Monday, June 30, 2014

Day 52: to Kostrzyn, Poland (82; 3373)

I'd been feeling vaguely unsettled without firm plans, so after two beers last night I decided to settle at least one plan, and bought a flight to Greece. I begrudge paying Ryanair a horrific amount for a peak-season flight... But the return leg is already a sunk cost and I would be very sad not to get a Greek trip in this summer.

That settled, I can work back from there to determine whether or not I will need to catch another train. 

Today's ride was again mostly lovely dyke-top paths. The river has gained the Oder and become wide and slow and there's a lot of marshy national park around. I took a surprisingly successful shortcut through Eisenhüttenstadt, a 1950s town now named for its steelworks but originally called Stalinstadt. I then stopped for various facilities in Frankfurt (Oder), a biggish town though not especially attractive. I managed to pick up a free campsite map from tourist info and the Bikeline book of the upper Elbe so that was pretty successful. Also realised that while Hamburg to the ferry might be a week on paper, it definitely wouldn't be following the North Sea cycle path! Ah well, I will work that out when I get there.

There were a few more showers around this afternoon, or possibly just one that I kept catching up with again and again! Patience is almost always the answer on this trip... 

Inspired by the Czech couple who I met again at dinner last night, I decided to spend the night in Poland - a Polish motel costing about the same as a German campsite.

Ten seconds after writing that sentence, I dropped my phone again and the front screen smashed, again. I don't understand how I owned it for so long without smashing it when it wasn't my problem, and have done it twice in two months now that it is. Grrr!

If communication goes down in the next couple of days, assume it's due to technology not kidnap.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Day 51: to Neuzelle (86; 3291)

Friendly World Cup watching with my host and a Czech couple last night (Chile vs Brazil, went down to the final penalty). Then v interesting conversation with my hostess over a delicious farmhouse breakfast this morning. I learnt that the stately park I had been admiring so much yesterday was designed by a local Anglophile nobleman, who'd been and studied how the English made them. And that the two schlosses were completely flattened during WW2 when the Russians and Germans fought heavily on this border, and rebuilt only after German reunification.  Best of all, that they (the guesthouse owners) used to keep sheep but had too many problems with wolves! Good to know when you've just spent the night in a tent.

Most of the day was along a dyke through lovely water meadows, punctuated with small villages and a strong head/side/tailwind as the river wound its way along. This was lovely cycling in the warm morning as I raced the thunderclouds that were nipping at my heels.

They caught up with me as I lunched. With a 50 zloty note burning a hole in my pocket I was determined to get a Polish-side meal and did so in Gubin/Guben in the company of a German publisher / army officer who grew up there. The town is now mostly unified but he remembers of course when the bridge was impassable. So strange as always to remember that these events really happened in what is now such a peaceful landscape.

I had an increasingly wet afternoon ahead but only about 25k to go so just went for it, head down. My destination was the tourist village (brewery & kloisters) of Neuzelle. There was a campsite marked but when I got there it was deserted apart from one angry hippy type who I think was a guest, three billy goats, and some peacocks. The attached restaurant was also closed and deserted. Moreover it looked like a madhouse. I rudely used their loo and left. Once again tourist info to the rescue: they set me up with a funny little holiday flat. Given how wet I am, I'm not sad to be in the dry tonight and for only 24 euros. The greater cost however is in mossie bites: taking a wrong turn on the way to find it I suddenly looked down and both legs were covered with mossies getting stuck in. Horrible and I itch like crazy now. The flat has netted windows, I'm delighted to note, so I guess they may be a local speciality.

I'm feeling conflicted about where I go from here. On the one hand I am having such a great trip and don't want it to stop. On the other hand, cycle touring will always be there (now I know how great it is) and I am longing not to miss other 'events'. I can't square the circles of days available, miles to be covered, and where friends are and when. 

Clearly another beer needed!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Day 50: to Bad Muskau (76; 3205)

Slightly amazed that I've been on the road fifty days.

Early morning downpours and general laziness delayed my start. I cycled back through town thinking 'well, Görlitz is jolly lively for a Sunday morning', then on checking the weather forecast realised it was actually Saturday. So perhaps the 50 days are starting to show!

A breezy day, not too hot but humid (sweat rolling down between my bum cheeks humid).

The path has little to do with the river at this point, instead taking me through cornfields, pine forests, and meadows. 

I lunched in the extremely empty main square of Rothenberg,  a completely tumbleweed town by noon on a Saturday.

In the afternoon I thought: let's see a bit more of Poland. There was a 20 km detour marked on my map, and it was nice country - unsurprisingly a lot like the German side, but with less herbicide use, fewer habitations and almost no cars.

Oh, and 5k of awful jarring cobbles. I suppose they were actually rather beautiful but I have a bit of a dicky tummy, so they were not that welcome! The worst thing was having to keep going fast enough so the flies didn't catch me - I've been bitten by horseflies on my right knee twice in two days. 

Then just when you think you've seen it all, out of the forest comes a completely deserted, brand new, 89 metre high wooden viewing tower. With a stunning view of the local area. Thanks again, EU money.
Got quite lost the last few k back into Germany. First a (legit, marked on my map) cycle path ended at a big gate with barbed wire and an angry-looking sign. I feel somewhat less inclined to trespass in Poland, even if I could get round the wire. Then I end up in what I think is the right town... but which direction is the river / bridge / Germany? I try navigating by cigarette shop density but this surprisingly fails. I realise I'm getting nearer however when I find myself cycling through a full-blown border market, like in Mexico. Knock-off goods and pleather bags and cigarettes and multipacks of everything. Complete with police checking car boots once back on the German side. All in all rather odd - still Schengen but perhaps the first real economic 'border' I have seen all trip!

Bad Muskau, the German side of this, is a perfect little town with yet more cobbles, and a beautiful public park containing a couple of castles, follies, etc. I tried repeating my luck at tourist info but turns out it doesn't work so well in German. Even so I ended up at the perfect little camping spot in a hamlet a few km on from the town. I believe the set-up is actually a barn converted into a bell museum (?) but also has rooms.  Right now, Horace and I have the peaceful little orchard all to ourselves. Couldn't be happier!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Day 49: to Görlitz, Germany via Poland (79; 3129)

The last Czech bit was again very satisfying, slow uphill through Hansel and Gretel villages and then a long long downhill with a view out over Poland and Germany. I did finally see a horse and cart but I suspect it was a hippy, rather than peasant, in the driver's seat. 

I stopped for brunch in Hradék nad Nisou where, as the name suggests, I picked up the beginnings of the Nisa (Neisse in German, Nisou in Czech). This river and the Oder which joins it later, will form my path for the next few days. 

This is a funny little corner of the world, where the Czech Republic, Poland, and Germany meet. My brain hurts with attempts at currency conversions and country-appropriate greetings. 

So back now to Deutschland, via a few km of Poland (where the petrol stations advertised their prices in Czech, Polish and US currencies). Despite Poland being the 12th country, I am thinking of referring to this trip as the 'four corners of Germany' route. I'm not sure I set out to see so much of Germany! 

I saw yet more hills this afternoon due to a river path closure - beautiful riding up and along a high ridge of cornfields, but hard work with endless swooping ups and downs.

There are flags flying absolutely everywhere in Germany now. The standard for your car, as well as flying flags from the windows, is to have red yellow and black booties covering the back of your wing mirrors. I'm not actually sure when the next World Cup match is... But Germany is definitely ready for it!

Tired, but with no camping spot in sight, I asked in the tourist info in Görlitz. I was told firmly there was no camping, and then very helpfully found a cheap room at an unusual herberge in a huge gothic house. I'm very happy with the arrangement, but amused to note there is indeed camping marked on the town map that the tourist centre gave me - but it's on the Polish side of the river so presumably invisible to the German tourist info office!

This is an amazing town for architecture (4000 listed buildings!). Blows Cambridge right out of the water, though the old town is strangely quiet this Saturday night, suggesting it's strictly for tourists. 

The headline of the promotional brochure says 'Görlitz: For many simply the most beautiful town in Germany'. I love the modesty / qualification presented by the 'for many'. 

After a cheap and cheerful German supper I strolled back through Poland. The cafés next to the bridge were full and thriving (note to self: eat in Poland), as were the cigarette shops. Differences presumably in tax - also minimum wage and profits? Away from the bridge it is obvious that the German half has had a huge amount of care put into restoration work, which is only just beginning in Poland. Still there are signs showing plenty of EU money flowing across the river so the two will doubtless match again soon.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Day 48: to Hamr ne Jazère (81; 3045)

Due to some poor interpretation of the triangulation of map, reality, and google maps, I've seen a bit more of upper Bohemia than expected today. But it's been fantastic.

For starters, Horace has some shiny new parts. Apart from giving him a good old clean up (probably in self defence!) the nice bike man replaced a chain link and the whole of the rear gear hub (is that what it's called?). How lovely it is to have silent and smooth gears! Yet another resolution - go on bike maintenance course. Although the whole shebang cost about 50 euros and was done before 9.30 this morning so I certainly don't begrudge the cost of expert Czech service.

I am loving the Czech Republic. It seems to me that the biggest irritations of the former eastern bloc states are drunk men and angry dogs, both of which are at a maximum on the outskirts of towns. But the Czech countryside is just beautiful, people are friendly, the young speak English (the older generation, German) and people, not just tourists, seem to be enjoying it - cycling, climbing, hiking. 

Admittedly I've probably been in national park all day. It hasn't been high mountains as such, but lovely old deciduous forest and crazy conical hills and tower-like rock formations. Mixed in with high farmland, lots of small lakes, and odd bits of conifers. Lovely.

The legs feel OK - there hasn't been a lot of great long hills though there's been plenty of gentle uphill all day, and occasional steeper bits. But with judicious use of sugar, and (probably most important of all) the right mentality, I've really enjoyed it.

I am rather off-course to the east, but the well-marked cycle trails will take me back tomorrow I'm sure. The mapping is really super - the biggest issue I have is learning to trust it! 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Day 47: to Melnick (55; 2959)

Rain in the night and thunderstorms forecast, with a warning of flash flooding. So not the best day to be heading into the mountains then!

Cycling out of Prague was surprisingly easy, within minutes I was in a park, then the zoo, then on the green riverside cycle path. This appeared to be part of EuroVelo 7, so that's another one to tick off, though I don't even know which it is! It was also part of the Elbe river route, which I hope to see again in a few hundred km (begging the question why on earth I'm leaving it). 

The Czech cycle maps seem excellent, once I have got to grip with interpreting the key - specifically that 'other cycle path / planned cycle path' doesn't guarantee a lot! I had a hairy hour or so heading along an ever-decreasing path that was clearly just foot access to some climbing rocks on the riverbank. I was feeling a bit foolish for refusing to give up and go back when I was caught by a Swiss couple who were on the same path whilst following the Bikeline Elbe book. So that's OK then!

The other comedy moment was when the very clearly marked cycle route 7 pointed up a very tall spiral staircase onto a bridge constructed to carry gas pipes across the river. Not sure the Czechs have completely cracked this cycle path thing.  I know from bitter experience I can't get a loaded Horace up even a marginally steep ramp, but managed the staircases successfully in two trips (panniers and Horace separately). 

Arriving into Melnick I was a bit conflicted. On the one hand, not so many miles covered, only lunchtime, and this is still the pre-hill part. On the other hand, thunder clouds looming. And on a third hand, my gears have suddenly started slipping and Melnick is the only chance of a remedy for several days.

As usual when undecided, I retired to a cafe. Two minutes into my delicious and unidentifiable soup the heavens opened, and I was escorted indoors. From my indoor table I couldn't see the action but there were some impressive thunderclaps. Decision made: cue an afternoon drinking tea and listening to early 90s soft rock (was there ever a better  era??).

The nice campsite lady, who speaks good English, has pointed me to a nice bike man, who speaks none. So I have entrusted him with Horace and, if I understood his Czech right (!) he's going to give the gears a service first thing tomorrow. 

Melnick is a funny old town, with a glorious main square and a castle. I suspect it heaves with tourists on a sunny Sunday - but on a wet Wednesday it's deserted.


Yeah that's Horace peaking up from the bottom of the steps.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Day 45: in Budapest

Surely there is no more beautiful city. 

Here's my fact of the day, gleaned from cruising the Danube (which I have done twice - once in the day an once at sunset): they held a competition to design the Hungarian parliament building -and liked the designs that came 2nd and 3rd place so much they built them as well as the winner, on the same square. I just love that.

I spent a fair bit of the day on Margarite island, watching the dancing fountains. It's like a never-ending firework display (without having to crane your neck). Then every hour on the hour they play some music and the fountains perform a routine to it. 

This is my most southerly and easterly point: tomorrow I head north and west. By train! Exciting, and a little bit sad.

Day 46: to Prague by train (10k; 2904)

No matter how well organised the system is, getting a loaded bike on a train is always a faff. The system here was in fact excellent but, mostly because the users don't know how it works in advance, there was faff aplenty. Luckily it wasn't a full train.

I had forgotten the existence of individual compartments in trains. How wonderful they are! Makes you hopeful of sitting next to Benedict Cumberbatch (Parade's End; if you haven't see it, do). Britain should definitely bring them back.

We rolled through the central European countryside retracing my steps back to Bratislava before heading north into the Czech Republic. Because Hungarian, Slovak and Czech all look and sound completely incomprehensible to me (are Czech and Slovak even the languages?) I had very little idea which country I was in or what was going on at any point, though I think we marked each new country with a new set of conductors. Since Prague was the end of the line it didn't matter, and the journey itself was really rather restful. 

The weather is suddenly looking a bit cooler and rainier after this extraordinary hot spell. Tomorrow also starts what I think will be my toughest section, as I head north to Germany. I reckon it's three days, and for days 2 and 3 it's plenty of hills and not a lot of civilisation. Should be beautiful, just hope Horace and I can handle it!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Day 44: to Budapest (80; 2894)

A lovely last day beside the Danube. Hungary seems very different on a Sunday, with tons of cheery cyclists, pedestrians, and families everywhere. And shops are open!

I took two ferries across the river today, both fun if a little overpriced. The first was basically a large floating platform which a small tug pushed around the river. The second a standard, and very busy, roro carrying I should think 12 bikes, plus cars - more than I've seen in days. In between was a lovely cycle path on the north bank (now also Hungary) which was largely smooth and picturesque. Various parts of this, including the hour's wait for the ferry, was back in the company of the Kiwis I met just before the dog attack. Taking the Slovakia route they covered 117k that day with a massive tailwind, reaching 37 kph, and said it was beautiful and plain sailing. Ah well, you win some you lose some!

Coming into Budapest the riverside paths were heaving with endless beachbar set-ups. By happy accident I crossed the Danube too early and ended up escaping all that hecticness and finding impeccable empty cycle paths on the opposite (Pest) side.

In celebration of reaching the farthest point and the goal, if not the end, I have booked myself two nights in a very nice Danube-side apartment.

I can't quite believe I have cycled to Budapest!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Day 43: to Esztergom (101; 2814)

Seems fitting to do my longest (non-British) ride yet on the longest day of the year. It was a corker. 

The first half of the day alternated between reasonable roads and crazy off-road sections with sand, mud, ruts, stones, and/or overhanging branches. Tarmac turning without warning into tiny track and then turning back into paved road 5km later. I stopped a couple of times for Nutella sandwiches - here in strange crescent-shaped rolls - but basically kept my head down and my wheels turning. 

The second half was a complete contrast: this alternated between mad sections of busy, fast road and sections of dreadful juddering mandatory cycle path next to the road. Which I wouldn't have minded except I had, with regret, obeyed the 'no cycles' sign and taken a huge detour off this very same road first thing this morning. 

So with the exception of about 10k of lovely smooth cycle path, it was almost all quite tough going today. But having left before 8 I was into my campsite by 2.30. If Horace were a horse, he would have earned an extra ration of oats today.

Esztergom is a town of decaying grandeur, crowned by a basilica that is the home of the Catholic Church in Hungary, and the third largest in Europe after the Vatican and St Paul's (surely that's going to win you a pub quiz some day). It also looks straight out onto the communist era tower blocks and industry of Slovakia, across the river. Quite the contrast. 

As I climbed up to the basilica, a wedding was starting in the (also quite impressive) church below. The bride entered not to the march of an organ, but to the poignant wail of a single violin which carried a long way through the hot, empty streets.

I spent the evening beside the Danube, watching the sun go down over Slovakia and listening to an acoustic band.

Some Slovakian girls asked me what the time is in Hungary. I told them then realised I wouldn't have a clue if I'd changed time zones, since I haven't had a fixed appointment for weeks. Sign of a successful sabbatical!

Day 42: to Györ, Hungary (96; 2713)

Some days you've got it and some days you ain't. Today was one of the latter.

I slept badly in a stuffy room and was for some reason feeling vaguely anxious. I left early and had an easy ride - so easy that I would have liked to go further than Györ, but the location of upcoming camping options made that impractical.

I met a Kiwi couple who had come a similar route to me and we rode and chatted together for a bit. They had at some point come up the Prague to Vienna greenway and were strongly advising against it (unmarked and rough trails) which is good to know as, doing the maths on days left, I had been considering it.

There are multiple Eurovelo 6 paths leading out of Bratislava (at least on paper); two minutes after our paths diverged I was attacked by a bloody large Alsatian. His owner was calling him off (ineffectually) but luckily he went for my pannier, which now bears the large puncture wound that would otherwise have been in my leg! 

Not sure what the solution to dogs is. You can buy sprays etc but then have to be quick-witted and sure-handed enough to get to it at the relevant moment. Which I'm almost certainly not. I then almost had a second dog incident later: a huge black bull terrier type that was also loose on the street, but luckily was so busy having a growling match with next door's dog that it didn't see me till I had just gone past. Welcome to Eastern Europe! Or perhaps just a reflection of how few cyclists there are on this section of the trail relative to the pre-Vienna cycle superhighway.

Dogs aside the cycling was easy and I rode into Györ, which is a pretty and big town, very early, and then got instantly lost. Eventually found the swankiest possible tourist info office, staffed by a sour old lady, who grudgingly gave me a map and some incorrect info about campsites. Deciding sustenance was the only way things were going to get better, I then had a nice soup and ice-coffee break in the very beautiful main square at a cafe staffed by grumpy waiters.  I had been pre-disposed to like Hungary by the Hungarians I have known... But so far, not so good! 

Part of this is being back to square one with language. I had got quite fluent in pidgin German, and not even being able to say thank you and where is the loo is quite isolating.

It's been considerably cooler today, less than 25, and when the cloud is over that feels pretty cold after the last couple of weeks. I actually put my coat on against rain spots at one point but they didn't amount to much - lucky as I need to complete a waterproof pannier repair before any major rain.

The route out of Györ was always going to be tricky. The final straw of the day came in the form of a well-meaning elderly gentleman who insisted on taking me a 'better route' than the way I was going. We had little common language and I followed him protestingly for what felt like 270 degrees of ring road before eventually leaving him under the pretence of stopping at a garage (he cycled on shouting 'nein, nein, kom, kom'... And may still be doing so for all I care). Anyway I found my way fine once the pressure was off but it ended up being a bloody long way to get from the centre of town to my campsite.

Resolution of the day: I am absolutely going to stop giving in to other people's directions unless my map happens to agree with them!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Day 41: to Bratislava, Slovakia (85; 2621)

Last night Claudia took me to a heuriger in the town where she grew up, on a hillside outside Vienna. A heuriger is a very traditional Viennese occurrence where a family vineyard opens its doors for a couple of weeks and serves its newly-made wine along with some homemade food. Then when that batch of wine is gone it closes up again and a different vineyard has a heuriger instead. What a great system. The wine was good and the food absolutely amazing. Claudia made me try some of the dodgier realms of Austrian cuisine (pig lard anyone?) but it was all just delicious (possibly excluding the lard). Maybe I'm not ready to become vegetarian just yet.

A sad thing happened though - we saw an air ambulance flying low overhead and then a few minutes later the people with whom we were sharing a table got the phone call you always dread. They left as soon as they could, but it was quite a lot later before the helicopter took off again, presumably meaning that there was no longer any urgency for the patient. 

Claudia has been a brilliant host and is very entertaining company. I see lots of similarities with Uschi - I bet they fought like mad when they were kids! It was really great to see some of how the Viennese live, as well as the lovely city itself.

Today is yet another public holiday, and she was off early to the stables. She used to race her own horse when younger and now has a youngster in training whose second race is next weekend. I had been warned to get going early too as Turkey's president is in Vienna today and large demos are planned to shut the centre. The holiday did make the cycle back in a fair bit easier (as did knowing where I was going). I eventually made it out over all the multitude of bridges via the nudist section of Vienna. Those guys have impressive tans already!

The majority of the ride to Bratislava was along a long straight dyke. Luckily the cycling conditions weren't bad and I was very content bowling along in a straight line for 16k. This ended with a fantastic bridge crossing, taking me right up into the treetops for a couple of km across a wetland nature reserve and then the Danube itself.

I lunched on the river at Hainburg, a Roman town and technically still Austria, though you wouldn't think so from the language the waiter and I were speaking.

Then goodbye to Austria which I have really loved (despite the lack of smoking ban). The Austrians seem to me to enjoy a general lack of 'German-like' rules, eg dogs are allowed in almost all restaurants (Claudia told me in a very posh one near her if you tell them when you book that you're bringing your dog they prepare a special meal for it!)

So who else didn't know that Vienna and Bratislava were a short day's cycle apart? As we drove on the motorway last night there was a set of exit signs showing Slovenia and Italy this way, Slovakia and Hungary that way, Vienna straight on. Lovely. I also didn't know that Slovakia is now Schengen (and Euro) so no formalities at all at the border.

Bratislava is like a European capital in miniature. The old town is cute and heaving with the river-cruise masses, and there is a definite air of a town on the way up. I am staying in a nice hostel where a very kind young man insisted on carrying a loaded Horace up an enormous flight of stairs so he could sleep safely on the balcony (and so the young man could look manly in front of his girlfriend, I suspect!).

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Day 40: in Vienna

Well what a lovely place Vienna is!

For one thing, it's a surprisingly stress-free capital (..on foot). The highlight was watching the morning training session of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. The well-trained Lippizaners are always a joy to watch, but the training of nervous youngsters was very interesting. The riders have a very quiet way with the horses. They are worked pretty hard with each rider doing multiple half-hour sessions. 

Apart from horses, I spent a happy hour in a brilliant travel / map shop, and am now a) 38 euros the poorer, and b) fully equipped to tackle the mountains of the Czech Republic. And then head north. Possession of detailed maps is clearly not actually going to help me get up the hills, but there is a comfort in being able to pick a route, and to know where the next sleeping place is!

After lunch I headed to Schloss Schonbrunn which was the emperor's summer residence. It's really enormous - you get the impression it and its park were designed to be impressive and a display of power, rather than beautiful, comfortable, elegant etc. I'd still prefer Chatsworth, if anyone were asking.

Horsing around 

The cathedral, reflected in a modern neighbour

The Schloss (and from its folly above)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Day 39: to Vienna (68; 2536)

Two fascinating facts about Zwentendorf to start the day: in the 1970s Austria's only nuclear power plant was built here - but never used, and on Sunday it celebrated its 1000-yr birthday. Seems unlucky to miss a 1000-yr anniversary by one day... A bit like cycling all the way to Athens only to find your friends are not at home ;-)
(Ruth gets credit for that wisecrack)

Interesting camping neighbour last night: an elderly German chap with a large Canadian canoe. The campsite was a couple of hundred yards from the water and even though he had a set of wheels on it, it must be quite an effort to haul, being a large boat with plenty of contents. He says he does 10 kmh a lot of the time but only 5 when he nears the many hydro stations (he is travelling with the current of course). On the other side a nice German girl who told me she celebrated two weeks of cycling last night with a bed, a meal and a beer! Unfortunately a fair few mossies around for the first time (and no wind) so that limited the socialising somewhat.

Ironically because I had only a short distance to make, my legs felt full of vim today. I stopped in the very attractive main square of Tulln for some wifi and coffee, and generally took it easy all day.

The next stretch of cycling looked more like Belize than Austria: the Danube was a perfect pale jade, the sky a perfect blue and the only noise came from birds in the thick forest on both shores. Magic. I could have kept cycling that forever.

The route into Vienna was also surprisingly green and pleasant, though somewhat lacking in signage. In fact Vienna is quite good for cycling, with lots of paths etc. My only complaint is cycles aren't allowed in parks, of which there are many very large and lovely ones - therefore blocking the cycle route in all directions!

In fact I spent a couple of sunny hours this afternoon reading in the main park. I've been getting such enjoyment from the Kindle on this trip. Basically I downloaded about 80 free books - perhaps half modern trash, and half off-copyright classics. This rather random selection contains some absolute treasures - yesterday I read a Jane Austen novella called Lady Susan which was hilarious. Now I'm on Elizabeth Gaskell. 

I'm staying tonight with Uschi's sister Claudia, who was volunteered for this by Uschi when I saw her in Basel. All I know of Claudia is she has a dog and a racehorse. I like her already!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Day 38: to Zwentendorf (80; 2468)

Today was a day of two halves, as they say. I slept beautifully alone in my wooden palace, but despite this, felt totally exhausted all morning. The ride was through the Wacau, a wine and fruit-growing area that has UNESCO world heritage status for its 'medieval cultural landscape' (says a tourist info board). It's certainly attractive countryside and the lovely old villages are geared to tourists, cyclo- and regular. As such it did at times feel like a Disney version of Europe. And that on a sleepy Monday morning. Glad I did not pass through yesterday afternoon.

Lunch in a supermarket carpark at Krems seemed strangely reviving however, and I then really enjoyed the afternoon's ride, which was a total contrast. 

Immediately after leaving town via a huge Danube bridge the bike path started travelling through a remote jungley area right next to the river. Apart from the 'radler stations' (info and refreshment stops for cyclists, a v useful Austrian speciality) there was basically no civilisation all afternoon. 

Zwentendorf is a fairly one-horse town but has a small and quiet municipal campsite. Timewise and legwise I could have gone 15k more to the next place, but that is a big commercial affair and right now Zwentendorf feels more my style. 

Tomorrow: Vienna!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Day 37: to Pöchlarn (89; 2388)

Last night ended with me cycling around a nature reserve looking for my campsite in the pitch black at 1.30 in the morning. It wasn't at all a dangerous situation, but I did feel a bit of a wally! And relieved when I found it. Thanks google maps. Prior to this I had been watching the opening England match in an English pub full of Italians. Very amusing cultural experience...

Despite the late night, the day started at the usual time when twenty Hungarian teenage campers started to get going. I said fond farewells to my recent German friends and headed off into a surprisingly cool and cloudy day.

At lunchtime I stopped in the very classically Danube-looking town of Grein and then took a tiny wooden ferry across the fast-flowing river. As I landed a few spots of rain fell but despite looking threatening all day nothing worse has happened. I feel ridiculously blessed with the weather thus far, but it's been quite a pleasant change to not be sweating today.

Suffering a bit from several late nights I was surprised to make decent time/mileage and considered pushing on to break 100k. Instead I stopped at a 'Nature Friend House' (I've been wanting to try one of these) which advertised camping. When I asked to camp they told me I could but it was the same price (10 euros) to sleep in a bed. So a bed it is! 

This is in the slightly odd town of Pöchlarn. According to the tourist brochure I was given this is a very ancient town (Romans etc; I hadn't know the Danube was the border of the Roman Empire for 500 yrs). The brochure is generally pretty amusing: 'unfortunately the city was also more than once victim of inundations, ice jams and fires... Today it is a future-orientated business location..'. Well all I can say is, not on a Sunday afternoon it's not.

I find Austria a little bit quirkier and thus more entertaining than  Germany. Especially foodwise: as I write I am eating delicious garlic soup, that came served with a large squirt of squirty cream on top. Yesterday's lunch delicacy was 'germknödel' - one giant dumpling with prune jam in the middle, topped with a pile of poppy seeds and dripping with melted butter. Good cycling fuel but very odd indeed.

The next week's going to be busy: Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest if I maintain current speed. Three capital cities in a week, how very American!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Day 36: to Linz (75; 2289)

A second lovely Austrian cycling day, though a little sleep-deprived as I didn't get to bed till (gasp!) midnight, surprisingly drunk after 3 beers. And then the firemen started their games again early just outside my tent. With Abba playing as a soundtrack.

Blissful cycling through the middle section of the day on dedicated Tarmac cycle paths alongside the southern bank of the Danube. Superb forested mountains with occasional castles, monasteries etc to look at across the water. A bendy river with the odd ferry to take. Picture perfect. 'Yeah, it's just Austria' say my German friends with faint scorn.

We had another nice tailwind and were really zipping along, averaging more than 25 kmh. I lose these companions tomorrow as they head south for Croatia, I shall miss their company but will enjoy dawdling a bit more!

We rolled into Linz early afternoon, again a picture perfect and rather grand town. The campsite is a little way out in a nice park - or a 'ghetto', depending on who you ask. Tonight there is yet more football to be watched, if I stay awake that long. The World Cup has the advantage of making it possible to identify nationalities more easily: I saw some Brits flying England flags from their bike and I think those are the first English accents I've heard since leaving home!

Trying to figure out a post-Budapest plan. Ideally I want to end up at a ferry (so that's probably Holland or Copenhagen) one month after leaving Budapest. And absolutely ideally, I want to cycle the whole way. I may have to tackle some pesky mountains after all!

Austria looks like this:

Vote now!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Day 35: to Engelhartzell, Austria (95; 2214)

Last night ended with companionable watching of the World Cup opening match, and today I rode on with these same three companions, Boris, Henry and Danielle. V nice to have company to chat to though they do ride quite fast (Horace clocked 45 kph on the downhill from the campsite, and I was going the slowest!).

Today was perfect cycling conditions, including a reasonable tailwind. We made it to Passau mid afternoon. Passau is a big tourist destination and the start of the heavy cycle traffic on the classic holiday route - though I haven't seen noticeably more yet. The river Danube meets it's bigger sister, the Inn there, and there is a startling effect where the two rivers meet: the Danube is dark and the Inn light brown so you get strange swirls until it mixes fully. From then on the southern bank is Austria and the northern one Germany.

In the midst of a 'which campsite' debate we crossed by ferry and so I hit my 8th country of the trip! Hello Austria.

The final campsite (all others had been rejected for not showing football) is slightly mad. Coming towards it the road was closed - in essence so the region's firefighters could park on it while they all take part in some kind of river races, happening immediately in front of the campsite. The races seem to consist of upstream punting, which looks quite a lot like hard work! The campsite also has big outdoor swimming baths in the middle of it - and the space for tents is a narrow strip with a hardcore base. Since my tent can't stand without tent pegs this wasn't really working for me. However I've been allowed to move to the end of the children's play area which is a rather select spot and decidedly softer!

Early morning swimming, here I come.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Day 34: to Kapfelberg (88; 2119)

An absolutely super day, in which fortune has been favouring the bold.

I returned to Regensburg old town first thing in order to visit the cathedral which is marvellous; beautiful stained glass and wonderful sculptures of St Peter everywhere. Also the full set of bones of the 13th C founder of Regensburg in the crypt, lovingly wrapped in gauze and bound with gold braid. 

Unlike many I have visited of late the cathedral was completely silent, the loudest noise being my bike clips on the stone floor. 

I've always thought cathedrals to be wonderful places, sort of like National Trust parks in that you can't quite believe that something so awesome is free and available to all. This year I have become a bit of a connoisseur and I have to say I find them incredibly moving - Santiago is not the only cathedral that's had me welling up. Not that I have suddenly found the god that they are built for. But the human durability and love of beauty that they represent is something really special.  Time away from the scurrying of the rat race (or at least from work concerns and my usual sources of stress) has made me much more interested in such matters. Or perhaps I am just destined to become an old buildings buff in my old age.

I also picked up an exact replica of the Swiss Army knife I just lost which was exceedingly satisfying and lessens the blow.

I finally set off into a sunny but breezy morning, notably cooler (below 30!) yet still no thunderstorms.

For lunch I got detoured into the small town of Worth, which I imagine had to petition hard to get cycle signposting into it. Like on camino it happens fairly often that you get diverted into a one-horse town, presumably so they increase the chance of you patronising the local businesses. Whether it's useful or really annoying depends on how good the town's facilities are, whether they're open, and indeed whether you actually need a stop. I had a quick carb fix in a nice bakery and listened to the daily business being conducted for a bit. There's a lot of 'gruss Gott' here (which I think is literally 'God's greetings'), even the local cyclists were greeting me with it.

I hit one possible camping site early afternoon but for some reason kept pushing on even as multiple reasonable alternatives flew by. I finally went for a campsite a good few km off track but highly rated on my camping app. It was up a massive hill, but as a result has a view out a long way across the Danube plain. It's really a lovely spot and, even better, has three other cyclocampers who are friendly! (Two of whom are cycling to Dubai via Athens, Turkey, Iran... Hardcore). Very nice to have people to chat with even if they did invite me to watch the World Cup with them, which starts tonight.

Perfect weather, excellent cycling, and now some company. Perfect day!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Day 33: to Regensburg (95; 2031)

What a day.

At 4am the weather broke, at least temporarily, and I lay awake enjoying the cool and listening to the freight-train noises that squalls of wind make as they howl towards your tent across a wooded area. By 7 it was cool and overcast, by 10.30 it was sunny but I was thinking 'yup, definitely cooler than yesterday' when I saw a thermometer registering 30 deg. Comes to something when that feels cool. Big thunderstorms are forecast... As yet no rain has fallen.

Good news from Greece means that I spent a fair bit of this morning reconsidering my plans. If Alex and Duncan won't be there in July, my motivation for heading south (into increasing heat and mountains) is considerably lessened. Suddenly I feel free to go anywhere... After Budapest I mean.

Anyway: cycling. I set off the wrong way but a friendly local cyclist stopped me and put me right. The first 15k were straight and beautiful along a cycle track bordering the Danube on one side and a military zone on t'other. The Danube by now looking much wider and more peaceful.

The morning in general was easy - I had been rather fearing it as my map noted loads of uphill. When I found it quite easy I credited this to Nutella (breakfast of champions), only to notice on a reread that the steep buts were downhills, not up. Oh well, either way my legs aren't burning half as much after 24 hours off from hills.

At noon I arrived into Weltenberg, a hot honeypot due to its ancient monastery which continues to brew beer and milk tourists. 

Oh happy day! There's a boat, which is the traditional way for cyclists to avoid 10k or so of hot uphill while viewing one of the most spectacular sections. So I finally cruise the Danube, through fast-flowing limestone gorges. There's a handful of souls kayaking and little boys floating downstream on their bellies (these guys absolutely have the right idea) but other than them and our boat it is a very peaceful scene indeed. There's a German commentary, of which I of of course understand one word in five ('left-hand side' etc). I think one of the landmarks was a '5 million year old meteor crater' but it's entirely possible it was 500 million or indeed 5 thousand. I've not had reason to learn large numbers yet!

A hot afternoon was vastly improved by two swims: one half way along where I startled the locals by just ripping off my Tshirt and shoes and running in, bliss; and one instead of a shower this evening. 

Destination Regensburg - a town with 1000 listed buildings. Thus far I have seen the park, the river, and Netto. (Why does Germany have such abysmal taste in supermarkets? I've seen only Aldi, Netto and Lidl for days...) 

Update, later: well it's still massively humid but possibly less hot tonight, cool enough at least that I found the energy to head into town. It is a nice and rather majestic place with lots going on, including an organ recital in the cathedral so I couldn't enter. It also has both a travel book and map shop, and a penknife shop (sad to say I left mine at my breakfast perch earlier today, and miss it already). The shops don't open till ten though, so part of me thinks I may start late tomorrow and go for a short leg after perusing the cycling Europe maps for a bit!

The wind is rising - let's see what the night brings.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Day 32: to Ingolstadt (72;1936)

Month 2 started early, and I was ready to go by 7.15 am. This was precipitated in part by being told that today was forecast to be 35 deg. This is clearly ridiculous. Though I spoke to a Frenchman yesterday who's ridden the Danube before and had had rain every day from Passau to Vienna. And the author of my guidebook had only 5 dry days out of 40 in July/Aug. So perhaps I shouldn't complain too much.

I say 'guidebook' - the map in it shows Yugoslavia as a country, so you can take it as being a little out of date. Don't worry, I also have maps.

...Which I made good use of today when a minor brainstorm took me massively off-route. I'd just done a bunch of hills, and then been signposted out of town into a hill-free plain and was feeling so happy about that I clearly missed the signpost that would put me back near the river. Instead I rolled along flat and straight for about 20 minutes before hitting the town of Rain. Which I had previously noticed in the far corner of my map, not on route...

So I had a little longer than expected before my lunch stop at Neuberg. Even so it was only 10.30, but luckily the cafe I picked at random was a brunch spot, so there were ten varieties of breakfast available. All centering on bread, meat and cheese of course, this being Bavaria... Since I am basically happy to eat anything I'm not suffering much from the menu translation problem, and it's quite fun to back-translate from plate to menu (ah, so  frühstücksei... That's 'breakfast egg' - meaning hard boiled egg...)

The afternoon was a change of scenery. Instead of villages the path took me out to an enormous (though closed) schloss, and then through sandy and woodland paths through its estate. Beautiful and cool in the woods, with the smell of wild garlic all around. A bit of a lack of signposting meant that every so often I did wonder if I were on the right path, and how long it would take someone to find me if not. Ironically the last time I stopped to check the map, having not seen any cyclists for ages, a string of ten tandems came along. That's got to be a recipe for the end of some beautiful friendships.

Ingolstadt is my destination tonight, but in truth I bypassed the town altogether and headed for the campsite, which is on a lake south east of the city. Unable to check in for a couple of hours I jumped in the lake instead. Absolute bliss. I write this from beside the lake where a string of baby coots are shouting at me because I haven't fed them.


Hot, beautiful - and I have no idea where I am...

Lakeside camping tonight, no shower required!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Day 31: to Donauworth (92;1864)

Well without moments of bad you wouldn't enjoy the good, or something like that. After a FaceTime talking-to from Mum last night about avoiding sunstroke ('why don't you get up at 5am and cycle then?') I decided to just give myself a break today. Yesterday felt more like survival than pleasure, and given my lack of time pressure, there's no sense in that.

So, today I got going by 8.30 and made it to my planned destination (Dillingen) by lunch. No hills! Cool breezes! Some shade! Also, enough off-road that I was literally coated in white dust. Which presumably only enhanced the sunscreen it was sticking to.

Dillingen was an extraordinary looking town: not cute and medieval as most are around here, with their tall crooked buildings which often have either painted scenes on them or elaborately painted woodwork. No, Dilligen was grand: Oxford to most of Bavaria's Cambridge. (Though ironically it seems to be the only town around which does not have a university. How many medieval university towns are there in Germany?).

So that was 50+ km before lunch, and while it was hot I was prepared and not drained. I was not really ready to stop, but the next campsite was 40k away... 

These are the biggest dilemmas in my life right now. Sheryl Sandberg says, work out what you'd do if you weren't afraid, and then do that. And so, I went onwards.

I stopped twice more in the afternoon - once by a village fountain, where there was a blessed drinking-water tap, and then for a second alcohol-free weizenbeer of the day at the biggest Biergarten I've ever seen, also a sort of farm shop-cum-music venue. Quite a happening place and literally miles from anywhere in a sea of ripening cornfields.

I got fairly lost and honked at coming into Donauworth but made it round to the canoe club, which doubles as campsite in these parts. It was rammed with weekend canoeists but I found a far corner to pitch in, at which point they all packed up for the weekend! Leaving me with a pretty peaceful site, I reckon.

There's a good breeze today which I think has made a difference, temperature-wise. Well, for whatever reason, I feel fine after 90k today whereas I felt dead after 60 yesterday. I guess I just have to roll with that!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Day 30: to Ulm (69,1772)

Just wrote a long and slightly self-pitying entry, and then accidentally deleted it, hurrah for the iPhone! In summary: it's bloody hot (32 at 6pm) and staying so for a while, and I need to find a better strategy to cope with it.

Also: Ulm is surprisingly nice! Tallest minster in Europe.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Day 29: to Riedlingen (91; 1703)

woke up singing Florence and the Machine (...'it's always darkest before the dawn..'). With a start like that, this was always going to be a good day. Though with a forecast of 32 deg it was also going to be a total scorcher.

Without any breakfast or other distractions I speedily got through the morning pack-up and was rolling by 8.15. Definitely a record, though by the time I had returned my key to the swimming baths, which keeps them, and been to Lidl for emergency supplies, it was after 9. Incidentally, if you should ever go to Tuttlingen the thermal baths look amazing. 

This section of Danube was simply stunning: limestone gorges and only bikes, walkers and tractors for miles. The path was through hay meadows and forests, and the sluggish-looking river had white flowers growing all over it and beaver living in it, apparently. The morning's countryside in general looked a lot like the bits of southern Bulgaria that Mum and I rode through a couple of years ago, including a towering monastery on the cliffs overhead.

After 35k the gorge began to widen and I passed the campsite I had vaguely hoped to reach yesterday. (No chance: plenty more hills this morning, one of which took my chain off as I crunched gears badly, though no permanent harm done).

The rest of the day was a mix of hilly woods and flat fields, merciful shade and hot breezes. Early afternoon I shot through Sigmaringen, a large-ish town where the population was walking around the riverside in bikinis, and then broke the golden rule with a large beer at a museum cafe around 3pm, with still 20k to go. It seemed to help though, and I powered through the remaining cornfields in a happy daze.

This seems a very religious part of the world, with crosses and shrines and crucified Jesuses liberally scattered around the landscape.

On a funny roll with low-key campsites. I shared my park last night with a bunch of French families, and an (unrelated) French boy who I had seen repeatedly yesterday. He is notable for having his lovely scruffy dog in a trailer behind him. 'So I'm not travelling alone' he told me. Very sweet, but I felt for him pulling the trailer up those hills!

Tonight is a small field in someone's farm. It's very nice however and, though nearly empty when I arrived, now filling up fast with other cyclocampers. I'm constantly amused by a) how much effort caravaners go to (lace tablecloths, flowers etc) and b) the need to plant a national flag wherever you go. I had been thinking it would actually be quite useful to show a British one, so people would stop speaking German to me and might be more inclined to English. But I am amused by hastily put-up tents with proud flags erect. Also by the need for old Dutch/Deutsch men to walk around in speedos... We're not near a bathing place you know!

Due to the proximity of a supermarket, my evening meal was delux: guacamole with crudités, spinach and ricotta pasta, and beer. There are more courses available but I'm too full for 'em. And the 'empty' gas cannister is still going strong!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Day 28: to Tuttlingen (60; 1612)

I suppose I should have known that crossing from the Rhine to the Danube would involve some hills, it being a major European watershed and all. And indeed  that doing it through the middle of a hot day would be hard work. But the thing about this trip is: if I thought about all the potential problems I would never have started!

My traitorous map also deserves some blame here. It allegedly marks any hill over 5% with arrows. The morning had a few of these but no more than expected. Though due to some kind yet misplaced unsolicited directions (from a post lady and then from some farm workers) I ended up taking those hills on rather busier roads than expected, and hence a bit faster than usual.

The unexpected part however was that immediately post-lunch there was a 10k section that was entirely uphill. Now I would possibly be willing to believe it wasn't all 5% (though frankly, 10k of 4.99% would also have nearly killed me). But the way down after the top was 15% according to the road signs. And none of it was arrowed on my map.

Anyway, I made it but really not in good style. The views along the top were magnificent. But I and a loaded Horace are REALLY not made for hill-climbing.

Ok, rant over.

When we got down, we hit the Danube! Which is tiny and sluggish here. I had planned to go further but the next camping is about 30k, the day is hot, and the Capulets are abroad. Ok, not that last one. But Tuttlingen has all the things I need tonight including a free municipal camping ground.

Last night was a strangely cold night between roasting days. Accuweather at one point was suggesting nighttime temperatures down to 7 deg and daytime up to 32. In fact it 'only' reached about 25 today but nonetheless I feel somewhat like I'm camping in a desert climate suddenly.

It was very hard to tear myself away from the Bodensee this morning, it is so beautiful and peaceful, though I'm sure it will get less so as the Whitsun holiday weekend starts tonight. The first 10k of the day was following lovely small paths close to the shore and I stopped for morning coffee on the lakeside at Radolfzell just so I could watch the water a bit longer before heading inland.

Inland of course also turned out to be beautiful, with a lot of market gardening and hay-cutting going on (one with a stork stalking along behind the mower).

I must have drunk about four litres of water today, but none of it seems to have made it through to my kidneys. So now I'm trying an iced cappuccino instead. And then maybe a few beers. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Day 27: to Hornstaad, Germany (79km; 1552)

Completely the opposite of yesterday: today has been plain sailing under a sunny sky, and I've felt totally blessed.

After a stormy night it's been sunny and breezy, the paths well-marked, the natives friendly, and I have successfully muddled through in German where required. Oh and it's been seriously beautiful country. Lots of hills though, as the path has deviated a lot from the Rhine itself. In fact looking at a map I have now officially said goodbye to the Rhine. She has treated me well!

As I left the campsite this morning someone mentioned some waterfalls so I had a look on the map and made sure to go that way. Well the Rheinfalls at Neuhasen were just amazing! 'Europe's largest waterfall' -perhaps in volume rather than height, it was a bit like Niagra but somewhat less commercial and in somewhat better taste. Being a weekday it was not heaving and was a lovely, unexpected treat.

The way out however was a 15% climb. Just sayin'...

The Swiss-German border round here is ridiculous, I must have crossed it ten times today. It concerned me only in that I still don't have any Swiss francs, so needed to know which side I'm on before buying anything! Usually I could tell by the registration plates of parked cars, and by the flags in people's gardens (some use for this weird habit!). The Germany-to-Switzerland customs controls are heavily patronised because, as Uschi explained to me, the Swiss get tax back on German purchases at the border.

Tonight I am on Lake Constance, or the Bodensee as the Germans call it. In fact I'm on a sub-lake, but it still seems to count. This is big holiday territory and the campsite is large and commercial (though I have a whole tent section to myself). Staying on it gives you access to a private 'beach', which is mostly park, but has also provided a super calzone dinner with a view. Following Ed's lead I decided to swim instead of shower and it was really quite pleasant, temperature-wise (17 deg according to a notice). It is shallow for a long way out though so I was probably in toastier-than-that water as a result.

Over the 1500k mark, I am about half way to Budapest now. I hesitate to write this, fearing bike breakage or other major disaster: but I feel like I am in a good rhythm. I am really enjoying both the moving on and, surprisingly, the peace and privacy that camping gives. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Day 26: to Waldshut, Germany (73k; 1473)

Something of a challenging day. Started grumpy after a caffeine-driven poor night's sleep, and sad to say goodbye to Uschi and her home comforts. Got grumpier as I repeatedly got lost all morning in Basel and the villages east of there, with google maps having apparently given up the ghost on me. Then around noon the rain started...

But then after grumbling to myself for a while, suddenly I came round the corner and there was a great view of the Rhine looking all mysterious in the gloom and a group of about thirty cyclists come past, all saying hello, and then I found I was grinning from ear to ear.
Other good parts: surprisingly pretty old towns (Bavaria!) and a section through a nature reserve where there were swans, ducks, and the ubiquitous funny-looking geese (Chinese says Katy) nesting all over the cycle path. Not sure about the whole 'swans can break a man's arm' thing but I bet they could get through Horace's Kevlar tyres, if anything can.

Ten km from my destination the rain became much harder, and I checked in to a campsite with a bunch of other cyclists who were trying to escape the rain and get rooms (there were none left). Thumbs up for having a tent. This is a very organised site right on the river, which seems narrow and surprisingly fast-flowing here. Despite arriving mid-afternoon they sorted me out with a cracking lasagne type thing (which I ordered fairly blind, having worked out 'pasta' and 'mince' in the description). The site also has a bar and a 'sitting room' for campers so despite the rain I have hopes for a comfortable evening.

Due to a badly-timed cappuccino I missed a dry window and instead ended up pitching my tent in the rain for the first time, and with an audience looking on. Well readers, I am delight to report I absolutely rocked it. A small victory, but an important one today.

Spending this much time alone with yourself is odd, like a solitary retreat. It's interesting to note how one's moods come and go pretty much regardless of external stimuli. My basic strategy for survival is that everything seems better after a coffee (before 6pm) or a beer (after 3pm). Just now I've had both.

Day 25: in Basel

Lovely hot day in Basel and I really enjoyed catching up with Uschi and her lovely kids (Daniel 8 & Anna 6). Daniel was a baby last time I met him! Uschi fed me lots of coffee and cake and raclette (yum), we got cherries from a farm shop, picked up the kids from the Basel International School (one to consider, A&D) and took them to after school horse riding etc. An interesting insight into Swiss life. 

Fact of the day - Switzerland seems to suffer no modern parenting anxiety and kids are expected to be able to take themselves unsupervised to school by the time they start (age 6).

Monday, June 2, 2014

Day 24: to Basel, Switzerland (73k; 1400)

spent the night piling on more clothes and the early morning taking them off again as the sun heated up my tent.

Monday morning is market morning in Neuf-Brisach. I had a croissant and baguette from the campsite, but headed into town afterwards for a coffee and a look round. Very impressive place.

I spoke to two cyclists who had come up from Basel yesterday, they confirmed the Rhine-side path is more of the high, unpaved, exposed kind. Instead I opted for the French route across farmland and little villages. Mid morning there was a long stretch through an old forest. I was tempted to stop by the sign for a 'remarkable tree!' - well, it was just a tree and not remarkable at all. (Reminded of cycling instructions from Estonia - 'turn right; after 30km there is a large rock..').

I hit the canal du Rhone au Rhin again, this time larger and navigable again. I stopped for lunch at a picnic spot by the canal, at which point it started spitting. After sitting it out for a while I realised it wasn't getting any worse, and it was pretty much stationary, whereas I was going to cycle ahead of it. Confirmed when half an hour later some fishermen saw my waterproofs and asked me where the rain was!

I came into the 'petit carmargue de Alsace' - a bit of nice wetland with bird hides and other inexplicable things including a to-scale model of the solar system spread along several km of bike path.

The final stage into Basel was a bit of a nightmare. I was totally lost in the Novartis site (funnily enough this has happened to me before, but usually with a suit on..). Realised I was cycling straight through a customs point. Then back through another one. Crossed a huge intersection with a police car just behind me and no idea what the cycle signs mean. Then the cycle lane turned into a tram track, with a tyre-width trough in the middle of it. Nil points, Switzerland, nil points.

Eventually made it into the old town, realised I had only two Swiss francs, not enough for a coffee. So instead headed straight out towards my ex-Psychiatry friend Uschi's house in Therwil, a southern suburb, this time along more officially designated cycle routes.

Uschi's husband works for Roche and they moved out here a year ago and are enjoying the Swiss life. Specifically they have a gorgeous house on a hillside and I write to you from a very sunny terrace... I hadn't seen her for maybe 6 years so lovely to reconnect with an old friend. That's what this year is all about!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Day 22: to Strasbourg (78k; 1245 total)

The convent was really a remarkable place to stay. I think it had contained monks (I think in French, like Spanish, the words convent and monastery don't necessarily refer to the sex of the inhabitants). Anyway, it was built on a large Roman site, recently excavated but fenced off at present. And it had a very sweet graveyard containing some padres and frères, as well as a dozen German soldiers buried there in one week in 1944. The graves were being recycled, with the most recent burials (2012) on top of the older ones (1912). It was a gorgeous sunny evening yesterday and I wandered around the gardens and woodland tracks and thought the landscape probably hadn't changed a great deal since the Romans did the same.

When I checked out this morning I was given a Mozart CD. Apparently the convent's current incarnation is as a centre for the promotion of music.

I left in a great mood on the most glorious morning, sunny and breezy. Had a quick cafe and croissant in Sarrebourg and then set off across country, past an enormous war cemetery. Google maps cycle routes (**in beta, use caution**) sent me down some cracking dirt tracks so the first 10k was quite slow. Horace handles them fine but I can't help fretting that it ups the wear and tear on him, the panniers, racks etc.

Finally I hit a beautiful paved path along a canal. There's a headwind but it's really beautiful, almost like a gorge with the canal half way up and a road way down below me. I see absolutely no-one for a while and am thinking 'this is the life'. Then I see the eight foot metal gate barring my path. Oh bugger.

Some 'gentlemen' on the other side of it just give me a Gallic shrug and suggest I turn around. Instead I find a tiny set of steps leading down to the road below. Well, most of the way down... I unpack Horace and in several trips we make it the fifty or so feet down without incident. Phew.

After that the day passes quite peacefully, with the exception of a bump-induced flying-off of my handlebar bag- this happens fairly often, but this time my iphone went for a dramatic tumble - and survived!

In total I did 60 or so k straight along the canal which crosses from Lorraine to Alsace and eventually loops into the top of Strasbourg. Part of Eurovelo 5 (London to Rome) it was all extremely pleasant, loads of cyclists, and one guy in a pedal-powered white rocket who stopped to ask me the way. As usual, whenever anyone hears my halting French they start talking to me in rapid German!

I had no expectations of Strasbourg but it's actually lovely. I guess I thought it would be all modern but the centre is old and beautiful and the cathedral just blew me away. I think I have a new favourite cathedral - a hotly contended category this year!

It also has a genuine camping shop that sold me some more gas. This has been a massive saga: we thought we had found some about a week ago but it turned out to be the wrong top and have failed in about twenty shops since.

Early evening I found myself outside a cinema that helpfully had English films showing, so I popped into the first one that was on. Enjoyable but very strange story about a woman who agrees to drive three insane women home across the prairie from Dakota to Iowa. Apart from anything else the heroine kills herself part way through. Put me in quite an odd mood for a Saturday night!


The perfect canal - before blockage...

Plan B: you can just see the road shining at the bottom 

Today looked pretty French...

The strangest cycle-machine yet

Strasbourg touristing, including watching a 'celebration of European Celts' -- ever more bagpipes!

Day 23: to Neuf-Brisach (82k;1327 total)

The first day of summer has brought out the pilgrims, lizards, and dragonflies.

Well maybe just 'cos it's a hot and sunny Sunday, rather than because it's the first of June.

The way out of Strasbourg was, you guessed it, a canal - this one I think the canal du Rhine au Rhone (or vice versa). It got progressively smaller and more verdant until it was considerably less navigable than the river Cam. As a result it was also rather lacking in refreshment stops. After 40k, in desperation, I headed off the river and into the very definitely closed town of Sundhouse. Luckily there was one Sunday-opening restaurant and it was excellent, rustling me up an Orangina and a delicious French ploughmans equivalent while the slightly inbred-looking locals tried not to gawp at me. Apparently there was a festival this weekend, it was Zumba party night tonight. Hmm...

Post lunch I thought: sod this canal, and headed across country into Germany for a little more time with the Rhine. It too looks rather more peaceful (and narrow) here, in part because some of its might is taken off by hydro schemes on the grand canal de Alsace, which runs in between the dinky canal and the Rhine proper.

I spent a rather hot afternoon dodging lounging lizards on the path and dragonflies, and trying to keep my mouth shut and my hat brim down against the frequent swarms of tiny flies. They're not biters, just swarmers, but my tendency to open-mouthed gawping and/or heavy breathing while cycling is a problem! It definitely looks drier and hotter now I am finally heading due south, and I'm glad to say I'm back in stork country once more.

Early in the day I was caught up by a nice mid-40s lady on a bike who cycled and chatted alongside me for a while. She was cycling to her boyfriend's house up the canal, and told me that she'd run Edinburgh half marathon with her previous boyfriend and another race in Connemara with the boyfriend before that. (..and she wanted to know why I didn't have a boyfriend with me!).

In the afternoon I overtook three middle aged German gents carrying shells and heading for Santiago. They hadn't been going very long and looked slightly shocked to be randomly hailed by me. I can't help thinking they've got a tough road ahead as they will be walking into ever-hotter weather. I can't really compute how far it could be from here to Santiago but it has to be 3 or 4 months... It cheered me to see them (and started me singing a dreadful Evici song which was our camino theme tune). Coincidentally a guy at the next table from me at breakfast this morning was wearing a camino t-shirt. He was one of the EuroCelts that I saw parading yesterday.

I eventually made it into Brisach, which is underlined on my map, indicating it as a 'picturesque town'. I guess I should have learnt by now not to approach such places on sunny Sundays! It was teeming, possibly with a festival but maybe just regular tourist-density. I eventually made it through the hordes and back over the river crossing to France. Amusingly the no-mans land just before the border contained - as well as the standard petrol station - a McDs, a strip joint, a bakery, and a casino. Not sure why Germans feel they need to stock up on those particular things before hitting France; it strikes me they're things France has an abundance of!

Back in cycle-friendly but cycle-path-casual France I headed for Neuf-Brisach, the 'newer' cousin. It's actually a 17th century fortified town built in an octagon surrounded by enormous star-shaped ramparts (a UNESCO site of course). So I am continuing my sleeping-in-heritage-sites tour by camping at a lovely site that I think may be just inside the ramparts. For 7 euros including free showers and a friendly owner, what a bargain.

I was planning on going out exploring this evening but instead have (FINALLY!) done washing, eaten noodles, and am now considering lazing around watching the world go by instead. Perhaps the ramparts can keep till after my fresh croissant tomorrow.