1,800 kilometers of Australia’s longest outback track, the highest moterable road in the world, across Tibet and Southeast Asia In Search of Shangri La, across the Andes and down the Amazon, crossing the Silk Road, sailing the South Pacific with Captain Bligh, around Australia by tandem, discovering Canada in 15,000 kilometers and around the U.S. by tandem for one year… Phew Not getting any younger, especially Bob, we decided it was time for a milder more civilized, and safer, adventure. We decided we might as well go to Europe where everybody goes.
As always in our travels, a theme presents itself: So welcome to The Rivers of Europe. We blogged along the way, though most people just followed us on Facebook, a very imperfect medium for sharing the depth proper travel requires. This is the long form, or the first step in a longer tome about a special continent, one America has a long, sometimes troubled, always intense connection with. As both Europe and America enter unchartered (or maybe not) territory in our relationship, we hope to shine a little light from this side of the pond on our friends.
We will begin the creative process by reversing our blogs to proper reading order. So even if you visited the site during our travels, you might stumble on a new perspective.
Along the way, Rhine and Moselle
Wine and the Moselle
Photo of a day in Cochen
A Day of Wine on the Mozelle
Pruning season on the steep slate banks of the Mosel.
Street in the neighborhood.
A Riesling and a pino noir rose.
Guess who? He was born on the Mosel, and was inspired by the plight of the vineyard workers. Understood, and revered, in Germany. Not so much in the U.S.
A bottle of very old Riesling. We’ll cellared, but probably corked.
An amazing cellar of mostly Riesling. You can taste and buy, if you have enough Euros.
Introduction to the Saar River
We rode up a ridiculously steep cobblestone street in the lovely village Saarsburg, Germany. We found a cafe overlooking the waterfall that bisects the village.
It was early for lunch, but what the heck.
We couldn’t resist two of these with coffee. This is not the kind of thing we do when cycle touring the Himalayas or the Australian outback, but could get used to it.
I’ve never ridden anything this steep on cobblestones before, and my knees are talking to me tonight.
Canals to Strasbourg on the Rhine.
We continued to follow the EuroVelo route system, and local bicycle trails. These follow canals for the most part, and in rural areas with small villages every five to fifteen kilometers.
By watching several boats go through the locks, and talking to one helpful English speaker, we learned the basics of navigating the canals. It looks like a fun way to travel, you can also walk or bike the accompanying trail, and have the satisfaction of running your own show.
We took a day off in Saverne for some rest, fine food, to enjoy the beauty, slow pace of life here, and meet some friendly people. More of Alsace to come.
A stop at the cathedral in Strasbourg turned into an epic effort by Claire to get a room booked for the night with the help of staff at the tourist office in the square.
Then what seemed like 100 turns later, and several stops to take in the sites, and ride around busloads of guided tourists, (How we knew where the important sites were) we got to our hotel. It would be well into the next day before we got back into the wine, and small village country, our goal.
Finally after a morning on a canal bike path, and fields of corn, we could see grapes on the slopes ahead.
First however, Claire and Ms. 100 Percent (phone GPS) took us on a little cross country excursion to our guest house in Dambach de Ville.
We followed several small streams feeding the Rhine, and when we returned to it it was to a spectacular waterfall, Rhinefall at Neuhasen, Switzerland.
One day in this section we went into and out of Switzerland several times. The only clues were Swiss flags. Cafes gladly accepted Euros. The photo above is looking across the river from Germany into Switzerland.
We took a rest day in the village of Orsingen:
Black Forest on the Donau
After some steep grades (nearing 20 percent) climbing out of the Rhine watershed, and beautiful farm country with expansive views, we plunged into the Black Forest upper Doneau drainage. I’d always wondered why this part of Germany was so named, and it became obvious. We went from mostly deciduous trees and open land, to steep hillsides and dark conifers, in minutes of high speed descents.
The Doneau here is not the Blue Danube that most people know. It is narrow, shallow with rapids and small waterfalls. It is pure and clear, not blue. We’ll see why it became blue after a few hundred kilometers.
The villages we’re modest in size and old, dating to the middle ages in the center. Yet they always had a few guest houses, a cafe or to and a outdoor table with dark rich coffee and a pastry.
This loss of water was a boon for us. The beauty lasted for days. The forest was deep, filled with song birds and mystery, the Doneau filled with fish and dancing light.
The Doneau stays small despite being fed by the streams of the Mountains. The reason is the limestone/karst allows it’s water to be lost to the much lower Rhine. Near the point we crossed watersheds, the two great rivers, one bound for the North Sea, the other to the Black Sea, are about a dozen kilometers apart
Bavaria dates to the Roman Empire as this temple to the god Apollo. As we rode along EuroVelo Six in a small village, Claire noticed a small brown sign that directed us to a reconstructed ruin surrounded by residences. It was well cared for and provided us with a shady bench for a quiet lunch.
Bavaria is unique in German states in having been a true kingdom, not just a collection of fiefdoms. Sort of reminds me of Texas’ unique place in American history. Both are economically strong, independent and conservative.
Bavaria is a vibrant mix of the very old and the new. They are tied to international trade, but home to a growing populist movement. As Bavaria goes – so goes Germany. How Germany goes – so goes Europe?
The Bavarian trail system is not as well connected in Bavaria as we have been accustomed to in Europe, with significant sections of main road riding necessary, and some missing signage. Still, by American standards quite good.
Europe’s trails often share one lane farm roads with tractors with trailers of produce, harvest equipment and small cars carrying farm workers. All these vehicles are willing to run off the road to give the right of way to bicycles.
We haven’t talked much politics, partly due to the language issue, partly because European/American relations are, to put it politely, uncomfortable. We did encounter four German cyclists at an overlook of the Donau who wanted to talk. They are quite concerned, and very puzzled. Hmmmm. Just like most Americans we know.
Bavaria is the richest of the states, and as such contributes a disproportionate share of revenue to the central government and the European Union. According to one of our guest house hosts, there is a good bit of dissension around this, and also the issue of immigration. There are parallels with Texas.
The middle Donau has become placid, less clear, and with more factories than forests. It will receive the waters from Alpine streams, coming in from the south, in the next few bicycle days. We may yet see the Blue Danube before we turn away.
We’re spoiling ourselves on this tour. We stay in hotels, youth hostels, and guesthouses. We carry camping gear but have only camped twice. That may change as high tourist season makes it hard to find accommodations. Claire is already having difficulty getting reservations. Her German is getting pretty good, at least in the vocabulary needed for booking by phone.
We are beginning to adapt to the very rich German diet. I’m not sure my arteries will ever unclog! We recently had Thai food three nights in a row, and I think I could tell the difference. The schnitzel and dark Bavarian beer is great, and we have found some good salads.
Fortunately, the breakfasts that come with accommodation are wonderful. Our favorite is the muesli with yogurt and fruit, but the dark grainy rolls with thinly sliced meat and cheese go well with their good strong coffee. There is lots more to choose from, and we often eat for a half hour or more. It’s a great start to a day of peddling.
Vohburg an der Donau and a Boat Ride
Vohburg is a fascinating small City on the Donau. It was a walled city that has retained the historic wall gates and the central walled castle.
The castle walls now hold a contemporary cemetery as well as a church. It is a popular place for weddings. A wedding party was just finishing up a photo session. I couldn’t help but notice that the newly blended families were racially European, and Middle Eastern. A sign this traditional town is making new traditions
This part of Bavaria hosts regular afternoon thunderstorms. They leave dramatic clouds and rich light.
The trails in Bavaria go from wide smooth paved paths between farmers’ fields, to rutted double/singletrack. In most towns and villages cyclists share the streets with autos. In general drivers are respectful. They are accustomed to sharing the roads.
Our trail ended at the Kloster near Weltenburg. It’s a very touristy place and very crowded. We wanted out of there!
We had been asking about a ferry across the Donau at the monastery for a couple of days. Most thought it (there are several now) was not in operation due to low water, or had never heard of it. So we rode blindly into a potential long steep detour. However, as is so often the case, we had good luck, and an enjoyable boat ride.
We found a small motorboat that would take people and bikes through the limestone karst gorge to a trail on the opposite bank. It was fun, though we couldn’t understand a word of the boatman’s spiel.
Every weekend we have to walk our bikes through at least one town in.
Wonder What’s Up the Inn? Inn river that is. Leaving the Donau
A rainy, muddy last day on the Donau. We stopped at a ferry shelter to watch the rain on the brown river. We never did see a Blue Danube. But we did see the clear riffles and white rapids of the upper wilds and small villages, and then the silvered flats of the quiet reaches between corn, wheat and potato fields above the confluence with the powerful brown Inn. We will follow our curiosity tomorrow.
Passau divides the Donau and Inn rivers. I know. You’ve never heard of it. I had not either until a week or so ago when Claire found it and thought it might be more to our liking than following the increasingly tourist clogged river we found in Passou.Perhaps the most beautiful thing in Passou was the huge pipe organ in Saint Stephan cathedral. We didn’t get to hear it, as a cyclist who joined us in our rain shelter said we could, should, because we couldn’t learn the concert times.
But I did imagine the power in my chest as thundering Bach reverberated off the hundreds of angels painted and carved in the soaring space.And yet, each time I stand in awe at these huge fealties to a higher power, I can’t fully enjoy the experience, knowing the price of health and life given by the laborers probably in payment receiving a special place in Heaven, or perhaps free passage for their sins. At least they got to see tangible justification for their difficult existence. Not so with the two beggars we saw on the cobbles not fifty meters from the cathedral doors, hidden from the angels, and the young man in clerical atire, focused on his smartphone.If you need more inspiration than the organ and soaring interior of the cathedral, come back at night to see the facade painted in colored light. Now there is a spiritual experience.
Up the Inn? In to the Rain?
Our first day up the Inn River began with a touch of sun, and hope the weather searches were correct in offering scattered showers.
Soon the crushed limestone trail plunged into the deep forest of a preserve, and we felt enough sprinkles to don our rain capes.
Emerging from the
tunnel of green, inky blue/black filled sky ahead and the rain got serious with us. Droplets attempting to leave my nose remained to tickle unmercifully. I hate it when that happens.
The rain did give us some softened images of Austria across the Inn.
This natural area apparently had hedgehogs, but we didn’t see any. They may be nocturnal. We finished in Austria in Braunau, the town where Hitler was born. It may be torn down. More Hitler coming soon.
Braunau and Simbach
A broken tooth (not my first) set us off on a search for an English speaking hopefully, dentist. First searches were two to three days away in Munich and no answer by email. Claire found two within walking distance.
The first receptionist rather rudely turned us down without consulting the dentist. We were discouraged but tried the second, and the experience couldn’t have been better! Well, maybe a tooth extraction requiring six stitches isn’t all fun. But she was a very competent dentist, and strong, as my teeth never let go easily. We were fortunate to have chosen the town of Simbach, Germany for a day off.
Taking another day off for my tooth seemed a good idea and we began it by walking across the Inn River into the Austrian town of Braunau, through which we had arrived on the trail.
A day or so before we arrived here, Claire noticed on Google maps that Hitler’s birthplace was in Braunau on the Austrian side of the river.
I found that an amazing coincidence. On our Silk Road crossing, we bicycled, completely by accident, onto the Republic of Georgia town of Gori, where Stalin was born.
The two men epitomized evil in the twentieth century, murdering millions. The Georgians have a huge statue of Stalin as you enter the town on the Silk Road from the east. I wonder if they keep it out of fear of their greedy neighbor to the north, Russia?
The Germans do not hide their rejection of the man and the period of their history that he represents. An inscription on a stone from one of the concentration camps is all that marks his birth home. There is continuing controversy over tearing down the nondescript building.
I was drawn to the place where evil took his first breath because I am trying to understand what historians make of the connection of populism to fascism; how the German and Russian peoples could be complicit in such evil.
Claire: After a good walkabout and lite cafe lunch, returned to Simbac to an astounding discovery: (Claire here) One of the things I enjoy about extended touring is slowly picking up on the language. While browsing in a bike shop, a photo/poster of a flood caught my eye.
I made out the words for ”1000 year flood” and I had to know more. A questioning look to the manager gave me the sad story that I might have left behind one day earlier. It was only two years ago, ripping down this very street, boiling over from an unassuming creek. It caught everyone by surprise and killed seven people. Now, it all made sense: the uncharacteristically run-down buildings and overgrown lots.
They were still rebuilding. Farther up the street, uphill, I found a building with two high water markers from 1899 and 1991. That didn’t make sense, where was 2016? Then I craned my neck and looked up to the second story. There it was.
It made me realize how often we come into a place not understanding the scars the people bear.
Leaving the Inn River, Turning North to the Main/Donau Canal
As the dams got higher and the glacial flour turned the Inn River seafoam green, we turned away to the mellow Alpine foothills farms of corn, chard and hops.
We didn’t stay on the Inn for long, but were treated to forest preserves and mostly packed limestone trails and a few farmers roads between villages.
As we gained elevation, both on and off, as we turned away from the Inn, rain threatened, and most afternoons promised and delivered thunderstorms. Our short riding days most always had us into accomodations first.
One morning started with a steady all-day feeling rain that tested our ancient, but effective rain capes, but eased and finished by noon.
The rural farm roads proved culturally intriguing and has us stopping often for photos, or to just take it all in. While admiring the vintage Citroen with hand painting, we were serenaded by chickens and ducks.
The harvest is still a ways off for the sweet corn, and most everything else. But at least the rains have come, and we don’t have to look at curled corn leaves, and chard laying on the ground. The asparagus is tall, and farmers are hilling it up to produce the famous spargel.
Germany is one of the most energy efficient countries in the First World. Their historically steep pitched roofs and massive arrays of solar panels make up for their northern latitude. With the U.S. tariffs on solar panels, Europe will get a price break and install many more. I wonder how many new installation jobs will that will create?
Walking My Phone Around Eichstatt
We’ve looped back to cross the Donau River again from the Inn River, a bit of Austria, and some little visited country in the south of Bavaria.
The canal provides us with an interesting way to return to the Main River, which took us downstream from Frankfurt to the Rhine at the beginning of our journey of rivers. We will return to Frankfurt on the Main from upstream.
I’m not sure of this, but from what we could see, the conjunction of the canals (it’s in a Y shape so really three) have been disconnected to allow the middle to develop into a rich riparian habitat. We did see one small sailboat headed south and wondered if it could be going to the Black Sea. I want to learn more about how canals work, and their effect in the riverine environment; a study of engineering and the environment, and whether reverse engineering works.
The rivers of Europe have been tamed for a very long time. A system of canals built over centuries for commerce, are now the backbone of a number of natural areas and system of trails used, by my unscientific visual estimate, millions, for transportation and recreation.
We rode for a couple of days in Naturpark Altmühltal, an area of limestone karst hills and agricultural valleys.We took a day in Eichstatt to get the stitches removed from my gum, necessitated by the tooth extraction a week before. It is a beautiful medieval town spared bombing damage in WWII.
It was sunny and hot the day we left Eichstatt for more trails along Altmühltal River.
We enjoyed this section of trails which followed a large natural area between villages and towns. Germany is so populated that natural areas have to include agriculture and pre-existing populated centers, mostly small.One of the best surprises of this area was that it is a little known wine region with some lovely properties, and surprising wines.
Closing the Rivers of Europe Loop
Cruising through a tunnel of green beside the Main River today, sweating through my shirt, I was drawn to look at my handlebar bag, my hands on the brake hoods; the view shared over the past seven weeks with rivers, canals, forests and farmer’s fields, medieval villages, sidewalk cafes, biergartens, castles, feeling the shudder of eight hundred year old cobbles, hearing the noon cacophony of churches, harmonizing across the river. So many days. That view moving through time, this place. And now it comes to an end.
We’ve been through this breaking-away process for adventures on the continents, the mountains, deserts, the plains, an ocean. This tour of European rivers has been mellow by comparison, but the feeling is the same; there is a hole in the world. It won’t be filled by any time period, any experience, again.
As I write this the Six o’clock church bells begin to ring out across city and village, echoing down streets of stone and glass. I will miss them.
There are so many, churches, cathedrals, monasteries and public religious professions of the dominant faith(s), but a relative few seem to attend services. There is something a bit, not sad, but empty, about a very few people in a huge cathedral listening to a beautiful Bach piece on a powerful organ. (I will post an audio when I’ve had an opportunity to edit it).
We’ve had little rain, but even that was refreshing, except for the night we were camping. The last couple of weeks have been very hot for Germany and the afternoon cycling was a bit tiring. But, thanks to Claire’s efforts, we always had a cool shower waiting, a cold drink for her and a “gross bier” for me.
Our Warm Showers hosts Marcus and Verena. Just in her belly is a baby due to arrive by stork in September. We will be kept informed! They are special. Very special, and you will hear more from them.
We (I hope Claire will post from her journal) will post more from this trip, more pictures, a video or two, some audio files, more stories, when we have time and internet.
Bob and Claire