Distance cycled as of 22 April: 1830 km
Since leaving Stuttgart we cycled down to Ulm, a lovely old university town, where we picked up the Donauradweg, a bike path that runs all the way from Ulm (which is near the start of the Danube) to Vienna, Budapest and onto the end of the Danube at the black sea. We took several days to complete the first section from Ulm to Passau, which was pleasant but not signposted well enough, resulting in lots of zig-zagging, some backtracking and even some unintentional off-roading through a forest! Nonetheless it was an enjoyable few days, particularly because of the lovely and well-preserved Bavarian style towns that we passed through, such as Donauworth, Ingolstatd and Regensburg. Ingolstatd stands out because of the youth hostel we stayed in, which was housed in a wonderful old fortress. According to the attendant, the room we stayed in used to house a cannon! The weather was mostly reasonably kind to us, apart from on the day that we cycled from Regensburg to Passau. At over 120km, this was one of our longer days. It was going fine until lunchtime – the path was smooth and flat and we had a bit of a tailwind so we were flying along – but then the heavens opened. We can honestly say that the rain we experienced for the final 2 hours of the ride was the most torrential we have ever seen other than in movies. To top it off, it was accompanied by regular hailstorms and even a thunderstorm! However it did encourage us to cycle fast and we arrived into Passau in record time, albeit looking like drowned rats. We had planned on camping but decided that the youth hostel was looking much more appealing, although just typical it was located at the top of the highest point around, with a 22% gradient to reach it – ouch!
We had a day off the bikes in Passau, where we met up with Christine’s parents who came out to spend a week cycling from Passau to Vienna with us. Thankfully they had booked the train rather than the plane to get there and back, otherwise they might not have been able to come out after all. We then spent 6 days cycling the route, which was fabulous. That section of the Donauradweg is the best known and is indeed the most popular cycle route in Europe, because it is very scenic and incorporates numerous historic and pretty towns and villages. Even better it was completely flat, which combined with the fact the fact that we were cycling at a rather leisurely pace, staying in guesthouses rather than camping (courtesy of Christine’s parents who kindly treated us to our accommodation all week) and having numerous coffee stops, made for a nice relaxing week. It was nice to do the route in the off-season, as the path apparently becomes very busy during the peak season – think the M25 in rush hour but with bicycles – as it was we only saw a few other cycle tourists. Quite amusingly however, the cyclists we did see we kept bumping into. In fact this was to become a feature of the week. In Passau we found ourselves sharing a dorm with a couple of guys that we had met in a campsite just outside of Ulm a few days earlier, who are doing a similar trip and who left the UK the day before us. We also met up with Dean, who also left the UK shortly before us on a similar trip and who it transpired was in Passau at the same time. Dean was cycling with an American guy called Matt, and we kept bumping into them all the way to Vienna, which was great. And we also ran into Greg, who we met in a hostel in Saarbrucken a week or two earlier. Remarkably, all of these meetings were completely coincidental! We hope to meet up with some of these guys again later on in the trip, and are definitely looking forward to swapping stories.
We arrived in Vienna this morning and will spend tomorrow sightseeing. It feels a bit funny to be here because we were here for a long weekend just six months ago – although we flew last time! Still can’t quite believe we have cycled all the way here. After leaving here we will head to Bratislava and onto Budapest, and then into Serbia and further East – the list of countries that we have visited is growing fast!