Following the Danube
Trip Start May 29, 2005
25Trip End Dec 17, 2005
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Goodbye Wino town, hello Austria
27 July, Wednesday
Start point: Chieming, Lake Chiemsee
End point: Saltzburg
Total Ascent(m): 695
Max Altitude(m) 650
Max Speed(Km/h): 47.0
From the lake I didn't have far to get to Salzburg. On the way I stopped off in a town for lunch with a disproportionately large population of grumpy old winos. They skulk around, ignoring each other and smoke rollups and hacking up phlegm balls. Some well dressed, others let themselves go a bit. I munched my sandwiches while watching the comings and goings - and coming back again with more fags and booze. It looked as if the town had a lot going for it; on a river, historic, cobbled narrow streets, only it suffered from traffic blight that made any sitting and people watching only possible with ear plugs.
I crossed the border - I was now out of the Alpenstrasse and into Austria and I celebrated with soup and bread on the Austrian side of the river. The weather had taken a turn for the better and I had no choice but to eat my chocolate reserves before they melted.
Entered the industrial north side of Salzburg and quickly realised it was the south side I should be in. A good cycle network that followed the river took me to the campsite on the southern side where I introduced myself to a Canadian family who were travelling around Europe. They started in January and did some of the journey on bikes and some in a hire car. "We only have 20 days left", moaned one of the youngsters. They reeled off a very extensive itinerary covering nearly every European capital and more besides. They didn't just fly through the places and tick them off, they really explored. Got tips for the journey ahead and after food I slumped into bed.
Typical countryside scene
28 July, Thursday
Start point: Salzburg
No cycling, only in and around the city
Salzburg is a small city with lots of character. There is much to see and I chose the Festung Hohensalzburg to be the focus of the day. It's a castle on a rocky outcrop overlooking the city and is the perfect place to view the surrounding fertile flatlands back-dropped against the mountains of the German border. It was built mainly between 1450 and 1510 as a refuge for residents of the city in times of unrest, which was quite often. Wandered around with an audio guide in the 37 degree windless heat, even I felt a bit uncomfortable at times. Browsed two museums housed in the building complex, one about the site and its archaeology, the other about military history. Took pictures around town and strolled the Getreidegasse, a picturesque narrow high street lined with souvenir shops, eateries and Mozart's birthplace. Visited the Dom, or Cathedral with its intricately moulded decoration and large painted dome and then back to the campsite before I fainted due to lack of food. Eating out is just not possible with my appetite as a meal out is only enough to tie me over until I can cook a bucket of pasta or crack open a large tin of Ravioli with my loaf of bread. Where is an 'all you can eat buffet' when you need one? I've never been thrown out a restaurant, but imagine it will happen soon after I start tucking in. I checked the weather forecast, 39 degrees tomorrow; glad I'll be on the road with a cooling breeze.
On the wall of the fort. Note the new hair cut... It was either buy a brush or cut it off. Guess which one I did...
View away from the town and towards Austria where I will be heading next.
The big guns..
Dom and its intricate mouldings
High street where Mozart was born
Austria's lake district
29 July, Friday
Start point: Salzburg
End point: Altmunster, Near Gmunden, Lake Traunsee
Total Ascent(m): 1565
Max Altitude(m) 823
Max Speed(Km/h): 63.3
East of Salzburg and surrounding the town of Bad Ischl is the lake district of Austria. It is a magnet for bathers and holiday makers who cool off in great. Carried by a gentle breeze on the quietest roads since France I was treated to views of the Alps receding into the distance, rolling hills, fields of maize and picturesque villages. The farmers all around are hard at work harvesting wheat and making hay while the sun shines. 39 degree heat brought with it that welcome sound of tar popping under tyre, something I've not heard for a few weeks. If you question how can I cycle in heat like that its not as hard as it sounds. Firstly I don't cycle hard, and a little effort can propel you reasonably fast. With motion comes a wind and this cools you off. I got hot touring Salzburg when it was 37 because the streets and building seem to trap the heat.
Pulled into the full campsite and was found a spot. Situated just opposite [lake] Traunsee and at 19.00 the bathers were still out in force. Being such a warm day, instead of the usual shower, I thought I'd go for the lake option. I'm sure if I had stayed in the water for long enough I'd get used to the temperature, but to prevent loss of fingers and toes I cleaned off and got out. The waterfront was very lively indeed. A live band played, badly. Tried striking up conversation with a few groups but never got very far so I had tea over looking the lake listening to the BBC. Back to the tent and a young couple from the Netherlands plied me with beer before bed.
Reminder that the roads have always been dangerous.
I've reached the Danube
30 July, Saturday
Start point: Altmunster, Near Gmunden, Lake Traunsee
End point: Linz
Total Ascent(m): 965
Max Altitude(m) 504
Max Speed(Km/h): 56.2
More quiet roads and gentle gradients brought me to Wels, a picturesque town on the river Traun. I lunched in the town centre on bread and soup while watching the world go by. I was surprised at the lack of people for a Saturday afternoon, perhaps an indication of a less populated region of Austria. Went looking for photo opportunities and continued to Linz. I was informed the closest site to Linz is 8Km SE in the town of St Florian, so this is where I headed at the end of the day. Too far to hop into Linz for the Saturday night I stayed on site. The girl behind the reception smiled and gleefully said "We are having a Brazilian night here... tonight". If only, I thought, so I listened to the Brazilian live band instead.
Had tea with a Dutch couple, Leonie and Piet, who were touring. We ate and drank red wine followed by nearly a whole bottle of Jägermeister. Rather too drunk I managed to fall onto my tent while rescuing some washing from the rain. Luckily both I and the tent remained unharmed - the bottle of Jägermeister took most of the damage that evening.
Local park in Wels
Leonie and Piet, they forced me to drink...
Not much happens on a Sunday
31 July, Sunday
Start point: Linz
End point: Linz
City tour. No cycling other than in and around Linz
Linz was closed as far as I could tell. Sunday was not the day to choose. The museum that tells the story of the town is closed on weekends - so the lady in the tourist information told me. Still mustn't grumble, at least the tourist information was open to tell me everything is closed. This gave me a chance to cycle around town and really explore all the different areas; the old quarter with its Baroque buildings and cobbled streets, the main square and fountains, the parks and Turkish quarter where at least something was going on. Lunched in the park watching a game of giant chess and then wrote my journal for the past few days. Off to an internet cafe to backup photos and check email and headed back to camp. Next few days show some unpredictable weather, but at least I've had a little sun over the last few days.
Linz town centre - monument to ward of the plague.. of tourists??
Me on the usual city tour..
The reality of killing on an industrial scale
01 Aug, Monday
Start point: Linz
End point: Grein
Total Ascent(m): 405
Max Altitude(m) 355
Max Speed(Km/h): 37.6
First day of following the Danube, or Donau as it is called here didn't disappoint. Once out of industrial south east Linz I followed cycle route signs that took me through villages set back from the river. The area immediately bordering the river are flood plains an as a result, mainly used for agriculture. A foot ferry took me to the small town of Mauthausen which is famous for two things. Firstly its high street lined with painted wall reliefs depicting scenes of past life in the town. Secondly it is the site of the last Nazi concentration camp to be liberated. The tourist information informed me it had been turned into a memorial for the 120 000 people who perished there, so I felt the need to make the 2Km detour to visit it. When there I was surprised at how much of the site survives and the level of detail given to explain what daily life was like for the various groups imprisoned here. The greater part of the population was made up of Russian POWs and Jews. Many of the deaths were due to poor diet, harsh working conditions in the nearby quarry and disease. Many where sent to the gas chambers if they were unable or too weak to work.
Although it didn't shock me as I already have a fair understanding of what these camps are for, I found the insight into the way the different groups of prisoners interacted with each other interesting. They wore badges to identify their nationality, the reason for detention - political or criminal or Jew. Housed in separate buildings a hierarchy soon established where influential positions in the camp self administration were taken over by the German criminal element - which did little to champion the causes of those in a lower positions. Infact if you were a Jew, it was not uncommon to have to give half of your already meagre rations to those in the top position.
All the key components of the camp remain. Administration block, kitchen, washroom, accommodation blocks, guard towers, some electric fences, prison cells, gas chambers with fake shower heads and furnaces could all be visited. The grizzliest part are the rooms linking the gas chambers with the furnaces. White tiles, drains in the floor, refrigeration storage and a dissection table where gold teeth and tattoos where removed. It was the reality of killing on an industrial scale. Having got there at 11.00 it was 15.00 before I finished my tour of the site and museum.
After a supermarket visit I followed the old tow path and new levee to Grein, an attractive town with cobbled streets and a lively evening restaurant scene. I even found a back street kebab shop that served beer - but to resist temptation I headed back to camp and cooked a bucket of pasta.
Plaster fronts in Mauthausen
Would you visit this dentist? Town of Mauthausen
The gas chamber..
The dissection table
Dead listed by nationality
Town of Grein
I've never seen so much gold
02 Aug, Tuesday
Start point: Grein
End point: Melk
Total Ascent(m): 410
Max Altitude(m) 252
Max Speed(Km/h): 40.4
The villages lining the Danube, as directed by my handy little guide book, are a delight to pass through. The route follows the old tow path and diverts through villages with narrow cobbled streets, terraces with brightly painted facades and overflowing window boxes. At the end of the main street the old tow path is picked up again. Plugged into my MP3 player and floated by taking in the scenery. In the afternoon my progress was hampered by a stiff head wind that required doubling my normal effort to achieve only half speed.
On reaching Melk I pitched and headed straight for its Benedictine monastery, completely rebuilt in the baroque style in 1726. It's situated above the town on a rocky outcrop and is a working monastery that houses a school, museum and church. The size of the complex is astonishing; the corridors seem to carry on as far as the eye can see. The rooms open for view are stunning in their baroque splendour. The Marble chamber used for 'entertaining' was sizable and had the inscription 'treat you neighbour as you would treat God', so that's how it was all justified! Stood on the terrace and admired the views of the Danube on one side and the church facade on the other. Into the library and then the crowning glory of the abbey, its church. I have never seen so much gold in all my life. Gold leaf yes, acres of the stuff, but it gave the desired effect of creating an ethereal glow as the outside light reflected around the interior.
Back at camp I hooked up with two sisters from Munich. We ate drank and were indeed merry. No spark of interest from either of them despite the odd subtle hint so we carried on with the task of finishing off the bottles of wine before bed.
In the museum
Interior of the church
The alter - it was a huge construction..
View of the Monastery from the town
Wine on the Danube
03 Aug, Wednesday
Start point: Melk
End point: Tullun
Total Ascent(m): 513
Max Altitude(m) 248
Max Speed(Km/h): 42.9
At this point the Danube cuts a valley through a range of hills. Good use of the landscape is made by planted terraces with that life giving crop, the grape. This area is entirely given over to wine production and cycling through the vineyards was a welcome change of scenery. More pretty villages and a stop off in the town of Krems and a visit to its extensive wine museum. I was the only visitor in the large building complex housed in a former Dominican church. I wandered around the exhibits which took me through the history of the town and how wine making has been central to its prosperity. Continued past Gottweig abbey perched high on a hill and through uninteresting scenery to my destination, Tullun. I didn't tour the town as it was getting late and had started raining. The wind was just as strong as the day before other than the fact it was now a tail wind - which made the last half of the day effortless. Camped cooked and bed.
Vineyards and churches the order of the day
In the wine museum doing some sampling..
Sunset over Uno city in Vienna from the campsite
I had to do some homework
04 Aug, Thursday
Start point: Tullum
End point: Vienna
Total Ascent(m): 636
Max Altitude(m) 191
Max Speed(Km/h): 56.1
The strong breeze continued pushing me towards Vienna and soon I was launched into the traffic mayhem that is the outskirts. Navigated my way to the town centre and quickly realised this is not a city I could get a feel of by a quick 'reckey' tour before finding the campsite. I needed to do some preparation so I found the tourist information, got a map with a list of sights, found the campsite and did some homework. Planned a bike tour for tomorrow around the different areas. There are a number of things I wish to see and it may take two days of frantic sightseeing instead of the usual one. Forecast continues to be rather poor. Tomorrow intermittent rain and the next three days heavy rain - that's when the forecast ended so there may be more. Back to normal then. It's a pity the drought Europe never reached this far.
Vienna, Culture capital
05 Aug, Friday
Start point: Vienna
City cycle tour
Followed the ambitious tour I'd planned the night before, which took me from the campsite - as usual for Austria, enclosed by a motorway junction and railway track, to UNO city, the central business district where the offices of the UN in Vienna are sited. The cycle path network allows easy access from the river, so I cycled around looking for photo opportunities. Crossed the river to the Volksprater, a large area to the east of the city devoted to entertainment of the locals. Its main attractions is a fairground, sports stadiums and outdoor bathing areas. They even have a Ferris Wheel which looks more like a giant port-o-cabin wheel. Then to the ring road - built at the beginning of 1900 and circling the area of the old town it is lined with many interesting sights. The opera house, parliament, university, museums, formal gardens, fountains, plazas, churches, town hall, government buildings, shops and tramway to name a few. The most outstanding sight is the Hofburg, former palace of the Hapsburg dynasty who ruled a large area of central and Eastern Europe known as the Austrian Empire. The building complex now houses public buildings and 19 sizable museums, palm house, butterfly house and grounds with temples, fountains, shaded walkways.. etc.. you get the picture. I visited the market and browsed the spices, food vendors, meat, veg and fruit stalls. Succumbed to kebab temptation - 3 Euro for a sizable hunk of bread and meat. It even took away my hunger for an hour or so. Past more imposing buildings to the Votivkirche a twin spire neo-gothic church. There was a notice board advertising a free concert in the church that evening at 19.00. Then I dived into the old town enclosed by the ring road and sped through narrow streets stopping in piazzas, book shops, finding photo ops and generally covering ground to get a feel of the layout, atmosphere and shopping opportunities. The people are very friendly for a big city. Taxis stop to let you pass even when they have right of way. The people are engaging and friendly. I even got chatted up while taking photos outside the Spanish riding school - full of charm, intelligent, cultured and worked in photography and the arts. Unfortunately I had to decline the invite as he was not quite what I was looking for!
As evening closed in there were two events I wished to see. Firstly the concert in the Votivkirche. When I arrived two coaches were parked outside with American youngsters unloading a violin cases. I took my seat and read until the musicians filed on stage and without a word they played. Their ages ranged from 6 to 16 and all things considered they played rather well. One of the singers in particular was outstanding. She sang solo without instrument backing and in a sizable church with a few hundred people listening, it must be difficult - but she carried it off well. They received a rapturous applause and cheers at the end of the concert. There was not a dry eye on the front row where a few of the parents were sitting. At the end I congratulated the singer and asked questions. They were a music school from Utah who had a series of concerts planned in different European cities. "We just don't have many places like this in the US", explained one of the tutors. "We ask them if we can use the venue and they often agree".
The next event started at 21.00 outside the town hall. A big screen, chairs, food and drink stalls and a music by Mozart. I came prepared - wine, food and more food. I was however very disappointed by what they showed. Recorded in Paris in 1999 The music was uninspiring and it was a ballet - men and women hopping around and making exaggerated gestures. Periods of time with no music just a men in tights making even more exaggerated gestures. I left towards the end. The only thing I found interesting was the amount of hard work they had put into the whole thing. Months of practice, every move, every gesture was meticulously choreographed. How can so many people know every move for 94 minutes? The patterns of movement around the stage was far from simple or repetitive. But for what end?
Back to camp and a wrong turn took me into the bus bridge over the Danube. As no busses were running I had a whole suspension bridge to myself, a very odd experience. Once on the other side I found the tent and slept to the sound of rain. Despite the pessimistic forecast it had remained dry for the day.
Uno city, Vienna
Old and modern
Volksprater, Fairground and wheel
Hofburg palace (a small part of)
Hofburg palace (a small part of)
Hofburg palace (a small part of)
View from the library
Seating for the big screen opposite the town hall
Inside the Votivkirche, looking up at a light fitting
The bus bridge
Schonbrunn palace the Hapsburg 'summer' residence
06 Aug, Saturday
Start point: Vienna
City cycle tour
The Schonbrunn palace is the 'summer' residence of the Hapsburg royals and was built between 1695-1700 a small distance from Vienna. It saw many historic events; Marie Antoinette grew up here, Emperor Franz Joseph was born and died here, Mozart and Napoleon visited, Kennedy met Kruschoff in the ballroom (although they didn't dance) and the last emperor, Karl the first abdicated here in 1918. As far as the building goes I need only mention it has 1440 rooms. The 40 open to the public are the state apartments and private living quarters. I toured with the audio guide listening to stories about the Hapsburgs and soaked up the history in luxurious surroundings. Unfortunately the times for quiet contemplation were few as my thoughts were interrupted as I was jostled around by coach loads of Italian tourists. The repeated pattern was this: The tour guide talks so everyone can hear. Everyone is having their own conversation during the tour and try to make themselves heard over the tour guide. The tour guide speaks louder so they can be heard over the other conversations. The result is a quiet room suddenly gains the volume of a noisy London bar with everyone shouting and nobody listening. More jostling and pushing and they move to the next room and then silence and quiet contemplation prevails.
The ruler Franz Joseph had it tough. He loved his wife Sisi dearly but she didn't reciprocate, in fact she said she wished she was dead and spent long periods away from home - but he remained faithful to her. He took his administrative role seriously and lived a simple unpretentious life within the walls of the palace, his only son shot himself then his wife in 1889, his own wife, Sisi, was murdered in Geneva in 1898. It didn't end there, shortly after he died in 1916 the next in line, Karl and was forced to abdicate in 1918 and live the rest of his life in exile thus ending 900 years of Hapsburg rule. All in all a few good reasons to be unhappy.
The gardens match the grandeur of the palace. The Gloriette, built to commemorate a battle victory has a viewing platform on top and provides superb views of the palace with the city as a backdrop. The garden is so long I took me a good 20 minutes to walk from one side of the flower beds to the other. Heavy rain detracted from the experience but with my cap on and full waterproofs I could cope - although I had to climb through an open window of the orangey to shelter from a particularly fierce rainstorm.
Tour complete I headed back into town to look round the Hofburg palace, a large complex of buildings that house museums. I went to the Kaiser Apartments - the state and living quarters. The Silver collection - items used at the dinner table and for state banquets and the Sizi museum - about the life of Sizi, unhappy wife of Franz Joseph. Didn't get a chance to look at the imperial treasury, or Schatzkammer, famous for holding the 10 century coronation regalia of the second holy Roman empire - I just ran out of time. Unfortunately when I reached for the keys to my bike they were not there. I had dropped them somewhere in the museum. I checked back shortly before they closed the doors but luck was not on my side. There I was, standing next to a locked bike with my tent 5Km away. Needless to say, plans for that evening were somewhat altered. Things were not as bad as they seemed. Knowing that for me such a predicament is almost inevitable, I carry a spare set in my toolbox. All I needed to do was get them. A simple journey on the underground and bus took me to the campsite. It was an odd feeling getting on the underground - the first form of transport other than a bike or boat I'd taken in 3 months. Soon my bike was unlocked and I heading into town to collect the bike and listen to some classical music while I updating my journal. On the way home I stopped off at an internet cafe - the noise level was unbelievable. Run by an African couple, they didn't talk, they SHOUTED at each other and their 'friends'. It was like being in a noisy school classroom! I plugged into my MP3 player to block them out.
Back at the tent - not using the bus bridge this time I struck up conversation with a group who had just arrived. "2.00am, did you plan to arrive at this time?", to which the answer was "No, would you like to share a bottle of wine?". What could I say....
Outside the Hofburg palace
One of the Museum inside the Hofburg palace
All things Roman
07 Aug, Sunday
Start point: Vienna
End point: Petronell-Carmuntum
Total Ascent(m): ??
Max Altitude(m) ??
Max Speed(Km/h): ??
Back to the noisy internet cafe and then one last try at the museum to ask if my keys had been found. No. To prevent this set being lost I am now attached to them with a shoelace. I suppose everyone loses their keys, which at home or work is not a problem because they 'soon turn up'. As I am never in the same place for long it's a different matter. That's my excuse.
The outskirts of Vienna gave way to industrial decline, chemical works and power stations. Being a Sunday I had it all to myself. Very little traffic, I followed the south side of the river until I finally reached the countryside. Due to drinking the night before and detours back into the city, I made it out of Vienna at 14.30 and consequently, didn't get very far. First and last stop was Petronell Carnuntum, a large Roman city with a population or 55 000 inhabitants at its peak. The site has been turned into an archaeology park with ongoing excavations, examples of Roman craftsmanship, reconstructions, mosaics, amphitheatre, visitors centre and anything and everything Roman. The was no feeding of lions going on at the amphitheatre - just me, my bike and a plum tree packed with perfectly ripe plumbs just out of reach. Talk about red rag to a bull! No problem, a quick shimmy up the trunk and I perched there for 10 minutes picking and feasting. It was raining plumb stones down below.
The campsite was small and I soon found two girls to pester. After an interesting chat asking what they were up to and how their holiday was going, I suggested I cook a meal for them. They were a group of four so I said, in that case, lets pool what we have and see if we can make something more interesting. They never got back to me. I did feel rather disheartened as I all the time on my travels, no fellow camper has suggested cooking a meal for me.