Thursday, 20 December 2012

Festive Greetings and Our Very Best Wishes for a Happy and Peaceful New Year.

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Sunday, 9 December 2012

Correze Cycling Holidays

The enjoyment of this holiday was in no small part due to the venue we had chosen. Over the last couple of years, we have stayed in many a different hostel, hotel, hut and campsite all with differing standards of provision. We are both in agreement that Correze Cycling Holidays ( beat all the other competitors in every category. I know that Sam and James will read this along with, I hope other cyclists, and I want to make it clear that the comments that follow are genuine; the welcome was warm (much, much warmer than the weather), accommodation was equally warm, immaculately presented and  catered for every need; the food was exceptional – being that rare combination of wholesome, carefully sourced and delicious;  the attention to detail did not stop there, as the bikes were seen as an important part of the whole and James was always on hand to assist with maintenance and transport. (Unfortunately an injured back prevented him from riding with us – probably just as well as our pace is somewhat sedentary. It did not, however, prevent him from taking a keen interest in our ventures and transporting us and bikes when necessary.) The cycling in this area caters for all abilities with challenges to suit your ambitions. With quiet roads in beautiful countryside littered with charming villages, many with welcoming bars and cafés, you may be absolutely certain that this is an experience second to none. We much appreciated the company and patience of Sam and James and their family. Thank you all.

Weather Wonderland

It may not have been freezing when we woke but we experienced all of the above with the exception (you have guessed correctly) of the 20 degrees. Nonetheless, it was a day of such weather that we could ride our bikes without snow tyres – perhaps! Optimistically, we selected a route of around 60 kilometres that would take us in a circle – sort of- and return us to our start point at our residence, thus relieving James of any onerous driving. Clad in our now familiar winter clothing which included a set of ski trousers for me and Buffalos for us both, we waved a cheery farewell.
It never ceases to amaze me that a very short climb can transform a slightly damp road surface to one surrounded by snow; amazed I was, therefore, as we found ourselves once more in amongst the white stuff. For the most part the roads were clear enough as long as we stayed out of the gutter so we doggedly stuck to our line and if vehicles had to pull over, so be it. Most of the vehicles anyway belonged to the chasse and were being driven at hectic speed in order to trap some unsuspecting beast. Confident that we were not the quarry and, therefore not likely to catch a bullet, we enjoyed a series of steady climbs in somewhat dubious weather. For a short while our pleasure was marred by the appearance of a particularly heavy fall of sleet but, just as in all good books, relief appeared in the form of a bar/café which served hot coffee and afforded us sufficient respite to recover feeling in feet and hands. (I do sometimes question our definition of pleasure!). It did feel as though we had been climbing for most of the ride so with the cessation of the sleet and a few downhills I questioned a little less. And when we finally arrived at a weeny village called Gimel les Cascades, we were quite bowled over (not literally, thankfully) with its rustic buildings and very steep sided gorge, at the bottom of which could be seen, of course, les cascades! Following a narrow and steep road, we crossed what looked like an old Roman bridge and beheld the falls in all their glory. Fabulous! Our sudden appearance had startled another spectator who gave us a disbelieving stare but then forgot all about these insane cyclists when we were all nearly run down by a motor home. Bear in mind the road width was only marginally wider than the Roman bridge and the Romans, as far as I know, had no motor homes! Leaving the driver to sort out his own dilemma, we stared with at the upcoming climb. Poor old elephant was well chewed.
With the weather threatening to snow, rain or something similar, we made a beeline for home. We had ridden some 60 + kilometres and climbed over 2000 feet. This was to be our last ride of this short but fabulous holiday and we were delighted that, despite being December, we had completed a ride every day.

Birthday Boy

Today is Alan’s birthday! As usual, my attempts at making the day memorable have hit a small wall! Although toasty warm inside, the rain and sleet outside promised a difficult day; in fact riding looked very unlikely. But, we are, after all ‘British’, so at around ten thirty we climbed aboard the bus for a ride downhill to the valley floor convinced that there, the temperatures would be higher and not freezing. Less than five minutes later we were driving through a blizzard! We are nothing if not perseverant so on four snow tyres we continued downward. The snowflakes got bigger and bigger as I shrank from the accusing comments of the boys. BUT Hoorah and hooray, after a coffee, the thaw had begun. Not in a great rush, you understand, but enough to give us the confidence to unload the bikes, put on a few more layers and set off along the river (well the road alongside it) to Beaulieu. I have to point out that temperatures were just shy of plus 2 degrees and it was raining and thus not the ideal weather for a bike ride. A fabulous road, very little traffic and the cessation of rain nonetheless, made this a pleasurable experience. So good was it, that we decided to make the return trip along the other side of the river after we had found something to eat. Boulangeries all shut (it was past 1 o’clock) but a small supermarket, which was ignoring French tradition, was open for sandwiches and chocolate. What I didn’t know was that it was located on a one way street. Blithely riding the wrong way the only vehicle I encountered belonged to the local gendarme who was not impressed by my transgression. After a ticking off and a subsequent abject apology from me, it was decided that I would not have to spend the night in gaol! How thoughtful! Couldn’t he have found a burglar to pick on?
The weather continued its slight improvement even to the extent of little glimpses of blue sky and even littler glimpses of sunshine. We bowled along enjoying this unexpected largesse and caught up with our chauffeur back in Argentan. Safely aboard, warm and wet, which is much better than cold and wet, we returned ‘home’ where another unexpected treat awaited us. Sam had excelled herself with today’s cake. It was a chocolate birthday cake complete with candle and decorated with chocolate leaves (all the creation of our hostess). It may have looked good but it tasted even better! Thank you Sam.
Will it or will it not be frozen tomorrow; will it snow; will it rain; will the sun shine; we must wait and see. I think we can be fairly certain that temperatures will not be a pleasant 20 degrees!

Sun and Snow

We have a skylight in our bedroom and this morning it was covered in snow! However, the cover was light, and although everything outside was frozen, the sun shone in defiance of the cold. A truly beautiful day but could we ride?  Of course we could! Mmmm. The mountains were going to be beautiful today so the decision made over breakfast, was that we would delay the start in the hope that a thaw might set in or at least a partial one. Mmmm. By 10.30, and resembling a couple of Michelin men, we sought out James and the minibus which was to take us to the start of our ride just on the outskirts of Egleton. It is true that the roads were still very icy but ensconced inside a bus with snow tyres we were sanguine about the tour to come. We were less sanguine after negotiating a set of icy steps to the boulangerie and observing the provision of salt on the pavements. Nonetheless ten minutes later, we were unloading the bikes, having a nervous wee behind a convenient bush and bidding a reluctant farewell to our driver and mentor. Six or seven kilometres later, we must leave the mainish road and take on the less salted variety. James was waiting for us. For a few hundred metres it looked as if conditions were going to defeat us but not so. The ice surrendered to the sun and the road surface was rideable with care. Persistent sunshine allowed for conditions to improve and exhibit the beauty of the countryside when we had enough breath to appreciate it as we were undertaking some fairly serious climbing. In a charming village we partook of the lunch we had purchased in the valley while perusing the architecture (too cold to sit still), admiring the vista and chewing the cud with an elderly local walking his very, very small dog. If he thought we were mad he hid it well but warning us of shocking weather to come on the morrow. We decided to live for today and so, revitalised, we continued with our climb. Armed with his local knowledge, James had driven to a point where he suspected conditions might be too icy for a continuation on two wheels. Sadly, he was right and we had to finish the last few kilometres on four wheels with an engine. Disappointed we might have been, but the views from the top more than compensated for that. Add in James’ valiant attempt at boiling a kettle on a small gas stove, and we were ecstatic. That the kettle took nigh on half an hour to boil mattered not at all as we took photos of everything including the reluctant kettle. Anyway tea is always better for a wait – maybe.
High Tea
Clearly, the cycling was over for the day but it had been memorable for all the right reasons and endorsed our original desire to visit this area of France. Our grateful thanks to James, without whom none of the cycling would have been possible as conditions were so unreliable and changeable. With a bus and driver monitoring progress it allowed us to maximise the amount of cycling we could do.

Birthday Treat

Now some people have a birthday bash on their special day; some people take an exotic holiday; many people just carry on as normal especially when the years are something to be counted backwards! And some lucky people can take a biking holiday in December! So we find ourselves in a region of the Correze some two hours from home with two bikes (no trailers!) and lots of hills and valleys. It is also true that temperatures are just on the plus side of zero and the rain and sleet have not been shy in putting in an appearance. Sensibly, we/Alan have selected a base from which to cycle which requires no canvas of any kind and no cooking on a camp stove. All meals provided, log fires to lounge around after a day of cold and wet and a bed of great warmth and comfort! (Much more about this great place later)
This morning, our first, the weather promised not a lot and indeed, delivered exactly that. However, our base has been designed by cyclists for cyclists, so we even had our route and map provided for us. Despite all this first class organisation, decisions on what clothing to don occupied us for a very long time! Inevitably, having wrapped up to combat the cold and wet, we needed to unwrap to use the loo! Eventually, suitably kitted out and with bikes at the ready, our relieved hosts waved us off. Under normal circumstances, we would have been delighted with the long downhill that began our day’s journey. However, what warmth we possessed when we mounted our bikes dissipated in about thirty seconds and we ran out of hands and feet in about forty five! Never has a promised uphill looked so attractive! An additional bonus of uphill riding is the views that appear on route. We are very familiar with trees as those of you who have had the patience to read previous blogs will know. But at this time of the year they possess a different quality; that of being devoid of leaves, thus allowing vast glimpses of villages and mountains which in the spring and summer would be obscured. Even winter has its up-side. The downside of all these leaves departing their parent tree is the accumulation of slippery debris on the road which does require riding with some caution.
If we thought the roads around our home were quiet, we were to reach new height of quiet. Not a car was to be seen until EDF appeared. Not one, but several blue cars careered around corners narrowly missing oncoming cyclists. (After all who in their right mind would be on a bicycle at this time of the year?) The reason for this proliferation of small vehicles soon became apparent when we encountered and crossed a spectacularly huge dam. The continuation of the ride along the river to Argentat passed without incident and we even managed to buy and quaff a snack lunch sitting on benches in the dry.  Even without the benefit of the garmin’s record keeping, we knew that as Argentat was in a valley and we were living on a mountain top the return ride was going to be uphill! So, no surprises when we reached the base of a climb which did go on a bit……..and then a bit more. On the whole the weather had been pretty indifferent and a degree of complacency had set in. Always dangerous – just ten minutes from ‘home’ a freezing deluge soaked everything down to underwear. We dripped our way into the bike shed, shook off the surface water and carefully, without too much dripping, made our way to the fire, tea and cake! What more could you ask for? We didn’t actually ask, but there followed drinks, (alcoholic), a delicious five course dinner accompanied by lively conversation before sleep enveloped us. Mountains tomorrow!

December 2012

Old Bones are back with bones pretty much intact!
It has to be said that after the disappointment of not making it to the Black Sea, writing the blog took a bit of a nose dive. Actually the effort involved in typing with only one functioning wrist reduced my enthusiasm for communication. However, we have not been inactive during this crashing silence. Even at our advanced age, bones do mend, if somewhat reluctantly. So, despite the dire warnings from the surgeon about the foolhardy nature of bike riding, or more accurately, falling off, we resumed normal service by visiting the hills in the Lot valley in August. This had been our training ground prior to our traverse of the Pyrenees, so it seemed like a good idea and a way of gauging how far the mighty had fallen (me). Quite a long way as it turned out. I spent much time staring into the distance, watching Alan swarming up the hills while I tried to persuade my lungs that they really did have sufficient capacity to feed oxygen to my muscles. My coercion had some limited affect, but not enough for us to ride companionably side by side. It seemed that was still some way off. However, beautiful scenery and lots of warm sunshine can work their own magic. Legs firmed up somewhat and lungs began to co-operate. A week later, we were home again and enthusiastically  (mm……. not sure about the enthusiasm) whizzing (also debateable) around our training circuit. 

Friday, 22 June 2012

Back To Where It Started

Tuesday 19. 06. 2012     Zebegeny – Papsziget  (about 20kms short of Budapest)
Wednesday 20.06.2012   Papsziget  - 
The idea of making a short day of today was so that we could rest awhile and contemplate the navigational rigours of traversing Budapest tomorrow. So we enjoyed a leisurely and unremarkable ride in temperatures which show no sign of decreasing. (Still up in the high 30s). We arrived in the mid afternoon at a fairly dilapidated site. Its appearance may have been disappointing but the facilities were all that we could wish – old, but clean and functional with a very reasonably priced restaurant so I left the stove in the trailer. Always the best place for it! A good meal served by a delightful young man anxious to practice his English (or Irish as he had honed this skill in Dublin), a pretty hot and sticky night in the confines of the tent, and we were ready for Wednesday’s challenge. It was not go exactly to plan!
It had always been my intention to write the blog for these two days together. What I did not know, was that it would be my last! It has to be said that Budapest was not the easiest place to ride. You have to accept that as something of an under-statement. It was a city full of the sound/noise of motor vehicles. It is true, that there was much beauty in the architecture and, no doubt there was much to recommend its offerings to culture but for us, it represented many of the things that modern life seems to require, at the expense of the original wonder. That said, I am sure some of you now are certain that I am a charlatan. Anyway, after a good many wrong guesses (even with two maps) we were well clear of the city when IT happened! My excuse – that I was tired, a bit fraught and very, very hot. Pretty poor excuse I hear you cry. My trailer wheel hit a very upstanding speed bump, flipped over bringing my bike to an abrupt halt catapulting me through the air to land in the dirt. As it was my second fall of the day I had hoped a quick rub and dust down would see me whizzing again. In short time and feeling sick (always a bit of a giveaway) it was clear that the injury sustained by my right wrist this time was not going to respond to a quick ‘kiss it better’. Mmmm….. we knew where we were on our map but had no idea how to pronounce the name and even less how to explain to a taxi or an ambulance where they might find us. We stood looking forlorn for some time while vehicles, disappointingly, gave us a wide birth. It was clear that we must initiate some action or stand like a couple of lemons all day. Bravely, Alan hailed a couple of young girls on bikes. (Pretty too.) I have already commented on the thoughtfulness and kindness of youth and now we encountered it again. One of said lassies spoke very good English and once we had explained our predicament she called the emergency services explaining how to find us. Not satisfied at that act of kindness, she and her friend offered to remain with us until the ambulance (I use that term loosely) arrived. When the vehicle arrived some 20 minutes later, she was able to explain to the medic (and I use that term loosely) what the situation was and more importantly she was able to convey to Alan the name of the hospital they would take me to. I left my poor spouse in hands of our little angels while I was sirened back to Budapest. I really wasn’t that unwell! The journey still took forever and while I was relieved to have survived it, I was less confident about building I was ushered into. To those of us from the west it was a shock, looking much more like a hostel for down and outs than a 21st century hospital. However, the medical treatment, while basic, was efficient and the doctor, very competent. Alone in such a place, and probably looking a bit lost, a very large and unkempt man approached me. Now I don’t do cowering, but with some temerity I acknowledged his ‘Excuse me.’ (in perfect English) ‘Can I get you a coffee or something?’ His kindness nearly had me in tears but I didn’t want to dilute the coffee so generously proffered. I thank him from the bottom of my heart.
Finally, lying with my hand in a rack, my ‘phone rang. It was with much relief that I heard Alan’s voice firstly checking that I was still in one piece and secondly to say, that with much help from les girls, Ramona and Erika, he, bikes and trailers were ensconced in the airport hotel and I should make my way there when the torture was over. Two hours later we were re-united and our voyage was over. Now we await our flight in some luxury and with grateful thanks to Deborah and Brendan, who will collect us from Paris, and we return home somewhat sooner than expected.  
Despite completing just about two thirds of our anticipated journey, the experience, as ever, has been full of interest and human kindness. We have enjoyed the variety of the different environments and cultures, and we have benefitted from the work put in by the organisers of the Eurovelo 6. That, on occasions, when it has been less than perfect, the fault probably lies with local vandalism or sheer ignorance as to the importance of the signs. On this trip we have encountered a plethora of different track surfaces, and it has to be said that some are found wanting. We are all up for a challenge but rutted and muddy without a quality mountain bike are not a lot of fun. Much of the scenery has been glorious even in the rain, of which we have had a goodly amount and the rivers have been endlessly changing as water is wont to do. As ever, we have been cheered by your comments and good wishes and so with heavy heart (no, arm) we bid you adieu with our thanks for your support.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Crash,Bang and a Disconcerting Whallop

Monday  18. 06. 2012  Komaron – Zebegeny   71.6kms
We had an enthusiastic send off from our host. It might just have been that he wanted to make sure that we left, but I don’t think so. (I should mention that Komaron is a Spa town and I suspect we were the only people too tired to take the waters.)

We were in for another hot day and a nostril wind, the latter providing us with at least some cooling properties along with the brakes on bit. We also found our silver brigade – I knew we would. I had just made a foray into TESCO would you believe, and we had drunk our fourth litre of liquid, consumed two ice creams when we saw folk on the cycle track. (Prior to this we were obliged to share the road with an alarming number of trucks, when we had been led to believe that this section of road was truck free!) Anyway, some few minutes later, we came upon a small crowd of cyclists. Thinking that there might be a problem we could help with, we joined their ranks. Three were Australian and the other two were from the UK and following the same E6 route as we were. The only other mad people we have so far come across. We spent a little time swapping stories and experiences and then we made off with renewed vigour. Much of this vigour was due to our not wanting to be overtaken!
We were given to understand that the next section was picturesque and it is true that we had found the river again at last.  It is also true that is was very pretty. We had to take another ferry onto the other side of the river. At this point I took stock of financial resources and deemed it propitious to find a bank and top up. 100 metres into the village a bank emerged which was shut! The ATM however was open. We returned to our signed track and discovered that new paths had been laid and we didn’t have to take to the road. By now, quite/very hot we saw a sign for a hotel which suggested that it welcomed cyclists. After a certain amount of dissension and discussion between husband and wife, we were allocated a room. We were not exactly the subject of the dissension (no smell) but the fact that they were going out and would need to leave the boy in charge. It has been a delightful experience as we dined on the terrace and watched an inspiring sunset. Then suddenly, there was a very loud bang and a part of the railway electricity pylon immediately beside our balcony gave way. At almost the same instant a train appeared around the corner. It was inevitable that something unexpected was going to take place. It did. The train hit the pylon arm, the electrics blew, lots of whizz bangs and flashes and the goods train came to a halt. Such excitement at the end of the day. No person was injured but how long the repairs will take is anybody’s guess. Welcome to Hungary.   


Sunday  17. 06. 2012  Asvanyraro – Komaron   81kms.
Today was hot before 08.00 so we knew we were in for a determined ride. Made breaking camp an easy task as everything was dry. Excellent start. After an hour or so we rode into Gyor, which on the map looked a relatively uncomplicated town to negotiate. Nobody had told the E6 crowd that the roads had been modified and the signs (if there ever were any) had gone walkabout. Mr. Master Navigator faced his most difficult challenge so far. We crossed a bridge, but it was the wrong bridge; we/ he found the correct bridge. At no junction was there any evidence of an E6 sign and Mr. Master Navigator was entirely reliant on a map in a book which was clearly out of date. The sun provided a clue and after a couple more wrong moves, we finally found the right road – which was horrible;
lumpy, potholey and running through an old tumbledown industrial zone. Always up for a challenge, we plunged on, ignoring the dust and the heat and the ever present thirst.  It has to be said that some days are harder than others and this was up there with some of the most demanding. The river seems to have disappeared completely and the scenery has been less than attractive. Just when we thought we were knacked, our track became a dirt road, which deteriorated into a muddy, puddly and very lumpy obstacle. As we emerged from the trees (that was the plus side – shade) we decided enough was enough and began the search for a bed. Camping was a less than popular option, so when we came upon the campsite offering pension (not pension as in “old age” but pension (fr) as in rooms – ed.)  facilities, there was no competition. The proprietor welcomed us with much smiling and arm waving and general good humour. I am not sure if these smiley people know how much they are appreciated by tired cyclists. It is like a tonic. We have a photo of our host and should you find yourself in Komarom, we would recommend the Hordo Panzio. A fine end to quite a long day.

Maligned Youth

Saturday 16.06 2012    Hainburg – Asvanyraro  (Hungary)  79kms
My apologies to the Hungarians for not having the facility to add in all the accents that are due to Asvanyraro. Nonetheless we did make it into Hungary having passed briefly through Slovakia. Bratislava was an unexpectedly attractive city. I am not sure what we expected, but having passed from Germany to The Czech Republic last year and observed such a change in the urbanisation, we had expected something similar. In fact, Bratislava was as tidy as Austria! The waterfront had been updated and now sported a very modern look. There was not one, but two paths following the river!- one for skaters of whom there were loads, all at various levels of skill, and the other for bikes. You were a bit outnumbered if you were merely walking. We seem to have lost much of the silver brigade though; most of these participants were only in their twenties and thirties. I’m sure we shall find the ancients somewhere. The enterprising set had installed a great number of watering holes which sold mostly drinks, and most of those were beer. It seems you don’t need to eat to keep fit.
In a short time we had crossed another invisible border and we were in Hungary. The most challenging aspect of Hungary thus far has been getting to grips with the currency which deals in such huge figures – one Euro is about 300 forints so a visit to the bank required some careful maths before deciding on the withdrawal. 45,000 seems a massive sum but it’s not, as those of you with the mathematical skill to manipulate the numbers, will realise.
It was a beautiful day with a cloudless sky and temperatures rising rapidly. As ever, there was a down side and today it was old nostril wind blowing at about 25 kms. It was like pedalling the last 50 kilometres with the brakes on! Does get a tad tiring. For reasons best known to all the hotels and guest houses I tried, they were all full. Either I smell very, very bad or they simply haven’t got all rooms operational. Bug….r them, we found a tinsy campsite and approached a number of youths to ask if we could pitch the tent. In short, the answer was yes but there would be a party going on but if we could put up with that, we were welcome. In the absence of any alternative, we accepted and up went the tent.
I have often maintained that youth is much maligned and has gained an unfair reputation. This evening, as we sat mulling over our instant pasta (which was actually okay), two of the party goers arrived with two bowls of Hungarian goulash with fresh bread. We accepted gratefully and a little while later the same two returned with two shot glasses and filled them with some Hungarian type schnapps. These gestures went a long way to compensating for the intermittent shouting which went on until dawn! I did sleep in between and Al snored quietly, unaware of any noise.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Read the Signs

Friday 15.06.2012    Tulln an der Donau – Hainburg  92.5 kms
What a day! Long and interesting.
The beginning – we were packed , dry, fed and away before 09.30. The sun wasn’t actually shining but it was veiled by only a thin layer of cloud. I risked donning my new shirt and shorts - a good move as it turned out. Mr. Master Navigator had spent some time perusing our projected passage through Vienna which looked anything but straight forward. So, with more than 20 kms already completed, we reached the outskirts of Vienna under a full sun (shorts and shirt doing well). Cofftea and buns were consumed for extra energy and concentration. Now, it is not unusual for a map and local paths to be a mismatch. However, this particular mismatch would have required a 100’ leap onto a bridge to have fulfilled its objective. No wings and no other solution than to try another option – like turning back and following the E6 signs which, inevitably, ran out. Head scratching interlude! Fatal! ‘Where are you going?’ asked a young man. Mr. Master Navigator produced his map and to the command of ‘Follow me!’ (where have we heard that before?) we were soon flying through Vienna. A sacrilege I hear some of you cry, but Vienna is another of those cities that require a flight, a posh hotel and lots of dosh, not two old age pensioners on bikes trying to cross Europe. We had seen a disappointing side of the city for we had followed the canal which was shabby and graffiti covered. After we met our guide, there was little time to admire anything else while we concentrated on pursuing the lead bike. 10kms and 30 minutes later, we stopped to breathe, and to bid a grateful farewell to our new friend (a university lecturer apparently). The parting of ways left us eating our lunch in the company of a number of naked men strolling around. I do struggle to find anything attractive about old men wobbling along waving a very small willy.
Now back on track (Mr. Master Navigator in charge again, located our position)  and we left behind the naked naturists.
I think I may have mentioned ‘hoch wasser’ in a former blog and proud we were of our accurate translation. Today a similar sign appeared in our path illustrated this time with a large hand, palm facing and a clear STOP. As the river was markedly lower and more placid today, we ignored the sign! Bad move! Several kilometres further on, the path turned a right angle and would normally have crossed a small stream by means of a bridge. Today a very big stream and no bridge; indeed ‘hoch wasser’! Too far and too lazy to go back, we unhitched the bikes from the trailers and watched a couple in front to ascertain the maximum depth. We didn’t actually want to drown. Knee high- thigh high on my short pins. So, bikes first and then carry each trailer between us. So several crossings later with legs and feet refreshed by their immersion in cold water, we reassembled the duo, put on our shoes and socks and continued on. On, followed and old railway track in  a straight line for 14kms with trees on either side. Mmmm.. not the most absorbing view.
Finally we reached Hainburg, an ancient border town with a very interesting history. My thoughts were more on the present; food and accommodation. Both now satisfied. Tomorrow we will be in Hungary!

Still a Long Way To Go

Thursday 14.06.2012   Rozzatz – Tulln an der Donau      54.2 kms
The sun is shining! Well, it is playing peek a boo with the clouds but we don’t care – the rain has stopped; ceased to fall; no wet stuff! Jolly good show. We were a cheery pair who got underway, with a plan to ride only for half a day, pitch the wet tent, dry everything out and do a spot of general maintenance. For once, a plan has come together. We did smart a bit at the required tariff for a patch of grass, but it is a very green and flat piece of grass. Admittedly, the facilities are of an excellent standard and the sun is still shining.
As soon as Mr. Master Technician had completed the bike servicing, Mr. Master Navigator got out his books and poured over the information available for the next three weeks or so. We had thought we were doing pretty well as we are only a few kilometres from the end of book three. Following that, we have only one more book. This time though, a book which covers not 350 kms but 1,300 kms! So we won’t be back any time soon. I suspect also that the simplicity of following a well- marked route will take on a whole different, and less reliable, aspect onc we leave neat and tidy Austria.
The river was marginally less swollen today and where the tracks had been flooded yesterday, was today just a muddy reminder. Our assumption of the beauty of this valley was correct, although it has now given way to a more open, agricultural and less charming geography. This is a very popular route, it seems, even in June with lots of fast, fat blokes on mountain bikes, lots of the silver brigade on organised rides(with their luggage transported separately), and a few nutcases like us doing more than a few days/weeks. We even overtook a few very old people today!
It is always more difficult to write a blog when all goes well as has happened today. The only very slight mishap was my falling from my bike – no, with my bike as it fell - a couple of scrapes and relief that I was the only witness to this act of stupidity. I was virtually stationary at the time. What a dork.
I even had an hour or so to read my book. Great.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

More Rain

Wednesday 13.06.2012  Greiss  - Rossatz    78.6kms
Noo… it didn’t stop raining –not once, all night! This was no ordinary rain; it was tantamount to someone chucking buckets of water over the tent. So big and loud were the drops, it was impossible to hear even the noisiest lorry on the main road not 25 metres away! It seems, we are very slow learners at this camping only in good weather lark. Had it stopped by the morning? Nooo….. Remarkably we were still dry although the same cannot be said of the canvas. However, in orderly fashion, we wheeled trailers undercover to the toilet block and transported all our gear, damp or otherwise, and packed for the day. Ho hum. This abundance of falling water had left much of the campsite underwater which did not bode well for the rest of the day. The question still on our lips is ‘Why on earth were we camping in such horrendous conditions?’ The feeble reply to that is ‘ It wasn’t raining when we put the tent up.’ Less than convincing. The campsite, however, did have a restaurant, which provided a very substantial breakfast at a very substantial cost. Nonetheless, we stoked up for a day in the rain…
We think this was one of the prettiest parts of the trip so far. We cannot be definite about that, but even through a mist, with a grey filter, its potential was obvious. As a result of the storms, the river had risen to spectacular proportions and was an awesome sight. The ferry we had planned to take, wasn’t running (and who can blame the ferryman – the pooh sticks were the size of whole trees- they were whole trees!). So we, along with other disgruntled cyclists returned to a bridge some 3kms upstream in order to cross this raging mass of brown water.
Some short time later, we encountered a sign and understood that ‘hoch wasser’ was not hot water but high water. And this notice didn’t lie. The tunnel, through which we were to pass, was one third full of water. Mmmm… now what? While we stood contemplating and head scratching, a very forthright man pushed passed. A group of cyclist were following him so with no better idea, we tagged on behind, pushing our bikes into the oncoming traffic. We were reassuringly at the back of the group – safety in numbers? Anyway, in a few metres, the track reappeared quite dry and off we set again with renewed vigour. This was to be the first of a number of diversions as a result of flooded paths. If not actually covering the path, the river often lapped within centimetres of our wheels. The vessels actually on the river could barely make way upstream but flashed by in the opposite direction. In fact, the river has been an endless source of fascination today, observing the power of the water. Despite the rain, we have enjoyed a different aspect of the Donau and a gentle day’s riding.
 And still it rained. Determined not to sleep in a tent this night, we found a guest house. Now dry and warm, the rain has stopped! Unbowed, we shall return to the tent if this promised change in the weather materialises. But for now, after sampling the very excellent local wine, we shall sleep soundly and dream of Vienna – our next stop.

Around the World

Tuesday 12.06.2012   Feldkeirchen – Greis   85kms
There wasn’t enough sunshine for my new shorts, in fact longs returned. Maybe I’m just a wimp. Superman was wearing his shorts so was Mr. Master Navigator as he solved all the problems of finding our way through Linz. That big river helped again. As we had made such a great start, we were there in time to stop for coffee/cofftea. Our landlady of the morning was either anxious to share our company or avoid her husband and under her watchful eye, we cleared the rooms and packed the trailers in the garden in the sunshine.
Alan’s little book said that the route we must take this morning, was shared with a road and, while it was safe, it wasn’t very pleasant. How true! That I am writing this blog, is proof that it was safe. (I can’t believe I am writing this in the tent in a thunder storm- more of that later!) To return to the road: we were riding into the oncoming traffic, albeit in a cycle lane and then for extra interest, the train line with trains, ran alongside. At Linz we returned to the river –Whew.
This was also another day of nil response from fellow travellers. Maybe it is just a big city thing. Anyway, I persevered with a smile and a hallo (that’s German for hello) and was rewarded just twice out of countless encounters. Not sure why we have this effect –answers on a postcard. I gave up in the end and was, therefore, taken aback by a voice saying ‘Where are you going?’ while we were in the process of changing maps and admiring a very meaningful sculpture. We turned to greet a young man, with a heavily laden bike, who had just recently commenced a round the world ride. The name of said young man is Rupert Gregory and if you read this, Rupert, we wish you well and will think of you periodically over the next two years and we’ll look forward to reading your articles in Cycling World.
Although we were ostensibly riding downstream, what little incline there was, was cancelled out by a gentle nostril wind. The river today was wide and relatively slow moving and many colossal barges chugged in both directions. In some cases with chug and burp engines that sounded unlikely to make their destination, Svelta Dimitri in particular. A few purred – mostly Swiss.
I mentioned in the blog yesterday that we hoped to cross last year’s path. Well, Al suddenly pulled to a halt in front of me (always dangerous) and said, ‘This is it.’ Sure enough, it was the guest house we had used last year. Very bizarre.
The river has very suddenly narrowed into another gorge which we hope to explore tomorrow – if it ever stops raining!

Past Passau

Monday 11.06.2012      Gaishofen  - Feldkirchen  (15 kms short of Linz)
Sometime today, we passed into Austria, but so obscure was the line, we never even noticed it. What we did notice and enjoy, was the change in the countryside. Today, we were riding through a forested gorge with the river immediately to our right for most of the time. However, before we could enjoy these views, we had first to negotiate Passau. We had sharpened our wits overnight and, in finely honed form, we were up for the challenge. It was all a bit of a damp squib really. Having a ruddy great river to follow probably helped a lot! Apart from a nerve racking road/bridge crossing, it went well. Passau is apparently a very beautiful Bavarian town but viewed from the quayside another picture is painted. The quayside was a jostle of people and souvenir shops. The people were either embarking or disembarking from various river cruisers and the shops were attempting to waylay them before they completed the short journey from coach to cruiser. The latter varied in size, but all were ostentatious. Nonetheless, I am sure they provided a thoroughly pleasant experience for those taking the holiday. (It’s sour grapes really. We thought an up-river cruise would be a relaxing way to finish our holiday but they wouldn’t take bikes! How inconvenient!)
Passau is a beautiful town. Although we saw little of its splendour close up, the views of the old town that we did see, confirmed the comments in the travel brochures. It helped, that for the first time in days, the sun shone intermittently and I was beginning to regret wearing long trousers.
The boat theme stayed with us all day. In addition to the cruisers, the river was more usefully providing a thoroughfare for huge barges. At least one was transporting an entire deck load of cars:  of the other cargoes, we could only speculate as they were contained below deck. Not only cruisers and barges, but ferries played a role in our activities today. There were short sections of the gorge that no self- respecting path could cling to. On these occasions the ferryman and of course, his ferry, provided the means to continue. We took to the water twice, the first time in the wake of a barge, and the wash it caused reminded us of our sea legs.
It has been a beautiful experience today, and the rain has still held off! As usual, our search for accommodation was left to opportunity. Opportunity was not on our side, but with the help of a local restaurant owner, we have met a dear old Austrian lady who has made us welcome in a room. Well, three rooms actually!
Tomorrow we cross the path we followed last year (all things being equal) and will find ourselves more than half way to this year’s destination. Keeping our fingers crossed for a bit more sunshine. I want to wear my new shorts!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Any Old Excuse

Sunday 10.06.2012  Straubing  -  Gaishofen  (just short of Passau)  85kms
For the more astute of you, you will have noted from the date that we actually took the day off yesterday. The hotel that we finally decided upon on Friday was such a friendly and accommodating place, the town was big enough to sort shopping and no one seemed to mind a bit if we cleaned the bikes and trailers, did the washing and hung it on a conveniently hot towel rail, so we stayed an extra day. (We cannot recommend highly enough ‘Hotel Gaubodenhof’  in Straubing).  We are doing very well with guest houses but very badly with campsites! This is bad news for the budget, but the weather has been truly appalling. We spent the whole of this morning getting soaked and then very damp this afternoon.  And things are not looking very encouraging this evening. So, here we are in another very nice Gasthaus. We’ll be keeping the German economy going all on our own at this rate.
Despite the rain, the ride today has been pretty and generally close to the river. I’m sure it would have been spectacular had we been able to see further. For the most part it was fairly easy going and pretty quiet. (After all, why on earth would you go for a ride in the rain when you could stay in and watch the tele?) Why we bothered to clean the bikes is also a bit of a mystery. It was a well- intentioned but fruitless exercise as they are filthy again after another section of muddy track! Heigh ho, at least they are only encrusted in one day’s dirt.
We are a few kilometres short of Passau. Traversing that city is a project for lively minds, legs and 20:20 vision. Not sure who is going to do it – doesn’t sound too much like us! Should we succeed, we shall be in Austria where Alan can still use his vast knowledge of the German language – “Zwei bier bitte.”Excellent beer it is too. Cheers!

Friday, 8 June 2012

Cruising Down the River

Friday  08.06.2012    Weltenburg – Straubing   92.4kms + 5kms on the river! (not in it)
This morning arrived accompanied by a lot of the wet stuff but, by breakfast, it began to look a little brighter. I think it helped that we shared our breakfast with three ebullient German cyclists, who seemed genuinely interested in our endeavour and as we shared stories (their English was excellent) the external temperatures rose, and the sun made a watery attempt at shining.
In fact, it was a morning of good humour unlike the previous day when the whole world appeared to have been born with a lemon in their mouth. Along with a good many other souls, we made our way to the river only to find that we had ¾ of an hour to wait! It was well worth it: no puffing up over the gorge and a limestone gorge is always a pleasure to view from the bottom. As the accompanying information was in German, we have little idea of the many religious relics that seem to adorn the rocks. Al’s little book assured the reader that there were images of Peter and Paul in the rock face but, try as we might, they eluded our scrutiny. Five kilometres and twenty minutes downriver and we were off on our way to ………………..?
The river has now reached spectacular proportions and is a thoroughfare for pleasure craft and barges. None of this casual crossing from one side to the other but it is more interesting watching the traffic. In Regensburg where at least one other river joins the Donau, the usual plethora of signs disappeared or else we failed to notice them.  We have found that if you require help, you stand perusing a map and scratching your head. This produces an immediate response from truly well- meaning and helpful people. Thus, a very astute young lady, unhesitatingly pointed us in the right direction and this quite large city was traversed with no more difficulties.
As we are still trying to arrange a day off for general washing (clothes!) and maintenance, we had hoped that Staubing, if we could make the distance, would provide a large, well equipped campsite: it might have done. Our resolve to search for it evaporated as we were finally drenched in a downpour that had been threatening to do just that for about an hour. So Staubing in a guest house it had to be in the hope that tomorrow will improve.   

Still Shut

Thursday 07.06.2012   Laisacker – Weltenburg  72kms.
What a cracking day for all sorts of reasons which, you lucky people, you are going to hear about. We began our morning with a surprisingly substantial breakfast and were joined by five robust and rumbustious workers of, we think, Polish nationality. Having finished eating, we returned to finish our packing and they left to, presumably, go to work. “Posh car,” commented Alan, peering out of the window. Followed several minutes later by, “It won’t start!” Out puffed the proprietor (he puffed all the time), opened a garage to reveal an enviably ancient tractor, which started first time! Five minutes of jump lead intervention and they were on their way. More remarkable was the bill we paid for a room, breakfast, four beers and two meals – 54 Euros!
Having been unable to make a flask of what we now called cofftea ( differentiating between the two flavours after several hours is quite a challenge) and requiring our mid- morning pastry, we set about locating a backerei. We began to notice a certain tranquillity to the towns and Alan was not entirely convinced when I told him it was Thursday and not Sunday! However, what did become abundantly clear, was that all the shops, cafes, banks and factories were shut!  Resorted to calling a friend for the answer, but to no avail.  (Answers on a postcard please)
Cycle tracks on all the new bridges
We resigned ourselves to lunching on yesterday’s leftovers, after all, we had enjoyed a very nourishing breakfast and water would have to substitute for cofftea. Around lunch time, I suggested we look for a nicely placed table and bench. “ We’ll just go on to the next village, we’ll find a café!” saith Alan with a wide grin. And lo, there was a café; the only enterprise open in the whole of Bavaria! We feasted on pasta and pizza – not together- downed a large non- alcoholic beer and left the table, replete and raring to go.
To round off all the ‘remarkables’ of the day, the first reasonably priced gasthaus provided a room, a meal and breakfast. Tomorrow we take to the river! So looking forward to that exciting experience. 

Perfect but Shut

Wednesday  06.06.2012  Dillingen – Laisacker   73.9kms.
Fortunately by 7o’clock, the rain had stopped. We made use of the marquee and the table and chairs to eat our breakfast in comfort, and hoping that we should not be confronted by the female chief of the site; a very pretty but fearsome creature. The tent was drying out nicely and the sun was trying its best to overcome the cloud layer. We hit (not exactly hit, more wandered onto) the track next to the river, congratulating ourselves at having managed to pack everything dry. As food supplies were running low, we had to make a supermarket shop (Netto – excellent value), so we were a little late starting out. The sun lost its battle with the clouds and the temperature remained quite low - what has happened to summer? Mind you, it was great to have a whizzy wind and not too many hills.
As the afternoon progressed, the clouds began to thicken again and the rain started. We had already made the decision not to camp, so we began looking for an alternative. Around 15kms from Stepperg, we spotted an advertising panel for a Gasthaus. Perfect! As we approached the village, the signs continued until we eventually arrived at said Gasthaus at the same time as a sleek black Audi. The owners, for indeed it was they, climbed out of the car. We explained that we would like a room and an evening meal. They were open for a room and breakfast but not for an evening meal as the restaurant was shut on a Wednesday! Next village came up with an hotel at an exorbitant price and so onward. Our destination for tonight is a rather dubious Gasthaus which has, however, provided us with all the essentials, for which we are very grateful;  and it is still pi………ing down.
As ever, it is people we meet and greet, who make the greatest contribution to this experience. Overall though, there is not the camaraderie along this stretch of the river that we have experienced in other parts.  This may be due, in part, to the fact that Germany has so many cycle tracks and thus cyclists are two a penny. The first impression of hotel proprietors has been mixed, but for the most part, a guarded welcome is to be expected. Mind you, our inability to speak the language may have much to do with all this. Smiles and body language can only go so far – probably not much further than my schoolgirl German!

The Elephant

Tuesday  05.06.2012    Ehingen – Dillingen   69.5 kms
I feel obliged to start today by extolling the virtues of our hotel. Should you ever travel this way, the “Zur Linde” Hotel and Restaurant at Erbach, provided us with a warm welcome, excellent accommodation, a drying room and all for a very moderate cost. Our hostess must have come top of her class in client care! Even the wifi was the most effective we have so far encountered, which meant Al could post three blogs before breakfast. On that subject, the blog I mean, I must apologise to you, our readers, for the errors in spelling and punctuation (except the intentional ones) of the last three blogs. I wrote one late at night and the other two very early in the morning.
One or two comments have suggested that my elephant must have been rejuvenated after all the munching that went on last year – You surely didn’t think he was real? Just to reassure our readers that all is well, I am posting a photo of him in his entirety. He is looking mighty fine don’t you think?
Today has been a thoroughly pleasant ride and the river has changed from this titchy stream to a full blown, brown, swirling real river. We have passed through Ulm and glimpsed some of its former medieval glories and found peaceful gardens in which to dine. (See, no elephant required)
Having made the decision that today was a dry day, we spent some time searching out a campsite. As ever in the towns, the cycle signs, if they exist at all, become a bit ambiguous. We resorted, therefore, to asking in our best English. Waved vaguely in the right direction, we chanced upon the entrance and tried to find a person who might tell us if, and where, we could pitch our small tent. Seeing our confusion, a very nice man explained in excellent English, that a pitch might be possible tonight, but for just one night. He warned that there would be much activity this evening, as they would be erecting a marquee for some jubilant celebrations which were to take place the next day. Once agreed on a spot which would not get run over or in the way, we pitched and made the tent look as small as possible. Then the evening entertainment began. An army of folk turned up with a truck load of metal spars, drills and a great deal of good natured banter – I think? The man in charge, and probably, the owner of this massive tent, took to shouting orders and established a routine which ensured the safe erection of the scaffold. Then the flooring arrived along with the table and chairs – another huge truckload. By this time, we were wondering if there would be enough room for us to weave our way through all this construction in the morning. The bar was moved at least three times, but by 10 pm, everyone seemed satisfied, quaffed a final beer and left. Ready to turn in, we were hailed by our English speaking receptionist who arrived with two beers. A gift from himself.   There are some lovely people in this world.                       
Did I say we camp only in fine weather……………………It rained! 

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Monday 05.06.2012    Sigmaringen -  Ehingham  91 kms
Fortunately, the rain held off while we breakfasted and packed away our wet gear. Actually, the only item that was really wet was the tent and, of course, the bikes. Our little green tent had rebutted all attempts from ingress of the wet stuff and we were totally dry. (“What did we agree about camping?” queried Alan. “I think it went something like – only in fine weather!” I replied, retrieving a wet sock.) We bade farewell to the Blackwood couple, who were off to Bodensee. It is unlikely that they enjoyed the splendid views that we enjoyed, as the weather showed little sign of clearing. So, a little cleaner and rested, we sallied forth again.
Is this the cart that'sgoing to the Black Sea?
The countryside has changed again, and we rode along less muddy tracks, through what can only be described as plains of crops. We wondered at the farmers who may or may not have been happy to have numerous cyclists riding through their estates – maybe the incentive was some kind of reimbursement; we shall probably never know. We could see for miles, which also meant we could see the oncoming storm. Like our souvenir hut of last year, a shelter materialised just at the right moment. We pushed our bikes through the long grass to an old shed housing even older farm equipment and made ourselves comfortable in an old hay truck, where we ate our lunch watching the rain pelting down. Like many storms, it was all over in a short time and by the time our feast was finished, it had stopped and the swallows were busy feeding on the bity things that seem to swarm at these times.
Throughout the day we had been inundated with signs along the path indicating accommodation of one sort or another but…………………………… know what is coming……………after 75 kms, the campsite had disappeared and nothing else indicated any kind of alternative! The next village offered a closed Gasthaus, the one after that had no rooms. (although why you would call yourself a guest house without rooms is beyond me). Finally in Ehingen, we found a very bike friendly and reasonably priced hotel – very plush and not what we planned but heigh ho, any port in a storm!

Mud and Cheap Beer

Sunday 03.06.2012   Nendingen – Sigmaringen 53kms
Woke to less than perfect weather but no complaints as we have been very lucky thus far. Our hosts were waiting for us in the dining room and had laid out a breakfast spread of bread, meats, cheese and the most delicious raspberry jam! We scoffed an entire jar and hope that, as it was home made, they would take it as a compliment. On the road, in the rain by 09.30. The rain was to dog us for most of the day and it had turned the tracks into a kind of gloopy mud. Herman was less than impressed as it sucked at the wheels and tried to drown them. For much of the time, the track ran through the gorge created by the river. It is hard to believe that this titchy little river was responsible for these vast cliffs of limestone. Man had added to the charm by building houses and small forts perched precariously on the edges although the reason for this has eluded me.  The track itself, followed the valley, much of it through forest absolutely teeming with birds, with the occasional glimpse of the water.
By lunch time, we were feeling the effects of yesterday’s climb and as the only campsite mentioned in the little book was not far ahead, we decided to weigh up its charms. The bikes and trailers were, by now, so filthy that we were afraid to show our faces at a pension. Besides a camp site would have a tap and the where with all to make an attempt at cleaning them. Just past about a hundred canoes, we found the entrance and a very jovial welcome from two ladies vying to practice their English, which suited me as my German has progressed not at all. Waiting outside, and holding the bikes, Alan had met a couple who were from Blackwood! Small world! They recommended the beer, but before enjoying the pleasures of the restaurant we must needs erect the tent and clean the bikes. The former was essential and the latter less so in view of the rain which cascaded down during the night! Great meal though and he was quite right about the beer!

Google Says Danube is Here!

Saturday  02.06.2012   Wangen – Nendigen  80.3 kms
Best breakfast we have yet had. Eggs, smoked salmon, ham, cheese, bread – I could go on. We did our best to do it justice but we needed with us, those with larger appetites. To collect our food we were required to walk the length of a very large dining room adorned with a proscenium arch and possibly a stage. Feeling quite smug at having packed, posted the blog on a very slow connection, we were on the road by 09.30. Alan had researched this section of the route before we left and produced google maps which we were sure would see us through. All went very well until at Bodensee, the E6 disappeared! Just when we needed him, Mr. Master Navigator took a vacation. We covered the same ground three times to no avail and finally made a call on the oft maligned Tourist Information. We were pointed in the right/different direction and made use of our old friend the sun! So we found a way, not the way and after a few more kilometres we found ourselves at the base of a hill. Not that unusual, and Al says I must not be boring about arduous undertakings, but this hill went on for about 12 kilometres!  When we reached what we thought was the summit, we rediscovered the E6; we took it.  Another miscalculation; where the road continued at a gentle climb, this path tumbled downhill and then turned a right angle and went steeply uphill to join the main road!  What planet are these planners on?! 20% hills for loaded touring bikes – I don’t think so. some 700metres higher, with little energy left in the legs, we did find the Donau. Hoorah and hooray! The views back over towards Bodensee were spectacular – the first time we have reached such dizzy heights this trip.  Now to find somewhere to lay our tired little bodies. We could not find the energy to erect a tent, much less cook a meal so we latched onto the first pension we found - full! The second was not really open yet! The third was open and welcoming! Unusually, for a German gentleman of mature years, this sweetheart spoke really good English and when we commented on the fact, it transpired that he had spent some three years in the States in the fifties. Good memory, I’d say. Delightful couple and a great place to rest our legs and everything else.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

My Ding-a Ling

 Friday 01.06.2012    Waldshut – Wangen (on Lake Constance)  74.6 kms
Our modestly priced hostel accommodation provided us with the best breakfast we have enjoyed since leaving home. Excellent value, and primed us for the journey today.
If anyone tells you that this track follows the Rhine, it has to be a very loose description, either that, or this is the first river to have developed major ups and downs. I am amazed that the Swiss, a people so technically talented, have not spotted the fact that equal parts of ups and downs means FLAT. So what is their problem – just an adverse topography! ( You have to feel sorry for old elephant today; very well munched.) But……………… and it is a big but, the wind was almost whizzy and the odd push from behind was very welcome. We also experienced today, our first encounter with steps! Alan had assured me that we would meet the EV6 today and we did – at the top of the steps! After ten minutes of denial, it was inevitable that we must descend these steps in order to follow said route. Having finally accepted this inevitability, another kind gentleman indicated, in passing, the lift which, in our angst, we had failed to notice. So bikes down steps, trailers down lift and we were off on our route again. Hoorah!  More ups and downs and then to the granddaddy of them all!  Now, we have visited Rhinefalle in the past, and spectacular as it was, we were not aware that our cycle route would take us on a second visit. This time down a very steep hill – fabulous waterfalls – then up the other side! Not nearly so fabulous! Don’t know what the incline measured in percentage terms, only in puffing terms – lots and lots! The buses don’t go down there! so why did bikes?
Some of the paths we have had to negotiate have often been quite narrow, especially towing Herman and Sherman, so I finally got around to fitting a bell which had been provided with the bike whenever it was that we purchased them. It has not been very useful for warning people of an overtaking manoeuvre unless they are stationary, but it has provided me with a pleasing tinkle. Instead of wind chimes, I have gravel chimes- very soothing, if somewhat confusing, as I don’t know if it is my bell tinkling or a bike trying to overtake. Nothing like a little ding-a-ling!  
One last hill of indeterminate steepness and we arrived at our overnight stop, and not a moment too soon. Now, fed, watered and very tired, I can finish tonight’s blog just before it is dark! Tomorrow, I am assured, we will reach the Danube/Donau. This is the river which will take us the rest of the way to the Black Sea – or rather following it, will. Not planning on a long swim!

Friday, 1 June 2012

All Change

Thursday 31.05.2012.   Basle – Waldshut  72.9 kms
Well, no thunder storm transpired and we got off to another good start, in terms of time. The same cannot be said for the ease of navigation. Quite soon, we were dislocated and Mr. Master Navigator was really put through his paces. More by luck than design, we found ourselves following the German bank of the Rhine, but where we have been used to gentle asphalt paths, we now found ourselves presented with a much more diverse challenge. Before lunch, we had negotiated terrain very alien to this trip. We have been up…down, up……down, we have pedalled along tarmac, gravel and cobblestones!(yup back in Germany). We have ridden over bumps, lost our wheels in potholes and had to climb more hills than we have seen in three weeks. Mmm…………….bit of a wake-up call. But we have risen to the challenge although I have to admit the poor old elephant is looking a bit dog-eared. After 70 plus kms, we were a tad weary, and just at that moment there appeared a hostel, a campsite and a restaurant. Wow, who could ask for more. We have opted for a room indoors and as it is now pi……ing down it would seem to have been a good choice; we have eaten and I have just about run out of every last drop of energy writing up this blog. So, I bid you all good night and we await the morrow as ever. 

Organs for Breakfast

Wed 30.05 2012        Dannemarie – Basle  64.4kms
This morning has to be the highlight of our journey so far. We descended the stairs for our breakfast to the sound of music! Monsieur was playing a very up to the minute organ and very well too. For us though, it was the first time we had ever been serenaded at breakfast. Lots to eat, lots of coffee and the most genial host you could imagine and all for 37 Euros and that included the beer. If you ever find yourself in Dannemarie, which of itself is not without charm, it would be a sin to stay anywhere else.
It was impossible not to feel energised by this overnight stay and so we were once again, off to a flying start, somewhat hindered by visits to La Poste, the boulangerie and a card shop. Nonetheless, we were on our way by 09.45 and heading for Mulhouse with some trepidation (another big town). No need for all that angst; the signing through the town was faultless. Just when things are going well……………………all the signs disappeared – again! Mr. Master Navigator appeared from nowhere and made a valiant attempt. Scratching our heads at yet another unsigned junction, our rescuer appeared from a nearby driveway. We explained where we were trying to go and he directed us with a cheery gesticulation. Something, it seems, he has done many times before for the benefit of lost cyclists. Come on planners, sort it out! Back on route, (which it is unlikely we would have found unaided) I had to swallow my words on cheery folk in the morning; these we met this day were a grumpy bunch with just two responses from dozens of oncoming cyclists. Mind you, when you see that rictus smile on the face of the racing cyclist, you just know he has no reserves left for speech.
Having made the decision to stay just inside the French border before tackling Basle, we finally located the campsite after several false efforts. Our host, Mr. Must You Really Stay Here had missed the day of lectures on customer care but the site was clean with all the essential facilties. We shared our little enclave with a number of other touring veloists although they were all German speaking and my German vocabulary is a very stunted affair. A thunder storm threatens as we head for bed!

What a Find

29.05.2012        Baumes les Dames – Dannemarie   94.2 kms
We made a good start from our chalet this morning although we did have to stand by our beds for morning inspection to ensure that we had left everything as we found it! As if we wouldn’t! I reclaimed my 50 Euro deposit and we were off. This is just such a beautiful part of the Jura and the kind of ride that anyone could enjoy. The sun shining helps, but there is so much to see with the wildlife on the river/canal and the barges and leisure craft which make use of the facility. For the most part ,the riding has been a breeze, although we have had to climb two hills! Quite significant ones, if not very long. Almost worth all the puff for the views. Otherwise the track has been a gentle climb. However, at some point we must have reached a high point on the canal, for it suddenly ran downhill through a series of about ten locks just one after the other.
We /Alan had noted that there was a paucity of accommodation on this section so we had made a note of one of the few possibilities that seemed to be available. Having failed to rouse them on the phone, we were not holding out much hope of this particular auberge being open. After 92 kilometres of joyous riding, we arrived at Dannemarie, a town purported to have a tourist information centre. Not a chance! Next best thing – accost a local. The lucky one we chose was just leaving the hairdresser (excellent haircut by the way). He knew of said auberge but when he checked with the invisible hairdresser, the consensus was that it was, indeed, closed. Undaunted, our helpful local explained the location of a chambre d’hote. Tired, and with nothing else presenting as an alternative we sought the rooms suggested. What an excellent move! M. Dietmann will remain in our memories for all time and for all the right reasons. We received an enthusiastic welcome into the kind of house you will visit only once in a lifetime. It had been built by his grandfather in the 1800s and really defies description (hopefully the photos will tell a better story than any description I can detail). We had a room, with shower and toilet on the floor below. We unloaded our luggage to the accompaniment of a lot of teeth sucking and a benevolent eye and a non alcoholic beer.
It was a day somewhere near our wedding anniversary (never quite sure when it is) so we indulged in a posh nosh Alcacienne style. No chance after that of blog writing but a great day. Can’t wait for breakfast!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Spot the Two Marys

Sunday 27.05.2012   Dole – Baume les Dames   96kms
We are sharing a magnificent ranch, which overlooks swathes of verdant countryside punctuated with areas of limestone outcrops. Horses are galloping freely along the cliff tops. We are lounging in a bedroom with two double beds and white voile curtains blowing gently in the breeze……………then I wake up!
Now, last night’s accommodation may not be to everyone’s taste. It requires a special person to appreciate the crumbling concrete, the rusting ironwork and the flaking paint not to mention the retro vinyl floor which would have benefitted from a good scrub. However, the small room we shared was clean and we both enjoyed a full and undisturbed night’s sleep. Our evening meal was shared in the company of several families who had seen better times but were apparently making the best of what was available to them. (Gives one an appreciation of our good fortune). Our meal was nourishing if basic and still an improvement on that which was served up the rest of the company. We found ourselves quite alone for our breakfast at 08.30 and a pretty meagre offering it was. Bread and jam to munch, but copious quantities of orange juice (vit C for Al) and excellent coffee. Nothing here provided any sort of incentive to linger and so by 09.30 we were on the road! Better than our average. And what a morning! Beautiful weather, stunning countryside, a slightly mucky and sluggish canal, birds tweeting and the whole world bidding each other a joyful ‘bonjour’. Must be that morning people are better disposed towards their fellow man. What say you, dear reader?
At some point during the morning, we met/almost collided with another cyclist who recognised our Welsh flag. “Oh, my husband was originally from Wales although we have lived in Canada for forty years.” We exchanged pleasantries and, I like to think that it was because they were un- accompanied by Sherman and Herman, that they disappeared into the distance along the canal path. But no matter, we were to meet them again at a turn in the canal. A tunnel had been cut through the hillside for the benefit of the barges, although we had to ride over the top! On this far side it had been decided to make a feature of the entrance or exit depending on your direction of travel. A veil  of water cascaded over the aperture, accompanied by lights and mirrors in the tunnel. Rather than try and describe something so beautiful I shall ask Mr. Technician to include a photo. Anyway, it was here than that we met again our Canadian friends an exchanged a more meaningful conversation. We left them with our card and if they do get around to reading this, we would love to hear how your journey progressed.
As a result of our early start and easy, pleasant riding, we had reached Besancon by lunch time! So, no stopping there then. A quick consultation and we made the decision to risk another 40kms in the hope that the campsite named in our magic book, would live up to expectations. Whoopee doo, it has. We are ensconced in a delightful wooden chalet with views up the gorge. I can stand up to cook, we have our own bathroom and even a ‘fridge! This will be our day off stopover.
Today, we have cycled through some of the most breath-taking scenery in the Jura. Pedalling along dedicated cycle tracks alongside either the river or the canal, we have watched the river traffic; we have passed by well-appointed housing with the river in front and massive limestone cliffs to the rear. (I could have lived in one of those). And the sunshine has not failed. We have also made up some of the mileage lost yesterday. (My elephant lives to fight another day – no bits missing).       

Saturday, 26 May 2012

On the Dole

Saturday 26.05.2012    Seurre – Dole  (Not very far) 50kms
The plan today was to arrive early in Dole and spend a day to catch up with washing, shopping etc. Hmmm….best laid plans and all that. We got off to a good start and the route and the weather were glorious. We bowled along in a very slight head wind wishing the world ‘bonjour’. We even cycled past a Weldoms which, on further investigation, provided us with much needed gas cylinders which we had found difficult to source. Wow, what a start. It continued thus until we arrived in said ville. Our plan was to spend the night in the Youth Hostel which came highly recommended from someone else’ blog. What do they say about plans and recommendations. Not repeatable here anyway. We cycled from rural tranquillity into traffic chaos (Whit weekend!) Dicing with death, we rapidly wished we were somewhere else. With no idea of the hostel’s  location, I rang and tried to make some sense of the directions I received. To make a bad situation worse, the biggest fair in the world was parked alongside the canal making the usual unpleasant fair noises which even Alan can hear. It was also very hot and very busy – need I say more?! In desperation, I accosted a gentleman who was fortunately, a local, and he gave very concise and clear directions. I thank him very, very much. These directions did require a challenging hill climb but finally led us…………….where? We found the church and the street but had to ask again for the building. Not what I would have recommended, but here we are. We have a room which is clean and likely to be very noisy and we have enjoyed a substantial, cheap and nourishing meal (with vit C). I am thinking posh hotel tomorrow. Watch this space. Certainly won’t be a day off. 

A Reminder

Friday 25.05.2012  Sateney – Seurre  65.2 k
I may be that, today, I am suffering from ant poisoning. Instead of water from my water bottle, I had treated myself to a can of lemonade for the night. I left it just beyond the zip, by my head, where I could reach it easily; which I did. In the light of the morning, I thought to finish the can, only to find that the ants had taken possession and many had drowned in the process thus providing me, no doubt, with an extra dose of protein. That being the case, the croissants and bread I had ordered for this morning were going to provide the antidote. Mmm…we lounged in the sunshine, already hot, drank coffee and discussed the day ahead. We have now become what I would like to call, casually organised in the morning, so in such manner, we pushed our bikes and packed trailers across the grass to the hardcore. The squishing noise that I thought was grass brushing tyres, was in fact, a flat! So, from casually organised, we became casually competent (actually the ‘we’ refers mainly to Alan). I passed the tools like any good theatre nurse and helped to unpack and repack the trailer. We were very grateful to the nice Dutch gentleman who came to offer his tools as the repair was completed! Only half an hour later we rode away into ………………………………NOSTRIL WIND. Now, Alan said I was not to make mention of my favourite topic as our readers must be tiring of hearing about it. BUT today it was impossible to ignore. It snorted at between 20 and 25 kms. This is a lot of pushing you backwards power especially when hauling Sherman and Herman. Did we let it get us down? Yes! After 65 kms we were well and truly bu……ed. The compensation was the sunshine and the beautiful countryside if we had only been able to lift our heads to view it. We did, however, lift them long enough to admire a memorial commemorating the shooting down of an allied plane in the second world war. Not only was the date mentioned but also each one of the crew who were four British, two Canadian, one New Zealander and one Australian. We have their names and feel sufficiently moved to try and search for more information later. I hope Mr. Technician will include the photo on this blog.
Having battled our way to Seurre, we set about following the map in order to find a campsite of which there were supposed to be two. Mmmm……usual story. Either our navigation is crap or the sites have moved. On arriving at a point on our map which suggested we should be welcomed to a site with restaurant, swimming pool and all the knobs and whistles, we found…………….a piece of waste ground, a young man with two very large dogs and a car kicking up gravel from a racing start at the top of a small slope. So, no campsite. Young man with two dangerous dogs was not a gangster but a very helpful young man who directed us to the campsite which he held in high regard. He was nonetheless somewhat nonplussed that we should enjoy riding bikes especially such a long way; he preferred his car. Thanking him profusely we retraced some distance, crossed the bridge as instructed and behold a campsite. Not quite the luxury we had come to expect, in fact no luxury at all. And no toilet paper. Still we could get the tent up, have a shower and cook another one pot meal. Alan worrying about scurvy as fruit is so difficult to carry without it getting squashed! Nice German couple camping alongside who were on their way to the Med pedalling bikes with battery driven motors. They reckoned they were good on the hills, but with 27 kilos of extra weight…… Apart from the road and the continual bird scarers every 30 seconds, it was fine. I am getting so I can sleep through anything and Al can’t hear it anyway. Off to Dole tomorrow for a rest.