Hi to all blog-watchers. Thanks for your patience, we haven´t been
able to get online since Prague, so no doubt the tension at that end has been unbearable. Well, we
have finally made it to Innsbruck, but more of that later.
We set off from Prague in slightly
nervous frame of mind, after the rather difficult ride into the city on
squidgy cycle paths, and slippery cobblestones amid frantic traffic. These fears proved unfounded as the cycle
route south out of Prague was very well sign-posted, as were all the other
routes which we took through the Czech Republic. We had managed to find some excellent cycle
route maps, and the recommended routes 12 and 11 which took us south towards
the Austrian border were very pleasant, on quiet back-roads through some lovely
Czech countryside and small villages. We had to break this section into 5 days,
rather more than it needed, as some of the towns did not have any accommodation
free, but this gave us chance to get a better feel for the area, and to visit
some interesting hotels! All were clean,
but one or two were on the basic side and still had an Eastern Block feel about
them, and one provided a rather hazardous-looking breakfast… the first time we
did not take advantage of all the breakfast items on offer. The Czechs also
seem to specialise in a particular kind of pre-packed catering jam portions
which prove impossible to open, as only a thin surface layer of the lid comes
away, leaving an impenetrable sheet of glue and paper to negotiate.
The weather was kind to us on this stretch,
and we enjoyed the open landscape, which developed an increasingly Bavarian
feel as we got further south. By the time we reached the border with Austria
we were grunting up some very steep climbs, only to descend again before the
next assault. Our last night in the Czech Republic was
spent in a delightful guesthouse owned by a Dutch couple who welcomed us warmly
and fed us a superb meal. They were
about to have a visit from a mountain bike company with a view to using their
guesthouse as a centre for guided mountain bike tours. Definitely something worth returning for, as
the countryside looked ideal for this.
Although we were on tarmac, the last section up to the border had a
distinctly off-road feel about it, with steep gradients and the odd pothole to
watch out for. Fortunately a sign at the
border told us that some European funding had been used to make what, on
the map looked like a rough footpath, into a nice easy road over the border into
Austria. As soon as we were over the
border, the landscape changed from a very natural looking mix of pasture and
woods, to the delightful but manicured looking fields and forests of Austria. Some more grunty climbs followed, but in the
afternoon we were rewarded with a fantastic whiz down the Gussen valley, and
we were on the outskirts of Linz by teatime.
The next two days were spent riding up the
Danube to Passau… the weather was rather overcast but we had the cycle track
almost to ourselves and it was peaceful and atmospheric as we pedalled through
the misty meanders. By the time we
reached Passau, after crossing yet another border, back into Germany
this time, the sun was shining again and we gasped at the sight of the castle
which towers over the town. It wasn’t
long before we were gasping again; it quickly dawned on us that the hostel we
had booked into was housed in one of the castle buildings. We have managed to cycle up most of the hills
on this trip, but a humiliating push was needed to get the bike up the steep
cobbled street to the hostel at Passau. On the final haul, as we tried to get the back over some steps
into the hostel grounds, a helpful Herr gave us a hand, but exclaimed as he did
"What have you got in there… a sewing machine?" ….and we thought we were travelling light!
We had a pleasant day off in Passau, but Monday
saw us back on the road, this time heading up the river Inn. Legend has is that the three rivers of the
Inn, Danube and Ilz, which meet at Passau, are all different colours, and it
really was striking as we cycled up the Inn how dramatically different it is to
the Danube. The blue (grey to our
inexperienced eyes) of the Danube contrasted with the jade green of the Inn. Even the bridges are painted to match to
colour of the river.
It took us another five days riding to make
our way up the Inn to Innsbruck. The first two were bright
and clear, with some warm sunshine, but by Wednesday it was raining and
although we enjoyed seeing the lovely Bavarian and Austrian towns and villages,
the mountains were hidden in thick cloud. The temperature had dropped and Neil
was suffering with very cold hands, despite wearing 3 pairs of gloves, one of
them waterproof. On our last night, in
the little town of Kundle, where they have a thriving chemical industry, some more chemicals
were getting to work on Neil’s stomach.
By the morning he was ill enough to refuse breakfast, and all thoughts
of pastries and Konditories were gone.
We set off on what was to be our final day’s
riding, and although the weather was brighter, spirits were low. Initially the
riding was level, and we had gone about 20km before we reached a dreaded ‘Umleiting’
which told us we had to detour over a hilly section, because a tunnel was being
built. This was the last straw for Neil,
who by this time was feeling distinctly ropey, so we put the bike on the train
at Jensbach, and did the last 30km in ignominious defeat. To add insult to
injury the train driver shouted at us because we were at the wrong end of the
train. We did manage a photo under the Golden Roof in Innsbruck, before
another push up to Neil’s sisters house on the far side of the city where we
were welcomed with open arms.
We have decided to call it a day for the
present; apart from the weather (snow on the Brenner Pass), cold hands and
tired legs, we have found it increasingly difficult to find accommodation on
this stretch of the journey. Many guest
houses seem to be closed for the season, and those that are open are at the
more expensive end, so we have had to book more and more lavish accommodation,
bringing dirt and grime into all those nice Tyrolean guest houses. Meanwhile, the financial crisis in the UK has
been eating away at our savings!
We are delighted to have got this far, as
there were moments when reaching Innsbruck seemed unlikely, but having got here
we feel this is a good time to stop.
Many thanks to all of you who have sent
texts and e-mails to encourage us on our way – these really meant a lot to us,
and thanks for your generous donations to our charities. (Now may be a good time to do so if you
didn’t already give!)
We are leaving the bike here in Innsbruck,
with a view to completing the Italian section later next year, but
unfortunately the break will mean that the spirit of the venture will not quite
be the same, as we had hoped to do it all in one go.
Adios, amigos… and watch this space!