Day 1, Sept 29: Tabor, Czech Republic, to Passau, Germany by train, and cycling Passau to Kohlbachmuhle (Obernzell), Germany, 20 km.

The day began early and included fairly little biking, but we did manage to transit through three countries and to catch each train despite significant challenges. We woke before 7 at the pension and, after packing, enjoyed the palatable free breakfast and especially the coffee. We managed to arrive at the train station about 15 minutes before the train arrived, but troubles with the elevators that took us and our bikes under the train tracks and up to the proper platform meant that we had to run bags and my bike up a long flight of stairs at the last moment, frantically throw bags into the train, and hope nothing was inadvertently left behind.

The train to Linz, Austria, took us through the mountains in a little over three hours. As the train pulled out of the station in Tabor we managed to lug our bags into an empty cabin, marveling at moving so quickly after weeks of biking. We watched the forests and fields pass quickly by, feeling the exhaustion of the morning and the drop in adrenaline after our crazy last-minute rush for the train. The time passed quickly and we were soon nearing Linz and finding ourselves at the Danube. A helpful but untimely chatty Austrian conductor assisted us in getting our bikes down from the train, and we realized that we needed to again go up and down elevators to get ourselves and our many things from Platform 2 to Platform 12 in four minutes. Through some minor miracle we managed to get through the elevators and tunnels to throw ourselves, our bikes, and our lumpy bags into the train to Passau before it left the station. We found ourselves on a car with a number of other cyclists, and two women cyclists cleared the seats next to them to make space for us. The women turned out to be from villages near Munich, returning to Germany after a few days biking along the Danube in Austria. We ended up talking with them the entire way to Passau, chatting about biking, holidays, differences in our cultures and countries, ancestry, and a long list of other enjoyable topics. In Passau they helped us unload our things from the train and again transit down from one platform and up to the main station – this time without elevators. We exchanged contact information and waved good-bye, happy to have found such good company.

In Passau we re-packed our bags and bikes, then walked a few blocks into the central area. This being a Saturday, the streets were filled with people, especially in the main shopping areas. We stopped for coffee and the waitress pointed us towards a nearby grocery store. Shachaf ran to get food supplies and I watched the fascinating and lurid parade of consumerism walking past the coffeeshop.

After groceries were located and clothes changed, we finally wandered our way through the busy winding streets toward the bridge and the path along the river. It began to drizzle just as we biked across the Danube, and the slow rain didn’t let up once during our short evening of cycling. The path was almost entirely set aside from the roadway, although was right next to a busy road. We made great time on the flat path, stopping near a statue of a mermaid to inhale food, including more delicious lactose-free camembert! In the early evening we found a camping spot, and after setting up the tent right at the very edge of the river we parked ourselves in the warm and dry restaurant to have drinks and eat our fill of pommes frites. It was a short day and it feels very strange to be back in Germany again, but the lovely flat path along hills plunging down to the river is marvelous.

 

      

Day 2, Sept 30: Kohlbachmuhle, Germany, to Fall, Austria, 62 km.

We had rain through the night, but woke to the sun coming out. Fog hung above the river, slowly dissipating as we waited for our tent fly to dry and ate breakfast. The path for the majority of the day was right along the river and on cycle-only paths. We saw dozens of bikers, which suggested that mid-summer must be utter chaos for biking along the river. It makes sense that this would be a popular biking destination, as the landscape is absolutely gorgeous. All day we biked along the edge of sharp, forest hills dropping steeply on each side to the wide river. White swans lazily swam by us, and every so often a stone castle would appear along the river. It was, to say the least, about as picture-perfect as one could possibly imagine.

The river wound its way through the hills, constantly turning and twisting in its own route. Mid-day the path on our northern bank ended and we took a small ferry across to the south side. We stayed on the bank for the rest of the day, unfortunately left largely in the shade of the forest but possibly on the quieter side of the river. We stopped for lunch just between huge bends in the river, enjoying one of the many benches placed here for hikers, bikers, and folks fishing.

In the early evening we biked through the larger town of Ashach, stopping just a little past town for coffee and apfelstrudel. The hills suddenly ended right as we entered Ashach, and the landscape stayed wide open until our camping site. We chose to stay about 10 km before Linz so that we could visit the city in the morning and then continue slightly further to Mauthausen, with its picturesque downtown and its significantly less picturesque concentration camp memorial site.

The last camping site before Linz is in the tiny village of Fall, just near a dam on the Danube. The site is linked with a pretty adorable Bavarian restaurant, now empty at the season’s end. The restaurant was closing as we arrived, but the manager said we could choose any place under the apple and pear trees in front. After setting up the tent we retired to the covered and lit patio area to read, write, and prepare dinner. Hopefully we will return to hilly landscapes along the river soon – not hills to bike over, but hills to bike past! Although the area is gorgeous and I think we made a good decision to come here, the constantly changing path in the Czech Republic made the biking slightly more interesting, although also much more challenging. I am not ready to say that I miss the hills exactly, but there is something about barely making it up a massive hill that makes you feel like you’ve really pushed yourself. I think we will do much longer days of biking here, however, and also are keeping a much higher biking pace, so those things will keep us challenged in different ways.

         

Day 3, Oct 1: Fall to Au, 51 km.

Throughout the night we listened to the twee-twee-thunk of apples and pears falling from the trees all around our tent. With more rain in the night, we woke to a wet tent and a still-empty campground. We dried the tent as well as we could in the damp morning, then set off along the route. After a short ways we found a ferry and decided to cross the river to the north side, tempted by the purple line in our map book that promised a cycle-only path. This was another of the ferries attached to a massive wire strung across the river. This ferry, unlike the one of this ilk we took before in the Czech Republic, was a pretty large boat. While waiting for the crossing we chatted with four Germans on rented bikes, and then enjoyed the quick and silent crossing of the boat as it used the current to propel itself across the river.

On the north side we found the route was along a busy road. Although we were in a cycle-only lane, it was only set apart from the road by a stretch of grass about a foot wide. The discomfort of such proximity to a busy round was compounded by the path being on the inside of the lane, meaning that we had trucks hurtling towards us at 100 kph as opposed to alongside us. We made our way to Linz before too long. We crossed the bridge into a large square and chose a fancy café with wifi to sit in. In addition to our requisite espressos, we enjoyed a slice of the traditional – and delicious – Linzer Torte. Linz seems like a classy town, both in terms of the apparent wealth of the place and the preservation of the buildings in the areas we saw. After a long time in town checking email and looking for a place in Vienna to stay, we crossed the river again to the north side to find a EuroSpar in which to restock food and then picked a bench along the river for lunch. After lunch we continued on the north side, along better routes.

At the edge of Mauthausen we took a detour up a massive, heart-exploding hill to see the memorial at the former concentration camp. Mauthasen was the largest camp in Austria, and seems to have become the administrative center for dozens of other satellite camps later in the war. We arrived at the camp later than expected, due both to longer distances and the massive hill, and found that we did not have places to store our bags because the visitor’s center closed before the camp did (and the staff were also incredibly surly and unhelpful). I decided to stay with the bags and bikes to let Shachaf go into the camp for the last half hour before it closed. Afterwards we were able to bike to the other side of the camp so that I could see the huge field of memorials from each nation that had citizens imprisoned here. The memorials were universally striking and heart-wrenching. Some were figurative, others more abstract, and some were simply words. Although it would have been even more powerful and horrible to go into the camp to see all that is preserved of the atrocities and suffering that took place here, seeing the memorials was something profound as well. I can’t imagine a way to adequately write about experiencing a place like this, a site in which 100,000 people were murdered.

We biked back down the hill into town and along dark cycle lanes into Au, a small village right at the Donau, to find the camping reception closed. A nearby gasthaus let me use their phone to call the camping site manager, and he thankfully gave me the gate code and said we could pay in the morning. We set up camp and made dinner, using the free internet to do more looking for places in Vienna. This was an exhausting day; even though we did not do many kilometers, the hill and the site at its peak were physically and emotionally draining.

            

Day 4, Oct. 2: Au a.d. Donau to Marbach, 61 km.

Shachaf decided yesterday that we should start our mornings with a heartier breakfast, so today we began with big bowls of oatmeal filled with nuts, dried fruit, and fresh banana. The oatmeal did seem to help – along with the flat, largely uninterrupted path of the morning – to power us through the first half of our distance for the day. Shachaf also found in the morning that he had left one of his water bottles in the vistor’s center at Mauthausen, in the midst of an incredibly unhelpful receptionist telling us that we could not use the lockers.

Before leaving the camping area, however, we had to check in and pay. The guys working at the reception were both exceptionally friendly, giving us suggestions about Vienna. We spent some time online before biking out for the day, looking for places in the city and also securing our reservation for a great looking hostel in Budapest which a friend living in the city recommended.

Once we left Au the path was flat and right next to the river for most of the middle of the day, giving us 30 kilometers of great and speedy biking. We passed through some small towns on quick detours away from the river, seeing that there was also flooding on the Danube in 2002 that covered houses past the first story. Several of the small towns here have taken a dramatic approach in anticipation of further high water events, constructing piled earth barriers around their towns, replete with severe concrete gateways into town that we assume could be closed as the water approached. These new-medieval walled towns opened into corn-filled fields, a result of the boom in biomass use in Europe in recent years. We have heard from several people that corn has invaded the landscape of this region only recently.

For lunch we stopped in the larger town of Grein, sitting on a bench in the small main plaza right under the oldest town theater in Europe. We enjoyed our lactose-free cheese, vegan spread, hearty bread, and kohlrabi lunch, and then had espresso at a plaza café that had internet. After lunch we chose to stay on the north bank, which turned out to be a poor choice. The path evaporated after town, leaving us on a wide-shoulder of the now very busy road. Large trucks roared past us, and in a few places the shoulder even disappeared and we had to bike on the road itself. We crossed the road to bike along the incredibly narrow sidewalk for a short distance, as biking on the road itself was quite scary. When we stopped for a break mid-frightening path, we saw that the river is quite gorgeous here, and the towns we were passing through hosted picturesque pastel houses crowded in turns in the river.

The path returned after about 10 kilometers, and we biked through some further towns and back to a cycle-only lane. In the mid-evening we arrived in Marbach, finding the camping thankfully open. After allowing the tent cover to dry we set up camp and decided to go to the pizzeria across the road for dinner instead of trying to find the grocery shop in town to complete our dinner.

     

Day 5, Oct. 3: Marbach to Traismauer, 70 km.

The landscape today was again studding, and improved even more by the sunny weather. In the morning we biked just along the river, under the ruins of castles and through small villages. We made a quick stop in Emmersdorf to look unsuccessfully for wifi but got to see their adorable winding streets and very old paintings on building façades. After town we biked into an area of vineyards, with terraces reaching high up the hillsides.

Mid-day we made a stop in Willendorf to see the archaeological site where, in 1908, a Venus figurine dating to approximately 22,000 BCE was excavated. Although the museum with the actual figurine on display was closed, I walked around the excavation site itself, which is perched on the hillside with amazing views along this stretch of the river. It is clear to see why there has been tens of thousands of years of continual human habitation at this site.

Following the stop we continued through more countryside and villages, past people harvesting grapes, and into the town of Spitz. During our long lunch stop in Spitz we confirmed a reservation for an apartment in Vienna and then enjoyed the river and sunshine. Realizing that the day was getting ate, we took a rope ferry across to the south/east bank to continue on our way. After the crossing we met a German couple from Stuttgart who are about to complete a 13,000+ km trip through Poland, Russia, the Caucas Mountains, Turkey, Romania, etc. We had a wonderful conversation with them standing alongside the road, only continuing on once we realized how late the evening was becoming. Their story is incredibly inspiring, although hearing that they once had to push their bikes uphill for 9 hours because of the steepness and bad surface did not really encourage me that such biking would be my cup of tea.

We biked through more vineyards and small town into the evening, then into the darkness for a long section of good path just along the river. We made the turn to bike into Traismauer to find the campsite a few kilometers from the river. Again we are the only campers, with just one other couple here in a caravan on the back of their truck. Dinner and early bed, exhausted and ready for Vienna tomorrow!

   

Day 6, Oct 4: Traismauer to Vienna, 73 km.

Again we had rain in the night and a wet tent to deal with in the morning. Another big breakfast helped to power us through the long day ahead. We were quickly back at the river, and headed towards the town of Tulln. We had expected to arrive quite quickly to the town, but somehow we’d misestimated the distance it was actually almost 30 km away. The weather was lovely, however, and the biking quite easy. We raced cruises and container ships along the river, and passed a few big biking groups, including a group skinny dipping in the river! In Tulln we had coffee in the fairly posh main square. On the way out of town we saw the Egon Schiele museum (he was born here) but at the moment we didn’t remember who he was so we – sadly – didn’t go in. Fortunately we were able to see much of his work in Vienna.

Out of town we biked over a large bridge onto the north side of the river and down along a great, cycle-only path right at the riverside for many kilometers. The path was mostly empty of people, so we biked alongside each other chatting about the day and planning for Vienna. We were so engrossed in conversation that we didn’t realize that the rope sitting in the path ahead was actually a snake until we were almost on top of it! Somehow we swerved to either side of it, both missing the snake and also staying on our bikes. The adrenaline from that encounter fueled us a little longer before we stopped for lunch at the idyllic spot along the river.

We continued along the great path after lunch, only heading inland to bypass a massive dam and then again in the town just before Vienna. Here we stopped for coffee at a little imbiss with a bizarre tropical theme in the middle of an industrial area. Between this town and Vienna the path veered onto an island in the Danube that is a huge park. Here the route was filled with bikers, joggers, rollerbladers, dog-walkers, and many other people enjoying the afternoon. We finally found ourselves in the middle of the city, and crossed the bridge – under the roadway and alongside the subway – to finish our path at Stephensplatz, the plaza surrounding a huge church in the center of town. We found ourselves surrounded by milling tourists and also in the center of an international animal’s day celebration where dozens of dogs were gathered with their owners. To celebrate finishing another stage of the route we tried sturm, the early fermentation of grape juice on its way to become wine, and had a large but tasteless pretzel. With the evening dimming and rain threatening, we biked to the apartment we were renting for a lazy night in Vienna.