Archive for September, 2018|Monthly archive page

Tandem Tour 2018 Part 5: Dürnstein to Klosterneuburg/Vienna

I reluctantly observe that very large cruisers have replaced the barges along the Danube. They have their own particular bulky cargo that is decanted at points along the way. The towns and villages adjacent to the berths have spikes of activity as the visitors arrive en masse. So it was with Dürnstein, across the river from our campsite at Rossatz. It looked gorgeous at night illuminated, but the central area at peak time is congested. There are gift shops galore. And plenty of attempts at flogging of the local wine. We did find a bakery for breakfast, but even parking the tandem safely and out of the way was a bit of a task. Incidentally, just a little way out is a cyclists’ cafe, probably a better option.

We’d also been advised that the path on the north side was really nice. We can confirm that the south is probably better through Mautern rather than Krems. Krems has a historic western approach, but once the path reaches the prison (which riders cannot miss), then it is downhill from there. The path is incoherent and actually quite difficult to follow. We took the first post-Krems opportunity to cross the river back to the southern path over a relatively new bridge in the direction of Wagram where the cycle track is built under the roadway (right).

We think we were right to revert to the southern path. We found ourselves in a riverside restaurant at Traismauer, suitable for lunch. Then all very quiet until Tulln which is quite a resort. There is a camping site, a live stage floating on the river and a multi-activity park. As well as a bakery, naturally. It is also, as we noted, at the end of the S-Bahn to-and-from Vienna. It might not be a bad place to base oneself. However, we decided to go further to Klosterneuburg which is very much a suburb of Vienna. Another 20kms further and, by this time, we were feeling it. But Klosterneuburg has a great camping site, frequent trains to Vienna, and its own very particular brand of restaurants and cafes (including an icecream parlour where ridiculous quantities of icecream are loaded onto a way-too-small wafer cornet). It is fun to watch and delicious to eat. But impractical.

We took two days out in Vienna. The tickets by train to – and around – Vienna currently cost €9.30 (taking in trains, Underground, tram and bus). We visited a cafe that we had failed to get in during previous visits; namely Harvest (above left). We also visited the Jewish quarter and came across Rachel Whiteread’s holocaust memorial (right). A signature concrete construct with books to symbolise both knowledge and, of course, the Nazi penchant for book burning. It is fitting and just-about works. All of the Nazi death camps are listed around each of the four sides. Chastening.

Vienna is truly a gift for anyone interested in architecture. Whilst there are plenty of examples of imperial architecture associated with the Habsburgs, there is also quite a bit that is – and was at its time – rather challenging (particularly to the establishment). But eventually became accepted and then celebrated in the city. Take, for example, the Postsparkasse (left) built in 1904-12 by Otto Wagner. It is an imposing building and is not fancy apart from very small nodules being placed perfectly in vertical and horizontal lines. To see them, readers will need to click on the photograph and then enlarge. It should not work, but it does.

Wagner’s art nouveau and modernist architecture is not in short supply in the city. Wagner was a founder member of  revolutionary artists’ association, Vienna Secession. I suspect our next visit will take in all of these buildings in turn. Apparently we will be hunting down a number of residential properties, railway stations (U-Bahn) and the Danube Weir. The Postsparkasse is, clearly, not art nouveau, but apparently it is a masterclass in modernist interior as well as exterior. Seemingly everything from radiators, counters to desks and door handles are worthy of note.

For readers wanting to get back to Munich, we can report that the operator of the rail route between Vienna and Salzburg (Westbahn) does not accept tandems. So we had to come back with OBB and Deutsche Bahn via Leoben. Not the most direct route, and certainly not cheap. There is dedicated cycle space, however. It was wonderfully scenic. The ride in to Vienna to get to Hauptbahnhof took about an hour. The path takes riders past Hundertwasser’s power station (right) and then further along the Danube canal to Schweden Platz. From there one needs help as Hauptbahnhof is not well signposted. We resorted to Google Maps.

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Tandem Tour 2018 Part 4: Ottensheim to Dürnstein

In light rain we continued along the north path towards Linz. We decided not to cross the river into the city, but rather to shelter under the entrance to the Information centre in Urfahr (the partner town to Linz on the north bank). An hour later we moved on in light rain.

Deceptive sun, Linz

There is no functional path on the south because of a sizeable industrial area. It can be viewed from the north for those interested in such areas (myself included; the river’s frequent hydro plants are extraordinary constructions). As we hugged the bank of the river the weather improved. At Abwinden the path moves inland for a short way, through St Georgen and rejoining the river at Langenstein.

Rural idyll. A quiet Danube

We took a break at Mauthausen; the town’s Nazi history – large labour camp and its satellites – is confronted in memorials, activities/seminars, etc. Austria was annexed by the Nazis in 1938. This part of Austria had a significant cluster of labour camps where prisoners (many of them non-German) were worked, in many cases, to death in quarries, mines, munitions and aircraft factories.

Then on to Au, where there is a campsite, with “Badesee” and other water attractions. The tranquility of this stretch is wonderful: the Danube at its best. It is easy to make progress on the dykes. Inland again through Mitterkirchen.  The sun was by this time dominant, though on the approach to Grein we met both a road and railway. The campsite is located on the path to the south side of the town.

Grein is a lovely town. In the market square one finds the Town Hall and a host of cafes and restaurants. Sunday night is a shade limited. We went to a sort-of-Italian restaurant (with significant Greek influence on the menu, Pizzaria La Vita) frequented by locals and campers. We had not fully accounted for the Austrian laws that do allow smoking in restaurants. This place was like going back in time in the UK. The fug was extraordinary and the environment unpleasant. Sitting outside was not an option because the temperature had dropped significantly.

For breakfast we started at the bakery in the marketplace (smoke free) and then to the Konditorei on the bank of the river for a second coffee. There is in the town a fantastic bicycle shop. It reminded me of childhood. Everything had a place and it smelled of oil – bicycle oil, that is. Marvellous. My beloved bought a new cycle jersey that smelled, until it met with some soapy water, of that bicycle shop.

Across the ferry to the south side where the track was again dedicated. Beautiful in the sunshine, tree-lined and hugging the river. Not too many refreshment options before Ybbs. There we found another baker’s shop and ate outrageous (by which I mean large and full of gooey nice stuff) pastries and coffee in the sun.

23 kilometers further through the vineyards and orchards is Melk. This is always a reminder that, whilst I may be on holiday, many people are not, especially the migrant workers who harvest the grapes. Lots of migrant labour is in evidence, trying to earn money for their families, let alone a holiday. I should not need to be reminded.

We half had a mind to stay there at a campsite on the river just short of Melk. We were slightly put off by its location, adjacent to a mooring for large cruise ships – industrial scale holidaying – of which there were five already decanting their load on to waiting coaches. Plus, we were feeling fit and up for a little further in what turned out to be a sunshine-blessed day. From a distance, the monastery at Melk is visible; it is imposing and against the backdrop of blue sky, worth a photo (above left). But we were soon on our way.

The path is quite challenging at this point. The valley becomes very steep – there is a bit of climbing to do on the road close to Schönbühel. Slightly beyond that is Aggstein. The Gasthaus there has a nice garden. We stopped for more food (locally-grown pumpkins are very much a feature of Gasthaus menus in the area, so I opted for Kurbis soup). Then finally on to Rossatz which really just emerges along the route. It is a curious campsite – patches of grass on the roadside, but it was a suitable end to the day, and the night-time view across the river to Dürnstein (right) seems justification enough.

 

 

 

Tandem Tour 2018: Part 3 – Passau to Ottensheim

We had breakfast in Passau Market Square before recrossing the Danube to follow the track on the North side. It follows the main road until Obernzell. One needs to be patient.  From there it is dedicated cycle track to – and beyond – the border (right).

We stopped at Niederranna at a dedicated cycle station (cafe) and did a bit of tent drying in the breeze after overnight rain. We decided to stay on the north path and take the ferry over the river to Schlögen (below left). The north path beyond this point is converted into a ferry ride as the river bends back on itself in what is a particularly picturesque spot. We thought that, because of the distance for the day, we would try to do a shortcut from Schlögen to Haibach ob der Donau and cut this section. Shortcuts area always good in theory, never so good in reality. Out of Schlögen we had to climb 300m on the relatively main and bendy road. With our tandem that was quite a challenge. We then missed the road back to the river at Haibach. We carried on towards Hartkirchen and then eventually to Aschach. We saved kilometers, but probably not time.

View from ferry to Schlögen

From Aschach the path is again dedicated. It began to rain heavily. There was a marked campsite on the south side of the river near Ottensheim. It turned out not to be there. We were forced, then, to seek shelter in Ottensheim itself. We used to car ferry to do so. A great ferry that uses minimal fuel by using the current and a cable slug across the river. The motors are intermittently powered to provide momentum. Our guide recommended a hotel in the marketplace. It was full. We carried on out of the town for a couple of kilometers to Rodl where we found a campsite with a Gasthaus opposite. The landlady was brilliant. She made us some veggie pasta supported by a glass of Zweigelt.

Finally at the peak near Haibach ob der Donau

The site provided cover in a hut with electricity, sufficient for us to sit and read for a short while. The rain continued into the morning. It lightened whilst we showered.

Tandem Tour 2018: Part 2 Marktl to Passau

The first night under canvass is often not the best. A working farm, of course, invites an early cockerel, bleeting sheep and, of course, tractors. But after breakfast in Marktl we followed the Inn cycle track to Passau; a curious place where three rivers meet, often too enthusisatically (right).

View of Passau heading east along Inn

The route itself is quite rough in places. There are long stretches of shingle on dykes zapping energy. The river also has many tributaries. This makes it an ideal river in which to swim; and indeed, there are frequent “Badesee” – areas for swimming, sunbathing and having lunch. This contrasts very much with the Danube where we found few places to swim safely.

We stayed on the north side of the river in Gemany. The river forms to border with Austria. At these times of tension around migration, this is significant. At Simbach, for example, there is a border check on the German side. And yes, brown people were being checked.

The route takes in few towns and villages, so if refreshment is needed, the south – Austrian –  side may be a better option. For example, we were getting a shade hungry and thought we might find something in Neuhaus (about 20km short of Passau). We rode through finding nowhere. We think that we would have been successful if we had crossed the river in the Austrian town of Schärding. Actually, a little further on we found a welcoming bakery in the village of Vornbach (there were lots of cyclists already there). It is also worth stopping there because the final few kilometres into Passau are quite challenging. There is a climb into a forested area; it is bendy, dangerous (steep drops are possible) and rough under the tyres. It is also exquisite. Some creative soul has carved some faces into felled trees (left). There is also a wonderful wooden bridge (right) over the Rott at Weihmörting.

On arrival in Passau, we immediately had to work out which river was which. The campsite is on the Ilz to the North. The route to the campsite in the end was quite simple (and signposted), but when one is tired, it does not seem so. There is a significant road that leads towards Hals which has been carved out of the rock; it is certainly not designed for cyclists, but it’s the only way.

We ended up with a day of 80kms. We decided to pause for a day in Passau. It is not a big town. It has an old town – the Danube cruise ships offload in this part) – with a fine cathedral, squares and cobbled streets. The regular town with the familiar retailers isfurther to the west. We ventured there really only to find a bank.

Campsite, Passau

The campsite (left) is directly on the river Ilz. It has a good toilet block with a washing machine. Dotted around the site are clothes drying frames. At first we thought that a lot of people had somehow brought them with them! However, the true gem is the “restaurant” adjacent to the reception. It looks like a takeaway, but dig a little deeper and one finds some brilliant authentic Italian cuisine. It is so good, that we ate there twice, despite the opportunities in Passau.

Tandem Tour 2018 – Munich to Vienna – Part 1, Mühldorf to Marktl

Hunderwasser’s power station, Vienna

Regular readers will know that Vienna is one of my favourite cities in Europe. It is home to some great art, architecture and cafes (never underestimate the importance of the cafes). We have been twice so far this year, so the decision to cycle from Munich to Vienna for our summer tour this year was easy. There is that famous river, the Danube, to follow using largely dedicated cycle tracks. There’s sufficient – conveniently-located – campsites.

We’ve been off the tandem for a couple of years arising from various self-inflicted injuries on increasingly ageing bodies. Last year my back protested – though we salvaged the summer with a bit of trekking (not the most obvious response to a back injury, I know). The previous year we did our Tilman Riemenschneider odyssey.

So, having avoided injury, we checked our gear. I decided to upgrade my sleeping bag in line with my partner’s. I now have a Mountain Equipment Helium 250 – suitable for summer use. It is very light (254g) and packs very small. We also replaced our Salomon Goretex shoes – we were expecting some rain and wet feet are always unwelcome. I went for another pair of Salomon X-Ultra, whilst my partner tried a CMP trail shoe.  Other than that, all seemed in order.

We took the train from Munich to Mühldorf which is approximately 100km from Passau on the river Inn. That would give us a total ride distance of about 450km (for a couple unsure about fitness and stamina this year, that seemed far enough). The train on this route has space for a tandem, and travelling off-peak in the middle of the week, we managed to have the cycle carriage largely to ourselves. There are suitably-sized elevators at Mühldorf to get from the platform to the main street without unloading the tandem. So, in the first day arriving late afternoon, we made it to a working-farm campsite close to Marktl, the birthplace of former Pope, Josef Ratzinger. There is a museum in his “Geburtshaus”. Perhaps more importantly, there is one restaurant in the town, an Italian. The baked vegetables were interesting. We managed breakfast at the cafe in the marketplace, where the nearby pharmacy bears a mural eulogising back-breaking work in the fields (left).

The annual tour serves a number of purposes. It tests – and develops – our fitness. As people who work in a sedentary environment, keeping fit is not so easy. Being away from that environment with a machine that only works if one puts energy into to it, reminds us of our limitations – or our capabilities. It also helps to think about resources more generally. When I first started cycle touring back in the 1980s, there were no electronic gadgets that needed charging. I had a manual “mileometer” and a (camping gaz) cooking stove. This year I took my mobile phone, but did not turn it on (not least to avoid emails and other social media for 10 days).

Cycling along the River Inn – tracks are often rough but usable

We focused on keeping the Garmin Edge 800 navi charged using a now-ageing “Power Monkey” (charged where possible using sunshine, and if not a power socket at a campsite). Any spare charge went into my partner’s mobile which we used to find a posting box for our postcards, public toilets and to navigate to Vienna’s main station, Hauptbahnhof. We fuelled ourselves with a good breakfast (from local Bäckereien or Konditoreien); Apfelstrudel and some bizarre but good offerings from Gasthäusern or Restaurants. All vegetarian food seems to be open to interpretation.