was excellent: tricky, rocky and snowy at the top, dissolving into a (mostly) carry at the treeline, and then opening out into a broad, lumpy, slightly loose track which took us all the way down to Puchberg. The last few hundred vertical metres of descent had a lot of airtime opporunities, usually just before loose corners, which made for entertaining riding. All too soon we were back in the village and depositing mud on the train which would take us home.
I should mention that there is in fact a rack railway going most of the way up the Schneeberg, but sitting on the smart new diesel train would somehow not have had the same sense of adventure. In spite of the generally outdoorsy nature of people around here, our grubby bikes (and grubby us) attracted a lot of funny looks on the journey home, especially when we got on to the U-Bahn...
Today's mileage: 15 miles (mostly offroad, and with a 1500m climb and descent, and a lot of carrying)
Riding time: 3:10 (not counting the carrying and the hot chocolate)
Well, the travelblog seems to have self-destructed again, which is annoying. I'll fix it when I get back, I promise. Meanwhile, I've been doing the tourist thing in Vienna. I've encountered the Hofburg palace (you can't go anywhere in the centre of the city without coming across another bit of it), the Haus der Musik (an entertaining and sometimes confusing museum of music, with a Viennese emphasis) and the Museum der Moderne Kunst (which has some interesting things in and is in a cool building straight out of Quake, I reckon). And I've eaten a lot of cake and a fair few sausages. Yum.
In addition, Joe has used his extensive local knowledge of the Wiener Wald to lead me on a couple of excellent mountain bike rides. The trails are starting to get entertainingly slippery, and since most of them are either steeply up or steeply down things get quite hairy at times. The views over Vienna, and the resulting downhills, are well worth the uphill struggles, though. And despite the gathering dusk as we finished last nights ride, neither of us came a cropper against any of the trees. Which was nice.
Today the journey home begins, with a train to Graz and then a flight to Stansted. Somehow all my luggage feels a lot heavier than it did when it was attached to the bike - maybe because the bike is now part of the luggage. Joe's kindly offered to help me lug the (his) bike bag to the station, but from then on I have to struggle with trolleys and things. Soon I'll be on my way.
Mileage yesterday: 15, off-road and hilly
Riding time: 1:55
The train journey to the airport is somewhat more spectacular than the Heathrow Express. The scenery through the mountains is just breathtaking, with the track twisting and turning across viaducts and through tunnels: often you could see both ends of the train at once. Many people came out of their compartments to stand at the windows and gaze at the view. The summit of the journey was at Semmering at about 870m, and now we're descending into Steiermark according to the couple in my compartment. The altimeter on my watch caused much fascination!
The connecting train journey worked flawlessly, and I've just booked my bike in at the airport. Ryanair charge 25 euros for the bike, which sounds like good value until you consider that the fare for me was only 16 euros! Even the girl on the Ryanair desk was impressed that it was so cheap. The low fares airline, indeed.
I've spent most of the day unpacking and sorting things out from the trip. The rest of last night's journey home worked without serious incident, although the sprint along the railway platform at Stansted with a heavily-loaded and unwieldy luggage trolley could have cost a few fellow travellers their ankles. Everything, including myself, has got back in one piece, which is a relief: somehow it's a lot less worrisome transporting yourself by riding a bicycle than it is entrusting luggage to airlines and trains, even if it is much harder work.
Whilst cleaning and reassembling my bike I took the opportunity to check it over. It's in remarkably good shape, considering the 841 heavily-laden miles it's covered across all terrains and through all weathers. The only mechanical casualties have been: