Bicycling the Danube
By June Wheeler, Sep 01, 2012 – Sep 12, 2012
Aug 26, 2012
As is my tradition, I'm testing the iPad and the new blog website called "Pedal Press" hosted by Experience Plus, our tour guides.
So far I love it - as with most Apple tools, it is very clear and easy to navigate. I think the process of posting the blog will be quite streamlined.
I'm finding it quite hard this time to anticipate dropping Bess off at the sitter's - an irrational feeling, as Bess has a wonderful place in the home of a good friend and her husband, our vet no less. But I'm pretty attached to her so it's never easy.
On the other hand, most everything has gone well, reservations are confirmed, and by 12 noon Tuesday 8/28 we should be in the heart of Munich. We sightsee there until Friday morning, when we hop on a train to Regensburg and the start of the bike adventure Saturday 9/1. There is so much to look forward to!
Thanks for following along - I will do my best to journal each day starting Tuesday night 8/28 and ending on 9/16. Here we go!
(p.s. I'm not sure how the photo captions post, but you can see them if you click on or tap the photo in Pedal Press)
Tuesday August 28 thru Thursday August 30: Pre-BikeTour in Munich
After arriving at the Pension Gartnerplatz at noon on Tuesday, we decided to take a walk around the Marienplatz (photo 1) (tourist mecca and adjoining outdoor market) to keep ourselves awake and shake off the effects of 15 hours in transit. While I'm sure they don't work for everyone, Peter and I have found that "No Jet-Lag" pills are truly effective in helping us adapt to the 7- hour time difference. We snacked heavily (photo 2), napped, and strolled the neighborhood-it is an extremely young and vibrant street scene. We marveled at the number of people out enjoying the banks of the Isar River, only a short walk from the Pension (photo 3). We ate a light dinner and slept well with the help of Tylenol PM (thanks again to Carolyn Savage for that great travel tip)!
Wednesday's plan was to spend as much time as we could at the Deutsches Museum (photo 4), the largest science and technology museum in the world. It was an astounding collection and we could only scratch the surface in our six- hour visit. Highlights included a fantastic Energy Technology section, one of the "Enigma" encoding machines from WWII, a Pharmaceuticals section with a model of a human cell magnified 350,000 times, and countless other fascinating objects. It made our heads spin!!!
Thursday was a museum day of another stripe - we strolled up the pedestrian zone (why can't we do no-car zones at home?) and visited the Museum District's three major museums: Alta Pinakothek, with art up to the 18th century, Neue Pinakothek with 18th to early 20th century art, and finally the Pinakothek der Modern. We saw many marvelous Flemish works at the Alta - can anybody tell me why Dutch painters always included at least one dog in their paintings for a 200-year span ? I love it, but have not found any scholarly treatises explaining the reason for dogs in all these works.
We ended another marathon museum session with dinner at a marvelous indoor marketplace that opened last year. It was a former corn storage warehouse that sat empty for ages. The restaurant was on the mezzanine level (photo 5) loved the architecture and loved the gorgeous fruit and veggie displays even more! (photo 6).
We finished the day walking in a light rain back to our lodgings. Peter sketched the view from our balcony (photo 7) as the rain intensified, and I'm finishing up the blog so I can post it Friday AM before we head for Regensburg and the start of the bike tour. We have a bit less than 2 days in Regensburg before hitting the Danube trail Sunday morning. Guten nacht to all...
P.S. Thank you for the ride to the airport Wendell!
We left our Pension at 10:30 am and had some time to kill at the Munich train station. For the cost of two cups of coffee we enjoyed comfy seating and unlimited Wifi!
The Munich train station is a very dynamic place that has no peer in the U.S. (photo 1). Our train ride to Regensburg was particularly enjoyable as we struck up a conversation with a 20-something couple who boarded with their bikes and panniers. They were headed off for a week of touring and camping. We greatly enjoyed learning a bit about their lives in Munich and their upcoming bike trip. The trains are very accommodating for bicyclist, with compartments designed specifically to tether bikes and jump seats right near them.
We arrived in Regensburg at 3:30 pm and it was a pleasant 10 minute walk via pedestrian-only streets to our hotel, the Muencher Hof. As we checked in, our bike buddies Nancy and Bill happened to come in as well - it was so great to see them and celebrate our safe arrivals!
Peter and I had not had lunch so we decided to plunge right in and visit the Wurstkuche, a sausage and sauerkraut kitchen that has been serving continuously since 1346, when the stone bridge was built over the Danube. We had to brave some tour crowds but eventually found ourselves alone in the old dining space (photo 2). We loved their sausages and kraut so much we had it for lunch again on Saturday!
The 14th century stone bridge was a highlight as well - great views of the old city (photos 3 & 4 - look directly below the spire in photo 4 and that's the Wurstkuche!) Despite the drizzle we loved walking around the narrow streets and soaking in the Bavarian vibe.
Saturday brought cloudy but dry skies - we spent the morning in the City Museum of Regensburg learning about the Roman settlements there starting in 179 AD. They had great artifacts and models on display (photo 5). Inspired, we found the remnants of the Porta Pretorius (Roman gate) that have been restored, inset into a modern building (photo 6). We also got a kick out of a youthful and somewhat off-key Oompah band that was playing on the steps of St. Peter's church (photo 7).
Peter went off to sketch the stone bridge (photo 8) and I meandered around the old city enjoying the people-watching. When we finally both returned to the hotel it was time for bike-fitting and test rides (photo 9.) The official start of our tour included introductions, followed by an awesome dinner at "the Prince's Brewhouse" - dessert was especially delicious batter-dipped deep-fried apple rings!
Our group of 12 cyclists and 3 guides will hit the trail tomorrow after 9 am on our first bike day - after 5 days off the bike we are ready to go!
Regensburg to Deggendorf
A fabulous biking day - it grew warmer and sunnier as the day progressed and we had zero issues with the route, bikes and our various body joints! A most delightful 59 miles.
Enjoy the picture essay and captions - so much more descriptive than I could ever muster with my words.
As I'm typing, Peter is sketching the church tower in Deggendorf's center before we run out of light. After touring the abbey in Metten we joined some of our fellow cyclists for a beer there in the Biergarten - and before you know it, we were pulling up to the hotel at 6 pm! We are so wild and crazy (not). I will include the sketch of the day in the photo essay. More fun to come tomorrow..
Cycling into Austria
Wonderful biking and no rain! It was a flat and fast ride to Passau, and we were at the Hotel Weisser Hase by 12:30 pm. This left us lots of time to walk around this richly historic city. At 5 pm we were treated to a guided "living history" tour that began at City Hall and ended at the Bishop's palace. It was so well done - we were very impressed with our guide's memory for names in our group, as well as her historic narrative and dramatic flair!
Dinner was a complete delight of mushroom soup, pork loin with spinach and pasta, and a fabulous dessert that included a nougat-filled dumpling -wow. Good thing tomorrow's ride is 99km! Guten nacht!
Passau to Linz
The most amazing day imaginable, here goes:
*Breakfast at 7:30, biking on the Danube bike path by 8:30
*Amazing vistas and the "border crossing" into Austria
*A ferry ride across the Danube to Schlogen and the start of 27km of bike nirvana
*Riverside lunch (fabulous food) in Aschach
*The most gorgeous agricultural land imaginable
*Arriving in Linz - we LOVE our hotel right on the main plaza
*Having a huge slice of Linzertorte right smack in the epicenter of its invention
*Walking the city while Peter sketches
*Enjoying a glass of wine and a presentation by the hotel owner on the history of the hotel
*Getting a much-needed lick on the nose by an English Cocker Spaniel named Clooney (yes, named after George Clooney) in the hotel lobby
*Peter mentioning he saw a sign for a Bruckner piano concert; we look up Anton Bruckner and learn that today is the anniversary of his birth, and that he played for 13 years in the very church the concert is being held (he was born in Linz)
*Attending the Bruckner concert at 8 pm - wonderful
*Grabbing a slice of pizza and walking the bridge over the Danube to the Arts Electronic museum, to watch the daily evening light show created by thousands of colored LED lights
*Walking back to the hotel at 10 pm - what a day!
Enjoy the photo journey for today!
Linz to Grein der Donau
An abbreviated blog today - need some rest! Great riding that included a sobering visit to Mauthausen, a concentration camp memorial site. Pictures and captions are posted. We are ready for a good night's rest and hopefully good weather, as it rained very heavily here around 7 pm!
On to Vienna in 2 days....
Grein der Donau to Duernstein
The day started with a charming ferry ride across the Danube and included a memorable visit to the Benedictine Abbey at Melk. We especially wanted to tour the Abbey as it is a destination for many St. John's prep students doing a study year abroad.
I am eating way too much great Austrian bread and pastries! Thank goodness we are biking, not just for the caloric benefit but because it offers such a fantastic close- up encounter with our environment. The biking from Melk to Durnstein is some of the most beautiful and charming scenery Peter and I have ever experienced in our 8 Experience Plus trips!
We greatly enjoyed a tour of Durnstein's largest winery and capped off the day with another delicious dinner. Tomorrow is a 102km ride into Vienna on some of the busiest bike paths in Europe - it will be very exciting to enter by bicycle into the heart of city life.
Enjoy the photos and ride along!
Duernstein to Vienna
(Note - I fell behind in posting Peter's sketch from Grein on 9/5 so it will appear first in this post)
We left our gorgeous hotel in Durnstein with some regret, as the day before was so busy it left little time to explore - and we had almost 100km to ride to Vienna ahead of us.
The ride had no major attractions on the way except for greatly changing scenery leaving the Wachau wine region and entering the "big city". However, as we pulled into our lunch stop at Tulln, I noticed a sign for the Egon Schiele Museum just down the bike path. So, after a naughty lunch of coffee and sweets, Peter and I stayed behind to go to the museum - Peter is a huge fan of Schiele's work - and it was a big surprise to us to find it as we did not know that Tulln was his birthplace.
The remaining 40km was highlighted by a fabulous tailwind that helped us get to the hotel in less than 2 hours, even with the stop and go city biking. I do love the challenge of crowded urban bike paths; it is somewhat like a video game that tests your reactions and skill. We love our uber-modern room at the Novotel Wien City and have our game plan set for our "rest day" tomorrow.
Before meeting the group at 7 Peter and I snacked at a cafe in the busiest plaza in all of Vienna - check out Peter's sketch done table side!
Dinner at the Griechenbeisl was marvelous - Google them if you want to see more of this restaurant's history which goes back to 1350!
Enjoy the photos!
Rest Day in Vienna
The very high highlights:
1. Ringside seats to the Lipizzaner horse performance at the Spanish Riding School. Not to be missed for horse lovers like me, and Peter enjoyed it as well!
2. The Wien Museum's collection of Bruegel paintings, largest in the world. I last saw it in 1980 in Vienna on my post-graduation grand tour and it was equally if not more thrilling this time around, 32 years later.
3. The special exhibition of Egon Scheile's work at the Leopold Museum, Peter's favorite. It did not disappoint!
Add in a lovely lunch at an outdoor cafe in the Museum Quarter with clear blue skies and temperatures in the high 70's, plus a scrumptious piece of Sachertorte at the Sacher Hotel, and you have another memorable day on the tour - enjoy the photos!
Vienna to Bratislava
We left Vienna on a quiet Sunday morning and were treated to the most beautiful and peaceful exit from a big city that we have ever experienced, so a big "Bravo" to the guides! We cycled through a huge city park that was once the parkland of the Vienna royal family.
We crossed the Danube once again and enjoyed another of the many bike-dedicated bridge sections, which also give us a chance to see some amazing car and train bridges. Once we left the city limits our route turned very rural and peaceful, if not a bit "rugged" on the bike paths...
We enjoyed another ferry crossing to enable us to visit Carnuntum, a uniquely restored Roman settlement that is awesome in scale. The settlement was very prosperous and lasted hundreds of years despite its distance from Rome. Peter and I commented that we are very unaccustomed to such extensive and pristine reconstruction of Roman ruins - as an example, the Roman baths were completely restored to working condition!
We sailed through the final 25km and arrived at the one-time border crossing between Austria and Slovakia. Our guide Robert told us that as late as 1989 we would not have had a very easy time entering Slovakia - a special visa would have been required and even with that, we would likely have been extensively questioned as to why we were cycling there. Now, the only vestiges of that time are an abandoned customs depot and a very nondescript open gate!
Our lodgings are on the Danube - literally - we are staying at the Gracia Botel which sits right in the Danube at Bratislava. We had a very short walk to reach the old town area and found a perfect cafe for Peter to sketch and me to blog as we drink a beer. Looking forward to dinner tonight!
Bratislava to Gyor
The bike route was unremarkable but safe, flat and expedient, and we arrived at our charming hotel in Gyor about 2:15 pm. Highlights include crossing the border into our 4th and last country of the tour, Hungary.
There has been a slow but incessant shift in landscape since we left Vienna yesterday morning (which seems much longer ago than that!) - drier, less prosperous, less populated. But the people we encounter are very friendly and very helpful. As an example, Peter and I were hungry at 11 AM and stopped into a bar marked by our leader Joan. We were looking for goulash, which they did not serve, but through various hand gestures which included hands clasped in prayer (church) and the clasping of her right forearm (on the right side) she accurately directed us to a very nice restaurant just beyond the church and to the right - one which we would have never otherwise found. That was really fun!
Once we cleaned up at the hotel (another charming restored abbey) we strolled over to the main plaza of Gyor in search of a cafe that offered both refreshment and a good sketching vista. We found the right spot and enjoyed a beer and bruschetta - and a great conversation with a young couple at the next table. The husband was from New Jersey and his wife a native of Gyor, and they were living in Miami but moving to Pittsburgh - wow. Such fun!
Dinner was amazing - again! Beautiful room, delicious food and great company. We celebrated our guide Joan's birthday with a spectacular cake. Only two days of biking left...hard to believe we are almost to Budapest and the end of the tour.
A very short blog for a very long ride! We fought heat and headwinds all day and the highlight was a picnic by the Danube at around the 70km point in the ride. At the picnic site I met a fellow bike traveller named Clifford who was in his third month of travel, having started in Spain and crossed the Alps on a very fully loaded bike! It is an Experience Plus tradition to give away a cycling cap to someone you meet on your journey, so Clifford was the one! I'm sure that cap will be seen on every continent in the world, as Clifford was a "professional wanderer" - he left Scotland 20 years ago and has been on a traveling adventure ever since.
Now we are in Esztergom and ready to get a good night's rest before the final bike day to Budapest - we have ridden over 800km so far and are excited to see the "Vienna of Hungary"!
Not many photos or sketches today but I'm sure we will make up for that tomorrow (and Thursday)...
Esztergom to Budapest
We enjoyed cooler, more favorable temperatures, less wind and a route with more shade. The last day of biking featured two ferry crossings that allowed us to bicycle more paths and less roadway, which was appreciated by all.
Peter and I were both admittedly tired. The 83km represented the last 10% of the trip distance and we were feeling the previous 90%. But we do work well together on bikes, so the kilometers passed quickly and we were rolling into Budapest before 3 PM! No flats, no mechanical issues and no owies for 840 km - can't ask for more than that!
We love our hotel (art'otel Budapest) and our room for the next 3+ days has a stunning view of the Danube and the Parliament building (thanks to guides Joan, Robert and Pia for their help in arranging this). Peter went to work immediately and did a wonderful sketch of the Parliament that I will post.
Our last evening's gala dinner was on a boat that cruised the Danube from 7 to 9 PM. The lights, the views, the food and the company were all wonderful. As expected, many of us were comparing notes to pick out our next Experience Plus tour! Love and big thank-you's to our guides and our fellow travelers for their contributions to our great trip memories.
I've posted a few more pictures of the final tour day. Peter and I are staying on for 3 extra days to enjoy Budapest. So far we are enchanted!
Until the next trip...June and Peter