Friday 1st of June, The “Austria-Slovakia” leg.

Stephen Timmins kindly allowed me share his room in a very swank hotel. I had hoped to get there earlier to avail of the pool but no luck. Huge breakfast buffet though. We met Simon (prince of the) McDermotts at the bike rental shop and were on the road at 11h00. It was overcast and not to hot but my route researchers got things wrong and we stayed on the south side of the river which had cycle paths but close to the motor way. We passed Vienna Airport where they had both landed and got to the Air BnB which Simon had secured for us right in the city centre. We met with the man, the myth and the legend that is Leo E. Sharkey and he showed us some of the city before dinner in a local place which was extremely good value and with unusually good service (something which is apparently rare in Bratislava). Bratislava has a reputation for drunken stag and hen parties and while there was plenty of evidence of this I noticed that there were no bouncers anywhere and no signs of the depraved behaviour of similar groups like in say Prague..

Leo E. Sharkey

We passed a memorial to a journalist and his girlfriend who were assassinated. There are strong rumours that the killings are directly linked to ministers in the government and no indications that those responsible will be brought to justice. Something stinks about Slovakia. There is an unusually high number of a banks for an economy the size of Slovakia and no obvious reason explaining why…..

Thursday 31st Emmersdorf to Vienna, another long, hot, day,

As I was leaving the guesthouse I learned that Franz Ferdinand (the lad who was shot in Sarajevo on June 28th 1914 by Gavrilo Princip triggering the first world war) is buried 5km away. This was not in my direction of travel and I don’t think he is going anywhere soon so I will have to do that visit another time. I needed to be in Vienna by evening as two friends were coming to join me for what they termed the “Austrian-Slovakian” leg of my trip. They were in fact coming for the 70km stretch between Vienna and Bratislava, the capitals of the two countries. By their logic this meant they were doing 20% of the trip with me as they were covering two of the ten countries….

The only photo I took today. This castle looks like it must have great views but not a lot of visitors on account of how difficult it is to get there.

After a hot slog I made it to the outskirts of Vienna. I was hurrying also because I was late to meet Mersiha and her husband. I plan to write a lot more about Mersiha but the bones of the story is that she came to Cologne as a refugee from the Yugoslav wars. My parents in law lived in Cologne and helped Mersiha and her family settle in (and in many other ways besides). Mersiha was extremely successful in school (which was in German, not her native tongue) and went on to have a successful career in banking in Vienna. It is a story to make one think twice or thrice about prejudice and bias we have about outsiders…

In my haste into the city I went over a kerb too fast and burst the rear tube. I am getting the hang of changing tubes quite quickly but it still took a good 10 minutes and I finally arrived at close to 11pm after cycling through what looked like the party zone of Vienna along the canal. A really wild and happening place going by the sights, sounds and smells of all things legal and illegal.

Mersiha and her husband and a very sweaty (and skinnier than before) buachaill in Beč (Vienna in the Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian languages which also used to be known as Srpski-Hrvatski or Hrvatski-Srpski depending on where you were from). We managed to have a brief catch up and agreed to get together over the phone and email to work on the story..

Wednesday 30th May Inzell to Emmersdorf an der Donau 145km or so along the meandering Danube

Another large day in terms of distance but not really in terms of exertion. There wasn’t a hump, bump or hubble along the way. Perfect asphalt and zero potholes (at least my pothole radar device did not detect any). It is a sign of how spoilt the cyclist is along this stretch that my only complaint is about the 7 or 8km stretch into Linz which is indeed separated from the traffic but runs parallel to a busy road. When you have been cycling in divine solitude with only the birds sharing the airwaves it is noticably stressful to be cycling along traffic even when you are in relative safety.

After Linz I caught up with an american couple on a tandem – Brent (a professor of outdoor education in New Hampshire university) and Beth (a science writer). We stopped for coffee and a grand chat. Their tandem is a very clever piece of kit and comes apart in a way that they can pack it into normal sized suitcases and thus not get fleeced by the airlines.

One thing I have noticed all along the trail in France, Germany and here so far is that when couples are cycling together (on tandems or separate bikes) the man is ALWAYS in front. I wonder if this is due to some sort of insecurity on the part of the man or subordination by the lady or something else.Whatever, it should be standard and ok to share the role and just relax about it when cycling or indeed any walk of life!

As I have written before, cycling is big business around here and obviously gives great pleasure to people of all ages, abilities and body type. Many of the older folk use e-bikes. These have an electric motor which assist the cyclist to degrees varying with the ability and desire of the cyclist to use pedal power (often the motor is kept in reserve for going up hills). This group were on an organised tour along the Danube where their baggage is transported ahead of them by van. They get to enjoy the scenery in small stretches of 40 or 50km per day with plenty of breaks to eat and drink or visit the sites. Something I am going to research in the autumn for my Dad and friends – perhaps even the Let’s Go club in Boyle. Why not. Passau to Vienna over 6 or 7 days staying in the excellent value guesthouses along the Danube should be a feasible effort:

Along one particularly quiet stretch of the trail I listened to a podcast (with one earphone in leaving the other ear to listen for any danger). The blindboy podcast comes out every Wednesday and this weeks was particularly pertinent to me. He deals with the psychology of purpose in life with much reference to the theory of Victor Frankel and his book “Mans Search for Meaning”. This book is quite thin but very powerful and was recommended to me during the winter by Dermot Lahiff who is the person I know best in the charity I am trying to support in Stop Suicide. Recommended reading for anyone drifting and wondering wtf is the point of everything! You listen to the podcast here and it breaks it all down into easy to understand terms: I love The Blindboy Podcast | Butchers French, let’s play it!
http://www.podbean.com/media/share/dir-vmuzw-4202722

One thing that is noticeable on the trails in Austria is the absence of inline rollerskaters. They are “verboten!”:

I asked some locals along the way and they were mostly unsure of the reason for banning the roller skaters but there seem to be two schools of thought on this.

The first one is predicated on the enormous problems caused when skaters crash. Ball bearings are scattered everywhere. Pay attention the next time you see such a crash. It is like fft, fft, fft, fft, oops, BANG! Yep, ball bearings all over the place! The problem starts with the geese and swans that live along the Danube who mistakenly consume the ball bearings. This is bad for the bird and sometimes kills them. More often though other birds and fish are endangered when the bearings come out the other end at a high velocity. This is because the distress caused by the bearings triggers an emergency bowel evacuation response. Watch next time you see a swan or a goose evacuating its bowels in a distressed state (but keep your distance). I saw it once in a pub in Ireland. The owner of the pub was known as the broher goose (there is an interesting back story to this but I will save it for another day). There was his 50th birthday celebration and some smartass thought it would be hilarious to bring a poor goose in a sack into the pub and release it. A smokey and smelly pub not being the most natural of environments it became distressed very quickly. Que the emergency evacuation response. It unleashed the goose equivalent of the kraken in every direction. A bit like when the gangsters in Bugsy Malone shoot the custard pie tommy guns. There were some very polite ladies who had to go home and change their costumes only for 3 of them to return in matching outfits which caused further ructions… I spoke with one of the violinists from the trad group the next day and he said that he had to use a coat hanger and a sponge to finally get his instrument properly clean.

The Austrian government of the day apparently tried an information campaign to mitigate the damage by encouraging people to pick up the ball bearings with tips like using chewing gum to assist with the gathering. As you well know however a piece of chewing gum can only hold 4 or 5 ball bearings before becoming saturated. So in the end a full ban was the only way.

The other school of thought was that there were riots between the cyclists and the rollerbladers over a period of months in the early nineties. As this was before Austria joined the EU on January 1st 1995 it was not widely reported. Seemingly the riots brought the country to the brink of civil war and the army had to be called in. The government finally banned the rollerbladers from the cycle paths and gave them free ski passes instead to become “good” Austrians and conform.

At the guesthouse that night I had to fill out a check in form in triplicate….

There was a local angling club having their annual meeting and when they discovered I was from Ireland they were very eager to chat about the fishing possibilities back home. They also explained the possibilities of fishing the Danube with them and the prices of the various permits:

Tuesday 29th June, Straubing to Inzell (Donauschlinge)

I needed to get out on the road early. I woke with the dawn chorus at 04h45 but that was way too early! Slept on until 06h30 and was on the road for 07h00 which felt late given the level of activity all along the roads. The trail is flat and fast around here. I passed a father and his two sons near Bogen and put some distance between us. A headwind rose and they were not long in catching me. They were drafting and taking turns at the front. I slipped in behind and it wasn’t long before I was asked to take a turn at the front. We stayed together until past Deggendorf and split up when I had to stop to buy some oil for my chain. It was a big help to cover distance that day against the wind.

Campsite in the early morning.

Here nearly everyone passing on a bike says “servus”. Earlier in Baden Wurtemburg it was a nod of the head and an occasional “guten tag”. In France nearly everyone on the trail had a “bonjour” for me.

At Vilshofen the trail passes an aerodrome and it was quite some fun to race along as a plane came in to land. On the way into Winsdorf the solar system is laid out along the trail with the planets at distances proportional to reality and in sizes relative to each other. Similar to what is near the Smithsonian in Washington DC. A great way to appreciate the tininess of our planet earth in the great scheme of things.

The way into Passau is a little tricky as the trail and cars compete for space. I had a choice of crossing over a no name bridge or the Johan Strauss bridge. The old town of Passau is old and largely pedestrian. I visited St. Stephans cathedral there and it has the largest organ in the world – 18,000 individual tubes. It must be a marvel to hear it played. I wonder how many people it took to pump the bellows in order to generate enough blow to play the thing.

The river Ilz and the Inn join the Danube at Passau.Take a look at it on google earth or satellite view. It is quite impressive to see the three differently coloured rivers join together.

The town occasionally gets flooded as you can see below:

I crossed the Inn over a pedestrian bridge on the bike (bold boy only noticed the sign forbidding that on the other side). The trail out of Passau down the Danube has an excellent surface and is very well sign posted.

Crossing the border into Austria is barely noticeable. I did not have to use the GPS all day.

I made it to a grand guesthouse at Inzell right on the “Donauschlinge”. The road to it is used by cars along the Danube but I did not see a single one. All of the other guests were cyclists.

At dinner I happened to be sitting beside a couple from Straubing. The man claimed there were 43000 inhabitants in Straubing but his wife was certain it was 4400… He told me there was a bomb scare last night where a 500kg bomb was uncovered at a building site near the prison and over a third of the prisoners had to be evacuated before the bomb could be defused. The bomb disposal expert told the digger driver that he must have had a guardian angel as the detonator had been twisted by the digger. It was very close thing and there could have been ball bearings and blood and guts all over the place and no chewing gum could fix that.

Apparently 2500 bombs were dropped on Straubing in the last 3 months of the war on account of the rail infrastructure and hospitals for the military there…

Monday 28th May, Regensburg to Straubing

Today was the day of the Rewe Revelation. Stefan suggested we go to the supermarket for breakfast. Expert cyclo tourist that he is, he has cracked how to have a healthy breakfast on the cheap. Fruits, Joghurt, Juice and coffee in the coffee shop. All for under a fiver.

 

 

 

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The bould Stefan Wester, Electrical Engineer.

 

We took it easy until Kieferholz. We passed Valhalla which contains busts of many famous German people down through time:

Need to go back to visit that with the family some time!

We got as far as Kieferholz to a small bauernhof where Stefan met with a work colleague and we had long discussions as the heat of the day built up. It was too hot to cycle and I rolled out my inflatable mattress under a stand of apple trees and had an afternoon snooze Al Fresco, something I have not done in a long long time and highly recommend!

Big thundery clouds and cool air woke me up in time to pack up and head for shelter. It was a short day in terms of distance travelled. Something that was to cost me dearly in the coming days as I tried to make up time to make an appointment with two friends in Vienna who were to join me until Bratislava.

Straubing town centre is rather charming. However the town is also the home to a high security prison for about 800 of the worst criminals in Germany.

The campsite was again excellent and we got dinner at the restaurant there (just about as we only arrived at 20h00).

Sunday 27th May Ingoldstadt to Regensburg

I had to dodge a lot of road runners in Brussels as they prepared for the Brussels 20km race which started from the Parc Cinquantenaire near where I live. Hardy people to go running in that heat! There were several hospitalised…

I had sort of foolishing set Regensburg camping as my target that night and had booked a “Bike Lodge” for the night. It is a 75km stretch and was going to be tight even if the trains got me to my bike in Ingoldtadt on time. As it happens there was a delay caused by a man who mounted another train with a hammer and broke a window. The train had to be changed as one cannot travel at 280kmh with a broken window…. The result was disruption for the rest of the local network. I had to fairly bomb it on the bike and had no time to visit some of the beautiful things along the way such as the Kelheim Wellenburg brewery which is the oldest monastic brewery in the world. Another time perhaps.

As I arrived into the campsite the reception was closed but the restaurant was still just about open and I managed to get dinner while chatting to the bould Stefan who was there before me.

Bike lodge – bike and bench below, full sized bed under canvas above. Very comfortable. As the reception was closed I had to break in using a screwdriver to undo the screws holding the lock (all was put back in order the next day)….

Regensburg is the most northerly point on the Eurovelo Six route. From here on it would be south and east.

Saturday 26th – Brussels

Admin. Admin. Admin..

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I received a wonderful and encouraging letter from a former school teacher – Gus Gannon and a generous contribution from the local “Let’s go” club.

 

 

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Map on the blackboard in the kitchen where the kids are tracking my progress across Europe. Looking very well!

 

CONCERT! Brilliant and entertaining performances all around. I wish I could dance like that!