The Danube was one of my key markers for traversing Europe, with a lack of contours scarcely imaginable on my detour into the Swiss alps, it always seemed like the ideal path to warm my fresh legs into the touring world. Once the frontier of the Roman Empire, it now hosts the far more important task of guiding my route for the next few weeks. Having previously made arrangements to meet my parents for a couple of days in Vienna, I was to ride along its well trodden banks into the illustrious Austrian capital for Friday. From Munich this involved taking a much less direct route, totalling just under 350 miles in five days, but with less climbing and hopefully less snow than I’d experienced in single days previous, I was hopeful for a good weeks riding.
Before this could begin, I was due a weekend off in Munich. With the Bavarian capital on my doorstep, I was excited to free myself from the dated decor that adorned my room and properly explore the city. Taking an unexpectedly cultural step, I headed off to a science museum with my new friend and Spanish roommate Agosta. After a few hours I remembered I’d spent the last four years studying Chemistry, and instead decided to focus on the other half of my degree life, which of course, is drinking. Leaving my new Spanish friend still fascinated by the workings of the astronomy section, I homed in on the nearest Irish bar to further expand my cultural horizons. Fixated on the six nations, I watched a tense England hold off Wales at Twickenham, before heading back for some grub.
Prior to arriving in Munich, I had already read about a new club that had opened in the city. Promising to be Munich’s answer to Berlin, I’d already made up my mind that I would be in attendance. If I have to go on my own, well, so be it. Already well acquainted with the dichotomy of DJing late into the night and cycling the next day, which plagued my university career, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. A few lonely beers in the common room was followed by riding across a freezing Munich, complete with snow storm and crazy taxi drivers. Eventually I arrived back at the museum… Initially thinking google maps was trying to make up for my lack of culture, I was not best pleased! It had taken me 40 minutes to weave my across the city, now a human snowman wandering the streets at 1am, I needed to find this place fast. How dare I question google, it turns out the club is inside a now disused part of the museum… Well this would probably be the first time I partied in a museum but this whole trip is about experiencing culture. Right? I was briskly whisked in, told mobile phones were not allowed to be used in the club, before they put some stickers over my phone cameras for good measure. Excited to remove my thoughts on Physics that occupied my mind earlier in the day, I danced to the sounds of Munich local Skee Mask and Berlin legend Answer Code Request.
Arriving back at the hostel I was determined to up-keep the unwritten hostel etiquette code, which, mainly consists of ‘don’t be an arse’. Quietly unlocking the room door at 5:30am I was faced with one of the stranger sites I’d come across in a hostel. The main light was on and one peculiar looking guy was noisily ‘washing’ his KFC uniform in a plastic box, despite four other people being asleep. Making eye-contact we silently acknowledged that clearly I’d been out for a large one, still unsure if what I was witnessing was actually taking place, I hopped into bed and conked out without questioning him. My three hours of glorious sleep came to a close, due a need to attend the all you can eat buffet breakfast. As a touring cyclist the offer of unlimited food overcomes all other of life desires, as such I had three helpings of everything before cheekily making up rolls for lunch. Having foolishly promised Agosta I’d be making the 10 am walking tour, there was no more time for sleep. The tour turned into drinking beers in the Mariemplatz square, where the carnival was just starting to kick off. Locked into the epicentre of carnival festivities, I forgot about sleep for a little while; bemused by the crazy costumes and jovial Bavarians, things were heating up in the city. Figuratively of course, it was still snowing.
Throughout the journey so far I have been relying on a bike-touring couchsurfing website (www.warmshowers.com) for almost all of my accommodation. People generously let you stay in their house for free, often cooking you dinner and almost always involves chatting into the wee hours about various bike trips. In a few short weeks I must’ve stayed with at least 15 hosts from all walks of life. Some have cycled only to the shops whilst others have gone around the world multiple times. If there was ever anything to restore my faith in humanity, then the generosity I have received from warmshowers hosts would be it. Occasionally there aren’t any hosts in the regions I am cycling through, and eager not to be camping in -10 if I can help it, I may resort to finding a dead cheap airbnb. This was to be the case for Monday night. After my previous airbnb cancelling, I quickly found one for a tenner right en route for the next evening. Perfect.
A snowy send off was nothing less than I expected from Munich as I slowly cycled to the river Isar. Finding the snow had settled on the cycle path I didn’t have much choice but to battle on, hoping it would stop. It didn’t stop. Well what proceeded for the next hour was akin to a pathetic scene from Blue Planet. Back wheel going all over the shop, I was fish tailing like crazy along this cycle path, nearly joining the freshwater fish in the Isar for a swim at points. Quickly losing patience, I headed for the main road and got on my way.
Stopping only to take in the unexpectedly beautiful scenery of Landshut town centre, I was eating into the 70 miles riding much faster than expected. A tailwind furthered my efforts, pushing me into the countryside and the tiny village of Ottering; a few miles west of the Isar. My airbnb host welcomed me into his traditional 1850 abode, confessing that he wasn’t expecting me so soon and yet needed to make up my room. I waited in the corridor whilst Markus sorted things out upstairs, duly taking note of the rather plush bar complete with a marble top and UV lights, which I assumed were probably not original to this building. Markus told me how he was restoring the house to hopefully sell to a family in the coming years. Not wanting to burst his bubble that perhaps a young family don’t really want a fancy bar in the lounge, I kept quiet.
It was only 3 pm yet Markus insisted on getting me a second beer before pouring himself a couple of shots of rum, this was all a bit weird. He drove taxis in Munich and wakes up a 1 pm so this was his equivalent of a 9 am drinking session, the man was on one. Conversation soon got onto music and with hearing that I was into my techno, Markus couldn’t contain himself, beckoning me towards the bar he began to play some electro out of a colossal system; himself dancing away. Hearing that I was a DJ he soon invited me to play one of his summer parties, asking ‘what parties are these?’ I could’ve answered his question before he did as everything suddenly slid into place in my mind. ‘Ah man I throw big sex parties in this house, they’re great’ he replied animatedly. Right, of all things you probably should never say to your airbnb guest, admitting that your house is an active swinger location is probably right up there. He followed up with another clanger by taking me up to my room and showing me that the ceiling contained hundreds of UV lights that the girls ‘love’. Just what I wanted to hear. Buoyed by the fact that my bed was ‘new’ and apparently hadn’t been used yet, I left at this point an extremely pissed Markus dancing around the lounge to mix I’d introduced to him. After frantically searching amazon for a bio-suit with immediate air-drop delivery, I piled my panniers against my door and hopped into my sleeping bag for the night. I swiftly packed my things early the next morning and set off into a cold crisp day. Determined to put in some early miles between me and that weird place, I pedalled hard for mighty Danube.
Reaching the river, the temperature soared for the first time in what felt like weeks to five degrees. I celebrated by sitting on the riverbank and leisurely eating my sandwiches. I followed the river to my next hosts house on the Germany-Austrian border. A beautiful university city; Passau looked most welcoming. I had to remind myself that after last nights remote German swinging house, almost anything would seem appealing. Peter is a student at the University and we were all soon laughing at my tale of the night before with his flatmates. Despite having exams that week, all were keen to introduce me to some local beers, talk bikes and then watch the champions league. I felt right at home and very reluctantly packed my things away the following morning. So reluctantly in fact that I didn’t hit the road until late. Realising that I still did have a good few miles to make up that day, I plugged in some tunes (something that I rarely do unless the riding gets boring) and firmly rooted the bum to the Brookes.
Riding east from Passau, the Danube is breathtakingly beautiful. Flanked by steep banks and millpond still water, I began stopping every couple of minutes to photograph every sweeping twist and turn. Soon the river straightened out, and with nothing to see I cycled into yet another snowstorm towards Linz. The city greeted me with beautiful modern buildings colourfully lit to the black backdrop of the imposing night. I’d have liked to spend some time seeing the city, but I was on a schedule to reach my next hosts house in time for dinner! Peter and Claudia has cooked up a huge portion of lasagne that one can only truly be appreciated after a cold day on the bike. They had recently completed a crazy two year ride around Europe, Iceland, Canada and South America on a recumbent tandem. I eagerly listened to their stories from the road before reading ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’ to their 6 month old. The sounds of ‘Swishy swoshy’ grass whirled round and round my head that night!
Peter cycled the first 5km with me the next morning which was a really nice gesture, giving me a hug and wishing me all the best on my adventure. Spoken by someone who really understood what I was undertaking, it unexpectedly gave me a real boost for the days riding. A boost I really needed as I was to propel Tina 85 miles along, what I had been warned would be, 70 miles of mind-numbingly dull river. Mind-numbing it was and the miles really dragged by. In my eyes, boredom on a bike is much more difficult to overcome than mountains. Combine that with a headwind and I was on for real mental battle.
Only late into the afternoon did the steep ridges return to the riverside, chateaus springing up by their side, all surrounded by immaculate vineyards. I could’ve been back in the Alsace, the place was stunning. I would later find out that this Wachau region is actually a Unesco world heritage site and produces some renowned wines. As darkness fell I bumped into my host Fredricke as she was finishing her run (clearly it’s very easy to spot the touring cyclist). We cooked dinner together as she told me about her extensive bike touring career to date, before she gave me a quick walking tour of the city. Barely able to keep my eyes open I was fast asleep on the sofa by 10, preparing myself for the final stint to Vienna tomorrow. Greeted by heavy rain as I woke, I grumpily went about my morning routine, adding an outer waterproof shell to my standard attire. Despite sleeping well I was still exhausted.
The next 50 miles were really a blur, I listened to the T20 cricket before it moved on to rugby league, which despite my lack of interest I couldn’t be bothered to turn off, such was my mood. I listened to Leeds get hammered by Melbourne, strangely finding myself slowly drawn into the commentary willing Leeds on to get any points. I pushed hard to the disgruntled sounds of a northern commentator, finding myself in the centre of Vienna by mid day. I had made it! No thrills and thankfully no spills; I was here on time and with time to properly spend a day with my parents. The mind-numbing miles that had featured heavily in the past few days were soon forgotten, and although they will surely continue as I follow on downstream, I can relax properly for this weekend.